I found this buried beneath the myriad of documents in my Mac. It was written as a personal essay for a magazine writing class I took some number of semesters ago. The timings are off, since I wrote this a while ago. But considering this blog is about my travels as a young, independent student-journalist, I thought I’d share:
9 hours. The time it takes to visit my grandmother. 8 hours. The time it takes to get to my father’s house. 6 hours. The time it takes to set foot on my mother’s doorstep.
These are the approximate flight times from most airports in Florida to Porto Alegre, Brazil; then to Sao Paulo, Brazil; and finally to San Francisco, California.
I have a frequent flyer’s card for four different airlines. I have two passports. I am bilingual, and I have about four different places that I can refer to as home.
Within the past 22 years, airports have become my rest stops, and the sky a comforting reminder of the welcoming embraces soon to come.
The year was 1990, and my dad Carlos had been living in the U.S. since the age of 10. He was visiting family in Brazil when he met my mom Claudia and actually swept her off her feet and asked her to join him in Miami, where they would create a life together. He was 30, and she, a fleeting 20.
That is why, I, their only child, grew up in Pembroke Pines, Fla., away from my family in Brazil. When I was two months old, I took my first leap into the Southern Hemisphere and officially gained two identities: American and Brazilian.
When I was 3, my father and mother got divorced. Shortly after, my father’s job moved him out to Atlanta, Ga., where he’d live for the next 15 years of my life.
Growing up, my mom was the only immediate family I had year-round.
What I’ve noticed is that people like us create a pseudo family of close friends around ourselves. People in similar situations seemed to flock to one another, as if there is an unspoken mutual understanding:
“I am alone in this country, and so are you. Let’s stick together.”
My Brazilian neighbors became my fictitious aunt and uncle. My mom’s best friends’ children were my pseudo cousins. (And everyone was always Brazilian.)
But in reality, I became my closest family. Growing up away from everyone else did wonders for my independence.
Even as a child, I remember being content playing with Barbies or Polly Pockets, or whatever I chose for the day, by myself. I was also an only-child, so I’m sure that played in as well. In elementary school I kept my own agenda and always knew what homework I had due the next day. My mom never hovered over my shoulder because by age six she realized I had it covered.
Among other factors, the traveling accelerated my level of maturity. I was invited into two different cultures at a young age, which forced my mind to wrap itself around the inconsistencies of both.
I would usually fly to see my father about twice a year, and I’d spend the three summer months in Brazil with my family. Either way, having my entire family – mom, dad, grandmother, aunts – all in one place at the same time are very rare memories.
Every trip I took added a piece to the person I would become. I was slowly molded between visits with my dad, my grandmothers and aunts, and the life I had with my mom.
By age 12, I was flying alone – a huge step for me considering my irrational fear of heights and flying. “You’re a big girl now,” my dad would say. “ I’ll be right outside the gate when you arrive in Atlanta.”
At age 15, my mom would say, “Sometimes, I wonder who’s the mom and who’s the child.”
I grew up with the stoic reality that sometimes life just gets in the way. You learn to live without the physical presence of those you love because you know they are present in your every thought, decision — and essentially, a phone call away.
When I was 18, I received a phone call from my dad. He said, “Carla, I may have to move back to Brazil. My company wants to send me there for two years, but I made sure they included a yearly plane ticket for you in the contract.”
I said, “All right then. I guess that’s one less plane ticket we have to buy.”
By now I had a little brother — Roger — from my dad’s second marriage. He would spend the next few years of his life in Brazil.
In Portuguese we have a word for the physical and mental feeling of missing someone: “Saudade.” It’s a feeling I’ve battled with for most of my life. Fortunately, my experiences have set me up to look it in the face and say, “Yes, I miss my family. But it’s OK.”
So it came as no surprise to me that when I moved to Gainesville for college, my adjustment period was short-lived. I have grown accustomed to being on my own and away from my family.
Sometimes my mom complains to me that I don’t miss her. “You have your own life now … You don’t even want to come home and see me.”
Of course, she’s mistaken. She spent 20 years growing up alongside her family, so it’s harder for her to understand.
I tell her I was engineered this way. I was forced to see myself as an independent person. I became familiar with the struggles of living away from family early on, and I have learned to surpass them.
Being on my own is easy, I tell her. I’ve been prepared for this all my life.
Which is why, four months ago, when she told me she had been offered a job in San Francisco, Calif., I was ready to grasp this piece of life-altering information with a calm and collected response.
“Okay…” I said, taking it all in.
“California?” I thought to myself. “As in the state across the country from where I am? Move? As in leave behind the one place I had consistently called home for the past 20 years?”
My mother, the one solid piece of family I had in a span of 4,000 miles, was leaving me? The mother who was my dad, grandmother, grandfather, aunt and uncle all at once?
At first, it was like someone had pulled the rug from beneath my feet. I was sitting there, by myself, not knowing what do or feel. But then I remembered: I was engineered for this.
I had to stop wallowing in self-pity. I remember telling my friends, “Isn’t it interesting that this would happen to me, as opposed to one of you, who have never experienced being apart from your immediate family growing up? I can handle this, and that’s why it’s happening to me.”
It’s been four months since my mom has moved to San Francisco, and I have been there three times to visit her. It’s my favorite flight to take; flying over the snow-tipped mountains is a sight I will never get tired of.
I’m a Florida girl, with a mom in California and a dad in Brazil. I’d say that’s not too bad, right?
Four days ago, my boyfriend of nine months found out he is moving to Tampa for an internship. We haven’t been apart for more than two weeks in about a year.
What was my response?
“Looks like another excuse to travel,” I said with a grin.