The process of transformation consists mostly of decay and then of this crisis when emergence from what came before must be total and abrupt.
But the changes in a butterfly’s life are not always so dramatic. The strange resonant word instar describes the stage between two successive molts, for as it grows, a caterpillar, like a snake, like Cabeza de Vaca walking across the Southwest, splits its skin again and again… Instar implies something both celestial and ingrown, something heavenly and disastrous, and perhaps change is commonly like that, a buried star, oscillating between near and far.”
A Field Guide to Getting Lost
The flight attendant kept winking at me as we flew from summer to winter. Maybe he knew I was high from the sunrise in my eyes. So many Australians, so many snowboards. I said gracias to the customs agent but luckily he didn’t hear. First kiosk out the gate: sesame onigiri. Train tickets rubber banded together with origami. ♡ Kind and meticulous. Spiraled into a pink bathroom. Heated Toshiba toilets. Baby seat in the stall. A full platform; silence. But a constant buzz in the background. Bird chirps from a speaker. Crowded into cohesion. Face masks in phones. White and red lights. Lost in Shibuya station, staring at characters on a map. Then serene backstreets. Shimmering and matte tiles. Grey grout. Concrete floors and wood grain ceilings. Immaculate decay. Doors that don’t push or pull, they slide. Baozhi’s forehead split open and he emerged as the eleven-headed bodhisattva, deciding to open a ramen bar. Nodding out on noodles. Trying to read a vending machine. Not sure if all this travel is chipping away at me or building me up. Stimulation. Download. Overload. iPhones clicking. Another product shoot. Pain stretching behind my ear. That buzz. Did it again, lost my shit, there it went. Trying to be still in the middle of Harajuku, but everything’s speeding up. Moving and consuming. Can I pay away this pain? Empty and fill bags. Too ripped for all these vintage shops. American flags and *NSYNC on blast. West consumes East consumes West, what a beautiful/destructive reach. What happens when we all go the same way? The Earth will tip. Loud sigh, hot shower. Yoga on my towel. The cherry blossoms are blooming early this year. Headstones in the middle of a farm. Qi Baishi at the National Gallery. The meaning of it all in a girl playing with her doll. Draw the eyes bigger. Puff the lips up. What happens to the youth when infantilization grows old? Buckets of water in case of a fire. Took a seat in a saké bar. A hand next to me slid over a plate of coconut cookies. Sweet potato and fish chips. Saké, saké, saké, saké, shōchū. The bartender: our translator. He bowed his head and backed away.
Two years before Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar’s death and 20 since Nixon started the so-called “War on Drugs,” I was born in August of 1991 in Medellín, Colombia — known then as one of the most violent cities in the world. It has taken 27 years for me to realize my very first memories are tinted by the life and death of one of the world’s most notorious criminals in the illegal drug trade. And even now, decades since Escobar was shot dead, hope for peace remains a utopian dream for the inhabitants of the paisa capital.
The cocaine market didn’t die when Escobar was killed nor did the drug itself cease to exist. The protagonist changed, demand rose, delivery routes multiplied, victims increased, and the business model adapted to the guerrillas’ open war. Colombian history since the late 1970s follows a series of cartels that fluctuate between control of drug production, circulation, and the next “patron” to dictate the law of the jungle. Continue reading “Fighting a narcocracy”
Three hundred years ago he moved from Bern and changed his name from Aebi to Avey to sound a bit more neutral, a bit more American. I’ve been thinking more about what it means to be American. Who, how, why. I have some reference points. It was easy to move to Germany. Music I know is everywhere I go. My Colombian father-in-law told me to hide my passport because it might get stolen. I underestimate that blue cover. The public schools and libraries. Hiding a heritage of human sorrow and potential. Somehow still allergic to this land. Poison oak forms a resistance on the trails we blaze. Oozing with red bumps, making me question the way. I’m the non-native species. Make it more American. But how? From the jazz to the mundane. Paint the spectrum black or white. The distance between what you know and want to know lies in what you create. Between places you’ve been and places you can’t imagine. How could it be so hard to write under your parents’ roof when they gave you every neuron? Drive north on the 1. A loud bed and breakfast might be awkward. Let’s take a quarter and go explore. Another pioneer couple walking on a boneyard of tree branches. Looks like beach cheese. Sitting halfway up a Monterey cypress. Staring at the setting sun with the moon to our back. This place makes me sleepless. I heard a man inside the wall with a pickaxe. Crumbling down the structure from the inside out. But then the mother of slumber blacked out my vision with her placement of fill-in-the-box. I’m home. Horace Greeley might have told you to “Go west, young man,” but I’m called by the wild poppies and cortaderia. Those here before us. Junipero Serra paved the way, killing with faith. Priests on a mission overlook young women. Left out of the literature. I’m pulled in by the Pacific, the way redwoods hold on to their neighbors’ roots. Prioritizing nourishment. A church turned grocery store. Looking at another “All Are Welcome Here” sign made Sam ask what that says about other places. A bold statement against a dark reality. But damn this place is hard to reach.
The privilege to pause. Under the fan of a whitewashed Colonial deck. That’s the first mango tree I’ve ever seen. This place reeks, humid with humans. Reserving a spot to lounge all day. Smoothing out stripes under mutating rays. A welcomed breeze. The bluest blues. Beers and fries with lunch. And this expectation to love everything about it. To match the atmosphere. Don’t worry, be happy. How could you be anything but in a place like this? Doused in SPF 50+ and bug spray. Still the only one with mosquito bites. Just five more days… Should I have a drink? “You can swerve on the road, you won’t get pulled over.” These bridges are empty anyway. How is this even Dutch? Was it peaceful, was it violent? It was violent. Abandoned multicolored mansions built on sand. We reminisce the past, but can’t remember it. We were never there. Hand picking parts of a whole. Thousands of slaves passed through these stone walls and I couldn’t find a sign. Just a mall. “Real Curaçaoans don’t like the Dutch,” she said. But so it is. They pour in to sleep and swim and pose on the beach. Fly in for a season or two to take the better service jobs. Front of house, pouring French wine. A hostess from the Hague said she likes it better here because the people greet each other. Hi ma’am, yes ma’am. How do you do? Can I ask you a question? What’s the source of that custom? I’m just looking for some sugar. The locals work the night shift — the cashiers, the janitors, the guards of gated communities. Descendants of stolen people. Pay the price to enjoy. A golf course in the desert. This island always catered to his comfort. But the checkered families brighten my mood. Feeding stray cats kipper snacks. A live band rotates at the Miles jazz bar. Drums, bass, timbales, congas, piano. La vida tiene sabor and it’s thick. Culture rich. A quarter later, gigging in my highchair. Now I can relax. “So what..?” written on black shirts. Dutch punks with tattooed arms serving Curaçaoans straight. Cuban rum, Italian grappa. The first Pernod I’ve found in Latin America. Ass sweat on a wood seat. The kid’s frown itself was jazz music. The kind of rhythm you don’t learn. Hands so fast you can’t see. The lights are shaking. Rastas speaking Dutch. Music as resilience. A lineage of pain. But somehow smiles and tunes so unifying. Warm. Sam, wake up, there are pink flamingos outside. Of course the church habla español. Why is Daddy Yankee headlining the jazz festival? Spoonfuls of full-fat European yogurt. Gouda and salami. We met a Dutch guy who’s been living here for 14 years over rolled tobacco. He showed us on his phone the finca he bought outside of Medellín. Said it cost close to nothing. His son speaks four languages at four. Almost stepped on broken glass on the floor. Tiny shells in my pocket. A lizard came to my call. Question where you lay to rest. We have access to the information, but will we use it?
I was 14. A freshman. In the backseat. The car full of older boys. Three juniors, one sophomore. It was a four-seater Ford Explorer. My spot in the middle had no belt. We were drinking and smoking. They had these mini Coors and a massive blunt was being passed around. Immortal Technique was blasting. Point of No Return. Of course he had a sub in the back. I always wanted to complain about the volume and drifting tires, but I never did. Every cell was screaming: this is not good. I wanted to speak, but the words just never came out. I didn’t want to be that girl. I felt silenced. We were going 75 down a curvy 15. I forget the name of the road. Scotts? Smith? Something with an S. They used to bomb it all the time. On a skateboard, in a car. It connected Kennedy and Shannon in Los Gatos. Fuck, I forget. But I remember the rest. They were all screaming, “scare the shit out of her!” I guess they all wanted to scare me? I don’t know, but next thing we were drifting towards a fence. And a tree. Time stopped between the bumps in the music and I couldn’t hear a thing. I flew over Matt and my head broke through the side window. My vision dripped red like Game Over in GoldenEye 007. I put my hand to my head and it was wet. Blood kept flowing. My ex and I left the scene and went to the Burger King public restroom to wipe up my bloody face before getting me home. We pulled up outside my house. I didn’t want to tell my parents what happened but wanted someone to check my head. So I lifted my hoodie up, walked up the driveway, put on an I’m-not-blitzed face as I opened the front door, and went straight to the bathroom I shared with my brothers. Turned on the shower, soaked my hair, knocked over a bottle of shampoo, faked a loud gasp. After that pathetic little charade, I went to my mom to show her the gash. The words spilled out. Shaking and inaudible. I fell in the shower and hurt myself, it bled a lot. Do I need stitches? She said it looked like a clean cut. Phew. I disappeared back into my room. Parted my hair and took a picture with my flip phone. Uploaded the photo of my skull to Myspace with the caption “Fuck.” Willy, the driver, years later, said that post made his heart stop. That accident made my heart stop. Still does to this day anytime I’m in the backseat of a car with an aggressive (always been male) driver. It’s not speed that scares me, but speed accompanied with stupidity. Cutting people off. Whipping the passengers around like rag dolls. Riding too close. Constantly slamming on the breaks. Jerking the wheel back and forth. Trying to pass without visibility. Happens more than I’d like it to, riding in cars with strangers who quickly reveal themselves. The occasional cabbie, some random friend of a friend. It happened just yesterday. On the way back from Jardín to Medellín. Sam’s cousin was driving. His wife always takes a pill before the ride apparently, to sleep through it. They both prayed before we left. That gesture. The father, the son, and the holy ghost. And as soon as the car was in drive, I was his subject again. To his sheer violence. Personified anger. He must have cut off 40 cars ahead of us. Going three times the speed limit. Weaving in and out of cars on a winding two-lane road through the mountains. Speeding into oncoming traffic. Right before a blind turn. Brake fast, lash forward. Apparently this is normal here and no one really questions it, not even after an ambulance comes to take them away. The ones in the back who couldn’t say no. Again, I didn’t have a seatbelt, because he had them tucked behind into the trunk. One arm stretched straight to the seat ahead of me and the other gripping hard on the grab handle. My heart was racing. I’ve never felt more uncomfortable, unsafe. I’ve never been in a car with such an asshole, of all the assholes. His ego, his issues, held above the well-being of others. I wanted to ask him why. “Why do you drive like this?” “What’s wrong?” “Are you okay?” How could he do this? But I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t question his disrespect, his disregard, his way. Silenced again. Powerless and paralyzed. My own safety beyond my control, my consent. In the hands of a madman. It felt like abuse. All I could do was cry. So I started sobbing uncontrollably while looking out the window. Why was I in that car? Why didn’t we get the bus back or drive separate? Sam asked him to slow down, and said I was feeling unwell. He couldn’t question him either. Afraid of the snap. The car was silent other than his 80s playlist. Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper, Toto, Alan Parsons Project. But my discomfort brought even more awkwardness to the car. I felt guilty, like I was the problem. What was worse: my reaction or the reality? I couldn’t bear to face him. I wanted to vanish. What was I going to say when I said goodbye? Thanks for the ride? Sorry for being so scared, it’s just I… I felt like I should be the one to say sorry. To apologize for my fear. For bringing it up. Luckily we hit traffic. He was forced to stay in his lane, so I was finally able to calm down a bit. To enjoy the scenery. Lush, green, but with the window down, still smelled like gasoline. I kept wondering. Why? Why’d he put us through that? Does he always do this? And to who else? Why didn’t he feel remorse? Why didn’t his wife care? Why didn’t he say sorry? All for what? Because he liked it? Because his brain’s already scattered into a million pieces? Just because? No. Not again. I wiped my cheeks, relieved to be that girl. I wasn’t sorry. I was right. Maybe I’d just tell him to take care. Because he needs to. To fulfill the upheld expectation of appreciation for the ride, I ended up just saying thanks, bye in a blur. He’ll never know the way he made me feel.
It’s easier to establish a voice away from home. Surrounded by expression foreign from your own helps you feel more alone. Background voices merge into a hush. Hidden in a cafe, away on a train. Sinking in solitude. Language becomes noise. Until I hear my own. That accent pierces past and I distract. Mind deciphers meaning. “We sold two so far.” “She was so wasted she couldn’t stand.” The words of others crowd my mind and expel my own. Familiarity pauses attention. The known pulls me out. Craving lips moving in silence. Everywhere I go, one language turns up the volume and drowns my stream of thought. The others, a sea of sound I can sense, but not grasp. A liberating loss of comprehension. Drowning in the unknown, searching for significance. A pocket of air. Choking, an inner voice becomes more clear. More distinct. I can think.