May 9, 1980 is a day I cannot ever forget. A week after leaving Romania for good, I was approaching North America on a Pan Am flight out of Istanbul, Turkey. My first transatlantic flight, with an airline still alive in my memories. My first time wearing the cross – mine since Christening – I could never show in my thirty years of living in Communist Romania.
A major snafu at the American Consulate in Bucharest caused months of waiting for a visa and a huge “project” for my loving sister, who solved the problem in an almost miraculous way – I couldn’t ever thank her enough.
Not sure if – on my way to Vancouver, Canada – I would be allowed to stop in New York City, I was overwhelmed with emotion, hoping to at least be able to see and hug the people I loved and who were waiting at JFK airport: my sister Gabriela and Jon, my husband to be. For my mother – glued to the phone in Tennessee – my arrival became her biggest Mother’s Day present ever.
At JFK the emotions were so intense I was afraid I would collapse… Not only was I allowed to stay in New York City, but asked if – considering my status – I was willing to request political asylum.
Straight from the airport I was taken to the Rego Park building where Jon lived. That building, still very dear to me, was to become my address for 30 years… When the building was turned into a co-op, we bought a top floor apartment with a great Manhattan view, and I truly enjoyed being the co-op’s Board of Directors president for 23 years.
Then, that very evening – after seeing my sister to a bus to Charlottesville, Virginia – I discovered Manhattan and Fifth Avenue… I could never identify the spots offering me unforgettable memories but this dream-like quality makes them even more special.
May 9, 1980… I came to America with a suitcase, wonderful memories from Istanbul and, most importantly, with a set of special “sensors” for detecting the desire to get control and power, sensors honed during thirty years of living under a dictatorship.
A few days later, at the end of an interview with the FBI, the officer gave me a business card and said: “If you ever feel threatened, call us.”
I was granted political asylum – one more tie to my father, a political prisoner in Communist Romania.