Last night I dreamed that I was walking across Mill Creek in Walla walla on a foot bridge. Suddenly the bridge ended over the middle of the creek . I stuck my cane out to try and find the next part of the bridge and I couldn't reach it. Then Fiona, Linda's housemate, came walking toward me from the other side and told me to be careful not to fall in. She tried to describe where the next part of the bridge was, but I couldn't find it, was too afraid to take the step.
I woke up, and it took me a couple minutes to figure out where I was, under a sheet in Arthur's Ballard house where the air smelled like rain not trying to cross mill creek. Memories of the night before: walking on the UW campus with Shir ,Arthur and Rachel and reminiscing, talking about the Klein 4 group over Indian food as if no time had passed since 2006.
But time has passed. Yesterday, I walked up to a street musician and, with all the courage and Andean Fuerza I could muster, said:
"Imaynalla kachkanki? Ñuqa napakullayki runa-simiwan Ayacuchumanta."
The equivalent of "Hayka Quichuata yacharqanki," though in a dialect I Could barely understand.
"Iskay watakuna Huamangapi yacharqanim?"
"Sí, dos años. Solo te quise saludar. Tienes un hermano quechuahablante aquí."
I'll never forget the confidential tone he used with his friend as I turned to walk away, the fast Quechua and Spanish, the surprise in all their voices. I was tired, and I had to hold back tears of nostalgia and happiness.
I had been imagining that moment for a long time. I always imagined myself proudly exclaiming "I did it! I went to the Andes and learned Quechua, and you naysayers said I couldn't." This humility surprised me as much as them. but I think it reflects my finally learning several hard life-lessons.
Now the music reminded me of Ayacucho: cold windy nights where, leaving some bar I would stumble across a comparsa and a growing group of dancers in the street. for a minute, the Seattle wind was converted to a "ventarón," and the music didn't seem as happy as I remembered it. It tasted like caña, the smell of cebada and pan chapla in the cool mornings. It sounded like poverty. And the charango player played his charango with so much pride and passion that it, not the quenas or the maracas or the guitar, was the last thing I could hear as I left Quichua Mashis playing on the street corner in Seattle Center.
I have a good life right now. I have a girlfriend who makes me feel validated about knowing so much useless math, I speak three languages, do good work and have good job prospects for the future. I live independently, and yet for some reason it feels so tenuous. it's that old Edgar O'Hara adage from the nameless Italian poet: happiness walks on the edge of a sword.