Most of the past week I think I’ll save for my novel/memoir/perpetually-put-off-piece-of-literature. That is both a artistic decision, and a way of avoiding the impossibility of putting into words this past week with me, Mom, and Armenia. But, despite the length, consider this a taste.
I saw her at first down the hallway, behind the glass partition, my mother looking much skinnier, a little lost, and washed over with anticipation. She saw me jumping up above the crowd, waving one arm and holding a bouquet of flowers in the other, this little collection of green, white and lavender, a message to my mom that despite the craziness of her first trip abroad, there is beauty, simplicity, joy and calm ahead.
Of course, directly after the bouquet presentation and tearful hugs came a walk through a dark, cement parking garage guided by a less-than-polished, self-proclaimed taxi driver. In between waves of joy and disbelief that she was actually here, our hands holding each others hands, my mother said, “This doesn’t feel safe. Are you sure we’re going to a taxi?”
“Yes, Mom, don’t worry. I’ve got you.” I was not 100% sure that this man was legitimate, but I was sure that I was so full of love right then that I would have crushed this little man into crumpled nothingness should he even try to threaten the joy. Plus my friend Chris was recording her arrival, walking behind us with a HD camcorder. If the taxi driver took us out, my mother and I would be recorded as innocents, full of life and love, and the taxi driver would be immortalized as a love-killing, evil monster.
We did however end up at the prearranged hostel room, both of us too excited not to walk around Yerevan, taking in the joy which the city wind whisked around us. We ate falafel at Habibi then walked to the Cafe Rich and drank cafe glazses. Our conversations circled around a few subjects but always came back to this:
Me: “Mom, I just can’t believe you’re right here. Right here. Flesh. Bones. Smile even. My mom!”
Mom: “I know. I know!”
There were, of course, updates on everyone from my sister’s boyfriend to a high school friend’s mom. I can still see her sitting right there in the outdoor cafe, across the table from me, holding a swirl of coffee and ice cream, framed on one side by a tv playing Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” and on the other side by the artificial Swan Pond reflecting the street lights with Armenian lovers and families and friends circling it. I imagined their conversations, unique and mundane, all of us sharing the same air while my mom and I sat and enjoyed a dream of mine coming true.
I know this may feel dramatic. It’s a mom; it’s a visit. I can try to explain. Growing up, I thought everyone had the same life I had, going to little brick elementary schools, escaping to the toy aisle in Wal-Mart while my parents shopped, carrying cartoon-inspired lunchboxes, watching flat highways roll by through minivan windows on the way to our grandparents’ house. High school mission trips to Mexico broke the bubble, and all the sudden the world opened.
The young traveler’s epiphany: for every unique fingerprint there comes an entire unique life with as many variations to it as there are drops of water in the sea.
I told my mother I’d like to spend my first college summer abroad. She told me, “If you can find the money, go ahead.” She would later confide that she didn’t think I’d be able to, and was surprised and even a bit worried when I told her I’d spend my summer working for a church in Auckland, New Zealand.
I spent a collective year of my four in college living and traveling through other countries, full of wonder and joy at each new life I got to know and love. I changed; I saw the world.
It didn’t stop after college, with 5 months in Kolkata, 3 in Panama, and a year working in refugee resettlement in West Texas. And now I have lived 16 months in Armenia. What has changed, or what has intensified I should say, is my desire to share these experiences with family. Let’s bypass for now my hope to find someone who wants to build a family around this kind of world-chasing life. Since those first trips to Mexico I have wanted to visit these places with my mom, my dad, my sisters, and with my brother’s family.
It has torn at my soul, this feeling of being in love with people all over the world, being pulled to La Laguna, Mexico, missing my Indian family, and being so far away from my Texas loves. After a short collection of months, I’ll be a mess of collected memories, current tears, and full full full of joy and love for my Armenian home and the friends I cherish here.
And so, here for just this brief, bright week, my mother did what I’ve dreamed someone in my family would one day want to do and make it happen. My mother visited a distant country I love, experienced every place I love, met souls I’ve fallen in love with and fell in love with them herself.
We traveled by rickety marshutka to my old host family, that summer home of mine. Within the first five minutes, sitting in my family’s general store, neighbors gifted us with a plastic bag full of live crawfish. Later my mom cried giving a toast at the feast they set out for us, already full to the brim with the love they showed us. I watched her during our morning hike, wondering at the dry yellows and silvers and light blues rolling through the valley. I named the surrounding villages, speaking for her the unfamiliar sounds of a language she’d never heard.
She spent five days in my valley town. We feasted on khorovats, danced at her birthday party, hiked to my favorite spot in town. Every morning she’d shower and then head over to my land mom’s porch for a cup of Armenian coffee. She couldn’t use her low-voltage hair dryer here which led to the blessing of my land mom doing her hair. She fell in love with my friends at work, visiting their homes for so many cups of coffee and tastes of Armenian life. At night she came home to more coffee with the landfamily and finally, long talks with me in my little cottage, with cups of tea and desperate attempts to stay awake to treasure the fact that here we sat in Armenia together.
She even tried to learn some of the language, finally mastering shnorakalutsyun but leaving without mastering the french ‘r’ in deghts. I translated for her, feeling the blossom of new friendship open through me as she sat and talked with the clooker, with my coworkers, with my tiny little landsisters.
She brought a smorgasbord of gifts for me: Rosita’s refried beans, 80 ounces of Reese’s Peanut Butter cups, 9 pounds of brown suger, and my loving Aunt’s hand-tossed Puppy Chow. She filled my spice cabinet to overflowing and brought more Hanes socks and underwear to try to outlast the wear-and-tear of handwashing. And she brought so many gifts for my Armenian friends that she was wrapping the last handmade bit of jewelery around my friend Gayane’s wrist while we walked to our marshutka on the way out of town. A volunteer from our office had accompanied us and without a pre-planned gift, my mom dug into her make-up bag and pulled out eye-shadow, telling her that with such beautiful eyes she should could easily pull of some wild blue and shocking pink. Gayane, one of the Armenians who fell in love back, waved to my mom and me through the marshutka window as we rolled out of the parking lot and back to Yerevan.
The last two days were a mix of stress and the coming departure. My mom recalled a Kolkata story of mine, quoting my little Indian brother, who upon seeing the white curb lines that signaled the coming airport entrance, sat back in the bus seat next to me, sighed and said, “Oh, no.”
“What is it, Martin?” I asked, confused as to the change in mood right after a series of goofy-face pictures we’d taken.
He looked out the window again. “This is where the missing starts.”
We stressed each other out shopping in the Vernassage, her wanting to bring back some worthy gifts to our family in Texas, and me at the end of my ability to calmly translate Armenian to English and dollars to dram. But the moments I’ll remember most about that last day in Yerevan are my mom insisting that we sit with Zeena, our homestay host, while she told us about growing up in Soviet Armenia, about running from Turkey in 1915, about her life hosting Americans with her sister in their home, about her sister’s recent passing, about her brilliant father, about her own career working with the early, room-filling super computers.
And there my mother sat, soaking up all the good, radiating compassion, looking at that old, amazing soul with love and wonder.
At the airport we put off goodbye with two cups of coffee and an apple crumble. We sat on uncomfortable chairs, holding hands and talking about simple things like my sister’s percussion lessons and her making Armenian coffee for my dad. We hugged each other some twenty times before she finally walked through through to security. I watched her through the crack in the glass partition, and when she turned around to catch a glimpse of me, I jumped up above the glass and waved.