Nowhere is home. After a while, it doesn’t matter anymore.
Home materializes and then vanishes.
Home is a transient state of recognition, of self-recognition and of remembrance.
I was at home in Detroit but I wasn’t exactly in Detroit. I was at a Marriott hotel, far from downtown, where usually pilots and airlines personnel are guests. For a couple of days, there were 90 powerlifters benching there.
The smell of the warmup area; the fading in and out of reality while lifting; gulping food as fast as possible to get back to the referee chair. Everything has a place and a time to happen. This is home. A short period of time when you know exactly who you are, where you are and where you belong.
And then it’s gone.
I was born in São Paulo, Brazil, but I am not Brazilian. Take a look at the singlet I’m wearing in the picture. That’s my official lifting uniform. I like it very much. It was given to me by Dragos Stanica, a Romanian weightlifting coach. He’s not Brazilian, but he’s the national weightlifting coach. I use the uniform because he gave it to me. It brings me good luck.
I grew up everywhere. I worked everywhere. Georgia, Virginia, Florida. But I’m not American.
I’m a rootless thing, a tumbleweed.
Sunday was friend visiting day. Every year I drop by Shawn’s.
On my way there, I stopped by a Danny’s to grab some coffee for the road. I had my sister’s old sock, one I had made into a tube by cutting the toes’ side, over my injured arm. I do that to prevent ointment from making a mess all over. A gentleman on the line addressed me:
– Excuse me for asking, I couldn’t resist: is this a support thing you are wearing on your arm or… ?
I smiled at him and the short line that was paying attention and said:
– Actually it is just an old sock. I cut the toes’ end to use it as a cover to avoid ointment getting all over. There’s one in particular that can be nasty if it gets into anyone’s eyes or mouth: capsaicin
They all smiled and made funny comments.
Nice people. Very American, nice people. There’s a warm feeling that takes over when strangers are not that strange.
I arrived at Shawn’s. First there was a baby, the baby grew up, now there’s another baby and the first one is a big smart girl. That’s his home and for a while, I pretty much felt at home.
As I left and stopped by a gas station to fill up the tank, a blond man approached me and said:
– You’re not from New Jersey
– No, I’m not
– Because you are sooooooooooo breaking the law
A bit startled, I repeated “I’m sorry” profusely as he explained that self-service is against the law in New Jersey gas stations, that there were several reasons for this, which he went on explaining to me.
I was definitely not home.
I decided not to stop by another friend’s gym near Philadelphia. I had a bad torn muscle on my left arm and was completely unable to lift anything. The gym is any lifter’s paradise and that’s a place I immediately feel I belong: Ironsport. My torn muscle would spoil the whole thing. I would be a fish in a fish bowl inside the sea.
So I headed to my sister’s house, near DC, and the following day was packing up time. Time to return to Brazil. As the moment for leaving approached, my stomach was upset and my arm hurt more.
International flights are bad, by definition. But the ones that fly me back to Brazil are the worst. At the other end of a long, uncomfortable trip there is another land – a land where I never felt I belonged.
We got to Dulles and headed to the check in area. I looked around and thought to myself, for the n-th time: “DC and the DC area are the least American places I’ve been to in this country, with the exception of Miami, perhaps”. There wasn’t a single American person working anywhere. Most women wore scarves over their heads.
I got to my counter and addressed the attendant, a short balding man:
– Please sir, I need some assistance: I have a torn muscle on my arm and need help handling items during the trip
– We can offer you wheelchair assistance
– Oh… I don’t think that will be of much help, there is nothing wrong with my legs or back. It’s my left arm that is injured
– We can offer you wheelchair assistance
He wasn’t the least interested in even listening to me. He turned his back on me without even helping me put my luggage over the scale, which I did myself with the good arm. My sister was helping me with everything else. As I finished doing it I called him. He came to me and said:
– My name is (I don’t remember). Never point your hand at me again.
My sister hadn’t followed this dialogue and for some reason raised her hand in an intention to call him again. I held her back and said, in alarm:
– Don’t do this! This man belongs to some weird sect in his religion where women are not supposed to use their hands. Look around: they are all muslims, we are alone. Don’t move your arms!
I wasn’t at home at all. I was actually in a hostile environment. The “other” was again that unintelligible thing, full of some incomprehensible hate towards me. They weren’t at home either and I was as unintelligible to them as they were to me. I am just the “white American” they fear (and frequently hate) so much. Only I am not American, neither Brazilian, nor any other nationality. I’m nothing, and this is hard to understand.
I crossed the security check area, nice and homely (ironically) and got to my gate. Dozens of Brazilians were gathered doing what is so typical Brazilian behavior: crowding numbered gate lines in a pathetic attempt to board before the next passenger. The groups are numbered and so are the seats. It makes no sense to try to beat the other passengers, but they do it anyway. Not only I felt I did not belong there, but I felt ashamed.
Again, not at home.
My brother met me at the airport in São Paulo and brought me home, literally: my house, with my powerhouse (my home gym, my Olympic bar, my calibrated disks) and my dogs.
I opened my computer and the first thing I read was a note about the death of a dear friend from college. He died in a car accident. I realized I postponed lunch with him until it was too late.
The second thing I read was that a (powerlifting, bodybuilding, whatever) coach who has done and spoken some pretty nasty things against me and my team managed to have himself invited as a speaker at a program where I am a professor. I just asked the coordinator that he makes sure I don’t have to meet this person. He hates me because I am opposed to corruption, lack of rules and favoritism in powerlifting and I publicly say so.
After a long trip and some bad news, I was tired and hungry, no food in the fridge. I wasn’t ready for strangers yet, though. The next day I was with my parents and daughter and yesterday, with friends. These situations restored some sense of belonging.
It doesn’t last. It’s too late for me to develop that sense of belonging that makes one feel American, or South African, or Canadian, or Brazilian. As each cultural layer was peeled off every time I left some place and experienced a new culture, I became less skilled at belonging.
But one question is increasingly clear in my head: how can anyone avoid noticing that actually, at any time, they are in a place full of mutually hating groups? Groups hate each other because of the color of their skin, because of their accent, because of the way they talk, the way they walk, the way they dress and think. Because of the way they worship or have sex. Because of the way they lift or the federation they belong. Makes no difference in which country you are.
Homeland. Never had one.
But wherever is a platform with official disks and bars, solid rules and lifters committed to the sport, that’s home for me.