I'd had it with lines.
It was my 20th birthday and R_saura and I had already waited for elevator after elevator to the top of the Empire State. Then again to climb the World Trade Center. After dramatic 100-story midtown and downtown Manhattan views, I wasn't terribly enthused about the awaiting perspective from the low green crown of the Statue of Liberty.
"But M_rvin," she pleaded in an accent still lingering from some Spanish colony,"I'm here all the way here from Arizona. There's no telling when - if ever - I'll get back here again."
Till now, I'd never dreamed of going West, of its horizontal expanse. Never seen what rose beyond the flatness of Oklahoma. & so I struggled to imagine how far away her Arizona must be, struggled to imagine the red and rust rainbows ribboned across its Painted Desert, how far that desert had traveled to be here before me: this mirage of R_sauara's skin and burnt sienna eyes, of rolling R's and dark flames of hair - here, against this iconic vertical expanse of metallic green and harbor blue.
We appended ourselves to the line. Then, a sign snapping me back from the dream:
APPROXIMATE WAIT TIME FROM THIS POINT: 3 HOURS
"If you've seen one observation deck, you've seen them all," I quipped, my back dampening with sweat, more than a little irritated from our daylong lemming act. Even more bothered that my Georgia blood betrayed me by boiling in this punkish New York heat - even in July.
"Look, we'll spend the rest of the day here for one attraction. We could visit 5 or 6 other landmarks in the time we'd be standing here."
Though visibly disappointed, R_saura agreed.
While waiting for the next ferry back to Manhattan, I looked for an untouristed photo op.
"Stand right there," I said.
"Yeah, right there. But stand up straight."
I framed R_saura's white halter-top and cheekbones of Navajo red - the full height of the 300 ft. statue rising behind her, juxtaposed just to her right. As I brought her features into focus, this was looking less of a Statue of Liberty postcard photo and more of an American poem.
Her chin up, her back straight, she squinted into the white sun. R_saura now dominated the picture; the Statue of Liberty, a spectacular footnote. Her madre, her abuelita, and generations of round, sturdy women shone through her eyes. Looking right through me, she smiled a hard smile. Towering taller than the height of colonialism, R_saura glowed with pride.
"Do you want one?" R_saura asked.
I realized that, prior to the moment she asked the question, I never once imagined how I might look framed in this picture. This picture, being America.
"Sure," I said. Unlike R_saura, both of my parents had been born on this soil, had worked its stubborn cotton bolls. And their America birthed my dreams: 2.5 children, a wife, a house, a corporate job. But in this moment, two decades on this soil, I couldn't figure out where to stand.
A consummate overthinker, I struggled to position myself in what I thought would make a good shot.
"Hold up... Okay, wait... What about?-" Then, I gave up and decided to trust R_saura.
She took a step back. "Oh, that's really nice," she said.
Then, she snapped.
Ten years later, I hold these pictures and ponder my place in this America: no 2.5 children, no wife, no house, and trying to leave my corporate job. Yet I am happy here - wherever this is, however long it may be.
I am an artist. I make it what I will.