I stepped out of an American Airlines plane with a brown leather duffel bag. Its contents: a dozen perfume bottles that had shattered when the satchel fell out of the overhead compartment mid-flight. The bottles held a precious collection of scents from my favorite perfume shop in Rio.
I stepped into Minnesota with a stained bag in hand, full of broken glass and a concoction of smells that clashed with each other. The only survivor a bottle of lemon verbena perfume.
I stepped out of the plane onto unfamiliar terrain and into the end of the Reagan era.
I stepped into English and a hot humid summer. I was 13 going on 14.
I stepped into 101.3 KDWB, a popular Twin Cities commercial radio station.
I stepped into being a reluctant gringa.
I stepped into my fellow 8th graders asking me if I spoke Spanish, if the house I’d grown up in had indoor toilets and plumbing, if I swung on jungle vines, and why my legs were not shaved. My younger brother was called a monkey by his 5th grade teacher. I grew tired of explaining where Brazil was on the map.
Was it all tongue in cheek?
I stepped into a new chapter of my life. This was not by choice.
I stepped out of the familiar and into a family that wanted to erase my past. My American grandmother did not like it when we talked about our life in Brazil. My Brazilian father only wanted to speak in English, so that he could be immersed in America and his sabbatical work. After a year, my father left and we stayed. There was a silence left by the absence of Portuguese.
I stepped out of my childhood. I locked everything deep inside. The sounds of Portuguese faded away. I learned to speak English without an accent. I learned the spelling lists. Practicing the odd combination of letters over and over again.
I stepped in and out of belonging as I came and went between two continents. Not this, not that. Not the North Star, not the Southern Cross.
I stepped in and out of myself. Change the only constant.
The two worlds separate, connected by dozens of transatlantic flights.
I step out of a blustery March evening in deserted downtown Minneapolis and into the State Theater. Outlined by orbs of light is Marisa, her name, my name. My heart reaches for the doors faster than my feet do, into a wosh of warmth.
I step into Portuguese. I feel the language on my skin and in my pores. The language flows over me.
I step into that old battlefield of belonging and not belonging.
I step into different versions of myself. The me that got upset for being called gringa and being too white. The me learning to spell words with double consonants. The me floating on the ocean. The me who has made a life in the North Country.
Marisa steps out on the Stage dressed in a gold-sequined dress. The crowd chants her name, my name. She starts singing and images of Brazil start playing on the screen behind her. The drums beat to the rhythm of the samba. Surround-sound Portuguese fills the auditorium. Her voice languid, lazy and luscious anchors me to the moment.
She sings and I see curvy granite mountains, the line where the ocean meets the sand, banana trees swaying, the full moon dancing on waves. I hear the frenetic traffic, the pressure cooker releasing steam, the cheers in the soccer stadium. I remember the swoop of the flying cockroaches and the darting of geckos, their olive bodies moving fast out of reach. I smell the hot Southwestern wind and hear the sizzle of meat on the grill. I feel my Brazilian grandmother’s embrace. I taste goiabada com queijo.
I step into nostalgia, sadness, and anger.
Where do I belong? My body feeling Portuguese, my brain thinking in English. My heart opens wide.
I step into no time. Soon the show is done.
I step into the chill of the night. Her name, my name no longer outlined in gold.
I step into the parking garage and back into my life.
I carry with me the smell of the ocean. I see the shores of Rio lit with candles to welcome in the New Year. Goddess of the sea, Yemanja, waits for me with outstretched arms. She beckons me home. Calling my name, her name.
I walk into my home and step into my children’s embrace.
I step into belonging.
I step into witnessing.
Marisa Melanie Vargas is a writer currently living in Saint Paul, MN. Marisa enjoys writing because it is a way to put experience and observation of daily life on the page. Writing to her is a healing endeavor. She likes to write about family life, growing up multicultural, and the shimmering details of everyday life. Some of Marisa’s favorite authors include William Kent Krueger, Louise Erdrich, Joyce Carol Oates, and Sarah J. Maas. When she is not writing, Marisa enjoys teaching yoga, reading, doing puzzles, and being a mother to four kids.