I’m spending the end of the year in the tiny fisherman’s village of Pellines, Chile, surrounded by a ramshackle assembly of huts they call cabins. It is an unfettered wilderness bordered by a dramatic coastline of black-sanded beach. The rhythmic crash of waves creates the perfect backdrop for our large congregation of my lover’s extended family.
The men huddle around the whole lamb they are roasting on a spit outside while the women busily skitter and fritter inside, preparing the table and the room for our celebratory dinner.
It’s New Year’s Eve. The end of this cycle we call 2014, preparing for the entrance of a new cycle we call 2015. My Spanish, or lack of it, is being intensely tested, but thankfully the younger generation have all studied English and are more than happy to act as my translators.
The men warm themselves around the fire, with seemingly bottomless glasses of warm red wine while the women drink a sweetened punch with fruit cocktail (from a can) settled in the bottom of their glasses. Neither is appealing to me.
My gender should lead me into one room, but my proclivities and preferences keep me outside with the men, and my beloved. I am welcomed warmly into the fold, despite my being the only Gringa in this group. And despite being a new presence, not only for this group, but in my relationship with my darling.
This is where we begin the next phase of our relationship, having recently made the decision of a cross-country relocation, so that we will, for the first time, live in the same place, at the same time. It’s a big step, considering the newness of our bond.
I’m excited and only just slightly scared.
I’ve fallen even more deeply in love with him on this trip than I ever thought possible. It’s been blissful and terribly challenging. It’s been about connection and the constant re-affirmation of our bond and commitment to each other. I’m happy. And cold.
Although it’s summer here, I long for wool. The cool climate, and the sea breezes, keep my body several degrees below comfort.
I don’t want to stick out. I don’t want to call attention. To be labeled, ‘The one who couldn’t handle Pellines.”
This place is no longer a place for most of these people. It is a pilgrimage.
All the members of my darling’s generation have been coming here since they could walk. Their life stories are told in terms of what happened at Pellines that year.
I can’t compete with this place. I would have chosen solid structures, indoor heating and modern plumbing. But this trip was not about me. It was my beloved, revealing a part of himself so important as to transcend words.
The woman I think is his cousin, but is actually unrelated, keeps pulling me back into the fray. I don’t even notice my habit of stepping back, stepping away, and removing myself. Solitary comfort.
She engages, she translates, she works hard to bring me in. I want to apologize for being difficult, but I can’t help it. I’m lost. And afraid.
Boundaries are much different here, in South America. The women appraise and handle my body, in disdain or appreciation. The men conduct a thorough IQ and personality test. Am I smart enough? Am I devoted enough? Will I be loyal through the shenanigans they have been bred to create?
They all ask, “Can she hold her own in this collection of extraordinarily strong souls?”
I want to say, “Where I’m from, I’m considered one of the strong ones. One of the smart ones, as well. Whatever you have, I can match it.”
But my fighting spirit is absent. Or frozen. All I can do is smile, nod, and put together rudimentary Spanish phrases they all find incomprehensible.
The journey into another person’s heart is never well paved. There are boulders, crevasses, and seemingly impossible footholds.
This is where I’ve landed.
My body continues to shiver in its attempt to keep me alive. I refuse to be the first to put on the parka I’ve brought. It’s summer, for God’s sake.
He comes to me, and takes my hand, my waist and my mouth, the heat from his body melting the ice that threatens to form. He knows I am navigating tenuous ground. I am warmed, if even just for a moment.