Three

Photo by Bambi Corro on Unsplash

I woke up around seven that morning. I think I remember my flight was scheduled to leave around four, which meant I had to be at the airport around two o’clock. My dad picked me up at my aunt’s house, the place I called home for some five years after my divorce, and I kissed her goodbye. Her voice cracked as she hugged me, and I still feel a little guilt from leaving her; I never was super chatty with her, or spend any significant amount of time with her, this woman who was like a second mom to me. She seemed so frail… But I resisted.

It was the shortest breakfast ever. Then my dad, brother and sister in law came with me to the airport. And I hugged my mom, as her voice started cracking. I did not want to cry, not yet, but I have always been a mama’s boy. I felt a little lump as she blessed me, but I smiled and kissed her in the forehead.

I remember I had to take out one of my pants from the carry-on if I didn’t want to pay extra, which was just about as exciting my departure from Venezuela was, three years ago today. I was upending my entire life, and there was no drama, no complication, nothing when I left. My dad cried, of course; I take the easy-to-cry attitude from him. So did Andrea, my brother’s wife, my sweet cuñis. My brother may have, or may have not, all I remember was hugging him hard and begging him to look after my parents, that would try and do the same.

I spend the next two hours just wandering around. I had my laptop with me, and a notebook, but I found it hard to focus. Too much in my head, of course. I remember they played the final Planet Of The Apes movie on the plane and it didn’t even play the whole way through. I landed on Miami around eight pm. (Sorry if the hours don’t match, I’m struggling to remember. I now wish I had taken notes or, you know, take the journaling thing more seriously.) I was tired and a little disoriented, and now they have this new system to verify you’re entering legally. I had an buzzer, so I had to wait, but I got cleared no problem. So off I went.

My cousin and her two kids were waiting for me at the gate. She’s my aunt’s daughter and I haven’t seen them in well over ten years. The son is a big hulking nineteen-year-old, but still with a quiet, sweet disposition, I must say. The daughter is even sweeter, and I had already spoken to her about origami over Skype. They take me to a Denny’s for dinner, and all the while I’m just… looking around. I’m not really there. Part of me is still in disbelief I actually took this step. Part of me wants to just… begin.

That would happen two hours later when my connecting flight lands in Orlando. About half an hour goes by, and then… I see her. Y. shows up among the crowd looking for me. Even that wasn’t dramatic; no running in slow motion, no tears of joy. A long embrace and smiles and all the kisses we couldn’t give to each other for almost two years. We go off to the Uber that’s waiting for us, with D. sleeping in the back. I greet everyone who’s still awake… and NOW my story truly begins.

I’m happy to say that, despite the ridiculous year we’ve had so far, it’s been a pretty good three years. It’s been nothing but growth, realizing that I truly have been stunting my own potential. My first job was very much sobering, in a “We’re not in Kansas anymore” kind of way. I started out with only 200 dollars that I have no idea how they lasted so much. I found a job waiting tables that started out one way and ended… well, let’s just say another. As of now I’m looking at my second year as a server, and I realize it’s something that is slowly turning into not what I want to do (but will do for now).

A pandemic. The tensest election in modern history. Parenthood. Racism. I’ve been through all that, and I know I’ll be through much more. We have plans and needs, and we need more plans. But above all, I’m grateful. Grateful for the people I’ve been lucky enough to meet while I’m here, for all the good I’ve been able to find. And I’m certainly grateful that Y. and D. have allowed to be both more myself than I have ever been, and let me grow as a human being and as a man.

Let’s talk again when three becomes four, shall we?

Your post is coming right up, sir

waiter_ok_sign-1024x438-1014x487

I’ve frequently heard the saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans”. There was quite a bit about it that bothered me, to be honest. It was generally said to me with this sneer of cynicism, like God is this huge bastard that looks down on poor li’l us, thinking we have a say in our lives. I refused to accept it.

Now? Not so much.

I still believe in a benevolent God that is there to protect us from evil and harm, that would never throw us a challenge we couldn’t face, because He knows what we’re made of. But now I have no problem thinking of Our Lord as this funny guy with a mischievous twinkle in His eye that lets out a kindly chuckle when we tell Him our plans, because He knows we better wrote them in pencil.

Guys… I’m a waiter!

Continue reading “Your post is coming right up, sir”

Welcome to the salt of the earth

Working-Hands

Magic Kingdom, guest parking space. Next right.

The last time I saw that sign, it drew a feeling of elation from me, even as a supposedly mature thirtysomething. It meant fun, laughter, an escape from reality.

That was then. Today when I saw it, it meant entering a new reality.

We got to the service entrance in the middle of a fog worthy of Victorian age London and cold unworthy of Florida. I was wearing a hard hat and security vest and goggles for the first time in my forty-six years of life. The “sissy” hands many people pointed out with varying degrees of bad intentions would start a perhaps short trip into callousness. To say it was humbling was to say the least.

This is what happens when you move to a new country, even though in my case it remained my country. You start from scratch unless you’re incredibly lucky and manage to find work in your own field. But most of the time, you’re a blank face, a clean slate, but you still need to make a living. So you take what you can.

I tell this to Larry, my new coworker. He’s a tall, lanky kid, with a goatee and short, thick mane, the typical gringo catire ojos azules we Venezuelans usually make fun of. He looks like a surfer dude. Turns out I’m close: he’s a skater dude. Loves the Florida weather because of that. Been working for the Dutchman that owns the company that makes the greenhouses for six months. And as you might expect, he’s laid back and pretty darn friendly.

–How did you get here?– he asks. He’s 22, from Michigan. Or is it Minnesota? I only now remember that many Americans confuse “Venezuela” with “Minnesota”. Or so Joanna Hausmann says.

–He hooked me up–, I say, pointing at my GF’s friend’s husband, where we’re staying.

–That’s so weird… Do you plan on quitting journalism for good, doing this full time?

I look down at the wire I’ve been setting up for the past hour and contemplate the pain on my knees. –Oh hell no–, I answer with a smile. He chuckles back.

One thing I have been trying to do since I got here is keep talking to strangers, just to keep my interviewing skills sharp. Got Austin Kleon to thank for that little piece of advice. So I start talking to Larry while we pull the tarp over a few topiary figures in progress. Kermit the Frog listens intently.

He’s the oldest of four children, with a brother and two sisters, who both gave him five nephews. The company he –well, now, we– work for sends them all over the States to set up the greenhouses. He travels with his girlfriend of four years, although they’ve known each other their whole life; her mother is Larry’s mother’s best friend.

–We used to drink together growing up while our moms sat and drank as well– he tells me.

He’s the one in the family who earns the most, something he’s both proud and mortified of. –My dad had his own construction company for over ten years, till it went down. Now he works in fucking Taco Bell. Can you believe that? He’s 54, 480 pounds and working in Taco Bell. I earn so much more than he does. Unbelievable.

I involuntarily do the math –454 grams to a pound, so that means dad weights 217 kilograms. In a stressful job, as does mom, who works in a factory, I think. They both drink, so I wonder how long till Larry gets another scare.

–I just smoke weed, helps with my PTSD.

–Oh did you serve?– I ask before knowing how stupid the question was; he’s just 22, he doesn’t need to serve in the Army. Case in point:

–No, (a family member) died in my arms. Downed a whole bottle of (liquor whose name I didn’t hear nor ask to repeat) and I walked in to find him all blue. He had a smile on his face. That shit messed me up. So I smoke a joint right before bed, so I don’t dream. Those nightmares fuck me up.

His girl travels with him and has a pretty easy life, in comparison. –She went to nursing school, and worked at Target, but I make more money. So she just comes along where we go. Stays at the paid hotel, gives me my back rub when I get there. It’s cool.

At break time, I look at this odd little crew. Two Venezuelans and a Minnesota boy under a Honduran boss. In this little group, Larry’s the minority, but it’s just on this table. He’s got it easier. Darwin, our supervisor, has been here three years, and he’s trying to get his own company going. He sorta speaks English but with a heavy accent. Joel has also been here three years, with his wife and her four-year-old son, and they’ve both managed to find a house and two cars, working their proverbial asses off. And then there’s me, brand new, with less than two hundred bucks to my name. It pains me how much I still depend on what my GF has saved to make a start, so I am doing the opposite of complaining.

In the meantime, I’m glad I get to meet people like Larry, who make life a little more interesting. All I have to do is ask.