ON the way up the mountain, as the four of us rounded the bottom hump of an S curve and watched the valley deepen, I saw a betrayed friend retaliate. The sky was perfect; it and the earth seemed to be holding hands off in the distance, and the trees looked like curtains blown back a little here and there by the wind to show a house, a peek at a lake, and then a little girl in pink with her right hand held high and her left shoulder dipped toward the ground. Her dress stood out against the white poofs of stuffed animal innards spread about as if the mighty jaws of a beast had gripped the jugular of and thrashed a once loved “Beebo,” or “Elvis, Jr.” vigorously side to side in a triumphant assertion of “No.”
This little girl, maybe seven-years-old, held the husk of “Beebo” in her right hand, her brows inched toward each other, her jaw locked, her nostrils flared. What had, upon cresting the curve, looked like a peaceful snapshot of childhood life atop a mountain in the Brasilian countryside: a white cockerdoodle resting on his belly, paws extended comfortably in front of him, a farm house against the backdrop of blue sky and cumulous clouds, a little girl playing in the yard, turned out to be more a scene of vehemently violent vengeance enacted by a daughter scorned. A moment before the trees returned to obscure my view Beebo, in a flash, fell toward the cockerdoodle’s crown, and for his part, the cockerdoodle blinked and shook his head as one who has been hit with a pillow would. The little girl put her hands on her hips and we turned another curve.
My trip has been full of moments like this one with the girl and her dog. Things seemed like one thing, maybe the way I expected to see them or the way they often are at home, and then when I kept looking, I’d see that the scenario was a bizarro world version of what I’d envisioned. I’m reminded of an article I read at
I’ve talked to all of my immediate family, and all of them have asked me the same questions: did you get what you wanted? did you learn? Initially, I don’t know how to respond other than to say, yes. It isn’t that I don’t know what to say because the truth isn’t obvious to me, it's because the truth is overwhelming—I’ve learned more than I can say. Did I get what I wanted? Yes, I think so. I got to see a new place and a new people. I got to learn some of a language. I got to run a writing program and develop a curriculum. I worked with a population that is important to me. I successfully completed a difficult adventure. I wrote (though I did not finish a draft of a book), and I revised. I thought about how I want to spend the next 5 years of my life, and I am physically healthier. I spent some time with the ocean and some with the mountains. As a bonus, I got to be really quiet for months. I’m not an extrovert, I like solitude and silence; I feel nourished by those things, so I feel lucky to have had the onus of listening way more than I talk.
Funnily enough, that’s how language acquisition works, too. Kids and adults alike learn more than they can say. When I think I’ve understood a conversation, I stop and notice the slang, the idiomatic expressions and those things transform the conversation entirely. While I stare blankly and process I get to see an entirely reconstructed version of the same story.
A while ago I talked about this new solitude that I’ve developed since I came here. This solitude amplifies the stories I hear from other people, and it prunes small talk. It takes work to speak and to listen so I don’t say anything extra.
Since the people I see everyday don’t speak English, I can’t go to them to discuss ideas (not complex ideas) because I simply don’t have the words to do it in Portuguese. As a result I don’t have anyone to bounce them off of—I have to decide all by myself. I
I wanted to write about living with host family and how that has made me think about: being an adult child, what a 40-year-marriage looks like, taking care of one’s parents, losing a parent, and having a home in the same city for all of your life.
I haven’t lived at home for 8 years, and living with this family (an adult son and his 70s-ish parents) coupled with talking to some of my friends about how our parents are graying, slowing down, becoming grandparents, getting sick…dying has made me think more about my family. There is an amazing British comedy called Spaced (which is obviously my life) and in one of the episodes leading to the cancellation (bah!) the main characters talk about the idea that friends are the modern day family, and that works for people until all of their friends start to get married and have kids. Then heredity and familial politics take over. I still haven't developed any intersest in creating my own family, but I want to live closer to the one I came from.
I don’t know ya’ll. I;m going home tomorrow, and I can't answer the question that keeps coming up today: how do you feel about it? I can say that this space has been a comfort. I needed the feedback. Thanks for listening to me try to figure it out. I hope you were at least a little entertained. I hope you liked the pictures. I really appreciate your getting me here and supporting me through it. See you soon.