Work in Progress

I set this site up with the goal of practicing my writing. I unfortunately did not prepare for the site being ready at this time, so I do not have anything interesting to write about. However I did have an idea, I can post a piece of writing I wrote last October. It is a fairly short piece, only about a page single spaced in all. The paper was an assignment for a college program I was in at the time, a personal narrative essay.  I decided to write about an incident that happened with me during my foreign exchange in Chile back in the first half of 2007. So far, I think only my professor and a fellow classmate have read this. Hope you enjoy it.

Note, I this is in the same condition as it was when I turned it in. Meaning it was not peer edited, so please forgive any errors.

“Don’t touch me.” Three words, imperative tense. Said with no malice or even urgency. I said those three words with the same voice as casually and almost politely as one would ask for more water from a waiter. I was 16 years old and I was on foreign exchange in Copiapó, Chile, a copper mining city in the Atacama desert. My host father Gerardo, nicknamed “Yayo” was driving. His youngest son, the six or seven year old Cristóbal, was in the back. I was in the passenger seat. Most likely wear my dirty and worn black blazer. “Manufactured in the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia.” That is what it read on the tag. Cristóbal was hopping around as any young child is wont to do. One of his arms touched my shoulder, it was not a strike. He probably did not mean to get that close. He was just playing. I am a very shy person. If surrounded by unfamiliar people, I will not speak more than a very terse statements. People often mistake that laconic silence with discomfort. In reality it is just my way. People always say if you have nothing good to say, do not speak. I take that to an extreme I suppose.

“Don’t touch me.” Instinctively, almost without any active thought I say those three words after Cristóbal touched my shoulder. Yayo’s tone changes dramatically. He went from his usual friendly and happy tone to deadly serious and angry. “You do not say that.” I believe that is what he said. I cannot remember what he said exactly. All I know is that I am immediately filled with regret and shame. I hang my head and do the same thing that I always when wounded. If I had not been in a car at the time, I would have found an excuse to get away. I would have run away for a while. Instead I just go silent and cannot bear to look at anyone. Three words, just another step on the road to the ruin that was my experience in Chile.

I am shy, I do not speak, I will avoid looking at people, I avoid getting physically close to others. These facts, along with other misunderstandings and mistakes from both sides, brought my foreign exchange to an early end. In month five of six I was asked to leave in so many words. It was incidents like these involving my host family that did me in. I had been expelled from my school once, but I managed to apologize and grovel my way back in. I did much better at school socially after that. I do not know if I ever really settled in with my host family.

I think Americans are comfortable with walls. We build them around our lives, our homes and even our borders. And we are not insulted if our neighbors decide to build a wall. If someone does not speak we may ask why, but we will not press them to hard on the subject usually. The Chileans always seemed to misread me. When I did not speak, they thought I was uncomfortable and did not like being there. I merely had nothing to say. When I did not volunteer, they thought it rude. I was not trained to volunteer, I was raised to be assigned tasks. They thought I was not happy there. I do like to get excitable, when I do I tend to get punished for it or I crash hard afterwards. I am rather stoic and the Chileans misread that. Americans generally seem to not. Or if they do, they do not question it to me directly.

It took me over three years for me to get over what had happened in Chile. I was there February to May in 2007. I would not realize that I was not entirely to blame and that I had not failed until the summer of 2010. I still have trouble believing what those three words would do. Three words, imperative tense, never thought it would bring utter ruin. No one ever does.

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