My brother was here a couple weeks ago, and we went up to São Pedro de Moel to matar saudades (literally, to"kill homesickness"), where we spent many weekends and childhood summers back in the 50s and 60s. Seeing the old lighthouse and hearing the roaring coastline waves against the familiar rocky cliffs was, as always, priceless.
Over grilled robalo (sea bass) one night, we started talking about the Danny Orlis books that he read as a kid in Leiria, where our missionary parents worked in the Seminário Teológico Baptista. My brother told me a story about how he ended up speaking with the author, Bernard Palmer:
In the 80s, when he was a bush pilot in Africa flying out of Nyankunde in northeast Zaire, he once spent the night in a missionary home where the guest room doubled as the young son's. My brother looked up at the boy's bookshelf and saw all of the Danny Orlis books. He took down Danny Orlis in Mysterious 'Zandeland and saw that the author had dedicated it to the missionary family who lived in Banda. My brother had flown into Banda that very day, in the district of the Zande peoples, an area stretching across the colonial border into what is now Central African Republic.
Back in the US, my brother looked up the number of Bernard Palmer and was amazed when the author answered the phone himself. He told him of the profound influence the books had had on him as a kid, guiding his own vision of a future Christian man and missionary.
So what was my influence? I remember being taunted with Joia the boia, an odd hybrid insult in both English and Portuguese. My tomboy nature was unacceptable, too strong and too loud. Later I did read Nancy Drew books, hardly a vision of evangelical womanhood, but by then it was too late—I had already failed at family girlchild.
I realized that I'd had Mom for about a third of the time my brothers had her—long before I was old enough to do their laundry and make their dinners, I understood that my place in the home was infrastructure. Like the girl-pillar Caryatids of the Acropolis, or Eve propping up Adam in the Sistine Chapel, my job was supporting actress to the lead actor. Hold 'em up, gorgeous.
Both my brothers moved from boyhood into 40-year marriages, while I stumbled around like a drunk artist on Montmartre, trying to figure out how to live on the planet. Why the crushes on girls? Why the humiliation with boys? After some midnight violence and hospital butchery my remaining ovary eventually produced a child, so I got to live both mother and father roles, the drag queen going to work and expounding western philosophy by day and the house maid keeping the fires burning by night.
This double identity goes by the silly name of "single mom," but the duality of playing the genders simultaneously makes the old nonbinary tomboy act look like a Saturday frolic in the sun.
I had no idea.
Unsustainable, my body fell apart, though thankfully it's still breathing on its own.
There aren't any Institutes or Chairs named after my lifework, my wifeless hybrid mess of bigendered bicultural bidisciplinary bisexual chaos.
No matter. I was busy. I was essential.
And I got to climb up the Caryatid girl pillars to the roof for a while, to sit in the sun.
17 JULY 2022