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no invitation

We are at a 3 year old's birthday party in the back room of a cafe. Music is pumping from a tiny speaker. Balloon animals are popping, and waving in the air. A man in a yellow dinosaur costume dances wildly. Parents snap pictures with satisfied smiles on their faces.

A little girl approaches gingerly and stands in the doorway, straying from her parents somewhere inside the restaurant. She cannot be more than three. It must be hard to ignore all of the noise coming from this room packed with celebration. There is a perfect little pony tail at the back of her head. She hesitates, as one foot poises in the air and then rests back down. How to understand that she was not invited. How to understand the laughter, the loose jumping bodies, the presents piled high on the window. None of this connects to her. There is a little plate of food waiting for her back there, in the quiet restaurant. Maybe a warm bowl of soup, thick with noodles. I watch her for some time.

That night, her empty e…

a sort of homecoming (speaking English)



The record skips, playing the same fragment. The return taxi from the airport, that last lurch of my shoulder against bags heavy with gifts, the surrender to the couch and E tiptoeing around me so I can sleep a little. She waits so patiently to see what I got her in New York. The morning is lost in stolen moments on that couch, and at night when everyone is snoring and I cannot sleep. Nine years of doing this and it never gets easier. Mind in one place, body in another, but the mind wins in the end.

I dreamt today, after closing my eyes for 20 minutes. V was talking in it, her voice so round and sweet. She was walking, running even. A long shiver ran down my arms, as if I had somehow missed the transformation from crawling baby to one year old in that week I spent away. She was wearing purple pants and I was making jokes about dancing in purple pants and she was rolling her eyes. She spoke English in the dream.

E did not speak English until she was almost five. There is no irony lost on the fact that today is an anniversary, a day I shove aside but cannot ignore. Six years ago, we slept for the first night away from that crazy apartment in a new home. A home no one thought I could find or pay for, a home they called a fantasy, the punchline to a shitty joke. All the same I was rolling my suitcase down the sidewalk over a thin layer of snow. proving them wrong. E was with me, and we went out for sushi across the street as there was nothing to eat. After dinner we tiptoed into the new place, and she turned all of the lights on and off, as if each switch could do something magical. She put some of her dolls on a shelf, and put on her nightgown. We danced that night, sliding around the fake wood floor. She rolled back and forth like she was in the snow making an angel. E did not have a room in that tiny apartment, just a sort of half closet with a tiny sofa shoved into it but she loved it all the same.

I cannot remember what she said, but it was all in English. The words had been coming for a few months, spoken out of the side of her mouth. That night we spoke English as if the barn doors were swung open and all of the animals ran out in one clumsy, thundering rush. We had constructed a tiny America on the 9th floor, looking out at the dark sky and the smoke curling into it.

Everything that happened in New York last week suddenly feels insignificant, a footnote to laying on the bed with V jumping on my belly. This low point in American history, the fear, the skittish thoughts, the disgusting news all evaporate. There are no big questions here, just what toy to hand V next so she can chew on it, smacking her hands hard in the air and squealing. This is the underbelly of the expat. When things go sour in your old country, you can shrug it off much easier. You already have problems to deal with, visas to renew, work and bills and garbage to remember to take downstairs. Nothing matters but what is right in front of you. E asks me what I am making for dinner and somehow that is all I can think about.



Comments

liv said…
Home safe and sound, not only your family is grateful for your return.
I can only guess the number of photos you took in NY. Your work is always enthralling, Marco. You have that skill of capturing JUST the moment. It's a small select group of artist's who can do that. I would love to visit NY through your photos, for me they would be so captivating that I could, for a bit, forget all the craziness here.

Humor me, give me an E holding V.

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