MAPS

It’s 2017, it’s April, and you’re not supposed to be here.

You stand in the middle of a field with your parents’ fat, elderly collie panting softly next to you. The collie nudges you with her nose. She’s saying, let’s go. 

But…you are supposed to be on the second floor of the office on Calle Julio Pazmiño. Out that second story window is a view of the towering red hillsides. You glance at your watch. It is 12:00pm in La Paz, the sun would be full and bright out that window. But it is 9:00 am here, and the sky is plump and overcast.

Your brain is a spinning top: where you are/ where you should be/ where you are going.

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Bolivia, March—-

The streets are crowded with minibuses, trufis, taxis; so many ways to get around the city for less than $1.00. At first, the streets seem impossible. Walking, you get lost. You ask a cholita perched on the corner of the sidewalk for una consultita. Where is Achumani? The new word clumsy in your mouth.  You Smile. Nod. Follow her outstretched finger.

Gradually, the city lays itself before you.  Your weekends become elaborate plans of how to make friends:

1) Sit in coffee shops and smile at strangers. Drink a lot of coffee.

2) Write obsessively kind introductory messages on ex-pat websites. You worry you sound desperate. Hi, would you want to grab a beer? I’m new to the area and looking to explore! Wince. Erase the exclamation point.

3) Go for long, breathless runs.

5) Start reading memoirs. Don’t just read them- devour them. Maggie Nelson,  Terry Tempest Williams, Chloe Caldwell, Ann Richards,  Mary Oliver, and everything Mary Karr has ever written. Your kindle is running out of space. Avoid your credit card bill.

Your favorite is called, “Cooking Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant,” a collection of short stories about the meals authors cook for themselves when they’re alone. You underline passages like, “Taking solitude in stride was a sign of strength and of a willingness to take care of myself,” while microwaving canned refried beans at 2am.

But for you, loneliness is more simply defined by a walk down street: everyone stares, but no one looks you in the eye.

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Finally, you move in with two kind and dedicated women. You live closer to the office than before, but in the morning you  find yourself raising your hand, hailing minibuses. Your chest feels heavy.

First, it is throat pain, a difficulty breathing.  13,000 feet of elevation, you remind yourself, is two thousand feet higher than Mt. Hood. The diagnosis: throat and lung infection. A needle full of penicillin. You smile at the doctor when he injects you, to show him that you are tough gringa. You don’t flinch.

Your ears start hurting, then your stomach, then your lower back. You go to another doctor, he prescribes more antibiotics. You get sicker. You start flagging more minibuses, more taxis, but now it is to get between the doctor and the pharmacy.  Weeks go by. Groceries rot in your fridge.  Your roommate, who watches with big kind eyes as you continue to deteriorate says simply, “I think you should go home.”

Oregon, April—-

You moved away from this Portland suburb when you were 18.  The neighborhood is almost unrecognizable: old houses have been bulldozed and rows of gleaming, neutral colored mansions have been erected. The rain shines off the new concrete. When you were small the street was full of kids and dogs, bikes and rollerblades. Now, it is eerily silent.

The bulldozers destroyed your favorite paths too: ones that cut through neighbors yards and skidded along blackberry bushes. But the collie knows where to go. She pulls you through unfamiliar back roads and past empty driveways and suddenly you are there: an expansive green field.  A field you haven’t walked in a decade, suddenly laid at your feet. A map blooms in your mind. Now you lead the collie, breaking out into a run, through a thin dirt path until, there it is: a huge pond, swollen with rain, and a family of ducks clucking softly as they glide across the water.  The collie lunges in, and you follow, up to your thighs in mud and water, laughing.

Later that day, your boss calls: “We want you to come to the Quito office.” She says. “There’s more work here.” She says.

La Paz, with its crowded streets and ragged hillsides begins to slide from your mind.

Ecuador, May—–

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This, this is the Spanish you speak. “Aychaychayyyyyy” Your coworkers say, rubbing their arms for warmth in your icebox office. The air smells like eucalyptus, the “Revolución Ciudana” posters that were fresh in 2012 are peeling from billboards, replaced with, “Lenín 2017”.  “Despasito” plays from every car, every office window, every cell phone stuffed in a teenager’s pocket.

Quito has changed since you were 22.  There are food truck pods, craft breweries, men with man buns and thick rimmed glasses. There is a restaurant called “Fuck Trump.”  You smile. People smile back. The park next to your house, Parque Metropolitano, is bigger than Central Park, with miles of well-maintained trails that you slowly plod along. You are still a little weak. The elevation is still a little high.

Quito is a stream- a long, thin expanse of neighborhoods and high rises tucked between two mountain ranges. You know the major street names. You know how to ride the bus. You’ve found a cafe in La Florestra where they play good music and you can sit and write. The  barista has started to recognize you. You have two friends- Allie and Don- and the three of you order pizza and cook curry and go dancing. You begin swaying to the rhythm of your Quito life.

Then, an e-mail from your boss: “We’re moving your internship to the coast.” She says. “There’s more work for you there.” She says.

You take a breath.

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El Evo vs. The Donald

“This is how social change ultimately happens: enlightened values do not change behavior; the contours of self-interest are altered and new values rush into the vacuum.”
William Powers, Whispering in the Giant’s Ear: A Frontline Chronicle from Bolivia’s War on Globalization

 

A question I’ve been asking myself lately is, “How does Bolivia view the new administration in the U.S.?”

Here is a collection of newspapers and comics I’ve collected. You can decide for yourselves:

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“The Common Themes between Evo and Trump. Similarities: For both, “The people” now have the power. Both are accused of being macho and attacking the media.”*

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Obama: “Congratulations on your first success as president, Mr. Trump…making me look good.”

Paper in his hand: “60% Approval Rating.”

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Great wall of China, Berlin Wall, Trump’s Wall

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The crisis unravels between Mexico and The United States because of the wall.

Trump poves a higher tax on Mexican imports to pay for the construction.

Peña Nieto cancels his visit to the White House; resistance is triggered in the U.S.

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“From the seventh day, we try to rest!”

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The “Right” Sort of Immigrants

“I hope we write ourselves back to life, I hope that we double down on what we mean when we say ‘writer’, so that the definition explodes and reconstitutes around writing as a socially vital activity, remember that? Remember how people died for it? Remember how people were sent into exile for it, for daring to say out loud again: this is wrong, stop.”

-Lidia Yuknavitch

From a young age, we learn the story of our families. Our parents and relatives tell us where we come from. In my family, these trials and tribulations were recounted so often that their struggles felt embedded into my cells, like DNA.

My parents are immigrants. They were both born in countries neither of their parents belonged to. My father: born in England, to a Welsh mother and an Australian father. My mother: born in Germany, to an English mother and a Canadian father. Now, they’re both American citizens.

“Don’t write so much about us,” my dad said on FaceTime this morning. “We’re boring.” He was sitting with my mom in the living room of the house I was raised in.  Fat pets roamed as they talked to me, bits of tails and paws passing across the screen.

I don’t think their story is boring. I think their lives were shaped by history: politicians, wars, quota systems that allowed for the acceptance of European war brides and their offsprings.  A misfired rocket that downed my great-uncle’s plane. A Canadian refugee act for children fleeing the war.

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My dad, grandmother, and great-grandmother, England, 1945

My dad arrived in New York City in 1949 at the age of 7. His mother had divorced the Australian and quickly taken up with an American soldier. Now they were traveling back west, where he was from. World War II was over, and shattered families were piecing themselves back together. My dad was granted automatic citizenship through his mother’s marriage. He doesn’t remember losing his accent. He remembers being teased for being an immigrant, but never in a serious way. At 11, he was standing in the kitchen helping his mother wash some dishes, talking about a family friend they called Uncle Kit. My grandmother said, “Well Uncle Kit isn’t your uncle just like your dad isn’t your real dad.” I imagine my dad standing on a stool, his hands wet and soapy with water, dumbstruck. Until this moment, he didn’t know he had an Australian father. He didn’t know he had a whole host of sisters on another continent waiting for him.

My mom lived in Germany, Canada, and England before she was ten. In 1972,  she was an undocumented high school student in Santa Barbara, California. She’d left her parents and her home in Canada because it wasn’t safe for her anymore. She was undocumented for three years. “I was always nervous,” she tells me. She lived with her older sister, cleaned houses at night, and was the first girl at Carpenteria High School to run on the track and cross-country team. She, through some hole in the system, was able to get her residency at the end of high school.

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Annie Falconer, Oregon, 1982

I remember finding her green card at the bottom of a desk drawer, underneath our passports when I was ten. How funny the word, “alien,” sounded on my tongue, how delighted I was to have discovered this thing about my mother. I didn’t understand then.  I didn’t understand how people can be rendered stateless and undocumented, how the removal of those papers can make a whole family invisible.

When she started studying to become a citizen. I quizzed her at the kitchen table, amazed at how few of the answers I knew even though I was in  U.S. History class.  I don’t remember her citizenship ceremony- where was I? – because it was something that was a given. My mom could get citizenship, as long as she passed the test. “I was very proud of myself!” She reminded me today when I brought it up.

My parents are immigrants, yes. But they are white immigrants. We are from industrialized, English-speaking, European countries. They came as children, in the late 1940’s and the 1970’s respectively. They don’t even have accents, the only vestige of their backgrounds are strange vocabulary choices and a love for deep, sarcastic humor. We, in the United States, are considered the “right” type of immigrants.

No one has ever thought I was anything but an American. No one has ever questioned my legitimacy or my parent’s legitimacy in this country. It is something I can bring out as a fun fact about myself, “Hey, I’m a first generation American!” I have never felt less safe and  there was never a fear of my parents getting deported. For others: who are Mexican, Guatemalan, Afghani, or Syrian, or whose skin is a watercolor of histories and continents, it isn’t so easy.  My privilege shows in every aspect of the immigrant identity for me:  I can put it on and take it off, no questions asked.

This isn’t the case for many of my friends, classmates, coworkers, professors, mentors, loved ones. They have to live in a society that is now governed by a demagogue who rose to power on a populace platform of anti-immigration. That is scary shit.

The United States has always been suspect of the other: the Catholics, the Italians, the Jews, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Somalis. There was always a fashionable group to hate. A fashionable group to fear, to “other” so we can “preserve ourselves” and keep our families safe. But who is we?

If we are not immigrants; if “we” does not include the Syrian family fleeing war, or the Iraqi translator who kept American soldiers safe, or the 15-year-old Salvadorean girl running for her life from gang violence,  or the boy just walking down the street, or the child of migrant workers in Salinas trying to go to college, then what have we become?

And we cannot forget the people who never wanted to come here, but were kidnapped, brutalized, maimed, and continue to live in a country that treats them as if they’re less human. A country that subsidizes prisons on the backs of their sons. 

I think one of the mistakes that I and many other white, liberal democrats made before the election was thinking we were above history. That our lives would be guided by our personal choices and our values.  We believed our government and democracy was rock solid enough that we could float above it, chasing our dreams. The great wars were over, humanity had learned lessons and we wouldn’t need to learn them again. Our lives would unfold before us based on education, who we chose to love, and where we chose to move. It was all available to us.

But, history makes fools of us all.

As we continue forward,  we must remember that people are not just one thing. Junot Diaz said it best (as he always does) in an interview with NPR’s Morning Edition in 2008,

“What you learn as a kid, is that Whitman Concept that you can contain multitudes. That one can carry inside of them both their country of origin and the country that has received them… you can be two things at once: If American teaches you anything, it’s that.”

There are people detained at airports right now. People with visas and green cards and children and illness and debt and jobs and a whole multitude of things because …they are people. They are not being allowed in because of their religion and their country of origin. This is wrong.

“Why don’t you talk about religion, Lizzie?” My Dad said, eager for me to stop asking pointed questions about his childhood. “Remind them that Jesus was a middle eastern refugee.”

The politics and trajectory of our nation drapes heavily on our shoulders. What is happening in the United States is wrong.

Can I say it louder?

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“We didn’t get here by accident. This is not a new brutality, it is a very old one, and every time it circles back around in a new form, we have to look again in the mirror and stand up differently ― writing can yet invent new forms of resistance and resilience in the face of brutality. And the wonder of that. And how this is our present tense calling.”- Lidia Yuknavitch

Dispatches from La Zona Sur

ONE

The walk to work is 28 minutes, door to door.  Achumani to Calacoto. Both are neighborhoods of La Zona Sur, the southern zone of La Paz.

The southern zone is the wealthiest area of the city. Here is where you find the embassies, the trendy coffee shops, the upscale restaurants, and the headquarters of many international non-governmental organizations. I work in an office now, so I wear slacks and blazers and leather shoes that need to be polished.  On my walk to work, I share the sidewalk with other people dressed in business clothes, their headphones in, eyes up and alert to the frenetic pace of the traffic. I also share the sidewalk with indigenous families. The women’s billowed skirts sway as they shuffle down the street, bolero hat perched on their heads. We all hurry to our next appointment, but I stick out.

Nothing screams foreigner in La Paz like red hair and a lunch box.


TWO

Bolivia is in a water crisis. Climate change has evaporated the glaciers that feed the city.

The government is now rationing the water for La Paz.  Allegedly, water comes to La Zona Sur on a three-day rotating schedule, the water cycling through the barrios. But I have yet to see proof of distinguishable system. Water comes from the tap, or it doesn’t. When the water does come, I fill up gallon jugs in my fridge and my electric kettle.

When I first arrived, I asked my boss if I could drink the water. Maybe he was distracted, maybe he misunderstood, but he said yes. I drank the tap water for five days.

On the fifth day, I met an American, who when I asked her about drinking the water, stared at me open-mouthed: “Absolutely do not drink the water.” She said. And then continued, incredulously, “I can’t believe you’re still standing.” An intern in her office was sent back to the United States after she contracted typhoid from the water. “Don’t drink the water.” She repeated.

Here is the water in the office:

 


THREE

Nick, one of my best friends, my work-husband, is on the Ecuadorian coast working on disaster relief for CRS.  Even though he is far away (2,000 miles or 49 hours by the Panamerican highway) we get to collaborate on a number of projects.

So part of my job really does consist of this:

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and sending cartoons like  this:

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FOUR

On the last day of Barack Obama’s presidency, I sat cramped in a minibus, one of the hundreds that troll through the streets of La Paz, ferrying people across the enormous city for about 30 cents a trip. There were eight of us in the bus.The driver was speeding. I’ve been in two car accidents, bad accidents, in the last fourteen months. Everyone who has been in a car with me knows how I flinch when cars weave past me, or when a corner is taken too fast.

I was sitting in the back of the minibus with Ivana, the administrative assistant in our office. My head was pressed up against the glass, trying not to look at the street, instead thinking about the Betsy DeVos hearing I just watched.  I read too many articles about the transition team, was feeling my absence from my country at this pivotal moment as a deep ache in the center of my chest.

Ivana, maybe sensing my despair, pulled out her phone and showed me photos of her family: her husband Miguel, her son and daughter, her grandson. She flipped through her phone, showing me pictures of them posed in front of Lago Titicaca, draped in hammocks, diving into swimming pools. Big smiles, arms draped over each other. She kept swiping. Mira: her father’s house. The family at a hotel. Together eating dinner, glasses raised to the camera.

For the first time, I looked around the minibus and saw that everyone else was looking down at tiny, glowing screens in their hands. The mountains of La Paz swirled around us. A thought hit me, like a pinprick of light:

Isn’t this beautiful? Isn’t it beautiful that millions of us carry tiny computers that contain the faces of those we love?

I pulled my phone out. Mira: my mother, cradling my niece in her lap. My father, a cigar in his hand. My brother, my sister-in-law. My friends at graduation: suits, dresses, and mouths open mid laugh.  My friends and family: educators, artists, writers, politicians.

And for a moment, I felt optimistic.

 

 

 

La Llegada

I had forgotten about altitude dreams.

My first afternoon in La Paz I awoke, breathless and confused. What time was it? Where was I? I looked around the tiny apartment. From the bed, I could see a kitchenette, a bathroom, a closet and a window. Out the window, reddish cliffs stood towering over steel high rises.

Oh yes: Bolivia.

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Altitude dreams are deep, swampy dreams that only plague me above 8,000 feet. In Nepal, at a tea house at 14,000 feet, I dreamed of Meggan, who died the year before, leading me to get matching tattoos. At 10,000 feet in Ecuador, I chased the man I loved through Portland traffic. In La Paz, I dream of Monterey; cold ocean water and the ghostly outline of cypress trees on Lover’s Point,  of my friends, dancing around me. The dreams are so life-like I have trouble shaking the memories of them throughout the day.

La Paz is the highest capital city in the world. This is usually the first fact about the city you read anywhere on the internet.  It’s 13,000 feet above sea level.  Right now, I am sitting two thousand feet higher than the peak of Mount Hood.  The city spills down into a canyon formed by the Choqueyapu River, so even though we’re already high up, anywhere you look you can see a higher point. It is dizzying.

When I woke myself up from that first nap, I decided to get up and go exploring. I took a very short walk to buy water, coffee, and a $2 plate of chicken and rice. By the time I made it to the restaurant, a mere half mile away, my heart was pounding in my chest like a caged animal. I was sweating, my head was hurting, and I felt acutely aware that I had spent the last year of my life on the ocean.

I know the tricks: drink water, sleep, don’t eat very much, chew slowly, take short walks, drink coca tea. My body will acclimate.

Now, I need to get to work. I am in Bolivia for the practicum portion of my Master’s degree. Last month I finished the coursework for my MPA, and for the next six months,  in La Paz. I’m an intern focusing on Monitoring and Evaluation, Marketing and Communication and Business Growth. It’s a dream come true. It’s a huge opportunity.  So now, my challenge lies in how much I can learn. How quickly can I switch my brain into Spanish? How quickly can I adapt to the needs of my office? And most importantly, where can I find coffee that isn’t nescafé?

I’ll be writing here, in this little blog that chronicles my adventures. Sitting here in an old refurbished house in La Paz, it’s interesting for me to go back and read through the experiences that lead me here. I hope you enjoy this next chapter.

To Meggan, with love.

 

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“Grief walks through this hotel like a ghost. It is 5:50 AM. Tia texted you earlier, saying she couldn’t sleep. You barely slept either. Instead, you walked through the dining area, shoeless and thirsty, but instead of water you found Bill. He lost his wife five months ago, and now he spends the dark hours of the night reading on the couch, his head in his hands. He is a nice participant, but quiet.

In thirty minutes you will have to put on your coordinator face, all smiles and patience. You will make jokes, drink coffee, try to push the thought of her back until you have time to breathe.

Just be tough, he instructed you the night before. His voice low and soothing as you sobbed. Just be tough, you’ll be home soon.

So you put on your shirt that says “Tandana Staff” and you walk, shoeless and thirsty, into the garden and watch the hummingbirds. Their long tails, metallic coats. And you think about how hummingbirds die young too, their little hearts exploding from the exhaustion.”

–  My journal entry from March 28th, 2013.

On March 28th, 2013 Meggan Elizabeth Moore died of Cystic Fibrosis.

I have known since I was seven years old that I would write this. Knew, like we all did. That one day we would lose her. Later in that same March 28th entry I would write:

“She is lost.”  I keep saying this, as if it makes it easier, as if it suddenly gives sense- darse sentido- to something that will never make sense.”I’m so sorry we have lost her.” I wrote to her mother, as if she was grains of sand between our fingertips. As if she was a hairdryer, lost under the couch. 

As we grew up together, through those precipitous middle school years, I knew. As I grew and she didn’t. As my sheer physicality put distance between us. Me: all growing pains and track team. Meggan:  all attitude and inhalers. A spark in her eye that said she was here to cause trouble, and me always worried that we would.

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At Red Robin. Our favorite place

When we went on the Make-A-Wish cruise, I knew. But we were twelve, and for seven days it wasn’t about enzyme pills or treatments or IVs. We roamed the ship, exploring the lower decks, winning $60 at slots, swimming with sting rays, talking about boys. She tore around the giant ship with vigor, while I just tried to keep up. One night her mom, Judy, wrangled us into dresses and makeup and we had dinner at the captain’s table. We ate cold tomato soup and snails and giggled at how fancy everyone looked. We chronicled all of our adventures in a matching set of Deadjournals, a website that allowed us to have online diaries that only a few people could read.  We filled the website with inside jokes and colorful font, and sometimes it was in that little portal where we would talk about dying, about death. About the illness we knew would kill her. Just little girls, trying to figure out the universe. “Promise me you’ll come to my funeral.” She wrote to me.

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Ready for dinner with the ship Captain

When I visited her at the hospital, I knew. She missed a lot of school for her “tune-ups.” It was painful and usually lasted two weeks. My mom would drive me up the sloping hill of OHSU a few days a week. Meggan and I would run around the halls of Doernbecher, peeking in people’s rooms, buying junk food, and searching for the morgue. When I couldn’t make it up I would call her, and we spent hours gossiping about school, her raspy voice always catching once or twice when she ran out of breath. Even as pre-teens talking about boys, her Cystic Fibrosis couldn’t be forgotten.

On the rare days she was at school, I would sometimes forget. She treated middle school like her own show, she swore and danced on tables and seemed to have a constant seat in the counselor’s office. Meggan was enigmatic figure at Inza R. Wood Middle School. For a few weeks at a time she would be in the hallway drawing on the walls, taunting teachers, and breaking up with boyfriends: and then she would be gone.  A 4’8 sized hole in the student population. When someone would ask where she was, I would just say: “In the hospital.”

I always knew.  In high school, she moved away. And got sicker. It seemed like every few months we were wondering if this was it. I would get a call and she would say, “I’m in the hospital.” Another day, “I got a tattoo.”  Then she would say, “I’m getting engaged.” Her life moved faster than mine.  Even if I understood that one day I would write this, no one knew it better than Meggan.

It was all monstrously unfair. Cystic Fibrosis doesn’t just make you sick, it takes away your ability to be normal. No full school years, no promise of adulthood. All that is guaranteed is the hospital bed. Endless hours of painful and invasive treatments. While I went to dances and fell in love with a shy blonde boy, Meggan hopped from town to town, hospital to hospital, searching for a glimmer of happiness. She switched from Deadjournal to Livejournal, where she narrated her life with humor and humility, seeing where her faults lay and acknowledging the darkness that sat deeply inside her chest. I followed her journal, and she followed mine. Writing became an activity inextricably linked to Meggan. If I was writing about college, I could switch over and see Meggan posting about her new rottweiler. If I was writing about love, I could read about Meggan’s boyfriend.

When we were 21, Tia and I made the drive up to OHSU to see her. Tia had been Meggan’s close friend in middle school too, but when Meggan moved Tia and I had grown close. She looked tiny in her hospital bend, all thin limbs and tattoos that snaked down her arms and across her little feet. The spark in her eye had dulled, life had been hard. She had gotten married, then divorced, then her ex-husband had died in a freak accident in his home. Escape had opened itself to her in the form it always does to people, and she had fallen down that rabbit hole. But we all sat and talked about things all of us could relate to: music and men. I told her about my most recent heartbreak, how it felt like tiny cracks were burrowing through my chest. She nodded, she understood. Her heart had been broken quite a few times too.

 

When we were both 22 she called me. “I’m pregnant.” She said. “I’m scared.” She said. “I’m keeping it.” She said.

“It’s a boy Lizzie, I know it. I didn’t even know I could get pregnant, but here it is. Isn’t this amazing? I want you to be the Godmother” She said.

“Yes.” I said.

Later that day I wrote on her facebook:

“I am so, unreal happy for you. I love you. And I have loved you since we were…what…seven? Eight? It doesn’t matter. I’ve loved you for decades.”

I never saw Meggan again.

I guess I always expected I would know when she was about to die. Her life, her illness had been such a part of who I was that I couldn’t imagine  not knowing it was coming. Not having a moment to say goodbye. To tell her that even though we had grown up into very different adults, I still loved her. That because of our deadjournals, I learned to write. Because of  her bravery in the face of an illness she would never beat, I stood taller. I thought I would have a moment to tell her these things. I had imagined this moment my whole life.

But I didn’t.

Meggan died when I out of the country. In the middle of a five-week stint as lead coordinator. I found out while I reclined on a couch in Otavalo, Ecuador. I was perusing facebook. Her mother’s status told me she had died.

I screamed.

From the backyard of the hotel I skyped my father.

“God damn it.” He said. “God damn it.”

The next week Jeff picked me up and we drove to Spokane.  I thought about writing something to say, but instead just stared at my hands. At the funeral, I hugged her mother and her sister as tears leaked down our faces. They were so kind to me, introducing me to Meggan’s other family. “This is Meggan’s best friend from when she was little.” They said. We cried.

Her things: aviator sunglasses, studded boots,  DSLR camera, were on display in the back.  I thought about throwing up. I watched as her one-year-old ran around the room, giggling. Not knowing he was at his own mother’s funeral. We sang hymns and watched a slideshow of Meggan’s life. On the drive home I thought, “I should write something about this.” But instead just stared at the window, at the place where flat land meets the sky.

And now, it has been a year. She has been gone for over a year. After a year where I ignored my journal, where writing seemed to be a space in my heart that ached with the absence of her, I am taking it back.

None of us who were born healthy can understand what it is like to live with a terminal illness. Writing this entry I find myself overcome with just how small  of a piece of Meggan I can actually convey in words.  So much I am leaving out.  Cystic Fibrosis was the third person in the room with us, always. Always casting a shadow. Never leaving her alone. Always reminding her that one day, it would come for her. We both knew it would. But sitting here, at the beginning of my 25th year of life without her, I still feel very surprised. I still feel very sad.

But I always knew that I some day I would sit, and I would replay our memories and our stories and I would try to write something about it. But here it is, almost done. And all I can think is how grossly inadequate this all is. At the end of the day, I can write as much as I want about her, but she was a person. A bright, tormented, intelligent, loving, hateful, sensitive human, whom loved I very much. And as much as I want to capture that, I can’t.

 

Meg, I really hope this is good enough.

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In Retrospect

One of my opening slides

One of my opening slides

 

Every day, I stand in front of two hundred high school students and ask them this question: What will your story be? I pose this question as part of my job. As a cultural presenter, my job is to drum up excitement in traveling by telling Spanish classes about my experiences.I lead the students  step-by-step through my life in Ecuador. It’s a simplified version-how could you fit nine months into 50 minutes?- but I try to keep the spirit alive. Every day, six times a day I show pictures of my siblings: Monica, Veronica, Jhonny, Nataly, Mateo and Francis. But Aurora is the real star of the show. Like this blog, and like my life, Aurora took center stage without me noticing.

Aurora and Francis. September 2012

Aurora and Francis. September 2012

I start with this question because I know my audience. High school students are very interested in themselves, so why not begin with a question about them. But also, I like to get them thinking about their lives as something they can control. Something they can create. And because I am a writer. Everything makes more sense to me in narrative format.

“Today we’re going to talk about this question,” I say to the students, gesticulating behind me. “What will your story be? And what I’m talking about here is your life story. In five years when you’ve graduated from (insert high school name) and return, what to do you want to tell people you’ve been doing? Or in fifty years, when you have kids and grandkids, what kind of experiences do you want to have had that you can share with them?”

Usually they give me blank stares at this point.

“I know that’s a big question for the middle of a weekday. So I’ll start by telling you a little bit about my life story.”

"So here's a little bit about my life story"

“So here’s a little bit about my life story”

And then I go from there.  Every day, over and over.

—–

Today I sat down for a quick lunch with Jeff at an Indian buffet.

“This is the longest I’ve consecutively been in the states since January of 2012.”

“How long is that?” He said

“Three and a half months.” I replied.

Since leaving for Ecuador in January of 2012, I have been in and out of airports all over the world.  My life has revolved around making trips happen, whether that is program coordinating for Tandana, leading a group from Seattle, or just traveling with friends; my eyes are always cast forward.  My day to day life has been based on upcoming trips. I have worked 10 jobs in the past 12 months, many concurrently.

Yes, my taxes are a mess.

Yes, this is exhausting.

But I have made steps to attach myself to the fertile ground of the northwest. I have a house, a odd two story home on Belmont that my roommates and I affectionately call “the tree house”. I watch full series of shows, I show up to cross-fit. I run miles. I work full-time, and I talk about my family.

Siblings

Family

 

I love my job. I love storytelling, and that is essentially what I do. But sometimes it wears on me.  I miss them. I really, really miss them.

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I’ve written about this feeling before, the heart in two places feeling. I remember walking up the cobblestone streets of Panecillo, days before I left and thinking:

“How can I leave? I have worked hard to plant my heart here, in this ground. And now I am tearing it out. Why?”

Hi Imbabura

Hi Imbabura

Melodramatics aside, it can be hard constantly revisiting old memories. I think about them all the time. I write to Jhonny and Vero on facebook, I attempt to call Aurora on skype. But this isn’t the same. Truth is, I don’t know when I can afford to visit again. And this eats at me. Yes, because of these people I have grown and I have changed. I am better from knowing them. But what about them? I just left. And I don’t know when I can do back. What do I do now?

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Right now, this is what I do. I speak enthusiastically to students about these people. I talk about Aurora; her quiet humor, the way her life has been shaped by being an indigenous woman. I talk about Kichwa, about shamanism, about abuelita, mal aire, about what the flesh of guinea pigs tastes like. I try to make kids laugh, but I also try to push them. I will not stand in front of them and say that traveling is easy.  In fact I say the exact opposite.

“Traveling doesn’t change your life because it’s easy, or because it’s beautiful. Traveling changes your life because it challenges you. It pushes you in ways you don’t expect. Traveling changes your life because you meet new people, have conversations you never expected, and face parts of life that can be scary. But you do it. And that’s why you come back different.”

And maybe that’s what I need to remember. Maybe that’s all I can do. Maybe it is enough to stand if front of thousands of kids every month, look them in the eyes and ask them:

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