It was June and my kids had just taken a vacation from school.
We were going through a very hot month in California, it was the warmest in recent years. I saw a lot of news about people who were very sick with the heat wave that hit the West Coast of the United States. I still had to work in the office but I was still worried about such a heat wave that was hurting everyone. I was appalled at how hot heat could make people sick. We have sickened the planet and now we are suffering the consequences.
I can only remember now when I was a child. I lived in Brazil, in a place that was known for the wonderful waterfalls and the various rivers that cut through cities. My whole family would gather in mid-September to party and arrange walks through the waterfalls and rivers of our region. It was beautiful. I can even say with certainty that these were magical moments.
I got away from it all when I came to live in the USA.
I came in search of a dream, and left behind the most precious of all my dreams. I was lucky to have clean waters and the company of a splendid nature and I wasted that luck.
Today, I miss it a lot.
I remember my uncle very well telling me that I would miss it. I didn’t care, of course. When I decided to come to the US, I was young, senseless and very dreamy. But he was right. I didn’t want to believe it; I wouldn’t want to confess it but he was absolutely right. Still, I can’t help but remember the times I took part in the outdoor walks, the baths in the waterfalls and rivers I visited.
When I realized, I was already researching travel itineraries for Brazil, and visiting again the places I loved so much as a child. I didn’t think of anything else, and the whole waterfall of memories was turning into a river of actions I was doing. I chose the cheapest ticket and didn’t even bother with hosting. I called a cousin I was still in contact with and she allowed me to stay at her house.
I asked to leave work early, I asked for a vacation too. I told my boss that I wanted to enjoy my kids’ vacation. I always had a very understandable boss with me.
“Fine,” he said. “You have accumulated vacations, as I recall. You can take them now. Have fun!” He wished me a good vacation and gave me a catchy smile.
He is older than me, he is more experienced as well. He is someone who always gives me good advice, both in life and in business. I think this is a good part of working in a small business and very close to your boss.
I left the office filled with a joy I couldn’t contain in myself. I had an unusual smile on my face. I love my job, but this vacation would be different. I was going to visit my past, a part of me that was left behind and that for some reason I forgot about it in a land far away. A land rich in natural beauty, a place whose nature is gleaming. A place where you feel your refreshed energies, body and soul travel to a time when cities and skyscrapers were unimaginable.
You dive and feel part of the planet, alive as the earth is alive.
When I told my wife and my two children — a boy and a girl — that we were going to travel, they were happy too but their happiness was different from mine. It would be very selfish of me to judge their feelings, but it was clear in their eyes and gestures that I was much happier than them.
Well, I got in the mood anyway.
Quickly, we packed our bags with only the essentials, that is, nothing. In fact, I have a very minimalist view of the world. I usually use only what is necessary and pass this idea on to my wife and my children. We carry some casual clothes and some toiletries. My kids wanted to take toys but I assured them they wouldn’t need the toys.
As soon as our bags were packed, we left for the airport and caught our flight. I had the same excitement since I had the idea of visiting my past. And my wife asked me the reason for my joy.
“I swear to you that I have no idea”, I told her, looking deep into her small eyes. Did I mention that I married an Asian? I’ve always had a crush on Asians, but that I’ll explain later. I can only say that at some point in life the universe conspired in my favor and I finally had an Asian wife; she’s Korean, by the way.
“It’s funny how happy you are”, she told me. His smile on his lips drew other smiles in his eyes. This is what I love most about her.
Our children slept in the next chairs, as we occupied an entire row. At the beginning of the flight, they were excited about a movie they were watching but soon they fell asleep. But it didn’t take long and we had to wake them up. We had arrived in Brazil but it was just a stopover. I don’t remember exactly what the city was, but we were already in my Northeast Region — as it is known here in Brazil, it’s just an administrative or political region, I don’t know —, where I was born.
The Northeast Region is famous for its beautiful beaches, the most beautiful in the country, but my destination was far from being a beach. I wanted to visit a waterfall, which reminded me a lot of my childhood. After a few hours of stopover, we went to Maranhão, the state where I was born. The plane landed in the capital, then we had to go by bus to the south of the state.
The trip was getting tiring but I didn’t miss the excitement at any time.
At the bus station, I spotted my cousin through the bus window. Her bright face and black eyes searched for me for the bus that was coming from the capital. It was night, and it looked like she had been waiting there for hours. Me, my wife and children were already tired. We got off the bus slowly, following the flow of passengers getting off at that station.
“Cousin!”, said my cousin, cheerful and in Portuguese, as we speak the same language. I smiled and hugged her. Then, in English, I introduced my wife and my children.
“So, how was the trip?”, I think that’s what my cousin said. Her English pronunciation is a little rusty, but we could understand.
“It was a very tiring trip. I have traveled by plane several times but I have never done such a tiring trip, even when traveling to Korea”, that’s what my wife answered. This was proof that it was possible to understand my cousin’s rusty English.
We didn’t talk much there because we were too tired for that. We just got our bags from the bus driver and got into my cousin’s car. She drove to her house where she lives alone. There was a guest room, and that’s where we stayed. While my wife and children were getting ready for bed, I kept talking to my cousin for a while.
We had similarities in our personalities, we got along very well. Some people even saw us as brothers. We talk about random stuffs and laugh a lot. We had so much fun until we started to remember the past. It was her father who told me those things about missing where I came from. Both her father and my mother — who were brothers — are no longer with us. We talked about them and how special they were to us, and the pain of missing weighed on our hearts.
We changed the subject quickly so that we no longer suffered from it.
She told me that she had scheduled the whole outing we were going to do the next day. Our old house had become a museum as it was one of the oldest in the small town in the south of the state. It would not be difficult to visit the place and experience local good practices.
“And then? What will we do?”, I asked.
“Let me surprise you”, that’s what she said, ending the conversation with a mysterious smile.
I was outraged by that but I just smiled. This girl’s boldness has not changed at all! After the conversation, I went to shower, got ready and went to sleep.
The next day we woke up and then had breakfast. When I looked at the set table, I was discredited. A whirlwind of sensation washed over me. My family found the food strange, but I was just thrilled to see it. It was as if a small part of my childhood was being tasted right now. The most delicious part of my childhood.
I was already used to the type of American and Korean breakfasts, which are different from the Brazilian breakfast. There were breads, a coffee that smelled good in the air, and I had my favorite: cheese bread. In fact, such cheese bread does not even carry cheese in its mix, but it is very delicious. My cousin had made a very special recipe that had some family secrets. I can’t describe how I felt when I took the first bite of cheese bread. The definition of joy becomes too narrow to define it.
I felt the genuine joy of a child enjoying the breakfast I had for several years while living in Brazil. For a moment I wondered if it was really worth growing up and leaving.
A child expresses his joy through his purity. I think I was wrong to define my joy like that, but I needed to express what I was feeling. I’m just trying to explain the unexplainable, put into words the amazing feeling I felt when I ate.
After enjoying that breakfast of the gods, my cousin and I left together, just the two of us. My wife and children stayed at home, they wanted to prepare for the outing to the waterfall; which was what we would do next.
As my cousin had promised and scheduled, we went to our old home. In fact, it was more mine than hers, because that’s where our grandmother lived for a while, along with my mother and me. When she gone, the house was left for my mother, and I sold it when it became mine. Years later, the house became a museum. What needed to be restored was restored, and now I was having the opportunity to revisit this piece of my past.
If it wasn’t clear, it was a museum to tell the history of the town, and that little house was part of the history of the town since its foundation. It was one of the first houses of one of the town’s most distinguished residents: my grandmother.
I walked into the house and it was like I could see her around, hear her and even feel her. It was as if I heard my mother arguing with me that I had done something wrong and my grandmother defending me from it.
But I could also hear and feel my mother giving me affection, love and education. I miss you so much, especially knowing that I wasn't here when she left, and I didn’t even accompany you when your life was coming to an end. Like a child who had just gotten caught up in something he did wrong, I sat on the floor and started crying a lot.
I never thought missing could hurt as much as it was hurting me at that moment.
My cousin sat next to me, hugged me and comforted me. She was the closest I had to a sister, and at that moment she was the closest I had to my blood family. Her hug and words came as a warmth to my pain. She even reminded me of the good times we had in that house; usually she came to spend the holiday season with me.
“Do you remember when I cut your hair in front of a mirror over there?”, she said, smiling and reminding me of the worst haircut I’ve ever had.
After some more random conversation, we also know a little more about the history of our city, something that has always fascinated me. Even though I'm an adult, the story I came from enchants me, just as it enchanted me when I was a child.
When we finished the visit to the museum, we returned to my cousin's house and prepared to go to the waterfall. My wife wanted to know about the museum visit but I just said it was interesting.
Before we went to the waterfall, I remembered that we used to prepare food to take for this type of outing. I asked my cousin if she had anything prepared, and she just said, “Let me surprise you.” I was curious about that, but I didn't care much. I was very excited about the tour as we were going to review a place that I had played a lot of jokes when I was a kid.
In fact, I was a very naughty child. I must confess that. I talked about this with my wife and children, and heard a mocking laugh from my cousin.
“Anything you want to tell me?”, I asked. She said no, and the surprise would tell me everything. I insisted, but she said the past should be in the past.
When we arrived at the scene, I was horrified. I still asked, “Are you sure it's here?”. My cousin confirmed that yes, it was where we were going for a walk and a bath. But I didn't want to believe it.
The splendor of the waterfall and the wonders of nature were exchanged for concrete and technologies that served capitalism. With the excuse of exploiting tourism in the region, they destroyed a natural good we had. The untouched nature, the natural and colorful beauty had gone gray and plastic. What they said they were going to build actually destroyed everything.
I was appalled by that. I wanted to leave, but I couldn't, because the place was too far from the city and without a car wouldn’t be suitable.
I just wanted to get away from the concrete and the cities, back to the nature I lived in my childhood, but couldn’t. I couldn’t relive this part of my childhood. As my cousin said, the past must be the past, and that is what happened. But my family had fun in this concrete, wood and plastic tourist complex, whose water was breaking in the middle of the landscape, remembering that there was some untouched nature there. Seeing in my children the same joy I felt when I was a child in that place was the only thing that made me smile at that moment.
But I still think about going back in time and reliving or changing something so that I had a different future, even though I was satisfied with the future I have now.