This World Is Not My Home by Jeremy Paden (part 2)

II.

Maybe her name was Pat. I can’t recall.

My high school years were a procession of medical mission and Habitat for Humanity work groups. Two, three, even more, a year would come down. When I wasn’t working the makeshift pharmacy, stuffing bags full of medicine, giving children swigs of mebendezole, explaining the doctor’s instructions to patients and having them recite them back to me, I was translating for doctors, dentists, nurses, or house building crews. People came and went. A week of work, a day at the beach, and they were gone.

Pat was in her early fifties. Had a son in a rock and roll band named “The Grievers.” She was an honest, blue-collar American, drove a forklift in a warehouse for a living, made ties for the men in her life, had paid her house off years ago. This was her first trip out of the country and she’d decided to come on a short-term medical mission trip to the Caribbean.

She’d packed little American flags in her luggage to pin to shirts. I refused to wear one. Missing home and wanting to celebrate in some way, to establish some kind of solidarity with fellow Americans, she asked us what we most loved about the U.S.. I answered, “Not a lot.” I don’t recall much of the conversation after that. I remember the sadness in her eyes. I remember stumbling between my regret and a need to defend myself.

The tape I play in my mind has me unfolding before her the history of Anglo-American aggression in Latin America since Teddy’s gunboat diplomacy days. But my history back then was much more piecemeal. There were the bits garnered from second grade Sandinista history primers. In 1981 we attended The American School in Managua, Nicaragua. The revolution had already happened and everyone was teaching from government-vetted books. There were the snippets of Castro’s epic four-hour discourses caught on the radio or talked about admiringly by my middle school teachers in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

There was the fact that our encounter happened on this island, an island LBJ invaded in 1965 to keep it from turning Commie.

That the U.S. Marines left once order was restored in the form of a man who governed for twelve years with the use of death squads.

That people I loved knew victims.

Maybe I said something about Chile; maybe I didn’t. I probably did say something about Iran-Contra. After all, the U.S.-backed Contra insurgency was why we left Nicaragua.

It was the Fourth of July.

“Tilaran, Costa Rica. Dad was working with Nicaraguan refugees. My brother and I had just finished a run in the rain. We were supposed to have smiled; I was hungry.”

This World Is Not My Home by Jeremy Paden (part 1)

This World Is Not My Home | by Jeremy Paden

I.

In my first passport picture, I sit on my mother’s lap. Beside us stands my sister. Vietnam had just ended, and Dad, whose number was never called during his undergraduate years in the States, found himself needing to choose between obligatory military service in the Italian army or, thanks to a 1972 change in the law, some form of authorized community service. A conscientious objector, he chose the latter. We spent the better part of 1976, the year I turned two, in Nigeria. Dad, an advanced medical student dreaming of becoming a medical missionary, worked in a hospital.

“Mr. Sunshine” – the writer age 20 months in Milan.

My earliest memory, perhaps, is not my sister’s nightmare on our first night in country, though they say her screams about “the elephants coming” woke me. Nor is it our disobedience, crossing the street to eat our neighbors’ food. That story, too, was told to me. It’s being put down in an open air market in Lagos, Nigeria, by a tired mother. The air was pungent with fresh fish and foods I did not recognize, but it’s not like I have a clear, sharp recollection. It’s colors, shapes, smells, bright tropical light, bustle, and unintelligible language. I have one other memory from Nigeria that I know is mine. Which is to say, not from stories told me, not from pictures taken. It too is vague. And it’s standing in a thatched-roof, open-air hut, people singing church songs in Yoruba. I don’t know how early most people remember. I suppose these were imprinted only because Lagos is nothing like Milan, Italy, where Dad was studying medicine.

Though we left Italy when I was only four, I have a catalogue of memories from those years, all of which are, I presume, from after Nigeria. All are also rather banal: me standing naked and crying on an Italian beach, opening a Kinder egg in a Fiat in some parking lot, disobeying my grandfather by climbing a ladder into an old hayloft and crying for him to get me down. But over the course my childhood, as we moved from place to place, I’d call them up, then zoom in and out on the grain of the wood on that barn or the stitching of the car’s seat, though I can’t remember the color of the car or the material of the upholstery.

Like my father, I am an American citizen born abroad and declared at a consulate soon after my birth. By the time I left for college, I’d lived on three continents, one isthmus, and one archipelago. Another way of adding this up is six countries, four U.S. states, ten cities, and around 18 discreet residences, not counting the bed under my aunt and uncle’s stairs in Goleta, California, where I worked as a security guard for an RV camp and at a roadside organic food stand the eight months before heading off to college.

In a Man’s Voice: Poems & Essay by Jeremy Paden

Jeremy Dae Paden was born in Italy and raised in Latin America. He teaches Spanish at Transylvania University, He is published in Calíope, a critical journal of poetry of Spain and the Americas during the Renaissance and Baroque periods.  He is also a member of the Affrilachian Poets and a collaborator in Rose Tree Writers.

Though Jeremy and I have only met in person once, we have somehow found a writing connection, as well as a parenting connection, that bring me tremendous joy. I don’t know anyone else who, upon hearing that I was dyeing absorbant crystals red and brown with wine and coffee for my child’s science project, would have asked if I would send him some more detail so he might work it into a poem.

Jeremy isn’t a poet when he has time to be one. He is one when he wakes and when he sleeps, every day. I can imagine standing behind him in the grocery store and hearing him practicing words about the spiritual ebb and flow of the human psyche as he ponders the nature of standing in lines.

I am grateful to learn from his world view, and I look forward to sharing his 8-part Essay on Childhood: This World Is Not My Home. You may read some of Dr. Paden’s poetry online via the following links, and I hope you will!

You can read more about the 2012 Essays on Childhood writers here.