Sunday, January 8, 2017

A day at the cafe.

I was having coffee today with a good friend and in the middle of our conversation, a guy stumbles over to us and begins talking.

"Hey guys, I'm a Jarhead..." he starts. The rest of it sort of goes into this indecipherable ramble. 

I get it immediately. He's a panhandler and my initial reaction is to put him aside, tell him that my friend and I were in the middle of a very important conversation (we were), and that it needed to be respected. Over the years, I've found the ability to do this, and to a bit of my own chagrin, have taken way too much liberty with it. But something in his eyes stopped me. Something about him made me look for a different way. His words are still making no sense at this point and could have gone on had I let it, so instead I interject:

"What can I do for you brother? What is it that you need?" 

He sort of stops and has a tinge of surprise on his face.

"Some change," he said. "I could really use it."

I nod and dig into my pocket, pull out a dollar. My friend does the same. I place it into his palm and attempt to say something meaningful, but it's really just a bunch of crap. It made so little sense that I can't even recall (or don't want to recall) the words to write them out now. A barista from the counter comes over and begins to usher the guy out.

"C'mon man, you can't come in here. No panhandling." He starts to drag the man away. I catch the last part of what the guy says in protest.

"...I just want to be around them," he pleads. 

Again, had it been a few years ago, that would have been the end of it. Problem solved. I go on about my day, go on about my conversation. Distraction handled. But something about it felt off. I wanted my life to be different. At first, I thought to say to the barista that he wasn't bothering us, but I understood his position too. It's his job to maintain the café, let the patrons enjoy their coffee. I try to think of the next best thing. 

"I'll walk him out," I say. The barista nods and let's go of his arm.

I take the guy out and lean over to him.

"What is it you wanted to say to me?" I asked.

"Okay. I'm not gonna lie to you," he starts. "Because there's no point in lying. Telling one lie just means you gotta cover it up with another." 

I give a small smirk and nod. 

"I just need a beer right now," he says.  

I look back into his eyes again and I'm immediately reminded of this word I learned in Brazil. If you ever visit an indigenous tribe in the Amazon (or at least the same ones I have), you will often hear people call you this word: "Txai". It means something more than "Brother" or "Sister". It means "I am another you. You are another me." This is something they used in the movie Avatar and the meaning is profound. Think about it. If we went about life looking at everyone as another version of us, we wouldn't think of the homeless as degenerate low-lifes who can't get their shit together. We wouldn't think that they're lazy, or 'just not trying hard enough', or that overcoming alcoholism is as easy as simply stopping. We might, instead, think that if just one part of our life was different, we'd be right where they are. Maybe if we were born in a different crib or had something done to us when we were children. Maybe something completely out of our control happened at a time when we were not protected. Sure, everyone does need to be accountable for their choices despite the circumstance, but it might also make the world look a bit different. Instead of castigating or criticizing, maybe we'd try understanding and giving compassion, because giving compassion to others is giving compassion to ourselves. Who knows.  

We both sort of chuckle. I tell him I appreciate his honesty. I reach into my pocket and pull out a $5 bill. I think about all the things I've heard about giving money to panhandlers, drunks especially. It really only enables the problem and can very much make it worse. But there are other things to consider too. The temperature has been in the 30s these past few days in Seattle. It was pouring rain at the time. I figure maybe the liquor would keep him warm. I dunno. Maybe it was the wrong thing to do, but it was what I did. 

He smiles and sort of pats me on the back. I try to say something else to him. I want to say something along the lines of, "You can always use it for something better," or "There's always another choice," but I can't get the words out. It's probably because I have no idea what it feels like to be this dude and it would be kind of asshole-pretentious of me to tell him what to do with his life. Instead all I can muster is pounding myself in the chest. He sort of looks at me quizzically. I pound once more.

"Oh, uh, hit myself?" he asks. "Right here?" He hits himself way harder than what made me comfortable. 

I sort of cringe and shake my head, think about how much of an idiot I must have looked like. I don't even really know what I'm trying to say, so I just pound again.

"Oh! The heart!" he laughs. "You're alright man." 

I stand there for a moment as he walks away. A dumb smile comes across my face. The funny thing is that people might read this story and think I did something for the guy, but in reality, he did way more for me. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

A new beginning.

I am no longer in love with Flora. You don't know how difficult it was for me to come to that conclusion, let alone post it on the Internet. For those of you familiar with my story, you might know the gravity this statement carries. And if you really know me, you're also probably someone who told me that I was absolutely fucking crazy to stay in it with her for this long, especially since we broke up over two years ago.

See, I am a romantic at heart, and I don't mean that in a positive way. I'm more like a romance fanatic. I love romantic movies. One of my favorite film series is the "Before" trilogy (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight). I hate "Love Actually", but find "Crazy, Stupid, Love" to be one of the most underrated romance films (if not films in general) ever. But at some point I realized that these movies, the ideology they espouse, can be dangerous. They make us think that love is supposed to look a certain way, or that if your encounter with someone vaguely resembles something you've seen in one of these films, it is somehow ordained in the heavens that the two of you are meant to be with one another. It creates this lift in your heart, springs a hope that life can bring something worth living for, but it also begins this unending journey to an unattainable goal. There is nothing noble about unrequited Love. Nothing romantic. Nothing brave. In fact, it is quite stupid.

Flora and I broke up in November of 2014. From that date until now, I have more or less remained faithful to her. I may have lightly dated, but not where it mattered. I didn't sleep with anyone and I damn sure did not love anyone else. The whole time I thought I was doing something grand, something that would prove my worth for her love, something that would eventually pay back in the form of her coming back to me. Instead, nothing happened. I thought about it for a moment, about whether or not I should continue pining over someone that will likely never come back into my life, and suddenly I looked myself in the mirror and thought of a one-word question I should have thought of a long time ago: "Why?"

Since we've broken up, Flora has never called, texted or emailed. She never asks how my father is doing, she never asks how I am doing, and if I didn't send her a "hello" every so often, she wouldn't even know that I'm alive. I sent her a "hand-wave" for Christmas, and she never responded. She saw it, but never thought to write back. Now I just think, "Why would I give my heart to someone who doesn't want it?"

I want to make clear that I am not trying to frame Flora as a "bad" person. I want to make clear that I understand she has zero obligation in caring about me romantically, or even as a friend for that matter. It is her choice, her life, and to this day I still think of her as one of the best people that I've ever met. The only pain I feel is from the expectations I built up from staying faithful to a faded memory.

There was this one time where I asked someone about Love. I said to him:

"Love, is it a fight?

"No," he said to me. "Love is a flower. Never confuse the two."  

I look at that statement now, and our love was indeed a flower, and for these past two years, it was me trying to take care of it alone. It was me giving it water, but there was no sunshine. Everyday I would wake up and try to breathe a nourishing warmth into its bloom, but of course, it didn't work. It withered and its roots eventually rotted. This entire process has been me excavating the remains. Love cannot survive with only one person caring for it. We cannot do this alone. 

It took me a long time to find the courage to write this out, because at times I felt I might have been throwing away our story with too much nonchalance, too much pain, too much bitterness. But it's not that. I've carried my Love for Flora as a sacred talisman, and I've guarded it with my life. She meant the world to me. She was everything. People don't know this, but Flora actually asked me to marry her three times. The first time I said "No", because I said she should think more about how it would change her life. The second time she asked again - in front of her father and her step-mother - and I said the same thing, detailing a bit more about how her civil status would change and how that would affect her financially, i.e. taxes. The third time was when I was back in the US and she asked me over the phone. This time I didn't say "No" immediately.

"Ok. Why do you want to get married?" I asked.

"Nick. I wouldn't consider marriage for just one reason only. It's for your visa, so you can stay here, so we can be together, and well, because I love you," she told me.

"Are you sure?" I asked. "You understand this could make your life more difficult?"

"I understand and I'm sure."

"Okay then," I said with the biggest grin on my face that she couldn't see.

"Damn. That was the hardest marriage proposal in the history of the world!"

We laughed, but what ended up happening was that the exact things I had warned her about scared her off. In order to get married in Brazil, one needs to have a variety of documents including but not limited to: FBI criminal background check, certificate of civil status, contract from a lawyer, notary official to wed, etc., etc. Because much of this stuff took months to process, and I needed to start gathering documents pretty much when I returned because of the expiration date of my visa. I think that spooked her out of it. It felt like pressure to her, and she called it off. That hurt, in a very profound way. I thought Flora was the Love of my Life and I would have given anything in order to marry her. It would have meant everything to me. My greatest triumph. 

But I also look back on that now, and who I was then was kind of scary. To give so much of yourself to someone who is not willing to give back is dangerous. What occurred to me so strongly, when I asked myself "Why?" in the mirror, were a series of questions: "Where is your self-respect? Your self-worth? Where is your self-love?" I realized that over these past two years, I managed to fill the hole in my heart with Love for myself, and now my heart has been returned to me. I am the owner of my heart. I Am The Owner of My Heart. I AM THE OWNER OF MY HEART.

My friend once told me that every boy has a woman in their life that turns them into a man. For my life, Flora is that person. She taught me how to love myself.  

I used to define the quality of my New Years Eve on whether or not I kissed someone at midnight. That one New Years with Flora has so far been my favorite, but I think this one may have topped it. Because this time I found something that was way more valuable than a random kiss from a stranger, or maybe even from Flora herself. This year, I rediscovered my dignity.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Lighthouse

She wanted to take me somewhere special this time. It was a surprise. I sat at a corner bookstore in downtown Rio for a good 20 minutes before she appeared on the back of a motorcycle. Under normal circumstances, I might have been annoyed with the tardiness, but this was the girl of my dreams. I’d wait an eternity for her to show up. I pulled out from behind my back a single orange orchid, a gift a friend recommended that I put around her ear. She pulled her hair back and closed her eyes as I wrapped the stem around her right lobe. I could have lived in that moment forever.

She wanted to go to Paqueta, one of her favorite spots that she only shared with a few people. As we waited to cross the water, she told me about a time where she wandered in her curiosity and missed the last return ferry home. She found a couple to take her in that night. She traded live songs on the guitar for a one-night stay in their guesthouse. The way she recounted that memory, the look she had in her eyes, told me that she still believed in the goodness of people, that stories like this kept hope alive. 

I tried to come up with an equally touching story in return, but the best I could do was ask her if she had ever seen snow. She hadn’t, but always wanted to. I told her that I’ve lived in cold climates my entire life, and that I knew it almost too well, but one day, if we ever found ourselves in a place that permitted, I’d pack together a snowball and throw it directly in her face. The way she reacted still comes to me in my dreams. That surprise, that smile, that gentle nudge against my abdomen – it is everything I miss about her.

We arrived later than anticipated. By then just about everything was closed. We flirted with the idea of going into the park after hours, but she thought about the guards on night patrol and how our intrusion would have made their job that much more difficult. Instead, we found an old lighthouse and climbed up its rickety ladder, aided by a flashlight from my cellphone. We sat up there, not really knowing what to do or say. Or at least I had no idea what to do or say. I ran through the list of conversations in my head, went through the likely responses and how I might weave that into a discussion about my feelings. I’m actually pretty good at that - predicting how people think - but with her, everything was different. I was perpetually surprised by just about everything she ever said or did. There was no strategy with this one. After about 10mins of silence, I finally blurted out the best thing I could come up with.

“I’m about to tell you something really intense,” I said. “But if you don’t want to hear it, I’ll understand.”

“You don’t have to be afraid to tell me anything,” she said, looking me straight in the eye. “I like intense things.”  

“I think I’ve been waiting my whole life to meet you,” I spouted. 

Right there, at that very moment, I was ready to devote my entire life to her. No questions, no second thoughts, just instinct. I then realized that I barely knew this person and was saying this the third time we had gone out together. But I meant every word, at that moment as I do today. I sat there waiting for her to pack her things up and leave.

She didn’t respond. She just sat there and nodded her head. She then rested her head on my shoulder and the relief was one of the the best feeling I have felt in my life.

Night fell and it quickly grew colder atop the tower. I had foolishly worn a thin tank top, and she wrapped me up in an extra long-sleeve shirt she had brought along. After a few more minutes of staring out into the sea, I think she took pity on my constant shivering and suggested we catch the ferry home. I’ll never forget when we climbed back down the ladder. She didn’t want the flashlight. She said she wanted to know what it was like to go down into a path where she couldn’t see too far ahead. She said I could use the light if I wanted, but to wait until she was all the way at the bottom. I climbed down right behind her in the darkness, using only the feelings in my limbs, and the sounds of the one ahead to guide me.

We ordered a spinach and mushroom pizza when we got back into town, split it into four pieces and sat next to each other waiting for the last ferry home. We talked about our parents, and the shortcomings of their marriages. Her parents divorced when she was still young. Mine are still together, but I wouldn't exactly call them 'happy'. There was a tinge of fear in both of our voices. I don’t know if she thought this, but I thought about the futility of us even dating. More than likely, we’d end up a statistic of a failed couple, but there also comes a point where we need to believe there are relationships that exist outside of what we witness growing up. 

We finished the rest of the pizza on the ferry. I made a quick jab at her appetite. She called me a hypocrite. Our shoulders pushed up against one another, her hand slipped into mine and she laid her head against my shoulder once again. I put my chin on the top of her head. We weren’t going to make it, but we were going to take a chance. That’s really the best you can do in the end. Be brave enough to try.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get back with Flora. I don’t even know if I’ll see her again in this lifetime. But I’ll always have the Lighthouse. That one is mine to keep.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

A poem for Amparo

When I lived in Nicaragua
I stayed with a man named Henry.
Henry took in anyone
and everyone.

One time there were
five of us
all sleeping on his
California King.

Me, Henry, his boyfriend,
and his best friend, Amparo
who brought her one-year old son, 
sick from a fever.

One day I was talking
about the people who helped me
along the way.
At the end of it she sighed and said something
that stuck with me
forever:

"In every place it is the same;
there are few people 
who are bad."

This is did not come from
a place of privilege
where seeing the world with an amber hue
comes easy.

This came from someone
poor and struggling
living in Nicaragua
as a woman.

Someone who left home
because her drunken husband
starting beating her
again.

Sometimes I am still
lucky enough
to hear her words
when I find myself 
complaining. 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

An important midnight conversation

One night when Flora and I were laying in bed, she caressed my back in a way that told me that all my childhood fears were liars, that everything in the world would be okay as long as I believed in us. I felt every morsel of my body melting. She then said something that has never left me.

"Do you feel that you love me?" she asked. 

"Yes," I said. 

"Do you feel that I love you?"

"Yes."

And she wasn't using the word "feel" to describe the way we felt for one another. She was referring to a "feeling", as in another presence in the room.

"I feel that you love me too. I also feel that I love you. I think this is important."

She then took a pause to recollect the moment and said with a stern adaptation: 


"This is very important." 

I agree. It was important.

It is important. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

A sudden revelation

I am not sure what direction in which this thought is headed, but I realize that I am in love with the way that Flora and I fell in love. I am enamored with the story, almost so much that is beyond any of the actual feelings that I may still have for her. It's almost as if it is not her that I am afraid of losing, but the memory of her. The way in which we met. It is our origin. I am terrified at the thought of losing that origin, because without knowing where we came from, we are nothing. We are sadly and utterly, lost. 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

One morning before dawn

I woke up on my own at 4:45. No alarm. We must have slept through it. She was supposed to wake up a half-hour earlier to make it to the bus station. She was going to Ilhe Grande, bought the non-refundable one-way ticket the day before, and it was her first time going despite being a Brazilian native. She talked about it incessantly in the weeks previous, said that she wanted to dedicate the next year to traveling the world, and exploring her own country was the first step. I couldn't go on account of an interview being rescheduled, one of the few times I chose being responsible over being infatuated. 

I nudged her upon realizing the time, and she instinctually yawned, then put her arms around me. Hugged me like I was home. If I was selfish, I would have left it at that. I would have gone back to sleep and had a day with her all to myself, but in my attempts to be a better person, I nudged her again. 

"You need to get up," I whispered.

"What time is it?"

"4:45."

"WHAT?!?!?"

"We slept through the alarm." 

She blinked the sleep out of her eyes and paused for a moment.

"Wait, how did you wake up?" she asked.

I sort of shrugged and gave half-conscious smile. I can honestly say it was one of the only times where she looked thoroughly impressed with me. She then sort of slumped her shoulders, saying it was too late. Again, if I was selfish, I would have taken that and convinced her to sleep a few more hours.

"No c'mon. How long does it take to get to the bus terminal?"

"Now? At this time? I dunno. 10mins?"

"And what time is your bus?"

"5:00."

"Ok. So then you'll still have 5 minutes to buy food for your trip."

We traded sly grins and I'd like to think that in that moment, she found out a bit more on what I was about. Truth be told, I found out a bit more on what I was about. I threw on my pants, and told her I'd join her in flagging down a cab. In a last remanent of doubt, she hesitated, cataloguing all the reasons why she wouldn't make it. In response, I placed my palm at the base of her chin, looked straight in her eyes and said:

"Look, you've been talking about this trip for weeks. Do you want to go?"

She nodded.

"Then take the chance and go. If you miss the bus, just come back. I'll be here."

She smiled and it warmed my entire body.

We dashed out into the dark and ran a good quarter-mile before finally locating an off-duty taxi sitting on the roadside, eating either breakfast or a late-night snack. At first he told us he was done for the night, but after explaining the situation, he was convinced to take the job. She threw her bag across the backseat and climbed in. I kissed her through the window and grabbed her hand like the world was in the midst of collapse. 

"I love you." I said. 

All I got in return was a glance, an acknowledgment that what I said was a true statement from the heart. And then, she vanished. 

I went back to my apartment and stared out the window above my desk, half-way hoping she made her bus, half-way hoping she’d show up back at my door an hour later. I think that conflict lasted throughout the rest of our relationship, and I strangely feel it once again as I am writing this now.