...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Friday, July 13, 2007

Two years ago / hace dos años atrás

Two years and a day ago I hadn't finished packing by the time we needed to load up the car and head to Portland, where my family and I were going to spend the night before my flight to Chile the next day. I also hadn't called to confirm my airline reservations and double-check the flight time, something I should have done a week earlier. I threw the overflow clothing, toiletries, and books I was sure I would have time to read over the next six months (I planned on mastering Rilke's complete body of work; I also was positive, for some reason, that I was going to read Anna Karenina) into plastic trash bags and we tossed them in the back of the car. I was frustrated with myself for not having packed earlier and better, stressed about the rush, and scared out of my mind about the next six months. I double-checked the flight time from the phone in the hotel lobby and took a bath.

Two years ago, my family dropped me off at the airport and we said good-bye. I met Mariah at the terminal (each of us had forgotten the other's name) and we sat making tentative small talk. Carla, Mariah and I rode the air shuttle at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport and we talked about Amelie; I remember the relief of feeling like I had found two friends. A day or so later, Carla, Jon, Alisa and I all sat together in the dining room of Hotel Bonaparte in Santiago, and conversation and laughter flowed so easily that I felt that I would be okay if these three people were the only friends I made in Chile. Thankfully, that was not the case.

It's strange for me to think that I left for Chile two years ago. At the time, six months in a foreign country seemed like such a daunting undertaking that I couldn't imagine life on the other side of those six months. Sometimes when I was travelling, or talking with Ronald or Daniela, or just walking down the street or riding the bus, I would be overcome by the strangeness and wonderfulness of it all. I would think, "This is me. I'm doing this right now. This is happening in my life," simultaneously stepping out of the moment and trying to horseshoe myself back in. Now, two years later, looking back on my photos, I have to remind myself, "You did that. You were there; you took those pictures." I can hear the Chilean inflection in my Spanish when I talk with my Guatemalan co-teacher, and I will always call a strawberry a frutilla instead of a fresa, yet it seems, still, like a dream. I can't remember exactly how good cazuela, or a warm sopaipilla tasted, and sometimes my Spanish feels slow and heavy, like I'm speaking underwater.

In January, I sobbed when I left my host family's apartment for the last time, carrying my five-year-old host sister up the stairs of the complex so we could say good-bye. As six months earlier, packing had been rushed, and a nightmare; the handles were popping off the enormous overpacked black suitcase I had bought on the cheap in Buenos Aires and hauled all through Uruguay and Argentina. I was wearing several layers to carry as much as possible on my body, and sweated in the mid-summer (since the seasons are reversed) sun. My family's nanny and I kissed good-bye for the last time, and I was gone. The end was as rushed as the beginning.