The other day I got an email from this excellent, dynamic want-to-live-like-her-when-I-grow-up excoworker of mine who I know from when I worked in a truly wonderful Adult ESL program in Northern Virginia where I learned, among other things, that every country in Central America has its own word for a kite. Cometa, volantín, pisgucha, etc.
Among the questions this excoworker posed me in between compliments for the blog was: what about the juicy stuff, the romance, etc? To which I thought, “Oy.” And not much else. It’s like that 25-things meme that’s floating around. Don’t be greedy with the information. You already know enough.
But I would hate to keep it all from you, keep it secret, private, hidden, when in truth there are things to be told, told about my history that while not necessarily personal, touch on the personal, and which stand the chance of being the funniest thing you’ve heard all day.
And so I will recount the story about the doll.
When I first moved to Chile I suffered a catastrophic breakup of sad and crocodile-tear producing proportions. Oh! It was sad! I was sad, we were sad. Sad, sad. And time when on, and wounds were healing, like they do. And about a year later I was on a camping trip at Termas del Plomo with some friends, and I met someone. And we had a few things in common, like liking bicycles and both being at Termas del Plomo at the same time. Over time, we sipped milkshakes with two straws and walked on the beach at night (hyperbole here, no one drinks milkshakes, and Santiago’s not on the coast). Eventually I was invited over to his house to rub shoulders with the family.
Meeting someone’s family in a US-based relationship usually takes place several months into the dating, and as a sign of seriousness. Here it’s kind of like, well, we’ve been hanging out for a month, and maybe you should come meet my moms (not as in two, though that would be revolutionary here in Chile, moms as in the slang for mom). Here in Chile some people call their mother their vieja, or old lady. I find this unconscionable, and would never consider it, both because to me my mom is ageless and also because, hey, that’s rude. So back to the house, with the family.
The family lived kind of in La Florida, a pretty middle-class (maybe lower-middle-class) neighborhood with little houses where everyone knows each other and a giant gate surrounds every property, and sometimes there are grates on the windows and music thumpa-thumping as you walk by. It was a cozy little house, and the family greeted me warmly. We all had lunch together, during which I was not cajoled into eating locos (like abalone), about which I was very happy. I remember steamed cauliflower, salad, bread, not much else. As the afternoon wore on, I endeared myself to moms with my stunning ablity to get up and bring dishes into the kitchen. Apparently, due possibly to some class considerations and the fact that I’m a gringa, they thought I’d have had a nana (maid/nanny) my whole life, and wouldn’t know that dishes go in the sink when you are done with them. And then they get washed.
I have to admit, I was uncomfortable. The guy himself did nothing to add to this, just the whole situation felt like I was watching it from the outside. The forced polite questions, the exclamation over the dish-carrying. It was just odd.
But the best was yet to come. At some point the mom looked at her family and said, that’s it! I know who she looks like! She looks like the doll.
Now I’ve heard this before. I’m fairly pale, have dark hair, clear skin, kind of a round face, etc. “She looks like a porcelain doll”, they’d say to my long-since-deceased Uncle Lou as he took me by the hand and walked me down 13th Avenue in Borough Park, Brooklyn. But in this other time and place, it caught me by surprise.
Also, I realized, she said the doll, not a doll. Vaya a buscar la muñeca (go get the doll), she instructed one of her daughters.
Panic, panic, panic. In all the times I’ve been told I look like a doll, never has an actual doll been produced. And here it came. White, in a frilly red dress, with those creepy eyes that open and close when you lean the doll backwards and right her again. I didn’t know if I should accept the doll and pose next to her, hug her to myself, or begin combing her hair (peinar la muñeca, or brushing the doll’s hair is an expression used for the very crazy here in Chile). At this point I thought I might lose it.
So we stood there in silence, me some kind of freakish doll come-to-life, and the family, oohing and aahing about the actual doll. I thought maybe a hole would open and swallow me into the earth, or perhaps the world would erupt into flames. But no Armageddon ensued. We drank tea after the meal, the boy walked me to the bus and I thought to myself, which one of us is from outer space? Because we are definitely not from the same planet.
And then I got on the bus and went home. And now, four years later, I tell you the story of the doll, and hope you can take something from it. Personally, I’m still wondering what happened.