The Llama and I strolled through downtown Ashland this evening.
“Remember when, one year ago, we were living in our friends’ basement in Vina del Mar?”
“Yup, I do.”
“And remember when, two years ago, we were planning our trip to Chile, and hadn’t even decided to get married yet?”
A smile made itself at home on his face and he put his arm around me. I tell him again, as I do often, that I am glad that he’s my husband. Who else would so willingly and good-naturedly dive headfirst into the unknown depths by my side? Who else would make the good times better and the hard times special by squeezing my hand and volleying back creative and delightful ideas about our future together?
We walked through Lithia Park, lit up with flowering trees and bushes, the creek raging from winter’s healthiest snow-pack in years, and the well-trodden and cared-for trails springy beneath our feet.
We made a pit stop in one of the bathroom facilities of the park. It’s a stark cement structure without a mirror over the sink and inhabited by happy spiders in every corner. Lights flicker on upon entry and there are no unpleasant smells, artificial or otherwise, and no graffiti. Continuing on down the trail, the Llama tosses me a playful look. “Stocked with toilet paper?” he asks? “Yup,” I reply, appreciating our life back in the USA.
I went to restock our Q-tip dispenser the other day, and noticed that it was the end of the stash I had purchased at a brightly lit Líder in Santiago Centro. I was embarrassed by my nostalgia, feeling almost hesitant to use them, attaching a sort of specialness to them despite coming from a Walmart-owned grocery chain and probably made in China.
The same happened when I reached for a plastic shopping bag to use for a trash liner. Plastic bags are scarce these days in our beloved eco-conscious Oregon grocery stores, and as I dug for a bag I pulled out a thin, small blue one. It’s the kind of bag we’d use for trash in our funny barrio Brasil apartment, the kind our caseros at the ferias would stuff full of papas, frutillas, or stiff string beans. I looked at it a moment, fingering the plastic, and stuffed it back to where it came from, favoring a sturdier bright yellow Grocery Outlet bag inspiring none of those nostalgic twinges in my gut.
It feels kind of like a dream, though I can never decide whether it feels more like Chile never happened or that our present is the strange new adventure and experiment. It feels bizarre to wax poetic both about our life in Chile and our life before Chile, wondering how those two alternate realities led to this one we’re currently living.
I’ve changed my name, or am in the process of doing so; taking the Llama’s family name as I always intended to do (though unwilling to stomach the administrative complexities I would have had to deal with if attempting to do so from abroad). The change helps, and reminds me that even if Ashland is the same, just as perfect as we left it, we have changed. Perhaps we are more worthy of its charms, more ready to embrace its community, and ready to give of ourselves to a place that has always offered us so much, offered us one another.
If I speak Spanish once a day now, I’m lucky. I have some delightful colleagues, mostly from Mexico, and our call and response greetings bring me joy. They also bring desire and regret and shame that I’m not speaking more, that I’m not using the language, and that it’s slipping away more quickly than the moments I cling to with fervor through the shiny, hazy, Insta-worthy filter of my memory.
Walking through Lithia Park, we passed a Spanish-speaking family gathered together beneath lamplight. The patriarch was on his cell-phone and I caught pedazos of his conversation.
“Conmigo tambien,” I caught and repeated to the Llama, quizzing him.
“With me too” he replied back.
I’m so relieved we share these memories together.