Freeze Frames

You said you write because you don’t like talking. Had you asked, I would’ve agreed, adding I write to shape and reshape my reality, to flush out “what grooves me” (shoutout to Amiri Baraka), what to throw out. Sometimes, I write pretending to educate others when I’m really educating myself. Sometimes, I reach too high and give up before I even start the climb. Lately, I think about writing more than I write. Rather, I’ve been living the writing more than writing it. It’s just all these freeze frames are slipping thru my fingertips – the grafiteros (graffiti artists) showing us their barrio, their collectivo, Lak’Ech, a Mayan greeting meaning “I am you, you are me.” We stood staring at the mural in the community center, the open windows revealing Medellin’s glow. An elementary school band provided a soundtrack with their concert in the street below. We soaked in togetherness, buzzing with possibility. I am you, you are me. How do I give words to that?

When I try to make sense of it all, I hear your alto telling me about a watch that only says “ahora” (now). I made fun of it in the moment, but it’s true, our moment was then, and it isn’t now. At home, I can build a home of connection with loved ones and live in it. Here, I lay bricks and tengo que irme. It’s like I’m running a worldwide race, all these faces stay in the past – now, in the then. We decide which dimension of a person we hold close, what to remember, what details to neglect. I choose to keep the best bits. Your origin story, your poetry lessons (imaginería, música, sentimientos), your hands conducting poemas con ritmo. You can hardly believe this gringa’s name is Michaela, chuckling in disbelief. All these freeze frames I choose to keep.

I hear Pepe’s strained English – “each one teach one,” and wonder what all these frames are teaching me, what I’m teaching them. I get an email from my coworker: “spanish speaking 8 year old J just said about you: “I miss her. She is good.” It makes me smile and ache – another freeze frame of J on free haircut day, so scared of the clippers. He’s sobbing, and his mother is too. “Todo siempre es tan difícil con el, no se, no se que puedo hacer.” Her toddler frowns at the scene. The rich white lady donors twist their mouths with concern, they can’t understand the fear, the not knowing: will the world hurt me today? Is this safe? They must think he’s overreacting. I kneel in front of J, tell him in broken Spanish the barber will stop if it hurts, I promise. You’re the boss of your body, el jefe, I tell him. The barber puts a white neck protector around J’s neck and J switches to loud English – “is he trying to kill me?” The barber laughs, “nah, man. Wow, you speak English AND Spanish? Smart kid.” J grins, “my dad taught me English. My mom doesn’t know it.” Freeze frame of his mother – a doctor in her homeland, married a charming, handsome engineer that moved their family up north for work. He wouldn’t turn on the heat in the winter when she was pregnant, wouldn’t let her learn English nor have friends nor work. She was unaccustomed to the cold. He wouldn’t give her money for jackets, for blankets, for pants that reached their son’s ankles. This I gather from hours of her patience with my broken Spanish. Freeze frame of her on my last day of work, crying. “Seguro? Necesitas ir?” Are you sure you have to go? My kids will miss you. I didn’t know what to say, how to comfort his weeping tree of a mother mourning – perhaps her youth, perhaps exhaustion, perhaps finally someone she can trust, walking away. I hope when I return, we can talk fluidly in her mother tongue. I’ll tell her and J how much they taught me about rooting where you are, about opening up even when it feels scary, about growing in any condition given. 

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