Sunday, November 30, 2014

I've completed seven Nanowrimo novels; one every year since 2008. And although I've said this on the last day of every November, this time I mean it. It's time to take a break from the contest.
I've become addicted to the fun of writing 1,667 words every day without my inner editor breathing down my neck, and this year's novel was the easiest of them all. I finally just wrote it for myself. Did I want my characters to go horseback riding? Off they went! Should they discuss Findhorn in Scotland? Absolutely! There was romance and adventure, but there were lots of girlfriends chatting over coffee -- or beers -- and one character who loved to solve her problems by reading the I Ching.
I guess it took me seven years to figure out this writing thing: write what you want to read. Now it's time to edit what I want to read and see if anyone else want to read it, too!
Thank you, Chris Baty, for coming up with the awesome idea of Nanowrimo. I've loved the last seven Novembers immensely. Thank you, my dear family, for putting up with finding me at my computer when I should've been cooking or cleaning or lots of other things moms are supposed to do. And thanks to all the characters in my head who will be there when I'm ready to do it again.
Oh, and to my brother Dan who hasn't heard from me on his birthday for seven years because it falls on November 30, Happy birthday, bro! Love to all,

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Flying Home

It's 6:40 a.m., and I am at the airport, looking at the Andes mountains. The sun has come up behind them. Earlier, for a few precious moments, their greens and browns were visible. Now I only see an outline in the sky -- a high, jagged dark purple pencil drawing against light blue and puffy white. The mountains are what I love most about Cali, and this sendoff feels like a gift. Thank you.
I buy a cup of coffee and wander through the little shops of colorful art and find bracelets my girls will love, thinking of how I didn't give Mom a goodbye hug. I thought we would see each other in the morning, but it was just too early to wake her. Even with the rush of getting out the door it hurt to leave the house without that closure, and now I am even more intent on visiting again.
Dan and I sit in the airport at the foot of those mountains and talk about the trip. How do we feel about Dad and Mom living in Colombia? We repeat the litany. They are in good hands. It's the best for Mom. The caretakers are kind and the home is paradise.
Our conversation turns to the more mundane. Were the beds comfortable? Not really. Did we like being served all the time, not getting to choose our meals? Absolutely. I loved what they had to offer: the juices, the meat, the mashed potatoes, the breads, the very simple salads tossed with oil and vinegar.
The breakfast coffee was perfect, too, I say, but Dan disagrees. He likes his scalding hot. I tell him I will miss the busyness of the place. Having so many people coming and going made me want to get moving, too.
It's time to board our flight, and we fly to Miami and then to Atlanta, where Dan will drive home. Just like that, our time together is over, and it feels like it's ending too soon. I will miss my brother. We have shared a rare and memorable journey.
On my flight from Atlanta to Pensacola, winding rivers reflect the sun and shine back up to me on this airplane as it hurtles through the sky.
It occurs to me that I look forward to bringing my family to Cali, not only to have them see my homeland, but also to introduce them to my parents' new community. I feel like a better person with Chris and the girls. It will be good to be home, and begin to plan the next adventure.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Colombia 9: Goodbye

My last day in Cali. I spend the morning with Mom, Maria, and Lycett while Dan and Dad go to church. I give Mom's helpers little gifts: lotions, scarves, and chocolates I brought from the States. It's apparent the tokens are woefully inadequate, and when they are accepted with kind gratitude, I cry. How am I to live like this, with my parents so very far away?
Sara, a schoolmate from Bolivar, takes me to meet others from our class for lunch. It's a welcome distraction, and we have a wonderful time. The food is delicious, the memories are alive, the jokes are light and fun. I had worried it would be uncomfortable -- too much time has passed -- but the connection I feel is enlivening. I've never been to a class reunion, and this must be what  I've missed: a shared feeling that a piece of our history is not gone, but lives on in a new way.
Another visit, to family friends who have known me since I was two is filled with laughter and catching up. "Aunt" Loraine is from a small town in Alabama and she married a Colombian, "Uncle" Simeon. They've lived in Cali for decades, through good times and bad. They both are contending with health issues now, but they are as energetic and entertaining as always. It's amazing to see them thriving, discussing chemotherapy like it's an unruly pet.
Dan and I go to a popular Panini hangout to swap soccer stickers and mix with Caleños. I like helping others get the stickers they need and sharing their enthusiasm about a soccer player from Cameroon, but I'm antsy to go home. I'm well aware that my time with Mom is slipping away as I stand out here studying a man people say survived the plane crash of 1995.
Finally home, Mom, Dad, Dan, and I spend the evening together watching Spanish television. Dan and I have a few presents for Mom, and then it's time for bed. As much as I don't want tonight to end, we all need sleep. 5 am is departure time. I give Mom a hug but don't say goodbye. I'll save that for tomorrow.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Colombia 8: La Ermita at Last!

Dad, Dan and I see the city today. I need to go, I want to go -- but most of yesterday was spent away from Mom and it would be nice to stay home. I would enjoy the relaxed pace of this paradise. The cook and the nurse are so entertaining as they go about the day, discussing this and that, teasing each other, and dancing to music on the radio. But I won't have this chance again. I will sit with Mom on the veranda later.
I kiss her goodbye and this time she seems grief-stricken, as though we will never meet again. It's so unsettling I almost stay behind, but Dad assures me that as soon as we drive out of the huge gate of the home she will have forgotten again.
At least she is in good hands; this is my mantra.
I look ahead to memories that are about to come to life. I have three places I want to see: La Ermita, our house in Miraflores, and the seminary. I freely admit I'm downright childish about my list, and I will regret my demanding attitude, but I've come a really long way to be here. Lucky for me, the others aren't as "exigente" and the driver humors me. Dan, my Harley-riding brother, is mostly interested in the astounding risks the scooters and motorcycles take, zipping among the cars and buses.
After the obligatory stop at the statue of Belalcazar, we look for our old house in Miraflores, a middle-class neighborhood tucked into the Andean hills of Cali. We don't remember the address for the house but manage to find it anyway, and when I see the black metal door, balcony, patch of grass, and big windows, the memories come in a flood: reading on the porch, catching the school bus, playing with our dog Goldie, entertaining grandparents, waking up to late-night serenades for neighbors. Part of me wants to see who lives there now, but we don't even get out of the car.
We drive along Rio Cali and park downtown to walk through Cali's crowded streets, and I'm surprisingly unafraid. It's as it was over thirty years before, only now the many street vendors are selling yellow jerseys for Colombia's soccer team. Colombia is one of 32 teams to play for the FIFA World Cup, and the country is enjoying the anticipation of the games to come. I will regret not buying a jersey, but I keep our group moving; I'm on a mission to see the iconic La Ermita.
I've been working on a novel, "The Existence of Pity," and La Ermita plays a role. Having never been inside it when I lived in Cali, I fell in love with the old Catholic church on the internet. Now I'm nervous. Will it meet my high expectations?
When I finally catch a glimpse of La Ermita, it is as beautiful and otherworldly as I hoped it would be. I run ahead of the others and try the door, but it's locked. I go to the front entrance, but it won't open either. I'm disappointed, but still glad to be here, taking in the white and gray Gothic spires, amazing against the blue sky.  La Ermita is more perfect than I dared hope. We take pictures and move on.
As we walk to Plaza Caycedo, we see a young woman selling Panini. This is the official sticker book and stickers for the World Cup.  Groups of adults and children gather all over town to trade the stickers to fill up their books, talking about the great Colombian team that could finally win that cup. I want to join in, so I buy my own book. A woman with short white hair starts up a conversation with me, but she's eyeing the bottle of Coca-Cola I'm holding. It seems she wants the rest of my Coke, so I offer it to her. She gratefully accepts, and finishes the drink I had started. I am definitely far from home.   
Back in the car, we take the scenic route to the seminary. By the time we get there, we only have time to drive by, but I am content. I've honored past memories, made new connections, and am ready for some lulo and pandebono with Mom. I will sit beside her on the veranda and tell her all about our day as many times as she wants to hear it. I won't regret that.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Colombia 7: The Spice of Life

I am beginning to understand Cali better. Longtime friend John Palencia takes us on a drive and as motorcycles thread through traffic, horns honk, and overloaded buses lumber along dedicated lanes, he explains Colombia. It is an "emergent economy" and as such is making sweeping changes. Changes that sweep away my past. I find out the city knocked down blocks of houses in the neighborhood of Ciudad Jardin to build an incomprehensible amount of businesses;
perfectly beautiful homes replaced by big square buildings with neon signs hawking cars and clothing and meat and phones.
But I learn space for expansion wasn't the only reason to knock down those homes. Some of them were built with drug money, and Colombia is doing all it can to distance itself from the horrific drug wars in its past.
It's nice to understand the changes, but I can't describe my joy when I recognize the old San Fernando church. It is exactly as I remember it all those years ago, and it reminds me I truly am in the city of my youth. 
We shop some, but mostly ride around in the car and soak it all in. I love the unexpected differences between this culture and mine, choices that bring variety - the spice of life. It is lovely to be here. The people are beautiful, alive, busy becoming a country. They are improving their world, leaving my memories behind, and I am realizing I don't belong here.
After college and before I met Chris, I came back to Colombia intending to live here. But as soon as the attendant waved me off the airplane I knew this beautiful place wasn't mine. It's still true today, but that doesn't change how much I love Cali. If anything, my unrequited love is only stronger, and I'm glad Colombia is thriving. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Colombia, Part 6: Colegio Bolivar

To get right to the point, Cali's Colegio Bolivar is an amazing school. Anyone with the very good fortune to attend even one grade - from pre-kinder to 12th - is beyond lucky.
Today Dad, Dan, and I walk around the American school and as I sift through memories about good friends and teachers, the library and the gym, musicals and bake sales, I'm amazed all over again. Even as a child, I knew this was a special place, and it's more beautiful than ever. There's one thing they shouldn't have changed, though. The classrooms used to have only three walls, and they've added half-walls to the open side. I used to love looking outside at birds hopping along tree branches and at people walking along the center walkway, and those half-walls are really cutting down on some great distractions. 
Over the years my memories of Colombia have seemed less and less believable, and that's why I'm so glad to come back to Cali. Fellow schoolmates, you aren't dreaming. It really is wonderful here.
We take the scenic route back to Mom and Dad's house, and Mom knows us and is glad to see us all. After a delicious lunch of fish, rice, plantains, and more lulo juice, siesta is in the air. I settle in beside Mom, who's napping already. I watch her and remember that horrible day, May 17, 2012, when Dad called and said Mom didn't know who he was. I visited as soon as I could, and found her moving puzzle pieces around a perpetually unfinished puzzle. She wanted to go to her mother's house.
A part of me understood her dementia but another very stubborn part could not accept it. I drove myself crazy trying to make Mom's words true, at least in the beginning, when she was so convinced herself. I've never felt like I had such a strong grasp on reality - Lord knows reality is overrated anyway - so maybe Mom was right. Only she wasn't. Her mother was long gone, her mother's house, too, and there were no hobos in her neighborhood.
When I drove home after that first horrible visit, south on I65 from Montgomery, my heart hurt so badly I could barely breathe. But then Olivia called to let me know she was home from school and was wondering when I'd get there. I took a deep breath and assured her I'd be home soon. I didn't tell her she had just saved me. She and Natalie and Chris needed me, and for them I wouldn't fall apart.
Now I look at Mom and touch her hand. She's gone to me, safe from any lasting heartache. She opens her eyes and smiles. "Hey, darlin'," she says, like she has a million times before.
 P.S. Thank you to Jaami Clement Palacio, Sara Meneses, Carla Uribe, and Jennifer Tiffin for a lovely school visit!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Colombia, Part 5: Paradise

I am awakened on my first day in Cali by the aroma of the world's best coffee. Laughter floats in from the veranda.
Through my window, I see the sun is reflecting off the Farallones - a high jagged mountain range nearby. I am going to love being in Cali again.
I walk onto the porch and can't believe my eyes. My parents live in a park! This assisted living home has a huge yard with a pool, tall mango trees and shorter palms, an umbrella table, a soccer field, and birds of all kinds. Small storks, red-winged black birds, mockingbirds. Two canaries come up to our table for bread crumbs. Dad, still a romantic after 56 years, has named them Jimmie and Marilyn.

Maria's view over the kitchen sink
The cook (Maria) and the nurse (Lysett) are friendly and fun, and are excellent at taking care of my parents. If Mom has to have Alzheimer's, I'm glad it's here, in their loving hands and surrounded by this beauty. It's a cool morning, and they serve my favorite foods: lulo - a delicious fruit drink; pandebono - cheese bread; and café con leche - coffee with milk. Mom seems to remember me, and I am in paradise.