La Güera Dreams, Despierta, Makes Lists

It’s 6:01 a.m. In reality, it’s 5:01, but that strange human invention, Daylight Savings Time, starts today. This is not a time of day in which a güera is generally awake, let alone productive. But I was dreaming…

Of work.

Yet I woke up as if from a nightmare–hyperaware and breathing fast. I tried to go back to sleep for a while, but my mind continued to race. It was like my brain was trying to use the limited information it had to figure out why I had woken up the way I did. It felt like it does when there’s an earthquake, or someone’s calling your name, or something is happening that shouldn’t be, and your brain is sending emergency signals to your body to WAKEUPWAKEUPWAKEUP, but the body is slow to answer, wrapped too heavily in shroud-like sleep.

What had happened?

Then it hit me, and the possibility of sleep sailed away on a silent wind.

I’ve been home for a year. Today.


If that was me then, who am I now?

Let me break it down.

Things I like: dancing, roller skating, hot dogs, scars, kissing, strong coffee, stronger beer, belly laughter, my body, artistic expression, 90s fashion, being underwater, the word “fuck”, people watching, friendship, honesty, hirsute men, tattoos, language.

Things I don’t like: shaving, high intensity workouts, the disparity in effort to orgasm between the sexes, applications, standardized testing, things that look unlived in, disrespect, intolerance, gratuitous violence, abuse of power, debt, ignorance.

Things I like: shirts that say things, costume jewelry, lying in bed, lying in bed with books, lying in bed with boys, religious art, leather jackets, outdoor markets, intelligent conversation, lingerie, driving, spontaneity, baking, chicken wings, playing sports.

Things I don’t like: sports fans, traffic, diminutive pet names given by strangers, catcalling, shaming, religion, the word “nut butter”, romance (mostly), the absence of critical thought, pain, malls, small talk, cages (generally), alarms, being afraid of–

So, who am I, a year after coming home?

I’m very much myself, a little less afraid than I was before, less inclined to be “nice” and “accommodating”, a little more sure of where I might be heading. I’m also more aware of my weaknesses, my strengths, and also that nebulous area where the two blend seamlessly together.

I’ve been very close to the bottom several times since I’ve been home, but here, at dawn, a year from stepping off the plane from Colombia, a year from dancing alone in the rain in the middle of thousands of people, a year from racing down the streets of Bogotá both thrilled and horrified that my taxi driver ran every red light…

I’d say things are coming up roses.



Lines Written in the Days of Fading Brightness


I am fast approaching the end of all this, having arrived at the sodden tea leaves swirling round the bottom of my cup. I eye them half-heartedly. But as much as we would like a roadmap, such things belong in stories and not here, on this cynical–though wondrous–plane we inhabit. Home and all it entails is looming once again on the horizon. I sit here, or rather, I wander slowly back along the road I arrived by, and watch its approach. When it hits me I’ll know it’s time to squeeze who I’ve become back into the Kaelyn-sized space I left, knocking down walls and splitting seams in the process. Another paradigm shift in the making, another cliff’s edge that in all seriousness I should be toeing anxiously, despite my travel-tested wings, yet all I want at the moment is to lie in a hammock with my book and order some delivery Thai (beautiful dream). In the shadow of big changes, it’s the small appetites we turn to and seek to sate.

I started this journey from behind a desk, ducking my head whenever the boss went by lest his dreadful vulture’s eye fall on me. I will be ending it back in the city of fears realized–Bogotá, Colombia, where I was once mugged twice in a week. But so much has happened in the meantime. For one thing, I think I’ve had my fill of reggaeton for the rest of my life; also light beer; also the Ecuadorian tax system; machismo; Zhumir–the small and inconsequent gripes that accumulate after any longish amount of time in one place.  But the good, the wondrous: I’ve found soulmates and peace and friendships, flames that will be rekindled in different places around the world again and again; the scent of palo santo; the new meaning of the word chola, which now evokes ebony velvet braids and swinging skirts; a lit match will always bring to mind three women from three different parts of the world whose laughter rang through Cuenca’s cobblestone streets. Now, a day after I’ve finally left Cuenca, and all the things that have made up my daily life, I’m in a place called Mindo, where it’s raining so hard it seems the river is going to rush through my windows and maybe wash it all away. It has me thinking about endings. All things end, and all begin, but it is what comes between that makes things what they are.

I’ve left and come back home so many times now that I could do it without thinking. But I do. Think, I mean. It’s like finding my old racing suit and being surprised, bemusedly so, that although tighter in some places, it still fits, still serves its purpose. It hurts though, in a subphysical kind of way–hurts because, without even noticing, you’ve expanded and become so much greater since you’ve been away, and then you’re home and in the same size space you left, and all the beauty and all the substance you’ve brought with you must struggle to make a place for itself.

Homecoming hurts, but it no longer feels like a punishment, an event requiring a large inhalation of breath and a considerable lung capacity to hold it until the worst is over. I left that baggage along the roadside somewhere, along with my penchant for over-processed white bread and glitter eye shadow. Homecoming has alchemized into something less sinister, not quite gold but far from lead. It is a sloughing off of one set of responsibilities and a shouldering of another. It is family dinners and small comforts, it is a sense of no longer having to look over my shoulder quite as often, a brushing off of whatever remnants of projected cultural shame have managed to settle into my hair and skin. Home is where fewer, though by no means no one, question who I’ve chosen to be.

I have no idea what kinds of things I will begin, continue with, and end this year. No idea what version of myself I will be when I look back a year from now. I don’t feel anxious or fearful, but nor do I feel excited, exactly. I think the overriding feeling is curiosity. I can predict only slightly more about this next phase of my life than I could when I decided to travel South America, and later live there. In spite of having lived most of my life in California, anything could happen there, just as anything could, could have, and sometimes did happen in Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.

At the risk of an excess of imagery, permit me one more. Coming home after an extended absence is a bit like jumping out of a plane—you’re pretty confident the terrain will be familiar on landing , having been an unwitting (oft unwilling) student all your life, and you’re reasonably sure your parachute will open at the appropriate time. Yet there is still risk, still a palpable tinge of uncertainty, albeit wearing the home team’s colors. We cannot know what exactly will be waiting for us when our feet once again sink into the soil of home. We cannot know if the person we have become is quite as willing to live among the ghosts of the people we were before.

The tea leaves can’t tell me anything. I can’t tell the future. I can’t even objectively analyze the past. But I have myself, my will, and I continue, as always, to cling relentlessly and with immeasurable force to the ever-changing form of my dreams.

“And therefore
Who would cry out

To the petals on the ground
To stay,
Knowing as we must,
How the vivacity of what was is married

To the vitality of what will be?”
-Mary Oliver


The Self as the Horizontal Line that Connects Worlds


Coming home is always strange, and the strangeness of arrival multiplies exponentially the longer you are away. There is no action without a reaction, and so every single thing that happens to you while traveling changes you, usually in such a small way so as not to be noticeable as it happens, but at the moment your feet touch whatever ground constitutes that amorphous and abstract place called “home”, one simple truth hits you with the force of something that has been building speed for eons: you have changed irrevocably while your home has not.

I think you subconsciously believe that the world changes and develops with you–it does, but in such ways that we cannot see them in our solipsism–and so evidence to the contrary kind of sets us back for a moment. In my case, I feel profoundly altered after my five months abroad, so coming back home to find everything where I had left it was–is–jarring. And yet within hours of stepping off the plane in Los Angeles, it also felt as though I had fallen back into the folds of normalcy. It was as though without knowing it I had split into two people. The one (la Güera?) had, only days ago, popped a couple of Valium and threaded every available limb through her luggage in order to survive a 19-hour bus ride from Máncora to Lima on a bus designed for people with a leg span half hers, had licked the juice of beef hearts from her fingers as she ran for a taxi, had split her knee open as a consequence of mixing salsa dancing and blood bombs (as sinister as they sound). The other me (E. Kaelyn Davis?) had continued her life here without interruption, driving the 405 to the 5 freeway and back again (between her parents’ houses), calling in pick-up orders for banh mi and ramen and pad see ew, playing Scrabble and Mexican Train with her family, drinking IPAs and flirting shamelessly in seedy but somehow endearing dive bars.

It’s such an odd feeling, because if there really is only one me, how do I reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable worlds of Orange County, California, organized so cleanly into its city blocks, with its traffic laws so reverently obeyed (relatively speaking), and the wonderful, wild, and often chaotic world that I’ve inhabited the last half a year in Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru? How can two such tangible and living realities, realities in which I have a place and a purpose, exist in one dimension of time and space?

I am no Stephen Hawking. I don’t understand the complexities of dimensional realities. I couldn’t even tell you now what the formula for the theory of relativity is. The only thing that I know is that there is only one similarity between these two places: me. Of course they exist without my being in them. Millions of people’s lives continue without my ever even suspecting that they exist. But it seems that we can only truly grasp reality if we are part of it. They say that the human brain is absolutely incapable of imagining its own nonexistence. We can not imagine not being. This is the essence of solipsism: the idea that the self is the only thing that can be known, truly understood, to exist.

This idea of there being two of me, one that contains me and the other as a sort of space holder, is comforting. Perhaps when I return to Cuenca in two months, I will feel as though I have slipped back into the Kaelyn that never left her subequatorial paradise. Obviously this is all a physical impossibility, but the people whose lives we are part of carry us around with them so we are never truly absent. Thus it is only a slight stretch of the imagination to visualize a kind of shade of ourselves inhabiting places we have walked, lived, laughed, waiting for our real selves, our consciousnesses, to come back and make them whole again.

Maybe this is what we mean when we say we’ve left part of ourselves somewhere. Maybe it’s more than just a figure of speech.

Just maybe.