In November of last year I traveled to South America to live as a pseudo-expat for three months. I lived and worked in Buenos Aires, Argentina and traveled to Chile and Uruguay during my stay. This is a collection of essays from my trip.
Since coming home, I’ve been asked the same question a dozen times. “How was the trip?” I haven’t yet been able to offer a very good answer to any of my friends. Each time I make an attempt, I tell the wrong story. Sometimes I say, “It was an amazing adventure full of ups and downs.” But this feels too positive a spin on what was a rather lonely experience. Other times I’ll respond, “To be honest, it wasn’t what I expected. A lot of the time, it wasn’t all that fun.” But that doesn’t quite encapsulate my feelings either.
I suppose it’s been hard to explain my true thoughts because I’m too proud. I don’t want to admit that, unlike some of the other gambles in my life, this one left me feeling defeated. Or maybe it’s that I still haven’t even found a story that I’m fully convinced of myself. Each day I look back on the trip, I tell myself something different.
There is, however, an excerpt I find myself repeating in my head frequently. It is the best summary of my thoughts and emotions. And it comes from a book of essays by Albert Camus that I read about a half dozen times while I was living abroad.
“Without cafés and newspapers, it would be difficult to travel. A paper printed in our own language, a place to rub shoulders with others in the evenings enable us to imitate the familiar gestures of the man we were at home, who, seen from a distance, seems so much a stranger. For what gives value to travel is fear. It breaks down a kind of inner structure we have. One can no longer cheat— hide behind the hours spent at the office or at the plant (those hours we protest so loudly, which protect us so well from the pain of being alone). I have always wanted to write novels in which my heroes would say: “What would I do without the office?” or again: “My wife has died, but fortunately I have all these orders to fill for tomorrow.” Travel robs us of such refuge. Far from our own people, our own language, stripped of all our props, deprived of our masks (one doesn’t know the fare on the streetcars, or anything else), we are completely on the surface of ourselves. But also, soul-sick, we restore to every being and every object its miraculous value. A woman dancing without a thought in her head, a bottle on a table, glimpsed behind a curtain: each image becomes a symbol. The whole of life seems reflected in it, insofar as it summarizes our own life at the moment”
I guess in some ways my own collection of essays are an attempt at answering the question for myself. They are organized chronologically, although time plays only a small role in them. None of the essays are meant to be connected. Instead, they are meant to be read as musings of a young man trying to make sense of the world, edited journal entries, if you will.
Thank you in advance to everyone who reads them.
March 1st, 2016
(Click the arrow at the bottom right of the page to scroll through the essays)
I’ve only been alive on this Earth for a short time. But I’m a fast learner. And if there’s one thing I’ve come to know, it is this: a hungry man looking for a restaurant is, to take words from my high school golf coach’s mouth, shit out of luck. Learning this has saved me a great deal of time, because when I’m in the hungry search for a restaurant now, I choose the first restaurant I see and drop my expectations. This is what drew me into a tropical themed pizza joint in Santiago’s business district.
In the restaurant, I found myself surrounded by a great number of people. This shouldn’t have surprised me. After all, restaurants are where friends gather, and where families go to tolerate, or love each other, depending on who you speak to. What surprised me was how lonely I began to feel in the minutes between ordering my beer and pizza.
Hours earlier I was romantically admiring the sunset as I drove into the city from the airport. I was on a “new experiences high.” Every little detail caught my attention and brought a smile to my face. But that man was gone.
In the restaurant’s bar I sat between a crowd of people, laughing and slapping each other on the back, and a lonely man, slouched over two empty beer mugs. Relatively quickly, it felt as though my mood swung from one extreme to the other.
“Hello,” a voice beside me said.
It took a moment to register this odd phrase. But when I did I realized that two women were sitting next to me, both smiling like anxious school girls.
“Um.” It’d been a while since I’d flirted with women in my native language, or talked to another human for that matter.
“How are you?” the other one asked.
“Good, y vos?” I responded unsure which language to speak.
They gave me a puzzled look, at which point I realized that I had not only mixed two languages, but also two dialects.
“Uh, I mean y tu?” I said replacing the Argentine version of “And you?” for the Chilean one.
For as slow as my brain had been to engage in this conversation, I had succeeded in doing what most men can’t do whilst talking to women at a bar. I was interesting. I was different. And it was working. Their confusion as to why an American was speaking Argentine Spanish was enough to keep a conversation lively until their table was ready. When their waiter came to seat them, we exchanged numbers and kisses on the cheek.
With their number in my phone, and greasy pizza in my stomach, the lonely man disappeared. The entire rest of my night was filled with the excitement of seeing them again. Even though they didn’t respond to my text later that night, and I never saw them again, those two women brought me a great deal of short term happiness.
Unfortunately, in my experience, short term happiness is just that. Short term. I don’t mean to say it doesn’t have it’s benefits — temporary happiness is a great band-aid for despair, after all — but it does take a certain level of emotional effort. And in my experience the effort put in, which we can call hope, is a crap shoot of sorts, a lottery.
A lot of my encounters with other people in Chile followed the same pattern as the tropical pizza joint. The next day at lunch I was feeling rather down as I read a book on a restaurant terrace. But like the night before, the cosmos sent in relief. Two American girls sat down at the table in front of me. I listened to their small talk for a while, as I finished my below average, but right on par with expectations, and therefore not too bad, ravioli. Then after I paid my bill, I approached them.
Our conversation was more or less the same as the one I had with the two Chilean girls. All the usual suspects of boring small talk made exciting by overly enthusiastic stories and reactions to them. The exception was a little more effort and enthusiasm on my end in order to make up for my lack of overall interestingness to them.
Before leaving I invited them to hike with me to the top of San Cristobal Hill to watch the sunset. They said they’d love to. We exchanged phone numbers. And I was on my way full of excitement once again.
The rest of the day I looked forward to that hike. I love meeting new people, and hearing their stories. And I was a little tired of using my broken Spanish to get nowhere in conversation with strangers. The idea of hiking with a group of Americans kept my spirits high as I explored Santiago’s polluted streets later that day. I thought ahead to what it’d be like to see the pink cotton candy sunset over the Andes. I thought about what kind of wine I’d buy. Would they prefer red or white? Malbec from Argentina or a local Chilean wine? In the end it didn’t matter.
That happiness saw its time come and go, too. They never responded to my messages and I never saw them again.
As I’ve said, I haven’t lived on this Earth long. In many ways I’m still getting my feet under me. But I’ve noticed something that I think is rather important.
They say young people are idealistic. We believe the world can be saved — whatever that means. And we think there is a someone out there who will save us. The future is opportunity. Time is infinite. But I think I am aging.
You see, I think the reason that young people are so idealistic is because we haven’t seen the full ebb and flow of life’s waves. If you zoom in to the right place on any graph of a periodic function you’ll see the line moving upward. But over longer periods of time the line peaks and then moves up and down, up and down. On many graphs this cycle goes on for an infinite amount of time. But to a young person, their infinite, their everything, is the short period of time they’ve lived on this Earth. And for the fortunate and optimistic, that is a zoomed in period of seemingly infinite upward movement.
However, I see only frustration in this game, and futility in the search for its rules. And right now, as I sit on a patio overlooking the sea in Vina Del Mar, 100 miles to the west, this thought is making me uneasy. I’m not thinking of the Chilean girls from the tropical pizza restaurant, or the Americans from the terrace though. I’m thinking about a girl I met last night.
After I realized that I would not be hiking San Cristobal Hill with new friends, I went to the rooftop patio of my hostel and read. The disappointment and my confusion with the Ferris Wheel took all my energy. So I sat and read Illusions by Richard Bach and listened to the chaos of the streets below me.
My hostel was located in the center of Santiago’s Bellavista neighborhood above the terrace where I ate earlier that day. And as the sun drew nearer to the horizon, the noise volume rose. People were beginning to pour into the restaurants for happy hour drinks. Cars were honking, as they always seem to in South American cities. Life was filling each crack and crevasse of the neighborhood, and by the time the sun set it was overflowing with energy. I couldn’t help but feel my spirits uplifted.
Sure, it wasn’t all happy go-lucky in the streets below me. Later in the evening I would walk out to find a man, surrounded by paramedics and policemen, knocked out and bleeding on the pavement. Undoubtedly some of the noise was of couples yelling at one another. But in the streets below me there was so much humanity. All of those people living their lives, riding the Ferris Wheel, some aware, others not. It was enough to make me forget about my own perspective-devoid despair.
While there was still light in the sky, a group of three Brazilian guys came out onto the patio. They radiated happiness and infected me with it. Each sentence we exchanged was followed with a laugh as they examined me, and I examined each of them. By the time it was dark I had forgotten about the Ferris Wheel entirely.
Three drinks later we were out in the streets of Bellavista on a patio sharing a pitcher with about five other people from our hostel and a couple guys we’d met on the street. We added two Brazilians girls to our group and after the first pitcher they all burst into national anthem. The singing went unnoticed in the street full of drunker, louder groups than us. At one point, one of the Brazilians, who I learned was gay, started dancing on the umbrella as if it were a stripper pole. The commotion was enough to get us a warning sign from the restaurant staff.
During this chaos, another two Brazilians joined us. I assume the national anthem had a magnetic pull.
The pair — a guy and a beautiful woman I assumed to be his girlfriend — sat down next to me. I introduced myself and made the usual small talk, this time overflowing with enthusiasm fueled by Budweiser. As I talked to the woman it became apparent they weren’t together. The guy was too relaxed when we started flirting.
I’ve found that there reaches a certain point in conversation with someone I’m attracted to where the words are garnish to the emotional connection. If I’m lucky, the feeling is reciprocated and the entire encounter just becomes an eye-gazing affair. At this point words are still exchanged, but they have no value, in the sense that you could swap them out for just about any others and feel the same way. I reached this point with Marta, my new Brazilian friend, somewhere between her telling me that she plans to get an MBA in California and me telling her I am an entrepreneur. It’d be easy to point to this common interest in society’s most common drug, money, as a reason for our ability to hit it off so quickly. But that’d be scratching the surface and doing an injustice to the emotional connection.
After two hours of drinking cheap beer the entire group split up. Around 3am, some of us went back to the hostel, while others remained in the streets. Marta and I walked together a couple feet ahead of the others. She told me more about her grad school plans in the US. I told her about my experiences avoiding that very college system. She told me about her trip to the Atacama Desert the week before, and her three week adventure through South America. I told her that I was traveling, and pretending to be an ex-pat like my Uncle Bob.
At the hostel five of us went up to the communal lounge. An American from Chicago sat down at a computer to book her trip to Patagonia. One of the Brazilians I’d met on the patio, and the guy that had come to the restaurant with Marta went to the kitchen. Marta and I sat down on a couch and continued talking.
After our first game we heard the sound of two people kissing coming from the kitchen. I learned then that all of the Brazilians guys were gay.
After a few moments Marta and I began to add to the noise. We kissed on the couch for a few minutes, and then one of us realized it was a full moon so we stepped out on the rooftop and kissed under the stars like helpless romantics. In the distance we could see the skyline of downtown Santiago. The moonlight was reflecting off the glass of the tallest building in South America. I was at peace. My love of superlatives and humanity was a painting before me.
It’s an unlikely place to be thinking about it, but I am. As I sit here on a patio overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, I am brought back to a night when I was four years old.
My neighborhood is silent after a light snowfall. Our lawn is covered in glitter. It’s not quite cold enough to cover the street in snow so Cottonwood Lane is illuminated, glimmering orange off the wet asphalt. This silence goes undisturbed for an hour. Every neighbor is in bed. Children and their parents sleep, both anxious in a different way, for the same reason. Wondering if it will be a snow day. The neighborhood raccoon that has been getting into our garbage lately, and driving my father mad, is curled up next to a vent near our laundry room.
Above it all my mother is holding me in her arms. She knows she must sleep, but she is afraid to wake me, and content to be my mother in that moment. She rocks slowly back and forth drifting in and out of sleep.
I’ve forgotten what caused me to wake her. Maybe it was a nightmare. Or maybe I’m sick with a cold again. It doesn’t matter anymore because I’m sound asleep dreaming of playing in the backyard with my brother. My breathe is in rhythm with hers and everything is right in the world.
But right now on a restaurant patio overlooking the coast of Vina Del Mar, Chile, 17 years later everything is not. I’m uneasy because this seaside restaurant has become a casino.
The sky is an endless aqua above me interrupted only by the radiance of the South American sun. The ocean is calm except for the soothing crash of waves twenty feet below me on the beach. A couple is playing in those waves. The man is pulling his girlfriend into the water, both of them fully clothed. But I’m unable to appreciate any of this.
My mind is on the Ferris Wheel. I’m thinking about how even though I may meet Marta again on my way back through Santiago, I will inevitably be disappointed. My hope will eventually be quelled by reality. Harsh as it may sound though, it’s not the idea that I may never fall in love with Marta that has me down. It’s a fear that I will play this game, where I gamble my emotions, for the rest of my life.
When I heard about Colonia for the first time it held a romantic image in my head. It’s the sort of word that makes one think of Latin America — with its beautiful Spanish speaking women and tropical climates. It’s a town name that might seduce elderly people to come retire there before ever seeing a picture. The name was enough to convince me to take a quick detour on my way up Uruguay’s coast. Going through Colonia would reduce my ferry ticket in half, and I figured at the least I’d get a chance to see a more authentic version of Uruguay than the touristy Punta del Este I was traveling to. But reality has a funny way of inserting itself into, and replacing, fantasies.
As I get off the ferry a sweltering heat erodes those romantic images in my head as quickly as it drenches my shirt in sweat. Masses of people force their existence upon me by frantically rolling their suitcases through the ferry terminal and arguing with their spouses. The woman at the ticket counter only adds frustration to the environment of angst. According to her this is not the bus terminal and she cannot sell me a ticket. Upon asking where that place might be she offers a gesture somewhere in the vicinity of North, West, and East. I can deduce only that the bus terminal isn’t behind her.
After asking around and testing my broken Spanish I find out that the next bus leaves in an hour and a half. I find a town map and set off for what appears to be Colonia’s only tourist attraction: an authentic local market.
I’ve traveled long enough to understand that any “authentic market” is bound to be anything but. A box somewhere in my parent’s house is full of reminders of this fact: trinkets from Italy, Mexico, and a half dozen other countries. Half of them are broken; the other half hang on the edge of life. Their fate is certain. On the day my parents move out of my childhood home, that box will get a sticker slapped on it. Depending on whether my Mom or my Dad is in charge of cleaning out my room it will be labeled “Travel memories” or “Junk.”
Nonetheless I decide to pay the market a visit. Judging by the map it appears to be on the opposite side of town. The entire walk takes 8 minutes. It gives me a chance to see Colonia’s two hotels, three rental car stations, and two old men sitting in a park that appears to be as large as the rest of the town. The architecture doesn’t vary much from Buenos Aires, where I’ve lived for the last three months, but with a traveler’s backpack on it feels more exotic. One out of every six building are of European style: Roman columns, colorful shutters, and large wooden doors. All of the other buildings are of the South American type: white stucco stained by grey streaks, windows decorated by metal bars, and a stray dog out front.
After my brief tour of the city, I arrive at a food truck overlooking the market. I order what appears to be the safest menu option and sit down on one of the red picnic chairs. From my seat I can see a woman rearranging her inventory at a small booth. I start imagining the economics of this market.
The trinkets these women sell — stone statues, vibrant scarfs, and other items you might find at a thrift store in the United States — are made hundreds of miles away. They are created in a factory, producing thousands of them every day. A dozen workers make them with their hands and receive a paycheck that puts another day’s food on the table. Then the trinkets get loaded into a truck and delivered to all of the towns in Uruguay that receive more than 100 tourists per year. A couple thousand of them arrive in Colonia at the beginning of the year. A man distributes them to a dozen locals. Finally, the marketing team takes over: old women with worn skin and soft smiles sell authenticity and travel memories.
The entire market’s economy is fueled by a small fraction of vacationers’ unbudgeted money, impulse spending that never makes it onto a budget spreadsheet. Disillusioned tourists rationalize the purchase by thinking about the economic impact it will make on the small town. They remind themselves that they need to bring back gifts for friends, and memories for themselves. And thus 10 more trinkets are sold.
10 minutes pass and my food arrives. I impulsively order a Coke to go with it. A Uruguayan couple and their baby sit down next to me and order the same thing. I smile at the baby. She stares at me with glossy eyes and a slight tilt of the head. She is bewildered, I’m sure, by my blonde hair, my sunglasses and my salmon colored shirt. I can’t help but think that one day, when the sun turns her skin to leather, she will inevitably join in on the game. For now she giggles and smiles back at me.
I’ve seen this market on five continents, but right now it feels different than the others, almost authentic. I suppose because this is how the world works and any deviation from the model is the tourist attraction, the fake. I shovel a couple bites of street food into my mouth and walk through the market to experience authenticity before making my way up the coast.
Three years ago I wrote a story for a creative writing class. It was the story of two brothers with very different dreams. One brother dreamed of being rich and powerful. The other brother wanted nothing more than to sit on the beach and fish as they had every day of their childhood. The short story profiled the two brothers as they lived their lives and achieved these dreams. One brother grew rich and famous in America at the cost of his happiness and relationship with his family. The other brother fished every day for 30 years straight, and spent afternoons with his son. In the end one brother ended up on a yacht with a fishing pole in hand, overlooking the beach. The other brother sat on that beach and waved to his brother.
The story is a classic fable in American culture told a different way by every author. It is a story that has been told countless times ever since the Age of Productivity consumed The United States like a cancer. And it’s no wonder. The story describes a paradox that very few have been able to grapple with.
I remembered that short story today when my friend Juan asked me why Americans are so unhappy. I didn’t have an answer for him then but I think I have an answer now, or at least the beginnings of one.
The American Dream is what our country was founded on, and it can explain many of the things we do. It’s all we think about in America. The basic concept is a beautiful one: any human should be able to achieve what they want. And we are all free to pursue our own happiness. In reality though, it’s an endless pursuit of “have.”
We all want to have things in America. And even those of us who claim to be immune to the cancer pursue experiences in the same vain as material goods. If it’s not a car, it’s a life changing, eye-opening trip through Northern Europe. The pursuit of “have” consumes dinner conversation. It defines our social status. And it forms our dreams.
As a boy I dreamed a lot. I still do today. I wanted to be rich, powerful, and live in a beautiful Cherry Hills home. I wanted to drive a Porsche to work. What 8 year old boy in America doesn’t want these things?
But as I grew older my materialistic dreams matured into the seemingly less vain experiential ones. I dreamed of driving a car through Latin America to the tip of Argentina. I fantasized days spent on a Hawaiian beach with a book and pen in hand. I wanted to travel the world in a jet and see new countries every week. The jet, of course, was just the vessel of experience in my mind, so my conscious was clear.
Much of these desires were formed at a young age. They were likely inspired by TV commercials, magazine ads, and other popular culture. But no matter the inspiration, they branded images of “have” into my brain like hot steel on a cow’s hide. Just as I learned to brush my teeth twice a day, I learned to dream something new just as frequently.
All of my life I’ve thought of myself as the brother on the beach. But tonight, as I try to answer Juan’s question in this journal, I’m unsure.
What I’d love more than anything right now is to share this night with my parents, or my brother, or any number of friends. But I chose to be alone. I chose to chase my American Dream.
And that’s the problem with these dreams: the most important part was designed to be a highway diner on the way to something we’re told is much greater. The billboards tell you that happiness is a couple exits away, but they’re all replicas of each other. They always say the same thing: two more exits. And so as we drive at 65 miles per hour down the endless road, we pass countless diners, and ask the same question Juan asked me.
The truth is that those diners are everything.
I’d do anything to have a burger right now.
Some phrases translate well from Spanish to English. For instance, “If you go any further up this hill you will be hit, choked, and mugged.” That one was fairly clear. There was no confusion about what it meant, just explicit instruction to turn around and walk back down the street to the center of Valparaiso.
“I’m 30 years old.” That one too. When a girl I’d met at a bar — or woman rather — told me she was a decade older than me as we walked through the lively streets of Buenos Aires at 5am I understood our chances of falling in love were slim.
Other phrases, however, are less clear. “Mucho gusto” is what you might say after meeting someone, but it’s direct translation is equivalent to “It pleases me.” That’s certainly a weird one to say in English. But I got over that pretty quickly. That is, until my friend said it when he dropped me off at the airport on my last night in South America. No matter how directly or indirectly I interpreted the phrase that night it didn’t make sense.
Sure, it pleased me to have met him. And yes, it was nice meeting him, even if it did officially happen 3 months prior. What bothered me was that I didn’t think he was wrong to use those words instead of others.
I told myself I’d live in Buenos Aires for 3 months. From the beginning there was an active timer ticking away. I learned that living in a city for a set period of time is like drawing a line in the sand and creating two worlds of one. To me, the world I created felt like a dream, as if it were destine to collapse. Thus many of my days in Argentina as a pseudo-expat were spent in a state of limbo.
Being the solo traveler that I was, I spent a lot of nights going to dinner alone. I frequently went to an Italian place called Salgado. The staff wasn’t very friendly, and the waiters hardly acknowledged me. But I kind of liked that. I could slip in right when they opened at 8:30pm each night and just sort of get swallowed up by the world. It was like I didn’t even exist. Maybe the restaurant was a captor, and I was experiencing Stockholm Syndrome. Or maybe I was feeling the force of a world with no past and no future. I don’t know.
On those nights at Salgado I knew I couldn’t think about going home without risking homesickness. So thinking about the future was a dead-end.
The past brought me warm nostalgic memories at first. But those feelings were always followed by an intense sadness brought on by the realization I’d never be able to go back to those places in time so I did my best to stop sensory triggers in my mind.
Over the course of weeks, my life was widdled down to the present and nothing more.
I should have felt like a Zen philosopher, but I didn’t. A life without hopes for the future or memories of the past was like a prison. If I was unhappy with a given place I had no headspace to retreat to, no escape route. I no longer felt the restlessness or ecstasy of imagination pumping through my blood. Instead I was overwhelmed with a sense of calmness that I didn’t quite welcome. My shoulders were much more relaxed allowing my arms to swing freely as I walked through the streets. At night I’d fall into deep sleep without the interruption of dreams. When a meal took 30 minutes to arrive at my table I hardly noticed. Without my asking, I’d inherited a new state of mind.
One afternoon I went to the mall to buy some socks. On my way home I remember thinking, “This is where souls go to die.” My mind was resonating at a slow hum by this point, so the darkness of the thought didn’t bother me. Instead I focused on the light hitting the trees above me. I took a detour and stopped by a church. I wasn’t seeking anything more than a place to sit and read, but I discovered a different side of the world.
Outside of the church, children played soccer, couples drank mate, and old people awaited their death in peace. Beside me, a woman well into her 90s was smiling. She appeared to be watching rays of light pierce through the leaves on an Oak tree in front of us. I looked up at the massive church to my right and admired the two blue spires glowing in the sun. The normalcy of life, the boring details I used to pass in an anxious rush, began to appear.
I was wrong. My soul was not dying. It was experiencing something of a rebirth, an adaptation to a collapsing world.
From that moment on I decided that I would fall in love with the world presented to me. On nights when I was alone, I embraced it. I told myself loneliness and solitude are like two sides of a hand we control. Left alone, we have the choice to see a warm palm and its beautiful chaos of lines and creases, or the cold simplicity of its back side. Solitude is to be alone and happy, to be in thought undisturbed by other, and at peace with self. It is a state in which we can lose control of the mind and become an observer of the world around us, and our reactions to it. Loneliness is a simple absence of love, in the same way that cold is an absence of heat. Temporary though it might be, the power to decide whether we are lonely or in solitude is enough to reinvigorate a dying soul.
After that day I began to spend many of my evenings in a park near my apartment. Every night before the sun set I would walk over and find a bench to sit on. It seemed every person in the neighborhood would do the same; an entire community celebrating the end of a day as I liked to think of it. By my last days I found it hard to focus on the essays I’d bring with me. A dog would skid to a halt in front of me raising a cloud of dust. Children yelled and screamed. Sometimes they cried and I’d feel their sadness for a moment.
One day while I was there, I could sense an electricity in the air. There was a tension, a fullness of life that was bursting at its seams. In the same way that I laughed when my friends told jokes in Spanish despite not knowing what the words meant, I understood the energy. It was reflected in the children’s faces, the way the dogs were running around me.
Eventually the seams burst. The Border Collie that had coated my pants with dust barked. Then he ran at a dog half his size. The smaller, frightened dog bit the Border Collie, and all hell broke lose. Every dog in the park ran towards the scuffle. There were a series of barks, a couple yells from children nearby, and finally an ear piercing whimper from the smallest dog that silenced the entire park. It felt as though the entire city skipped a beat in the aftermath of the flurry. I looked around me and exchanged looks with a couple of my neighbors. My heart was beating faster than it had in months.
On those warm evenings my entire life was the park. I was consumed by every detail. As I watched couples stick their tongues further down each others throats than I’d ever thought possible, I felt their love. Many of them were my age, and rather than feel jealousy or longing to be with someone, I was content to be a prop in their love story. I’d forgotten about the impending collapse, but I kept the appreciation for life it inspired in me. My other world didn’t exist, and it didn’t need to. The dying world was the only one I’d ever known.
After giving my friend a hug at passenger drop-off, and what was likely to be my last macho kiss on the cheek for a while, I walked towards the international terminal. I thought about what he said. Mucho gusto.
He was right to use those words.
It was nice to meet him. And that’s all my trip had really been. An extended meeting with another world. Nothing more.
Before turning the corner, I looked back and watched his 1980 Fiat pull out of the parking space and enter the flow of traffic. Then I turned and walked towards the revolving doors of the terminal.
“Oh Jesus. United just sent me an email saying the flight is delayed,” an elderly American says to her husband sitting beside me in the airport terminal .
It appears my trip is going to be extended one hour. But I’m not bothered. I pull out my phone and start scrolling through photos from my trip to Chile in order to pass the time.
A picture of a coffee shop in Santiago with wood floors and beams. Beautiful natural light streaking in the windows. An orange ceramic coffee cup. My god that was a good cappuccino.
Selfies with friends I met on the trip litter the collection of artistic photos and remind me of the relationships I made. Friendships I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.
Halfway through the album, I realize the distortion taking place in my mind. Two months have passed and already my memories of Chile are being warped in nostalgia. The true emotions I felt are too distant. A trip in which I was mostly lonely, is now a trip full of adventures and make-your-tummy-feel-warm-and-fuzzy memories. My mind is instinctually replacing any sadness I felt on that trip with positive memories that make me smile in the present moment.
I’ve accomplished everything that I didn’t set out to accomplish, and achieved none of what I had hoped to on this trip. I left home hoping to escape winter, find a paradise, and enjoy three months of bliss. And in my attempt at filling the last ounce of my cup, I replaced 100 ounces with those little drops. But that’s not how I’ll remember this trip. Not in a couple weeks at least.
Soon, I’ll only remember how delicious the food was at the best restaurants in Buenos Aires. My mind will warp and replace the fact that I enjoyed many of those meals alone in a somber silence. I’ll see pictures of Uruguay’s beaches and forget that I didn’t to speak to a soul for three days straight on my trip there.
What a beautiful organism, the human mind.