Trying to Catch Up

In middle school–
Marilyn Manson t-shirt donning,
long, dark hair veiling,
rubber bracelets queuing up to my elbow–
one could find me settled into a desk like a dark-cloaked tick;
embedded in my own head.

When the class bell rang, I continued sitting there,
doing whatever I was doing, be it
drawing a half man / half fish in the margins of my Spanish book;
digging crumpled up, late slips out from my pockets;
or coiling the wire binding of my perforated notebook back
through its holes, because in the hallways
was corkscrew anarchy and that
I couldn’t curl around my finger.
My notebook’s spine:
that I could restore.

So I finished braiding my hair,
slowly wrote down the homework in perfect script,
neatly laid my books on top of each other
in order of width before loading the stack into my backpack;
the largest cover— Biology— at my back.
I liked to imagine this principle of everything
having something of the same shape, only smaller, inside of it.
This Matryoshka doll physics made everything fit. I listened

to the chatter and movement just outside the door
that could exist simultaneously yet regardless of
my being there.  It never escaped me
that I had somewhere to go. My heart
yardstick reprimanded me
by slapping anxiety against my chest.
Why did no one seem concerned with the loose pages,
all out of order,
getting stuck to the bottoms of their zoo?
With carefully placing all that breath?
With the half-thoughts left failed
because the clock said jump? It takes time
to create those gift boxes that perfectly fit into other gift boxes,
to carefully place the organ into the game board of that Operation man’s belly,
to find a casket to fit one’s grief,
to locate a me-minus-one space
in the page break between classes.

Some ten years later, on a new hemisphere,
I still stall,
circle the drain of my bedroom in the morning—
counter-clockwise—
coiling through perforated Matryoshka Doll Logic,
as if spiraling will bind me to time;
force me to move forward along with it.

 

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El Bar

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El Bar

Today marks seven months for me being here in Bogota. My camera’s in the shop, so unfortunately I haven’t been able to take photos very much, but I just re-found this photo from January and decided to share it. I guess I don’t have much else to say. This guy was super unhappy with me for taking this photo…

Cosas

When you live abroad, you connect with new cultures and types of people, but you also notice the distance between you and them. Particularly in a big city, surrounded by thousands or millions of people in their own universe, building relationships with objects is often easier and more feasible. You notice that your life is a compilation of things which have traveled with you from this pre-abroad existence to the things which you have acquired where you are now, and you begin to see the objects as not only what they are but as reminders of all that you are. For example, I treasure my double bed that I got here. I found the hard-as-a-rock double mattress and wooden bedframe at a tiny shop that looked like it could be on an episode of ‘Hoarders’ (the owner had to work with the neighbors to pull a dining room table and chairs from off of it to get the thing out). I bargained for it with tricks of the trade I learned from Colombian friends, rode back to my house in a pick-up truck with saints hanging from the rearview mirror like air fresheners, had help moving it to the second floor and assembled the bed frame on my own (a first, for me). Then, when I moved, I had the help of two friends move it out again, load it onto a van and up the three flights of stairs into my new apartment.

When I was little, I had a green, Girl Scout vest that adorned patches like medals of honor. Each one represents something that at the very least says, ‘I was here. I did something.’ As an adult, as a person who lives far from home, you don’t have patches or even old friends around to say, “Hey remember that time we…” I think many people don’t consider moving abroad because they are afraid of the loneliness and that fear is legitimate. There are days when I want to call a friend on my crappy foreign phone and can’t; days that I could spend in entirety in bed, because I don’t work and no one is going to notice the difference anyways and because I cherish my relationship with my double bed more than I want to see anyone in Bogotá. So I look to my things:  a bicycle with chipped paint, broken gears and a torn seat that rips up the crotch of every pair of tights that I own; an extra-large tube of toothpaste that I’ve squeezed and flattened beyond all reason because I remember standing in an aisle of Walgreens with my mom the day before I went to the airport; a mattress that’s hard-as-Plymouth-freakin’-Rock… and I love all of them. When you are in your own country and everything is easy you forget to love your things for the simple fact that they are yours.

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Then there are the other things which couldn’t fit into a suitcase if you tried, like full moons in the daytime or the flavor of a fresh apple or the way a dog’s tail flutters when its owner holds a ball in the air right before he or she decides to throw it. Thankfully, although customs and foods and living environments are all new, general aspects of humanity and laws of physics stay the same. You know that a cup of coffee will be hot when it is made, that the heat will eventually dissolve into the air like a balloon that is finally let go of, resigned to the sky. You know that that set of blue, paint-worn shutters on a side street in your neighborhood would feel coarse and honest if you were to touch it, that it is the same blue as the sidewalk chalk you used to use or the nail polish that you once stole or the retainer that you lost you don’t know where.

These things do not represent your “new” life or your “old” life, but just life. The loneliness sucks sometimes, it does, but having company around all the time makes you forget to appreciate the things.  Things rule. Things make you realize the capacity you have to appreciate the world for other reasons, like the way brick walls along the highway are covered with posters upon posters until there’s nothing left of the layers of timeworn paper but the way they curl around the new posters; like an old, fatherly hand on the shoulder of its successors; like nothing is quite ready to let go; like nothing ever really has to.

X

Una Tormenta Más

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Every day at rush hour, every car of the red Transmilenio bus is always beyond full. The bus pulls up to the station and hoards of people push themselves into each other: the masses can always give a little bit more. When there are that many people– tired from a long day at work– you don’t need the hand rails; the spongy crowd puckers and holds you. The sea of transit-goers is a patch of sea anemone that blushes and sways when the bus hits a bump. Lately, the public has been complaining: there aren’t enough buses, delays cost people their jobs, incidences of pickpocketing and women being accosted are becoming more frequent.

Taking the L18 Transmilenio back home from work at rush hour, there are six stops between the station I got on and the station I will get off. I think about how I’d react if a stranger on the bus would try any funny business with me, imagine cowboy-like reflexes springing my right hand over the hand of an ill-fated, grazing palm; fracture a finger or two without blinking, but when I actually feel a caress on my backside– so casual that it could easily be attributed to the too-close-for-comfort quarters, so casual that I could easily be inventing intentionality out of casualty— I ignore it, shift my body to the right.

Five stations left: I take a deep breath of sweat condensed in the hot air recirculating through the car. Rain and headlights upon the sealed windows of the bus make tiny yellow streamers ripple down the glass, echo faint shadows of urban celebrations onto the faces of the passengers. I try to focus on the Salt-N-Pepa plugged into my ears, Whatta man, whatta man, whatta man, whatta mighty good man… I shuffle to the left. Maybe it’s someone’s purse? Maybe I’m fabricating a fictional situation out of stress or claustrophobia? I look back at the man standing behind me. He is a man around the age of 45, wearing a dirty, denim jacket and a standard pair of rectangular glasses. His chin is down. He does not make eye contact. His hand is wedged into his pocket. Four stations left.

My friend and I had a conversation about this very topic just days earlier. He explained that when women tolerate these kinds of transgressions, the offenders learn that they can get away with such behavior; whether it be a full-on, stuffed animal claw machine-style grab or a repeated, “accidental” graze with the back of one’s hand. My friend says that some men bury their hands in their pocket, meanwhile rubbing this hand against a nearby passenger and themselves; as if the fact that his skin never makes contact with the other individual makes him innocent; as if the thin layer of fabric wasn’t just a thin, cowardly layer of himself.

I jolt again. “Quite la mano;” Move your hand, I say finally, firmly, turning back for only a moment. The man responds with various comments, but— headphones in— I cannot hear what he is saying. I don’t want to. His negative tone murmurs indistinctly from behind the music…  Whatta mighty good maaan… I want to go home. I do not want to listen to him, do not want any more of his existence on me, but on this bus I am a sponge; puckering indiscriminately, taking in rain and sweat and saliva. There is no room to move. You can always give more of yourself to make room for more of someone else. The masses can always give a little bit more. We are stopped

at this point, enveloped in rush hour abandonment; the bus spewing futile smoke signal pollution into the night. The bus is running, but unable to move. I am unable to move. The traffic jam of Bogotá’s tightened chest both cradles and deserts our red bus. Air deserts my lungs. I am torn between wanting to stand up for myself and fearing that my foreign accent will dub me a liar. I am torn between worrying that I am accusing this person of something he didn’t actually do and letting my body become some man’s handrail because I choose to see (Whatta miiiighty miiightayyy) strangers as good. I choose to not be afraid, but avoiding fear does not mean bravery.  If you are afraid of the dark and close your eyes, that does not mean bravery. Closed lids shut out darkness but they don’t make it go away. Closed lids are just thin, cowardly layers of yourself. I count the remaining stations of my pride, one by one.

Ventriloquists try to trick their audience into believing they are not there, that their doll is twitching or talking or cracking jokes on its own accord. Even with the interrogating spotlight, their hand embedded into the doll’s back, they swear before the world they have nothing to do with that thing.

The pole nearest to the door of the bus looks like a vertebrae made up of the hands which grip onto it. I stretch my arm over the shoulder of the woman in front of me to reserve a small property for my clenched grasp on that pole. The woman is somewhere between the age of 30 and 35, I’d guess. She wears a navy cardigan over a white button-down shirt. Her brown hair is tied back into a businesslike bun. Two creases drape around the stage of her rested lips. Two stations left. I focus on her, to not focus on him, but her eyes—two brown bullets– are on the man behind me. Center stage, her lips fold into a trap door of rage. The curtains on her face open and, responding to the man, she yells, “Cochino!”

Filthy pig! And I wonder if she is responding to whatever he had been saying or responding to me telling him to move his hand; if she is reacting to my possibly unwarranted response or actual profanities. People start backing away as much as they can. The battery on my mp3 player dies and the rain pummels the windows. The bus hits a bus and a wave of sweat rises up my back and curls over my head. The sea anemone fan back and forth wildly. The man yells, “¡No hice nada! ¡No hice nada!” I didn’t do anything! and my lungs are full of water or doubt or fear because maybe I was wrong. Maybe the doll sitting on its master’s lap really is crying on its own, warping its own wood with its dummy tears. Maybe it wasn’t sleight of hand. The best puppeteer or magician is one that makes its audience believe that everything they felt to be true could be wrong. Even the worst abuser can do the same.

Suddenly, a man leaps out of his seat, grabs one of the horizontal bars attached to the ceiling, swings from it and lunges his boot into the belly of the screaming man. I imagine we are underwater. Limbs flail inches away from my body and I can feel the bubbles rushing off of them. Someone grabs me by the shoulders to pull me back. Two police officers in neon yellow vests over dark green uniforms, who had been posted at the front of the bus, push their way through the crowd with difficulty. They pull the men apart. The man who had been sitting yells, This guy touched the girl! as the other man continues to yell, “¡No hice nada! ¡Preguntale a ella!” Ask her! “¡No hice nada!” The man in the denim jacket outstretches his arm, the harpoon of his pointer finger directed at me. Everything stands still. The rain hushes the crowd. The police officers look up while restraining the two men. The restrained men stare at me. The woman with the whirlpool bun stares at me. All the passengers stare at me and the ones who are too far back stand on their tip-toes.

And I say nothing. I don’t move. I just hold my breath because it is the very last thing that is still mine.

Her eyes fixed on the man who stood behind me, the woman snarls, It was him! Take him out of here! So they do. They pull him to the front exit of the bus and the police and the man

get off. We start moving again. A wave of quiet chatter flows throughout the two connected cars of the bus. Just before arriving to the next station, the one before mine, the woman turns to me and says, “Tienes que defenderte.” You have to stand up for yourself. I don’t respond. The doors open. Cowardly clutching my backpack to my chest, I exit the bus and walk home.

Deep Breaths

There comes a point in any new relationship that the honeymoon phase ends. This past week or so, I arrived at that point. A combination of waking up early and going to bed late for classes and being frustrated by the Transmilenio and exhausted from biking everywhere as a consequence and sad because my closest friend here, Camilo, left and stressed out due to the NEVER-ENDING construction happening directly outside my window all have contributed to this. Oh, and hormones. That’s a thing. I don’t feel like a visitor anymore, which is cool, but living somewhere means responsibilities and such. Balance is always a challenge, not putting too much pressure on myself and not dissolving expectations altogether.

Moving somewhere new, which I’ve done several times already, is always like a refresher-course on yourself: which of your characteristics vary depending on your location or circumstances and which of them consistently follow you? (For better or for worse.)

Building good habits is important. Obviously. For example, I know that running helps me with stress, but I don’t have any parks at an easy walking distance from my apartment like I did at my last house. After waking up to construction this morning and pacing with stress for a while, I decided to bike to the nearest park, Simon Bolivar, lock up my bike, and run there. It was actually a really good plan. The point is, one has to make changes, to adapt to their surroundings. Putting down roots and building healthy habits? Anyone can do that. The challenge really comes when you are forced to do it again and again and again. Maybe coming here was a way for me to face that challenge, to overcome it, and then realize that if I can do that, I can do anything.

Growth. Adaptation. Gratefulness…