My mother and I are very similar in appearance, voice, and manner. It runs in the family, but she tends to identify me with herself more than I identify with her.

At age 20, I left the country of my birth for the first time 1 for a junior year abroad to Europe. For this, I needed a suitcase. At that time, my family had very few 2, and my choice was between two similar Grasshopper bags. One was steel blue and slightly smelly, and the other had brocade roses and didn’t smell at all.

Further enquiry revealed that the blue (smelly) one had been my father’s suitcase when he went to Stanford in France during college, while the floral (odorless) one was my mother’s at Stanford in Germany. So I approached my mother, asking if I could borrow her old bag for my trip.

Big mistake. Huge. Not that she said no – I only wish she had. “My heir is going to Europe…,” she declaimed. For the next week, all her sentences seemed to start “When I was in Europe…” 3 She made predictions about everything – the friends I would make, the places I would go, the things I would see. Everything was mapped out in terms of her experience. My terra incognita was her beaten track.

I took my father’s suitcase, offered without any comparisons or expectations. 4

  1. Not counting that trip to Tijuana when I was 12
  2. We were more the army surplus canvas backpack types
  3. Flashback 25 years, to her own trip to Europe, during the 1960s. She was in Berlin, at the height of the Cold War. She went hitchhiking around the Continent, leaving no word of her whereabouts, while her mother panicked. Interpol was involved. Was that really the example she was trying to set me?
  4. Then I ended up in hospital in Spain with severe burns. Complicated reasons meant no one at home knew what hospital (or what city) I was in, and my mother panicked. Some destinies are inescapable.