For whatever reason, I woke up this morning thinking about a girl named Maria V.
I met her at school in sixth grade, when she joined my class partway through the year. She and her family had come from Laos, and it appeared she knew not a word of English, so our teacher excused me from class on numerous occasions to walk her around the school and teach her some key words and phrases—”book,” “pencil,” “clock,” “library” …
We did a lot of smiling and nodding, and I imagine now that words might have been the least of her worries after escaping whatever situation it was she and her family had fled.
She lived just a few blocks from my growing-up home, her family settling in on the upper floor of an old three-story house that had been turned into apartments. This morning I began to wonder about her house, whether it was still there, if it remained true to my memory.
This is the weird and wonderful thing about moving back to my hometown—I can actually go and check out the settings of my memories. So Maria’s apartment became Leo’s and my jogging destination, our route determined by which sidewalks had the least ice and the most dog- and squirrel-free yards.
(Side note: I sound like a weather reporter, but I can’t help mentioning that this was my first jacket-free trot of the season at a sunny 45 degrees. Glorious! Just one week ago today, Jon and I went skiing at lunchtime in 14-degree weather. #MinnesotaMarch)
Indeed Maria’s house was still there, a few neighborhoods away from where I live now, and stood mostly as I had seen it in my mind’s eye. I recalled the one or two times I had climbed the stairs to her apartment for a visit. It had been dark and smelled of something fried, a food I could not identify at the time. Would I know it now? I remember someone was working on a sewing project of sorts. Her mother?
I don’t remember what she and I did together when we met up, and I lost track of her after sixth grade, when we went to different schools. But I would think of her five years later when I landed in Japan, similarly challenged by language, dependent on others to lead me around their schools, introducing me to basic words and phrases—”hon,” “empitsu,” “tokei,” toshokan” … —teaching me how to use chopsticks, how to properly take a Japanese bath. Unlike Maria, though, I had a trap door: a return ticket home, to a place where language and life (mostly) made sense to me. A luxury.
I imagine I remembered her again, twenty-seven years after I last saw her, when my husband and I went to India to adopt our son. I’ll never forget the weight of responsibility that settled on me the moment our jet’s wheels lifted off Indian soil. That was it. We were all three committed to this new life, but our son would be the most affected, leaving his history and everything he had known for an unknown future, unaware at the time that it was even happening.
Today I saw that Maria’s home had been reconverted into a historic single-family house, she and her family having long since left for other places and futures. Where and what I can only imagine.
But like a pebble dropped in a pond, Maria, forty years later, still ripples in my memory.
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Posts on resuming a Minnesota life after 19 years in Washington
Sometimes you have to run far, far away to find your way home.