Cancellations

Mythili is eight. She’s named after an amazing woman who speaks three languages with the fluency of a native speaker, two of which my Mythili will never know.

I came home a bit early tonight. My oldest, Isabella, named after my sister, walked the eight blocks necessary to meet me after tutoring so we could find her some semi-leather boots that match mine. Isabella is almost ten. She can just about fit into half of my clothes and has a much keener sense of fashion than me. I don’t know how I’d shop without her.

I was home early tonight because my life revolves around cancellations. Cancel the job I’ve loved and lived for for seven years. Cancel the program for which I sacrificed everything. Cancel my private English tutoring sessions on a weekly basis, because for you it is a bonus, a brief education. For me? Just another cancellation of my semi-automatic life.

Time is money. I say this now because cancellations can be golden.

These are the words I heard tonight, as Mythili voluntarily read books to her baby sister:

“Mama, did you realize the Statue of Liberty was built in 1826?” (Isabella)

(Mythili from other room): “1886, I read 1886!”

(Me, in same moment, recalling the specific childhood memory: 1986. Age eight. Trip planned to New York City for grand celebration of one hundredth anniversary [July 4, 1986] of said statue. Mother and father holding my hands in their hands to break to me: “We’re going to have to cancel this trip. Your surgery is scheduled for that week.”)

“Isabella, it was 1886.”

Riona, the Irish queen, as diplomatic as her regal name: “Mythili, where are those boats going?”

“They’re trying to get the best view of the statue. Remember this summer, at Jimmy’s house, we were on the mainland? But then we took the boat from one island to another to get the best view? Remember, Riona? They built the statue on an island.” (She refers to our summer trip, my cousin Jimmy’s house in New Jersey, the pain of my most recent Spanish cancellation so painfully present that the Staten Island free ferry was the only possible way to see Lady Liberty).

This is why we are here. In five years, they will read about the Romans. They will say, “Remember when we went to the Roman theatre in Cartagena?”

They will study Druids. “Remember when we visited Stonehenge?”

They will chew paella. “Remember the gambas?

They will be these small children, grown so grand, their life filled with cancellations. They will remember their parents’ hands on theirs, age eight. How they loved and hated Spain. How they cried, laughed, lived.

They will remember.

The Seedling of this Cycle

To clip your shoes into these pedals, you’d better take that fear you’ve carried around all your life and bury it at the bottom of your heart. It will pound against your chest in a rush of adrenaline stronger than the blinking red light that lines your helmet and warns every car in town that you are on your way, that you will circle into that roundabout with death at your wheels, and that they’d better yield or someone’s getting fucked.

To clip your shoes into these pedals, you’d better keep your mouth closed and your mind open. You will have to stop every few hundred feet for a pedestrian who jolts out between cars, for a light that intermittently changes to red but only for one direction of traffic, and for a society that prefers feet on the ground over feet inside cycling shoes. You may think that the road rage of your previous life has a presence here, but your language is too foreign for their ears to comprehend, and your Americanized version of right-of-way will never fly with this set of Spaniards.

To clip your shoes into these pedals, you’d better learn how to ride the wrong way on a one-way street. Forget smooth sidewalks or bike paths–they are filled with sneakers and strollers. You will need the road at your wheels, your heels, spinning beneath those pedals in its smooth, cracked, gutter-ridden, bus-polluted, fountain-lined surrealistic view of life.

To clip your shoes into these pedals, you must recall your numbers. They will blend together like the apartment buildings, pisos, escaleras, and disappearing miles on a bike computer that has been jolted out of place from so many lockings and unlockings, so that its measurements are lost along with the trail of tears that has carried you across the sea.

To clip your shoes into these pedals, you must forget all the reasons that brought you onto this route and remember all the reasons you will ride your bicycle back home. You are not commuting. You are not joy riding. You are, with every wintry breath you pull into your lungs, the same person you were when the seedling of this cycle first sprouted in your heart.

To clip your shoes into these pedals, you must be yourself. The cyclist. The fanatic. The mother, the teacher, the lover, the poet. All of these rest along that metal incision at the bottom of your shoes, tightened with expert tools, holding you to that magical piece of machinery that is everything you are, have been, and ever will be.

The View from My Window

The view from my window is not quite the beauty I imagined, years ago. It didn’t come with a famous creative writing disclaimer: “This isn’t good enough!” It is streaked with bits of cloud and greasy rain that clings to the single panes in a mockery of winter.

Red tile roofs? Can I have me some Spanish red tile roofs? If I squint, and look several blocks down from my level three piso, I can see a few, scattered just as intermittently as the palm trees in this on-the-fringe, immigrant-ridden neighborhood.

Instead? Run-down row homes, cracked walls along a courtyard aching for maintenance, its sad sprouts of wishing-to-flower plants drooping like withered beans in the midst of a seasonal downpour that they were not prepared to encounter. The street bleeds with life from the early hours of the morning, first with traffic on this central artery leading to downtown, and then earlier in the morning with partyers who linger like plaque along the corner capillaries, trying to sober up after visiting the nightclub down the block. Painted-white aluminum Persian blinds block out most of the windows in my view, their attempt to trap in warmth and keep out the evils of a steady rain as pathetic as a surrender flag held up by a villain still holding a knife, ready to strike.

The inner courtyard speaks a slightly different story. Yes, the rain has reached here too, but with a different set of fingertips. It drips from the metal clothes racks, the nylon lines, and soaks through freshly-washed laundry, its pungent smell, aching of wet sidewalks and age, present on t-shirts and pants when, hours later, we will lay them out in front of the tiny space heater, homemade dryer number two, to force them wearable. But the courtyard itself? It sings with craving-for-rain plants from our neighbors below, with the chirping of caged birds who share stories with our whistles, with the clinking of plates from the sacred three-p.m. meal.

The view from my window in this small city in Spain is not what I thought it would be. There are no waves, no clear vistas of mountain peaks, no perfectly clipped palms to remind me that I live in paradise. So it is when we imagine our dreams, too perfect for their reality upon accomplishment. But as I rise this morning to rewash our rain-soaked sheets, to sit under layers of blankets with my hoodie on, my hot Macbook keeping my legs warm, my youngest popping out of her bedroom to share my covers, the clouds retreat, a quilt of gray tinged with the pink perfection of a late-morning sunrise, and I know, despite the tainted view, that this is still my home.

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