Since I was four years old, my family has been travelling to Argentina to visit family.
The trips I took to this distant foreign country made for great getaways but resonated little with me. I was always hiding in the shadow of my parents, wading through their murky memories of a place they once called home.
These were my aunts and uncles and cousins because my parents told me they were. I loved every trip, and liked hanging out with these strangers called family, but I never knew them.
So when it came time to visit again, I left Canada with a desire to engage more and make some memories of my own.
I remember one night going over for dinner at my uncle’s house. The meal was laid out, everyone gathered around the table, the tv as background noise as we cracked jokes and poked fun at each other. My cousins and I couldn’t believe the similarities between my dad and his brother.
I remember lying in the dark, staring up at the ceiling, talking to my cousin for hours late into the night. I had questions about Argentina, she had ones about Canada, we both hated bugs, and with her dog sleeping at my feet, she taught me to love animals. I never realized how much we had in common.
I remember walking around the neighbourhood with my aunts, buying dinner from the butcher shop, following up with the seamstress, and that one time I clumsily lost 100 pesos because it literally fell out of my pocket in the street. It was impossible to walk down around without greeting at least 5 different people my aunts knew.
These seemingly simple memories filled a place in my heart that I never knew was missing. Even though we live 8,953 km apart, with no guarantee as to when we’ll see each other again, this is my family. We are tied to each other and we will always be.
I remember when it came time to say goodbye. The closer it got to take off time, the bigger the knot in my stomach, the tighter the gulp in my throat. Until finally it was time to say goodbye and I just couldn’t keep it in. The tears flowed and flowed and flowed in ugly, snotty sobs.
And just when I thought I was being so ridiculous, I looked around the room and saw tears in everyone else’s eyes too. My uncles, grown men with tears in their eyes to see me go. My 83-year-old abuela keeping it strong, telling me, no llores hija, with tears in her own eyes.
One uncle sat at his usual place by the door. During my time in Argentina through the years, we barely spoke, and the little I’d learned about him was all about the struggles he’d faced with his family, his addiction to alcohol and his waning health. On this trip, I had seen how he faithfully took care of my immobile abuela, day-in and day-out.
As I walked out, I looked back into my uncle’s eyes to find that they were full of tears. I kissed him on the cheek, told him, cuidate, in my sobby Spanish, and pointed at the open sores on his legs, the latest of many ailments he refused to see a doctor about. It was all the advice I could muster for a stubborn uncle who didn’t follow anyone’s advice. He nodded in agreement.
That look broke my heart all the way to the airport.
Exactly two weeks after I left, he passed away. It was sudden and shocking and full of sadness. As we grieved, we found comfort in the grace we were given to see him one last time before he died. I can still hear the sound of his heavy footsteps, shuffling back and forth around the house.
And as I think back on my trip, I feel like that last look defined my time in Argentina. I was expecting to get to know my family, and found out that they already knew everything about me. They opened their doors and welcomed me like the niece, granddaughter, and cousin that I was. In this distant foreign country, I found home.
Since I’ve been back, I often find myself holding back tears thinking of my family there, most recently because of the loss of my uncle.
They are so far away. I am here. And what I wouldn’t give to have us all together.