At the end of the summer of 2001, my mother, my brother, and I moved from a pent-house apartment in Caracas, Venezuela to a townhouse in central New Jersey. Colorful furniture and marble fixtures turned into carpeted flooring and a red linoleum kitchen. 5 bedroom, 7 baths turned into 2 bedroom. 1.5 baths. Backyard scenes of loomy, lush mountains turned into scenes of decked rows of patio furniture.
However, it wasn’t ever about the size, but about the magic. My mother tried, she tried to reinstate the hue that we were accustomed to. She picked the only house with a backyard rid of grass, and replaced by a stone garden. Twelve feet by eight of every shade of silver. This garden only cross-able barefoot by large, flat stepping stones which snared diagonally across our squared in lot. When I dared with my bare feet to gently saunter across the pebbles outside of the stepping stones, I fancied the sensation of being waist deep in a clear lake, arms out to my sides. A visual oasis for the neighborhood.
From the flea market of deep wooded furniture she bought my brother and I a bunk bed which we traipsed up and down, our shared fortress in our shared room. The fabric of the curtains she made for us (as she did for every house we’ve lived in) a dark purple sparkling cloak adorned with a gold spiders. A mystical cloak to guide us into our dreams at night.
My brother and I forsook separate rooms, my mother said, for our bathroom. Our impossibly large bathroom. This was something, apparently, we were not compromising on. Like our stone garden, our bathroom, one of a kind, with two skylights that transcended the space which I thought to be our roof. With sponges, and three different shades of peach, we cultivated an art space where we came together for sun and for baths, and once, for soap to my mouth.
As the years went on, a single green leafy plant overtook our bathroom. Fed incessantly and lusciously by the portal to the sun, and the steam of our cleanses, it grew to be a jungle, a little shop of magic. As the vines grew, my mother hung them to the ceiling, and then to the walls. It grew with us in our new life. It was the first thing we showed our guests when they came over, our prized cultivation. Whatever their reaction, I always knew they thought it crazy, never really seeing the magic.
Though, with magic, comes fears and dangers. Vulnerability.
A few weeks after we moved in, on the day after my birthday, in a city I had never been to, something came out of the sky and took two towers down. Destruction I had seen, and fear I knew well at this point in my life, but this, only bad magic could have caused this. Images of mile long smoke trails, explosions, and the same face of a man in a white turban and a beard. Was he Rasputin? Not long later, the faces of brave young men in the colors of the flag taped up in the grocery store. I never knew if they were placed there to make people feel safe and happy, or to make them feel sad and scared. Never knew really if they were alive or dead.
Someone was coming to our new country. An invasion, I was certain, led by the new Rasputin. Were the men of the flag going to protect me? Such I thought when a few months later I found myself crying in a coat closet of new classmates in school. There was someone in the school, an intruder, and he was here to harm, said the teacher as she ran to shut the blinds and cover the window slit in the door, and told me to be quiet as I sat on the floor of a pitch black hiding place. As others giggled and stole their snacks from their backpacks, someone squeezed my hand as tears rolled out of me. So wildly bothered I was at how everyone else could be so calm when the invasion was here.
The lights turned on, it was over. It was all fake. There was no invasion. No man with a gun. No man with a knife. No Rasputin. No real fear. It was all just a drill. A Code C, they called it. Which to me sounds like a name for a invasion if I ever knew one.
In the country that I knew, such mock fear was fallacy. No need to pretend when nature’s hand was at play. In the lands below, fear was the sneeze of one single mountain in the Andes at night. Built up congestion, released upon its lap, that sent us running to the doorways. Convinced I was that our dishes were more scared, as they shivered violently in their cabinets. Fears were the angry mud slides, the dirty cry of the mountain, that sullied homes, and washed them up as new homes in the form of tents on the airport runway below. Fears were the fires that started cooking too close to the edge of the city burners. Fear was a missing brick on the roof in the home we took our nanny to, whose home turned into a bathtub whenever it rained.
In the country I knew, such mock fear was still fallacy, but mystic fear ran rampant. The jungle certainly played its part in this, as creatures came out in all different shapes of form. In the shape of the anaconda that I had placed around my neck during a field trip. Or sometimes in the shape of visions of the man with a knife that the children said sat on the fence of the back playground, which separated our school from the city below.
So really, what was fear to the five year old who stepped off the bus everyday to a demonized cannonball of fur with a purple tongue who wanted to take a chunk out of my young fair skin. What was fear to someone who stood outside a hospital with her nanny, speckled in the blood that came from the gashed forehead of a little brother who was pushed by an arrogant, fearless sister. What was fear to the little girl who stepped out of church one morning to a man convulsing on the sidewalk, foaming at the mouth, and what was fear to a young girl who saw her mother one day withering away on a bathroom floor, curled up, unable to move. Dad was gone, so we moved.
Fear was this new home, devoid of magic and a mystical realism, and natural fears, that left one bare, to stand on is own, to sit under dining room tables on terribly carpeted floors and wonder when the man on the “worlds wanted posters” was coming for you.
But how magical it all was.