Andrea and I were in school together – aged 14-ish. In the hallway one day I saw some older kids picking on a girl saying “Go home! We don’t want you here.” I remember marching up and putting myself in between her and her tormentors. I said “How many languages do you speak?!” When I was told that they didn’t need to speak another language because they know English, I said “I’m learning French and let me tell you, it’s not easy. So this girl came here to learn English (which can’t be easy) and to make friends and she has had the misfortune of meeting you!” That shut them up. Then I turned around and held out my hand for her to shake and I said “My name is Jade and if you ever need a friend, come to find me.” Then I promptly forgot about the incident and continued on to my next class.
Andrea ended up in my PE class (I think it might have been after the incident?) and I remember playing flag-football with her in class. She and I became inseparable. She was the youngest of six children and they all lived in a three bedroom house in Orchard Downs on Bliss Drive – which I always had to say when we ordered pizza because her accent was so thick! Her father was a visiting professor at the U of I and was working on a hybrid of corn that would be robust enough to flourish in the Brazilian climate. Her mother was a stay-at-home mom. Because my baby sister was in day-care, I spent the summer days with them. There was always something going on! Volleyball. Bike riding. Music. MTV. BBQ. It was the summer of the first Tears for Fears album and I still think of that summer when I hear anything from that album. Andrea asked her mom to make traditional Brazilian food – which I still adore. There’s a brilliant Brazilian restaurant in London where Andrea and I always go when she comes to visit London.
One time, I had stayed the night in their house and got up early. I had forgotten my contact lens container so I used eggcups the night before. The first thing I did was go to the kitchen and pop my contact lenses in. Fast-forward 20 minutes and I hear a commotion in the kitchen. Andrea’s mom was shouting at her dad (South Americans don’t speak quietly – ever.) and from the context and the words “lentil de contact” I surmised that they were talking about my lenses. I interrupted and said that everything was ok because the lenses were in my eyes already. Andrea’s parents were immediately shocked and I mean chins on the floor! One of them asked how I knew Portuguese! I did pick up some stock phrases that a 14 year old would find breathlessly cool – like how to say “I like you because you’re cute.”
Although there was a lot of noise and action, I felt at home because there was no real pressure. Mom was happy because I had a parent’s supervision and she loved Andrea’s family as much as I did. We took them to Allerton and had a picnic and got lost in the woods. We took them to Lake of the Woods and rented paddle boats and had Dairy Queen on the way home. My sister (two at the time) used to go from boy to boy of the family, arms up and saying “My bruder! My bruder!”
Then they left. I felt abandoned. I was lonely for a lot of the time growing up. I identified with the desolation of Illinois winters. I was a warm heart surrounded by snow. For me, life was a biting sharp winter gale with the occasional lush warm green paradise: a garden I cultivated alone until the winter’s chill came to bite again.