The United States has the best raptors for falconry - eagles, falcons, hawks. I go often. The thought of not going breaks my heart. Yet, here we are.
One word. Five letters, starts with 'T'.
I first arrived on American soil when I was 11. Sharing the same birthday as John F. Kennedy's death day, I was already primed to believe it was a place where you asked what you can do for your country, not the other way around.
It was 1974, and the Vietnam debacle was finally winding down. Nixon resisted impeachment by tearfully and angrily letting go, on live TV and all over our newly-coloured screens. Watergate was rolling down his cheeks.
I took out my brand-spanking cassette tape deck and pressed the mic up to the TV. I knew it was history in the making, and I cared about that.
Having arrived from Wanganui, where the Saturday night highlight was going to the pie cart with my older siblings, here I was in San Francisco without them. After 20 years of unholy matrimony, my mother had left my farmer father for an American sailor.
It was the 70s. Anything was possible. We drove through the streets of Frisco in a 1969 Cadillac convertible, spent weekends in Vegas, cruised the Pacific Coast to Los Angeles and Disneyland, then on to Mexico. I was in pre-pubescent heaven.
There wasn't much time to miss the family sheep and dairy farms, or the damp winter air of hinterland river country. I was busy blissing out on California beaches, dry desert air, or wandering the nooks and crannies of Haight-Ashbury and Chinatown.
The Castro district was chock full of early gay pride, and even the male and female cops were gay. Guns on hips, hips on fire. It was all decidedly sexy - way before I grasped the meaning of the word.
There was school. First, it was elementary. Mornings found me firmly holding my hand over my heart pledging allegiance to a flag that wasn't mine, yet old enough to think it dumb, blind patriotism. I didn't care. I drank the place up. It was the Greatest Country in the World. Everyone said so.
And it did feel like the centre of the universe. Nationalism on such a grand scale was foreign to me. New Zealanders didn't do that stuff. We spent our time on rugby, and jacking up our stiff upper lip with No.8 wire.
By junior high I was indoctrinated, programmed. I was more American than the Americans. My flared Levis were pressed so sharp the creases should've been a registered weapon.
I made it my mission to excel at American history and could repeat the names of every US president, and the dates that they served their terms.
Like a first love, you never forget. You carry it with you for the rest of your days. And just like a first love, you wish only the best for them.
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I devoured burgers and fries, Coke was the real thing, my second home was a bowling alley, and all accompanied by the strains of the Steve Miller Band, Santana, Fleetwood Mac and Peter Frampton. In other words, I drank the Kool-Aid. I gulped it down. It was a love affair that has never quite ended.
The possibilities were limitless, the wide, open range was just beyond the horizon, and anyone could be President. Anyone. Except, back then, it was yet to be a black person, or a woman. But you were sold on the idea that one day it could happen. It's America!
In 1976 I was suddenly thrust back into reality. I muddled through at Wanganui Girls' College after such an interrupted education, but I was bored and restless. New Zealand seemed so small and lonely. Shops closed early, and were not even open on the weekends. A decent burger? Forget it.
I knuckled back down to farm life, imagining that every time I rode the horse I was in a Western. I was less a cowboy and more an Indian.
Then I grew up, as children are wont to do. We leave most of that childish stuff behind but, not all.
I've learned that US wars on foreign soil are too often, and too unjustified. That extreme capitalism will be the death of them, and us all. That burgers and Coke make you fat.
America. Such a great idea at the time - you know, once they got the mass genocide of Native Americans, and slavery out of the way. It is everything awful, everything awesome.
Yet, the wildlife, vast landscapes, the birds. The cry of a golden eagle wheeling against a blue desert sky is a sound I'd happily die to.
Where does one put all that affection, all those memories, once the romance has faded?
Like a first love, you never forget. You carry it with you for the rest of your days.
And just like a first love, you wish only the best for them.