Leaving Behind My Brazilian Boyfriend (And His Mother)
I knew I would have to go the day he read my blog. I said yes when he asked to read it and sent him the link. He printed it at work and read it on the bus. He was upset, hurt he told me, like he’d been punched in the stomach. I looked back and the most personal thing I had written was that when people learned we were living together they asked why we weren’t married.
That was more of a general cultural reflection than a commentary about our relationship or his family specifically. I had been very careful to save the really good stories for private emails to close friends, though close might have become a relative term when I was desperate for communication, companionship and connection, as I felt more and more isolated with each day I spent in South America. It’s likely that everyone I knew read an email with a story that involved both my underwear and his family.
I had known before that I had to go home, primarily because my visa was going to expire at the end of December. By then I would have spent the six months permissible out of the last twelve in Brazil and there was not much to do about that. But when he told me how hurt he was by my very careful and considerate writing I felt something end. I had nothing in Brazil, not even my own stories.
The night I left for Brazil I had gotten to my gate at the airport and thought, “Am I crazy? I’m going to move to Brazil to live with my Brazilian boyfriend?”
Every day felt like there was another restriction on who I was and how I had to be in order to keep the peace. There was no one in Brazil who knew me before, who could reflect back to me who I had been, who I still was, underneath the feeling of being confined into too many boxes. There was no one who knew how vibrant and alive and healthy I was, before pneumonia and sprained ankles and weeks of being in my apartment in Sao Paulo, by myself, save sometimes his mother who felt more like she was forcing herself on me than actually helping me.
Any appreciation I might have had for her taking me to the doctor vanished when I had to fight hard with no voice and an incessant cough to resist being force fed a chicken sandwich at the medical center. “My mother says I don’t have to eat when I’m sick and not hungry!” I insisted, trying to remain polite but too exhausted and frustrated from going on five months of fighting for autonomy in my decisions to care very much.
“The fiancé of my son,” she insisted to the man in the visa department when we tried to see if we could get my visa extended anyway. Neither of us spoke about the words she had used. We both knew my Portuguese was good enough by then to understand. She thought fiancé might get them to give me more time but it was still weird. I’m not even sure that he still wanted me there, though he didn’t exactly want me to leave either. I’m not sure what she was fighting for.
Mostly I think she needed drama and I somehow ended up as the source.
She cried when I boarded my United Airlines flight home. My mom always told me his mom never wanted things to work out between he and I, that she’d always be afraid I was going to take him away from her back to the United States, but I don’t think it was quite that simple. When he ended up at Harvard a few years later he said that she told him often to get in touch with me. She admired me, though maybe hated me, too.
Mostly I think she needed drama and I somehow ended up as the source. The one who might make her own mother, who once brought me back a piece of jewelry from Macy’s after traveling to the US for a Bat Mitzvah, think that she had raised her son terribly for living with a girl he wasn’t married to. Or who would make her maid almost quit over some ridiculous drama having to do with underwear. Or who would tell her that her younger son could order his own pizza for his friends if it was really causing her that much stress and then listen, semi-uncomfortably in a coffee shop while she cried and told me in Portuguese that she had suffered a lot in her childhood, and that she could never be as independent and courageous as I was. It was a Friday afternoon after one of my many doctor appointments and all I really wanted to do was go home and see my Brazilian boyfriend who had been working all week.
I wonder what she did with her time after I left. I gave her some of the gifts my preschool students gave me for Christmas that didn’t fit in my suitcase. He told me years later that his mom thinks of me every time she sees the ceramic white dove I left with her. The irony now seems glaring, but when I left I was just sad.
My mom always told me his mom never wanted things to work out between he and I, that she’d always be afraid I was going to take him away from her back to the United States, but I don’t think it was quite that simple.
The night I left for Brazil I had gotten to my gate at the airport and thought, “Am I crazy? I’m going to move to Brazil to live with my boyfriend?” Leaving Brazil I thought much the same thing. The risk of going home seemed less obvious but it was just as great. When I left for Brazil, I was a recent college graduate. Graduating had been the risk. Going to Brazil gave me a sense of connectedness that I was losing with what felt like an abrupt end to my lifelong academic career. When I got to Brazil I knew what would be waiting for me. A Brazilian boyfriend I loved, an apartment he had found for us, and his mother who, though she frustrated me in new ways every day, was the most loyal companion I had over five lonely months.
Leaving Brazil felt emptier. I went home to my loving family and an ice cream machine they had gotten me for Chanukah to distract me while I readjusted. My parents said that of all the trips I had come home from, I was the nicest upon this return. I was still twenty-two. Only five months had passed. Barely longer than the length of a semester, but everything felt different. I had a new scar on my lungs from pneumonia. I had a torn ligament in my ankle. I had a set of x-rays and a walking cast to keep as souvenirs when the physical scars eventually healed. And I had a few emotional scars, too. But I had taken the risk. I had gone to Brazil and I would never have to look back and wonder if I had done