Around twilight, we gathered around a bonfire near Huntington Beach. It was getting late, and the breeze felt cold against my skin. I wrapped the extra blanket I had brought around me, my teeth chattering slightly. I kicked off my flip-flops and dug my feet into the warm sand. I was wearing shorts and a tank-top with my Tennessee Vols hoodie, wishing I had worn warmer clothes because the temperature drops low at night in Southern California, even in the middle of summer.
There were at least twenty people sitting on chairs, cooler boxes and logs in our circle. Faces were glowing in the firelight, fingers sticky, eating s’mores. I was staying with the Lee Family, enjoying my home stay experience. Mr. and Mrs. Lee and their three children were my host family. Everyone else was a part of the Baird Family. The Baird Family was a big family the Lees had known for a long time from church. All the Baird brothers were married, and the younger brothers still lived close together and got together occasionally. I was sitting next to Lyla, a strawberry blonde four-year-old, with her baby sister Georgia, one year old, the youngest Baird, on my lap. Georgia had fallen asleep in my arms, but Lyla’s energy never seemed to die down.
The younger Bairds and the Lee children and I were still in high school, and college was a big issue coming up. Yeah, I was still a junior and I had more time than some of the seniors, but it was an interesting subject. I only remember bits and pieces of the conversation, but I remember telling everyone that I didn’t know where I would go. Many of them said I should come back to the States to study, to learn more about America. I was thinking, “Well, I barely know anything about my home country. I should study that, too. But yeah, I do want to live in America again someday.”
Mr. Baird looked at me and said, “You could get a really good job with the government, especially if you know two languages.”
I wasn’t really into that, so I just nodded and smiled politely. They all talked about going to community colleges, state universities, and what not. One of them wanted to pursue baseball. They all seemed to have an answer of some kind. I was still thinking about what I want to do.
Towards the end of the conversation, a pretty blonde Baird girl wrapped in a red blanket looked at me and said, “So, where are you from?”
I thought for a moment and replied, “Um, technically Japan.”
Her arm reached out to grab another graham cracker as she responded “Where else are you from?”
“I’m also from Tennessee. I lived there until I was eleven. I really liked it there. ” I smiled, placing my hair back in to place behind my ear the way it was before the wind got to it, only to realize that I had sticky marshmallow in my hair now. This was part of the fun, I told myself.
“You could always go back there to study. You have friends there, right?”
I nodded, imaging myself in an orange and white dorm room, talking to my Tennessean roommate. I smiled at, trying to remember that sweet southern accent my best friend had.
The Baird grandma looked at me with kind blue eyes and said, “There’s your answer, honey. It was always right with you. ”
I stared at Georgia, sleeping peacefully in my arms, fluttering her eyelashes every now and then. The tiny toes and fingers would grow into a beautiful young woman. And then I realized, I was once a little girl with those same little toes and fingers. I am now a sixteen – almost seventeen – year old teenager, crazy and ready to take another step in her life.