Thursday, July 03, 2008

My place

Yesterday, I snuck away from our routine, dragged Madam and her stroller and assorted paraphernalia into a tight, unwelcoming bus, and went back in time.

Whenever I go there, to Bergenline, I feel like I lose my words and my writing—not in a bad way, but instead I revel in the pure sensation of motion and rhythm and LIFE, at least the way I define it. People crowding each other off the sidewalk, girls sashaying by, mothers laughing while toddlers loll in umbrella strollers precariously balanced with bulging shopping bags. Assault by colors, energy—the shared million million passions of the people who huddle in the store fronts, gazing longingly at vivid plasticy photos of their homelands, “Giros a Mexico, a Peru, a Ecuador, a Colombia.” Or more frequently, striding past them, unseeing. They've made their choice. They've brought those places here, planted in this welcoming soil.

And always, music. Rap, freestyle, old school, salsa, merenge, bachata, reggeton mix into a sonic soup that rules every step a person takes here. It makes me stand a little straighter, look a little more forthrightly around me. This is my soundtrack and I'm on stage.

I want to take it all in, to swallow every careless grin and shouted piropo, eat every delicious sandwich cubano, drink every cup of cafe con leche. And I want to write it, this place where I first learned that I was me, and me was all of these people, too. Every interaction here means more than it means, to me. I feel superimposed onto old photos, like I'm speaking in this moment, yes, but also as that girl I was when I lived here. Here, the lines blur.

For better or for worse, this is my soul home. This is the place where I can move almost from instinct, guided only by the phantom pressure of steps taken a million times before.

This is where I grew up.

Whenever we go back home, we search first for those landmarks that were important to our youth. Look, there's the baby clothes store, where my young mother, flushed with pride, handed over way too much money for the most beruffled baby dresses, complete with panties frothy with pristine lace. No Salvation Army clothes for me, never. Never mind that we lived in a one bedroom walk up, that my parents were barely legal (papers still going through), that any money we had should have been going to the lawyer, or back to Colombia. I needed to look like the ideal Gerber baby, if the Gerber baby had been brown.

She was as old then as I am now. And I glance at my own Madam as we walk past, feeling a historical pull to purchase something for HER in that store. Something too expensive to show her that she is also cherished, wanted.

Am I trying to convince her, or myself? Who was Mami trying to convince? Was she assailed my kind of voices, the ones that whisper that maybe, just once, it would be nice to walk down these street as a free girl, free to heedlessly spend all of her money on herself, instead of hoarding, hoarding for splashy baby clothes, for those giros back to the motherland?

But then the moment passes and the store is just a store, and I am grateful that it's still there—even if it's still strange to think of myself in the mami role, instead of as the girl in the stroller, curious and alive and hanging onto mami's every word.


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