I was a lonely kid, from the outside. A small town, not a lot of nerds. But I kept myself busy. Geography was my thing. I got a world almanac with my floppy disc copy of “Where In The World Is Carmen San Diego?” and it became my bible. I read it cover to cover. Lists of highest mountain peaks. Deepest lakes. Flattest land masses.
I liked the words. I rolled them on my tongue like ripe cherries. Archipelago. Kinshasa. Lesotho. Kilimanjaro. Azerbaijan. Bujumbura.
I measured distance in child-sized fingertips as they walked across pages. I followed down roads in my mind. Roads with names and distances. In Nogales, my hometown, I didn’t know the names of most roads. I didn’t need to. You either went onto the overpass to Grande or under it to Morley. And from those places, it was take a left at the bridge or a right at Walgreens. There was no imagination. Everything felt immutable and stale.
But in my room, with the desk lamp on, I could dive deep down into the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench, a place not even light could reach. Light, the other side of energy. How was that possible? I read yesterday that Victor Vescovo journeyed 10,927 meters (35,853 feet) to the bottom of the Challenger Deep, the southern end of the Mariana Trench, as part of a mission to chart the world’s deepest underwater places. On May 1st, 2019. What did he find there? A plastic bag.
Because direction seemed to be of little consequence as a child, and routine muted out curiosity, it wasn’t until much later that I realized I had problems with “left” and “right.” That I was dyslexic.
It certainly made getting around Tucson a problem when I turned 18. And that city is on a grid. Quite possibly one of the easiest cities to navigate. And I got lost…a lot.
Somehow I persevered. Over the decades I’ve manage to find my way around a lot of cities. On foot, car, train, subway. But it’s always with a lot of anxiety. I get lost to this date. But I’ve been blessed with a few things: an innate love of languages, good communication skills, and an open face that makes strangers want to help me.
This does not mean that I don’t worry. I worry so much. I doubt myself. I turn around in circles. I look at my phone repeatedly. Have I ever quit and gone home in tears? Yes. But once I made it from Cupertino to Santa Cruz without a map, any money or I.D. That open face of mine and my ability to memorize long numerical sequence meant that I went on a successful shopping spree.
The next day, spurred on by my success, I harrowed down a winding mountain highway to the Monterrey Bay Aquarium. It was overcast and rainy in turns, something I wasn’t acquainted with. I had to white knuckle it a bit. And, frankly, keep myself from releasing the steering wheel and covering my eyes from fear.
But I made it. With the little cash I had, I paid my entrance into the aquarium and instantly felt peace. Circling sardines and saxophonist seahorses. The rush of waves against rocks on the bay. Happy otters cavorting.
I was not prepared for what came next. I walked into a dark room, illuminated only by the lights in the aquariums where jellyfish of all varieties floated like angels. I’d never seen anything quite like it. Words failed me. I just knew I was witnessing a thing of beauty. They danced in lighter than air ballgowns with tendrils fluttering in some orchestrated movement. The road and the thoughts of all the potential hazards had failed to keep me from this revelation, made all the more revelatory by the arduous journey.
I can’t amaze you with any antics I engaged in today. Honestly, I went to Walgreens and Chase Bank. I memorized the route. Right, four blocks, left, enough blocks until I was on Fulton, and then a right to Walgreens. Over and over, I said it in my head until I was there. And then a left and across the street until I found the bank. I stopped on my way between Walgreens and Chase to feel the mangos at the West Indian market. They were ripe. I made a mental note to return for some when I had a bag on hand.
I don’t have to take it all in today. This has been in process for longer than even I know. Since tiny fingertips carried me off to places my little head couldn’t imagine. Only now, I can imagine. And I can realize. I might never know my left from my right. But I know my right from my wrong. And this, my friends, feels right.