You either believe in signs or don’t. It’s that simple for me. Maybe we all look for signs, but only some of us admit it. I have always looked for signs in the universe, my neck craned, and eyes squinted. The world one giant magic eight ball. I no longer scavenger the world before me like a giant I SPY book. But, as I wade through the ebbs and flow of life, the signs bob up to the surface, unexpected, but connected bits.
Throughout this past week Colombia has haunted my memories more than normal. As if, my soul and bones are in conversation behind my back, and Colombia whispers to them both.
The early days of September, as a teacher and a mother of two, a marker for me, back to school season. Much of my time spent lost in the world of lesson plans and bright chart markers, and filling out forms, and asking my daughter and son about their new teachers. But, today I realized September makes me lonesome for Colombia too. As I walked down the block of my building, I noted the browning of the tree leaves, and my eyes longed for another tree. Las palmeras de Colombia. Countless months of September, spent as a child, homesick for Colombia, summers in Barranquilla, the fireworks and hot dogs of my American childhood.
In mathematics, two angles that are said to coincide fit together perfectly. The word “coincidence” does not describe luck or mistakes. It describes that which fits together perfectly. –Wayne Dyer
Since they are no coincidences, just angles that coincide, not stunned in the least that Colombia began to do more than whisper. It tapped my shoulder. And when I turned, I saw Colombia everywhere.
Late night last Sunday, my husband and I sat down to watch the new season of Narcos. Excited to watch the third season, my VONA sis, Tabitha and I, hatched plans the week before to write separate essays about the show, and what it stirred up for us as Colombian-Americans. Ruben and I saw the first two episodes. My eyes on the screen, I watched the Colombia of the 90’s unfold before me. He watched his past erupt in front of him, as Colombia’s long history with violence played out on the screen. Saddened by how Colombia rested in our hearts, I watched him turn off Netflix and flip to CNN. American news has always given him solace, despite the current state of our government.
Monday, Mami called me breathless, her loud siren voice, louder.
“Que fue?” I shouted into the phone. My mind went straight to Papi, was he dead? Had he fallen? Something was wrong.
“Nada, calmate.” Mami said, and rushed ahead. “I looked at my savings account book. You know the money I have in Colombia.”
“Yes,” I said and thought of Mami’s dream casa in Colombia, that never was. The last time she was there, a little over a decade, Mami had opened a savings account, a nest egg. Mami had not anticipated Papi’s diagnosis with dementia, and his declined health, so soon after that last trip.
“I want you go to Colombia for me. So, that you can take the money out for me.” Mami voice small. “I don’t want to lose the little bit I have. Yo a perdido todo.”
“But when?” School had just started, my next time off would be in December. Tickets to Colombia for Christmas were astronomical.
“Find out what we need to do so we can make this happen.” Mami said. “Will you go?”
I thought of the seventeen years that wedged themselves between Colombia and I. Of course I’d go. “Claro,” I said. And the pictures a writing friend from hispanedotes.com, had posted these last two weeks, from his trip to Colombia flashed before me. I imagined the captions of my posts, and licked my lips in anticipation of, arroz de coco y mojara frita.
“Maybe you and Ruben could go?” Mami echoed my worry.
I had never been to Colombia alone.
Once off the phone with Mami, I called Ruben. “Hey, I just spoke to, mi Mama.” I took a deep breath before I spoke. Unspoken, this dream seemed possible. “She wants me to go to Colombia. Let’s go. Please!”
“Que? How can we go? The kids, and we can’t afford four plane tickets. Where would we stay?” Ruben’s questions and statement, like a skilled boxer’s upper cut and jab, left me doubled over.
“What if we just go, us two?” I sucked in my breath and balled my lips.
“How? The kids?” Ruben asked again. “I want to go as a family, want the kids to meet Santiago…” Ruben trailed off at the mention of his son, eighteen years old, and father and son had never met. Though Ruben paid for his college, and sent him a monthly allowance, a small remittance for all those lost years. Santiago used silence against his father, and refused to speak to him, soon after their first conversation, about a year and a half ago.
“I don’t want to go to Colombia without you,” I said. The last time I was there I stood in the airport in Barranquilla, my arms around Ruben’s waist, his head pressed against my temple. Afraid I’d never see him again, the plane ride back to New York my heart never left my throat. And I only cried seven months later, when Ruben stood in front of me in Brooklyn.
“I don’t want to go,” Ruben said. His voice like water, soft and steady, but the surge of rage threatened to implode.
Colombia, a pair of hands for both Ruben and I. For, Ruben fists, ready to hurt. And, for me, hands, which waved me over.
Tuesday, the first day teachers were due back. Excited to see Mike, once just a colleague, and now family. We have worked together for a decade. I sat in his classroom as we caught up, among dusty book bins, piles of old paperwork, and scattered pencils.
“Hey, listen to this. My mom’s wants me to go to Colombia.” My head rested on the heel of my hand. I looked at him, my eyes wandered to the wide windows that revealed a blue sky. I imagined Colombia’s egg yolk yellow sun, and oppressive rays.
“Funny you say that, I was looking at flights to Bogotá last night, for October.” Mike said.
“Yeah, Bogotá is the last tour city for U2.” Mike said very matter of fact. A huge fan of the rock band U2, not surprised that Mike looked into going to another concert by them. He had already seen them earlier this summer in Jersey, and raved about the Joshua Tree Tour.
“You would go to Colombia without me?” My voice gripped around my throat, a grunt.
“I just looked last night, I didn’t buy anything.” Mike laughed.
But I was serious. “If you go to Colombia without me I will never speak to you again.” I did not care if I sounded like a crazed brat.
“I couldn’t find a direct flight.”
“What! You were going to go without me?” I knew I sounded ridiculous, but like a jealous ex, I became fixated on the thought that Colombia would cheat on me with Mike. “Don’t you know I miss Colombia like a person? That it’s been seventeen years. You can’t go without me!”
Mike’s eyes rested on me for a long time. Then he said the kindest thing. “I will look again tonight. If they are three seats together in a direct flight to Bogotá I will get them.”
I smiled. “I can sit, between you and Jennifer,” his girlfriend, another big U2 fan. “I will translate, we can drink aguardiente, and cerveza Club Colombia.”
“Do you even like U2?” Mike laughed.
“Of course I do.” And I do, but greater is my love for all things Colombian.
“The chances are low that this will work out,” Mike a math person, saw life as one probability problem.
“I know it is, but can we pretend. Just for a day or two, can we pretend!” I didn’t care if I sounded foolish. Mike was my brother, we knew how foolish we could be, and it had never mattered.
Tuesday night, Ruben and I sat side by side on the coach to watch the Colombian vs. Brazil elimination game for FIFA 2018. The game was earlier in the evening, and we knew the score, but it was our custom to watch the game as a family. I had already called him on the drive home from work to tell him about this very slim possibility, that I might go for a weekend in October to Bogotá to see U2. He half believed, but gave me his blessing. Friend with both Mike and his girlfriend, Ruben knew I would be in great company.
“Here,” Ruben handed me print outs, the application to renew my passport. “You will need to expedite.”
“I don’t think it will work out,” I clutched the application.
“But, if it does. You have to have a passport.” Ruben said, his eyes now on the game on the screen.
“What about you?” I asked. I ran my hand across the side of his face.
“The day I got on the plane to New York. I told myself I would forget Colombia, and all the bad things that happened there.”
I didn’t say anything after that. Did not say that my last time in Colombia, my only comfort was the hope to be back soon. That at Colombian restaurants, I close my eyes for the briefest moment, and fool myself that I’m in Colombia, and not Jackson Heights.
Wednesday, my mentor and dear friend Valerie texted me that Pope Francis is in Colombia. I chuckled to myself, seemed like everyone had Colombia on their mind.
Thursday, I meet my students for the academic year, my seventeenth class in my teaching career. A mom and father, Colombians, told me they were disappointed their son was not placed in my class. I assured them they were in great hands with one of my grade team members. The father, an offical for the New York, Colombian consulate, I explained to him I needed a power of attorney for Mami, in order to take care of something for her. He offered to help print out the papers, which Mami and I would need to bring with us to the Colombian consulate. I thanked him.
Friday, I hung out with Zoraida after school. The papers, delivered by the Colombian parents that very morning at lineup, inside my back pack, right beside my feet. We sat on Zoraida’s couch and chatted about the week. Our son’s played video games in the next room, we awaited phone calls from our daughters to pick them up, both at practices, one at volleyball, and the other in soccer.
Only told her about Mami’s proposition, time ran out before I got to the U2 Bogotá scenario. I lingered over Ruben not wanting to go to Colombia.
“I can’t believe Ruben does not want to go to Colombia,” I said. The news on, footage of Hurricane Irma model, and the exodus across Florida, in the background. Floridians, on the screen worried, and sad to leave their beloved Florida.
“He broke up with Colombia. And, like an ex he does not want to have anything to do with Colombia.” Zoraida said, no-nonsense.
“You are right,” I nodded. The only problem was that I was going steady with Colombia.
I don’t know when I will go to Colombia. But, I know that just like I watch for signs. Well, the universe listens and watches too. This essay is my shouting from the rooftops, Colombia I miss you. I want to see you soon, and want my daughter and son to meet you too. Colombia, one last thing, loosen your grip on my husband’s heart, so he can love you once again. Te amo Colombia!