In the summer of 1982, my parents called me into the kitchen and told me we needed to have a talk. When I sat down at the breakfast nook, my dad handed me a folder overflowing with brochures and pamphlets. Fear immediately coursed through my body. They’re going to send me to military school, I thought. Or worse, summer camp. Instead my parents told me we were going to Europe in November. A two-week trip that would begin in Germany and include stops in Italy, Switzerland, France, and Spain. I flipped through the brochures and glared at the families smiling like buffoons while strolling through museums, historical ruins, and botanical gardens. Summer camp seemed palatable by comparison.
A few weeks before the trip, I was being insulted by the bullies in my eighth-grade social studies class when the teacher told me to go to the vice principal’s office. I knew the way. I’d been sent to Mr. Bennet’s office several times on a variety of trumped-up charges: chewing gum in the halls, reading the recipes section of Good Housekeeping during gym class, using the mouthpiece of my trumpet as a spitball launcher. “Your upcoming trip will be an excused absence,” Mr. Bennet said, “but you will be required to give an oral report of your travels.” I glanced at the poster thumbtacked to the wall behind Mr. Bennet’s desk. It featured a cat dangling perilously from a tree branch with the phrase “Hang in There” written underneath. I didn’t know it at the time, but that cat is my spirit animal.
At the Frankfurt airport my dad rented a lime green Volkswagen minivan, and we set off on what I recall as an experiment in perpetual boredom. Ten tedious days later, we pulled into Marbella, a small town on Spain’s south coast. At dinner that night my mom announced that she had booked us on a one-day tour of Morocco. I finally perked up. Casablanca was my favorite movie and I imagined myself sitting in Rick’s Cafe, flicking cigarette ash off of my white dinner jacket while trying to convince a beautiful woman to join the Resistance. Instead I arrived in Morocco wearing denim shorts, tube socks, and a fanny pack full of sunscreen, Band-Aids, and allergy medication. Walking through the streets, we were surrounded by a throng of overzealous peddlers hawking everything from jewelry to throw rugs. I was terrified. I wanted to click my white Nike’s together and chant: There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.
A week later, I strutted back into school. I was never so happy to see those cinderblock walls. In social studies class, I stood by the chalkboard and gave a brief rundown of my European adventures. When I took my seat, the bullies called me names that today will immediately get you banned from Twitter. I should have cowered, but I was a new man—a world traveler who had navigated the seedy bazaars of Morocco. I ripped a corner of paper from my notebook and placed it on my tongue. The mouthpiece to my trumpet was tucked inside the pocket of my sweatshirt and I caressed it lovingly. My Resistance was about to begin.