A golden flower is blooming and stretching towards the sunlight streaming through the clouds. I could sense the flower yearning, dreaming of that connection. Like the flower, we all want a connection, a love that is warm, fulfilling, and effortless. But at that moment, I was distracted by working in Rio de Janeiro. How do you describe someplace so beautiful that you can sit for hours staring at the multitiered cityscape filled with shocking natural beauty and a mosaic of the rich oceanic colors of turquoise, cerulean, and seafoam? It isn’t that Rio is clean, elegant, or particularly conscious of harmonizing with the environment. Rio can astonish you at how abusive people can be to the places where they live. Nonetheless, Rio is beautiful and fascinating because of these contradictions. Rio reminds you of an aging but still terribly enticing whore in almost tasteful clothing.
In this weirdly magical place, I keep dreaming of falling in love. Is it a cliché, and should I be embarrassed? Am I a hopeless romantic to dream of the emotions and heat of passion? Perhaps it meant I was open to falling in love, and I would soon encounter the love of my life. My mind keeps returning to my dry desiccated hometown, although one could barely call the ramshackle gathering of 8 crumbling grey buildings a town.
Even in the bright yellow sun, the town was nondescript and indistinguishable from the grey-dusty trees and brown land surrounding it. For me, it was a place of sadness and tense quiet whispers. I knew I was different from my earliest memories, and different was frowned upon and feared in my hometown. I can still picture the quiet afternoons filled with loneliness except for the small flat screen linked by a mangled antenna to the outside world. The television fitfully showed one or two local channels streaming entertainment from long ago.
I was drawn to one program which showed the bright, joyful colors I missed in real life. An actress named Lynda Carter would likely have smiled, knowing that her campy interpretation of Wonder Woman, dressed in her brilliant red, white, and blue costume, would inspire this small boy to dream. I loved seeing the actress jump and whirl with her golden tiara, lasso, and silver cuffs. I felt a great desire to be like her, and one afternoon I fashioned circlets of aluminum foil which I used as a headband and cuffs.
I laughed with boundless joy as I spun and spun, dreaming of the heroic feats I was eager to perform. But as I turned for the last time, I saw my mother looking on in abject horror. I jerked to a stop as my mother rushed over and snatched off my tiara and cuffs, furiously hissing, “Sit down! Don’t be a sissy!” I can still feel the red-hot heat of shame and shock. Also, of bewilderment, since I never understood what I did that was so wrong. But from that point on, I hid my thoughts and waited. I waited a long time to be myself; throughout that time, I dreamed of falling in love.
And now? I worked, and I watched. My favorite spot to do both was in Barra de Tijuca, a national rainforest park surrounding modern Rio’s concrete and steel buildings. I loved hiking through the forest, passing through waterfalls, gangs of flying monkeys, and beautiful moss-green pools. At night besides dreaming, I would surge forth into the night with my friends to the Jockey Club or one of the dozens of restaurants found in the city.
One of my work friends, Silvio, and his wife invited me to their beach house in Ubatuba to spend a long weekend with their family. Silvio was the son of a prominent banker, and Ana was an artist. Silvio was a dichotomy with the soul of a creative but also with a sharp analytical brain of a mathematician. He was an outrageously funny character and unapologetically sly as he tried to curry favor in the company through his charm and wit. And as much as I hate competition, I must admit he is quite good.
Silvio also invited a relatively new person to the firm, Jack Wootan. Jack was a tall, sandy-haired American with a quiet, intense attitude. His pale blue eyes and blandly handsome face provided a shield to hide his thoughts and feelings. Jack was not, even I must admit, the stereotypical American with a too-loud voice and over-eager nature. He was intellectual, serious, and strait-laced, with an arrogant aura of superiority. He was a runner, and as much as I tried to avoid it, I could not help but notice how attractive he was. Nonetheless, we never clicked as friends and tended to avoid each other, perhaps subconsciously. There was no animosity between us, just a sense of competition and a lack of interest in getting to know each other more than the usual superficial manner typical of work.
Jack was not the only one at fault for our lack of interest in each other. I have always had an evil sense of humor that I used to deflect passing interest into my innermost thoughts. I rarely let people see past my surprisingly fragile confidence. I was a slightly pained somber person still dreaming of a joyful future. Jack was more outgoing and had the effortless grace to entice both men and women to drop their panties quickly. Granted, Brasileiros are not known for being overly choosy. But seeing this nice-looking, slightly stiff individual tongue his way across Brasil was amusing.
Before we visited the beach house, Silvio sent us explicit written instructions to get to the guardhouse of his beach neighborhood and his telephone number so we could call him to pick us up when we arrived. Ubatuba was in the middle of a glorious, lush nowhere, and cell service was only a suggestion, never promised.
Jack and I decided that he would pick me up after work, and we would drive in his car to the beach house. I knew the road to Ubatuba was outrageous and could be quite fun in many ways. But before leaving Rio, we had to drive through downtown to get to the main highway. The street we traveled was called Nove de Julio. It is an old street with tall residential buildings with huge balconies that take up the length of the apartments.
The terraces all contain tall palms and hanging ivy plants. So the buildings look as if they are covered in trees and flowers. On the outskirts of town, military police stop cars randomly and rummage through their trunks. Usually, the police do not intimidate me, but frankly, I am not used to municipal police that looks like grade school students in commando gear carrying sub-machine guns. I am told that these teenagers stop cars and expect to be bribed, or they will cause trouble. It was pretty refreshing to see that Latin America stays the same from country to country. Jack was grim and not particularly talkative, so I kept quiet and continued to watch his handsome profile and the streets as they diminished in the countryside.
Initially, the highway from Rio to the Ubatuba coastline was in excellent condition and carried us through intensely green hills populated by beautiful flowers, tall grass, and ugly cows. We also drove through a small mountain range with dense jungle and heavy forestation. At the top of the ridge, you can see the Atlantic Ocean and the adjoining coastal islands. The final descent to sea level made my hairs stand on end. The decline was simply too steep to believe. Countless overheated cars had stopped by the highly narrow edge waiting for assistance. The road passed by forests, streams, and mini-waterfalls at a stomach-lurching 30-40 degree angle.
As scared as I was, I realized why people had homes in this region, Cariocas, who aren’t goat-herders or babbling loons, leave the god-forsaken lump of pollution and chaos for the more pristine beaches down the coastline. Once we left the city, Jack started his playlist on the stereo. Only the blesséd Jesus’ pity prevented me from screaming like a little girl. I had not realized before, but Jack, a Texan, was an avid country music fan. Although he claimed that the Texas sub-genre differed from the more well-known songs that bemoaned sick cows and trampy woman-folk, I could not hide my horror. My quiet sobbing must have affected him since Jack reluctantly and begrudgingly let me play my Jazz music instead.
Just as I was starting to feel more comfortable after getting my way, I noticed that Jack was driving down the final descent like one of the members of the Car Acrobatic team in Speed Racer. Jack quickly became aware that something was wrong because I was struck dumb and had not babbled a word in more than 15 seconds. Although he graciously offered to drive at only twice the speed limit, I took my glasses off and was in an immediate state of calm. You see, I was not wearing my contact lenses, and without my glasses, I am pretty blind. I could not even see the jagged rocks as they whipped by so achingly close nor the bellowing animals as they scrambled out of the way. Things quickly turned normal, and I returned to delighting my audience with another amusing story about myself.
At the base of the ridge lies the Ubatuba township, a pretty hideous small village, but the surrounding beaches and beach houses are beyond words. Things were tense in the car, and instead of bonding, we progressed to silently hating each other. It would only get worse as we neared the guarded gates to Silvio’s beach neighborhood. Jack asked me if I could reach Silvio’s house from the entrance. Since the neighborhood’s road system was notoriously complex, I never bothered to learn the exact route to his house.
You must understand that this neighborhood was designed to hide places from casual passersby by utilizing snake-like roads and heavy forestation. So one road looks precisely like the other. I answered Jack that my knowledge of the architectural blueprints was unnecessary since he must have printed out the instructions with Silvio’s phone number and placed them somewhere in his bags. You can see where this story is heading, can’t you? Jack countered by suggesting that perhaps the telephone number was not in his bags, and indeed I could not have been so imbecilic or mentally deficient as not to notice the exact location of the house on my previous visit.
My near-death experience on the trip left me strangely mellow, so I pointedly refused to banter any further with Jack and immediately suggested that we ask the guards where Silvio lived. Unfortunately, we were unaware that while the intellectual capacity of a Brasileiro rent-a-guard exceeds mutant gerbils, they were not entirely up to the level of a drooling idiot. The two yokels at the gate stared slack-jawed as we described in detail Silvio’s family and asked for directions to their house. After a painful silence, the guards proposed we go to Rua de Praia because an old fat woman named Ana lived there. I was all for running them down in our car to prevent further genetic pollution to the local community. Still, Jack distracted me by suggesting we search every road until we found Silvio’s house.
I desperately assented since we had already traveled four hours to get there. It was quite a sight as the car slowly crossed road after road, with my head out the window like a panting dog yearning for a tree. We went through about 70% of the available streets. Outwardly I was amazingly calm throughout the initial search, but inside I was seething. I could feel Jack also feeling red hot with unspoken anger. By a miracle, I kept quiet; perhaps it was the thought that if I got nasty, Jack might shove me out of the car. Nonetheless, we continued searching and even went onto the beach to see if I could recognize the pathway to Silvio’s house.
At this time of evening, Ubatuba beach was an incredible sight because, without the noxious sludge of a city nearby, the stars and sea were quite indescribable. Brasil is such a beautiful country, and for a brief moment, I forgot how pathetic I was as I stumbled in the dark, trying not to fall over a crab. But the sad situation did not change, and we quickly determined we couldn’t see shit, much less a small vegetation-crowded pathway. So, Jack now suggested that we go to one of the local pousadas (quasi-bed and breakfast) to spend the night and continue the search in the morning.
As we left the neighborhood, we bought four bottles of beer to nurture us as we headed off. We made one last attempt to communicate without snarling or feeling a murderous rage, but it apparently was beyond our capabilities at that time. So in a state of renewed antagonism, we searched for a pousada and more beer. I must have been giddy because I finally acquiesced to listen to some tex-country music. After some more minor misdirection and while Jack was regaling me with thunderously dead silence, we found a pousada. Although I could have delighted in the feelings of mutual hate all evening, I was pretty glad to see the end of our journey. You can imagine my slight disappointment when the guard bent over laughing when we asked if there was any room at the inn.
After Jack slapped me out of my catatonic state, we decided to head back to Silvio’s neighborhood and sit on the beach again. So we re-entered his neighborhood with newly purchased beers and a bottle of cachaça, a Brazilian hard liquor made from fermented sugarcane. Or, in other words, pure rocket fuel. But we were desperate and unsure if we could stand each other any longer being sober.
Randomly, we plopped down on the beach near each other silent and somber under the glowing stars of silver. Slowly, tentatively we started talking. I suppose we both realized we had no choice and under the black velvet night, we could admit that both of us had been egotistical and hardheaded. It was approximately 3:30 in the morning, and we started talking and listening to each other. Jack grew up in a very religious home, with his father being a protestant preacher, and he learned, as had I, to hide his true feelings and desires from an early age. As the night wore on, we drank and talked.
We spoke about what we dreamed of and the pain we went through. It was unusual and felt like glorious freedom, to tell the truth about ourselves and ignore any anxiety of being judged. We had already been hating each other, so why hold back? Little did we realize that as we talked and laughed; we also bonded. I can never remember the exact moment when we had a turning point in our relationship, but we did. We both realized we had much more in common than not, and it was a relief to know that someone I respected intellectually did not turn away in disgust at my inner selve.
As we imperceptibly gathered closer and closer, dawn arrived in its rich orange, yellow glow. We both sat stunned as the sun came over the horizon, and then Jack turned to me and slowly, tenderly kissed me. As quiet and sweet as the kiss was, it was like an explosion in my heart and head. I felt hot as a furnace and chilled as ice. I trembled, and Jack smiled.
It was then that Ana’s sweet wild dogs came charging out on the beach to attack the seemingly luckless me and the Texan. Although the howling, overly affectionate dogs went after Jack first, I considered throwing myself on them and thus hoping that my screams would find help. But I quickly came to my senses since I was wearing this fantastic multi-colored polo shirt, and there was no way I was getting dog drool on it. Luckily Silvio and Ana were right behind the dogs laughing with surprise. Silvio and Ana sly looked at each other but said nothing of what they saw. They only chided us for being buffons at not finding their house last night and quickly changed the subject.
The four of us sat on the beach in companionable silence as other people started to come onto the beach was an eye-catching combination of every shape possible. They all wore thong bikinis, from gorgeous young Brasileiras to big old water buffalo. The older men typically wore speedos, but there were a surprising number of surfers with traditional baggy shorts. You may think me strange, but I loved watching the water buffalo prance and moo at the sea.
I could have sworn I was too old for these types of Lucy and Ethel activities, but I must have been doing penance for some particularly evil act from my youth. In any event, the rest of the weekend was magical. Jack and I did not pull back from each other. We had revealed too much to pretend that nothing happened between us. So we continued getting to know each other and getting closer and closer. Ana and Silvio were both insufferably smug, but I forgave them. Later that day, we all ate some great Churrascaria (bar-b-que) while drinking multiple bottles of Moet and Vueve in their backyard dining area.
Afterward, Jack and I returned to the beach to watch blue, green, and red sparkling fireworks and kiss some more. Why not? After all, it felt marvelous, and there was a dreamlike quality to our time with each other. We were excited and surprised. We both agreed that despite the possibility of heartbreak, we would continue down our path anyway. Love is a considerable risk, but it is the one we were both willing to take. Lust didn’t pull us together; it was adversity and a shared past of pain; we found some peace in each other, and I realized that I discovered my love unexpectedly, as if in a dream.