I did it again. Ughghghg. Well bleh. What I meant to write was:
The thing I remember most was that book I couldn't put down. We the Living, and even if you're not an Ayn Rand fan (or if you think she's a crazy person), the book is wonderful--all of her stories are kind of the same thing, so if you had to read just one. Anyway, I couldn't stop reading it. It had been sitting next to my bed for about three months and I'd started it but only got about forty pages in before I just sort of quit reading it. But I took it with me, just in case. And around night four of this trip I was one hundred pages from the end and everything in it was going crazy and we were going all around Naples or Miami doing things but I'd get out of the back of the truck still reading it. We went to a beach to take pictures of the sun going down and it was a dark sunset, I remember, really dark orange, everything the sort of color that things turn around a campfire. And I noticed it getting darker, but barely, and I don't think I realized at all when the orange turned into streetlight orange, camera flashes headlights because we were driving down the road and I was trying to hold the sentence I was on in this orange line of light as it slid away, following it across the sleeping as the cars passed. And then I was I crying, quiet, not even sniffling, mouth hung open and face burning and my friend noticed and laughed, and then we were at Dairy Queen sitting at a table outside. My ice cream was melting too fast and I couldn't keep up with it--imagine, ice cream melting outside in December? But then I finished the book, and the ice cream was all over my face and left hand and wrist, mouth probably still hung open. And the light from the store was bright like a warehouse or a stadium, really white, like when you know you're outside but it feels like inside and I sort of wish now that it had been dark and orange, but then that's how it went.
Amy and I talked a lot on that trip. She was the friend, my neighbor, who invited me. Crazy Amy--she's always Crazy Amy in my stories. We talked about boys and family, mostly. She told me about music, I being a woefully uncultured child. Who's Guns N' Roses? And then her mom's boyfriend told me about cleaning the Glock he kept by his pillow in the tent.
But Miami! We were driving there during the day and it was so bright. We went on this tour to see... well I don't remember, now, there were a few small islands and houses with famous people, same thing I think I flew over on the way to Colombia. And I'd borrowed a skirt from her, this short black thing with studs and some shirt that didn't really match and my hair was dark enough that I looked as goth as she was without trying, but it was in sixty two degrees outside and I could think of nothing better to wear. So we were on the tour and I was freezing with the wind blowing off the water but there was a family a few seats up speaking Italian and a father and son in front of me speaking something like Dutch, but I never did know for sure.
And then back in Naples at night, we'd made friends in the hot tub. All the European kids on holiday--all of them speaking English with us--and we just sat around and talked. There was a Jamaican talking about soccer--at first I couldn't tell what on earth he was saying. Sow-kah? And so I repeated it that way, what does that word mean? And everyone laughed and later the three French boys, all with my exact coloring, they could have been my brothers. But then Cote is a French name, I told myself, because that's all I knew then. They were speaking so quickly and I was supposed to start French the next semester and I could say a few words an exchange student had taught me how to say, and then suddenly one of the boys was stopping mid-sentence, does she speak French? Of course not. Sigh of relief.
Who knew we might have been out of place, me with my borrowed bathing suit and the hole in it, Crazy Amy with the underside of her hair shaved. Her mom shouting shut the hell up to who knows from inside the tent, and the international kids probably couldn't have understood it anyway, southern American English a whole adventure unto itself in pronunciation. At any rate, none of that ever occured to me. I just kept listening to the French. To this one little German boy who would speak German with his father, French with the others, and then slow, broken English with us. I'd never experienced anything remotely international, apart from exchange students and my cousin's stories about Russia. And Naples, Miami, these places were international to me.
When we walked around in Miami we stopped at a taco stand and I watched the man taking our order write it down in Spanish as he spoke to us in perfect English. I couldn't understand how that worked at all. And then later we were walking down the street and I don't remember what stopped me but I was looking at something written in Sharpie on the wall of a building and there was Spanish and English and some man came up to me and was suddenly speaking to me in Spanish. And then when I gave him a sort of apologetic look he was surprised a little. You don't speak Spanish? I wished I did, along with French and everything else.
Miami was bright colors. I didn't know the difference between a palm tree and a coconut tree. I thought they were the same thing. It was buildings with orange walls and red terracotta roofs, if I remember. And the lights of some part of the city at night, how they looked over the water from a mall we were in. I don't remember the specifics. I remember the colors and the languages, and the very beginnings of some mess of questions of identity, translated through what am I? Ethnically, I mean. In terms of heritage. All these comments, particularly now, about how I've got a European look about me, and I can see them taking root in Miami and Naples five years ago. I'd never seen anything like those places, both at an entirely different pace and lighting and sound than anything else, even the temperature, so much more mild than North Carolina winter, throwing me.
There went that footing, but it's funny to see the way I still come back to it. These things I care about, am interested in--are they how I am, or are they Florida still under my skin. Would I have cared if someone thought I was Hispanic--more European than indigenous of course--in an airport in Miami this summer if someone else hadn't thought the same thing when I was fifteen? Would I let them think that? It's a whole tangle of things, and I still haven't gotten it figured out.
But there's still that hook in me, invisible line drawing back toward fiesta colors and blue sky, blue tent, blue hot tob, French and Spanish and all the other languages colors themselves. Miami orange, Naples blue. Suddenly not black and white at all.