My father insisted that my family move every two years. It was as if he couldn’t stand the feeling of grass growing beneath his feet. As soon as a house became home we had to pack up our toys and books, and take the pictures off the freshly painted walls. My mother hated this nomadic existence. “I would have made a bad gypsy,” she used to tell me in hindsight as old age overtook her. If she traveled anywhere for more than a day she dragged along a firm pillow, a hairdryer, and — like a good Latina — a make-up case the size of a toolbox with its own light-up mirror.
The year I turned three my father was diagnosed with ALS, and in the confusion that illness brings, the biennial move was forgotten. We spent the next couple of years traveling to see specialists around the country during breaks from school and my father’s academic job. For the benefit of us children these trips were disguised as family vacations, but though we never discussed it I think all of us knew that our time together was fleeting. Despite the fact that I was quite young at the time, the memories of these family trips are strong, particularly of the motels in which we stayed. Each time I would unpack my bags and carefully place my small clothes in a dresser drawer, no matter how short the stay. I wanted to make the motel room mine… ours. Keenly focused images of these places haunt my memory to this day.
The clearest memory I have is of the Tiki pool house — a popular theme in 1960s decorating — at a motel we stayed at in Washington D.C. I particularly remember walking out of the main building with my mother and brother John. This excursion was very unusual as it was past my bedtime and my mother had never expressed an interest in swimming, but I was not going to question why and take the chance of breaking the spell. I skipped along, giddy with the anticipation and excitement of swimming at night for the first time. I watched my flip-flops slosh along the wet grass and stones, my thirsty stamped motel towel over my arm, the moon gleaming off of my sloppily painted peppermint pink toenails.