Gentle California

Arriving at the San Jose airport to meet my new family sent me into a kind of paralysis. I was seven years old at the time. Before I left, they had sent a box full of toys and trinkets to Florida for me, hoping that the gifts would keep me entertained on the flight; a kind of peace offering. I was won over by this action, sure that anything would be better than where I was coming from. Among other time-passing activities, there were Disney coloring books in the box and a 64 pack of Crayola Crayons. I knew the fact that they sent me a 64 pack was a big deal; it definitely said more than the 24 pack. Laser lemon exclaimed, “we are more than excited to meet you.” Blue violet meant “we care about you.” Each color seemed to be communicating something special to me. But I was fearful of outer space, a deep gray-black, for each time it caught my eye, it whispered “this could all go very badly.” On the plane, I dutifully filled out the coloring books. As my fingers grazed each of the tips from the fresh, colorful batch of paraffin wax, I intentionally skipped over outer space. There would be no darkness; I would not have it.

The flight across the country spanned an incredibly long nine hours. Each passing hour left me with more gratitude for the gifts and a growing combination of hope and dread. I was about to begin a new life with strangers. I knew what they looked like from the pictures they sent me in the box, (the one with the 64 pack of crayons), but what did they smell like? What did they sound like? What if I didn’t fit in? My thoughts passed in the same way the clouds we coasted through passed the small, triangle shaped window to my left. Below and above and through me. Searching for some stability, I pressed my thighs against the cool cushion of the seat, but my legs and feet dangled off the edge. No matter the squirming, my body was too small to reach the plane floor. I sat, truly suspended in air, waiting. There was no going back, but the future was also a menacing place. Perhaps, there was some safety there — in the not knowing what was to come.

When I found my new parents, my new brother, and my new sister waiting for me, they were carrying a homemade sign that said “Welcome, Gianna” in bubble letters and one of those giant-sized stuffed animals. They were all huddled together as if they were one unit — a unit that I was about to infiltrate. It was all very dreamy; like the kind of sleeping where one can still hear what is happening in their surrounding environment, but is falling in and out of consciousness. Diane, who I would call “Aunt Diane” for a while before feeling comfortable enough to use that word (the m-o-m word, and even then) — was chatty and approachable. I can’t remember what we talked about, but there were a lot of questions. The questions were all polite and answerable, but my brain was on fire. These people were to become my family; and how foreign it all felt. There was so much sense-making to do, so much mind stretching. I couldn’t sleep during the entire flight over, but suddenly I was exhausted. It was 11:00 pm, which meant that it was 2:00 am in Florida. I was so far away from there and while I felt some type of relief for that, a new kind of fear overcame me. I was young, but I knew my life was changing in a monumental way, and I knew there was no choice but to surrender. As we packed up in their car and drove towards Oakhurst, a small, rural mountain town where I would spend the rest of my adolescence, I could no longer fight my fatigue. I fell into a light sleep. I could hear them talking about me still; that I was so cute, that they could tell I took a liking to Jessica (my new sister), and then suddenly, I would lose track of their conversation. In and out of consciousness. My new sister’s lap and my new giant, sprawled out stuffed animal made for convenient pillows. When I drifted back into consciousness and there was no more conversation to eavesdrop on, I listened to the gentle hum of the car engine carrying us forward instead.

The rest of the night was a blur. By the time we had arrived at what would become my new home, the dark of the night had painted everything into silhouettes. The branches of the large oak trees looked like overhanging arms. And there was the long, uneven driveway that stretched around what looked like a pond originally, but come morning, would surprise me as a meadow with thick, yellowing grass. It was late October; one season shedding into another. When we opened the car door, all of our bodies, with their shuffling and dragging, had made a consensus. We were tired. My new family showed me to my new room, which I would be sharing with Jessica. There was already a bunk bed waiting for this new formation to take place. The bed was already made. All of the toys and objects were so unfamiliar, and yet placed perfectly in little designated places meant for them. Was it always so clean? I surveyed the room with my heavy eyes; what kind of exchange would need to happen here? At what point does her room really become our room? I clambered up the bunk bed ladder and laid down with my giant stuffed animal. I set it up as if it was a barricade between me and the world I just entered. I didn’t want to see the room or all of the newness and from up here, I didn’t really have to. I closed my eyes and drifted off again.

My fear and excitement woke me up early the next morning — along with the smell of bacon, which had made its way through the cracks of our, no, her, room. It’s a task enough to “make yourself at home” when you are not in your own home, but an entirely different one to “make yourself at home” with your new family, in your new home, in your new town. I wanted to see my surroundings in color and now that the sun was lighting up the world, it was possible to do so. I made my way down the hall, a short, humble hall, and went towards the backdoor in the kitchen. Underneath the lacey, white curtains were peaks of greens and yellows and blues. I thought back to my crayons, wondering if there was a color in the box that could capture even a fraction of this. Maybe Goldenrod or fern. Diane was in the kitchen, watching me quietly, uncover magic. I can remember opening the door, hearing the hinges squeak from the age of the house, feeling so big and so small all at once. The mountains stared back at me in their gloriously unapologetic construction. This was my home now. These mountains are strong enough and wide enough to handle some of my hurt if I give it to them. I looked back at Diane, with a curious smile, my eyes narrowing, asking with my facial expression if it would be alright to share a bit of what I was feeling.

“I have never seen mountains like this before.” I said quietly, but out loud, trying to contain my admiration for their glory. So sure in their standing. Beautiful.