for richer or poorer

When we moved to Romania I was eleven. On the plane, reading Reader’s Digest, I first heard the Caucescu regime mentioned, although it didn’t ring any bells. My mother had married the ambassador-to-be there, after a whirlwind romance. She collected the bows of all the orchids he sent her in the kitchen pantry. My grandmother advised this was a good man, a good opportunity, was the underlying message. She was on the plane with us, on the way to Paris, our first layover. I already devoured Agatha Christie novels that I shared with her. I loved that world of scheeming socialites, of the wise ridicuouls folk like Poirot and Ms. Maple who saw through the beauty and tact and understood who the murderer was: who kept the most venom concealed under the wealth.

11, but I knew much was hidden from the naked eye, and kept reverting to seeking any information of the outcast, the diseased, the insane, the evil ones. Felt quite at ease, albeit scared, watching The Omen in my room, bible in hand, looking up those references. Or attempting to masturbate to the blurred cable porn in that Parisian hotel room while my grandmother snored. I fled from mirrors like the plague, and handed my mother religious literature I couldn’t possibly believe, just to see if it caught on. But that’s a different story, the point is, I was old and jaded and sought out instinctively everything that opposed this picture-perfect family that wasn’t.

When we moved in the house I was impressed: I had never lived in  a house, with a yard. I had only lived downtown, in appartments in a couple of noisy cities. My first memories where of the design of sidewalk tiles in Buenos Aires, and the first smells I recognized those assembled of bus and car fumes, the ambulance sirens like tropical urban birds, punctuating and retreating, echoing distantly.

I had to go to the American School, since there was nothing available in Spanish, and Italian is irrelevant and French and German too difficult to learn from scratch and master enough to finish the sixth grade. When the driver dropped me off in school, and kind and tall black man ushered me into my seat at Social Studies. No Spanish allowed, or more likely, no one to speak it with. My ESL class had a couple of kids from Pakistan, someone from Norway, and a pudgy girl who I never heard speak coming from Zimbabwe. I learned fast, I was good at change, I adapted. Being a quick reader, I started to get the hang of it. The classes were so small that I had lots of chances to practice, and I immitated the accent of my American teachers, one of whom shared my love for Guns and Roses. This inspired me, I figured then you didn’t have to be a total loser to teach kids.

I had no one to talk to yet. Both my mother and grandmother (the only one who religiously cooked for me, fat heavy meals dripping of butter and sugar, cheese and jam, dulce de leche, chocolate: cakes are still to me a form of love much like hugs) were conspirators, whispering behind my stepdad when he got drunk and his eyes reddened. I wanted nothing to do with them, already plotting my escape.

We travelled all of Europe, ate the best cheeses, bought cutlery in Spain and pijamas in France. Due to the dire situation of the Romanians, we had to order basic things like deodorant and toothpaste from a fat Dannish catalogue.  I took pictures with my first girl friend, frolicking in the snow I’d never touched before. I had a dog, he was poisoned by the neighbor during a winter vacation, and not being able to stand up for him when the white coats took him away to experiment cures (denying him a painless death) still makes me cry in insomnia-ridden nights. I was eleven, people didn’t pay heed to my ethics, and no one knew I cared more about the dog than the whole family put together. Something that has changed, a bit, in my adulthood and after four years of sometimes-cruel psychoanalysis. It hit me, one day, one afternoon while I drank coffee and attempted to extricate myself from some conundrum, that the cliché is true: we do the best we know to do at any given time.

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