This is Summer: Season Six {Episode 37}

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San Fran layover

Handshake headquarters, this view

City all around

~Natalia

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One by One

It’s been rather a long while since I came here to write. This is mostly due to the fact that I went to WOW Camp, Guatemala, and California in nearly consecutive weeks, leaving me not only with limited time in which to write, but also too few moments to think about all the many things that I could write about, tell you about.

I sometimes come to a quiet moment, a time that seems made for writing, a time when I pull my computer onto my lap and open the WordPress page. But I don’t go farther than that, often, because I can’t remember what I told you about WOW Camp, and I know we’ve barely spoken about Guatemala, and then there was California, and I’m not even sure what was important, what I loved, what I want to tell you, about each of those unique sets of seven days.

Seven days WOW.

Seven days Guatemala.

Seven days California.

Twenty-one days with hours and hours inside each day; hours to live and breathe and see and work and learn and grow and wonder.

And I’ve no idea what to tell you.

I’d like to know. I’d like to know what was important, what I’ll return to again and again; what I’ll come back to these pages to read over once more.

But I don’t. Yet.

That takes reflection, I suppose. Time to sit and think, scribble notes in the notebook of life and thoughts and dreams and prayers that I’ve carried to each place, tucked in my backpack, yet not opened.

And maybe, after this week of second grade Vacation Bible School, after another seven days in Michigan, I’ll have the stories and the pictures and the words will take shape in this WordPress box, forming the shapes and the grooves, the bumps and the corners of the days I’ve lived.

Maybe, after yet more days, I’ll shake the dice of all these trips, roll all the days and the words and the scene out before me, and they’ll come out arranged, aligned, in order; a large straight.

Or maybe they won’t.

Stories might appear one by one, disordered, jumbled together yet clear in their own. And I’ll consider them, carry them around with me like the pennies I keep in my coat pocket. I’ll turn them over and over in my hands, weigh them, think about them.

And piece by piece, I’ll write them here. For me, and for you.

~Natalia

Returned: Lake Tahoe Edition

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Baldwin Beach

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Lake Tahoe Visitors Center

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~Natalia

Worlds

Machete swinging, back bent over logs twice as tall as me.

Feet the kind of dirty that sinks into my skin, sap stains from the wood stand out, darker still, on my ankles.

Skin fair, pale in comparison to the millions around me, I stand out in the streets. Whistles I ignore. I meet the curious, sometime apprehensive gazes of the women, the children. Smile, nod, wave, sometimes.

Spanish the soundtrack of my days, I’m aware, attentive to language barriers around me. Listening for new words, phrases, I translate for those who speak less than I do, spend the hours mentally reviewing my own mistakes, cataloguing ways I can improve yet more.

Ladle in hand, I scoop black beans into bowl after bowl. Tens, sometimes hundreds of children pass the table, dark fingers offering me their dishes; I greet them, pausing a moment as the savory beans settle into their dishes. I meet their eyes, trade words like handshakes, repetitive yet unique, and then they move on.

Guatemala.

The air is calm as I walk home, and I sink, a little relieved, into the anonymity of one among diversity. Yet I’ve traded the excuse to cordiality in exchange for this ability to blend, and nearly alone on a wide, quiet street, I pass others almost awkwardly; I don’t know where to look, and here we don’t greet.

There’s English, of course, but I catch myself creating Spanish responses in my mind, feeling mildly unsettled, paranoid that I might forget what I know, that I might lose words that rarely grace my tongue.

There are buildings all around, tracing the backbone of the lake. The clouds feel higher, my own vantage point lower, less like a bird, more like a mouse.

That’s Chicago.

Tomorrow, it’s another plane. Another ascent, rising higher, far beyond the flat underbelly of fat white clouds. Another descent, the rush of the plane roaring down the runway, brakes heavily engaged, in the fleeting moments after landing.

Tomorrow, it’ll be mountains once more, this time Californian peaks forming a green ring around Lake Tahoe.

And there will be cousins, aunts, uncle, grandparents. Beach days on the hot sun, alongside brilliant blue, toe-chilling water.

That’ll be Tahoe.

And it’s 2am on the one day spent between two other worlds, and the thread I find, the thread I pull and hold fast to, pulling it like a uniting line between Guatemala, Chicago, Tahoe, is the bunkbed I occupy every night.

Guatemala, Chicago, California: we eat and we live and we sleep. And all these places, all these worlds, I climb, late, into the top bunk, pulling blankets to my shoulders. And my ear pressed to the mattress, I imagine I can hear- or maybe I really do- the breathing of the ones beneath me, the ones living, sleeping, around me.

~Natalia

Never The Same as Right Now

Tomorrow marks one month that I have been home.

One month of top bunk sleeping, little sisters in their big bed below, sprawled on pink comforters in the increasing summer heat.

One month of pouring cereal in the morning, sitting two seats down at the dining table because there are high chairs princess chairs are scattered around the wooden table.

One month of walking along Sheridan road to work in the evenings, threading through Northwestern’s campus, eyes behind sunglasses watching students and employees stepping briskly through their own to-do lists.

One month of church on Sunday morning, front row balcony in the same random lineup every week: sister, brother, sister, sister, on down the line.

One month of summer.

In three weeks, really even less, there will be last minute packing (really though, all of our packing is last minute), loading suitcases into the church trailer, settling in for the six-hour ride to WOW Camp.

A mere five days after that return, I’ll pack donations, slide passport into my backpack, hold my breath in excitement as the plane takes off for a week in Guatemala.

After that adventure, I’ve time to take a breath, wash laundry, oversee the sisters packing, before rolling down the jet bridge once again; this time with the family, this time for a week with the cousins, the grands, the aunts and uncles amongst the trees, mountains, glorious blue sky of Lake Tahoe.

Vacation Bible School follows, Sunday night prepping my classroom, hanging name tags on the wall, rehearsing lessons and underlining notes for a week of 2nd Grade teaching.

Classroom cleaned, children hugged, prayed over, we’re in the car, eight hours through Wisconsin this time, to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Eight days of boating, hiking, reading, playing, laughing, eating now with the other cousins, a yearly highlight we’ve been counting down to since last year’s trip ended.

Then, like that, I’ll be back at school, moving the contents of my bins back into those old desk drawers, hanging my wardrobe once again in that deep, scuffed up closet.

And summer will be over.

I’ve overwhelmed myself, telling you all that. Not because it’s so much, but because I know it will all go so very fast.

I think that’s why I wanted to tell you, too; that’s why I wanted to write it all down, talk it out, make it real. Because trips will come in the blink of an eye, and they’ll end that fast, too, and I want to remember to cherish what I’m doing now.

I want to be wherever I am, happily.

I want to do whatever it is that I am called upon to do, contentedly.

Every day, no matter how commonplace.

Every task, no matter how much I’d prefer to move forward, look forward, be forward.

Because after these tasks come more, and after these days come others,

and it’ll never be quite the same as it is right now.

~Natalia

Baseball in March

Years ago, March 2009, we flew to California. The whole family, little ones two and three years old; chubby little Latinas with round cheeks and wispy black ponytail sprouts. Stevy was not yet in high school, I was making my way through my junior year. We flew, family of six with just about that many suitcases, and we spent two weeks in the crisp, sunny air of Northern California in spring.

Not 24 hours after bumping to the ground, taxiing down the runway lined with palm trees and grass that would only be green until the summer sun had its withering way, we descended onto the baseball field. We arrived with the grandparents, piling out of the new minivan, rough towels lining tan seat cushions under the child carseats that belonged to me, years before. We arrive, and, moments later, done with work for the evening, an aunt arrives, too. She pulls into the parking lot behind us, ever-present turtle decal on her darkly tinted windshield. Then we’re there in the parking lot, exchanging greetings and hugs, her subtle French manicure clicking against her sunglasses as she slides them atop her head.

The cousins are already at the field. Three cousins, another aunt, the uncle. Two of the cousins run to the edge of the grass, wait to greet us. Mia is 10, Teo almost eight, and there’s a flurry of hugs again. We laugh, aww, as the little ones hug Teo; at five years older, he is the only cousin they have whose age is remotely close to theirs, and it’s sweet to see them together.

Moving across the grass, towards where aunt and uncle have arranged a blanket on the grass, Mia points across the field, the vibrant green grass waving in the evening wind under her fingers. We’ve come to watch her older brother, Marc, play baseball, and we lean around her, standing there in the grass, and we sift through fifteen pre-teens in matching uniforms until we find a familiar face. Then he’s seen us, and we’re waving to our cousin from across the field while he practices catching ground balls and pop flies.

The baseball diamond is small, but the field around it stretches far, and the girls, the cousins, run, spin, chase, crawl, laugh, while Marc’s team takes turns at bat, in the field, at bat once more. The grandparents alternately sit in the folding chairs we’ve brought along and stand on the grass, watching. They watch the cousins play, their amusement at piggy back rides gone wrong and the resulting harmless tumble mixing with faint sadness that this only happens once a year. The three sisters, the aunts and my mother, stand around the blanket, catching up. I’m the oldest cousin, the first to grow, and I’ve begun to walk the line between playing with the cousins and conversing with the adults, working to pull myself up to their level. But Mia, Teo, play with the girls, and Stevy wanders, snapping pictures of the game, the players, the chain-link that separates spectators from players. So I lie there on the blanket and watch.

Now, it’s March 2014. I’m a junior again, this time in college, working hard to finish even as I watch the days of my college career slip past me at breakneck speed. Once again, March found me in California. The same sleek van (minus the toweled seats) rolling through the airport pick-up line. The same eye-catching green grass, remarkable for its color, but also for it’s very existence. It’s been a cold, icy, white winter in Chicago. The same grandparents, aunts, uncle, and cousins. The same baseball league; Saturday evening games sending pop flies and the occasional foul ball soaring into the setting orange sun.

The same, but different. This March, there are no little sisters running around the field, no Stevy photographing blades of grass from artistic angles. No mother chatting with her sisters. These weeks are my trip alone, and what I vaguely imagined when I was younger has become my reality: I am the sole representative of my Little Family here, right now, and I’m richly heavy with connections with the adults- the aunts, uncle, grandparents- and those younger than me, my cousins. The baseball games are Teo’s now, and sitting in the stands, I’m between uncle and Mia, aunt and grandparents sitting in front me, perched on the lower levels of the cold metal bleachers.

But just as I grew up, so too did everyone else. Marc is a junior in high school now himself. He plays water polo and shows me pictures of the college tours he went on earlier in the year. He has plans and dreams and goals and earlier in the day, his father at home grilling, he drove Mia and me to Safeway in his jeep, where we hurried through the aisles, throwing ketchup, potato salad into a basket. Mia and Teo, are grown, too, and we’re friends and cousins, and sitting there on the bleachers, we pass sunflower seeds back and forth from aunt, Marc, Mia, myself, to uncle and back again. And we pass the conversation, the jokes, the laughter, too, while the floodlights above us take over for the setting sun and the umpire calls strikes as the bat whiffs through the air.

~Natalia

Scenes from Spring Break {Another Season Ends}

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Santa Cruz Boardwalk Giant Dipper roller coaster with the cousins, the aunt and uncle.

I flew across snowy mountain ranges

glowing graph-paper cities

and long rivers twisting along valley floors

and now I’m cross-legged at my school-issued desk,

the city, air cold and crisp, behind me.

Classes begin again tomorrow,

and there is no waiting, no hesitating, after break.

I’ve things to do.

But of course, they’re not life or death,

and I know life is bigger than paper, presentation, deadline,

and I wouldn’t be surprised if you heard more stories here

about two weeks in second grade,

grandhouse almost to the foothills,

and weekends with the cousins.

~Natalia

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