For me one of the most complicated questions for me is, “Where are you from?” As a child I moved often and as an adult my gypsy upbringing has repeated as a pattern in my life. The chapters of my memoir Puffy & Blue: The Chronicles of Nine Lives Together are divided by where I lived. I don’t consider myself as having a home town. I thought it would be fun to share the start of each chapter for a longer answer to where I am from.
In Dallas, Texas, my parents got the shock of their lives. While my mom was pregnant with me, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease. The news continued to reverberate in our lives for decades. My mom put my life above her own and refused all treatment during pregnancy. She wouldn’t even allow the surgeons to sedate her for the biopsy. She wanted no harm to come to me in any effort to extend her life. As I grew, so did the cancer, but she actually lost weight during pregnancy as her body suffered the consequences of the disease. My mom always told me that I was a most wanted child.
Tachikawa, Japan (1968–1972)
My very first memory in life is very much without context. I was about two-and-a-half years old at the time. I was standing beside the railroad tracks in Tachikawa, Japan, with my parents calling, “Casey, here kitty, kitty, kitty,” in what I am certain was the sweetest little voice ever.
We were searching for our lost cat. I have absolutely no memory of Casey, yet my hazy early memory starts there beside the railroad tracks. I remember that the burnt smell of the tracks tickled my nose. I was trying to balance my wee little feet on loose gravel and stones. The scene feels black and white to me, like an old photograph. I imagine that maybe I was wearing my Mary Jane shoes and a pink jacket with a fuzzy lining. My favorite color in Japan was pink.
We never found Casey. I know from old pictures that Casey was a Siamese cat. From the stories my parents used to tell, I know Casey loved to hide and jump out to scare my dad. Once my dad jumped and screamed, Casey would prance away, satisfied. But that is all I know about Casey.
San Mateo, California (1972)
We were transferred to America when I was nearly five years old. We moved to California and suddenly no one noticed me. It was quite a shock when every other kid had blonde hair, and I discovered I was simply ordinary. I walked the streets of San Mateo without fanfare. I blended into the crowd. I adjusted just fine to no longer being photographed, stared at and touched by strangers. I am pretty sure those four years in Japan attributed to my distaste for being photographed even today.
My mom was no longer in remission. We were transferred urgently to California so my mom could go through experimental treatments at Stanford University, because Hodgkin’s disease at the time was one hundred percent fatal. Going through the experimental treatment was a gamble, but her fate would have been sealed without them.
The only problem with our planned transfer was that I had recently gotten over a mild case of chickenpox and I had passed a severe case of it onto my brother. As we prepared for our international flight, we had all our transfer papers ready, our pets were vaccinated and Kevin was covered head to toe in the chickenpox. Our transfer home was crucial to my mom’s health. So, my parents decided to have Kevin travel home as if he was a make-believe robber wearing a ski mask. He even wrote in Crayola on his suitcase, “I am a robber.” This plan was working just fine until somewhere over the Pacific Ocean a stewardess noticed the speckled little boy on the plane.
Shortly after arriving in San Francisco, our little family, animals and of our belongings were ushered out of the city limits to a hotel for quarantine. While we were quarantined, officials attempted to verify that Kevin indeed only had chickenpox and was not the carrier of some unknown deadly foreign disease. [Continue reading]