Remembering Maria Tanner
by Harley Hahn
Maria had suffered intermittently from severe migraine headaches since she was a young woman. She would force herself to push through the pain and go to school or work, and she wouldn't complain. In later years, neither her patients nor her coworkers knew how often she was in pain.
In addition, Maria experienced a variety of unrelated medical problems that required surgeries and other treatments, all of which she had to go through on her own. However, this was not Maria's only source of ongoing stress: there was a much more existential discomfort.
Since her late teenage years, Maria had spent virtually all of her life in foreign countries, mostly the United States. To be sure, Maria did learn how to live in the U.S. and she did speak English fluently. Like her father, Maria was an educated reader who loved to read even difficult books in English. Although she always retained her Swedish accent, Maria was able to speak, read, and write English better than most Americans. However, in spite of her many years living in the U.S., Maria never adjusted completely and she was never really comfortable.
As her parents aged and approached death, Maria selflessly gave up all her vacations and spent a great deal of money taking many trips back to Sweden to care for, first, her mother, and then her father. These trips involved very long travel times, and they were emotionally and physically painful, requiring Maria to take anti‑anxiety medicine just to get on the plane. Moreover, she would suffer through days of migraines, before, during, and after each trip.
Over the last few decades, both Maria and Sweden had changed significantly and, more and more, she experienced less and less pleasure visiting her homeland. By the time both parents died, Maria had became firm in her decision to never return to Sweden to live. And yet, she was unable to feel at home in Santa Barbara (or, indeed, anywhere outside of Sweden). As such, Maria had no one with whom she could share her idiosyncratic chimeric worldview.
By the time Maria became a nurse, she was truly a stranger in a strange land and that was never to change. For the rest of her life, Maria lived with the feeling of having one foot in northern Europe and another foot in the U.S., while trying to maintain her balance in an ever-changing, often confusing and stressful world.
In 1984, when Maria was 25 years old, she had become a U.S. permanent resident. Now that both of her parents were gone, Maria had no reason to ever go back to Sweden (or, indeed, to ever travel again) so she decided, for practical reasons, to become a U.S. citizen.
On August 24, 2018, at the age of 59, Maria traveled to Los Angeles where she took the oath to become a citizen of the United States. She was now a dual citizen, with both Swedish and American passports.
However, she would never leave Santa Barbara again.
oh to have a heart in so many places - splintered yet beating, persistent. to give up soft pleasure for practical needs; she straddled each country, a stranger.
© All contents Copyright 2023, Harley Hahn