Humiliation, Perspiration, and Redemption in Rio de Janeiro

The Florida friends my mother and I visited have been married for 30 some years. They’re artists. He surfs. She writes. They’re the most spiritual people I know. They understand—in the grittiest, harshest, cruelest, deepest way—the cruciality of Christ and His components.

As I left them, I hugged her, asked her to pray that I find faith in the Lord again. I lost it awhile back.

For me, losing faith doesn’t necessarily mean that you stop believing in the existence of God. I’ve cast fishing nets into the deepest waters of my heart, and I have never dragged up the dense, poisonous, resilient creature of disbelief—despite what I have told others. No, for me, losing faith isn’t rejecting God’s existence, it’s rejecting the importance of God’s existence.

My friend said she’d pray.

Boarding the plane from Florida to Houston five days ago I didn’t have one anxious thought in my head, not one anxious feeling in my heart.

When I sat down, my space was cramped. (I like my space) I was tucked into a window seat. (I hate being tucked) I sprawl! The attendant soon announced that the cabin doors had been sealed. Soon the engine rumbled. Soon the plane was shaking, making a sound like a giant microwave, set to high for one concentrated minute: that whirring sonic radiating heat. Soon, all the dangers a woman faces in a city, in North America, in South America, in the world, began to race through my mind. “This is a one way flight,” I thought to myself. My heart was in the base of my throat—fluttering—considering a quick flight away from me and the plane.

Suddenly, I was in the air and realized there was a beautiful Indian woman sitting next to me. She laid her head down on her tray and shut her eyes. Outside the window and below, lights flickered and sparkled, some moved with the plane: tiny cars. The woman’s thick black hair spilled onto my lap when I realized it.

It: I had loved and been loved. And that was everything and the residual too. If my heart left me, if I died—I had loved and been loved. I had lived the adventure. And isn’t loving the adventure? Isn’t that why we’re ripped from the dark peace of nothingness into this world?

I woke up from that first flight with my head on Indian beauty’s shoulder. Somehow my hair had come undone as I slept.

When I boarded the second plane, the ten hour stretch to Brazil from Houston, my heart was serious about abandoning me. It was fighting its way to my lips from the back of my mouth, ready for take off.

I didn’t have a thought to match the anxiety. I felt I was going to die; I didn’t think it.

The calm, confident version of myself appeared in my mind. She cares for me, is healthy for me, hopes and roots for me, writes poetry with me, picks me out among the crowd— from the sea. She detects, files, and deletes my fears with the precision of a machine. She’s my girl.

(“you’re panicking,” said my girl. “breathe deeply and

try to relax.”

“I’m not panicking,” I said. “death doesn’t

mean shit to me. this is coming from some

place that I don’t understand.”)

In the height of this, my first panic attack, United airlines texted me. My flight was delayed for “maintenance”.

I don’t mind, I thought. (My heart on my tongue!) Maintain that bastard! Maintain it! It has to float for ten hours (shivering, quivering heart!)!

Had I loved enough? Would I see him again? Would I forgive myself if someone hurt me? Had I written enough? Had I written it all down? Would my daughters read it? Would anyone read it? Had I written it down?

“Hush,” said my girl. “Have faith in God

who smuggled you into life

who will smuggle you out of death.

Have faith in the Xanax

you smuggled

and dream yourself to Rio.”

One small white pill later, I woke up from some shimmering haze.  Everything was unfiltered turquoise, including my mood.

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The light, the windows through which the light floated, the movies playing silently on the screens of the turquoise strangers who occupied the same turquoise space in the sky as I did, my hands, the seats, my blanket: e v e r t h i n g, turquoise. I closed my eyes again–swimming through some calm turquoise ocean to my love on our little island. There he was, I reached out and he touched—”Good morning ladies and gentlemen, we’ll be landing soon in Rio de Janeiro, it’s 78 degrees and cloudy. . Please come see us again!”

My turquoise haze seemed to pixelate to normalcy and nausea set in.

The airport was this masterpiece of people. Everyone looked like they came from all over the globe and everyone was speaking Portuguese. There was a black man whizzing around on an airport cart carrying one very large person and one very old person. He was recreating the sound of a car horn with his mouth: “Beep! Beep, beep!”

Airport security personnel were rolling past me in roller skates. Men who wanted to saran wrap my baggage, people looking to flag you down a taxi, lost Americans navigating the airport to no avail, their luggage stacked on huge, rolling metal carts.

The hour of Rio had chimed.

When Moira and I first arrived at our hostel, I immediately asked the receptionist in Portuguese if he spoke English.

“Of course,” he said with a smile.

There was a skinny, but muscular black man on his laptop sitting in a seat under the front window. He looked at us and all of my bags and laughed. He said something to the receptionist in Portuguese, and the receptionist nodded his head. The black man began to speak in perfect, British English.

“Hello, I’m Richard, I’m the chef here. Tonight I’m making curried chicken for dinner. It’s very cheap and it’s going to be delicious. Let me help you with your bags.”

WILD CARD! The people in Brazil, foreigners and nationals alike, are surprising wildcards.

Richard is interesting. He’s from London, but lived in Manchester until he moved to Brazil to “take it easy.” He worked a prestigious managerial position for Manchester United’s club kitchen. He doesn’t drink liquor. He loves to cook. His mother’s name was Olivia, called Olive. He told me it wasn’t until she died that he realized her name was Olivia—it was only then that everyone said her full name, O-liv-i-a. He sleeps above me.

There’s Luciano. A 30 some old Brazilian from the country side who sleeps in the Itacoa dorm with us. His daughter, Olivia, is 7, she lives in Massachusetts with her mother. He’s friendly, insists on ordering our drinks for us, paying for us, reminding us that we can’t be left alone.

Ricardo has a daughter who’s 18. I’m not sure what her name is. He’s shorter, bald, energetic, incredibly friendly, generous, loud, and open minded. He loves to party. He showed us the finest beaches, took us out for drinks in Lapa (the party district), gave us coxhinas to try for the first time.

Leandro is 31, Argentinian. He used to be a lawyer. He left his long time girlfriend and the law awhile back to travel. According to him,  “the best country in the world” is Brazil.

Luciano speaks English to Ricardo when us girls are included in the conversation. Ricardo speaks Portuguese to both Luciano and Leandro when we’re included in the conversation and even when we’re not. Leandro speaks English to me and to Ricardo when he has exhausted his Portuguese. They all speak English well.

I’m trying to speak Portuguese to my friends, without much luck. We instantly revert to English. If not, we’d lose Moira, and I would be in a constant process of disorientation and understanding. Part of me would rather be disoriented until I’m oriented. I feel this strange sense of guilt speaking English.

We’ve been to the grocery store, to the market, to the beaches, in Ubers. Portuguese conversation happens in these places: when people are brushing past you in the aisles, when they put their hand on your shoulder while perusing the shelves to ask you your opinion of the pasta, when some adorable Brazilian child puts their hands on your shopping cart’s railing, and their mother scream at them and apologize to you in lengthy form.

A crowd always produces conversation here, and everywhere you go there’s a crowd. A man came up to me in the grocery and started talking about cheap mangoes and their ability to walk up and down the aisles. We, and forty other people were crowded around the produce section. I said: “That sounds good, seems like a good price for walking mangoes”. He smiled in confused good humor and walked away, muttering. 

Some Brazilians will smile at you upon the realization that you are not a native speaker, or a person who cannot speak Portuguese very well, like me. They will do their best to throw in English words they’ve heard over and over again in movies. They will slow their speech to accommodate you.

Others will take no notice of your inability to communicate, to understand. They speak with you like they would everyone else.

Some look annoyed, agitated, when it clicks that I’m a white tourist with a weak grip on their language. They become short with me. They say things to their friends or coworkers, and their friends or coworkers will stare at me. 

I understand very little and somehow I’ve managed to eat and get myself from A-Z in Rio. It’s an embarrassing, humiliating, exhilarating experience. I feel that heat of embarrassment and this discomfort in my shoulders, a tingling in my fingers, and I shrug it off. You can find me adjusting my shoulders if you look long enough, trying to shake off the awkwardness and discomfort I feel every day.

Some days it’s easy to do. Other days I fall asleep to the scent of flowers and sweat and wish that I was a different person, who could handle this city and its people with more grace and intelligence, with more humor and a sense of shamelessness.

We’ve made friends here who want to hang all the time. I like to hang, to listen, to laugh with them. But, really, I just want to write and walk around a garden by myself. I want to listen without being engaged, without having to do anything. This is a quality I’ve always had. Like this lone orchid I saw at the Jardim Botântico, I feel most beautiful when I’m alone and quiet, lost in my own thoughts, feeling like a photograph and a painting all at once: something real, something imagined. 

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“You know, I think it’s time to get out of bed!” Luciano says to us. I’m writing this blog. Moira is laughing at some off beat youtube video. We’re hiding from the heat, and I’m hiding from the world.

I tried Lapa night life, you know. It’s astounding. Hundreds of people on the streets, and hundreds more pouring out onto the streets every minute. Everything pulsates. There’s food, drink, singing, music, and young people everywhere. Hundreds of young, tatted, pierced Brazilians, just getting their drink on.

Leandro was so drunk he forgot his smart phone on the table of a bar where we were drinking. I scooped it and returned it to him as we left. He looked out from his drooping eyes at me, through this numb, drunken haze, and thanked me with a smile that you can use anywhere in the world to say “much appreciated”.

Alcohol and smoke makes me sick now, especially in this ungodly heat. It is HOT here. It’s in the high 90’s every day, and feels like 105. It’s humid. There’s rarely a breeze.

I take one sip of beer, or vodka mixed with coconut water in an actual coconut, and I’m whisked away on this psychedelic nausea trip that puts me on a tightrope of an Olympic balancing act between feeling good and feeling faint.

No, I’m not a fan of drinking. I don’t think I have been for quite some time. This lonely frog, etched into a tree trunk at the Jardim  brought me more satisfaction and fascination than alcohol ever has. Look at him!

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One night I was up late, writing downstairs in the hostel. I heard circus music and clapping. I climbed up and out onto the window’s ledge. There were no bars, no screen. There were five or six young people. Juggling, riding a unicycle. One girl was jumping onto moving cars, swinging from the hook line of a tow truck. She swung and jumped, landing on her feet like a cat. They were screaming, shouting, dancing carelessly to music pumping out of a boom box.

People don’t live in Rio de Janeiro. They preform in Rio de Janeiro.

Everything is a show, everything is a scene from some young, secret, unconscious playwright. That’s the culture, and there’s always a commentary. Everyone wants to be seen, no matter how ugly, fat, plain, or stunning they might be. Everyone wants to be scantily clad at the beach. Everyone wants to be stared at and admired. When I spent the day at the Jardim Botânico, even I, a person who prides herself on being unseen, felt this acute need to be photographed.

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As the days pass, I have more and more opportunities to see Rio from a car window. Sugarloaf mountain, the rampant graffiti everywhere bursting with color. Christ the Redeemer. I always see Christ the Redeemer.

On our first day here, we were traveling home from the Jardim, and this lighting storm was raging outside. The rain crashed down on the car we were in, and lightening crackled and struck around that enormous statue of Christ, as if He Himself in statue form was orchestrating the storm.

I felt I was on pilgrimage at that moment—that the only real reason I had come to this city, to Rio de Janeiro, was to see Christ. I’ve come to Mecca to circle the Kaaba, to touch it.

Have you ever felt so far from Christ, but so lucky to be within distance to see Him atop a mountain? It’s like seeing the most famous person in the world in a crowd across the street. You know him and you’ll never know him.

Part of me believes I’ll climb that mountain in the heat of the day, the sweat beads rolling down my body, soaking every square inch of my skin. Finally, I’ll reach the top, and I’ll fall to my knees.

I’ll say, “I’m sorry.”

My girl will say, “I’m sorry.”

He’ll say, “I’m the Redeemer. You are redeemed.”

I’ll touch that statue, I’ll touch His feet, and I’ll be able to speak perfect Portuguese. I’ll descend. And when I return to the city and speak with ease to everyone I see, I won’t rave about the miracles of Christ or the will of God.

I’ll say I climbed a mountain and a friend welcomed me to another world, that this sort of thing happens every day, that I was redeemed. Then, I’ll walk up the spiral steps of the hostel to my cool dark room, and rest awhile in a temporary bed.

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Slow Transitions in the Sunshine State

01/19/17

The cornerstone of Florida’s aesthetic is the constant brightness of the southeastern American sun. My grandparents have a house there.

They have a swimming pool shaped like a fat peanut. Little green and red lizards drop from the enclosure around the pool and from all the trees—to my surprise and subsequent horror. Mosaic floors. Funky furniture. Delightfully bizarre sea life decor: bright, latin, surreal. A bathtub with jets! Peacocks walk down their street with the same hazy, mundane deliberation as the neighbors, who walk the length of their driveways in the morning to check the mailbox on the curb side.

I want to pass a little time in Florida before I travel to Brazil. Moving from one environment to another too quickly shocks me into silence and paranoia. I’m all about slow transitions nowadays. Florida is warm; Brazil is very warm. Florida is southern; Brazil is very southern.

Things on the Jersey coast are strange. Were strange for the past few months. My hometown feels less like my home and more like the place where I spent my childhood. I’m running incessantly, thinking incessantly, reminiscing incessantly about my LDR that can’t go South with me, but went south all the same.

I think about the past two months, walking into old romantic situations haphazardly, expecting them to be new without much regard for anyone but myself, trying to bury feelings alive and violently kicking.

I’m living in a shared room with my sister, feeling like a child, sleeping in a small twin bed, hearing my little brother get ready for school each morning, spraying Axe on himself and shaving a mustache whose existence is questionable.

A friend from university visited earlier this week. I hadn’t seen her in months. We roomed together for three years in college. I was making her tea one night and accidentally poured the boiling water slowly and  with perfect precision all over my right hand. I have a scaly Tennessee shaped burn, and I smile at it. She’s always been big on tea. I’ve always been prone to hurt myself.

My Jersey friends are eager to hang. They suggest meeting up, verbally communicating that I am moving away for nine months and going to Florida beforehand. I try to downplay the urgency. “Goodbye” tastes like a grapefruit. I hate grapefruit! There’s nothing sweet about it. Its bitterness lingers on the sides of your tongue and makes you suck in your cheeks. We should ban grapefruit, as well as goodbyes. Better to say hello to someone you haven’t seen in awhile, avoid fruit all together.

It’s my last night in NJ, and my friends and I are going to a bar. I’ll unintentionally eat half of whatever someone else orders, and everyone else will pay for my beers because this crowd is generous, tolerant, charitable—laughter spreads as quickly as this year’s norovirus (something I’ve been obsessively trying to avoid for weeks).

I say goodbye to my longtime amiga afterward. She has to go home early to her daughter. We’ve been a constant in each other’s lives  for a decade. Friendship stretches across continents, and I’m sure you can hear a friend call out to you 4,000 miles down the coast line. Still, ours is the strangest, most foreign feeling goodbye so far.

A bunch of us go to the beach after the bar. A few hundred feet away there’s a fishing pier off the side of my town’s northernmost bridge. The way the bridge lights bounce off the landing in the distance creates rows and rows of people lined up along the pier, silently group-fishing, standing like fixtures, watching the huddled circle of me and my fellowship across the body of shining black water. Laughter mixes with the sound of lapping waves, the sea’s pulse. Smoke rises up and away above us in shapes the stars can’t illuminate. I file this memory away under moonlight.

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01/20/17

I fly to West Palm Beach.

I spend Inauguration Day in an airport, on a plane, and in a series of cars: a day of substantial transition and transference. When I arrive at my grandparents, I listen to President Trump’s many speeches and watch the supremely awkward habit he falls into at the Salute to the Armed Services event, calling congratulatory statements made by soldiers “great question(s)”.

“I still can’t figure out that hair!” my mother says.

It’s a hard transition.

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01/21/17

Early Morning

Other women, women I know personally and women I don’t, wake up with the sun today to march on Washington, to march on the United States of America. I feel solidarity and a deeply buried sense of guilt for not being a part of the marches, especially in our modern age of Young American Apathy.

“Let’s watch Will and Grace, that will make us feel better,” my mother says.

I think awhile and conclude that moving into the Brazilian sphere and out of the American sphere might bring me some peace and perspective regarding my nation. Maybe an epic Venn diagram combining the two countries will superimpose over my psyche and allow me to understand how we move forward in a country that feels like wet bread? I have faith in the young competitive, contradictory USA. If it contradicts itself, very well. It contradicts itself. It contains multitudes.

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Afternoon

My mother and I are currently on I95, traveling to see family friends in Saint Augustine. I’ve never been before. We rented a little Hyundai Veloster for the mini trip. My mother digs the hell out of it. She was whipping it around the Starbucks parking lot, yelling at a white pickup truck for reckless driving as she sipped her green tea and flipped her hair off her shoulder. She’s got a gray streak on the right side of her Sedona red rock locks. She drives the whole way and combines a childlike sass with the cuteness of a smurf. I’m wishing I could shrink her to pocket size and take her with me the next time I fly away.

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Night in Saint Augustine

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My mother and I sink into the hospitality of our friends’ home. Spinach pie and sweet, crunchy salad. We decided to visit on a whim. Right now it feels like I live on a whim—maybe we all do?

The town is still lit up from the holidays, and all of the bars and restaurants are filled. It’s cool outside. I wear a dress with an open back in January.

We walk back and forth across a bridge to get to the square. We look down at one point on the way back to the house. There’s an old respectable looking pelican perched on a wooden column surrounded by black water. He gazes south at nothing. He seems just about to lose his balance.

“Well, it is late on a Saturday night,” our friend says. “Maybe he’s just left the pelican party.”

I lie on an unfamiliar comfy couch at 3:00 am. I think about the pelican. His far off gaze, his eventual loss of balance. I wonder if he said goodbye to the other pelicans at the pelican party and I fall off balance into black bottomless sleep.

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Homesickness and the Golden Liquid

There are a number of problems attached to wanderlust and, subsequently, to travel. In my experience the most acute problem hasn’t been expenses, or physical discomfort, or even danger. The hardest thing about travel, for me, is homesickness.

The first time I spent more than a week away from home I was 8 or 9. I went to Arizona with my aunt to visit family. I don’t remember feeling homesick. I just remember crying myself to sleep each night and one painful phone call to my mom—her telling me that it would be alright, I’d be home soon—me looking at the rose patterned wall paper of my grandfather’s ranch style home, the pale red flowers bulbous and glassy through the lens of my little tears!

I was 11 or 12 when I traveled semi solo again. My sister and I went to an overnight Christian summer camp for two weeks. I cried for home in the top bunk of my tent, listening to other kids fart and sneeze. (Farts and sneezes sound the same all around the world by the way, there’s nothing foreign about bodily functions. . .it’s just that they lack their inherent hilariousness when you’re 12, missing your bed and your mom)

I’m an animal of routine. The good Lord knows I love a comfortable, uninterrupted routine. I can’t hide it and I won’t deny it. A daily blissful pain-free Olivian monotony is so desirable that I sometimes fantasize about living life like a rerun of some old black & white 50’s sitcom.

Yet, strangely, I’ve wanted to study abroad, travel abroad, live abroad, since I was 17 years old.

I finally did that during my last intersession at college.

I went to Puebla, Mexico for a month in January of 2016 to study Mexican culture and civilization. Puebla is in central Mexico, near volcanoes and mountains. I stayed with a host family. The house I lived in was immaculate, in a quiet neighborhood where everyone walked their dogs in the early morning. White walls, white floors, a sun roof in the dining room. Family portraits everywhere. Stylish white modern decor. Three floors.

The neighboring house had an enormous purple and pink butterfly painted across the garage door. I used to cross a park and dip through Jaime’s Frutería to get to La Ibero. Sometimes a random dog would run up on me in the park and scare the bejeezus out of me as I walked home from friends’ houses or from school, lost in thought about home.

La Universidad Iberoamericana is an impressive university, with smart, beautiful well dressed students. Generations of scholars comprised the faculty. My history professor was a renowned historian, as was her mother. They both came to class one day and spoke about Spanish architecture in Mexico, about the elite of Mexico’s early days, about the Tlatelolco Massacre.

(Mexican tradition, Mexican motherhood, and Mexican sisterhood is fierce. If you’re interested in tradition, in motherhood, in sisterhood—in life really—visit Puebla)

My other teacher, a Spanish language professor, didn’t fuss with lectures or text books when it came to teaching a class of 4 students Spanish grammar in 3 weeks. He just liked to converse and asked us to address him informally. He spoke French, he was puzzled by English, and he loved a woman named Sofia with sharp curves and soft edges that he wrote about in short stories he never published. He seemed 25 but could’t have been any younger than 50. (He kissed me on the cheek on our last day of class. His cheek  was so warm when he touched mine that I thought one of us had a fever)

My third professor, an American who taught at the University of Scranton, was an expert on Brazil and Latin America generally. She supervised the trip to Puebla and took me and the other Scranton students on weekend trips to Oaxaca, Teotihuacán, and Monte Albán among other places. She was severe, she kept us safe, and she spoke the language.

I remember that my host mother always cooked for me. She put her arm around me at the doctor’s office when I had the flu. She and her husband took me shopping one day  at a huge marble distributor. Multiple floors of lamps, tables, chairs, center pieces, tea cups, plates, tobacco pipes, tiny elephants, Virgin Marys, shot glasses, doorknobs, and so many other  blurred, pastel colored shapes I can’t sharpen in my memories. The marble seemed to soak up all the sunlight falling through the small rectangular windows above all the many shelves. The rooms glowed. The sunlight was pale when we walked into the distributor’s courtyard. Huge marble tables, marble garden stepping stones, giant sculptures.

My host father told me that he found the American legal system fascinating on the way back home that day, that soon he’d go to the States to learn more about how to implement my government’s framework into his. Sometimes he didn’t know when I understood Spanish and when I didn’t. Half the time I didn’t understand anything. When I somehow got 100% of what was being said, the time it took to form an answer buried the cue to respond under a murky lake of missed opportunities for verbal communication. None of my host family or my classmates’ host families spoke English. Interacting with them was hard and exciting and hilarious.

I called sandwiches “seeds”.

I called Thursday “eggs”.

“Use concrete words with her,” my host father would say quietly, kindly to the family.

“Come here, come look at the moon” my host mom told me in the dining room when the two of us were alone one night, the bright nocturnal orb shining through the sunroof.

“I drink coffee everyday, even when it’s hot out,” he told me once, his eyebrows raised, his finger pointed knowingly at the sunroof, the sun shining through it.

“When I saw her I said: that’s for me!”He was laughing, recalling falling in love with his wife.

“We decided we wanted to have our kids early, travel later in life. . . He’s taking me to Rome,” she said. She leaned toward me, as if telling a secret: “I look very European.”

“Don’t forget us here, don’t forget Mexico,” she said to me just before I left.

But I wanted to forget everything. I was incredibly  homesick. Every night.

I felt so silly, misunderstanding every other sentence, keeping quiet when I knew I would normally have been loud and sarcastic. I felt like I was betraying myself, staying buttoned up to save face. Everything felt too different, too beautiful, too interesting to be home, to be me.

One night I was in the front seat of a car with my classmate’s host brother. He was driving us to a Lucha Libre fight (If you ever get the chance, see one of those. It’s very much like Jack Black’s Nacho Libre (another fantastic thing). I asked this young Mexican guy in the city square one day if he found Nacho offensive. He said “No, we’re actually like that movie. We don’t get offended by jokes as Americans do.”)

The host brother was asking me simple questions that night, and I gave him simple answers. The radio was playing an American pop song. Everyone in the car was under 20. I felt at ease, a surprise. Up until that night, I had been surrounded by adults 50 years + most of the time. It’s hard to feel at home in a new country as a young person when you have little exposure to other young people, and some hard quality about my homesickness softened that night. 

About a week later, I met up with two young professors from Scranton. They took me to Cholula, a small town near Puebla. It’s filled with latin hipsters, artisan pizza, jazz bars, and cobblestone streets home to the occasional goat or 8 person parade honoring a minor saint or Mary.  People set off fireworks every hour, clockwork. I ate in an indoor restaurant that had a Bilbo Baggins party tree growing in the middle of it, little tea lights were tied to its long, winding branches. There was a small gray bird perched on one of the tree roots. At one point I caught it eyeing my pasta.

One of the waitresses at this pizza place I went to that weekend called me beautiful after she took my order. She had black dread locks, a pierced nose, and almond eyes. I will love her forever. I called the pizza slices thin using a word usually reserved for people that night. (Thin human pizza never tasted so good)

I went home that evening a little drunk, put on all my many layers (most of Mexico’s homes don’t have a heating system, so the edge of every night has a nice blade like 45-50°F)chill to it). My mind sank into a bog of sleep. 

I dreamt I was pulling up a bucket from a marble well. It was so light I thought it was empty. When I pulled it up, it was filled with a thin golden liquid. I drank it all.

I went home a few days later. The first thing my mother said was that I smelled differently. The scent of Mexico faded quickly, and I started to miss Mexico slowly.

Oaxaca, Teotihuacan, D.F, Puebla, museums, mountains, mezcal, churches built on ruins, ancient native grounds, pyramids, flying pole dancers, chocolate grasshoppers, pre-hispanic medical instructions for birth painted on huge stones. . .I saw all of these things and I wanted to unsee them at the same time.

That’s homesickness. Every beautiful thing you see exists under the towering shadow of your bed from home, your kitchen from home, your roads from home, your grocery store from home, your boyfriend’s crooked smile that goes everywhere with you. It feels like you’re thirsty. You feel your home calling to you from the back of your throat.

Then, at some point, a rose on a wall, or somebody’s boisterous night-time fart, or a song on a radio in a car in Mexico, or some dread-locked beauty becomes this thin golden liquid that you drink the moment you perceive the rose, the fart, the song, the beauty. Then everything becomes that liquid and you drink—guzzle—and home stops calling from the back of your throat, and your scent changes.

And suddenly, you wake up from some hazy dream and feel sick at the thought of going home.

Finitude and Beyond

On Friday, April 15th, 2016, I received a congratulatory email from the Fulbright Association. The email explained that I would experience a drastic change of scenery on Monday, February 13th, 2017: the date of the mandatory orientation for all American Fulbright English teaching assistants in São Paulo, Brazil. My government and Brazil’s government had approved of me, just a young lady graduate, to teach in a federal Brazilian university. Expenses paid. Visa fee waived. I felt infinite in a way. A high point of 2016.

The first person I remember calling was my mother. I heard her shout over the phone: “She’s going to Portugal!” A funny point of 2016.

The second person I called was my boyfriend at the time. He congratulated me, and I could feel the warmth in his voice over the phone. He didn’t sound surprised or upset that I’d be moving to another country for nine months. Just happy, supportive, loving. We broke up a few weeks after that phone call. We weren’t really surprised, just upset.  A profoundly sad point of 2016.


Let me break my 2016 self down:

  • I believe my education comes first: before everyone, before me, before my fears.
  • I believe I must learn about the world no matter how uncomfortable or lonely.
  • I believe in a two year old LDR with a lovely bearded man named James.
  • I believe in my cushy day-to-day in an on-campus apartment/fully furnished campus.
  • I believe in bills that my grandfather and parents pay.
  • I believe in every luxury available to me.
  • I believe in spending most of my time alone, in privacy and quiet, focusing on my problems and my growth as a human being.
  • I believe in God when it suits me.
  • I believe in me.

What I’m doing and feeling now:

  • Sleeping, studying (Netflix), dreaming
  • Wondering, getting anxious, getting elated
  • Losing faith in lasting bonds between men and women
  • Living in south New Jersey, no classes, no campus
  • Making little at a library, paying little at home
  • Running through the trail next to the house, elated, luxury
  • Living in my parents’ house, sharing a room, sharing my friends’ problems, sharing my parents’ problems, sharing my family’s problems, sharing resentment, being completely cared for and loved
  • Believing in God is attractive and hard to do, like believing in Santa when you start doing the math
  • Believing in me?

Things change on you. One minute you’re thinking Obama is swell, that another Clinton in office wouldn’t be terrible, that you’re naturally organized and scheduled, that friendships and love won’t fade or change or become burdensome to you, and that grad school for English/a move to Maine, the most northeastern state in the States, is the best thing for you. You’ve got a grown out pixie cut and you’ve taken to wearing long skirts.

Things that never were can’t change. Relationships must change. Obama was swell and President-Elect Trump will be inaugurated this month. I’m naturally a sloth. My friendships seem to animorph from week to week. Love has faded into this bizarre dream that gets a little blurrier every morning. I fall in and out of it every month, with no one and everyone. I’m moving to Brazil, deep in South America,  not to study English, but to teach it. I’ve got a septum piercing and a sweet short bob I dye red every month.

The New Year was strange: the night before it, the night of it. I didn’t know there would be years when the person you wanted to see and hear would be invisible, distant. I didn’t know how mundane and glittering my mind could be.

I decided well before the New Year to go to Brazil early, spend a month in Rio de Janeiro, dive headfirst into Portuguese and Brazilian culture. All the ticket dates and hostel bookings end in January 2017. I’ve been waiting eight months for this. I’ve been editing this blog forever and I’ve been trying to prepare myself for this move.

It hit me today: there is no real preparation. I can expect, plan, pack. But what do I know? What do I really know? What if I become invisible, distant? What if I animorph into some entirely new animal?

In two weeks I’ll be flying to Florida with my mother. From Florida I’ll fly to Houston. From Houston I’ll fly to Rio de Janeiro on January 23rd. At Rio’s airport I’ll meet one of my dearest friends from home. A champion of friendship and a knockout: Moira, called Mo. She’s one person of many that I’d like to take with me. We’ll be exploring Rio together and I’ll be uploading our adventures here. I’m so grateful, so very stoked she’s coming. We’re a funny pair.

This is the way I thought/think I want to live my life. Planning for the future, writing about the past in the present. Traveling, speaking other languages, loving whoever, leaving whoever, feeling alone and unattached.

But I feel terribly afraid to detach and I don’t feel infinite.

I guess I’ll push beyond those two feelings. Feelings are finite after all.