Saturday, May 11, 2013

Life is Strange. And Wonderful.

“So, Kira, are you ready to spend 10 days with a complete stranger?”
In retrospect, perhaps it wasn’t the best way to start my first conversation ever with the 15-year-old girl that I was going to be staying with. It’s rare for me to hang out with 15-year-olds anyway, and I had just emerged from rehearsing for a play where I am a depressed young woman who leaps to her death from the lookout at Iguazu Falls on the Brazilian Argentine border. To say I was not in the right mindset to develop rapport with a teenager is an understatement.
In one week, my life went from a tranquil, peaceful existence in my little casita up on the side of a mountain to one full of running to and fro, from town to Kira’s house on the highway between my haven of Boquete and the next big city, David.
Kira’s mom, Jennifer, is my yoga instructor and a fantastic massage therapist. When she left for 10 days to offer massages at a surf competition, I temporarily inherited her house, her daughter and her yoga classes.
Don’t tell, but I’ve never lived with a 15-year-old, or taught yoga for that matter.
Fortunately, however, I HAVE taught small children to ski, and after that – not to mention learning Spanish in Southern Spain, where they have one of the thickest accents I have yet to encounter – I discovered that almost nothing seems impossible to me anymore.
The first day was a little rough. I taught the class without too much trouble – aside from the groaning of the poor participants – and ended up at Jen’s house, awaiting Kira’s return from school.
She did not come home.
Ok, it was only an hour, but it felt like a couple days.
(I should say here that I knew Kira wasn’t in any real danger. She always came home from school with her boyfriend, who lives right up the street. If he hadn’t checked in with his mom and they were really missing, I knew I would have heard.)
She told me that she hadn’t heard her phone, and that they’d stayed in town to eat pie.
Well, shit. Who could say no to pie??
I said – very firmly…ok maybe not as firmly as I had hoped – that next time she needed to let me know if she wasn’t going to come home right away. She agreed.
She went to her boyfriend’s house. She texted to ask if she could stay a little later. I said she had to be home at 8:30. She had not shown up by 8:45. I texted her. She hightailed it home. I told her she needed to think about getting ready for bed. She gave me The Teenager Face: no emotion, just eyes rolled upward to take in my face, presumably to see if I was serious.
“Come on Kira. I let you stay later than you usually can at Isaiah’s –“
“Thank you…”
“And you came home later than you were supposed to.”
“Now it’s time for bed.”
And that was the end of it. The end of our strife, that is. For the next couple days she did what I asked of her, but continued to use The Teenager Face to study me. She was never rude, just withdrawn, detached.
Then her mom texted me to ask me to tell Kira to water the yellow flowers twice a day.
“I don’t know which flowers she’s talking about,” Kira said.
In truth, I didn’t see anything that looked like it needed watering, either, but I pointed to a flowering plant on the coffee table.
“Could it be this one?” I asked.
“That one’s fake,” she said.
I burst out laughing. Something about my foolishness – and inability to discern a plastic decoration from the real thing – caused her Teenager Face to break into a smile.
With that smile, a new Kira emerged. She’s shy, but holy cow is this girl intelligent and interesting. She’s really into anime and times her trips back to the States to see her friends and family with a huge anime conference in Vancouver, Washington, not far from Eugene, where she grew up. She loves to write, is a voracious reader, sews costumes, dresses like a courageously Goth version of Carrie Bradshaw, takes pictures and hates it when her room gets messy. I took her to the library when I found out she’d never been and helped her get a library card, then sat in a chair pretending to read, watching her peruse shelves of books for almost an hour.
I see myself in her, but a different version of me. Kira may not have had the stability that I grew up with, but I was already suppressing all the things I liked to do when I was 15; I had already found alcohol and the cool kids; I was already too interested in trying to be liked, and not interested enough in what made me really happy. At that point, I’m not sure I would have even been able to tell you what would have made me happy, unless it was fitting in. Kira, on the other hand, is in the process of writing seven different stories, one of which is already 70 pages long. Today she bought hairspray for her wig, which is part of the costume she wears to the anime conference.
There may be things I wish had been different about my childhood, and yet overall I had a fantastic one very similar in at least one aspect to Kira’s: it was filled with adventures, people who loved me and the makings of fond memories. Not quite the same as Kira’s, perhaps, but important and life-forming nonetheless.
Besides, I would not be here now if it had been different. Despite the last hectic week, the stretching of my comfort zone by a teenager, a yoga class, the characters I’m playing in the one act plays, the soul searching and unexpected bumps that have paved the way, I am more grateful for where I am now than perhaps anywhere I have ever been before. It just goes to show that all those little steps will lead you to somewhere big, but most likely to nowhere you have ever expected to go.

Love and teenage smile kisses