When I was growing up in Largo, Florida, my dad and I charted the latitude and longitude of hurricanes brewing in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.
We’d catch the coordinates on an AM radio station every morning and evening, and mark the storm’s course on a special map hung by my bedroom door. My father said we’d enact his evacuation plan – by driving our Chevy Van inland to a hotel or church – if a hurricane came within 400 miles of our hometown.
“What makes it change path and intensity?” I asked as one storm bore down on Miami before spiraling off toward Bermuda.
“Water depth. Water temperature,” he answered. “Tides. A full moon. Dry land. Mountains. Barrier reefs. Mangroves. Changes in the atmosphere.”
We tracked dozens upon dozens of storms over the years – never once having to leave home. But the exercise had a lasting effect on me. To this day, I map my destinations by proximity to the meridian and equator. I chart the impact of landscape on my identity in field notes and fabled stories.
I have found myself in the most unlikely scenarios in some of the world’s most unpredictable places. Eating live termites with Maragoli tribesmen near the shores of Lake Victoria. Playing bingo in a mosque in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. Swerving through the Himalayas on a public bus full of Nepalese people and chickens. Facing my alcoholism while living in a high-rise building nestled between the Arabian Desert and the Persian Gulf.
Somewhere along the line, I had a set of coordinates tattooed onto my right ankle to represent two tell-tale trajectories. One marks the location of my birth in Angeles City, the Philippines. The other marks a friend’s place of death in Seoul, South Korea. I know exactly who I am when I see these demarcations, even when I’m lost on unmarked streets. The numbers and letters remind me that I have survived where others have not – and that there are miles to go before I stop.
They also map out a story for my child. Upon making landfall at Lat 38°44’95” Long 78°86’89” on a snowy day in March 2004, David Beauregard Nicholls inherited the adventures of a lifetime.
I hope the people and places I’ve encountered will steer him in the right direction, if there is one.