Thursday, February 21, 2013

The question

It’s raining. My first day in Montevideo, and it’s raining. I have a bloated suitcase, stuffed with sundresses, and I'm certain it will rain every day forever. I’ve brought all the wrong things. I brought a power adaptor for Europe, which is, of course, useless here.

I knew my Spanish was below toddler level, but I sound brain damaged, even to myself. The accent here is an ocean, a hemisphere away from Spain. 

My plane was late by several hours, so I had to take a cab from the airport. The amount the driver took from me seemed to bear no relation to the numbers on his meter. I don't know if I've been fleeced or not, but it's almost to be expected, a rite of passage in a new country.

These are small things. I have a place to stay, with a woman I met for the first time last night. 

A single bed, a desk. My own bathroom at the top of the stairs. 

I walk out into the rain, into the gray, gritty neighborhood. A van stops and hard-looking men in t-shirts muster out. They carry guns. I don't know what kind of guns they are, but the barrels are long. They hold them diagonally across their bodies, pointed down. It seems they're protecting a man who disappears into a cambio to my left. I pause for a moment until they seem to have settled into position, then walk by them, trying to look nonchalant.

Why the fuck am I here? Why did I come all this way, with my bulging suitcase? Why did I leave everyone I know and love? I don’t even speak the language. I’m ridiculous, too old for this sort of adventure. All the explanations I’ve given seem thin and self-conscious, now.

There are more men with guns in the little market. These men are wearing different uniforms, long sleeves. I have to edge by one. He smiles.

I know almost nothing about this place. 

The woman I'm staying with asks me what I mean to do here. Write? I say to her. I gesture. See the city?

"If I'm lonely"

This is what the tattoo says on my left shoulder. "If I'm lonely..." Day before yesterday, in Miami, a flirtatious boy on a boat said, "You'll never be lonely." 

It sounded like a curse. He didn't know, loneliness is what I want. What I need. It's when I get deep in, when I've felt it all through my body like grief, when I get down underneath it--that's when I find true things to write.

The tattoo begins on my left shoulder, then flows onto my back. The last four words are on my right forearm, so I can see it, remind myself.

If I'm lonely
it's with the rowboat ice-fast on the shore
in the last red light of the year
that knows what it is, that knows it's neither
ice nor mud nor winter light
but wood, with a gift for burning.

I don't know if I'll ever have a simple answer for why I'm here. But I'm here anyway.