IT WAS A night like any other when my mother told me her love story. The dog was lying on the bed with us, listening attentively with her ears pricked up and her eyes fixed on the story teller. As usual my father was watching TV in the living room, alternating between Downton Abbey and São Paulo versus some other football team.
They met at a college party, she was 17, he was 24.
On a day not more remarkable than the night I was told this story, my father called my mother to go to the movies.
“It was creepy,” described my mother. “We went to see a movie that was all about sex. That Orange Clockwork or something. It was weird. But I decided to give him another chance and we went out again.”
The dog raised its head and looked at my mother, confused. The setting of their first date was somewhat nightmarish and very unromantic. In a dark cinema room, they watched the gruesome actions of weirdo baddiwad* Alex, topped off with unpleasant experimental brainwashing.
But my dad’s version of the story is somewhat dancing. At a party, before he asked my mother properly, they danced and talked. The 80’s hits were playing, and in the midst of all the dancing a first kiss happened.
The ‘official’ first date was at a midnight showing of Clockwork Orange, a ‘cool’ thing to do at the time. People dressed up as the characters to go to a cheap midnight showing of the movie. The fans knew all the lines, but my mom didn’t and was quite horrified.
“She thought it was weird that I took her to see that movie,” said my dad.
“You know, mom thinks it’s called Orange Clockwork,” I replied. He laughed hard, throwing his head back. Mom never knows the right name of films, but she’s seen them all; the movie with the dog with (Hachi: A Dog Tale), Piiiiii (Life of Pi), The Queen (The Iron Lady), and of course, Orange Clockwork.
“Then, we started going out and we enjoyed each other’s company,” my mom continued. “We talked for hours and hours on the phone and he was always talking about the papers he had to write for college… I don’t know if he had several or just one huge paper to write.
“But my father didn’t like him at first, because when he asked what he did, and I said he was a 24-year-old postgraduate student. So he said I wasn’t allowed to see him anymore. But we lied and went out anyway.”
That wasn’t the only obstacle they had to face at the time.
My father was a full scholarship student from a teeny tiny town in Brazil called Potirendaba. Led by a necessity to escape the rural and the minimal, he moved to São Paulo and studied engineering. Mario was his name, and though his birth certificate says January 4th, his true birth date is January 3rd, a deceit devised by his father so a registration fine didn’t have to be paid. Of Italian descent, the only Italian aspect of family life was the food, cooked marvellously by my grandmother. He had chosen to go to snowy, cold St Louis and get a master’s degree. Then he wanted to stay.
My mother, a Colombian expatriate in the USA, was finishing high school. Her name was Zamira and she had two siblings. She moved from her own country with her family a few years back, and was now attached to the country in a way that is only possible through the hardships of learning a new language and culture.
My dad was bound to America in a way that is only possible through loving a woman.
With no job or visa, he came back to Brazil. Long distance relationships were not graced with the technology of Skype, texts, emails and Facebook – but maintained through phone calls and letters. ‘Saudade’ is a Brazilian word for intense nostalgia. In a word lies the description of long distance relationships.
After leaving in July 1982, ‘saudade’ was an everyday occurrence.
But some pains can be eased with oddities. My father barely had a penny to his name, but he found ways to make overseas calls by driving around in the rich neighborhoods of São Paulo with a cordless phone and stealing the phone signals.
“One of the fun things of the time when your parents were dating and your mother still lived in the USA was that Mario wanted to talk to her by phone, but was too expensive,” said my father’s college friend Totonho. “Then we would drive around in the area of Jardins in São Paulo and Mario took a cordless phone and we kept riding slowly through the streets to find signal (from a rich house in the area) and then he made the call.”
In December 1983, my mother finally came to visit.
“So I came to Brazil and it was scary, I thought everything was weird, the culture, the language. And São Paulo isn’t a pretty city to look at the first time you visit. At the airport, I was just thinking – what did I get myself into? I almost wanted to go back in the plane.”
Alienated, the language sounded like gibberish, malarkey. The culture was queer, not the same, distant – somehow unattainable. She felt a little excluded, estranged. In the middle of my father’s friends, she had to be brave to have fun since most of them didn’t speak English.
“New Year’s 1983-84, we lived in Angra,” tells another long-time friend. “We had a house there and we agreed that we would all spent New Year’s there (Dourado, Jackie, Mario, Zamira, Zeca and I). Mario was an old friend of my husband Zeca already, so I had known Mario since the time we started dating. So there comes Zamira, and this is the first house she gets to see in Brazil! Straight from the airport to Angra, can you imagine, with people she didn’t know and without knowing one word in Portuguese!”
“The end of the year was great, we had fun speaking in ‘Portunhol’. Her companion and friendship really started and never ended. Children came, problems, changes… and trials, sweet colourful popcorn from bags… We never lost touch.”
Though my mother had to be brave, she had fun and didn’t want to go back. But my father had to put her on a plane because of a promise.
“I think she had fun,” speculated my dad. “We spent New Year’s with friends and it was fun. She wanted to stay, but I promised your grandpa she would return because she was still studying. So she went back. And then a few months later she dumped me.”
First came the letter with the news, she had moved on. Then the heartbreak came through the speaker of a phone – it was true, there was someone else and my mother was very confused. So she had decided to end it.
There were tears on both sides of the world.
And for two whole years they didn’t speak.
My parents are renewing their vows tomorrow, April 7th 2013, to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. The second part of this story will be published tomorrow as well, to celebrate the date. I suppose that’s a spoiler for people who don’t know them, but I promise you will not be disappointed as to what led to the start of a life together. Thanks for reading.
Photo from personal archive, editing by Nicole Froio.
Que falar de seus pais….
Bem primeiramente, são pessoa com um coração tamanho do universo, com uma fidelidade de amizade ímpar, sem nenhum meio de comparação,a música de Milton Nascimento “ amigo é coisa para se guardar”,é pouco para descrevê-los!
Reveillon 1983/1984, morávamos em Angra e havíamos recebido uma casa, tão aguardada na Verolme. Combinamos todos( Doro, Jack, Mário, Zami, Zeca e eu), de passar o Reveillon juntos.
Mário já velho conhecido, fez Poli junto com o Zeca, eu já estava convivendo com eles desde a época de namoro (1980), então, chegava Zamira, primeira casa que conhecia no Brasil! Direto do aeroporto para Angra dos Reis, imagina, pessoas que não conhecia, sem falar uma palavra de português!!!!
Enfim, mesmo com a casa na bagunça da mudança, o final de Ano foi ótimo, nos divertimos muito falando portunhol, ela muito companheira e a amizade começou e nunca mais acabou. Filhos vieram, problemas, mudanças….. e provações, pipocas doces de pacotinho e coloridas… , nunca perdemos contato.
Hoje, juntos no Rio de Janeiro, somos mais amigos que nunca!
É isso aí, muito carinho, amor e amizade eterna.
Desejo à vocês muitos anos juntos, com amor, companheirismo, sendo deste jeitinho transparente e sincero!!!!!
Ni, espero ter passado um pouco do que seus pais são para nós.
Antonio José Mattos
Uma das coisas divertidas qdo seus pais estavam namorando e sua mãe ainda morava nos Eua era que o Mario queria conversar com ela por telefone, mas era muito caro. Aí nos saiamos de carro na região dos jardins em SP e o Mario levava um telefone sem fio e a gente ficava rodando devagar pelas ruas do jardins até encontrar sinal (de alguma casa rica na região) e aí ele fazia a ligação… maior 171.. mas na época era o q dava….