It's a question on a survey she takes the first day of her freshman sociology seminar. "Where are you from?" The surprising thing is that she's never really considered her answer until now.
She's eight, and in trouble at school for talking in class. Her teacher calls her father "Mr. Smith" during their conference, and she can't hold back a loud laugh. No one ever calls him "Mr. Smith." She's grounded for a week for the talking and the laugh, and her mother chides her in the car for confusing real names with nicknames. "Doctor" is simply what people call her father, it's not his name. She catches the pointed look her father shoots her mother across the front seat, though.
At twelve she is assigned a family tree project for school. She already knows that there are no photographs of her mother as a child-lost in a fire during the Cyber invasion before she was born-but none of her father either? And no living relatives of his at all? It's one thing to believe that all evidence of her mother's past has been destroyed, but she begins to wonder if her father's ever existed in the first place.
When she is fourteen they sit her down at the kitchen table and tell her the truth.
Three days later she finally starts speaking to them again by declaring that they have ruined her life.
"Where are you from?"
The question haunts her for days, and she drops the sociology course if only because she's not sure how prepared she is to ask that question of others when she can't answer it for herself.
Instead, she signs up for astronomy, philosophy, organic chemistry, anatomy, and a somewhat odd class on representations of the alien in early twentieth century fiction. She doesn't sleep enough and drinks entirely too much coffee, but at the end of the semester she's forced to admit that she's no closer to an answer than she was at the beginning.
Her father suggests that she switch majors-physics, perhaps-and she's so angry she drops out instead. As far as self-sabotage goes, it is a highly effective move.
When faced with an ultimatum eighteen months later to either take a job as an entry-level PA at her grandfather's company or go back to school, she accepts a slice of humble pie and re-enrolls. This time she takes a creative writing workshop (and physics-she's not the one writing tuition checks, after all). Mostly she writes short stories about alienation, identity politics, and contentious father/daughter relationships. They are thinly veiled autobiographies, both she and her professor realize that, but she finds them deeply therapeutic.
She proposes a new deal to her parents: she'll major in physics, but no amount of cajoling will prevent her from taking a minor in writing. It takes her over a decade to realize that they would never have fought her decision in the first place.
Six years after first setting foot in the sociology seminar, she graduates. Everyone assumes she'll go into the family business-one of them, at least-but instead she announces in the middle of her graduation party that she's going to live off her trust fund while she writes her first novel. To say her mother is displeased would be a rather large understatement. Her father, however, surprisingly supports her decision. He calls it "intellectual wanderlust" which serves to quiet her mother's objections and her grandmother's complaints that "writing a novel" is really code for "going out to clubs and meeting unsuitable young men."
She does go to clubs, and she meets a lot of unsuitable young men. She writes, but does not publish, three novels before landing a contract for her fourth. It's about a girl who discovers herself in the midst of a family crisis. Her mother cries when she reads it, but her father just gives her a long hug.
She travels. India, Brazil, Canada, America, Kenya, New Zealand. Stamps in her passport, and photographs she carefully prints and stores as an unspoken promise that her hypothetical future children will never have to wonder where their mother came from.
She goes much further than those places, of course, but that's a different story.
"Where are you from?" he asks, breathless from the cold night, and possibly from the fact that they've just shared a rather fantastic first kiss.
"Here," she simply replies, the words rolling off her tongue before she has a chance to think. "I'm from here. Everywhere."
He can't understand why she laughs so hard she chokes when he tells her he's a sociologist.