Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Everybody in Texas Drives a Truck and the Coolest Sister


December 28, 2011 – Everyone in Texas Drives a Truck

I’m not the coolest sister. My oldest sister Jesse with her degree in physics and her current Zennish state must not seem so marketably cool either. Apparently my youngest sister Michaela holds the spot. This does not come as a complete surprise to me. After all, she does live on a boat. Things don’t get much cooler than that.
Michaela
My sibs and I all seem to have some version of the Bohemian gene passed down to us from our Techno-Hippy parents. We prefer not to adhere to conventional rules or lifestyles and the manifestation of this comes in different ways for each of us six kids. Whether for genetic or income reasons, my brother Noah recently got his Commercial Driver’s License and went out for five weeks of training which put him away from the family for all the holidays; Christmas, his birthday and New Year’s. When his fiancée Kim calls to say he and his trainer are dropping off a load in Garland and to ask if she can get a ride to go see him, my mom volunteers both my dad’s car and me for the job.

Fine by me. I’m only in town for a short time. Although I’ve seen Noah twice already if I don’t jump at this chance God only knows when we shall see each other again (As Hodel said to Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof and as my great-great-grandmother used to wail each week while wringing her hands when her family left after Sunday dinner).
At the right time I load myself into my dad’s dragon-fire red Mini Cooper and feel awfully cool as I zip across town, shifting gears like a pro and turning up the music’s volume from the steering wheel buttons.
Kim
Kim waits for me outside her apartment. She’s dressed up pretty, and is so excited she almost can’t stand it.

“Noah said you have to wait in the car,” she tells me knowing the relationship I have with my brother.
“I can wait in the car,” I say. She’s joking, I’m serious. “I brought a book.”

“You are not waiting in the car.”
“I will if you want.”

When we get to the T&A Truck Stop we’re a little early. I drive through the maze of trucks yelling out the window for Noah. In the Mini I feel like a grasshopper among giants. I drive extremely carefully. “Noah! Noah, Noah, Noah!” I yell.
“I don’t think they’re here yet,” Kim tells me after checking her phone for texts.

I park and we wait.
“Noah! NoooooAAAAH!”

Still no brother.
“Maybe we can get you a truck driver husband,” Kim says, apropos of nothing.

I scan the parking lot. The truck drivers are mostly large fellows, their bellies hanging down over their belts and their mustaches hanging long down over their cheeks.
“Hmm. Is Noah gonna grow a big ol’ mustache now that he’s a truck driver?” I ask.

“I don’t think so.”
We wait a little bit longer. Then from across the parking lot we see someone who looks like Noah. Sure enough, it is him. The greetings are both joyful and siblingly. I lock up the Mini as the drizzle turns into rain. Inside the truck stop we get food, drinks or nothing and sit around chatting.

“We’re going to shop for a husband here for Amanda,” Kim says.
“You don’t want a truck driver husband,” Noah tells me.

“I don’t?”
“No.”

“Because they’re fat and dirty and grouchy?” I ask.
“Not grouchy,” Noah corrects me. “Just coocoo.”

“Oh.”
Noah takes a sip of a Red Bull, Kim eats her cheeseburger and I take pictures.

“I’ve driven thirty-two hundred and fifty miles,” Noah says. He’s been on the road two weeks and only been driving half the time. He’s been to California, Connecticut, New York, New Mexico, Arkansas, Texas, and lots of places in between. “We’re going to switch trailers here with another driver. My trainer will call when it’s time to leave.”
Since we don’t know exactly how much time we have to kill, we go outside.

Noah lights up a cigarette. Kim takes her spot close to him. I stand up on the bench so I can be underneath the umbrella. It’s raining even harder.

Noah takes a drag, puts his arm around Kim and adjusts his stance. “My trainer is fascinated by Michaela’s living situation. He keeps saying stuff like, ‘Wait, what? Aren’t there bugs?’”
I laugh. “It’s not so much the bugs as it is the snakes and raccoons.”

“And the spiders. My trainer told me I could go home if I wanted to while we waited today and he’d call me to come back but I told him ‘No, my sister will be there.’ And he said, ‘The boat sister?’
I stand on one foot and balance.

“’No, the Peru sister,’ I told him,” Noah continues. “And he said, ‘Can I talk to her about the boat sister?’”
Tank
I lean back on both heels and try not to fall off the bench. “I could talk about her.” After all, she’s told me plenty of stories. About Tank, her German Shepherd, who loves to howl along to harmonica music, of the roiling nests of snakes she encountered, of tugging a stuck boat back to the docks when the lake police wouldn’t, of the strange algae growth that collected in the corner of the slip and looked like alien eggs, of the raccoon that chased her up a fence, of walking the entire marina to go shower in the club pool’s locker rooms, of the weekend and party community of boat people, of the tunneling wind that howls down the docks, of her favorite sound of the clanging lines of the sailboats, and of all the things that have leapt out of her hands and jumped into the lake; cell phones, a bottle of wine, keys, food. Michaela’s life would make a much better reality show than mine. There’s a lot of drama on the docks, and every day of her life holds a story that sounds unbelievable but I know is completely true.

Next to all that I’ve got nothing. So yeah, I guess she is the coolest sister.
And to tell the truth, I’m okay with that.








Monday, December 19, 2011

Father Daughter Bonding Time


December 19, 2011 – Father Daughter Bonding Time

After a week and a half of working and socializing I am exhausted. I go hunt my mom down to get a hug from her.
“Nothing’s wrong,” I tell her with my cheek against her shoulder. “But I could use a good cry.”

We pour some red wine into our glasses and go sit in the living room in preparation for the TV show watching end of the day ritual. She and I chat while we wait for my dad to get his food and ale and come join us.
“What’s going on?” My dad asks, pausing in the doorway on his way to the kitchen.

“Nothing,” Mom says. “We’re just talking about good cries. Amanda needs one.”
“Do you want me to slap you?” Dad offers.

“That might work,” I say. I imagine a hand-print welt embedded on my cheek and all the subsequent explanations. The scenario plays out something like this:
“What happened to your face?”

“Oh, this old thing?” I touch the mark on my face. “My dad slapped me.”
“WHAT? Why?” my friend-stranger-family member asks as they pulls out their cell phone to dial child protective services.

“I needed a good cry. Ain’t my dad the best?”
Mom turns the TV on. There are about five different remote controls and she presses buttons until everything is on and at the right sound level. Being a dinosaur-age technology child, I’m uber impressed. Somehow I didn’t get the cool High Technology Gene in my personal DNA makeup even though both my parents have it. This seems unfair. I still write on actual pieces of paper, listen to records made in the 1970s, and read books with bindings. HD? DVR? TIVO? That’d be all Greek to me--only I can actually read Greek (however, I will say that understanding it is a whole different story). Forgetaboutit.
“Sometimes anger works better than anything for releasing emotion,” Dad says.
“That or a good workout,” I say. I don’t do anger much.
“You could do that AB workout we’ve been meaning to do all week and your mom and I could watch.”

I give him that “Dad, don’t be absurd” look.  

My mom points, clicks, selects and scrolls. “We should watch that last A Gifted Man episode we have saved,” she tells my dad. “It’s sad. That’d be good for a cry.”
So we do. At first I’m not emotionally attached to these characters. They’re rich and snooty and behaving unrealistically. Yeah, yeah, it’s a television show, I know. But then at the end as the character who’s dying of rabies is being rushed to the hospital for a last-chance experimental procedure and the hippy-priest guy marries her and her rock-climbing boyfriend, and then the doctor frantically tries to revive her and can’t and the music swells and dies and then when the newlywed husband kisses the temple of his dead wife and says, “Goodbye my beautiful wife,” my throat tightens up and those tears I couldn’t summon on my own finally spill out.

I don’t even bother wiping them secretly from my cheeks because I hear my dad sniff his own tears away. I smile through the mist; my dad and I are two peas in a pod. Two negatively charged subatomic particles occupying the same orbital field. I’m a chip off the old block, cut from the same hunk of wood, an apple that didn’t fall far from the tree. In other words, he and I are a lot alike. Often times I envision myself as a little girl with curlicue ringlets (as I used to be) treading behind him, fitting my feet in the patterns of his footsteps, walking in his shadow. I love this.

If my mom is crying she’s doing so with ninja-stealth tears. We all want to be just like her.

After we watch the ambulance scene one more time for good measure and cry just a little bit more, Mom heads off to bed. She has to be up early to go to work. Me and my dad don’t. I’m unrepentantly unemployed (more or less) and he doesn’t have to be to work until around nine o’clock. We can afford to stay up. Dad pulls up a music video of Goyte’s Somebody that I Used to Know so we can watch it again on the giant flat screen. He’d shown it to me the other day on my mom’s computer. It’s a hauntingly beautiful melody and an incredibly artsy video. We’re both a little obsessed with the song. I’d heard him playing it on repeat the night before from his study while I read in my room. I’d been playing it on repeat all this morning myself.  

We watch it at least once. Then we go from there on a musical journey. Somewhere along the way we arrive to the Blues; Johnny Winter, Stevie Vai, Bela Fleck and The Flecktones, Stevie Ray Vaughn.

It’s floodin’ down in Texas. All the telephone lines are down.
“I saw Led Zeppelin in concert,” Dad says at one point.

“You did?!” I exclaim. “I’m going to have to tell that to my ten year old student Joaquin. He’ll be so jealous.” My status as the coolest tutor in the world will go up to infinite levels after I convey this to Joaquin. Led Zeppelin is his favorite group. I’ll take that cool status even if it’s not really earned on my own merits. I have no shame.
“I saw them at the Lewisville Pop Festival in 1969.”

He also saw Janis Joplin, Leon Russell, Ten Years After, BB King, Iron Butterfly, The Rolling Stones, Poco, Joe Cocker, The Doobie Brothers, Spirit, The Allman Brothers, Traffic, Steve Miller, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Jimi Hendrix twice. It’s kind of sad to realize your parents are way cooler than you are. But I’ve lived with this knowledge for a long time and, in reality, it makes me more proud than anything else.
While Dad is trying to find our next selection, we see a video called Noah Takes a Photo of Himself Every Day for Six Years.

“Hey, go back one. Can we watch that?” I ask. My second to youngest brother’s name is Noah and I’m suddenly both nostalgic for the days when he lived with me and intrigued by what would drive someone to start a six year photo project.
Six Year Photo Noah
We watch the entire thing. We’re impressed and awed. I have so many questions. Why did Noah do that? Why six years? Was it a school project? Of six years? Did his friends and family tease him for being such a narcissist? Why did he choose not to smile in the pictures? Did he ever miss a day of photo taking in all that time? Six years is a long time. I get hung up on that. While my mind is trying to create a believable story to answer that WHY, Dad keeps us singing on.
We watch Leon Russell sing A Song for You which logically takes us to Elton John and Russell’s version of If it Wasn’t for Bad I’d be Good. Then we listen to what is possibly Elton John’s best song of all time: A Little Word in Spanish. I’m not sure if it’s me or my dad who says, “This song makes me cry every time.”

I get Leon Russell mixed up with Joe Cocker when I think of With a Little Help From My Friends and Masquerade.

“That’s Joe Cocker,” Dad says.
“Oh yeah,” I say. I really did know that. “I think I like The Carpenter’s version of Masquerade best.” Musically I got (contentedly) stuck in the 1960s and 1970s. I’m a flower child at heart.

“I’m not gay,” Dad says, “But I do like the Carpenters.”
“Let’s find Masquerade,” I say.

He starts to type Carpenters into the search engine to find it and we’re watching the results as they appear with each letter he puts in. He’s gotten to CARP when we both burst out laughing. The first video option says Love With a Fairy Carp.
“I’m sorry,” Dad says between guffaws, “But I’ve just got to see what this is.”

I do too. Although I’m a little frightened of what we might see. I hold my breath and Dad presses play. It’s a Chinese Yueju Opera and we watch just enough to satisfy our curiosity. I let out my breath. We look at each other and snicker.
“You have to fight the fairy carps to get to the masquerade,” Dad explains.

So we fight them quickly and get our Carpenters fix and eventually Turn, Turn, Turn along with The Byrds. 
There’s a fine line between Rock ‘n Roll and Country and we cross it long enough to listen to Montgomery Gentry’s Hell Yeah and Tim McGraw’s Indian Outlaw. “The thing about Country,” Dad says, “is they don’t get embarrassed by anything. They do whatever they want.” So we listen to Carrie Underwood sing Before He Cheats just to prove that point. This song for some reason reminds me of James Taylor and Carole King and I once again mix up my artists. “Didn’t Carole King write that one song about James Taylor? You’re so Vain?”
“No. That was…” Dad thinks.

Then I recall from watching How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days who sings it and we say “Carly Simon” at the same time. The clip we view has a really strange video of a guy who looks like a Hasidic Jew. He dances around parks and down stairs like he’s pretty darn happy, and really and truly doesn’t care that Carly thinks he’s vain. I’m pretty sure this guy does think that this song is about him.

“Oh god,” Dad says. “I think we found who she wrote this song for.”
“Who?” I ask, pulled from my musing. Does he mean the music video dude?

“She wrote it for the Indian Outlaw.” The Indian Outlaw video we’d seen several songs ago had kept us both in stitches, and of course the lyrics sing for themselves on the humor scale. I’d heard this song for the first time decades ago when I got to sit up in the moving van cab with my dad while we were driving from Vermont back to Texas. The musical ties between us become like a three-cord strand which can’t be broken; at least not easily. When the song first came out some people got their hair all tied up in knots “due to its stereotypical portrayal of Native Americans (Wikipedia)” and Indian Outlaw was actually banned from some radio stations. My dad and I don’t worry about controversy or political correctness--this is a no holds barred musical night. Besides, as Larry the Cable Guy says, “I don’t care who you are, that’s funny right there.”
How the heck we end up watching Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s Somewhere Over the Rainbow after all that beats me. But we do.

“Oh,” I say. “If you’ve never seen this little girl sing that same song then you’ve got to type in Connie Talbot.”
Connie had been on Britain’s Got Talent and I’d lost my heart to her when I used to watch You Tube Videos all day to entertain myself at work. Her rendition of this song stirs me even now and I get more of the soul-cleansing cry that I’d been needing this night. I start to believe again that all the dreams I dare to dream really do come true.

Moved by that emotion, I tell my dad to search for another name I’d seen off Britain’s Got Talent. I hold my breath once more (though for an entirely different reason from earlier) while Paul Potts sings Nessun Dorma as if he were offering his voice up to Apollo as a musical libation. I’m glad my dad and I can wipe our tears away shamelessly in front of each other. It’s the combination of the song itself and Potts’ performance that makes me feel that the world is good and that love is real and that we all can live our lives to their fullest.
A little drunk off that idea I say, “Okay, we’ve got to watch one more from Britain’s Got Talent. Just wait. She’s terrific. I love her.” I search for a word to sum her up. But I can’t find one. I find two. “She’s cheeky.”

Our last song of the evening is Susan Boyle singing I Dreamed a Dream. This dowdy woman who paradoxically believes in herself and dares to sing about unfulfilled dreams makes me laugh and cry. Her performance is stunning, surprising, and unexpected. Her words reverberate through the auditorium, through the TV screen, into my psyche:
I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I'm living,
So different now from what it seemed...
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed...

Although the lyrics aren’t as hopefully inspiring as Over the Rainbow, through Susan Boyle they infer the opposite of what they say. What I take away is this: Life ain’t hell. Life is different from what I expected it would be. But better. Not always beautiful, not always clean, but breathtaking and astounding. Life can’t kill the dream I dreamed because dreams are already ghosts waiting to be wisped away or made solid, breathed into, brought to real-boy Pinocchio kind of life. Music salves, and there’s always a dawn after the darkest night, even if it comes at two AM on a December morning in the living room of the house at 1222 Carroll Drive. I know from experience that a good cry or solid night’s sleep can usually cure my emotional build-ups, but a hug from my mom and time with my daddy seem to work just as well too.




Sunday, December 18, 2011

It's Not Just Peruvian Men After All


December 18, 2011 – It’s Not Just Peruvian Men After All

Every year my friend Kirk and I go to a show, a sporting event or a concert when I come to visit the Dallas area for the holidays. This year we go to see the Dallas Theater production of A Christmas Carol.
But first we go to dinner.

“Don’t worry, I know the vegetarian drill by now…and most of the world has caught on to you vege-peeps,” Kirk messages me a few days before along with our evening’s schedule.
He takes me to Palms Restaurant which has been around since 1926. “With 28 locations, including one in London and one in Mexico City, Palm is still owned by the same families that started the original Palm in New York City. They treat each guest as if they are part of the family. It’s Old World hospitality at its finest.” (http://parklabreanewsbeverlypress.com/news/2011/11/palm-restaurant/)

The valet recognizes Kirk and calls him, “Friend,” and “Buddy,” and “Amigo."
Jose and Kirk
Our waiter, Jose, has apparently been working for Palms since they opened in 1926… well, for the last 27 years at any rate. He’s old and friendly and had moved from New York to help start the Houston and the Dallas Palm Restaurant branches way back in the day. Then he decided to stay in Dallas. He thought it’d be a good place to raise his sons and doesn’t appear to think he ever went wrong with that decision. He seems to truly like his job. I want to ask him if he really does. I’ve been so caught up in anti-corporationism that I’ve lost sight of what company loyalty looks like. Watching Jose, seeing the 27 Years lettering embroidered on his right shirtsleeve, I feel like I’ve stepped back into another era. One where companies treat their employees right and where the employees ride for the brand--to use some Cowboy lingo that I learned from reading Louis L’Amour.

The entire wait staff handles us like royalty. It really is Old World hospitality at its finest. This is what it must feel like to be rich, I think. Why don’t we treat each other this way all the time?
I give out smiles to all the people who pass us by; men and women alike. I don’t feel like I have to guard them here the way I do in Peru. But I try not to make my smiles too flirty, just friendly. I get returned smiles, some “How are you tonight?”, and attention to our table from some of the guys who aren’t working our station. Kirk comes here on a semi-regular basis and some of the staff knows him by name, the others by face. Throughout the course of the night they all stop by our table to say hi.
“We’re about to go see A Christmas Carol,” Kirk tells one of the managers.

“Oh, that’s a great one,” he says, “’You’ll shoot your eye out!’ The Red Ryder BB gun.” He laughs.
I laugh too. “That’s A Christmas Story,” I say, feeling some odd need to correct him. “I thought the same thing at first. This is the one with the ghosts and Scrooge.”

“That’s a good one too,” he says. He stays at the edge of our table to chat a moment longer then he pats Kirk on the arm and gets back to work.
Jose glides by, sees that we’re finally ready and takes our orders down. I go for the Arugula and Apple salad, a dish of mushrooms and some Brussels sprouts. Kirk gets a steak and checks to make sure I don’t mind sharing some of my veggies. I don’t.

“I can share,” I say. My mom taught me about sharing.
Not much later our food arrives.

It looks delicious. I stick my fork into my salad and discover the bacon. The menu had not advertised bacon and I curse myself for being naïve and not asking to make sure it was truly a vegetarian salad. Foolish girl. Instead of sending it back, I just pick the bacon out and set it on the side of the plate. This probably means I fail some vegetarian test, but I do it anyway.

Jose walks by to check on us. He sees me picking and leans over the table to see specifically what I’m doing. “What is that?” he asks.

“Bacon,” I say.
“There’s bacon on it?” Kirk asks.

“You want it?”
“Sure. There’s no need for good bacon to go to waste.”

His worries set aside that our meal isn’t ruined by vegetarianism Jose backs off from hovering over me and smiles again.
I decide not to ask what the mushrooms were cooked in or pay attention to the parmesan crumbled over the Brussels sprouts. I sip the house Merlot and feel terribly grown up.

Kirk and I eat our meal and talk about the faces painted on Palms Restaurant walls. People who spend some crazy amount of money eating there and who are members of the Restaurant get their faces put on the wall. We’re seated next to a strange combination of faces including Dean Martin, G.W. Bush, Catherine Carr, Ronald Reagan and Ol’ Blue Eyes. Their stares do nothing to ruin our appetites and we put the food away purposefully.

After Jose has cleared away our empty dishes, he presses dessert menus into our hands and waits for us to decide. But we reject dessert and when the bill is paid and we’re sincerely goodbyed by everyone and wished happy holidays and cheerfully put back into the car by the brotherly valet we head over to Turtle Creek to see a play.

It looks like a full house. We’re up in the balcony and have a nice view of the stage. A couple is in the seats next to us and I assume they’re married.
We cozy in to the chairs and wait for the show to start.

The lights go out and Jacob Marley’s mournful cries fill the auditorium.
My neighbor fidgets and I feel his leg against mine. This is America where we’re space sensitive and personal bubble paranoid. So I surreptitiously move my leg away. And then again. And again. The seats are close and the leg room negligible so I don’t necessarily take this as a bodily contact come on. Beside, I’m not feeling especially alluring, even though I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder and some beholders have really non-discriminating eyes.

The Ghost of Christmas Past scares Ebenezer into regret and the lights turn on for the Intermission. Kirk gets up to go walk around and check out the concession stand and I decide to sit it out.
My neighbor turns toward me. He’s got a ring on his ring finger, but his blonde and beautifully made-up companion does not. She’s much prettier than I am and better dressed. She checks her phone and waves him off to talk to me. I wonder if they’re just friend out for an outing like Kirk and I. Is he just wearing any old ring or is it a wedding ring? I want the details. I always want the details.

“It’s a good production,” he tells me.
“The special effects are great,” I agree. The appearance of Jacob Marley early in the play was made eerie, ghostly and frightening by light strobing and smoke. I was scared. I mean, I would have been scared if I were a kid or something.
“I come every couple years to see this one,” he says. “Are you from Dallas?”

“Garland,” I say.

“Me too,” he exclaims. “What part of Garland?”
“South Garland.”

“You know Wynn Joyce and Broadway?”
These are streets and I do know them. “Yeah sure.”

“That’s where I live. Where abouts are you?”
“I grew up off of Glenbrook and Centerville,” I say. “But I currently live in Peru.”

He asks me what I do. And I tell him I’m a writer which then leads into how I managed to get to Peru and what made me choose that place of all places. He’s impressed by the fact that I moved out of the country.
“It takes a lot to do that,” he says. “Most people get too scared to make a change.”

“It’s hard to leave what you know. What’s familiar,” I agree.
“How old are you?” he asks.

Oh lord. Even here. This must just be a normal question. And all this time I’d ragged on the Peruvian males for asking me this. This man isn’t so different. He’s hitting those same age-old questions by direct questioning and a little observation:
“Where are you from?”

“What is your name?”
“Are you alone?”

“How old are you?”
It’s the same pattern. I’ve been here before.

“Thirty-three,” I say.
He doesn’t tell me I look younger than that and I suddenly feel old. I wonder if he just skipped the “Are you alone?” question because he saw my ringless fingers and/or saw me come in with Kirk.

“You have Facebook?” he asks.
“Yes.”

“We should exchange information. It’s always good to have more friends--especially interesting ones.”
I hand over a slip of paper and have him write his information down.  After all we’ve sat leg to leg for a full first half of a play. “I put my email,” he says. “Can you read it?”

I can.
Kirk returns, my new buddy Tim turns back to his date, and shortly thereafter the Ghosts of Christmas Present and of Christmases Yet to Come scare us all into thoughtfulness, we cheer  with Bob Cratchit and Scrooge’s nephew over Ebenezer’s change of heart and move our lips to say, “God Bless us, everyone!” in time with Tiny Tim.


As I put my jacket on and swing my bag back over my shoulder, I want to ask neighbor Tim if he’s married, if the blonde lady is just his friend, and what exactly he expects by giving out his email. Is this just normal human to human interaction or is this a North American come on that feels remarkably similar to a South American one?
I can’t answer my own question. And if I ask him, then that’ll be taken (possibly) as a return of interest (if he’s asking his questions for reasons of interest in me) and I don’t really want to go there.

So instead, I breathe out a very small apology to all the Latino men I’ve judged so harshly. Because, boys, it ain’t just y’all after all.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Talking Texan, Y'all


December 12, 2011 – Because I am a 4th Generation Texan

It doesn’t help my tendency to talk Texan that my sisters and I go visit my aunt and uncle in the country. One of my Colorado friends always said, “You say ‘y’all’ a lot more after you visit your family.” I’ve only been here a week and already the Y’all is replacing You Guys, You All, and Ustedes. My vowels are also rounding out and elongating. Heck, before I leave the States I’ll be talkin’ like a real live, bless your heart, southern gal, y’all.
I call up my younger sister. “What day do you have off work? You wanna go out to the country with me to visit David and Kathy?”

My aunt and uncle live out in East Texas on the farm my grandparents bought some time in the 1970s. I spent a good portion of my childhood dusting my socks, jeans and the top of my shoes with sulfur to avoid chigger bites, high-walking in the grass to scare off rattlers, casting minnowed lines into the tank to fish, and walking the foot trails with my Mammaw looking at animal tracks. I haven’t been out to the farm in years. And certainly not since David and Kathy moved there at the beginning of this year. It’s high time I go for a visit.
“Saturday is my only day off,” Michaela says. “We could go then.”

I text my aunt to ask if she’d mind us coming out on Saturday.
Plan to stay for dinner, she texts me back.

Later on, when my older sister is over I throw out an invitation to her as well, forgetting that Michaela’s car doesn’t have backseat room since it serves as her closet. After all she does live on a boat.
“Oops,” I say to my mom after Jesse leaves. “Now what do I do?”

“You can take my car,” Mom says. “Maybe Kim will want to go too.” Kim is my sis-by-engagement-to-my-brother.

“You don’t mind?” I ask.
Kim and David
My mom never minds. And thus it’s arranged. We’re country bound!

Saturday arrives and Jesse and I go pick up Michaela and then Kim. I drive. Jesse DJs the jams and knits. Michaela provides the personalized GPS service and Kim updates us on our second to youngest brother’s commercial truck driving interstate progress.

Jesse and Me
It’s a perfect day for a drive. The fifty some odd miles go by quickly. Soon I’m turning down 2602 and taking a right onto the gravel lane.

“You shouldn’t speed down this road in Mom’s car,” Michaela chastises me after I swerve to avoid a pothole.

I’m only going twenty miles per hour, but I slow down a little more.  Then I turn left through the gates, past the sign that says Epps--our maternal side surname-- down the path past the tank (a tank is a man-dug water reservoir similar to a pond or lake) through the copse and then pull into the carport next to the house.
Uncle David greets us with Paco in hand. Paco may be just a Chihuahua about the size of a zucchini, but he’s got delusions of grandeur that I can totally relate to. He lets us know in no uncertain terms that this is his property and he’s pretty much in charge.
Kathy, David, Paco

After the hellos are made we all go up to the tank to check out the new dock that David and his brother-in-law put in. Paco leads the way then doubles back to bark at our heels.
Uncle David tosses some fish food into the water. Jesse and I watch the perch come up to nibble their dinner while Michaela and Kim try out the fishing poles with no catching success. We discuss water levels, rain accumulation, fish size, wood staining, post strength , deer sightings, hog sightings, and turtles. After a while Aunt Kathy heads back to the house to start some appetizers.

When the air starts to gather a chill in its arms we follow after Kathy and head indoors.

“I know you said you’ve been craving spring rolls,” Aunt Kathy tells me while cutting up carrots and other crudités.  “so I’m making some lettuce wraps.”

They’re delicious and craving-satisfying. We make short work of them.
“When do you girls want dinner?” Aunt Kathy asks.

The four of us exchange glances and convey that we’re all up to the challenge of making short work of dinner too whenever it’s ready. Then we all try to help and stay out of the way at the same time. Uncle David pulls the trash bag out of the can and starts for the door. Kim takes my camera and follows him out while he goes to burn the trash.
When they come back inside Kim says, “You should go get some pictures of the cows.”

The recent rains have made the crossing of the creek both possible and enticing to some of the neighbor cows. David and Kathy and Paco have been occupied with chasing them off the property for the past couple of weeks, but the cattle are still coming over. They’d come in and eaten the bales of hay Uncle David had set up to use for target practice, made clomping tracks up to the tank, “planted” cow patties across the pasture and created gaping holes in the mud with their heavy hooves.
Michaela has Paco in her arms while we try to get in picture taking distance of the cows. Once the pictures are captured he’ll be released to chase the cows and demonstrate his super speed. He can hardly handle waiting.

Michaela and Paco
I only get one picture before the cows trot off into the brush out of our sight. They’ve been chased off so many times now they know the drill. Paco barks, “And stay out!” then darts all around looking just like a land-bound version of Mighty Mouse.
Since we’re there, we tour the old west town a guy named Tony had built in the ‘70s or 80s’. He’d been a journalist for the Dallas Morning News and came out to the country on the weekends. As kids, that place had seemed so huge and so fantastic. Tony had named one building The Sheriff’s Office. Another The Opry House. The Outhouse had been down the path a ways. When we were kids we’d always wanted to play there, but Mammaw kept us in check. We could go over to visit and peer through the windows but that was about it.
“It seems so small,” I tell Jesse.

“I know,” she says.

We look for the Outhouse but don’t find it.
“Uncle Vic tore it down,” David tells us when we find him. My Great Uncle Vic and Great Aunt Glenna had bought the property from Tony at some point and had lived there until my Uncle Vic passed away and Aunt Glenna went to live nearer to her kids.

“Tony used to work for the Dallas Morning News and he did a piece in Austin for Austin City Limits or some show like that where Waylon Jennings played and Tony got to take the Opry House sign with him which he put on one of the buildings.”
Maybe David said it was Willie Nelson not Waylon Jennings. I can’t remember. The place has some Country and Western history at any event.

Meanwhile back at the house, Kathy’s done stuffing the tomatoes and prepping the potatoes.
While the grill is heating up I try my hand again at making Pisco Sours. When we’re all served they say, “Welcome home,” we clink glasses and drink.

“Is this a dry Pisco Sour?” David asks.
“It’s right in the middle,” I reply. “Not overly sweet but not completely dry.” They’re not half bad. At least no one spits them out or goes to wash their mouths out with soap and water.

While the potatoes bake, we tour the house, watch a Hallmark special, play with Paco, don Christmas scarves and then dinner is served. Sure, we’re eating potatoes and tomatoes, but these are no ordinary tubers. These are gourmeted up. Fancified and delicious!  
When my plate is clean Kathy asks if I’d like more.

“I’m so full,” I tell her. “That was really good.”
“You won’t go home hungry?” she asks.

“Not a chance.”

Especially not after she serves us gluten-free brownies. Kim and I split a second brownie just to be polite. At least that’s how I justify myself to my full belly.  We sit around the table visiting for a bit longer then ease up from the table. After we say our thanks yous and get some Y’all come back nows, we head ‘em up and move ‘em out.

Uncle David rides up to the front with us to close the gate. We wave goodbye and drive away.
Michaela GPSes us back to the Dallas area. I drop her off at the marina, Kim at her apartment and take Jesse home. I drive myself to my parents’ house, get greeted at the front door by the dogs and then steer myself off to bed.

Hoo doggies, what a day, y’all!
















Saturday, December 10, 2011

Comparing


December 10, 2011 – Comparison

I can’t help myself from comparing. Maybe it’s human nature. Maybe it’s a personal flaw. Maybe it’s just my curious mind always trying to make sense of what I see. As if that weren’t bad enough I find myself contrasting everything too. Putting experiences side by side. Holding them up by the tips of my fingers to see how they catch the sunlight. Gazing at them through my mind’s eye like at those Spot the Differences pictures in the comic section of the newspaper. This might just be me stringing connections together where before there weren’t any in order to tell a story. Whatever it is, it’s what I do.
When my mom drives me home from the airport all I want to say is, “In Peru this…” or “In Peru that…” or “In Lima there’s…” I’ve come back with a new prescription to my world view glasses and it’s all I can focus on. If I keep my mouth shut maybe I’ll avoid sounding obnoxious.

Sunday morning traffic is pretty light. I’m shocked (not into silence though) by the calm, the order. There’s a Dallas area adage that I’ve used plenty of times in my life that says, “Six Thirty-Five is always bad.” And it is. Until now. 635 is one of the main highways in the complex and veiny highway system of Dallas Fort Worth. On this ride 635 is practically empty. The cars that happen to be zipping by or getting left behind us all stay in their own proper lanes. No one honks. No one leans out the window and yells, “Avance!” No one pulls out in front of us and then stops dead to haggle rates with someone standing on the side of the road. Clots of taxis don’t trawl the roads looking for fares. In fact, I don’t see a single taxi or bus.
“We’ll take the Dallas Tollway,” my mom says, “because 635 gets backed up a little around Preston Road.”

Light and orderly traffic

I sit back and enjoy the ride. After a trip down three laned Javier Prado with a mess of traffic that crowds in six or more cars and feels like a dare against death backed up seems relative. Just having a personal vehicle seems like a luxury.
It’s fall in North Texas. The trees, whose numbers seem greater than I remember, have turned delightful colors of orange and yellow and red. “Look at all the trees!” I exclaim. “I didn’t know Dallas was beautiful.” I didn’t. The blend of road and tree, cement and green, skyscraper and sky makes a contrast of color I’d never fully noticed.  
I’ve not been totally oblivious; I used to be shocked by all the trees and flagrant greenery when I came from mountainous and arid Colorado to visit my folks. Despite its more temperate growing environment, Dallas had always come up short for me in comparison to Colorado. Now I wonder how Colorado would stop me with its beauty. I wonder how the city of 400,000 would seem flat-lined after Lima. I may not get the chance this trip to see, but part of my heart beats faintly from an altitude of 6035 feet.

Some bit of me belongs in Colorado, but when I talk about going to Texas I always say, “When I go home.” Because home is where unconditional love ripens and never spoils. Home is the place where I can leave my composting worms with my dad because he gave them to me in the first place and I know he’ll take care of them while I’m gone and maybe forever. Home is where memory smells like honeysuckle vine and looks like Black-Eyed Susans. Home is a place I can leave behind and come back changed, and yet people will still know me by name.  

If heaven were a garden; it’d be my mom’s backyard.
If paradise were a house; it’d be found at 1222 Carroll Drive.

If happiness were living beings; they’d be my parents’ dog-friends Oscar and Rocky.
If friends were parents; they’d be mine.


Oscar
Friday morning I go to get the insurance card for the white van from my grandmother. She and my grandfather are letting me borrow it for the weekend. I’ve too quickly given up on my idea of taking public transportation or walking everywhere while I’m here. Convenience presents a persuasive argument.
“Do you have a minute to come inside?” she asks.

I do. I have about five minutes before I need to head out across town to meet a friend for lunch.
We sit in the front room.


“You’ve changed,” she tells me after she settles down and turns to face me.  
“I have? How do you mean?”

“I noticed it after you came over the other day.” She pauses, and I wait with a weave of curiosity and mild fear about the size of a Taco Bell Hot Sauce packet. I’m not quite sure how to take this. I can’t tell if she means this in a good or bad way. I feel like so much depends on her answer in the way that William Carlos Williams said:

so much depends
upon


a red wheel
barrow


glazed with rain
water


beside the white
chickens.


I stay politely in my chair waiting.

“You seem more cosmopolitan.”
I breathe again even though I don’t exactly know what that means.

“I think it’s a good thing,” she says without me having to ask. “You’re a woman of the world.”
She’s comparing me to who she saw me as last. She’s contrasting my behavior to what defined me before. I can understand this. Ain’t that what I’ve been doing myself?




Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Quiet Place


December 8, 2011 – A Quiet Place

Never in my life did I ever think the words, “Dallas is a quiet city,” would come out of my mouth. I’d have bet against those odds. “Right,” I’d have said, drawing out the word with total disbelief. “Dallas. Quiet. Ha.” But recently I’ve learned never to think in absolutes.  Especially when I hear the kinds of words coming out of my own mouth.
Dallas is a quiet city. After Lima my sense of noise has forever altered. Here, the omnipresent cacophony of horns does not plague the air. Car alarms aren’t a constant melody. Screaming kids and yipping puppies are at least not within hearing distance for hours on end. Strange sounds like duck calls or misplayed kazoos do not reverberate up and down the street as some vendor announces his presence selling bread, ice cream, sweets, or sharpening knives. This is not to say that the City of Dallas is not without sound--no--but it is at least, from what I’ve heard in the last four days, less noise polluted.

This astounds me. I stand in the middle of the sidewalk listening to one airplane passing overhead. Then I only hear the rustle of drying leaves against the concrete. The soft whir of a passing car says something sibilant. A distant dog barks then stops. I go back inside and sit on the couch looking out at my mother’s garden. The refrigerator hums comfortingly and Rocky sleeps against my knees making soft snorting, sighing sounds.
Something warm settles around my ears absorbing the chill I got from standing in the outside air. Silence. The silence I’ve been craving for so long is here in the place I left behind me so long ago.

I would never have believed this of Dallas.
I’d fled to the mountains of Colorado and sworn off cities. Forever I thought. Then, in a fit of craziness, I moved into a city of nine million people. Lima. Someplace where I never thought I could survive. A city jungle I wasn’t sure I could handle. Fighting it, resisting it, trying to find my place within it somehow I have survived and I have handled it. Me—one among millions.

The Dallas metroplex contains only six million people. That three extra million that Lima has makes a heck of a difference that’s for sure.
With the warding off and protective measures I’d learned in the last six months’ of my Lima living I decide to walk to the library. It’s four and a half miles from my parents’ house. I don’t have a real reason to go except that I’ve missed books and want to see how it is walking in this city.

DART, Dallas Area Rapid Transit, is a relatively new thing, and the trains don’t go everywhere. As I head down Carroll Drive towards Glenbrook, there aren’t seven million taxis passing me, slowing down, yelling out the window, “Taxi. Taxi?” to me as I walk head down and fast. Here I don’t have to walk fast at all. I take a leisurely stroll and only two cars go by me in that half a mile stretch.
Here I meander. I gaze up at the blue sky. I stop to turn my face into the sun. I watch a yellow leaf fall to the ground and then I sidestep it so I don’t crunch it underfoot.


I walk for an hour without getting honked at once. I don’t get yelled to or whistled at. I only pass one other walker and she meets me eye to eye, smiles. Smiles! and says, “Hi.”
“How’s it going?” I say as I pass her and keep on.

The streets are empty of humanity. The people of this city are behind their wheels, inside their insulated houses, at their jobs – they’re not out walking the streets to get somewhere. Places are too far apart for that.
Settling way too quickly into this City’s mentality I get about halfway to the library and realize I don’t really need to go there. So I walk up Sycamore Street to gaze at the house my parents’ bought after they got married. The house where they brought me right after I was born. The tiny house I lived in until I was about seven years old. My older sister and I swung on swings in that backyard looking up at the stars and dreaming of Care Bears. We made notes with Crepe Myrtle blossoms in the front yard. We tricked people into smelling the pollen filled centers of Buttercups and then laughed with delight at their yellow tipped noses.

I smile at the memories. Then I walk the back way to Blossom Road where I lived from age seven until I was ten. I walk past my childhood best friend’s house, up the hill, to the house with the tall Pine tree that I climbed at least once to satisfy a dare. There’s someone on the front porch talking on the phone. So I duck out of sight to take a picture without being seen. The roofers on the house next door don’t whistle down at me or blow my cover.
Just when I tuck my camera back into my bag and start walking again, a white truck pulls up to the curb. I pause to check both ways before I cross the street. The driver catches my eye as he climbs down out of the cab and says, “Hi.”

“How’s it going?” I reply and go on.
It’s not a come on. It’s not a, “What beautiful eyes you have,” hit.  It’s just a hi.

I’m not used to that. I scrunch my forehead and ponder ulterior motives. Then I laugh. I look up at the glorious cloudless blue sky. I watch an American Flag flip against the wind. Here I can walk with my head up. I can meet people’s gaze without recrimination.
I can let down my defenses. This is the place I’m from.

This is Texas. The Friendly State. Welcome back.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Back in the U.S.S...er...A!


December 7, 2011 – Back in the U.S.S…. er, A!

I'm watching the weather!” my mom messages me. “Winter storm possible for Monday. Arghhhhhhh!
I’m flying standby thanks to a ticket my aunt secured for me through some kind of powerful magic. Getting on my scheduled flight is dependent on seat availability, which is dependent on the whimsy of the travel gods, the weather gods and the karmic gods of life. I might have been lax in pouring out libations to all of them so I have a little worry eating at the back of my mind. When I came to Peru I got delayed four days from my original leave day because of some insanely magnificent thunderstorms in the Dallas area. Then it was a good thing. I needed the extra days to repack my bags twenty more times and throw out several more pounds of possessions so as not to exceed the airline checked bag weight limits. Now, with my bags already packed and my travel “game face” on, I can’t bear the idea of being delayed. I’m ready to go.

I call my aunt. “Mom said there’s the chance of bad weather. Maybe winter storms. Do you think there might be any flights sooner that I could get on? It’d be nice to beat the storms. I’m ready to come home.”
“Let’s see what we can do,” she says. But the rain clouds already hovering over the DFW metroplex are blocking their satellite signal and she can’t log on to the airline website. “Your uncle David is trying to bring up the site on his computer. We don’t have to keep you on the phone for this, but we’ll see what we can do to get you home. Call me back in half an hour,” she says.

“Okay, thanks!” I pace in front of my computer watching the clock in the lower right hand corner of the screen. I go stare at my bags. I come back into my study. It’s just after 9:15. I pace some more. That thirty minutes is taking its own sweet time.
CALL ME PLEASE!!! an email message suddenly pops up and screams at me.

I call my aunt maintenant.
“How far away from the airport are you?” she asks on answering.

“About thirty minutes.”
“If you can get to the airport I can have you on a flight at 11:55.”

“Tonight? Right now?” My heart picks up. I look at the time and calculate hours. There’s nothing I want more than to leave right this instant. “Let me call the taxi company.”
I’d scheduled a secure taxi to take me to the airport at an unreasonably early hour on Monday morning and it makes my life easier that the company already has my contact info and address. “I had a taxi scheduled for Monday morning,” I babble in Spanish to the guy who answers the phone. “But do you by any chance have a taxi that could come get me right this very instant and take me to the airport?”

“Will you still need the Monday pickup?”
“No, this would replace it.”

“Let me call a driver, I think he could be there in twenty minutes.” He and I calculate hours and both think I might just make my flight. Traffic willing, I would arrive at the airport with only two hours to get through all the stop points. It could just work.
I zip up my bags, make sure I have my passport and money, put on my travel clothes, chicken-scratch out a (hopefully comprehensible) note for my roommate, turn off lights, lock the door and take the elevator down.

The cab driver knows I’m in a hurry. He winds through the streets and around cars and buses. The traffic is unusually light. But I still find myself thinking, Can’t you honk more, speed it up, go a little faster? I can’t believe I just thought that, I think. The transportation line into the airport is long. “Do you think it’ll be faster if I walk from here?” I ask the driver.

“It’ll be quicker once we get past the checkpoint. Don’t worry, I’ll get you to the door.”

And he does.
I pay him, thank him, and rush inside.

There’s a line to the bag check counter. I mutter, “Come on, people, hurry up,” under my breath. Patience is the wrong virtue when you want to travel rapidly internationally.
When my turn comes I throw my bag up on the scales and hand over my passport.

“Are these your bags?” the man behind the counter asks me.
“Yes.”

“Did you pack them yourself?”
“Yes.”

“Where did you pack them?”
“In my apartment in Lima.”

“Your apartment? But you’re here on a tourist visa, right?”
Oops.

“The apartment I stay at with my friend when I visit Peru,” I amend. There’s nothing like security questions to make me feel like a criminal, like a country fleeing fugitive.
Apparently I don’t raise too many red flags because he gives me a standby boarding pass and puts my checked bag on the belt.

The next hour and a half is a blur of lines and questions and sublimated impatience. As if by a miracle (and only slightly out of breath and sweaty), at 11:42 PM I find myself past customs and security and buckled into a business class lounge chair in a huge jet set to leave the ground in thirteen minutes.
Not having many chances in life to take advantage of the benefits of wealth, I stay awake long enough to enjoy a glass of wine, munch some mixed nuts, eat a salad, and have some pecans and dried apricots for dessert. Then I press the button that declines my seat, wrap a soft blanket around me and doze for the next four hours.  

Juan, my Lima to Miami seat companion, is also on the same flight from Miami to Dallas. “It’s going to be really close,” he says. We only have one hour and forty-five minutes from touchdown to flight #918’s takeoff. He explains that I’ll have to go through passport control, get my checked bag from the baggage claim, take it through U.S. customs, recheck and then go from there.
It is going to be close, but I’ll give it all I got.

From the moment the cabin door is opened and I’m let off the plane I run.
Or speedwalk.

Or stop to bend over and huff for breath before repositioning my computer and carryon bags over my shoulders and sprinting on. It’s about sixteen miles from our gate to passport control. Maybe seventeen. After I make each turn of the long-halled corners and think, Ah, this must be the end, another sign points me down yet another long hallway. This is a cruel joke. There is no end. I’ll be rushing through airport corridors for the rest of my life. No air moves in these halls except what I stir up as I whirl by, and soon, I’m pouring with sweat.
I’m right behind Juan at passport control. I feel suspicious, don’t guilty people always sweat? I pull some tissue out of my pocket and towel off.

“Are you a U.S. citizen?” a security guard asks me.
“Yes, sir,” I say. Look American, look natural, look less sweaty, I tell myself.

Satisfied, the guard moves on to make sure people are at the correct entry points and I breathe again.
The lines seem to be taking forever. Juan looks back at me and shrugs as if to say, “Well, we’re doing our best.”

He gets stamped in and then it’s my turn.

The passport control lady is uniformed, official and efficient. After a few questions and the computer’s checking of my travel life and background she stamps me in and returns my passport to me. “Welcome back,” she says.

Welcome back.
But I don’t have time to reflect on what this means to me. I’m on American soil, but I have a long way to go before I am actually home.

Another mile or two gets me to the baggage claim. I snatch up my bag and hightail it. Juan is just ahead of me and I use him as a GPS to steer me the right direction. Following the yellow arrows I arrive to customs.
“Where are you coming from?” the guard asks me. He has a friendly smile. I wonder if I look as gross as I feel.

“Peru.”
“What do you do for a living?”

“I’m a writer,” I lie. Unless living means something other than how do you bring in money.
“What do you write?”

“Fiction,” I say.
“Do you have any alcohol in there?” he points to my bag.

It’s probably a normal question. Why do you ask? I think, Do you assume all writers are alcoholics? But then I laugh at myself. Because I do have alcohol.
“Just some Pisco,” I say.

He shrugs and waves me through.

Home free. At least that’s what I believe until I round a corner and see the very long line for Miami security. I hadn’t realized I’d have to go through security again on the U.S. side. All my things have already been x-rayed, sorted through, questioned, how much more secure could I be?

I take off my necklace, pull off my belt, get my computer set to put in its own separate container, wipe more sweat off my face, check my pockets, pull out my toiletry quart-sized see-through bag, and step out of my shoes.
My flight leaves in less than forty minutes. I don’t think I’ll make it. Especially when I see the cylindrical full-body x-ray machines.

One of my health-minded friends, Pinklady Apple, had messaged me several days ago to say, “Safe travels. Remember to get a pat down at the airport instead of going through that xray machine. give yourself an extra 10-15 minutes and you should be okay.”
I don’t really have an extra ten or fifteen minutes. But I’m going to follow PLA’s advice. I’m not sure if I want the pat down more for health reasons or for principle of the matter reasons. Whatever my reasons are, when I get to the front of the line I tell the female TSA guard, “I’d like the pat down.”

“One to opt out,” she yells behind her and waves me forward.
“Female check,” the male TSA guard calls over his shoulder.

A uniformed, slightly intimidating female approaches me. She looks at me with a You silly girl look. “You’re supposed to say, ‘Female opt-out,’ she reprimands the male guard. They exchange a light repartee and I bite my tongue from telling her to hurry it up because I have a flight to catch.
Finally she points me over to the corner. “Stand on the taped yellow feet prints and put out your arms palms up.” She tells me everything she’s going to do as she dons protective gloves.

You’re gonna need those as you feel me up, I think, I’m sweaty as heck.
The final sprint
Then she proceeds to do everything she said she’d do.

Thoroughly patted down and deemed safe enough to proceed, I get set for my final sprint.
I arrive at the gate twelve minutes before boarding time only to be stuck behind two family groups who are apparently trying to rearrange their entire travel arrangements right before the flight.

Eventually, the lady behind the desk takes my passport and standby boarding pass. She hardly glances at it before she hands it back. “It’s a full flight,” she says. “We’ll call your name if there’s room.”
I go sit down. I feel antsy, like if I stop moving the whole world will stop too. I stand back up. The kiosk screen flashes flight information and I see the standby list with my name at the very bottom.

I’ve been so fortunate. I mean, less than twelve hours before I had been staring at my computer screen in my study in Lima, and here I am humidly stinking up space in a Miami airport. It wouldn’t be out of the realms of luck to have to wait in Miami a bit longer for the next flight.
The flight gets boarded. The final calls are called. The standby list gets started.

“I feel like I’ve won the lotto,” a standby pilot tells the check-in lady as he boards.
I prepare myself to have to wait. He might have just got the last bit of luck left. I think about taking a sponge bath in the Miami Airport bathroom.

“Passenger White.”
I’m at the desk before she’s finished enunciating the T in my last name.

“It’s amazing,” she tells me, “but you’re on the flight.”
“It’s a miracle,” I say. I want to Peruvian kiss her cheek out of joy, but I refrain myself. “It makes all the running worthwhile.”

She smiles and waves me through the doors.
I’m the last one on the plane.

I pass Juan in the first class section. “You made it,” he said.

“I got the last seat on the flight,” I reply with a grin.
I head towards the back.

The couple in row 24 look up at me.
“I have 24F,” I tell them.

“Do you want the window seat?” the girl asks.
“The aisle seat is fine,” I say. “Actually I’d take any seat in the plane. I’m just happy to be on this flight. Oh, and I’m sorry if I smell. I ran the entire way.” I ran the entire way from Peru, I think in my mind because that’s how it feels.

“Don’t worry, we probably smell a little bit too.” She pauses as if testing the air. “You don’t smell.”
“Thank goodness,” I say. I settle into my chair and click my seatbelt on. I don’t fully relax until the plane is in the air. It’s real, we’re moving, I can stop hurrying.

When the flight attendant asks me what I’d like to drink it really hits me that I’m back in the States. I don’t have to ask for things in Spanish. And when I tell her I would like water I don’t have to say, “Agua, sin gas (without carbonation).”
Soon the landing gear is lowered and we touchdown in Dallas Fort Worth.

I head to the baggage claim and hope that my aunt and uncle told my mom I was on my way home. My phone is completely out of saldo (minutes) and I don’t even know if my pay-as-I-go Peru plan would have worked in the States.
I go through the revolving doors. There’s a little old man sitting at a stand, I’m not sure if he’s security or some kind of customer service. “Excuse me,” I say, interrupting his nap. “Do you know if the airport has payphones?”

“Has what?” he asks.
“Payphones,” I say a bit louder.

“Who do you need to call?” he asks.
“My mom.”

“Your mom? You’re coming to visit your mom?”
“Yes, sir.”

He digs in his pocket and pulls out his cell phone. “Here, you can call her from here.”
“Oh my god, you don’t mind?”

My mom answers after what feels like a million rings.
“I’m at baggage claim C12.”

“I’m about five minutes away,” she says.
I’m so grateful to my new phone friend that I give him a Peruvian cheek kiss after I hand him back his phone. I think it made his day. He glows and I go to wait for my bag to trundle down the belt and for my mom to arrive.

Welcome back.   
Was there ever anyone as lucky as me?