1994, aged 14: We are living in England again, in a leafy town called Haslemere, which is about forty-five minutes by train from London and about half an hour by car from my school. I choose to alter my status from "full-time boarder" to "weekly boarder," which means that at 4 o'clock on Friday afternoons, I watch for my mother's dark maroon sedan to pull through the school gates, and then I tear down the stairs and throw my weekend bag (packed with laundry and homework) into the back. I spend weekends at home with my family, and then on Sunday nights---is there anything more depressing than a Sunday night?---my father drives me back to school, and in the car we listen to the music we're just beginning to realize we have in common.
Here is what I wear when I am fourteen: baseball caps, jeans with rips in the knee, large baggy plaid shirts, and a pair of ragged Chuck Taylors that I bought in California over the summer, and which I charmingly (and inexplicably) refer to as "my baseball boots." I am, in fact, rather obsessed with baseball when I am fourteen, and basketball too, and this is of note only because I am---then as now---almost embarrassingly uncoordinated at organized sports. Baseball and basketball I like, however, because they are American.
Other things I like (with an unrivaled fervor centered solely on the fact that they are of U.S. export) include The Doors, Roseanne, and a t-shirt with a bottle of Jack Daniels on it, which, looking back on it, I don't think I fully understand. I am also really into incense.
I have a friend---almost a best friend---called Caroline, and over the summer, I go to her house and her dad is lying on the sofa with a bad back; they think he has slipped a disk. A few weeks later, they find out that he has not slipped a disk after all, that he has cancer, and then the cancer spreads into his liver, and by October he has gone. The phone rings on a cold and sunny Sunday afternoon and after I hang it up, I stand in the hallway for a minute or two, receiver in hand, and I don't know what to do with the information, don't know how to make sense of it. My dad walks past and sees me standing there. He asks if I'm alright. I say "I think so. But Caroline's dad just died."
1995, aged 15: For my fifteenth birthday, I have a group of friends over on Friday evening and we camp out in the living room in sleeping bags and watch movies. With the lights out, we pass around a large plastic bottle of cider, which is what English teenagers drink before they've reached the legal drinking age of 18, mostly because it's cheap, but also because it tastes a little like apple juice. (I have never lost the taste for cider; even today, it's always what I order in bars.)
Over the summer, I go back to Hong Kong for a month to see some of the friends I still have there, and my friend Beth's stepdad lets us stay in his apartment and doesn't ask any questions about where we're going in the evenings or when we'll be back. In a nightclub, I dance with a boy called Bo, who pulls me close and writes his phone number in red pen on a yellow post-it note and later, I'm not sure how, I lose my contact lens on the crowded dancefloor, and it's like one of those horrible nightmares where you're looking for something and you can't find it and everyone's trying to help you look, but it's loud and it's dark and everyone's drunk and bumping into each other.
I never find the contact lens, and I spend the rest of the trip wearing my glasses. The next day, I look at the post-it note---who has a post-it note in a nightclub, anyway?---and realize that the number scrawled on it is fake. It's only five digits long.
When I get back to England, my obsession with America has not waned a bit, and one day towards the end of the summer, my mother knocks on my bedroom door and comes into my room and says she's got some news, and suddenly it's like the world opens up into this bright, beautiful thing. My dad has been offered a transfer to New York.
My parents move that autumn, and once again, after a two-year reprieve, I'm back to the dull ache of homesickness that comes from having a family living thousands of miles away. I cope by dying my hair red and experimenting with losing ten pounds. At Christmas, Tom and I fly to New York, where my dad picks us up at JFK and drives us in the dark to the new family home in Connecticut, where the snow has accumulated several feet high.
One of my mother's new friends has a son my age, and he invites me to a party, which turns out to be full of arty drama geeks and people's parents in Christmas sweaters. I end up talking for a while to one particularly handsome arty drama geek, and at the end of the party, he runs out to the car as I'm leaving, motions for me to roll the window down, and asks if he can kiss me. This is the most romantic thing that has ever happened to me in my life, and I am taken aback. I say no, which is ridiculous, because I want to say yes.