Saturday, January 23, 2010

12 Years

“Another turning point the fork stuck in the road.
Time grabs you by the wrist and directs you where to go.
So make the best of this test and don't ask why.
It's not a question but a lesson learned in time.

It's something unpredictable
but in the end it's right.
I hope you had the time of your life.

So take the photographs and still frames in your mind.
And hang it on a shelf in good health and good time.
Tattoos and memories and dead skin on trial.
For what it's worth, it was worth all the while.

It's something unpredictable
but in the end it's right.
I hope you had the time of your life.”

(Green Day – Good Riddance)

I will never forget (Alzheimer’s not counting) my first ride from the airport in Atlanta to the first brew pub, when I first “landed” in The Land of All Possibilities. I was trying really hard not to be that wide open eyed, wonder child who looks up at the skyscrapers from the moving car that you know from cheesy movies.

Fortunately, Atlanta doesn’t have all that many skyscrapers. Or at least not as tall as the ones movies show for New York, Seattle and Chicago, I guess. But I do remember how my breath stopped on that ride, because the radio was playing this song . And I thought: “Oh, my God, how fitting! This IS my fork in the road. This IS my turning point. This WILL BE my song. My American song”. And every time I hear it, it brings me back to that moving car, on the way to the brew pub and the heart of Atlanta. And every time I hear it, I know, that the song I thought prophetic then, proved to be just that – to a tee.

I am not sure if “good riddance” is what my parents said when I left home for this whirlwind trip to America, but looking back, it surely feels that way!

I didn’t want this week to go by without making a writing stop to celebrate my 12 year American celebration of January 19, 1998. As I have said before, with a head full of dreams and curls, I came here trying to figure out how to make a life. I was not yet 23. But I thought at the time that I was 22 going on 50. I knew everything, and just needed the right environment to make it happen.

And I know you’ll think of my big head here, but so I did. I have had the “time of my life”, as the song goes. I just wanted to stop for a minute and recap what happened in the past 12 years.

I grew, and I became what you see today; I married, and had two step kids for a while; we took family trips, and made fires in the woods and told ghost stories; I watched them grow for almost four years, and gave them a home; I divorced, and painfully found my own way in a world that I just started to understand; I loved, and I cried, and I fell out of love, and I learned that life is not over after a breakup.

I bought houses. Four of them. And made a home. For just me out of two of them. I fell in love again. For four amazing years, and I made future plans which were once again to fail. Through it all, I loved, and gave, and received love, and matured, and learned. Continuously … learned …

I have lived one of the two dreams of my childhood: to live in The American South. Just like one of my heroes, Scarlett O’Hara. I really did dream of moving to Atlanta and figuring things out like she did. I came pretty close.

I have struggled with language and learned yet again that what you learn in college about ‘English as a foreign language’ does not hold water when you live in The South. I have learned to love the liquid, humid air of August in North Carolina. I thought I’d never do! But it happened!

I have grown over my shyness. After all, there was no one there to do things for me. If I didn’t ask, I was left wanting. I have raised three cats, and made a home for them. I have found dogs to be lovely creatures, after all, and made peace with them, too.

I have gotten a tattoo… Just like the millions of pictures I have taken, it’s a memento of where I have been, who I am, and what my life is like.

I have grayed. I guess, I am pushing 50 after all. I have seen every state between Florida and Massachusetts, and traveled out West and to Canada. I have climbed the Twin Towers in New York in 1999. And felt like I conquered the world. How I am going to treasure that story to tell to my nieces and nephews… What a breathless moment to think back at! I have visited Ellis Island, and cried, because I understood! Their story was mine. Their “island of tears and hope” was mine. I am so ecstatically thankful for that!

I have gotten jobs and I have made a career. I have helped those in need, and learned to be grateful to just be. I have had plenty. No, no, it’s an accomplishment! Coming from Romania, and growing up in Communism, where you have nothing, I can tell you: I have had plenty. Plenty of food, and heat, and drinks, and choices, and most of all, plenty of freedom. I came here looking for just that: freedom: to read, to see, to know, to travel, to be who I am without restrictions. America has been very accepting of that. I am home.

I have lived as a resident for eight of the 12 I have been here and I have been a citizen for almost four. I voted to elect the first black American president in history. And I have worked for a paper that ran on the front page a story about a woman running for president on the day my nephew was born. A new world. I have seen history turn abruptly!

I have been able to show my parents, ever the dreamers about such a perfect land as America, the beauty and peacefulness of this country. I am grateful for that! To see their eyes open up with a new light and a new smile about how easy and giving and wonderful life could be in a free land, to see them cry as they float by The Statue of Liberty is what I live for.

I have become an aunt, and my only sister and twin soul has gotten married, had my nephew and also found a free home in Canada. I have lost a beloved grandmother, and I had to learn the painful way to say good bye to someone without being there at the end. That is a lesson that hurt the most! I have thus learned that you must say what you mean and what you feel when given the opportunity, and not wait. Tomorrow might never come and pay attention: “opportunities don’t come with labels”, so pay close attention!

I have had my disappointments. In my new country, and its politics, in the lack of healthcare and what seem pointless restrictions (like alcohol laws – I know, trivial!), and in life in general. I have learned not to believe in forever, and just to trust the now. I have learned that if you do that, the forever will take care of itself – but it’s the now that needs you the most. So, give your all to it.

I have met wonderful people that have taught me so much! Sure, wonderful people are everywhere, but I will forever be grateful to folks, like JC. Not just because he taught me by example how to live and love my life and who I am, but also because he made me understand this country, even when I am not crazy about her politicians’ decisions.

I am grateful for all my friends here, who taught me everything I know today about living in America. Taught me about mortgages, home warranty, shopping at WalMart, driving a car, renewing my license, eating pumpkins, oat meat and grits, shrimp, eating out, Thanksgiving, the craziness of Christmas, being independent and feeling powerful as a single woman. I am also grateful for my friends far away who have managed to keep in touch across many miles over such a long time. It’s them who ground me!

I have met my new love and I am giving marriage another shot. I never say “never” after all, and I believe in the good of the individual, not so much in labels. And thus, I am at “a turning point” with “the fork stuck in the road” again! As before, in Atlanta, with the Green Day song being so fitting, I am appropriately moving to Spanish Fork. My second childhood dream of searching for The Last Frontier of America, and following the trails of so many brave people in history looking for possibilities and more freedom will now be able to take place. I am once again hopeful and wide eyed. I am yet to find out if “The West is the Best”, I guess. The sky scrapers are The Rockies now, and I am ever so excited! 12 years did nothing to my cynicism, evidently!

More than anything… I have learned that I can stand on my own two feet and weather pretty much anything. As long as you know who you are, and you live in a place that cherishes the individual, you’re fine. One thing I have managed not to do, or maybe two, is (are): I have not become quite the avid consumer Americans are for the most part. Nor did I gain exorbitant weight. I did gain! It’s a sign of “a good life”, my mom says … but not to the point where you can’t recognize me. I consider those good things, though!

I have kept my faith and I am practicing it every day. I am forever thankful to my folks that gave me such great, fulfilling roots that I cannot and would not rid of! Roots and wings is what you need. And boy, have I gotten both!

I am living my dreams. I am living my dad’s dreams and making my mom proud. I have really little to complain about. I am the same, and yet better (remember: big head!) and wiser, and I am grateful that I have kept an open mind and heart and open eyes and let America flood me! I am ever so full.

I still think of myself as an immigrant and as a newbie! I never ever want to stop feeling like that. In Yoga, they tell you “I never want to stop being a beginner”. And that is so simple and so true: I never want to be rid of the curiosity and excitement a beginner has! A beginner will try anything. And I will try to forever stay a newly-off-the-boat …uumm – plane Romanian immigrant! Still learning. So much!

I still have the head full of curls (albeit gray) and definitely of dreams. Listening to my anniversary song all week, I find it still to be a great song. And it’s even better, trust me, when it becomes life.


Hana Carlton said...

you said so many things the way i would love to say too but i am not as good writer ...
happy 12 anniversary, mine (12 too) is coming in july

A.W. said...

Happy Anniversary back, Ms. Hana. 1998 was a good year, right?? :-)

elena said...

...nice ! all i can wish you is...shine on, You Crazy Diamond !! Love from Romania ( Leni and Julie()