[Below this post are my Dad’s corrections, sent to me via email]
My body took its first breath on September 7th, 1970. Isn’t it funny how that day has been celebrated my whole life as more special than the other 364?
Truth is, after just 45 years of living, I could celebrate each day as a personal holy day.
Like April 17th – when I started walking the PCT, April 9th – when I awoke to my spiritual self in Death Valley, April 5th – when I started writing my first book, April 9th – when I wrote in that book about what happened in Death Valley on April 9th of a few years prior, April 10th – when I came to the US.
On April 10th, 1992, at 2:10 pm, I landed in LAX. It might as well have been another planet.
And I mean “other planet”. Let me put this in perspective …
This is all I knew:
This is where I landed:
Now, if you just had the thought that you’d much prefer the first locale, that’s fine … for you.
I think I had island fever by the time I was 5 years old. I slept in an American flag sleeping bag, had a bumper sticker on my bedroom door that warned visitors “proud to be an American”, and often stared at my reflection in the mirror mouthing nonsensical drawled out sounds, to see what I’d look like when I got older and actually learned to speak English.
My French parents humored my obsession by keeping a supply of beef jerky, lemon pepper seasoning and peanut butter in the house. French kids didn’t eat peanut butter back then. And corn on the cob was downright sacrilegious. “Why are you feeding her pig food?” Was my very-French grandmother’s reaction to corn on the cob.
But, luckily, my parents understood wanderlust. I was born in Los Angeles by the grace of their adventurous spirits, and their common love for America.
My parents lived in Los Angeles for 5 years prior to my birth. My Dad worked as an exotic car mechanic. I don’t know what was exotic about the cars, but I know that he personally handled Katharine Hepburn’s car needs. My mom was a teacher at a Montessori school. She taught French songs to small American kids, just as she would later teach me American songs. They spent their weekends exploring the wilder side of so-cal, especially Death Valley, where I supposedly was conceived. Their life was one big adventure, and they created an amazing set of stories to share with the conventional, settled world they had left in France.
Until, I showed up.
Then, they bumped it up a notch.
Los Angeles was a fine place for two adventurous adults, but not for two illegal adventurous adults with a newborn baby girl – 1970s LA was epically polluted.
As I usually imagine it in my head, they spread out a world map and looked for the remotest island possible. Tahiti had potential, but my aunt already lived there, so that island was occupied. They picked the next farthest one … New Caledonia.
I was 3 months old when my parents landed in New Caledonia. I grew up naked in the sun and the red dirt, took my first steps in a quanza hut – that was our home for a few years – and day dreamed about the US while “trapped” on endless pristine white sand beaches surrounded by impossibly clear and warm ocean water.
I always said I would come back home to the US some day. I said it so often that it became an integral part of my personality. I was an American on an island. Always different. Always special.
Until one day somebody called me out on it. I don’t remember his name. He was a rep for a printing paper company. I worked for a computer dealer, and had a bit of a crush on him. He loved the US as much as I did, and whenever he visited my office, we day dreamed together of wide open deserts, Joshua Trees and coyotes.
“Someday, I’ll move back to the US.” I told him, again.
We were sitting on a sidewalk in downtown Noumea with sandwiches on my lunch break. “Yeah! Good luck getting a green card.”
“I don’t need a green card. I was born in LA. I have an American passport.”
“You do!? So … Huh, why are you still here?”
That was it. That was the moment. That was the cue. That was the shift.
I didn’t even answer him.
I didn’t even finish my sandwich.
I got up, walked across the plaza, and bought a one-way plane ticket for two weeks later.
That evening, I returned to the studio I shared with my boyfriend of 5 years. I told him I was going to the US, and that I’d marry him if he wanted to come with me and try to get a green card. He didn’t.
Instead, he drank an entire bottle of vodka and collapsed onto our bed. I packed my belongings and left. That was the last time I saw him.
When I got to my parents’ house, everybody was gone. My mom and sister were visiting friends in Touho – a small village a few hours from Houailou, on the jungly eastern side of the island, where I grew up – and my Dad was somewhere out at sea.
Two weeks prior – and Dad can correct me on this, if my memory is faulty – he had decided to motor his fishing boat all the way to the Isle of Pines. A pretty ballsy move for that size boat. But having kids and settling on an island never really took the adventurous edge off either of my folks.
Dad had made it, with dolphins on each side of the boat celebrating his success. But on the way back, he had been caught in a perfect storm. I believe he survived on optimism alone.
I watched him stumble down the driveway on wobbly sea legs. He looked ragged, with a few days beard, a sunburnt nose and several pounds lighter. He casually let himself drop on the sofa. He didn’t ask right away why I was there. We just sat in knowing silence, like two people with such good stories to tell that rushing into them would have been rude.
“So … what’s new with you?” Dad gave me the floor.
“I’m moving to the US. I broke up with David and quit my job. I leave in two weeks.” I said casually.
“Hmm. Great. You’ll like the Americans.” He nodded and smiled approvingly. That was it.
My Mom’s reaction was to buy me a suitcase. That suitcase held my entire life when I landed in LAX – a pair of jeans, a few tee shirts and underwear, my American flag sleeping bag, two unnamed stuffed cats – a tiger and a lion, currently behind me, the driver side of the truck, as I’m typing this – and about 15 comic books from a series called Thorgal, I just couldn’t do without.
My sister also wished me luck, in her own way. She confessed that she hadn’t cared for me much growing up – she was 13 years old by then – but that I had turned out alright in the end, and that she was likely to miss me.
With these blessings and gifts, I left never to return. I became an island girl in America. Always different. Always special.
Someday, I’ll write the story of my first day in LA. But that story would take a whole post, and my stomach is letting me know I’ve been writing well past lunch time.
Eventually, the “island girl” in me faded and integrated, reduced to nothing more than a slight lingering accent I’d have gladly discarded if could have. I like the American version of myself I have become. I feel so at home here, that I hardly remember that I once upon a time lived far away on another planet, and wished so hard to be where I am today.
I only remember on April 10th.
P.S: On April 12th, 1992, two days later, I drove into Joshua Tree national monument for the first time with my cousin Jeff, from LA. The sun had just set when we reached the entrance. The Joshua Tree’s alien-looking branches were silhouetted against my first desert sunset. And just then, a coyote crossed the road!
A few days ago, I posted a story about my arrival to the US from a small tropical island in the South Pacific.
Here are my Dad’s corrections, translated for your convenience (original email below).
Hello, my … American daughter,
I carefully read your post by the above title [Happy One of my Most Special Day to me!]. All is well with it and it accurately represents reality . Of course, I will not intervene in your personal story, but I can correct some minor “historic” errors … or my lack of memory … none of which change the value of what you have written.
- To begin with, with my memory problems, I don’t believe there was, ever, any peanut butter in the house (I hate it! …), but, if you say there was …
- I lived for 4 years (1967 – 1971) in LA and Mom a little less than 3 years (July 68 – January 71).
- Your aunt was a bit young when we left for New Caledonia. She was not yet in Tahiti. It is possible that she had already met Robert [my uncle, who is from Tahiti]. She came, first, to New Caledonia where Robert and her were married (in Noumea), then left for Tahiti around 1975 or 1976. In fact, we felt that Tahiti was too small for our need for wide open spaces. Our one-way plane tickets were from LAX->Sydney, but in the end we stayed in New Caledonia after discovering our beloved east coast.
- When you came home after deciding to leave for the US, Mom and Goule [our nickname for my sister] were in the Isle of Pines (not Touho). Mom had flown to the island and Goule had sailed with me on the Chouchou [my Dad’s boat], but she refused to get back on the boat for the way back. To be fair, we navigated on the way there smack in the middle of cyclone “Betsy”. I navigated the way back … in one of the worst “western episode” [crazy winds from the west] New Caledonia has ever know!…
- Your sister was 15 when you left (1977 -> 1992) [Actually, she was 14, so we’re both wrong. She was born on April 13th – which is today in New Caledonia because they are already tomorrow – so she hadn’t turned 15 yet. I still think of her as the “little sister” – it’s hard to keep track :-)]
Here are my few adjustments … just in case you decide to write a book from your memories.
MyDad [Monpapa – one word – is what I call him]
[Featured below, the famous, original Chouchou (not to be confused with Chouchou II) that crossed the ocean in a cyclone and came back in a “coup d’ouest”. Not photoshopped, the water is really that clear.]
Salut ma fille… Américaine,
J’ai lu, avec beaucoup d’attention, le texte dont le titre est ci-dessus. L’ensemble est très bien et représente correctement la réalité. Bien sur je n’interviendrai pas sur ce qui t’est personnel mais je peux corriger certaines petites erreurs « historiques » ou… mon manque de mémoire… Ce qui ne change en rien, d’ailleurs, sur le bien fondé de tout ce que tu as écrit.
- Déjà, pour commencer par la mémoire, je ne pensais pas qu’il y eut, un jour, du peanut butter à la maison (j’ai horreur de ça !…), mais si tu le dis…
- J’ai vécu 4 ans (1967 – 1971) à L–A et Maman un peu moins de 3 ans (juillet 68 – janvier 71) .
- Ta tante était bien jeune lorsque nous partîmes pour la Nouvelle-Calédonie. Elle n’était pas encore à Tahiti. Il est possible qu’elle connaissait déjà Robert. Elle est venue d’abord, avec Robert, en Nouvelle-Calédonie où ils se sont mariés (à Nouméa) puis sont partis pour Papeete en 75 ou 76. En fait, nous trouvions Tahiti bien trop petit pour nos envies de grands espaces. Nos billets d’avion, one-way, indiquaient L-A -> Sydney mais nous sommes restés, finalement, en Nouvelle-Calédonie après avoir découvert notre Côte Est.
- Quand tu es revenue à la maison après ta décision de partir, Maman et Goule étaient à l’Île-des-Pins (pas à Touho). Maman était venue en avion et ta sœur avec moi sur le Chouchou mais refusait d’y remonter. Il faut dire que nous avions fait la traversée, à l’ aller, en plein dans le cyclone « Betsy » et que j’ai fait, deux semaines plus tard, le retour… dans le pire « coup d’ouest » que la Calédonie ait connu !…
- Ta sœur avait 15 ans à ton départ (1977 -> 1992).
Voilà mes quelques précisions… au cas où tu ferais un livre de tes souvenirs !