Los últimos días

14 December 2011 § Leave a comment

there’s a girl whose name I do not know singing in the next computer lab. I see her at school often, and even more on the road many of the students walk to and from their tico host family’s homes. Their homes. Our homes. I see her at night at school, long after most people have gone home, coming out of the bathroom with a sad look on her face, or walking out of the mac labs  with the same look. I never know if she’s happy or sad or ambivalent or suffering or having the time of her life. I’ve never asked. But right now she’s tapping her long, skinny fingers on the desk and singing at the screen with the sort of abandon most of us reserve for the shower, or the car on the highway during a road trip through a state where no one will write home about how badly we sing. She reminds me of someone I once knew well, someone whose insecurities were as apparent as that she hadn’t looked in the mirror that morning, and if she had, she didn’t like what she saw. The sad thing is that nearly everyone I know in Costa Rica is flying back to the States in the next 48 hours, and come Saturday afternoon, I’m going to be on my own again, melting into the travelmode I’ve balanced with everyday life for the past couple of months.

Mamatica told me that I could stay until New Year’s, if I wanted to, and I thanked her and said I’d at least be around until the Osa Peninsula trip I’m taking with Rainier, my semi-formal Spanish teacher, and Mel, my tico brother, with whom I’ve seen a couple of hammering metal shows so far, and with whom I would like to return to San Jose in February to see Dimmu Borgir. It’s been some years since I’ve seen the black metal outfit that defined the beginnings of my love for metal, and things are cyclical, so I wouldn’t mind doing a so-many-years-later reunion show. Club Pepper’s, in San Jose, is my favorite venue since The Culture Room in Fort Lauderdale, or The Launchpad in Albuquerque, in terms of sound quality. The guys running the desk and stage at Pepper’s are efficient and consistent.

These last few days of school, typically known as Finals Week where I come from, Universidad is all but haunted by stressghosts of rich art students and nervous Americans missing home. The labs shut down promptly at 8 p.m., so the tall skinny girl and I will have to bail soon, to find some going-away party in the sidewalk cracks with free beer and Aesop Rock spinning records and wheels in the dead-end streets. We’ll have to forget about all the nonsense and the filtering of friends, because everything has been in a reluctant fast forward, but for a few weeks in the middle where things finally started to seem normal and settled and some of us actually started to like it here. We’ll pick apart the segments and the people we like, and gently dismiss those we met but never took the time to get to know, or wrote off immediately because they walked into our room during a party with their bad energy and arrogance, introduced themselves and sent a text, all from the foot of our paperscattered bed. Whatever the case, it’s a small school where everyone has seen each other and said hi at least once to everyone else, the ticos and the international students and the thick bold line between them, and the few brave souls that reached over with their respective foreign languages, however undeveloped, to form something tangible, even if it was for only a few minutes, or over a few beers, to communicate. This is not the end of an era: this is just the beginning.

The kids will go back home, to their winters and their families and what boyfriends and girlfriends they may still have, if they didn’t betray them with the sin of blind or drunk adventuring in faraway Costa Rica, and see then what they learned in the tropics. Some will talk about all the beer they drank, about how, one time, when a girl refused to take another shot, he kicked her in the knees (it was a joke, I promise!) and in her surprise, poured tequila down her throat. Others might remember a waterfall, and wonder if what they felt at the bottom of that cliff in Arenal was really real, or still applies to them at home. It does. Maybe some people learned a bit of Spanish and will take it home and never speak it again. After all, they might live in Minnesota or South Dakota and may never need it again. And that’s okay.

A few of us are straggling behind, hesitant (or just plain scared) to return to the culture which raised us, the one we’ve found so many flaws in since we’ve been gone from it, ready to partake in some serious traveltime, or with our families, or simply because we don’t know if we’ll ever return here, and we need an extra week to say goodbye. I have four months to say my goodbyes. I’m at my halfway point, an arbitrary destination where I have to gather up my things and move again to yet another, and another, until I find something that I find joy in, or someone else to spend a mountaintop sunrise with. There’s thrill in that, and the uncertainty that it will ever happen again is what drives me out of my dreams and onto another bus from the dirty city to the great heights and tranquil beaches and the jungles in between them. One person’s projected fear might keep me out of a certain country until someone else tells me that it’s beautiful. How can I then pass it up? How can you turn your back on beauty? Is the world full of it, or is there only so much, so you’d better take the opportunity as it comes? According to Trap City Real Estate, Every Thing Is Beautiful. I’m willing to accept that. I’ve seen a lot lately.

Tomorrow night is my program’s farewell dinner, likely at some expensive restaurant in Curridabat, to send us off in style, to talk about what we did and who we liked and who we didn’t and what we’re going back to, and how different it may be from what we left. But likely, it’ll just be a dinner between a few students whose friendships may or may not have survived three months in a country where we’ve all coped with not belonging in different ways.

There’s a small number of people I care to see before they leave, and even fewer who I care to spend time with before we’re to say goodbye. It’s been a good time. It hasn’t been great. But I’m one more semester down, halfway through my sophomore year in university, and taking a break for the spring to do some exploring. Figure out what I want. Find myself. you know, all that average-white-U.S. American-traveler cliché. But some of that’s me, and I feel right doing it, so let me. Eventually I’ll come around, and settle in to a city where I have a good job and a good relationship and a car that works and a credit card and a dog and a box of granola next to the flax seed and the vegan recipe book, which I’ll have bought as a joke on myself, and listen to an ipod during the day and check my facebook to tell you what I’m doing that day and upload pictures of my meals and my drinks and start writin lk ths bcuz i mis b-ing 13 n i 4got evrythin i lrnd in scool. I’ll go to work every day at 9 a.m. and eat Applebee’s for lunch and grab a Coors at the bar on the way home to my happy little family behind the picket fence in suburbia.

And one night, I’ll light a match, and leave again by moonlight, because that world is not the one to which I will belong, or have ever (though I couldn’t yet name you the one to which I do). I’ll go and look for it again, whatever it is I haven’t yet found, in the Congo or Malawi or Bali, Nepal or Bhutan, maybe another trip to Iceland, or by then I’ll be able to travel to the Hindu Kush and hike around until my eyes go blind from the epic landscapes that photographs couldn’t capture without a time machine and a sense of forever clipped onto the outside of my backpack.

Then I’ll be home again, hoping that you won’t worry if I’m doing okay or not, because I’m great, and this is what I needed, but hoping too that you will worry a little bit, because I do remember what you said, and I think about it sometimes, and don’t have to shake the thought from my head because it doesn’t hurt anymore to think about it, in fact it’s kind of nice to remember where I started from, and call it home, or something like it, and know that as long as I spend enough time away from the northern lights and mountains’ majesty, they’ll be there for me when I return, in the form of a high spring tide or midnightsummerlight, a fire up in the pass, or a chance to see the rapids that almost killed me once again. And then I’ll pick up the phone, and do something extraordinary.

until then.


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