ABOUT ME IN WORDS

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When I was young, I imagined myself as a red-lipped dame. Gold bangles swinging around slender wrists. But I was not born to be tall or dainty.

I’ve never been good at being young. Or swimming. Or whistling. As a child, I spent my time in the company of adults and my own internal world.

Watching. Listening. Waiting.

Waiting to grow old enough.

I waited, melting into the vinyl seats of a ’71 Plymouth Duster deep in the heart of Texas.

The Duster grew old on a gravel driveway across the street and down the block from the neighborhood clapboard cantina. Nicolas Fernandez, a Mexican revolutionary, retired from Pancho Villa’s army and laid that gravel driveway. He was my great grandfather. My great grandmother was the girl he stole on horseback.

I grew old deep sea fishing the Gulf of Mexico, selling my catch to the pier-bound shacks. Staring across the waves that tossed me out each time I ran in. Daring me to push past the shallow waters that forced the swells to break.

I spent days learning furniture building from a craftsman with a white beard yellowed by cigarette smoke.

I passed summer nights in an open-air boxing gym, building knuckles from scars. I knocked out men. So I didn’t fight girls. I was offered the life of a pro boxer. But getting hit in the face was just a hobby.

When I was young, I knew I would be a writer.

So I grew old enough.

And I left.

I left for a small bedroom shared by four in a Latvian orphanage. An article in Reader’s Digest compelled me to go. To do something, anything. So I cooked, did laundry, traded bits of English for phrases in Latvian and drove where I couldn’t understand street signs. I have three adopted siblings from that orphanage.

I left to teach the women of Russia’s Mari-El republic, those who have known nothing but orthodox posterity, to streak on a full moon night.

In Canada’s northern reaches, I tracked polar bear with a canvas tarp, a stick, an old Colt shotgun and a Cree named Sherman. That stick would save my life.

In a rain storm, I climbed to the liquid caldera of an active volcano, hard hat on head, and watched as the light of hell shot into the night. The fastest way down an active volcano is on your back, sliding.

I racked up $1.25 in debt to the Anaconda, Montana library.

I interviewed with the CIA to be an undercover field agent. Duties included persuading targets to commit treason and paper work.

I moved to Spain to forget my English and get a feel for their recycling system.

I trekked across the Sahara Desert and into the worst sandstorm my Berber companions had seen in twenty years.

I moved to Cuba. While riding cross country in a 1950 Chevy, I learned there is little romance to cooking breakfast in a Communist country suffering from sixty years of neglect.

Suspended in utter darkness, I almost died scuba diving a cave in the Tyrrhenian Sea. It would have been a lonely death.

While piloting a small plane, I nearly killed myself and two others.

During the aforementioned polar bear tracking, I should have died going through the ice of the Hudson Bay. But for that stick.

But the closest I came to death was driving to get BBQ one July night in Kentucky.

I left.

I left to live an uncomfortable life. An uncommon life. To understand the human condition. And most intimately my own. To quiet the survivor guilt I’ve contended with since I was eleven. I left to wander and ask and taste and stare, even though you’re not supposed to stare. Because I am called to write.

And what is a writer without a story?