How long has it been? a month? two? another birthday?
It’s odd to come back here to the cloud of thoughts that linger in written works about identity and self. I think the strongest reason why I haven’t been able to write a single word down in the past 2 months has been the inaudibility of my thoughts as I tried to learn what my next step of growth is. From the beginning, the whole point of getting away from the noise was to come back to a place of complete and utter solitude that didn’t frighten me like it did in Miami. Being alone had become the cancer to my being as it sparked constant pain, confusion, panic attacks, and a black hole of sadness.
But why? Why did I always feel like being alone was the end? Why did not spending a day doing something with someone feel like being asphyxiated by time and being diluted into a morphine dose? Why did I feel as drugged when I was alone as I did when I was drugged when dying? These are all the questions that continue to haunt me every day. Even when some answers become clear.
As I arrived in Ecuador I chose to travel with my family to my home town of Guayaquil and spend a weekend there to see my grand aunt (more like gma) and other family that I had lost touch with. But even saying that is bleak to the reality I was walking into. A couple years back, when my Dad left my house after assaulting my mother, there was a fall out with my dad’s side of the family. Ever since my father sat me down and blamed his mental illness and struggles on me, the words that were repeated by family blood have been reproduced and internalized as I deal with my depression. I received several calls from family members (I wish I had the energy to be petty and call them out one by one but honestly I have accepted they’re not worth it) calling me to tell me what a huge mistake I had made by speaking out about the violence and abuse that I experienced at home and throughout my life. I was called names, insulted, threatened, and once again blamed for having destroyed my father’s life and reminded how hurt he was by my actions. This cycle lasted for about 3 months until me and my mom decided to leave behind our phone numbers and take security measures against anyone who actively harassed us. However, through the years I’ve analyzed my relationships with “family” and thought a lot about the people I grew up with and who meant something to me; those who were more than just forced interactions.
There were a few people that I had loved and rooted for my whole life which I had contacted some months or years after my father left my house and my life because I was lost and lonely. These people turned their backs on me and ignored me, as if we hadn’t lived the moments we did, as if we hadn’t shared our lives and sorrows together, as if the apple didn’t fall far from the tree and it was okay to still ignore the fact that domestic violence is rampant in our family. I was hurt and felt alone after trying to reach out to the people I loved and had been rejected for whatever narrative my family or my father fed to them, rather than the truth.
Being on a 10-12 hour bus to Guayaquil, sitting there next to the window on the right side in the 10th row, I went back to remembering my childhood, whatever memories I hadn’t suppressed, remembering the people that brought happiness in times of peril, remembering the locations that had weaved love into my soul at a young age and I, again, started to feel alone, isolated, unwanted, crazy, y como dicen por ahi.. “la vaca negra de la familia.”
Arriving in Guayaquil also translated into fear for me once I knew my father was staying in my family home in the center of the city; the house I’ve mentioned before, the walls that raised me. I was afraid to run into the person that destroyed me, the person that broke me, and disconnected me from society, the truth, myself, emotions, trust, love, and most of all having a father. I was afraid to see myself in him and to forget what these 4 years taught me about myself. That I was worthy of happiness, love, and that I wasn’t a waste in the world.
I spent time with my mom’s family the whole weekend feeling loved and appreciated and having the opportunity to see people I thought I’d never see again. This mended all the other doubts and demons that hid in my conscience until I could escape again to another location that didn’t remind me of people that left me behind as I passed each and every street corner I remembered walking through as a small child. And then came Quito….
Quito to me meant liberation and emancipation. It was the true first time I’d have my own apartment and space, have the liberty to travel (alone or accompanied) the country when I wanted and where I wanted, I’d be close enough to family so that I’d see them often but far enough to be alone, like I knew I needed to be. It meant growth; personal and spiritual. Yet, I adequately used this newfound freedom and space to throw myself into a tank of transformations on and off for the two months I stopped writing. I started going out often, traveling every weekend, and seeing what I could be capable of as I left behind fear after fear every week. I would say the peak time for me was traveling to Cotopaxi and Baños in September. In Cotopaxi, one of the largest volcanoes here in Ecuador, I conquered my fear of heights while conquering my health with it. The elevation in Cotopaxi is close to 5,000 feet high. Thus, making it hard to breathe and hike up the volcano as easily as other mountains would come. However, arriving in Cotopaxi that weekend my mission was to prove to myself that my health wasn’t going to determine my next steps in life and whatever they entailed. It was much more about how much I could push myself and break the worries implanted into me by doctors who think they know everything about me and my medical condition, than about simple adventure and exploration. And I’m glad to say that I proved that and more.
Being sick is something that I close to never disclose to others, let alone the greater public. I can count with my fingers the people that know about what I went through and it’s not to say that I’m proud of hiding it like a secret that must be taken to the grave and incinerated with my ashes, it’s just that I’m often ashamed and scared of the reactions that it produces from those who sit and listen.
I think that for some, asking about what happened out of curiosity fulfills their need to confirm or deny whatever assumptions they have about what happened to me by looking at my scars and fixating on the way I speak. For the longest time, whenever people would do this I would replay a memory from my days in the hospital when my mom would sit by my bedside and use my iPod to play Maroon 5’s “She will be loved” and mumble the lyrics in broken English until the song approached the chorus and she could sing
“look at the girl with the broken smile,
ask her if she wants to stay a while”.
This would initially make me angry because I was that girl, with the infinite broken smile and a lifetime of trauma to get through. But eventually, it made me happy because even though I couldn’t hide the scars (no matter how hard I tried to) I could at least choose to keep people wondering and pondering as the ones who stared didn’t deserve to know the truth.
Climbing mountains and trekking to hidden waterfalls and forests though…. that was just a new level of intimacy reached with myself and the outside world. I’ve built such a strong connection with nature that sometimes and most days I refuse to leave my bed in the mornings because I’m too entertained with dreaming about nature and being outside in it, lost somewhere in the jungle or the Andes, talking to the trees and the shrubs and the rocks that hold life together. It showed me how much I need a space where this part of my identity can grow and flourish, a space in which I can walk for miles up and down a mountain to get to the next one behind it. It’s become part of the way I’m shaping my future and where I want to live it.
Baños was yet another personal test.. but more about moving on from the past than it was superficially about heights. I used to love heights as a child and adore climbing things up and down and around. However, after getting sick and a few other life crises, I somehow grew terrified of them and any fun activity attached to higher elevations. Baños is a small town settled under huge mountains and my favorite part of Baños is the swing at the end of the world which is all the way at the top of the mountain that hugs the town. Baños has a bunch of other attractions and waterfalls that lie over grand settlements of rock or in between bodies of water. I wanted to try doing canopy, canyoning, rafting, and anything along the lines of adventurous water/air activities that would help me loose my fear, as well as to go back to the swing at the end of the world and swing away my fear of heights. And I did, I went back petrified, got on the swing with the help of an amazing helper who was swinging people who got on it, and SWUNG. I asked to go again for a second time and swung as hard and far as it went for as long as I could and it would.
As far as the canopy goes, I chickened out on doing it but went on this swinging ball of destruction that repelled off a cliff and into practically the abyss of air above a small rocky river that flowed under a bridge. I was scared shitless and screamed like a child for the first 5 seconds until my gut and my brain turned on their fight or flight mode and adrenaline came running rampant through veins and arteries all over my body. Then came the victory screams of happiness and the nonstop laughing as we were spun around while being swung into nothingness. That is one of my proudest moments, truly.
After my friends did canopy and we went on to explore the largest and (in my opinion) most beautiful waterfall in Ecuador; El Pailon del Diablo, we decided to have lunch and then look for a service that would take us rafting. However, we fell upon a service that offered Canyoning for a fair price for an hour after we arrived at their office to sign up for some activities. We decided this would be the best idea for all of us and we paid the fee and then ran back to the hostel to get changed before the next adventure unraveled. Canyoning is kind of climbing down a waterfall through the middle of the waterfall as water falls on your face and you slip (and sometimes fall) downwards. It was hands down my favorite activity in Baños although I didn’t end up conquering any fears by it.
As we wrapped up our trip we also went back to the “Casa del Arbol” where the swing at the end of the world is located for one more swing before leaving. When we arrived, we sort of walked around like we hadn’t gotten the chance to do the first day there as it was too late, and we did other swings and activities available around the main attraction. As I was walking around I saw one of my family members from Guayaquil and hugged her like I hadn’t seen her some weeks previously. She had brought her family on vacation before her girls started school and was so happy and excited to see me again in the most spontaneous way possible. That little encounter left me as happy as I could be that day and sad to be leaving as we made our way back to our hostel and then to our bus.
All in all, these first 2 months narrated happened so fast that I could barely catch my breath between each travel and each encounter. The month of October has been the only real break since I got here in which I settled more into my home, Quito, and engaged with the culture here as I continue to connect with my heritage and it’s place within my identity. However, that also was the hardest month so far in terms of nostalgia and drama that introduced itself onto my life thanks to someone’s jealousy and another’s ploy of forgiveness. I feel I’m still processing and dwelling on these memories but most recently and importantly I’m leaving my inclusion in these problematic relationships behind. I’ve decided to isolate myself from people who don’t deserve my investment in their means of attention and to go back to that place and mission I wanted for myself which was to learn to be and cope alone and to put myself first above other people who take so much away and never give anything back.
It’s safe to say that leaving people sucks and it’s hard and tempestuous but I’ll never get tired of remembering how lucky I am to have people like my best friends at home who support and supplement my life like family does, like love does. Having people that respect and appreciate you as a whole is the clearest reminder that hardships will pass and that I, truthfully, am not alone.