Yesterday I wrote about pathways of stories.
This Easter, Donna had me walking back to the first story that made a massive turn in my pathway: when the family moved to Greenport, Long Island. It was 1985, Ronald Reagan was president and I was 12 years old. I had had six months of English in school. I could count to ten and say “my name is Signe.” America was far away, a place we couldn’t phantom. We had to promise our friends to get an autograph from Michael Jackson if we met him. Solemnly.
Greenport became, what we in our family call, a “before and after” experience. A marker of time. Mom and dad travelled to China before living in America. I got my blue bicycle after we came back. I grew up in America, was a child on arrival and a teenager on return. Physically, I grew 32 cm in America. I’m the tallest person in our family, though my brother claims he is (we have measured it a dozen times). I blame America for that. Being tall.
I have so many stories to tell from America, my first real experience of being foreign. What it was like to sit in a classroom, understanding nothing. Discovering that everything was different. That it wasn’t just because I didn’t understand what they said; the rules were different, the meaning of social class, race, gender. So significant in America, so insignificant where I came from. I could no longer play with the boys. White children didn’t play with black children. You played with those who had the same GPA as yourself. If you were at the top, you hated those with the same GPA as yourself. I had never received a mark or grade for anything in my life*. We don’t believe in judging children in that way. In America you could fail year one.
America was significant. Donna posted pictures that make stories explode in my head. Stories I will have to revisit. Because in Donna’s pictures Greenport hasn’t changed. After 27 years, the Arcade looks like the day we left. In my mind I can walk straight in and find Michelle’s dad in the back left corner of the shop in the men’s clothing department. I can picture the lady at Colonial Drugs, in a dark blue dress with flowers and a sterile smell. My pink bedroom in Carpenter Street six-oh-eight (we said sixhundredandeight before we learned). Our phone number was 477 9498.
So much glue in a 12 year old brain. Because I had to learn. Fast. It was a major turn.
*we got our first grades from year 7; after we returned from America.