My early years were a bit of a mess.
Mostly in a good way, but occasionally the mess got a little too...messy.
Pops was in the U.S. Diplomatic Corps, and we lived in a lot of different places through the Sixties and Seventies -- Colombia, Finland, Sweden, Chile, Spain, Germany. With spells at home in Washington to catch our breath. For the most part it was glorious, and I wouldn't trade childhoods with anybody.
But this sort of thing can put a bit of a strain on a family, and in the early Eighties, things kind of exploded and the various bits and pieces went their separate ways.
My brother Bob, the youngest of us kids, felt the effects of that explosion more than any of the rest of us. Excepting him, we'd moved out and had started independent lives, and he was the one left holding the family bag.
One thing about spending your teenage years the son of the U.S. Commercial Attaché in Augusto Pinochet's Chile -- you have no choice but to live intensely -- with your eyes wide open. I think perhaps the single most Magical Realist moment in my entire life was once in Coquimbo, a fishing port at the southern edge of the Atacama Desert. I was fifteen -- a very mature fifteen, but fifteen nevertheless. I'd spent the whole night on a compound for the University of Arizona astronomers who worked at La Serena Observatory. I'd been drinking wine and smoking serious doobage with the sons and daughters of the astronomers. At dawn, at the expiration of the toque de queda -- the immensely inconvenient midnight-to-four curfew during which you did not dare show your face on the street or risk being summarily shot -- my buddy Carlos Davila and I took a bus into sleepy Coquimbo -- a creaky, windswept, hilly Pacific town, all wind-blasted wood, sand and stone -- to change for a local bus to catch our ride back to Santiago.
As we reeled around Coquimbo at dawn, still pretty baked from the night before, the awakening town put on a Garcia Marquez show for us. A drunk reeled out of a toque-a-toque party and collapsed in his own puke on the street at our feet, just as a bakery opened its doors and flooded the street with warm yeast. Immediately next to the bakery, the mortuary opened its shutters. The proprietors brought out coffins of all shapes and price-points for street display as vegetable vendors pushed carts piled high with produce up the steep street past them. And through it all, dazed at the sheer aliveness of it, wandered these two stoned Gringo kids.
Nothing about the scene, it struck me like a fist, placed it in any particular century. It could just as easily have been 1875 as 1975.
But this isn't about me. It's about Bob. And me.
Only two other people on this earth have had a childhood that remotely resembles mine -- who can understand the intense loneliness, the Perpetual Foreignness, the constant feeling of being Outside, that a Diplomat Brat experiences. Bob, and our sister Nora. This is not at all a whine or a plea for understanding -- as I said, I wouldn't trade my childhood for yours for any price. But you lived intensely. This can take a toll.
I offer as evidence this post by Bobby Lightfoot.
I feel this one down to my veriest toenails, folks. This is Really What It's Like. Living at one remove. Even now, thirty years on, unable to shake the feeling you're an Alien.
Absolutely nothing he says in that post is untrue.
I feel privileged to share a life with him.