…to find outside itself other consciousnesses from which it never stops receiving and to whom it never stops giving in an uninterrupted circuit of light, of joy, and of love…
—Louis Lavelle, “Le Mal et la Souffrance”
What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.
Afro-Argentines. Fines del siglo 19.
Salta La Linda, Argentina
Sometimes it feels like another life; the transition is still a blur to me.
I remember my entire extended family and closest friends bidding good-bye at the airport. I remember sitting inside a wide airplane next to my crying mother. I had been on planes before, plenty of times. This time felt different; we had emptied our apartment and brought all our toys along. My little brothers were across the isle playing with their Transformer action figures; my dad in a pensive state. I don’t think I cried once, for my romanticized version of the United States was waiting on the other side. I pressed play on my bright yellow cassette player and let the harmonies of John and Paul’s voices lull me to sleep.
I had gotten used to saying good-bye, anyway. My maternal grandmother had died of Alzheimer’s two years prior, and I had watched her turn more like me in the process. She went from living with my grandfather to living in a nursing home, where we could visit her at odd times. My weekly schedule, at the time, comprised of eating lunch at their apartment, between school and after-school activities. Once my grandma was gone, the lunches became lonelier. I was allowed to eat in the TV room while watching Scooby-Doo: a treat! But the vacant stare in my grandfather’s eyes told me otherwise.
My grandpa died a year after that. He was diagnosed with lung cancer and given two years to live, but didn’t make it past six months. We weren’t allowed to see him for a while, for my mother explained he was sick. I thought it seemed like the longest flu I had ever heard of. It was on a Monday that I saw him last: good news came our way that grandpa was feeling better. But his physique shocked me when I saw him. He was skinny and pale; it looked as if life had already started to make his way out of him. A few days later, we dropped off my mom down the street from his apartment. I watched from the backseat, looking up as my aunt told my mom everything would be okay. My mom’s eyes were red, tears coming down with incredible speed, and there was nothing I could do but stare. From one day to the next, one of the homes I frequented most often was out of my life, as were the people that inhabited it. I wasn’t able to grasp the concept of forever, but it shook my sense of stability.
I like to tell people that my grandfather died of a broken heart; I haven’t seen a love like the one between the two since. But that stems from my storytelling nature. Music had awakened something in me from the very first formative months: thanks to my mother, who would sit by the speakers and play The Beatles when I was in the womb.
As we boxed up our books, photographs and clothes, I thought of nothing but the exciting life that lay ahead of me. The prospect of a new language, expansive backyards and brighter days thrilled me: I envisioned my life like a movie. It was not until later, when I began to feel the paradoxical pull between my identities as Argentine and American, that I reflected back on the joyful childhood I spent in my home country.