Saturday, August 17, 2013

On going home, by Estefanía Marchán

Estefanía Marchán is a talented writer, terrific colleague, and cherished friend. She spent part of her summer in Ecuador, from where she shares some reflections.
Plaza de San Francisco, Quito, Ecuador. Photo by Estefanía Marchán.

Yesterday I saw my mother in the face of a woman on the street. I should say, rather, I saw her in the skin of a woman on the street. She, the woman with my mother's skin, was walking next to me down Amazonas. Where we were headed was unimportant.

Only her profile was visible: a patch of translucent freckled skin stretching back like ripples on a lake. The rest of her remained concealed. She wore oblong shades and had her hair pinned back. Sylvia, I thought. Her ghost.

Two months in Ecuador and I am becoming superstitious. Memories turn to visions that haunt this place.

My mother is on the street, alone, black-clad and elegant at her age. Jorge, her father, drinks dark rum on a stoop, surrounded by other young military men. Lola, my father's mother, sits next to me on the sofa. An exorcised ghost. My own Eleanor Rigby, I feared her for years. Now -- a child at 98 -- she's just Lolita, ringing her shaky fingers through my hair. Lo-lee-ta. It now brings pleasure to say her name.

This is the longest I've been home since I left. Everywhere, ordinary things trigger visions of family and self: a song, the corner store that has been open for as long as I have lived, the woman on the street who might have been my mother, if we had never left, if she had never died.

It is in this sense that scenes here evoke what many on the outside think they evoke. Unexpectedly, I am inside a Marquez story. The quotidian can turn magical through memory, though it isn't. Still, everywhere, the traces of people I have known and the others before them. A string of lives -- a chain perhaps -- tying me to this place.

This is a pleasant discovery. A sense of place, the continuity of setting, has become so elusive in my life.

But not here. Here, things are pregnant with memory. And I imagine different visions of different people at different times in their lives. I see my own ghosts too -- all the lives I could have led but didn't. I've come back to scatter some more, so I don't have to say goodbye.

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