I was born in Long Beach, California in 1966. My mom was only 18 years old and my dad was 21. He was a Navy man, stationed in Guam at the time, still a child himself in many ways, finding his way in the world, away for the first time from the only life he had ever known, on the island of Oahu in the middle of the Pacific. My mom must have been a tough gal even then. Pregnant at seventeen, husband far away across the ocean.. she had me alone in that hospital and he didn't come home for six weeks. In those early days, it was just the two of us and I have often wondered who she was then. She was younger than my oldest son is now. I cannot fathom how difficult it must have been to be the mother of a child while still being one herself.
She gave me a brother two years later, and then another when I was five. Though I prayed and prayed for a sister after that, God said.. hmmm, nope. You need another brother. And on New Year's Eve the world partied in his arrival. I was nine years old. Finally, just a few months before my 11th birthday, my sister was born. Our family was complete. I'd like to say we lived happily ever after, but that wouldn't be my truth, and I suppose in many ways, it is a matter of perspective. A choice in how I look at things... and that is changing with time.
As a young girl I despised being the center of attention, hated being on stage, but loved being near it, preferring the backstage, where I could still exercise my creative side, but didn't have to open my heart to the world at large. Even then I was learning to wear masks and build walls designed to protect my heart. My life experiences taught me that nothing lasts forever, even as I immersed myself in fairytale after fairytale and lost myself in books with happy endings. I wanted to believe in magic, in romance, in love at first sight. In Charles and Caroline Ingalls and a little house out on a prairie.
When I was twelve, I met my first love. He was annoying like all boys that age are, but I liked him anyway. We went to church together and our parents would regularly drop us off at functions with lots of other teenagers. I remember watching him play a football game with a bunch of other boys on a field out behind the church one Thanksgiving. When it was over, he rode his bike over and stopped directly in front of me, front wheel of the bike touching my leg. He said simply.. "Soooo, I hear you like me." He always had that kind of confidence, even years later when I actually admitted to him that I did. Funny, the things that come back to you. I ended up dating him from the time I was sixteen, until just before my nineteenth birthday. I was sure he was the man I was going to marry...but I was wrong.
When he left I spent long hours, hugging my knees to my chest, watching the sun go down from a lifeguard tower on a deserted section of Bolsa Chica Beach. On one of those days, I heard his car pull up in the parking lot behind me, and he silently crawled up there beside me, sitting without a word for some time. In the end, we both were crying, and he put his arms around me and said, "I'm not the right guy for you, Roni. He's out there somewhere and you need to go find him." My heart shattered, and I gathered up all the pieces and got on a plane to Hawaii, where I lived with my grandparents in their little house overlooking Kaneohe Bay. I went from falling in love with a boy, to falling in love with an island. Separating the two would take me decades.
My son took this photograph of me on June 29, 2004. He was only ten years old then and he is still one of the few people in my life I will get in front of a camera for, I think because I feel like he really sees me. I suppose.. because I let him. I look at this photograph often, searching that face for answers. There was a happiness in me then, a contentment with life on the inside, that spilled over to the outside. I had just spoken to my family, whom I had been estranged from for several years and we made plans to see each other. It was a time of love and hope and it was the first breath of life in my love for photography.
I had been from Hawaii to California to New England in search of myself by that time. I guess I never completely understood that finding oneself happens every day, every hour, every breath on the soil we're standing on... if we let it. I think the view many people have of me is a bit foggy and that is partially my fault. I'm still working on that. Sometimes, I fail in a huge way, but once in awhile, I succeed in pulling back the veil and stepping into the light. Maybe we'll find that we are not so very different, you and I. That in knowing yourself, you already know me. That a girl standing on a deserted beach a decade ago, looks an awful lot more like you than not... and she's really trying to live with true conviction of the heart.