The night air is warm and gentle, and the symmetrical lights softly illuminate the hotel courtyard. I can even make out one or two stars beneath the clouds. Maybe they’re planets. The brightest one seems to glisten red, high above the concrete decks, plastic-strapped pool chairs, and the handful of Honduran workmen chatting idly.
I think back to breakfast when, after watching a video of my orchestra playing “Huapango,” my grandfather playfully suggested that I should have brought my oboe so I could “play the song for all those Hispanics over here.” I recall the tension that followed, and the momentary exchange of glances before my relatives started to explain why that was problematic. I had tried to divert the conversation from the inevitable political discussion that comes when you have white democrats for relatives
If it hadn’t been so early in the morning, and if I hadn’t been eating an aggressively mediocre hotel breakfast, I wouldn’t have minded joining in. I usually relish the opportunity to voice the things I’ve learned in school. I always feel a burst of pride whenever I find a use for some piece of knowledge I absorbed in the ugly cement building that’s become your obligatory second home. Furthermore, I’m often praised for my maturity and ability to speak in a way that makes me seem very intelligent and impressive to parents. I find it funny, but not necessarily humorous, that I portray myself as a scholar to adults and a gay idiot to my friends. It bothers me a bit, although I suppose the contrast has something to do with comfort level.
The sound of my family moving inside the hotel room snaps me out of my reflection in a way that feels far more unwelcome and intrusive than it actually is. I force myself, ironically, to relax the tension in my shoulders, and I shift in my chair, drawing my knees a little closer to my chest.
I want to capture this serene, perfect, mundane moment before it disappears. I love the way the air feels on my skin, the way the air conditioner occasionally puffs hot air onto my bare thighs, the feel of the plastic chair on my ass and the concrete on my feet, the different undertones in the glow of the streetlamps, the hue of the shrubs, trees, and grass, the voices of the men nearby, the way the railing is subtly warped, and the way the paint from the brick wall spills onto the top of the air conditioner.
The bland, neutral aesthetics, the less-than-pristine condition of the building, the soft noise, and the mild weather are all oddly comforting. It’s easy to slip away from the real world: a world where my parents and sister are waiting on the other side of the door, where my aunt, uncle, cousins, and grandparents are sleeping on the floor below, where Spotify has periodic ads interrupting the music, where summer homework waits for me, and where my secret boyfriend in Texas is wondering why I haven’t responded to his messages since yesterday.
None of this is as bad as it seems.
I like my family and my boyfriend, and I don’t mind the ads that much, but pretty soon I’ll have to go inside, and pretty soon I’ll have to reply to my boyfriend with some pathetic excuse that he;ll accept way too easily, and my headphones have stopped working, and the men in the courtyard are getting way louder, and I hate thinking the word boyfriend tonight, and I’m thinking about that cute girl from the pool, and the bugs are biting my legs, and my shoulders feel extra scratchable right now, and I’m itching and aching to move: to scratch my skin off, to get up and vault over the railing, to walk down the sidewalk and out into the city. Because this stupid hotel balcony gives me the illusion that I’m sitting on a blank slate: an opportunity to start over and escape all the things I wish I could run away from.
Really, though, I can’t change any of those things except for one. I’m not sure I’d want to change any of them, except for one.
So, instead of running away into the wild streets of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, instead of breaking up with my boyfriend who says “uwu” in every other message, instead of buying Spotify Premium with my dad’s credit card, instead of telling my extended family lots of secrets and some well-crafted lies that would make me seem like a big disappointment and drive them away, I scratch my collarbone, my shoulder blade, my spine, the nape of my neck, and my face.
Because the bumps on my skin are the one thing I can always change.