The ants were swarming all over the gate. Why? Who knows? They’d never done this before, but tonight, there they were. I paused a moment to size up their black motions in the shadows from the car headlights. There was no way to unlock that gate without standing right in the middle of them. Without unlocking the gate, we couldn’t go home. I wanted to go home.
I took a deep breath and dove in, reaching out for the lock with the longest arms possible. I felt them find my feet, decide my toes were intruders, declare my ankles enemy war machines. I moved quickly, snapping open the padlock, swearing under my breath, and heaved the gate open. I ran through the stain of ants, pushing the gate wide and allowing Mr. Crônicas to drive our car through.
Only once I stopped did I allow myself to process the discomfort of what I had just gone through. I stomped my feet. I brushed off warriors still trying to lock their pincers into my flesh. Swears blazing blue, purple, and magenta streaked out of my clenched throat. And between them from somewhere below my sternum and just above my stomach–somewhere one might call the depth of my soul–came shouts of anger and frustration so loud that it that brought Mr. Crõnicas leaping out of the car in concern.
It wasn’t just the ants, although they hurt like hell.
It was the many nights before that there was a termite trail that crossed this same gateway. That it was me–always me–who braved their gauntlet to open the gate. Tiptoeing, dancing, trying to miss them. Always almost, but not quite. Termites are worse.
It was that car, that always seemed to be shedding a layer of paint or a piece of itself or seizing up in some strange way in a slow process of leprous aging, but that we could never seem to get the car loans to work in our favor to replace.
It was conversations in our family store where the customer turns to my husband, standing by my side, and says “So, is she liking it here?”
It was buying fruit in the market and an old man standing next to the stall points at me and exclaims, “America! America? America?!” Yes. Can I help you? “Where are you from?” I’m from the USA. I live here. What’s it to you? Can I just get my bananas now?
It was trying to fix things on the farm when half the time it seems the right tool for the job is always borrowed, missing or broken, where creative stopgap solutions have become an art-form, where finishing the job always takes twice as long as you figured, if you can manage to finish it that day at all.
It was my boss eyeing me up after my trip home to the States. “You gained some weight there, didn’t you?” he chuckled with a smirk and raised eyebrows. Yes, I did. I went home. H-O-M-E. Home-cooking and the land of Chinese food and varied cheeses and cheap microbrews. Wouldn’t you? Does it really matter?
It was the lock on the front door that I could never get anyone to believe me that the tumblers were broken and it sticks and it’s not just me being inept that I can’t open it, so often that I can Dukes of Hazzard myself through our unlocked bedroom window without even touching the walls.
It was the compliments from my co-worker and her best friend (also a family friend) who, after the unrequested tummy-tuck with the c-section and the new blonde highlights in my hair to cover the gray that middle-aged motherhood had made me ashamed of, told me repeatedly that motherhood had made me “more of a woman.” Wait, what? I was less before?
It was being told that I look just like that other American woman in town, so much we could be sisters, are we? (there are two others, and we range from tall pale blonde to petite dusky brunette–but I’m somewhere in the middle, so maybe?) And that guy who just bought land over the hill? He’s American. Is he your uncle? No, really it’s just that we’re all white and not from around here. But thanks for noticing.
It was the tiny, tiny insect bites. These, others. Each one I brush off. Over the years I approach life in this small town with the longest of arms. I doesn’t happen every day. If I’m lucky, if I can keep myself small enough, I can get through a week without one. Unfortunately I’m not naturally a small person. I am large-living, embracing, outspoken, and expansive. I can’t help it; I call attention to myself by just walking down the sidewalk or entering a room. Packing myself every day into that tiny space is almost as painful as the bite. I gnash my teeth at the the mental origami; my soul is getting crease-lines.
I stared at that gate. I wasn’t done. We still needed to close it behind us. I couldn’t leave it unlocked all night. I flinched, the pain still very fresh in my memory.
I swore again, inhaled deeply, and stepped forward with tears pricking at the corners of my eyes.
Sometimes courage is knowing that something is going to be painful and doing it anyway, because it’s gotta get done. Sometimes the only way out is through.