Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Köszönöm, Budapest! Part Két (2)

     The lady’s fiery glare scorched through my conscience. Her lips moved fervently, yet I could neither understand nor even hear a word she said. My mind spun at a million miles per second. Everyone surrounding me spoke in Hungarian, so my brain made no effort to distinguish between the unfamiliar syllables. The plethora of faces surrounding me meshed into a gigantic blob of unrecognizable colors. I have to get out of here, I thought to myself. 
     Suddenly, a man wearing an apron pierced through the crowd as he yelled at the bystanders. The ferocity of the horde's clamors subsided at a steady pace. Though I still found myself in the midst of the commotion, the older man's presence created a sense of protection within me. The lady's scowl followed me, but I decided to return to my previous focus: fulfilling my chocolaty craving. Once that small issue was resolved, I could proceed to find my friends, who I had no doubt were outside.

     The crowd formed unruly lines which the cashiers were somehow able to decipher. When it was finally my turn to order, a majestic chocolate delicacy taunted me from a nearby display. Its fluffiness rivaled that of the softest cloud. The rich chocolate color dressing it conveyed its flavor. Syrup flowed from its top to the white plate. I had to have it. 

     Why is my speech romantic as I describe a dessert, you ask? I suffer from a severe chocolate addiction. It is the source of one of my many guilty pleasures. 

     My luck changed during my brief exchange with the cashier. She might have been more accustomed to clueless tourists than the rest of the general population, so she did not complicate our conversation. I simply pointed at the decadent cake and read the screen on the register to know how much I owed her. She did speak a few words to me, but my complete lack of Hungarian language knowledge had deemed me mute. After she gave me the plate, I threw her a grateful smile and walked towards the door.

     The cold air stiffened my face like an ice blanket upon exiting the bakery. I struggled to maintain my resolve to ignore the daggers of ice stabbing me, but this cold was unlike any I had ever before experienced. The oddest factor was the brightness with which the sun shone. Its golden radiance could have fooled anyone into stepping outside with a mere t-shirt. Yet, there I was freezing to death with a thick coat and two pairs of pants. I could not help but wonder for how long I would have to wait on my friends.

     I anxiously dug into my chocolate cake. Each bite was as delicious as my sweetest dreams and most bitter of nightmares. Such exquisiteness seemed impossible to resist, and yet I was incapable of enjoying it to the fullest extent for some reason. Apprehension convulsed my nerves. Something was wrong. I had been outside for about ten minutes, and none of my friends had appeared from inside the bakery.

     Could they have left without me? Fear and denial battled each other within me. No, I thought, they must still be inside. I decided to go back into the bakery and dive into the crowd to look for them. The mass had changed but not shrunk. At least my paranoid attacker was nowhere in sight. I covered each corner in that bakery looking for my friends; they were not to be found. Walking out again, I yelled all of their names into the street as bystanders threw me baffled looks. Oh my God. They really are gone. And these people think I'm insane.

     I took the only reasonable course of action a lost girl in a foreign city could have taken: I panicked.

     Countless questions plagued my restless mind.
             Did they forget about me?
             Is this some sick prank?
             Did they get abducted?

     As absurd as it may seem, scenes from the movie Taken ran through my memory. Except the probability of four girls getting abducted all at once seemed pretty slim. I knew something extreme had to have happened to force them to leave me.  

     At this point, I had not seen them in over half an hour. They could have been anywhere in the unknown city. But, where? Even if I knew where they were, how would I get there? The signs in the metro stations were ALL in Hungarian, and so far I had not had the best luck in terms of finding someone who spoke any of the languages I do.

     I realized then my only choice was to try and find my way back to our condo. That is, if I could remember the way from which we came. We had taken so many turns throughout our path that I did not remember the exact way back. At least I knew I was still in Pest, which was the same side of the city in which our condo was located. Now I just had to walk.

     Each step I took soothed me. This was not the first time I had been alone in a foreign city. True, I was able to properly communicate all the previous times, so I focused instead on the beauty of Budapest. For this city was truly splendid. I longed to drown in its beauty to never forget a single detail, miniscule as it may have seemed.

     Upon turning a corner, I instantly knew this was not the right path to the condo. I had never seen that which stood before me at that moment. Forgetting such a sight would have been impossible.

     A magnificent building graced my view. Its walls were patterned with an intricate design. Two towers dashed from the edifice into the sky above. A dome donning golden ornaments adorned the top of each tower. Before me stood the Dohány Street Synagogue.
     A small voice in my head urged me to continue the search for our condo. But, the ceaselessly curious wanderer within me yelled at the top of her lungs to explore the synagogue. She (but really, I) threw every possible argument against the small, safe voice:
                            1. Your friends are not abducted
                          2. You've never been inside a synagogue
                           3. You might never come back to Budapest
                               (And my personal favorite lie...)
                            4. You won't take that long in there
     The splendor of the synagogue's interior overtook me. Rows upon rows of wooden benches lined the right and left sides of the synagogue. A myriad of lamps glowed hanging from the embellished ceiling. The end of the aisle led to an opulent organ. The wanderer within me was pleased beyond a shadow of doubt.
      I continued exploring the massive synagogue beyond its area of worship. Curiosity led me to the Holocaust Memorial Park in the rear courtyard of the synagogue.
     A peculiar weeping willow stood proud in the middle of the courtyard. The tree's singularity enticed me to close the distance between us. Its silver leaves sparkled under the sun. Upon taking a careful look, I noticed each metallic leaf had a unique engraving on it: a name and a number. I realized then those leaves contained the names and tattoo numbers of Holocaust victims.
     Shivers crawled through my spine, yet they were unrelated to the low temperature.
     Each name listed on the tree represented a person murdered. A hope extinguished. A life eliminated.
     An inscription in the Holocaust Memorial stated the Nazis murdered at least 400,000 Hungarian Jews. 
     Four hundred thousand people murdered.
     Four hundred thousand hopes extinguished.
     Four hundred thousand lives eliminated.
     I was incapable to fathom what such a number entailed. 
     "Quite the infamy, isn't it?" a husky voice shook away my melancholic daze. I turned to find an elderly man regarding me with kind eyes.
     "How could the world allow this to happen?" I asked him. Something about the man made me feel comfortable enough to ask him such a question. I noticed then the kindness in his eyes concealed a profound anguish.
     "When one is not the sufferer of a great tragedy, it is easier to turn a blind eye to the circumstances than to face the adversities they bring about," his wrinkled hand fumbled on a particular leaf from the weeping willow. 
     My voice sounded unrecognizable to my own ears, "All my years of history studies have taught me one terrible truth: genocide has been a part of the world and it will continue to be. There's always someone ready to extinguish entire groups of people for the simplest of reasons." 
     The man's fingers lingered on the same leaf, "One must not lose hope in the eventual redeeming of the human race. She would not have wanted me to lose hope." At the man's mention of a 'she', my eyes scanned the leaf he held. The name 'Tikva' was encrypted on the metal. A number accompanied her name, though it did not gain my attention. I solely focused on her name.
     "Can I ask how you knew her?"
     His ageless eyes watered as they stared at the leaf, "She was my wife. We were newlyweds when she was taken from me. Today would have been her 90th birthday." A lump constricted my throat. For a moment, I could see them. This elderly man, who stood before me, and his wife.
                                      Eternally together.

     All of those possibilities had been ripped from them before they even had a chance to dream of a future together. Sentimentalism for this stranger engulfed me; I gave him a consoling hug as tears quietly slid down my frosty cheeks. 
     I had never hugged a stranger before. But then again, this trip had proven to grant me many firsts.
     The man's eyes glistened when we let go, "Do you know why I still hold hope for the human race?" I shook my head in a silent response. "Because of people like you, who are young but still understand the suffering of others. And also because, " he smiled, "the name 'Tikva' means hope. I must honor her somehow."
     We continued a conversation about his wife. I sensed he had no one else to talk to, for he eagerly shared with me details of her personality. Never was I bored or confused at such a happening. Tikva sounded like a lovely girl. Yes, a girl. For she was only 20 when she was murdered.
     When it was time for the man to part, I thanked him for sharing his story with me. It is unusual for a stranger to tell another such private details of his life, and yet he trusted me with his most prized memories.
     "Köszönöm," he answered.
     "I'm sorry?"
     "It means 'thank you'. Köszönöm for listening to this old man ramble," he called back to me as he walked away.
     That is how I learned my one and only Hungarian word. 


Monday, December 2, 2013

Köszönöm, Budapest!

     Oh, the convenience of understanding and being understood. We often take it for granted, thus failing to realize this advantage might be unavailable elsewhere. Those of us who speak more than one language are guilty as charged. We can at times be foolish in believing the ability to walk through language barriers, as if they do not exist, is ours.
     Yes, I do include myself amongst those occasional fools. In fact, the epitome of my foolishness left me cold, stranded, and lost in a foreign city.
     Winter was bitter. Much more so to someone who had never before spent one in Europe. I crammed four days’ worth of heavy clothes into my typical backpacker luggage hoping the hastily chosen outfits matched. Though I had only been in Venice a couple of weeks, the excitement of discovering another European city enthralled me to no end. This was to be the first trip I would take on my semester abroad.
     I knew very little of Budapest, Hungary, and my decision to visit the city had been an impulse. It happened before I even left Atlanta. A few days before departure, a friend who was already in Venice messaged me asking if I would like to join her, and a few other girls, on a trip to Budapest. The €35 round-trip price was her main selling point. In addition to the astoundingly affordable airfare, we were to stay in a spacious three-bedroom condo in downtown Pest for only €15 a night per person. Declining such an invitation would have been beyond absurd; especially after I Googled the condo. I would basically live on the lap of Hungarian luxury for three days.
     Perhaps the blame of my subsequent idiocy should fall upon my excitement of going to Budapest. I was taken with the idea of visiting Eastern Europe. The rich history. Its mysterious enigmas. The scars left by decades of Soviet rule. I yearned to drink it all in. As such, I did not think twice before boarding a plane which would take me to the first nation in which I did not have a language advantage. My thoughts during the brisk one-hour flight revolved around one of the few pieces of touristic information I knew about Budapest: the existence of the Széchenyi thermal baths. The prospect of submerging my winter-ridden body in boiling tubs sounded absolutely exquisite. Unfortunately, my hot date with the thermal baths would have to wait. I was dismally oblivious to how much I would need their warmth.
     A violent blast of cold wind overtook me the minute I stepped on the ladder which led out of the airplane. The term ‘freezing’ proves deficient. To someone as sensitive to the cold as I am, there are multiple levels of this most unfortunate weather (each growing in awfulness):

1.      Chilly: A sweater usually suffices. I might even risk wearing
a skirt with pantyhose if I feel particularly brave.
2.      Cold: I need my jacket, boots, hat, and gloves. No revealing
clothing anywhere in sight.
3.      Freezing: A winter coat is a must along with everything in the
aforementioned level.  
4.      Daggers of ice stab me to death*: Nothing in my closet is 
       adequate for such extreme conditions. Must wear two pairs of 
       pants at once AND pantyhose underneath them. 

*Please note the fourth level of cold weather was unknown to me until I innocently stepped  out of that airplane.

     We sought refuge through the airport doors, and were rewarded with internal heating. All we needed was to find transportation to our condo downtown. Of course, at an airport one can almost always find at least one employee who speaks English. Budapest was definitely not the exception to this rule. Hence, we encountered no troubles boarding our bus. I was still ignorant of how ill-prepared I was for this trip.

     Our arrival at the condo provided us with a surprise. Not only was our flat as aesthetically pleasing as the pictures had promised, but it was also a penthouse. The view of the city was unfathomable. Antiquity and modernity intertwined in the most intricately fascinating ways. Elegant Gothic structures adorned the panorama begging me to explore them. Contemporary buildings caressed the sky almost ignorant of the ancient grounds on which they stood. The splendid dome of a synagogue embellished the left corner of my view. At first sight, Budapest had already become the most underrated place I had ever visited. I found myself besotted. 

     After choosing our rooms and unpacking the essentials, we set out to delve into the urban jungle that is Budapest. Adrenaline numbed the pain caused by the daggers of ice. I had two choices: a) Waste my time in Europe because it was "too cold", or b) Suck it up and have the time of my life. The right choice is often also the most difficult, but I have no regrets. 

     The streets buzzed with activity. Men, women, children were everywhere. Budapest's intensity was a great contrast to the tranquility of my Venetian neighborhood. One particular characteristic captured my attention: Hungarian was an absolutely incomprehensible language. No, it does not resemble English in any sort of way. Neither is it a Romance language; so, I could not cheat my way through it the way I usually do with French or Portuguese. Hungarian was as foreign to me as air is to fish.  

     An ornate bakery window hooked our attention. The deliciousness displayed was all-out decadent. Cakes fluffy like clouds, juicy fruit pastries, and my personal favorite, creamy chocolate delicacies were sprawled across the sinful display. No girl can resist such charms, so we barged into the bakery eager to taste their treats. 

     Either Hungarians suffer from insatiable sweet tooth, or we had discovered the most popular bakery in the city. Whichever it was, the lack of space inside would have made a solitary confinement prisoner claustrophobic. We. Could. Not. Move. Our fellow treat-seekers were inadvertently shoving us from side to side due to the cramped conditions. The chocolaty goody in which I was about to indulge was well worth the sacrifice though. Its glory was visible from where I stood. I could almost taste its lushness. 

     I turned to my right to tell my friend we would meet outside after getting our pastries. Instead of her, I encountered the face of a stranger looking back at me. I planned to set out to look for my friends, but I needed the stranger to move. There was no humanly possible way to walk around her. The only option was for her to move. How do you say 'excuse me' in Hungarian, again? Oh that's right, I never bothered to look it up

     Well, this was awkward. I smiled broadly at the lady, who seemed a bit baffled by my sudden friendliness. She shot me a thin, closed-lips smile and looked away. Great. How do I get her to move? My strategy shifted to saying 'excuse me' in English, Spanish, Italian, and finally, French. Yeah, now she looked at me as if I had blurted out a long string of Martian insults. Next, I tried waving my hands to the side in vain hopes she would understand what I was trying to tell her. Her furrowed eyebrows and the protective way in which she clutched her purse proved she did not trust my intentions. I am certain at this point the lady firmly believed I should be committed.

     My desperation grew by the minute forcing me to take the rudest possible course of action. I moved her myself. It was not quite a push; I would rather think of it as a gentle shove. To ensure she understood my intentions, I smiled at her as I shoved her aside. Of course with my luck, I would do this to the one lady in the bakery who suffered from a persecution complex. 

     No wonder she had been overprotective of her purse, for it surely contained some hefty objects. She used it to smack me on the arm repeatedly. Who knew such a short lady would possess that sort of strength? I punched her purse away from my arm. She desisted from attacking me physically and proceeded to verbal abuse. The Hungarian insults sounded rough to my ears, and I somehow found myself yelling at her in English. Call it survival instinct or impotence at the situation, but I refused to just stand there and allow her to insult me even if I had no earthly idea what she was saying. 

     More people joined the commotion, yet all I heard around me was Hungarian. Some yelled at me, while others screamed at the lady. I was caught in the midst of a swarm of incomprehensible shouts. The world around me spun making me dizzy. I searched for my friends' familiar faces within the crowd to no avail. Where had they gone?

     I did not understand. I was lost. I was alone.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Numb, Yet Never Heartless

An unfeeling heart
Is of my possession;
Some may call it tragic,
But I treasure its solitude.
A distrusting heart
Beats within my chest;
Some may deem it foolish,
But I cherish its safety.
A heart unable to love
Is what I hold dearest.
For a heart which cannot love
Is a heart which cannot break.
And yet,
Do not deem me heartless,
For I lack it not.
A bitter gust of wind froze it in time.
Un-beating, yet intact.
It neither alters nor stirs,
But just remains rigid.
Only he can change this.
Him, whose scent I have yet to breathe.
Him, whose strength I have yet to feel.
Him, whose face I have yet to discover.
He alone can shatter such steadfast ice,
And thus release a pounding heart.
A heart 
Which will feel that which it has withheld.
Do not deem me heartless.
Deem me numb, 
Yet never heartless.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Shattered Glass

   Torrents poured from the black sky. The turbulent rain wove a seamless curtain of haze. Streetlights were absent. Garish bolts of lightning provided the brief moments of luminosity. Such dire conditions rendered any hopes of visibility futile.
   The lonely, winding road stretched for hundreds of miles. Its rocky path slashed through the Andes Mountains with the course of a jagged blade. Thunder reverberated jolting the desolate corner of the world.
   Pebbles crashed loudly against the Renault 18’s windshield. The clatter from the falling rocks against the opaque glass could have distracted the most skilled of motorists. Despite this, the driver’s attention never wavered from the treacherous road ahead. The man knew he had chosen a route clogged with natural obstacles. The alternate way consisted of a mostly straight highway which would have reduced his trip from an eternal sixteen hours to a mere nine. His motives for selecting the rougher road were clear though. He needed to protect himself; above all else, he needed to protect her.
   The sleeping toddler lied across the backseat. Brown curls bounced on her soft cheeks as the car trotted along the rugged path. A pink blanket fostered the girl’s small body from the cold night. She enjoyed a peaceful sleep unaffected by the perils her father battled just to ensure her safety.

   The man silently cursed the adversities posed by both of the routes. While one was mountainous and desolate, the other was smooth yet brimming with threats. The government’s feeble political control allowed for traffickers to dominate the country’s best highways. Had the man chosen the seemingly simpler route, they could have faced a band of armed, ruthless criminals. Instead, he elected to navigate through one of the most dangerous winding roads in the country. He had hoped in vain for clear conditions and was punished instead with the most powerful of deluges.

   Fatigued as he was, the father did not entertain any idle ideas of sleep. More than anything else, he longed to reach their tropical Caribbean destination soundly. Never had a road trip been so forlorn. Never had a destination been more elusive. 

   The sultry scent of the sea teased his nostrils; he could almost feel the saltiness tangled in the breeze. All he had to do was think of his wife patiently waiting for her family to arrive. Halfway there, he told himself. Part of him hoped she could feel his thoughts, distant as they were.

   For a moment, the man was certain his exhausted mind was bewitching him. Two fluttering white lights marked their presence in the far distance. Their intermittent flicker baffled him. One thing was for certain though; the distance between his Renault and those lights lessened quickly. The lights' blazing brightness blinded the man in the contour of a traitorous curve. 

   Images raced through the man's mind during those sightless instants. He saw himself as a boy playing soccer in the streets. He saw young figures dancing to rhythmic tunes in his adolescence. He saw his wife's fair curls adorning the frame of her beautiful face on their wedding day. Yet, it was the last image which forced him to open his eyes despite the blinding glow. Five miniature fingers wrapped around his thumb with remarkable force for their tiny size. 

   The urge to protect his daughter was greater than his urge to succumb to the ominous lights. 

   Once focused, the father realized the lights belonged to a semi-trailer truck. He used every ounce of strength within him to force the steering wheel in the opposite direction of the truck. Whoever was behind the truck's wheel had no intentions of slowing the vehicle's destructive course. To the man's absolute horror, his efforts to lure his car away from the truck seemed hopeless. The slick, wet pavement prompted the small car to hydroplane in swift motions. Screeching tires confirmed the man's worst fears: impact was inevitable. 

   The truck's trailer struck the Renault with a bang forcing it off the serpentine roadway. Rocks made the steep descent even rougher. Amidst the commotion, the man heard a loud thump followed by a pained cry coming from the backseat. Horrified, he questioned the safety of his daughter. 

   The car's rugged course halted upon collision against a thick tree branch. Shattered glass rained onto the panting man's lap. Despite his hyperventilating, his rear-view mirror allowed him to see the distant tail lights of the semi. The coward escaped.

   Fatherly instincts propelled him out of his seat. The man pulled the backdoor open in a violent swoosh. There, lying on the floor of the backseat, was his terrified toddler. Her expressive, almond-shaped eyes gawked at him through dark eyelashes. Shaky hands betrayed the immense fear she felt. He let out an alleviated breath at the sight of the unharmed girl. 

   The father then pulled his daughter into his arms with a silent promise to always guard her with his life. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Birds and The Bees

   Everyone has his or her own particular story. Whether it was the infamous "talk" parents awkwardly fumble through, a classroom lecture, snippets of a graphic television show, or even catching a naughty (yet unsuspecting) older sibling in the act. The details may vary, but the bottom line remains the same: loss of innocence. We never quite view the opposite sex in the same pure way we once did after finding out the truth.

   For me, it happened one fateful afternoon when I was seven years old. I was in my second grade classroom, and it was time for our weekly Sexual Education class. It was held every Thursday. One might wonder why second graders were being taught Sex-Ed. That would be a question for the Colombian Board of Education. They clearly need to sort out their academic priorities. Still, one can only assume they must have their reasons. 
   We had the same teacher for Sex-Ed in second grade as we did in first grade (again, priorities should be sorted in the Colombian BOE). Her name was Miss Marta. She was a stout woman who wore an unmistakable air of authority. Nonsense, such as laughter and snickers, was not tolerated in her class. The fear every single child in that classroom felt for Miss Marta paralleled that which the Boogeyman invoked within us. In hindsight, I suppose stirring fear would be an effective way to teach second graders about sex. We knew laughing about anything Miss Marta said implied the most terrible of consequences, so we usually kept our mouths shut no matter how much it cost us to do so. Miss Marta was my Sex-Ed teacher for a total of four years. It is safe to say only one of her numerous lessons was forever engraved in my memory.

   "Boys and girls, before we begin today's lesson, I must ask something of you. The topics we will discuss today are serious. I ask that you please act like mature young men and ladies." Great. Nothing good ever happened whenever Miss Marta started the class with a maturity preamble. Let's face it, seven-year-olds are not exactly the epitome of maturity. "Turn your books to page 73," Miss Marta's stern voice commanded. 

   Before following her instructions, I looked up and noticed a rare happening. Her eyes were absolutely drawn to the text placed on the desk in front of her. Usually, Miss Marta's glare scanned the room inspecting our behavior. She was not a woman who missed a pin drop in her class. Something about her demeanor also seemed different. Less demanding and more hesitant. I shrugged off my thoughts and turned to page 73, as she specified.

   Emphatic gasps shattered the classroom's deafening silence. Exclamations floated around the room with the swiftness of flying dust. Three words were repeated with painful frequency: what, look, and the all-too-expressive huh. I sat in utter silence. My young eyes were glued to the image gracing page 73 of my Sex-Ed textbook. Though exactly what that image entailed was completely unknown to me. 

   "Oh my God, Laura, do you see this?" Karen, my best friend, leaned her head to my desk and whispered. 

   I wanted to reply that of course I could see it, but the words would not leave my mouth. It was not every day that a seven-year-old, growing up in the 90's, saw what I was seeing. We must keep in mind the Internet was nowhere near as widespread in 1997 as it is in 2013. As such, seven-year-olds back then did not have access to the same amount of information as they do today. 

   Perhaps the Colombian Board of Education perceived it as everyday information second graders should have, but I was perturbed. There, covering the entire lower half of page 73, was the picture of two figures: a man and a woman. The figures were actually outlines of very real-looking human bodies. The male outline was colored green and lay on top of the blue female outline. Considering the fact that the figures were presumably naked, it was possible to see each and every body part outlined in great detail. Yes, even THAT body part.  

   Due to our prolonged Sexual Education courses, we all knew and understood the male and female body parts by that point. However, it was not until that day that we realized they actually fit together. After the initial shock passed, boyish snickers drifted across the room. The girls were sorely silent. Miss Marta did not take lightly the "nonsense" shown by the boys in class. She ordered them to settle down and act in a mature manner or they would get detention. After coercing them into obedience, Miss Marta proceeded to explain the act of sexual relations as a reproductive process. Though her instruction was entirely scientific in nature, some of my classmates found it incredibly challenging to keep a straight face throughout her explanation. 

   I just sat there dumbfounded. Suddenly, it all made sense. My mom always forced me to either cover my eyes or leave the room during "adult" scenes in soap operas. I never quite understood what she meant by "adult" scenes until that day. Well, I thought, I'll go home and surprise my mom with everything I learned today. That would go well.

   I ran off the school bus and sprinted into my house. As soon as I opened the door, I called for my mom. She was in the kitchen. She's going to be so surprised, I thought to myself. But really, I had no idea just how surprised she would be. I took the Sex-Ed textbook from my book bag and flipped it to that scandalous page 73. 

   The scent of my mom's delicious seasoned chicken greeted me upon entering the kitchen. Her back was turned to me as she sliced some vegetables.

   "Hi, Mami!" I greeted her.

   "Hi, Princess. How was school?" my mom asked.

   "I learned something new today! Look, Mami: the man's penis is penetrating the woman's vagina," I proudly replied as I pointed to the diagram on page 73.

   The swiftness with which my mom spun around would have made Jackie Chan jealous. Her eyes were aghast with horror. The ceramic plate in her hands slipped cracking into a million pieces upon hitting the tile. 

   "QUE?!?!?!" my mom's pained voice exclaimed as she snatched the textbook from my hands. Her eyes scanned the contents of page 73 with growing dismay. My mom's knuckles turned white from holding on to the book so tightly. She closed it and put down on the counter.

   Disconcerted, I asked, "Mami, is something wrong?" 

   My mom bit her lip in hesitation before saying, "Nena, we need to have a talk." 

   At the time I did not understand my mom's reaction. As a grown woman, I now comprehend the panic she experienced at being forced to have such a conversation with her only child at such a young age. Like I said before, we all have our stories. I guess mine intertwines a classroom lecture, a much-too graphic diagram, and an awkward "talk" with my disturbed mother. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

In the Dark

We met in the dark.
In the loud.
In the crowded.                            

Blaring music boomed from each of the speakers. People yelling. Drinking. Laughing. Venice is, after all, the original city of sin and vice. Foreign languages resonated all around the room. I was among strangers, but still entirely in ecstasy. Women wore glittering masks revealing only their eyes. Carnevale was indeed in full furor. Lost, yet at home, I trembled with the uncertainty of what was to come.

Our eyes met for a single moment. The ocean shade swimming in yours flooded my subconscious during that piercing instant. I drowned beyond succor. 

We both knew then what would be. What would never be. It was only a matter of time. 

We knew nothing. 
                We knew it all.

You walked me home. I don’t walk with strangers, but after two hours and a few Spritz you were no stranger. Inexplicably, I trusted you to lead me through a city of winding canals and cumbersome alleys. Your lips encompassed mine by my door, and I knew not where I was any longer. Breathless and vibrant, I forced myself to tear away from your embrace. The intensity of the moment terrified me. You were no ordinary man and this was no ordinary kiss. I knew then I had no escape.

                                               You sought me.
                         I let myself be sought without resisting.

An enchanted world of canals, freedom, and dark nights revolved around us. I strained to conceal the truth of my soul, yet somehow you saw it as clearly as your own reflection.

With you I lived the bliss which comes only with the impossible. Every moment is lived to the extreme. Attraction is love. Anger is fury. Longing is agonizing. A single touch electrifies.

                               But such bliss can be a burden.

It numbs your rationale. It strips you of your judgment. And it leaves you with nothing. 


                                             Fallout is cruel.

It sees only through the eyes of pride. We never said goodbye. We never kissed goodbye. Yet I memorized your face. Your skin. Your hair. Your scent. The taste of your lips is engraved in my taste buds. Stubborn, it refuses to leave. I refuse to forget.

You persist to live in a place where only I can touch you. Even then, you remain untouchable.

After all this time, all that remain are questions:

If I shall never see you again, why do your eyes constantly pierce mine at night?        

If my distant memories are now the only space I have for you, why do you insist on invading every orifice of my mind?     

If you find yourself an entire world away, how are you ever-present?

If the world itself is an obstacle, why do you crowd my subconscious?


I will not forget.
It was in the dark that you knew me and I knew you.
We’ll always have Venice.
Venice will always have us.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Roses in the Spring Water / Rosas en un Manantial

                                   Roses in the Spring Water

Upon looking at me for the first time you failed to see a wrinkled baby born too soon. Instead, your eyes created the loveliest of creatures. A jubilant smile adorned your face the instant you saw how my long, thin fingers mirrored yours. Your arms embraced me in a tight cocoon the way one would hold a porcelain doll: delicately and with all the tenderness love bestows.

Your voice caressed my infant ears with delightful lullabies. Hard as I might have tried, my voice could not resemble the beauty yours emitted. My entire life has passed, yet I still remember every word.
      Golden-haired pretty little doll
      With pearly teeth and ruby lips
      Tell me if you love me the way I adore you
      If you remember me the way I remember you
      Sometimes I hear a divine echo
      Which wrapped within the breeze seems to speak to me…
      Yes, I love you very, very, very much
      Just as I did then, just as I will ‘till death.

I became an adventurous little girl, but you never grew weary of my caprices. You indulged every wish, every dream, every desire of my childish heart. Your love for me was as blind as mine for you was absolute.

We became accomplices. Nobody could scold me, for you would defend me against it all. Even when I would upset you, still you would not scold me. Our love was that infinite.

Distance separated us through my adolescence, yet our love never wavered. My absence strengthened our bond. You continued my confidant, my counselor, my unconditional. My teenage heart dreamed of holding you again, of telling you how much I love you in person, of telling you how much I missed you.

My wish was granted. Once again, I found myself in the confines of your tenderness and reentered the safety of childhood. We knew our time together was limited, yet this certainty placed not a single shadow on our shared weeks.

One fall afternoon, I ran into my house eager with good news only to find the happiness drained from my mother’s face. The darkness in her hazel eyes froze my soul. Tears impeded her speech, yet I knew. Such pain is only expressed through the eyes, not through words. A cold dagger punctured my heart beyond repair that afternoon.

My loving grandmother had grown wings to end her maladies.

I could not fathom living in a world where she did not exist. But, she taught me how to be strong. She taught me how to smile in the face of adversity. She taught me circumstances can always worsen no matter how dire they might seem.

Everybody told me she is in a better place.
                                               Her pain has ceased.
                                                              She is happy now.
I believed them.

Still, a selfishness within me wishes she was still here. I long for her advice. For her jokes. For her smile. It never dawned on me she could leave.

But no. She is not gone. She is more present than ever.

One must only see how my grandmother's likeness is reflected on my mother's face.

I hear her voice hum her favorite song: Roses in the Spring Water.

She brings comfort after a nightmare.
She offers protection from those who seek to harm.
She bestowed the gift of unconditional love.

What else could be expected? The meaning of the name Dora is, after all, “gift.”

She is a gift indeed.

                                       Rosas en un Manantial

Al mirarme por primera vez no viste a una bebé nacida antes de tiempo. En vez, tus ojos crearon a la criatura más adorable. Una sonrisa jubilosa adornó tu cara el instante en el que te diste cuenta cómo mis dedos largos y delgados semejan los tuyos. Tus brazos me abrazaron en un capullo apretado de la misma manera en la que uno sujetaría a una muñeca de porcelana: delicadamente y con toda la ternura que el amor brinda.

Tu voz acarició mis oídos infantiles con canciones de cuna deleitables. Tanto cómo yo trataba, mi voz no podía imitar a la belleza que la tuya emitía. Mi vida entera ha pasado, pero todavía recuerdo cada palabra.

     Muñequita linda, de cabellos de oro
     De dientes de perla, labios de rubí
     Dime si me quieres, c
ómo yo te adoro
     Si de mi te acuerdas, cómo yo de ti.
     Aveces escucho un eco divino
     Que envuelto en la brisa parece decir...
     Sí te quiero mucho, mucho, mucho, mucho
     Tanto cómo entonces, siempre hasta morir.

Me convertí en una niña aventurera, pero nunca te cansaste de mis caprichos. Complaciste cada deseo, cada sueño, cada anhelo de mi corazón infantil. Tu amor por mi era tan ciego como el mío por ti era absoluto.

Nos convertimos en cómplices. Nadie podía regañarme, porque tu me defenderías contra todo. Inclusive cuándo te enojabas conmigo, ni siquiera me regañabas entonces. Nuestro amor era tan infinito.

La distancia nos separó durante mi adolescencia, mas nuestro amor nunca flaqueó. Mi ausencia fortaleció nuestro lazo. Tu continuaste siendo mi confidente, mi consejera, mi incondicional. Mi corazón adolescente soñaba con abrazarte de nuevo, con decirte cuanto te quería en persona, de contarte cuánto te extrañaba.

Mi deseo fue concedido. Una vez más, me encontré en los confines de tu ternura y reingresé a la seguridad de mi niñez. Sabíamos que nuestro tiempo juntas era limitado, pero aquella seguridad no puso ni pizca de sombra sobre nuestras semanas compartidas.

Una tarde de otoño, llegué a mi casa entusiasmada con buenas noticias sólo para encontrar que la felicidad había sido arrebatada del rostro de mi madre. La oscuridad en sus ojos color miel me congeló el alma. Las lágrimas impedían que hablara, pero yo lo supe. Tal dolor es sólo expresado a través de la mirada, y no por las palabras. Un puñal frío perforó mi corazón más allá de arreglo alguno aquella tarde.

Mi amorosa abuela había crecido alas para ponerle fin a sus males.

No lograba entender cómo vivir en un mundo en el cuál ella no existía. Pero ella me enseñó a ser fuerte. Ella me enseñó a sonreír en la cara de la adversidad. Ella me enseñó que las circunstancias siempre pueden empeorar sin importar que tan funestas parezcan.

Todo mundo me dijo que ella se encuentra en un lugar mejor.
                                                                        Que su dolor ha terminado.
                                                                                          Que ella es feliz ahora.

Les creí.

De cualquier manera, un egoísmo dentro de mi desea que ella todavía estuviera aquí. Me faltan sus consejos. Sus chistes. Su sonrisa. Nunca se me ocurrió que ella podría marcharse.

Pero no. Ella no se fue. Ella está más presente que nunca.

Sólo basta ver el rostro de mi madre para lograr encontrar el reflejo de mi abuela.

Escucho su voz tararear su canción favorita: Las Rosas en un Manantial.

Consuela después de las pesadillas.
Ofrece protección de aquellos que amenazan con daños.
Otorgó el regalo del amor incondicional.

Qué más se puede esperar? El significado del nombre Dora es, después de todo, "regalo."

Ella es un regalo en realidad.