How to Get Kicked Out of a Foreign Country

 

It is 1987. I am an eleven year-old, troubled child residing in San Bernadino, California (home of the drive-by shooting). While I have already courted trouble—I am eighty-sixed from a local Circle K after being caught stealing baseball cards and candy; while wrestling with a neighbor girl-friend, I flip her over my shoulder and break her collarbone, leading to my public banishment in our neighborhood; I have been busted several times skipping school—I am also very content here. My mother married into the Air Force and we have been moving nearly every six months all over Southern California. Britt—my step-father—announces that we have been re-stationed to Weisbaden, West Germany. We drive from California to South Carolina, staying at air bases in between. Sticky, intolerable night temperatures in Texas. Torrential downpours in Arkansas. Eighteen hours on a plane across the Atlantic. Porn shops line the Frankfurt Airport. We are assigned a room at the less-than-luxurious Amelia Earhart Hotel until the Air Force can secure us housing. I do not know a single word in German. I am warned that the Germans really don’t want us Americans in their country. I attend Weisbaden American Middle School (Go Wildcats!), a central hub where the Department of Defense sends its dependents. It is the biggest school I have ever seen. I am short and scrawny, even for my age. Most people think I am younger. My mom still parts my hair in the morning. My clothes are unfashionable. I still wet my bed and sleep with stuffed animals. I am often tardy because I cannot locate my classes. Other kids make fun of me, knock my books out of my hand, push me down, and call me names. A girl hits me in the ear with an open palm so hard that I am given a concussion; I do not tell my mother anything is wrong until I can no longer stand the pain. Doctors drain my ear-drum. I hate this place already. Why can’t I go back to the sunny shores of California, where everyone seemed to like me and we visited Disneyland all the time because we lived nearby and I had my own bedroom instead of sharing hotel living quarters with my parents? I eat lunch by myself as far from other students as possible. I hide inside the pages of books. Beverly Cleary, H.G. Wells, and the Hardy Boys transport me to lands and worlds where none of this matters. One day, I am blamed for damaging a seat on the bus ride home. The guilty kids accuse me. I am thrown off the bus. Britt doesn’t believe me. I have a bad track record. He tells me people only remember the bad things, and that is all he can remember about my behavior. I watch television in the hotel room. I play video games in the downstairs arcade. I eat bratwurst and curry fries from the corner vendors. I am all alone in a foreign country. We are assigned to an American Housing Area. I am told never to venture onto German soil unsupervised. Chain link fences separate ours from native land. I make a few friends here and we spend our afternoons playing Army and Hot Wheels and football in the park. Every morning, Britt has to examine his vehicle for suspicious items. Terrorism is a constant concern here, and Americans are the primary targets. He looks beneath his Corvette with mirrors and checks the wheel-wells and turns the ignition with what I can only imagine is absolute fear. Around this time, I discover a particular talent with the fairer sex. They go crazy for my hazel eyes and innocent demeanor. I kiss my first girl. For some reason, older girls are drawn to me. I am a sixth grader dancing with eighth and ninth grade girls at school functions. I bring girlfriends with me whenever my parents take me on weekend tourist trips. We visit other countries. Bavarian villages, Austrian salt mines, cathedrals and Roman ruins. I have played in the Roman Coliseums. I have swayed to the Oompah bands at Oktoberfest. I have ridden in sports car doing one hundred miles per hour on the Autobahn. Around this time, I also discover that if I can reach the bar, I can legally drink in this country. With years of retrospect, I now wonder what damage drinking at such an early age did. But at the time, that was all she wrote. I hung around other military brats and we skipped school together. We broke into their parents’ liquor cabinets or stole enough money to purchase our own booze. We hung around bored Army housewives who would teach us all about sex, furnish us with cigarettes and alcohol. At night, I would listen to Doctor Demento on the AFN (Armed Forces Radio) or sit on the stairs listening to my parents fight about me.  My grades were atrocious. My unexcused absences led to detentions. While spending the night with a buddy, we got drunk and snuck out. We kicked all the glass out of a phone booth and were detained by the Military Police. Britt—now a lieutenant colonel—wanted to beat me. He threatened to kick my ass, wishing aloud that I was eighteen so he could get away with doing so. I drank and smoked and hung out with delinquents. There is a place just beyond the American Housing Area—the kids have cut a hole in the cyclone fencing—where we can hang out by ourselves. Our parents are unaware of this locale. We escape through that rabbit hole daily, crossing a gravel road which carries vehicles to German homes from the main highway, and nestling in a wooded area. Here, we claim the decaying frame of what was once a house. Its roof remains mostly intact, although rain drips through punctured portions. There is a floor, long, rotten wooden planks. A bathtub sits among abandoned dross. Fast food wrappers and empty beer bottles. A corrugated barrel serves as our fire-pit. Germany is a cold country. We take turns buying beer and cigarettes and pornographic magazines. Each time, we snuff out our fire with old, wet horse blankets. A gas station is just up the road a few kilometers. When we return this time—our arms loaded with booze—flames are tickling the sky. The entire wooded area is engulfed. Firefighters and Polizei (German police) are everywhere. We are arrested for arson. My friends break almost immediately. I insist we are patsies, and that the soot on our clothing is from us wrestling in the mud. Polizei detectives show me their jail and remind me that I am old enough to serve an adult sentence in their country. Eventually, I fold. Britt finally gets to beat me and I deserve it. His superiors offer him the choice between resigning his rank and sending me home. I will never be allowed to return. At a farewell dinner, my mom tries to lighten the mood by playing the Name Game. Nothing very funny rhymes with Brandon, but I laugh as she rhymes: “Britt, Britt, fo-fan shit!” I am placed on a plane bound for Portland, Oregon. I will be moving in with my father, who I barely know.

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