It’s a sudden moment, that when chronology acquires relevance. When it’s evident that there are less days ahead than those already lived. So we said goodbye and I wondered if it was the last time, or just like the summer, there’d be more like it. There will, but will we still be around?
As I dove into the station, to catch the downtown-bound to my life, I wondered if there’d be another train to lead us back to this moment, when we were together and things felt alright. Or like lives already spent, the time we had is the only time we’ll have for keepsake?
If that’s so, did we really took it all in, and got to the bottom of each feeling, and sucked every last juicy drop of our shared experience as much as we possibly could? Or rather, should we feel now fulfilled that we did what anyone probably would?
It’s very likely that I’ll find myself back at that corner of 8th Ave, thinking about that night we promised we’d always be there for each other, no matter what, even if no one should promise that, even if we didn’t actually utter any vow that we’d at least try it.
And it’s also possible that such a sharp as nails moment will no longer have its place. We may embrace again, sooner than even we’d hoped, faster than the feeling of loss had the chance to sink in. Given the time that has already passed, it’s unlikely, though. And yet, one wonders.
I know that this little movie will be playing in a loop for as long as my eyes will be able to open, and even if they won’t. And every time some detail of the moment will be missed, another will be incorporated to flesh out the bone dry part where memory keeps losing its grip.
Just like that perfect line we come up with while falling asleep, a sentence so bright and round and expressive to challenge our will to rest, for after all, it’s almost dawn and we haven’t really bat eyelids for more than a wink and there’s a full work day ahead and all that.
Or when, on the other bank of the night river, we’re waking up and shreds of an engaging dream still linger but inexorably fade, as we fight hard to keep it, as if slumber could be caught like a fish in the ocean. We fight but always lose and forget most of it. And what we commit to paper is a far cry from the relevance the dream seemed to carry.
We run with this mound of fine sand in our hands, trying to protect it so to form whatever vision we’d had at the shore. But it keeps sipping through our fingers, and dissipates like images dawn evokes, till there’s no speck left to build our castle. There’s no turning back for more; the moment, as its memory, no longer makes sense to the awaken mind.
Did we lived through it all as fully and deep as we should’ve? Or we’re bound to grieve over what it’s been wasted and starved from lack of our attention and care? Will we be forever thrown on this loop of flawed recollections, missing yet another link, hour after hour, moment upon moment, at every turn played over and again on our brains?
Will we see each other one more time? Should we wonder – as I do – whether we’re even entitled, by love forsaken right, to demand a recount, and have another shot, and see one last day rise by each other’s side? I sure hope we would, despite all other things that I also hope for, already knowing that I’m just fooling myself once more.
What was, has already been, I know, there are no reruns, for sure. We can’t go back in time beyond memory and remembrance. We may trust we did the best we could, knowing that we actually didn’t. Still, we’ve got to live with it, or forget all about it, but who really does that?
There, I did get up and screwed up my sleep, and will probably pay dearly for it, and for what? It’s not nearly as inspiring as it sounded back when I was ready to fall asleep. It didn’t dissolve my doubts or soothed my sense of loss. It didn’t even make me feel as if it was all worthwhile. Sleep would’ve definitely been more meaningful.
Still, will there be another time?
People who never turn anything off, including themselves, may not get it, but there’s such thing as doing nothing. In fact, if ‘power naps’ reset the brain and reboot entire systems within our body, then dropping it all and just staring at a wall should do wonders for anyone. Not us, though; we haven’t got the time. Maybe tomorrow.
It’d help if we could freeze the city over for one night, and walk the empty streets as if the sole survivors of a cataclysmic event. Precious moments of eerie stillness, with not a soul on sight and the hum of urban machines quieted down. Then again, we’d better watch out, lest not end up as another slaughtered stats in the evening news.
Even those who write best-sellers about the need to periodically drop out, when cameras and mikes are covered up, may not always be so pious on turning off their own phones. It’s the culture, we say, over the sounded-off broadcasts another boorish presidential statement. He’s like a sledge-hammer drill: pure atrocious noise.
Yet, there’s poetry in catching the automated world existing by itself, while its switch can still be turned off. When lights turn to green and there’s no car in a hurry to go anywhere. Being sleepy and bored used to be synonyms to lazy and spoiled, but new research sees them as crucial precondition to genius. Doing anything tonight?
Dreams often source new ideas, and may pop up right after we open up our eyes, from a minutes-long slumber. And the extreme restless from having nothing else to do has proven to be grounds to launching many a revolutionary take on the very concept of creating something out of thin air. Then again, we may always roll over and, well, doze off.
So what’s wrong with that? Ok, a lot, but also nothing too. These two extremes have argued from time immemorial and the likely reason why advocates for a 24/7 moto perpetuo seem to be winning is because most haven’t slept well in centuries. Again, the very idea of having a 24/7 society was probably dreamed by someone who’d just woken up.
I once went back to city I’d lived for years, without telling anyone. I’ve checked in at a lousy motel (another old wish) and wandered around as if it were my first time. It was exhilarating. I walked and walked as if wearing a mask, but looking over my shoulder Continue reading
The Woman Who Carried
a Son Who Still Carries Her
Gentle Maria Eva of Sagittarius could be a fitting epitaph gracing her tombstone. A code message to strangers to be. Yet, her repouse is all I need to hold a life that expired long ago – squeezed in my hands like wilted flowers and my own past-expiration heart.
At the graveside of an unknown child she chose to speak and weep for her own lost girl, while the boy pretended to pray, her tears dripped ever so tenderly onto the humid grass. At a corner inside me, I now quietly sip the brew of the 12 years since she’s gone.
We’re put to run all over the Earth, bouncing on edges of countries and tongues, yet we all come to dive into a hole on the ground, dug by the few who love us. Mariazinha was the unfinished symphony whose more touching segments were left to be written. Or heard. Or lived.
When she departed, that lifetime well was already open, on the same wall where her love already rested waiting on her. I’ve helped shove her brittle body and mind into that place, at the same echoing gallery we’d walked together just a few years earlier.
There lies the first of the many Marias that ruled my life, where I came from and one day will return. From that deep cave, she still looks after me, trying to honor the justice she longed so hard to shine on her own existence. The very first one, just like Eve, her fitting second name.
I once questioned how much of my mother I carried with me; now I’m not sure where she ended and I started. As my own well approaches, I hope she’ll ease me into the great unknown. It takes long to grow old, then we speed towards the end by receding back to the beginning.
I never gave her a Mother’s Day card, never once thought I was going
* Middle Brother
* Unanswerable Prayers
to miss her as I do the parts of me I no longer control. But here I am, wishing I could ask her, at least once, how come she’s now living inside me. Thus this post, this memento I won’t carry any longer with me.
Make room, mother, prepare my bed as you used to. Soon, I’ll be coming over for my last visit, even without being sure I’ll see you there. It won’t matter, I already have you within me, I already have you anytime. Happy may be your day of all the days that came and went. It won’t take long now, Mom. Love you.
Thanks to Him, I Got My
First Yellow Plastic Bus
Norris Coll would’ve been 68 today. Eighteen years since he’s gone, I still struggle to place his life in a coherent timeline, one that would make him justice, and ease my heartfelt emotions.
Fact is, I could never draw a decent portrait of my brother, whose sharp wit I still hear at times. Like a blade sliding through soft butter, even in the most casual of the moments, there was always a chance for bleedings.
And there were quite a few of them, along with flareups, recriminations, little betrayals, and several years squeezed between our times together and apart.
Fortunately, there were laughter too, and joy, and discoveries shared and explored. And much of what I am today, I thank to Dois, who at least once, played the big brother to my advantage, and chased some bullies away from me.
In the perforated fabric of my memories, none forms a complete picture, but many have an underlying narrative of challenge, of daring to be bold and get away with it, or almost. He certainly would’ve never looked back, like I’m doing now.
I was there the morning he got married by a judge. And we were together in the afternoon too, when he decided not to show up for his own wedding. Once he made up his mind, I couldn’t change it back.
Somehow, he made me his emissary to the puzzled guests crowding the sidewalk in front of the church. Even though I managed to face them all, I never had the guts to ask his wife why she stood by him as she did. Till the end.
There must be some measure of irony and good karma in the fact that their baby girl is now an accomplished trapezist, an aerial performer, and the only certified artist of the whole family.
In the early 1980s, we would often walk down a busy São Paulo avenue, smoking joints and watching thundering planes passing overhead on their way to land at his neighborhood airport.
That’s when his volatility would run the gamut, reaching its highest point even before a single airliner would touch down. But our sibling fights never lasted too long, and we’d wake up the next day with no hangovers.
Because we were so different, they could never be as vicious as the ones he battled with our old man, who was truly his double in candor
* Son & Sister
and determination. I’ll never know who broke the other one first, but neither quite recovered from their clashes.
In hindsight, he must’ve treasured our times together, as I did, since he always knew he could trust me like no one else. Things I’m telling you now I’ve told no soul for all these years. It was a thought I had the day I became ‘older’ than him, too.
We both also knew when the last of those times finally got behind us. We’ve cried our goodbyes in a cool hospital corner, a few months before he left us. He was gone before the first dawn of the 21th century.
It was the year my first born came to this world, and a decade from Dad’s own passing. Numbers can never make up for missing words, though. And about this great guy, there are so many. In all his youthful eloquence, when the end came, he didn’t care to say much.
We were with father once when I got one of the toys that defined my childhood, a bus. We used to make constant short trips to the countryside, where Dad would tend to small missions, as a pastor.
So I loved buses back then, and immediately got attracted to one at the children’s section. It was yellow and plastic and, gosh so simple, and so beautiful. Naturally, I had to have it. Not so, said Father Heitor.
That’s when Norris, still a teenager, stepped up and pleaded my case, saying something like, come on, Dad. I think that was my puppy eyes moment, because the pastor looked at me and actually asked me, do you really want this?
And how? I’ve kept it, and played with it even when it’d lost its wheels, was always covered in mud, and its once bright yellow had all but faded. I don’t think I ever got to thank my brother for such a gesture.
So, if you don’t mind, let me take this moment to say, thank you for that bus, Norris. Thank you for your life, for giving me this moment to share with the world, for having been such a loving and caring partner.
You’ll always be missed. Happy Birthday, my ‘little’ brother.
(*) Originally published on Oct. 4, 2012.
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.
A Brazilian’s Irrational Fear of
Argentina Winning the World Cup
They’ve called Porto Alegre the Argentine capital. As my love-hate for that city loses its balance, I can only muster, SHAME! Worse, they said it’s all the color blue’s fault. CHEATERS! I know who’s behind it: Big Red Internacional, who always dreamed of owning the color of the sky.
The game against Nigeria was the perfect excuse to do so (to humble us again, the cretins). While they took over the city, only to stage one more of their wins, we were being told that the old, vicious, healthy Brazil-Argentina rivalry was being called off, at least for now.
Then there are those claiming that cheering for Messi is rooting for beautiful football, and that in the end, it’s all for the common good of South America, you know, hermanos and all that. They don’t fool me, magnanimous phonies; I know what they’re after and it’s not the brotherhood of man.
It’s all done to mortify us, Grêmio supporters. The blue-covered Beira Rio stadium on TV, which thanks to ‘Colorado‘-lover President Rousseff, (there you go, Dilma-haters), has usurped the cup games from the Grêmio Arena, it gave me a funny knot in my throat. Not many red shirts amidst that iced blue sea.
Well, I didn’t spot a striped jersey of the ‘Musketeer‘ one either, even thought some Southerners do consider themselves more ‘gaúchos’ than ‘cariocas,’ which is how the Hispanic networks used to call them little Canaries (they’ve stopped now, it seems). Again, no one use the bird’s name for the Brazilian team anymore.
A TAINTED FEELING LIVES ON
I too was an Argentinophile once, at least culturally, up to the time of their military coup. But a lot of what I still admire about the ‘Platenses,’ Piazzolla, Borges, the pain of lost souls, have always been a cherished part of me, way more than the Carnival in Rio. Now, wear the shirt? I’d rather get lost at La Boca.
I’d wear the Netherlands‘ beautiful blue jersey, though, or even Ivory Coast’s. (Funny that I used to like the Santos FC white uniform, but I think it was religious coercion then.) All the blue I’ve always loved never included the Alvi-Celeste, the one that battered us so badly through the years.
Specially when worn by that evil genius, dark soul Maradona. Again, rooting for him is like rooting for football, et al. I don’t sell myself that cheap. It just makes me jealous, of course, not of them having had him and having Messi now. But for me being absent while the Dutch cover in orange Portinho, which is also how no one calls Porto Alegre anymore.
I’ll live, though. Too creaky to turn down my deep-seated ‘principles.’ No, not humanity, universal love, or goodwill toward human brotherhood. I’ve traded those a long time ago, probably in exchange for some instant and temporary thrill. Continue reading
When Miniskirts Could
Land Young Girls in Jail
In the summer of 1967, these two young women decided to take a stroll in Porto Alegre, south Brazil, sporting the latest fashion apparel of the time, the miniskirt. Mary Quant‘s greatest contribution to the world, hardly a year old by then, was all the rage in the Swinging London of the 1960s as it was in New York, Paris, even Rio de Janeiro.
But not in Porto Alegre, apparently. Their pioneering spirit and sense of style got all but lost to the small crowd that Continue reading