Chilean Chronicles, Part 103: Getting Ready to Go

Jon, Dunreith and me at Peru Gustoso.  His time here was one of many highlights during our five months.

Jon, Dunreith and me at Peru Gustoso. His time here was one of many highlights during our five months.

I left Brookline for my freshman year at Stanford more than 30 years ago, but I still remember the night before my departure as if it occurred yesterday.

It was late September 1983, and my friends had all begun their own college adventures.

I had visited Hisao Kushi at UMass-Amherst and witnessed a memorable hall orientation at Boston University where best friend Vinnie D’Angelo had been booed on his arts floor for asking about an intramural soccer team.

The evening before I left, I read a letter I had written in Europe to each member of our family in which I told them what they meant to me.

I cried after I finished.

Later, when it was dark, I biked around the town where I had spent all but one of my nearly 18 years.

I biked up Sumner Road and past my friend’s house that had been a virtual Den of Iniquity toward the end of senior year while his parents were away for a month in Europe.

I biked past the castle-looking home on Buckminster Road where we had climbed up the fire escape countless times to visit Hisao and by Vinnie’s home on Tappan Street where I had spent countless meals and evenings.

None of them were there.

Even though I was sad at leaving and scared about what lay ahead, it was time to go.

The memory of that evening has come back to me the past couple of days since we returned from close to a week in Torres del Paine, a national park of staggering and unsurpassed beauty that in November was named the Eighth Wonder of the World.

The other Fulbrighters who were in Santiago, with whom we ate and drank and swapped stories about students and travel notes, have all gone.

My Data Journalism class wrapped up a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve completed my students’ grades.

I’ve worked with the woman who will teach the course next and spoken with a colleague who will be the department’s point person with outside folks for things data related.

A student is putting the final touches on a video he’s done about the project Jon and I did about Chile’s past, present and future 40 years after the Pinochet coup. When completed, it will fulfill the last responsibility to the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting that supported our work.

I’ve looked into the issue of the impact of the 2009 Transparency Act here in the country and delivered a pair of presentations and ensuring conversations about what I learned earlier this month at the Fulbright Commission.

I hit the 100-blog post mark on this series earlier in the week, and have written and submitted a book proposal to the publishing house at the University of Diego Portales.

Dunreith and I have traveled to Brazil and Argentina, the countries we set out to see before we arrived.

We have gone with Aidan to San Pedro de Atacama, the world’s driest desert, as well as to Patagonia, a region she had hungered to see for more than three decades.

We’ve had the great fortune to be here during an extraordinary time in the nation’s history.

Since landing here in mid-July, we’ve witnessed the build up to, and commemoration of, the fortieth anniversary of the Pinochet coup.

We’ve eaten anticuchos and drunk a terremoto at the fondas that mark the nation’s weeklong celebration of El Dieciocho, the Chilean version of Independence Day.

We’ve seen the eruption of raw and pure emotion when Chile triumphed over Ecuador and secured its place in the 2014 World Cup that will be held next June in Brazil.

Together with Jon I attended the final event of Michelle Bachelet’s campaign in Quinta Normal on November 14, talked with dozens of voters during what turned out to be the first round of presidential elections and witnessed the counting of ballots by hand in front of cheering and jeering supporters at Estadio Nacional, the National Stadium.

We’ve had the remarkable gift of two weeks with Dad and his partner Lee, two weeks with Jon, during which we worked for The New Yorker, and more than a month with Aidan, who is fresh off an expansive and energizing semester in New Zealand.

That we’ve done all this while having sold our house the day before we left has only added to the sense of adventure and affirmed our ability to stretch and reach and push and make our dreams real.

Indeed, our time has been so abundant and so rich, the connections we’ve made have felt so authentic and close that the fact of our leaving makes me sad, just as my departure from Brookline did 30 years ago.

There’s an additional layer.

I can scarcely believe how fast the intervening years have passed, in part precisely because the memory of the night before leaving for Stanford remains so fresh.

But whereas then I was more concerned then with possibilities, exploration and self-discovery, now the details of memory, the fulfillment of inner mandates and the desire to leave something enduring and meaningful behind have ascended.

I also know more viscerally than before that only too easily I will blink again and another three decades will have gone by. If I’m still around, I’ll be that much closer to the end of my life.

Not having a place to live and the prospect of facing our chaotically-filled storage adds further uncertainty and anxiety.

The sadness and unease produced by these emotional, existential and logistical concerns do not erase a central, unalterable reality.

Our stay here is over.

Our next adventure lies in front of us, about to begin in a few short days.

It’s true that may return to Chile, perhaps as early as next summer.

And, for now, just as it was those many years ago, amidst the gratitude and wonder, it’s time to go.


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