Tuesday, August 14, 2012

My Two Flags (an excerpt)

Summer sun...
This alone is a new experience for me.  The heat is intense, the humidity oppressive and there is no getting away from it unless you roam the malls to mooch off their A/C.  I must be out of my mind to be riding a bicycle today.  The heat makes me miss Quito’s mild weather more than the infinite stream of memories playing in my mind.
I make my way to the Derby-Welkerton Bridge before the blues get the best of me.  I have the nighttime for that, and I’ve been a loyal victim of nostalgia every single time I’m alone in my little bedroom.  I’m sure my pillow will deteriorate soon from all the tears I’ve been leaving upon it.
After riding back to the house, I change out of my sweaty shirt and leave the bike to walk around the block then back down on Main.  Before I realize how far I’ve walked, I find myself crossing Pershing drive into the commercial area of Ansonia.  It’s strange that you can walk through three or four towns in less than an hour, just one more of the many differences I was finding.  A few feet away from me, I spot the golden arches and remembering my money, I decide to face my fear and buy myself some lunch.
I use the bottom of my shirt to wipe at the streams of sweat, growing self-conscious of my presentation.  I wish I would’ve brought the bike.  Maybe I wouldn’t be so sweaty.
"One cheeseburger, one Coke", I practice the line my aunt taught me, out loud.  "One cheeseburger, one Coke."  
The R's are tricky but I hope to get by.  Rolling my tongue feels uncomfortable and the sound feels phony.  "One cheeseburger, one coke"
I step inside, soaking in the cool air and the cooking scents while I stand at the end of the line.  I burn with envy as the woman in front of me lets out a litany of words that the girl behind the counter transforms into an array of burgers, fries, and drinks. She says something with a smile and receives one in return. The woman takes the tray and saunters away, another satisfied customer.
"How may I help you?"
I'm sure she said something prompting me to order, so I mutter the mantra from under a heavy boulder of trepidation that seems stuck in my throat, "One cheeseburger, one Coke... please," I say in an almost inaudible voice.
I am so proud of myself. "Please" wasn’t part of the line I practiced. I see this as a major improvement, a step in the right direction, a small but significant triumph.  I square my shoulders and lift my chin.  I’ve got money and by God, I’m about to have my first productive English conversation with a total stranger.
"Would you like to make it a value meal and get fries?"
The blood drains from my face and her voice sounds like the echoed warble you hear from teachers on any Charlie Brown cartoon. 
I freeze
"You know, French fries?"
Oh the horror...
She might as well be speaking Mandarin.  I can’t tell where one word ends and another begins.
I simply stare at the girl, a false smile plastered on my lips, my five dollar bill shaking in my hand as new rivers of sweat trail down my temples.  My heart is hammering a painful beat in my chest.
The girl looks at me uncertainly and repeats her question.  Whatever courage I had, flees along with my dignity.  My feet spin me in the direction of the door out of their own accord and I take off like a shot without looking back or heeding the girl's calls.
I pump my legs up Division Street and don’t stop until I find my way back to Main Street in Welkerton.
I sit in defeat on a stone pier that decorates the bank's parking lot.  Bitter tears threaten to spill but I hold fast, conjuring an image of my Mom, smiling as she goes to work; Dad looking tired and a bit haggard, doing factory work instead of dressing up to go to his posh office on Avenida Amazonas in Quito; my little sister following my cousin around like a lost puppy in the name of companionship.
Damned if I’m going to cry.
The only things that spills for now are the rivulets of sweat that drench my brow and soak my shirt.  
I come close to despair as I realize how long this road is going to be for us.
As I make my way back to the safety of the house, worn out by the stifling heat,  my stomach growls in mockery. 
It’s not fair.
It was just one cheeseburger and one Coke.

Author's Note:  This is the most difficult novel I'll ever write, for it's so challenging to open up these vaults, but as a writer, I simply have no choice.  This story must be told.

Javier A. Robayo

Thursday, August 9, 2012


"When you opt to change everything, always remember to breathe, and embrace it all with eyes wide open".- T.L. Tate

   For the past three days, my life has consisted of furnishing two bedrooms in my parent's home where my girls and my Sheri will be until I rejoin them in October.
   After a long, slow drive pulling a trailerful of belongings, and fighting a major bout of uncertainty and utter self-recrimination, reorganizing and living the days side by side with my parents slowly made me realize I had not taken a deep enough breath.  I hadn't even allowed their unconditional love and support to allay my fears. 
   No transition is easy.  It was all I could think of, but I didn't count on the closest people in my life to make it an experience so filled with laughter and hope.  No one knows how to make you feel more welcome than my mom, and no one, I mean no one, can elicit a laugh like my dad.
   I've missed being around them far more than I thought. 
   Once I finished putting the new furniture together for the girls, I left Sheri to organize the girls' clothes.  It's not that I didn't want to help.  I'm just a man.  No good when it comes to girlie world and its many aspects.  If I had tried to help, Sheri would've undoubtedly kicked me out anyway.
   I finished sanding the last coat of polycrylic on the new workstations, where I'll hopefully be editing or writing the last of a fourth novel.  Once I was somewhat pleased with the shine and smoothness of the desktops, I went out and came across four ornaments that my mom has set up in her never ending efforts to decorate every space over which she's given domain.
   The first one said "Welcome".  I smiled at the sea shells above the letters.  Mom loves the ocean and its limitless secrets.  She often pointed out that one drop of ocean would eventually touch every coast in the world, given enough time.  We could all learn a lot of patience from the blue seas.
   I climbed the steps to the back yard and on the railing there were three stone planters, each sprouting a posy.  One had the word "Hope" inscribed upon it.  Hope, I thought to myself.  The same reason my parents took me out of my adolescent world in Ecuador and brought my sister and me to America. 
   Next to Hope, another stone planter had the word "Believe".  I've never fully believed in myself or what I could do, but I've had some incredible people infuse me with a confidence I've never had. 
   Jo VonBargen, who has to be one of the most amazingly unique human beings on this planet, stuffed me full of belief by writing a review of The Gaze that shook me the very core.  To hear that you've done well from someone so talented is priceless.  I allowed myself to believe, for others have been believing in me all along.
   Heading to the yard, the last stone planter gave me a glimpse of what my new life in Connecticut will be with one word: "Happiness".
   It seemed as though some higher power, along with my mom, set those signs before me, doing away with the dark, cold shadows of regret I've fought day in and day out for the last two years.
   As I stood there, choking back tears at the signs before me, my best friend from high school, 25 years in the making, sent me a text with the familiar words we've written, spoken, and texted to each other every time we faced a transition, everything's going to be all right.
   Even my dog, Her Highness Bailey, looked over at me with her eerily expressive eyes and I could almost hear a voice in my head saying, "Quit worrying so damn much."
   Her Chocolate Furry Highness just chuffed and plopped down on the grass, staring at the treetops blanketing Ansonia.  I followed her gaze and soaked in the sounds of the Connecticut traffic, the screams of seagulls announcing our proximity to the Atlantic, and the singularity of the moment. 
   "Yeah, Bay," I said, crouching down to scratch Her Highness behind the ears.  "Everything's going to be all right.  We've been welcomed here, a place of hope where belief will lead us to happiness."
   In reply to my flash of half-baked poetry, Her Highness simply rolled her large brown eyes at me, giving me an I-knew-it-all-along-you-hopeless-human snort.
   Old Tate's words flashed in my mind as I ran a collage of the past two years, the lows, the desperation, the constant fretting, and the avalanche of what-ifs that stole entire nights of sleep... and I finally exhaled.

   Javier A. Robayo


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

You Called Me 'Home'

   I was a two story cape whose family was moving away when you came.  You brought your bride and a small dog, a weiner dog as I recall.  My landscaping was lacking, my bushes overgrown.  You somehow saw beyond the cracks in the driveway sprouting weeds.  I noticed you grinning when you claimed the single detached garage.
   Your eyes found my skin tired and chalky, and my windows were drafty.  My doors had never seen a coat of paint, but I opened them wide for you.
   You walked through my rooms and saw beyond the dim fixtures, the blemished walls, the small kitchen, and the closet size second bath.  You saw beyond the musty cave of my basement.  I liked your smile at the challenge before you.  I nearly recoiled at the thought of the transformation to come, but it was your right for taking a chance on me, and after a time of formalities I'll never presume to understand, I became a house you called home.
   Your bride lovingly brought my counters to shine, and she went to great lengths to make every space welcoming with her unique touch.  I watched you replace every fixture, and their light chased shadows away.
   Each of my rooms was smoothed and painted in hues that brightened the once present gloom and soon I felt the vitality of your young age infused into my tired frame.
   The painted brick of my fireplace was dressed up in stone.  I looked forward to warming your hands in the winter cold.  You gave me a new mantle and a matching bookcase made with your own hands.  Perhaps you don't know this, but I knew then what you thought.  I saw that dream of one day filling those shelves with your books.
   For five years I enjoyed the sound of your laughter.  Your two mutts trampled my grounds left and right, and always found the sun coming through my new windows to warm their backs.  I apologized for every old part of me that made the new basement such a task, but you did it and did it well, and the cavern was gone, in its place more space where laughter and joy reigned supreme.
   My fires burned bright and I watched you two dance to soft music into the early hours of the morning.  I sighed at the messes you made as you hurried your way out to work.  I felt your motivation and determination to keep me, and keep me well, updating every part of me.
   The once empty room facing the street, transformed to welcome your first little girl.  How I adored the little voice, each coo, cry, and giggle.  I smiled each time a pencil was used to mark where that little head reached on the trim of the closet, month after month.
   Soon there were two little voices, my every room held one of you and soon your daughters called this old house their home.  I watched in awe as each one grew, one willowy and tall, one elfin and fair.  They ran through my rooms, they splashed my bathroom floor, they crayoned my walls, and they looked out my window, celebrating each snowfall before curling around the fireplace, looking up at the Christmas Tree eagerly awaiting that precious day.
   I stood proud, my siding in a rich brown, my trim a darker shade.  I even had a full head of hair, every shingle brand new.  On rainy days, I liked watching the water flow down the new smooth driveway, dancing around the new contention wall and the walkway.
   I watched you laugh.  I watched you cry.
   I felt alive when company came and you worked so hard to make me look my best.  I felt special, for you brought two new lives for me to shelter, to inwardly laugh when their riding my stairways tickled my frame.  I was now a better house and you called me home.
   I knew when times got tough, for the discussions were serious in my little kitchen.  I heard the promises you made as you held your bride in your arms, hurting with the impotence to do more than you did.  I know some decisions were made that you didn't want to make.  I missed you while you were gone for so many hours out of the day.  Your girls ran into each of my rooms trying to find you.  You worked so hard and it wasn't enough.  Little did I know you had something else in mind.
   I watched as you sat in front of a glowing screen.  Night after night you were down in my basement, hammering at the keyboard even when you started to look at me sadly, knowing our parting was imminent.
   I remember it well, when you revised that last page.  You ran out to the backyard, past the pool where the summer laughter and splashing echoed even in the dead of winter, and you ended up on your knees behind the garage.  You did what you set out to do, and my shelves by the fireplace held one book, then another, both bore your name on the spine, just as you dreamed that day when you set that last nail into that oak board.
   Wherever you go from here, whatever you do, started right here within my walls.  I'll think of you fondly, I'll miss being yours, but through sixty-six years, I've learned that people come and people go.  But you and your bride, along with your little girls, have been a joy to shelter.  I'll take eternal credit in the fact that your family started here.  Your first books decorated my shelves, along with your portraits, and I know you won't forget me, the way I won't forget everything you did to this old two story cape.
   I'll forever remember, with more love than you'll know, that for thirteen happy years, you called me home.

   Javier A. Robayo