Back in 1998 when my sons were 4 and 2 years old, I bribed an airport official so I could escape.
No, I wasn’t escaping political persecution, war, death threats from the mafia, poverty, or marital abuse.
I just needed a break from my life, especially my kids.
From the outside, my life looked pretty much perfect. My husband was making good money while I stayed home with the kids. Oh, we had it so good: a beautiful house, two adorable little boys, youth, money to travel.
I was stuck in an existential pit though. It wasn’t a severe depression like the one I’d had in college. It was more like low-level despair and the constant feeling that I was a total failure as a parent and human being. I had it all and wasn’t really happy, and this added to my guilt.
Yes, I deserved to suffer!
At this point in my kids’ lives, both sons were “normal.” My husband (Cesar) and I still thought Diego, our oldest, was just delayed and would catch up through all the speech, behavioral and occupational therapy he was getting.
I adored my boys and enjoyed being with them (a lot of the time) but too often I was just going through the motions. I didn’t complain -I mean, what kind of ungrateful and stupid woman bemoans having the luxury of being at home with her kids during their early years?
So I just kept my façade, focused on being a mom, and worked to “fix” Diego. Oh, and I also looked forward to my yearly breaks with Cesar.
This break was something my husband and I had committed to after Diego was born: We’d do anything necessary to get away, just the two of us, once a year. And we’ve kept it up. Even when the family finances were stretched or the boys had chickenpox, we’ve taken off.
This is where my bribing incident came in. “Anything necessary,” right?
It was our sixth year of marriage and we were going skiing in Colorado, a real exotic and exciting vacation for a couple like us who lived in the tropics.
It was still the good old days in Venezuela in that the country hosted happy expats and offered dozens of daily international flights in and out of Caracas.
Our ride dropped us off at the airport and we got in line for check-in, my mind already in “time-out-from-my-life” mode. But the feeling was cruelly cut short by the airline attendant’s words as she opened our passports:
“Your passport’s expired. We can’t check you in.”
I wanted to curse so loud. I already had my in-laws staying with the kids. All the lists and phone numbers and every little instruction had been organized and explained. Food had been prepped. Cesar had arranged for time off. I had to get on that freakin’ flight.
Ever the problem-solver, Cesar said we should go find an immigration official at the airport. This didn’t get my hopes up one bit but I shuffled along anyway.
We found the official in charge at a desk near the booths where passports are checked before you place your bags on the conveyor belt to be scanned. (No taking off your shoes or belt back then!)
As I’d expected, the official said he couldn’t help us. “Couldn’t you just postpone the trip?” was his logical solution. As I wrote above, it was still the “good old days,” meaning the long-gone years when you could easily renew or extend your Venezuelan passport.
I’ve no clue where the next thing I did came from. But I looked at the man straight in the eye, took out a crisp $100 bill from my pocketbook, and said, “Please help me.”
“Give me it,” he said, quite matter-of-fact and with no change in his tone of voice or expression. I handed him my passport; he found a nice empty page on it, stamped it with something official-looking, signed it, and wrote in a 6-month extension.
I went back to the airline counter and had no trouble checking in for the flight. When clearing customs in the US, the official there didn’t look twice before stamping my entry to the US. None of that electronic stuff and strict controls we have today.
I thought of myself as a stand-up citizen. It turns out the possibility of missing a short leisure trip was all it took to corrupt me.
What would it take to corrupt you?
Like I’ve written before, I’ve enjoyed too many privileges in my life, and I have sometimes taken advantage of them for purely selfish reasons. This is just an instance that haunts me a bit.
Go ahead and judge. I do it all the time. Few things are more uplifting than feeling self-righteous.
🎧 YouTube link: I committed bribery for all the wrong reasons