Ways Things Might Have Been Different

July 1989 When my parents tell me about their decision to finally formally divorce, I weepily insist that I want to live with my father in Manhattan. He agrees, and I move up there for the ninth grade school year, into the new apartment he has to get so I can have my own room. I go to a private school just the way I did in Miami but it doesn’t take me long to realize that rich New York private school kids are on a completely different level than rich Miami private school kids. I am not allowed to walk around the city by myself and have to spend a lot of time in the apartment alone. I have no idea how to tell my dad I need to buy tampons when we go to Dean and Deluca, which doesn’t seem to have any sort of feminine supplies at all. He doesn’t make me do my homework, ever, and I have to call my mom from the payphone at the corner. I have a lot of clothes but I still can’t compete with the other girls at school and by the start of the second semester the letters from my friends at home have stopped arriving. Dad sits me down one day in April and tells me it’s not working out and that he thinks girls need to be with their mothers. I go back to Miami that summer and re-enroll in my old school for tenth grade, managing to reconnect with my old friends and mention my year in New York in a manner that I think is world-weary and sophisticated but in fact does nothing to mask the residue of desperation that lingers for a long time after I return to the palm trees of our bedroom community.

February 1994 After my first semester at college, I decide to stop hanging out with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship people, coming to the conclusion that I don’t really understand religion or spirituality I start going into LA more to hear bands and get a tattoo (a smiling sun icon, on my left ankle) to celebrate my twentieth birthday. I am one of the organizers for that year’s Kohoutek and am responsible for getting Ozomatli to play. I go to my school’s study abroad program in Padua for the first half of my junior year to study Montessori philosophy in education and weep when I have to leave my host family. Back at school I write for the student lit mag and have a couple of bi-curious encounters (about which I write murky prose poems which are later published in the aforementioned lit mag), which I drop hastily for a long unrequited crush on one of the guys who gave me a ride to the Mazzy Star/Cowboy Junkies show. After I graduate I try to move back to Italy to teach English but I end up moving to Pasadena and becoming a development assistant at a small non-profit.

April 2000 My boyfriend is not sure if he loves me enough to stay with me and eventually get married. Telling myself that I don’t want to stay in a relationship for years, potentially, while he figures out how he feels and what he wants, I leave him.

July 2002 After graduating from social work school I am unemployed for several months. I do some research and find out that I can maybe move to the UK and find work there, because there’s a shortage of social workers and they are recruiting international applicants. Even though I’ve been offered a job at a research assistant, I screw up my courage and spend most of my savings on a plane ticket to London, a nice interview suit, and a room in a truly terrifying hostel for a couple of weeks. Just at the point where I think I’ll have to come home as I’ve run out of money, I get a job in a hospital working with a geriatric population. I often don’t understand the accents of my patients and it’s confusing working in a hospital but not needing to deal with Medicare or Medicaid but I acclimate eventually and after six months I am describing everything as “lovely” with the best of them. I learn to drink beer in the pubs and become totally hooked on Coupling. My mom comes to visit (it’s only a eight hour flight from Miami) and we go to Paris together. My sister comes to visit and I take her to the Camden Market and to the pub. I’m often cold and desolate because I feel so out of place so I continue write a lot about my expat experience in my new online journal, even though I’m not sure anyone is really reading it. I start to write stories about my patients and about my flatmates and about everything else, and by the end of a year I have not only decided to stay another year but also to start submitting the stories for publication. One of them is picked up for a travel compilation put out by Lonely Planet and I cannot stop smiling every time I walk past a bookstore for weeks.

May 2004 It is very hot on the side of a mountain in Como, Italy. I take part in a conversation:

“So, tell me a story.”

“No, you tell me one.”

“Uh, I can’t think of one right now. I think we’d better head back.”

January 2005 I have no ability to see around the next corner of my life’s path, and content myself with doing the best I can with the sense I have.

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