Monday, September 29, 2008

The International Exploits of ChocoWaffle and BubbleTea

In most of my friendships, I can find a...point of no return, for lack of a better term. A moment when I realized that there was no going back in this friendship, that we would be together forever, for better or worse.

I wish I had a story like that for my friendship with this girl. But I don't. But I'm going to tell you about her anyway.

I met her in junior high band, along with a handful of other people who have shaped my life. She was quiet; I was not. I giggled constantly; she did not. But we both played flute, so we were very well aware of each other. She was better than I was. She actually practiced. Obviously, I didn't. I switched to a different instrument, but we ended up playing a flute quartet with two other girls. We went to honor bands together and I pressured her to talk to the boy she had a crush on. I was a Dalmatian puppy and she was a full-grown housecat. Looking back now, I'm shocked that she didn't tell me to shut up and leave her alone. But she didn't, and we crossed the threshold from acquaintances to friends.

I had spent most of junior high running wild with two silly girls who ended up going to different high schools. At thirteen, I was a freshman in high school and running low on female friendship. I found myself clinging to her, searching desperately for familiarity.

For a thoughtless decision, it was the best I could have ever made.

The majority of my high school memories involve her. Marching band competitions. Going over to her house because her mom would make cream puffs. Forming a rock band that never really went anywhere. AP classes. Playing piano. Spring Trips. Touching every single thing in her room just to annoy her. Tackling her because I knew that she would scream. First dates. First kisses. Complaining about boys. Learning how to drive and failing our tests. Spring musicals: her in the orchestra and I onstage. College applications. Rejection letters. Leaving home.

Our friendship in college consisted of quick phone calls between classes, MSN conversations, silly afternoons together when we were home on break. Coldstone ice cream. Speeding down the streets we grew up on.

But I never knew how strong our friendship was until we were both out of the country. I don't know anyone else who would check on me every single day, just to make sure that I kept fighting. She accepted (and welcomed) midnight phone calls and text messages when my world was falling apart. She read every single letter that I sent, and faithfully answered each e-mail. She sent postcards from Asia and brought home presents for me. She listened to lengthy explanations of my nightmares and gave serious, thoughtful interpretations. After I got home and was still reeling from everything that had happened, she listened to me panic for longer than she should have.

Here's the truth: I would not have survived France without Nicole. She loved me when I wasn't strong enough to love myself, and did it with absolutely no judgment and an exceptional amount of wit. She is the person who knows me best; she knows every ugly secret and every broken piece of me.

She is the only person who can write gems like this:

"And yes, I would still love you if you never graduate. I would have to move to the East Coast for you to live in my basement, since we don't really have any in California, but you can live in my bathtub for now. Maybe you should sign up for the CIA or the FBI and put those stalking skills to good use."

She is the bubble tea to my chocolate waffle. She is My Crazy in Singapore. If I were dying of heatstroke because I tried to ride my bike on a really hot day, I would choose to lose consciousness on her kitchen floor. She is the only woman with whom I would co-author a book, live in a ridiculously expensive San Francisco loft, and raise an internationally adopted, quadrilingual baby.

My Crazy is back in California and I'm so lucky that I can call her up whenever I want.

Friday, September 26, 2008

My dreams betray me

I dream of all the places I've been, but I wake up speaking the wrong language and forgetting where I am.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I was walking through the Oakland Airport, red leather travel bag weighing down my arm, when I realized that I didn't know where I was going. I looked for the 5:15 flight to Sacramento, but it wasn't posted yet. I decided to walk around and find something to eat. I found a window that looked out to the bay. I didn't want to leave.

As I was watching the Pacific, I realized that I wasn't going to Sacramento. I was going back to Phoenix. I laughed at myself and went to find my gate number.

I feel like that a lot lately. I know exactly where I'm standing, but tend to forget where I'm coming from and have no idea where I'm going. Blame it on too much jetsetting or not enough sleep, but I spend my days tiptoeing through a fog. There is no sense of apprehension, but nothing to tie me to the ground.

I keep moving and it's easier that way. I dance from country to country, never stopping to catch my breath. And it's easy. The hard part is staying in one spot long enough to know where I am.

I want to move back to the coast, to be able to smell to ocean every morning. I want to speak Spanish and eat fresh fruit. I want to play piano in the middle of the night and be able to go running in the afternoons and drive around those California foothills. But most of all, I want to be with my family. I want to be at birthday parties and baptisms and whatever other parties my grandma throws.

Being there is hard. It's easier to love my family long-distance. Being there means that I have to face the fact that some things still hurt, and probably always will. Trying to forget is easier when you're in a country where you wake up and speak a foreign language. But being there is worth it. Seeing my cousins grow up and spending lazy days on the ranch with my grandparents is worth it. Going to lunch with my brother is worth it.

Without them, I don't know who I am. Without them, it's not worth it to find out.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Fridays are my favorite

One month of nursing school down, twenty-three more months to go

Flying to California for my dad's 50th birthday in the morning

Going swing dancing with the D3 Divas tonight


I am a lucky girl

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sometimes I find the words that I've been searching for, but regrettably, they're not in English and I didn't write them. After all these years, here is exactly what I've needed to say to you.

I hope you understand.

Voy a pedirte que no vuelvas más
Siento que me dueles todavía aquí,

Y que a tu edad sepas bien lo que es
Romperle el corazón a alguien así

No se puede vivir con tanto veneno
La esperanza que me da tu amor
No me la dió más nadie
Te juro, no miento

No se puede vivir con tanto veneno
No se puede dedicar el alma
A acumular intentos
Pesa más la rabia que el cemento

Espero que no esperes que te espere,
Después de tus 26
La paciencia se me ha ido hasta los pies

Saturday, September 13, 2008

To the mosquito who decided to attack me as I slept:

I hope that all the blood you sucked out of me caused your tiny stomach to explode. I know that you went on a feeding frenzy and left nearly a dozen bites all over my feet. I imagine that you did all of this on your own, because I've never seen mosquitoes work in conjunction with one another. At the very least, I hope your greediness left you with the discomfort of an overly full belly.

Sincerely yours,

4:30 am, RIE

"I can't sleep."

It's a pattern I've followed my entire life. As a child, I would wake up far too early in the overcast Northern California mornings and beg my mom to let me watch movies. In adolescence, I rarely had time to sleep, so it wasn't as big of an issue. By the time I left for college, my insomnia was typical of my age group, and honestly, came in somewhat handy.

All of this runs through my head as I am sitting on his bed, still in my dress and heels. He is at his desk, fervently and faithfully revising for another biology exam. I can tell that he is trying to decide whether to be annoyed or delighted by my presence. He lights another cigarette, the third since I've been there, and makes two more cups of coffee. He offers me one, and as usual, I decline. I'm surprised that I've stopped drinking coffee and haven't started smoking. I watch as the smoke from his clope snakes out the open window, dancing innocently toward the tree outside.

Sighing dramatically, I lay down, letting my head dangle lazily from the edge of the bed. I pick up my book, a poorly-written paperback that cost me 50 centimes. I bought it because it was the only fiction I could find in English, but each page is trite and overdone. I cover my face, grumbling. He hands me an essay, asking that I spellcheck it. Even in English, I doubt I would understand the subject matter, but my spelling and grammar are as solid as they would be in my mother tongue.

"Go to bed. Tu m'as dit il y a cinq minutes que t'avais envie de faire dodo." His French is rapid, slangy, and heavily tinged with the accent of his first language.

"No. Can't. I'm not tired anymore. I'm hungry." He looks confused. I know that he is trying to decide whether I've said "hungry" or "angry". "J'ai faim," I add. Our conversations are always like this. Any outsider would think we were crazy. He always addresses me in French. I respond in English. I am fluent enough to reply in French, but refuse. His English is conversational at best, but I only speak French when he needs a translation or when we argue.

He picks up his backpack and throws it at me. "J'ai des biscuits la-dedans."

I unzip a pocket to find an unopened box of cookies. My stomach growls. It's nearly sunrise and I haven't eaten since dinner. I've mastered the art of surviving on French cafeteria food, but it is a rough-edged craft. I had rice and veggies for dinner, because they seemed safer than whatever sort of mystery meat was available. I was hungry when my girlfriends and I stepped off the bus, so we stopped at the kebab place for frites. But that was hours ago, before the dancing and the long walk home in the cold that made our winter coats seem thin as our nylons.

"You keep an entire box of cookies in your backpack?" I laugh as I nibble at the chocolate wafer. It is definitely a biscuit, like the English eat, and not a cookie, like my mom makes. I am disappointed.

He does not laugh. He laughs when I am embarrassed or cynical, but he rarely laughs at the things that I find funny. He is taking notes on a legal pad with a mechanical pencil, his handwriting clear and elegant. He is ignoring me; he finds it difficult to study in anything other than complete silence.

I survey his room for the thousandth time. It is more cluttered than mine, more lived-in. My own feels empty, sterile. There are no posters on the walls and hardly enough clothing to fill the tiny armoire. I envy the fact that he has lived here for years and that his life is tangible, while I am simply on vacation.

I would like to pretend that if I had a room like this, the night wouldn't bother me. It's not the darkness, but the silence, that keeps me awake and alert. I never have to fight away nightmares. The silence washes in like the tide, bringing doubts and fears and grief. The silence is accompanied by the ghosts of my distant and recent past. The silence is what causes me to weep until I am too exhausted to truly rest.

I know that if I stay with him, I won't allow myself to cry. I will be petulant, manic, infantile. But I will not shed a single tear, and for tonight, that is my only goal.

Daybreak will come in less than two hours with the comforting whispers of a handful of languages I can't quite understand.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Something That Makes Me Giggle

A few disjoint thoughts

I forgot about birds. Because of school (and the heat, yuck), I'm rarely outside during the day. Yesterday, I was walking Vegas and I heard birdies chirping in the tree outside of my house. How could I forget about birds? I had a similar experience last fall in which I forgot that, in other parts of the world, summer smells like fresh-cut grass. Boo, Arizona. We're only buddies until May 2010 and then I am out of here.

Speaking of getting out of here...any ideas? I'm looking for a moderately large city without pretention. With nice people. With farmers' markets and theaters and a good music scene and many outdoor cultural events. With a rockin' public transportation system. With many delicious cafes and quiet coffee shops and few chain restaurants. With good weather. And having a sizeable Hispanic population wouldn't hurt.

I love school. I thought I might hate school, because I hadn't been in real college for 8-ish months, and I hadn't really taken legit classes for a semester or two before that. But I love school.

That said, I kind of wish I hadn't gotten into nursing school. Nursing school is great and everything, but now I have a career. A life path. I feel like I was more interesting before, when I was threatening to hitchhike to Seattle and trick Rick Steves into hiring me. Or run away from real life and go back to theater. Or become a translator. Or just move back to France and be an au pair. But now, I'm a nursing student, and in four short semesters, I'm going to be a nurse, and then I'm going to move away to somewhere fantastic and be a real adult. I guess that's pretty nice.

If I could live at the library, I would. Libraries are my favorite places in the whole world. Do you think there's an easy way to convert my RN/BSN to whatever sort of degree a librarian needs?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

September 6th

The story starts three years ago on a cool September night in the desert. If I were given the opportunity, I would tell her to wear something other than her brown peasant skirt. I would try to explain how this night would occupy her every thought for the majority of the next few years, how it would likely change her life. It doesn't matter, because she wouldn't have listened to me anyway. She loved that brown skirt. She would tell me that it made her feel like Joan Baez and reminded her of San Francisco. Her hair was long, her eyes were wide, and she was living life on her own terms, although she wasn't quite sure what they were just yet.

Her life as she knew it was just beginning. The night was idyllic and warm. She was young and alive and determined to experience the fullness of whatever life threw at her.

I am still amazed at her ease with herself. She was sitting on the floor, shoes long ago abandoned near the front door, her legs curled underneath her. Her tanned, dirty feet peeked out from under her brown skirt. Playing cards were strewn about her. Her hair was the color of coffee, her eyes the color of chocolate. I imagine that she must have smiled as he introduced himself, even as she stifled a laugh at their clumsy handshake. He was standing and she was still on the floor. Later that night, she would obsess about that greeting, wondering if anyone had noticed her momentary inelegance.

And it was as simple as that. No sort of indication that the meeting would be earth-shattering or life-altering. Just another new face in a never-ending line of strangers. She felt the winds changing and saw the stormclouds rolling in, but didn't see any cause for alarm.

Everything was vague and undefined. She was unable to voice all the questions running through her mind. She was dancing in a fog, never once fearing the final outcome. Young and invincible, she remembered and believed every word he spoke.

She was waiting for the dawn. The uncertainty was unfamiliar; she was wholly unaccustomed to self-doubt. She remembers these times in song lyrics, shy glances, parroted jokes, movie quotes, restaurants, park benches. Most of all, she remembers them in writing. Letters which seemed to tie the two together, creating a fine silver spiderweb which stretched back and forth across the globe. Anxious e-mails, feigning casual indifference. These years are well-documented in her seven journals, as she feverishly scribbled secrets, speculations, and souvenirs from these times.

The waiting and the distance were exciting and agonizing. She was a girl who loved a challenge, and was determined not to fail. Her feelings never took a backseat to her sense of competition, but the tenacity helped sustain her sentiments.

She was perceptive and self-deceiving. She saw each blow before it came, but was unwilling to surrender. She believed in this connection and would cling to it until the bitter end. She once told me that she would "wait until we go down in flames, just to know that the waiting was worth all the pain."

She would recount each beautiful memory, but they are flat and senseless without the music, the smells, the places, and the people that accompanied them. She would write volumes on each detail if she thought that it would make you understand. She tried to perfect every word, every phrase, until she realized that the more she analyzed, the more magic she sacrificed. As she paraded about with her descriptions, the glitter fell from her hair, the sequins from her dress.

The nearly weightless thread that had connected them was not powerful enough. It grew old and frail, slowly disintegrating before her disbelieving eyes.

She stood facing him for longer than she should have. She felt silly and worthless, but hoped against hope that he would speak, that he would tell her it had all been some furtive error and that she has been right all along. She waited until her heart hurt and her eyes burned with tears. She waited until she couldn't wait any longer.

She waited because she knew exactly what she would do when she finally stopped waiting.

She packed her bags carefully, folding each faded cloth and tucking it gently into her tattered suitcase, throwing away anything that would weigh her down on the rest of her journey.

She walked away, her heels tapping a resolute rhythm on the bare floor. Her eyes were dry and she never looked back.