The Day I’ve Landed & the One
Question I’ve Been Always Asked
People like round numbers and big ‘Os’ are all the rage. Birthdays and anniversaries seem much louder if the date ends with a zero. But not me, I like fractured numbers. Evens are fine, but the odd ones hold a special slot on my book. Like 29, for instance.
It’s been that many years since I’ve arrived in Manhattan, in what was supposed to be a short season at the center of the world, and turned into the skin of a lifetime. 29 was also my roll call in grade school, before a classmate whose initial was ‘Y’.
Just don’t ask about primes. For this special relationship with digits may be also why two major areas of the human experience have always been hostile to me: Math and lotto. Neither did me any favors, despite the fact that it’d love to be their pets. Numbers are cold that way.
While that’ll likely to remain the same, the New York where I’ve landed has changed many times over, though. And so have I, who lived, died, and reincarnated into so many different lives, none of which I’ve ever thought I’d pick, inherit, own. There may be some stats for those odds.
Here I’ve fell out of love, and fell right back in again; had a few changes of heart, and had it broken many times too, twice over losing my cats, all the while switching my tongue and aging into a cranky old man.
Departed parents, and a brother, and a few friends, could not inform the transformation taking place outside my sore eyes. But all it takes is a glance of that shrinking face staring back at me to see I was not spared: soon enough, my number too will be up.
I got to say, all these pretty pics of Rio and its games, being shown nightly, have made me jealous. A life can be crammed into a few strokes; any body can be stuffed into a piece of luggage. It’s what seeps through and stains the pavement that attracts notice.
I’ve always thought that my footprints were going to lead me all the way back to the Marvelous City. But now it’s another place oblivious to my run. In the end, 29 may number the things I did good while calculating the odds. I can’t think of a single one right now, though.
Why did I leave? I was asked over and over. When I was done dismissing it, I tried to settle the matter. At some point, I wrote a short essay about it. That’s what I’m sharing with you today. Hey, happy anniversary of my trip across the ocean. I have no regrets.
I left Brazil because I used to feel like a foreigner. Born in Rio but raised in the South, my accent sounds alien. A friend defined it for me, ‘you speak like someone who’s on the go.’ Years of living abroad have certainly not improved my situation. Most likely, I’m forgotten to all but a few, and to most, I never even existed. I left Brazil because we did not speak the same language.
I left Brazil, in part, because my name triggered jokes and personal grief. It’s not Brazilian enough, and people looked funny at me pronouncing it. Spelling mistakes plagued me whenever it there was a form to fill. Worse, some would size me up, suspicious that it was a ploy. As if Dad — an Episcopalian Reverend in a mostly Catholic country — had committed an act of sedition by calling us Norton, Norris, Wesley, and Joyce Mag. And I had to pay for his treason. I had to leave Brazil before someone accused me of unbrazilian activities.
I also left my country because, while most Brazilians are of mixed race, no one likes to admit it. Hot-iron treatment remains a staple of inner city beauty parlors. Living in the South didn’t help it either. Down there, the majority is of European heritage — have you heard of someone named Giselle something? For my blond, blue-eyed class, I was neither white nor black. ‘With a foot in Africa’, they would add, heavy on the innuendo. That I’ve been proud of my black blood was never the case. I had to leave Brazil after one too many, ‘Go back to Africa!’
I had to leave Brazil because Brazilian music is seldom heard on the radio. The country’s exquisite music tradition is today unfashionable. This may sound like whining. Whether contemporary music in Brazil is in a regressive mode or I am the one getting older and cranky, is irrelevant. As an experiment, round up a group of jazz players and question them about their favorite music. I assure you, four out of five will pick Brazilian. Do the same in Brazil and chances are, Justin and Eminem or Kanye will top the list. Not offense but I forced myself to leave Brazil so to enjoy and play Brazilian music.
Finally, I had to leave Brazil because I was unhappy. Simply put, I had a good job but had no money. I was close to family and friends but getting farther and farther from my dreams, which I sill have plenty, thanks for asking. Traveling and living abroad was in one of my first to-do lists, compiled while still in school. I had acquaintances telling me, ‘you lucky bastard, got a good job and a good woman; you’re set for life. Why leave?’ I’ve given myself the right to disagree. I left the job but kept the woman. Most come to America to find themselves. I had to leave Brazil to get lost.