Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Back home in Cartagena for a visit.

I have a strong urge to write/type something down, but I have to figure out what exactly. Do you know that feeling? You know there's a lot inside waiting to be told to someone, but...and there are people all around you, but...and it's not as if you're afraid, or ashamed, or anything like that, it's just that you don't know, and even now the words are hard to type.

The reason why I feel like this is because I am in Cartagena, Colombia, staying at Elizabeth's house with her family that watches the house while she spends 11 months out of the year caring for the young daughter of a millionaire family in New York. Elizabeth was our "babysitter" for five or six days a week over 12+ years. But "babysitter" hardly represents what she was to me then, nor does it do justice to her indelible mark on my life.

When Elizabeth had to seek other work because of my family's weak financial situation, it was a very inopportune time for me; being 12 or 13 and living with two brothers and my Dad, I desperately needed her to stay. But at the time I didn't ask questions. To be honest, I can't remember how I felt around the time she said goodbye. For a long time, Lilly, as we called her, sent birthday and Christmas cards to my brothers and I; I sent her a sweater for her birthday one year. When she was in Boston she came to visit us, and one time we went as a family to visit her in Manhattan; she cared for, and continues to care for, a sweet, lucky girl, the daughter of a wealthy businessman. Eventually the cards stopped coming, though we spoke every 4-6 months via phone.

My life, of course, was never the same without her. I accepted her departure to care for another chiquitita, and her caring for me, as consequences of her career. (Yes, taking care of people, both blood and non-blood relatives is the lifetime profession she has mastered better than anyone.) But her leaving was equal to a close mother leaving her daughter to care for another girl. For a long time after she left, I tried to be strong: certainly she would have wanted it this way. As would become an awful habit of mine, I cauterized the wound of her untimely exit, but only temporarily: she visited once (was I 15 or 17?) and I cried, and then there was the poem I wrote just last year in Spanish about missing her. Obviously I had not processed what had happened to me.

And so I decided to visit her hometown after I left Argentina, thinking that some of the pieces would come back together, that I would understand more about her through knowing where she comes from. So I'm staying here with Lil's relatives in her house that she has let them live in for the past 18 years. Her niece, Martha, is the mother of the house, a large woman who laughs like the offspring of a rooster and a songbird would if interbreeding between species were possible and birds could laugh, just like Elizabeth laughs. I went to the beach today with two of Lil's countless nieces, went jogging with one of her nephews and also practiced salsa and mereng├╝e with them after the most delicious dinner of platanos (fried, sweet plantains), avocado, meat and passionfruit juice.
Me and Maria at the beach

Listening to the iPod Lil had given him (an old 30GB from the children she works for), Lil's 2o-year-old great-nephew picked me up from Cartagena's small international airport. He had a sign that said: "Loren I'm Yair." We got into a taxi to go home, and I started to sniffle/cry a bit. I breathed to control the situation. Martha came home a half-hour later with fresh roses and corn flakes for me, and of course the tears came again. Lil got on the phone some way or another, and it was determined that I had a cold and should take advil. I said I did not have a cold, that I felt healthy, that I was okay. (One can cry and be okay, I guess.) "No llores," (don't cry) both Elizabeth and Martha told me. "Okay," I responded earnestly.

Martha and Nidia (they were not expecting the photo!)

I didn't speak to Lil on the phone today, but she's all around here, en casa and in Cartagena. She was there when I savored every speck of Colombian food served to me today and when I confirmed a nephew's comment that all I need to be content in life is fried, sweet plantains and thick mango juice (though I stuck in a clause about running shoes). Photos of her with family and friends are around the house, and everyone I speak with who knows Lil feels the same way about her as I do. In a way, I'm under Lil's care, albeit indirectly (she told Martha what I like to eat, that I like to laugh, etc), and it feels special.
Dinner with Jorge Luis (Jorgito) after a jog...so fresh and flavorful!


Before I got here my brother said that it would be like a time warp. I don't really think about it that way; of course the sounds, sights, smells and tastes bring me back to lovely times, but I am not the girl I was 9 years ago, so the experience is a step forward in my understanding of some elements of the past. I don't want to feel like I felt when I was a girl, living comfortably under Elizabeth's care, but like myself, 20-years-old, appreciating and incorporating things that were meaningful for me for a long time, but which I had stopped thinking about with the hope of moving independently into the future.

I am beginning to realize that Lil, who had made my life so rich, had to leave for reasons beyond my control, and even though this has hurt off and on for awhile, I am lucky to have had her constant care for as long as I did. Her support and discipline helped make me into the great person I am today, and even though now she is far away, I can still use her traits as examples for myself in the present. Talking to her on the phone and being around her family bring back strong feelings of love, family, etc. that sometimes making me cry, but I'm okay with that, her love is still around for now.

1 comment:

Sanaz Arjomand said...

Lauren,
This was a great post. I've been won over by blogs because they give you the chance to say those things that take time to craft, and still get the message out to friends and loved ones who want to hear about it. I hope that I get the chance to hear about all of this in person sometime soon!
Thanks for sharing,
Sanaz