I moved from California to Wellington New Zealand when I was all of twenty years old over fifteen years ago. I had met a woman and decided, ‘Well, what am I really doing with my life? Ain’t nothing happening around here.’ So I packed up my stuff, said my good byes and caught a very long plane ride.
I had an idea of what I was getting myself into; a new land, new culture, new life, just new everything and I was right in that sense. I got to see how kiwis did things and started to see how different they were from America. First off, kiwis don’t have bars on their windows. I slept with one eye on that window for the first month because I could swear someone was going to catch me slipping and creep in. My wife would assure me that that kind of thing doesn’t happen here. I still called bullshit.
I’d call home and my grandpa would ask me, ‘Mijo, they got tortillas out there?”
“Yeah, Tata, but they’re like ten dollars for six.” I’d tell him. The old man would nearly drop the phone at that outrageous price.
My uncle would ask me, “Hey so, you’re the only Mexican out there?”
“Yeah, tio, as far as I can see.”
There was a long pause. “So, like, is there still crime then?”
“Yeah, of course they have crime, tio.” I’d tell him, as I was staring at the window without bars.
These are just some the things that stuck out to me, though small, I did have a laugh at when I first got here. What I didn’t consider, or even think of, was exactly how homesick I’d be. The realization that even though I was here, time was still marching on with all the ones I loved and left behind. Then I had one of those late night revelations when you’re alone in the dark with your thoughts. One day I may die here, and those people will never see me again. It scared me, man. I remember thinking, ‘Next plane, I’m out. I’m done, this was all a stupid idea.’ I was torn as I loved this woman, I loved my daughter, but is it all worth it? I’m just a guy from little ol’ Oxnard California, what the fuck am I doing out here? I should be back home doing what my people do. I didn’t want to be forgotten, I didn’t want them to leave me behind.
I remember pacing in the lounge around two am, and our flatmate had a book of John Steinbeck short stories. Steinbeck had always been one of my favorite authors. I still get teary eyed thinking of George shooting Lenny at the back of the head as he describes their little piece of heaven in Of Mice and Men.
I turned the page to ‘Tortilla Flat’. If you’re not familiar with the story it’s about a guy named Danny and his crew of guys and what happens when they get a house and a little money and how they blow it. It sounds simple but its set in central California, where my dad was from. The characters could have easily been a set of my uncles, or my dad’s friends. I knew these guys, these guys taught me how to live. In the end Danny dies (spoiler). This group of guys, the kind of guys who were far from educated, the type of guys just trying to turn a dime into a dollar, see their friend die. They mourn him but they choose not to remember how he died but how he lived. They remember all the help he gave them, his attitude towards life, how he loved to party.
I remember thinking, that’s what I want. I want them to remember me for me. Everything I am or was, good or bad. Then I thought; these people love me. My picture will always hang up on my grandmother’s wall, She’ll always think of me when she makes some of her Tamale pie, I’ll still talk to my mother like we never lost any time, my boys will always think of me when they go for a car ride with the windows down and the music up, my brother will always remember me whenever there’s a laugh to be had. They’ll remember me because they love me. These things can never be taken away no matter how much time goes by or how much distance there is. That’s how John Steinbeck and this house full of guys saved my life that night.
For the record the price of tortillas has gone down, I’m talking four dollars for eighteen, and crime has not increased since I’ve been here, so things are looking up. My lady and me are still happily together after all this time, and when I go back home my boys are still there to pick me up from the airport like I just went in to get a drink and only five minutes passed instead of years.
- Danny Delgado