Sunday, July 29, 2018

Onde Anda Você — Thirteen

 I'm not great at packing. 

It probably stems from my chronic incapability of making choices. I wish I was more like my mother—systematic, straightforward, ruthless, in an endless search for minimalism. Each time I visit, she's gathering a new donation pile that she'll either pass down to whoever wants it or bring to the nearest shelter. I'm the opposite, even if I don’t buy much of anything.

"Yes-absolutely, pack that." Ben says with a delighted expression as I come into view and parade a sexy, lacy underwear for him.

"Wouldn't you like that?" I tease him, walking closer so he can have a better look. 


He's propped up on my dresser, in a facetime call that's been on for the past hour and a half. We never run out of subjects, and I never grow tired of his voice as a background while I do my dishes, water my plants and dust the shelves. 

"Very much so." The fact that he's almost licking his lips makes me feel flattered instead of just flat

I spin around, walking away from the frontal camera and going back to my clothes.

"Do you think I need a dress?" I ask him, looking at myself on the little mirror screen as I switch the options in front of my body.

"Remember—it's cold out there this time of the year." Ben reminds me. 

I make a face: "It doesn't mean I don't get to wear pretty dresses. You only ever see me in ugly jeans or scrubs."

"I’d argue that they're pretty hot." He smiles crookedly and adjusts his sliding glasses on top of his nose. He's on my dresser, but I'm on his desk. I can see his home office behind him, the thriving plant I hung next to the door a couple weeks ago because his place has a chronic need for green life. 

"I'll take your word for it."

"You should, I always have a privileged view of your ass."

I roll my eyes, but I can’t help but flush a little.

"You're such a liar, my ass is entirely unremarkable."

We both laugh. It's easy laughing around him—even when we're not around each other at all. He puts down his pen and massages his wrist, a compression band still wrapped around it. He's working on something, or trying to, as I distract him with my chaotic packing habits. He makes time for me, even when he looks tired and in need of a shower.

"It's only two days, Liv. What could you possibly miss?"

"Underwear, for once." I grab a couple of them I placed on my bed earlier.

"Too bad." He pouts. “We would suffer greatly by your lack of panties.”

I almost throw them on him, but realize it wouldn’t exactly have the same effect over the phone.

"Have you packed?"

"I always pack light, babe." He smiles, grabs his wheels and moves slightly to the side, only enough so that I see a small bag that equals the size of my purse.

"Oh, to be a man."

"You make this difficult all by yourself." I really do. “If it was up to me, you’d be naked all the time.”

— — — 

Mom simply walks past me without as much as a hello. She's wearing high heels and I almost feel compelled to ask where she's been. Standing in my living room, her eyes are first on me, and then on the bags I arranged in a pile next to the door. She looks at me over her sunglasses, inquisitively.

"Are you going somewhere?"

I nod—obviously I am. She waits and so I feel the need to add, while still keeping it mostly to myself. "It's only two hours away."

She makes a sound and her heels click on the floor as she turns around and places her hand on top of the heavy cashmere jacket I was just finishing folding so that it would fit inside my bag. "Cold, huh?"

I shrug. "It's cold and romantic."

"Ah." As if that explains everything.

We're heading to a charming tiny village in the outskirts of São Paulo. Surrounded by mountains, which makes it chilly all year long, it's the perfect romantic getaway for anyone who wishes to escape the hectic Metropolitan routine. It's cozy, beautiful and really all we need. We’ll have fondue, light a goddamn fireplace, ride the ferris wheel, delight ourselves in the fake german colonial architecture and visit a chocolate factory, like all lovey-dovey, tacky people in this city do, because that’s exactly what we are.

"We'll be spending the night," I tell her. Which is somewhat pointless. 

With my boyfriend, who she’s not very keen on.

"How are you getting there?"

"Bernardo is driving us."

"He drives huh?"

I roll my eyes, grabbing the jacket from her hands and turning away from her. "He does everything just like everyone else, mother."

"He does?"

Already I feel the urge to jump on her neck and slash it with my bare nails. I hate her voice when she says it—judgmental, but she would deny it to death. Almost innocently. I sigh, still facing away.

"Don't sigh me, Livia. I don’t care if you want to act all liberal now, with your life choices.” She berates me, like I’ve decided to join a polyamory, nudist ayahuasca community in the fucking jungle. “Can this man even afford this little —getaway?”

I lift my head a little bit higher, taking the jacket from her hands. I’m taller than she is by several inches, which has always made me feel uncomfortable and misplaced, but now comes in handy. 

"He's a lawyer. The really litigious kind who makes really good money.” All of this is true, and even though it doesn’t make a difference to me, it really does to her. “And even if he couldn’t afford it, I could. I do have a job.”

She makes a humpf squeaking sound. I know she doesn’t think much of me being a nurse — I’m good at what I do. I’ve been doing it for years. I genuinely do like it in my own way, and I actually make enough money. And she can’t get over it, how I didn’t go to med school, how I’m not a goddamn surgeon, like dad is. 

I haven’t made her proud.

“It’s a genuine motherly concern.” She says. “You’ve never introduced anyone before, I just fear that you’re taking this man too seriously.”

I don’t mention the fact that I haven’t introduced Ben to anyone aside from Tiberius. And grandma, unintentionally. It’s like mom considers every person in the Nakamura clan a branch of herself, an ever growing, ever reaching roots to a massive tree of which she’s the core. She sees, feels, hears all. After grandmother, she’s the Matriarch, or thinks of herself as such, and she expects me to take her place, like we’re some kind of royalty, even if it’s painfully clear that it’s never going to happen. 

And I disappoint her for it.

I correct my shoulders, my posture, facing her like I haven’t done in years. “Well, I am.”

“You are. Right.” She crosses her hands. “You’ve always been the stubborn one. I hope you’re not doing this to… shock us-”

“The world doesn’t revolve around you.”

Mom shakes her head. We don’t speak for the following minutes, and for a moment as she heads to my kitchen and serves herself some leftover juice from my fridge — that Ben made, because the last time I willingly ate a fruit I was about ten years old — I think she’ll pretend none of this happened and go on with normal, mother-daughter talk. 

Whatever that is. Not that I would know.

“I wish I was as selfish as you make me out to be, darling.” She places her hand over mine. “I’m just looking after you.”

“I know.” Because I do, even if it infuriates me.

“Be careful with this.” She says, grabbing her purse and turning around in her heels. “Call me when you get there. Have fun.”

We will.

— — —


I reluctantly zip my bag and head over to Ben's so we can hit the road first thing in the morning. Even my mom's perpetually sour mood can't put me off—I'm excited about this. Ben takes a little longer than usual to get to the door and I assume he's napping, even if it’s unlike him. Maybe he’s storing energy to drive us so early in the morning. Sure enough, when he shows up, his hair is sticking up and half of his face looks like it’s been smashed by a pillow.

He pecks my lips, sinking back into his seat. "I forgot you were coming."

I check the time. It's not even seven yet.

"How long have you been asleep?" I place my stuff next to the door, cardigan on top of the bags, and head to the living room. I see his compact duffel bag, and somehow I’m certain all clothes are perfectly folded inside, unlike my own.

"Not long. Let me get us some coffee." He uses the counter to propel himself along the kitchen. Still dizzy from sleep and moving slowly, I watch, puzzled, as Ben pours the coffee grind directly onto the mugs, and then the boiling water.

"I didn't know we were doing instant coffee now."

He frowns, confused. "Wha- oh, fuck." Realization that he’s handling coffee and not tea hits him, and he stops pouring the water but not before getting some in his hand. Cursing, Ben shoves his hand under the cold sink water. 

"What's the matter?" I frown as I quickly walk past him and clean the table and the mugs.

Ben shakes his head, heaving a sigh. 

"Just woke up on the wrong side of the bed, I think." He pulls his hand from under the sink, drying it on his sweatpants. "I'll wake up eventually, don't worry."

He then moves on to the TV, the coffee task completely forgotten, tuning in to the latest episodes of a show we've been watching together, settling on the couch next to me, one arm around my shoulders and his feet up on the ottoman we’re sharing, my toes brushing his shin.

"I didn't pack the matching red lace." I tell him, a few minutes into the episode, turning my face in his direction. I can smell the familiar strong, fresh lemon soap in his skin and I kind of wish he’d pin me to the couch right now and do naughty things to me.

"Huh?" He frowns, confused, either too focused on the screen or his own thoughts.

"The lingerie I showed you earlier when we facetimed."

"Oh." He nods. Sighs. "It's a shame."

 I'm about to add the last part of my statement, the one where I let him know I'm wearing it instead, when he moves suddenly, grabbing his legs off the ottoman, dragging his butt to the edge of the couch and placing a fist on the wheelchair cushion. "I'll be back in a bit." And completes the transfer, poorly adjusting his feet on the footplate before he takes off to his bedroom in a hurry.

I know that when he makes these hasty exits, he's heading straight to the bathroom and I never question, because I happen to know a thing or two about neurogenic bladders and intermittent catheterization. His instincts are good and at least in our time together, he's never had an accident—that I know of. 

I hit pause, hopeful that it'll be quick, but when ten minutes go by, I know it's hopeless and press play. I'm halfway through the second episode when the empty space next to me speaks louder and I shyly walk inside his bedroom to make sure he hasn't beelined to his bed in exhaustion. I see the bathroom light on, so he's still in there. 

Ok, this is taking longer than usual—Ben usually tells me if it's a long bathroom night, if I should distract myself or make a quick trip to the grocery store or just go to sleep. This time, I busy myself in true Mom Nakamura fashion and decide to make some tea, then I wait leaning against the counter, wondering and testing the liquid with my lips.

Not much longer after, Ben wheels out, looking pale and slouched. He sees me with my tea and shakes his head.

“I’m sorry, I’m not good company right now.” He says, his face dropping a bit.

“Is everything ok?”

“Yeah, just… Having a little bit of a bathroom problem.” He crunches his eyebrows, a hand behind his neck and another one around the tea mug I just poured him. “This is the worst.”

“The tea?” I ask, glancing inside the cup over his shoulder.

“No-” he chuckles. The first one all night. “The tea is perfect.”

He tells me to press play again on the episode, and doesn’t transfer back to the couch, which proves itself to be useful, because only a few minutes later he shoots me a painful look and heads back to the bathroom. I can’t help but feel like something is wrong, and that we’ll miss something.

___ ___ ___

I feel the bed shifting as Ben comes and goes. I check the clock on my phone. Two in the morning. He’s back next to me. I roll closer until my body finds his and I can drape my leg around his hip and snuggle closer.

“Hey.” I whisper. I slide my cold hand under his shirt and then prop myself up on my elbow, frowning. “Your skin is burning.”

“It’s fine.” Ben shivers when I test the temperature in his neck. “It’ll be fine.”

I sit up, turning on my side of the bed light. “Do you have a thermometer anywhere?”

“Really Liv.” He grabs my wrist. His eyes are too serious, and too pleading. “Don’t. Just go back to sleep.”

And I do. It’s hard, and my heart sinks in my chest, but I hold him tight, sharing his warmth, so that he knows I’m here for him, and in the morning his fever is gone and we’re both covered in sweat. I close the curtains and take a shower in the guest bathroom, leaving Ben to rest for a few more hours. God knows he needs it.

As I watch the morning news with the volume almost all the way down as I mindlessly scroll down my feed, I see mom calling me. I decline.


“I’m on the road, mom.” I text her instead. “Bad signal.”

“Call when you get there.”

Eyeing the bags I set on the corner of his living room and drawing my knees to my chest, I don’t need much to know we won’t be going anywhere, even if Ben wakes up in the next hour — which he doesn’t. Which is fine.

Thumbs up emoji.


A few hours later, Ben rolls out of the bedroom. I’ve been watching the morning TV—feeling oddly entertained by stuff that’s clearly aimed at stay-at-home women, wellness tips from a six-pack hottie who’s probably never had to do his own dishes. The moment I see Ben, I sit up from my slacked position on the couch, bringing a pillow to my lap. He shoots me a look I can’t quite read, and a smile that leaves me just as confused.

“Bom dia.” He says.

“How are you feeling?” I ask, almost hesitantly.

A hand to his hair, now longer than the buzz cut from when we met and wet from the shower.

“Like I do whenever I unwillingly take the cripty-crip ride.”

“Stop that.”

“Well, it’s true.”

He heads to the kitchen and wheels back with toast and jam on his lap, setting them on the table and silently pushing into one of the absent seats, his back turned to me, but he forgets he’s dealing with the queen of silent storms and shutting-down-when-hurt. I make the decision to push the pillow from my lap and walk up to him, setting a hand down his solid shoulder and sitting next to him.

“What happened?” I ask.

Using the convenient excuse that his mouth is full, he looks at me and prolongs the eating—there’s no way he actually chews that much. 

Finally, Ben washes down the toast with some coffee.

“Why do you ask?”

With a sigh and my arm still across his shoulders, I gently trace circles on his cheek, his short beard scruffing my thumb. 

“Because I care.” I say.

“You’ve never asked before.” His tone is surprisingly not-accusing. He’s just looking at me with his brown eyes, usually light coffee-colored but that right now seem as dark as the grind in the pot under the sink. “I assumed you didn’t want to know.”

“--Bernardo.”

“Should I assume you didn’t care before?”

“This isn’t about me.” I say, defensively.

“Right.” He nods, finally looking away, grabbing the mug by the wing and taking it to his lips.

I bite my tongue. This feels like a much-postponed morning-after talk, one I’ve — yes, he’s right — dreaded for the past few months. Every now and then, we have glimpses of it, moments of true earnestness but during which we don’t really confront each other because at the slightest hint of that, I might come crumbling down.

Swallowing down my pride and everything that comes with it, in a tone that sounds too much like begging, I say: “Don’t leave me in the dark here.”

He sighs. A long, heavy sigh. While leaning on the table with his elbow, he holds his head with his hand and looks at me again, like he’s deciding whether I’m worthy of it or not. Or maybe he isn’t and this whole thing is in my head, because from the beginning, that’s what he wants me to do.

“I’m sorry I ruined our trip.” He says, his voice kinda muffled by his palm. “It happens. It happens with spontaneity, like I told you, but also with planning, which fucking—really fucking sucks.”

Even if he sounds perfectly recollected and like he’s just explaining a fact of his life to me, there’s still a strange sense of wariness, and perhaps hesitance and fear, in his voice that kills me inside. Does he really think I don’t wanna talk about it because I can’t deal with it?

“You didn’t ruin our trip.”

“Liv, don’t do that.” It’s his turn to ask me, his eyes slightly narrowed in my direction.

“Do what?”

“Condescend me,” Ben says, his thumb tapping the table almost like one might bounce their knee and tap their foot. “I don’t need the whole pep talk thing.”

“You’re allowed to feel unwell.” I say. “It happens.”

“To me more than anyone else.” He swallows down and stares at the ceiling. “I should have warned you.”

“Of what?”

“That dating me—is a bit more than the wheelchair-paralysis thing. That, in fact, it’s the least of my problems.” His fingers keep tapping the table, and he doesn’t look at me. “I would gladly trade that for some fucking autonomy. To fuck my girlfriend whenever I wanted, to take her somewhere nice, with plenty of planning ahead.”

It’s my turn to avoid his look.

“Oh, Ben-”

“But you don’t negotiate with spinal injuries, do you? I get both.” He sets down the mug. “The deal of the century.”

Everything about this breaks my heart. The way he’s hesitant but also matter-of-fact, brutally honest on purpose, to shock me, to give me a free pass and act like it’s fine. Goddamnnit, Bernardo. I can’t back away from this, and I can’t tell he’s wrong either—it’s his experience speaking, it’s how he feels about it. And I can’t hug him either, say it’s gonna be ok, that it’s gonna get better. It’s shattering me.

I sigh, choosing my words carefully.

“Now look who’s being condescending.” 

“I’m not—” He stops mid sentence, shaking his head. “I just worry it’s going to be a problem.”

“For me?” I feared as much.

He takes a little longer before answering that.

“You might think it’s fine— once or twice, and then you’ll want to go to the chocolate factories and have fondue — which is fine. I understand—”

That’s too much. I use my hand, still gently caressing his face, to force him to look at me.

“Ben, Ben.” I cut him. There’s genuine concern in his face, in his eyes. “You think I care about the tackiest, most commercially romantic, historically phony city in this country?”

I don’t. I really don’t.

“It’s just an example.” He sighs and rolls his eyes. “Eventually you’ll get tired. It’s been an issue before.”

Before. With other women.

“With Suzanna?” It’s the first time I ask about his past relationships, about the doctor. I’m taking a step here.

He considers it. “Well, yes.”

“She’s a bitch,” I say.

“That’s beyond the point, Liv.”

He refuses to throw her under the bus. It’s annoying, but also admirable, honourable and I appreciate it; it’s what every woman — deserving or undeserving — dreams of when walking out of a relationship. I hope someday, when I inevitably fuck this up, he’s just as kind to me. Kindness I can only dream of.

However, right now, I really wish he would let us transfer all this weight into one single evil character, or several of them, and be done with it.

But he’s Ben. It’s not how he rolls.

“You say that someday I’ll care, and maybe I will. But I’ll suck it up, because chocolate factories and fondue make no sense without you.” I brush his thick, soft hair, still moist from the shower, with my fingers. I whisper, then. “It’s just an example.”

He closes his eyes. He looks handsome and tired, and a little defeated—by me. Our foreheads touch and I wish that this way I could read his thoughts. But there’s just silence.

“It’s a fucking pain in my ass.”

“I know.”

“It’s frustrating.”

“I know.”

“I love you.”

I smile, not entirely surprised. I still can’t believe I said it first. I pull him closer, my hand around his neck.

“I know that, too.”

I open my eyes and see he’s staring right back at me, his irises a lot lighter than earlier, like milk-chocolate, or the caramel rim around coffee mugs. I don’t think anyone has ever loved me before. Not like this. And it’s going to break me.

“See,” he says. “You didn’t even cry.”




7 comments:

  1. Wow Caterina, thank you for sharing this story with us. Love the chapter ❤️❤️❤️

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  2. This chapter was great, heartfelt and emotional - thank you so much!

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  3. Thanks for the new chapter, it was great!

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  4. I am so happy you are posting again:-) Thank you so much.

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  5. I thought it flowed well. So happy to see you back. Some lovely, tender scenes. Glad he’s being forced to open up.

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  6. Honestly I enjoyed reading the chapter a lot. It was Well written as well as nuanced which gave us a lot of insight about the characters. I am really liking the way the story is progressing In a very realistic way, and both the characters seem to love each other so much, but are shy to express the true extent Of their feelings. Hopefully you have a lot more chapters in store for them. I can read about them all day.

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  7. Hey Caterina. Thank you for this chapter. Pleeeaaase go on…

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