1. Bronx, New York (~4 years) – Cement, and a solitary swing outside our apartment complex. A boy named Aaron is mad at me because I can’t cut in straight lines. Curled up on a mat on the floor at daycare pretending to be asleep. I am certain that the lady who runs the daycare will murder me if she finds me awake. Another woman (Lorraine?) with two older children take care of me while my parents are at school. I play in the gravel next to the Expressway while she works. The cars are swooshing by in blurs and the smell of roasting meat from her hotdog stand is intoxicating. Rainbow Bright is the rage.
2. Somewhere in Connecticut (~2 years) – Another swing set and this time a slide! A paddling pool, Toafa’s naked little body darting past us all and creating an explosion of water as he launches himself. There is a building with a washing machine and a dryer. Mom chats with another woman while I put my hands on the dryer and feel the buzz and the warmth. Disney is the rage.
3. Kittery, Maine (4 years) – The seasons are dazzling. Lush green summers, crystalline winters with snow drifts so deep, I climb a tree as high as I can and jump. Stoney beaches and barbecued chicken. No kindergarden. I tried, but I wasn’t allowed to draw. The teacher only let me connect the dots. I drop out of kindergarden and move to a new school. I draw all the pictures I want. I read The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Books are like air, like water, like food. I fall in love Roald Dahl and Norton Juster. We spend our lunches digging up and eating unknown roots and making daisy chains longer than our bodies. Origami is the rage.
4. Lowman, New York (2 years) – The smell of dairy farms, and deep valleys with clouds sliding their shadows across the hills. I don’t like playing house, and join the war in the woods behind the school with the boys, beating each other with sticks, making tunnels through the bushes to the enemy side. The girls and I make plans and lists, and decide who we are going to kiss, but never do. Pogs are the rage.
5. Hyde Park, New York (6 years) – Our own house! My brothers and I make a submarine in the barn. I build a treehouse in a ~30 foot tree over a cliff. Dad uses a rope to tie me to the tree in case I slip, and we nail the first main support beam into the trunk. I wonder if it will hurt to dangle from the tree by my waist, and decide against falling on purpose to find out. Montessori made everyone feel we were at the same level, and for the first time I find out I’m really good at some things. Days filled with school musicals, soccer games, piano lessons. High school is a waiting game. Learning to drive. Crushes. Late nights. Awkward moments. Camping. Jobs. Movies. AP classes. Studying. Studying. Studying. It’s not enough. 4 more years, 3 more years, 2 more years, 1 more year, and then…
6. Swarthmore, Pennsylvania (1 year) – College! I get into the college because I’m smart, and quickly discover everyone else is there because they’re smart too. My self-importance bubble bursts. My egotism, and my motivation wanes. I start to think about the rest of my life. Why am I here? Do I want to live this rat race? College -> Grad School -> Work -> Work -> Work. But, I need to see more, do more, live more. It’s not enough. I fall in love, and decide to chase the dream and see where it’ll take me. If I don’t, I could spend the rest of my life thinking “what if.” No “what ifs.” I pack my life into the back of a car and start driving.
7. El Paso, Texas (2 years) – The dream takes me to the real world. We are alone, but we build a new life. Everything is fresh, everything is experimentation and excitement. I drive up to the top of the mountains and watch the desert stretch for miles until it melts into the sky. We are crazy in love, crazy in life, and we make it legal. It’s an adventure. Then the crazy part starts to take over. Long hours, longer nights. It’s still a rat race. It’s not enough. It’s time to finish school. No “what ifs.” I pack my life into the back of a car and start driving.
8-13. Long Island, New York (3 years) – Academia is beautiful. I feel parts of my brain come alive that had been sleeping for 2 years. But it turns out we don’t have the same dreams. We decide to keep chasing in different directions. We make it legal. University classes excite my mind and I fall in love again. The adventure continues. Days are full of learning, family, friends and love. I’m taken into the arms of two beautiful women, a beautiful boyfriend, and his beautiful family. Sunsets on the Sound. Festivals and midnight campfires. Music, parties, and microbrew beer. Commiseration and success. But I’m still dreaming. I move, and change, and evolve. I graduate and start working. I live in 6 different towns in 3 years. It’s not enough. It’s time to see the world and see where the dream will take me. No “what ifs.” I pack my life into a backpack and buy a plane ticket.
14-17. Guayas, Ecuador (7 months and counting) – Three jobs and four cities so far. I fall in love with as many things as I can. Villages, beaches, language, teaching, and people. I find a home. Teaching is the elixir of life. I can go into class feeling threadbare and worn, and emerge vibrating with energy. It is possible that tomorrow it will not be enough, but today, it is.
Original published June 2, 2011, on tumblr as “Memorias de 17 Pueblos en 24 Años)