this is the bloom from then til now
*I spent this past weekend in San Diego visiting one of my best friends. We grew up in church together and stayed close throughout high school and college.
*With so many of my friends, I can recall a moment in the past when we moved beyond being mere amicable acquaintances (or "pals") into the realm of intimacy. This usually accompanies a shared experience or the special discovery of a shared interest or love or passion. With my best friend in San Diego, this moment occurred when we were fourteen years old in the small village of Ricaurte in Ecuador, on a muggy night when we were both wearing t-shirts, Bermuda shorts, and flip-flops.
*After a couple days spent in Quito - where my most salient memory was of the freezing cold hostel showers we had to endure every morning - we boarded a rickety old bus whose rusty, broken windows would not close. We were headed out of the city and up into the mountains, where civilization was dispersed much more sparsely. E and I sat next to each other on the bus, I by the window, she in the aisle, and we shared headphones and ate the plantain chips we bought through the bus windows from the tanned men on the side of the road. After one bus breakdown and several sightings of bloody hogs hanging like sacks off the shingles of roadside food stands, we arrived in a town where we were greeted by lonely and misplaced murals. As we stared out of the bus windows, blown-up faces of politicians stared back at us - unashamed remnants of propaganda from past campaigns; the roads we cruised along were without street signs and lined by barefoot kids who waved to us ecstatically because the fact that were were strangers or intruders was less significant than the fact that we were novelties in their small town. By the time we arrived, it was nearly dusk, and after a much-needed dinner of greasy fried rice, we were sent off to our host families. E and I went off with a young man named Pablo, who lived across the river from the town in which we had disembarked. On the way over, we struggled to communicate. I spoke the Spanish I knew and gestured when necessary.
*I know what it is like to be a foreigner, a visitor in a place where you clearly do not belong - physically, racially, ethnically, visually - and that feeling, when intensified to that of being an intruder - makes one vulnerable, and uncomfortably so. The feeling of vulnerability - felt so acutely by both E and I - escalated through the night as we realized how many stares were directed our way from old women, little children, and the teenage boys loitering on their scooters who were clearly scouting out girls, as we began to understand the departure from the familiarity and comfort of suburban America that we had committed to by having boarded the plane to Ecuador in the first place.
*That night, after we had kissed Pablo's sweet, citrus-scented mother on both cheeks and were sitting on our dusty beds in a room where cats lurked in the corners and shadows, where the wooden panels beneath our feet were dusty like outdoor patios, we were restless and itchy from the mosquitoes that had already began to attack us and from the thought that we had no bathroom - save a faucet on an outdoor balcony. We sat on our adjacent beds silently staring at one another, not knowing whether to laugh or cry - or sob violently - and it was in that very moment that the vulnerability and shock this new place had laid upon us was also blooming into an immense gratitude for each other and an empathic bond which found its strength in the knowledge that we would be the only ones to have this exact experience together. We wouldn't realize this until much later, when, back in the States we were laughing at the tears we almost cried together.
*Much has changed in the six years since our time in Ecuador. Now, she in San Diego, and I in Northern California and Boston and beyond, we are different people than we were then and our friendship has certainly grown and changed similarly. But this past weekend, as we spent hours sitting lazily in coffee shops, driving around, walking, sometimes chatting, often not, I saw how so much of what is between us has not changed at all - a fact that is as comforting as the fact that so much of us does and has to and will continue to change.
*I can only hope that fifty years down the line - even sixty or seventy - when the precariousness of our lives becomes increasingly apparent with each passing day - that we will still be laughing and crying and aching together, sitting silently and talking lovingly, with the kind of comfort and contentedness that can only spring from the vulnerability of a moment and the years of friendship that follow.