My father was in the military, he served as a navigator in the air force, and he was on his way to making a bit of a meteoric rise through the ranks—he’s a smart man, he showed up at the University of Texas on registration day, and said, “I’m here,” without having even applied—before he opted to withdrawal from further considerations, but not before we moved eight times, and between two countries and four states, and all before I was nine years old. My dad’s first station was at Mather Air Force Base, outside of Sacramento, California, where he lived with my mom; that is the reason why, and where I was born, it was the autumn of ’84 (that’s the when).
A matter of, only months later, my family was moved to Little Rock, Arkansas—another training gig, I believe, for my father, it wouldn’t mean anything even semi-permanent for us—it was in Little Rock that I would take my first steps. Once my father’s training gig ended, he was transferred to an air force base in Fussa, Tokyo, Japan, and while he was on his way to Japan, to get settled and to prep for my mother and I, my mom and I went to stay with her dad for a spell in Charlotte, North Carolina. Where yet another milestone, of sorts, was written into my life resume, after our house burned down.
Eventually, my mother and I joined my father in Tokyo. My mom started carrying a camcorder on her shoulder everywhere after we moved to Japan, and my sister was born; we have spent recent family Christmas’ reliving recordings—newly remastered for DVD—of us driving around the base in Japan, shopping at the commissary, walking around Tokyo, and there’s video of Santa stopping by the bases’ civic center to deliver presents. My sister didn’t take too kindly to Santa.
Beyond the recordings, I don’t have my own memories of being in Japan, save one; my earliest memories only date as far back as when I was 11, and living in Texas. This earliest snapshot of a memory in Japan, is as much a landscape painting in my mind, as it is a memory, and it’s an image that has impressed itself on me and has even behaved as a means of comfort for me. The image is almost always there in the backdrop, and in the darkness when I close my eyes.
I think that the world is remarkably beautiful when blanketed with snow, and in some places more than others. The Japanese countryside is one of those beautiful places. I remember the evening after a freshly fallen snow, I must have been outside, playing, and I happened to catch a glimpse of the horizon, beyond our neighborhood, as the sun was setting. The scene certainly made an impression on me, even as a child, because the mental snapshot I took is just as clear to me today as it was then. In the distance, I remember as true a red of a sun as a Japanese folktale describes, and the red sun was partially beneath the horizon, and reflecting pinks, purples, and reds, in a medley of color that I don’t think have even appeared since (even in a northern New Mexico or Arizona sunsets). There was a metal swing set in a park, in silhouette, between the setting sun and me; I sat there in the snow, just watching until the sun, and the swing set, were cloaked by the night. It was this moment, and recognizing, even if it was subconsciously, that moments like this, and especially in those places that might be unfamiliar, are treasured and infinite.
We lived in Japan for five years, until my dad was transferred back to Mather, outside of Sacramento, California. And for the next two years my family would travel throughout much of California. We explored the coastline, Yosemite and Redwood National Parks, Eldorado and Mendocino National Forests, and Disneyland. I fell off of our raft, and into the rapids of the Colorado River when rafting as a family on one of our annual camping trips. I took a revitalizing morning dip in the same Colorado River many years later when camping outside of Moab, Utah. We took short road trips in a blue Plymouth Voyager with a faux wooden strip around its center, a van that would be my first car many years later; as a family, we enjoyed, what are probably, the most beautiful parts of the state. Avoiding Las Angeles at almost all costs, of course.
My dad was transferred, once again, a couple of years later, as we spent a transitional, although pointless year in Abilene, Texas (my dad was slowly getting out of the military). We lived on a cul-de-sac, in what seemed to me like the dirtiest city in the world, at least as far as I knew, yet. One of our neighbors on the cul-de-sac was elderly man, at least he seemed so for someone my age—he was most likely only in his fifties—and he gave the neighborhood children ice cream sandwiches, after playing a semblance of baseball on hot, Texas summer days. I went to Allie Ward Elementary School, which is only noteworthy to me, because I met someone years later, in New Mexico, who also went to Allie Ward Elementary School, but a few years before me. And I vaguely recall Mr. Gatti’s Pizza, and the color green.
The following year my family moved to Boerne, Texas, twenty miles outside of San Antonio, and we would stay there well after my dad retired from the military. I would go on to graduate from Boerne High School, and I would eventually drop out of the University of Texas in San Antonio, upon making a spontaneous decision to pack my things in my ’99 Honda Civic and start driving west on I-10. A decision that was probably the most important of my life, for a number of wonderful and tragic reasons, and one that would not necessarily start, but would definitely expand on an interest of a thing that had unwittingly developed many years before, and that would, ultimately, change the course of my life: travel.