Coping with the Cold

The perplexing twist on my condition was that I’d spent my entire life in an island paradise most people consider themselves fortunate to have visited once. Visitors coo about the perfect weather, hot chicks, intimidating waves (which locals conquer with ease) and unique floral biodiversity. Some people would kill to have done the time in Hawaii that I did. The trouble is, if you’ve lived there for the better part of two decades, the place overwhelms you, and you’d want to leave, too.

“Anywhere,” you’d say, certain that a plane ride with an unknown, unfamiliar destination is better than the solitude and feeling of dead-end helplessness you learn to deal with when you come from Hawaii. The people back home never change. They are constant in their pidgin-English accents, dedication to the Democratic Party and love for classic “plate lunch” food. The land is laced with a thick meshing of cultural traditions, making it possible that the dinner you just consumed whole-heartedly was a representation of countless faraway countries. Nowhere else in the world do you have the opportunity to live a Polynesian-Pacific-Rim-inspired lifestyle, foster your own ethnic identity and grow up in a relatively modern arena. Despite it all, I left, took off, ran for the hills of Hamilton, New York in search of a new culture with which I could identify myself.

As the midterms mark approaches and family weekend lies waiting in the foggy future, I catch myself reflecting on my adventure here quite often. I already established that I’m happy enough, the food has been tolerable and the friends I’ve made are individuals I will appreciate forever. When I first got here, the little things the people from the continental U.S.A. passed off as “normal”, never ceased to amuse me. Squirrels, skunks, woodpeckers, the changing of leaves and the progression of distinct seasons were all reasons to whip out the camera phone, snap a few scenes and beam the images to my parents back home. Nothing screams, “Foreigner,” like a viewfinder fixated on furry scavengers, but mocking smiles flashed in my direction meant nothing because I was fiercely determined to find out who I could be in the “real” United States.

The only problem with my well-conceived escape is that I am a small fish, a diminutive creature raised in confining, temperate waters, expected to survive in the cold Atlantic Ocean. My adaptation to life here had been retarded by the small-town mentality I tried so desperately to flee from. When I opened my mind to the stimuli around us, I was flooded by too much information, too many surprises. I fought against my confines and futilely tried time and time again to grow up, attain the kind of maturity my peers seemed to exercise on a daily basis. This shortcoming of mine is not the responsibility of my parents, nor is it the fault of my home state — it is an inevitable disability that all stunted fish cannot help but adopt.

Then it hit me: rather than trying to deny my past, I would be better off letting it wash over me. I let homesickness in, strove to gain an identity that is more than “that guy from Hawaii”, and decided to respect my limitations. Rather than try to be like everyone else from the get-go, I have to remember that I have a considerable length to go before chipmunks and multicolored leaves no longer fascinate me. I still see myself as an immature little fish, but I’m no longer fighting to emotionally distance myself from the fiftieth state — 5000 miles is plenty far enough.

I left my home, my family, a way of life that a lot of people wish they could dip their toes in. I ran away from the sand globe from which I watched the world go by, desiring more than paradise. I swam away from a set of eight islands I thought I had outgrown, but when I got to where I always imagined myself being, I realized that the place I actively strove to abandon is the only place I know as home.