From now until forever.

When they hand you the fresh new baby in the hospital, they don’t tell you that at every moment your heart soars with pride and joy, from then until forever, it will simultaneously break into a thousand pieces as you mourn your baby growing up.

Time slips right out of your fingers and you have no choice but to let it go. No matter how hard you try to savor them and keep them longer, moments slip by and leave you catching your breath as you try to keep up.

From the hospital bed, you never could have imagined that in one moment you could be so proud to see your baby’s first tooth finally push through and at the same time mourn their gummy, toothless smile.

Or that 5 years later in a moment full of pride, you would be celebrating a lost tooth and take pictures of her new toothless grin, but the moment she went to bed you’d cry yourself to sleep because you’ll never again take a picture of her baby-toothed smile.

You could never have imagined how exciting it is to get ready for her first day of Kindergarten and to know without a doubt how ready she is, and yet experience such ungodly fear and dread at the idea of leaving her somewhere for 6 hours every day for the next 13 years, knowing that you’re giving up whenever-we-want coffee dates and zoo dates and lunch time with her little sister and slow mornings on the couch and the innocence of never having had her heart broken and not having experienced the disappointments that are to come.

But you can’t stop it. Time slips right through your fingers and you have no choice but to let it go, to keep moving forward.

They don’t tell you all that in the hospital. They just give you the baby and let you smile with pride and joy. That’s the one moment you get to savor and keep for a while. I think it’s because they know. They know that the next time you beam with pride and joy, you’ll simultaneously break into a thousand pieces, from then until forever.


Bikes on the Lawn

Sofie keeps asking me, “Mom, is it still summer?” I tell her it is, technically speaking, — that although school has started and though I wore my favorite bomber jacket to work today, technically yes, it’s still summer for another week and a half.

I’ve been reluctant for this season to go; perhaps that’s why I’m still stretching it out for as long as the calendar with let me truthfully tell her yes, it’s still summer. I love fall. I love everything about it—the trees changing colors, the fresh air in my lungs as I breathe a sigh of relief at our return to routine, the soups and breads, and cozy sweaters and jackets that accompany them in warming me on a cool, crisp day. I love every bit of it, except one thing. I hate saying goodbye to summer. And this summer, especially so.

When summer began we raced our way through each week with play dates every other day and the sprinkler on the days in between. We gardened and made popsicles and coffee-dated at the beach and play-dated at the spray-park. We soaked up every bit of what makes summer summer.

And then the smoke came and there was a month where we didn’t go many places because our eyes burned and our lungs choked on the smoke. But also in that month was something else, something so beautifully different about the second half of our summer, the reason I’m so reluctant to let it go— the bikes strewn across the lawn. This has been my favorite part about summer; something I didn’t think I’d see for a very long time. Yet there it was, like a mirror that reflects the not-so-distant past.

Not so long ago it was our bikes on this lawn and us playing hide ‘n seek. We owned this turf. It was our open-aired, un-gated playground for our uninhibited imaginations. We played ’til we were called home for dinner and then we played some more ’til we could no longer see well enough for the seeker to find.

Those summers were the best of our lives — or so we told ourselves; I was sure it was true.

We lived in the moment, for the moment, moment by moment, in the moments between meals when the world was ours. It came so naturally that we never could have imagined we’d soon struggle to treasure the very moments that once gave our lives meaning. That as adults it would become about making it to the next meal, the next break, the next deep breath, making it through each moment of every day instead of relishing in each moment that made us feel alive.

We as adults are on the same earth, breathing the same air, but we breathe in differently now, taking deep breaths and exhaling sighs. No longer do we exhale laughter and imaginative stories. We left them in our childhood along with the unwavering thrill of a summer day.

These bikes on the lawn don’t belong to me and my fellow cops ‘n robbers, but they belong to wild hearts, hearts as wild as ours once were. They belong to the ones who own this turf, who inherited from us. As we passed into adulthood, leaving behind our spirited youth, so these wild ones took our place and claimed it for their own.

This last month of summer brought it to my attention — the beauty of childhood found in a carefree summer day. It was the giggles and the “eenie, meeny, miny, moes” and the counting to ten while their friends all hid. It was the conversations with 8-year-olds while they lunched at our house or asked to pick plums from our backyard and the playing catch and the climbing of trees. But mostly, it was the bikes strewn across the lawn.

As fall draws nearer and the darkness closer, I’m reminded of all the changes that will come as the leaves start changing colors. In Seattle this means the rain comes and neighbors stay inside. It means I won’t see bikes on the grass or hear giggles through the open window for much longer.

It’s a temporary shift as we put on our winter coats and hibernate until spring, but this year it doesn’t feel so temporary. Yes, summer will come again, but in this next year it’s most likely that one of us will move away. We’ll be looking for a home of our own and our friends will be looking for a different home to fit their growing family. Oh, what a bittersweet end to this beautiful season we’ve had.

Soon we’ll have a different lawn and different wild hearts to know and adventure with. This summer will always have a special place in my heart though, for it was the first. The first summer where my girls found independence and friendship and adventure and knew that every second of it was truly as perfect as it seemed; the one where they lived in each moment and for the moment and moment by moment; where the thrill of summer was imprinted on their wild hearts.

This is the one I’ll remember, too, the one I’ll write on my own heart: the one with the bikes strewn across the lawn. And I’m sure that’s why I’m so reluctant to let it go.

So, yes, dear Sofie, it’s still summer. And it will still be summer until September 22nd, or for as long as we can hold onto it. But when the leaves change color, and when we stop opening the windows to feel the summer breeze, and when we start counting down the days ’til the pumpkin farm, — there will be beauty there, too, and I know we’ll find it, together, your wild heart and mine.




A letter to Sofia.

I didn’t know I could fall in love so fast, but baby girl, you stole my heart the moment I felt you free from inside me. The moment I saw you, that was the end. It was the end of ever thinking I could live without you.IMG_1209

And even before that I loved you. I loved you when the pregnancy test was positive. I loved you when I heard your heartbeat for the first time. (I laughed because I was so full of joy.) I loved you when I felt you kick. I loved you when my body hurt so bad that I could hardly move. I loved you when I felt fat because you were growing so big inside me. I loved you when I felt pain in my side and in my back from carrying you. I loved you with every contraction. With every bit of agony, I loved you. I loved you when I couldn’t see the end of the pain. And when it finally did end, it was so easy to forget. All I knew was how much I loved you.

I loved you then, and I love you even more now. My love for you grows with every day I know you. My love for you is more than you can fathom.

You’ve only been here for four days, but from the moment you were conceived, you were with me. Your heart beat with my blood, your bones grew with the strength I gave you. Now it’s your turn to face the world, but don’t think you’ll ever be alone. Your heart still beats with the blood I gave you and your bones will grow with the love of your daddy and I.

You will never walk alone. We’ll be here to hold you. We’ll be here to comfort you, support you, and cheer you on.

Baby girl, I wish I could tell you how much I love you, but with all the words in every language I could never find the right ones to tell you how big this love is. I hope you catch glimpses when I kiss you. I hope you can see it when I hold you close to me, when I look at you, and hope you can feel it when I tell you that I love you.

I hope you always know you’re beautiful. When you were born I couldn’t stop saying how pretty you were. “She’s so pretty,” I said to the nurse. “She’s so pretty,” I said to my mom. “She’s so pretty,” I said to your daddy. Everyone in the room knew you were beautiful, but I couldn’t stop saying it out loud. “You are beautiful,” I said to your sweet dimpled face.

I hope your heart is never broken. I hope you never get older. I hope you don’t grow too big to fit in my arms when I carry you. But a day will come when life is not easy for you. A day will come when I forget that you used to be so small. But sweet girl, you’ll always be my baby. You’ll always be my girl. You are the blood of my blood, the bones of my bones, the flesh of my flesh. You are the heart of my heart. And sweet baby girl, I will always love you.

Where I’m from.

I am from postcards and scarves, from Polly Pockets and Keds shoes.

I am from the little town in the suburbs of Seattle, where there is my little blue house with white trim, and the big maple tree in the backyard where we would climb as kids and pretend to be cowboys and Indians.

I am from the cherry trees, forget-me-nots, and running through the sprinkler on a hot summer day in the cool, summery grass.

I am from years of memories at Christmas tree farms and Chinese dinners on Christmas Eve. I am from big German noses and brown hair; from Woodwards and Borcherdts and the step grandfather who was always my own grandpa.

I am from belly-aching laughter and striking up conversation with strangers.

From snow days with my best friends, from sledding and snowmen and hot chocolate by the fire. I am from summers at Lincoln Rock State Park and sleeping under the stars that were more than I could comprehend.

I’m from the great city of Seattle because of the day my great grandparents decided to leave Germany.

I’m from melt-in-your-mouth, right-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies and mouth-watering blackberry cobbler.

From the road trips to Salem, Oregon to see my aunt and uncle, and waking up to the aroma of Uncle Tom’s breakfast, and playing with their dogs, Luke and Chase and Gabe. From drinking tea on the leather sofas while we sat and talked because our lives were never uninteresting to them.

I am from a half dozen albums of photos of camping trips and birthday parties, childish imagination and ballet recitals; from my grandmother’s antiques, memories from a woman who no longer lives; from my mother’s teapot and dish collections, memories from her childhood to mine; from memories that weren’t saved on a hard drive or a memory card, but in mementos I kept in a shoe box, trinkets from my youth that I couldn’t let go.

I am. And this is where I’m from.

Blurring lines.

I’ve always loved the snow — waking up to the scrolling announcements on the TV screen, “Edmonds School District: Closed,” hurrying to dress in snow clothes, and running outside to make footprints in the undisturbed snow. But by far my favorite thing about the snow is its ability to blur the lines.

When snow covers the ground, driving in the middle of the road becomes acceptable. Traffic laws are lost for a while, so long as you do what you can to stay safe.

Lines are blurred between strangers where strangers become neighbors and neighbors become old friends. Small talk on the bus connects once different worlds and laughter in the grocery store erases lines between guarded hearts. Neighbors help each other on the road where cars are stuck. Old friends bond over sledding and hours of lounging in front of the fireplace. Over hot chocolate, hearts are shared and relationships grow.

Snow falls, lines blur, and we remember what it’s like to love again.

The stars don’t beg to be seen.

There wasn’t much to say that night that wasn’t already hanging in the air. She knew he saw it in her eyes, just as she could feel in his chest where her head rested and ears listened. She listened intently to the molecules circulating in him, pumping steadily the life that was ever-changing him and making him new.

They both knew it, but they wouldn’t give these emotions the decency of being put to words. It’s a shame, really. They would have been beautiful had they been uttered. But for now, those words would remain in her eyes and in his chest. Tonight was not the night for those words. Perhaps another night, or maybe not. Maybe those words were to forever remain there, hanging in the air, just as the stars hung in the same place in the sky, night after night, never wandering, never worrying about where to hang tomorrow. Just like the stars, those words were constant. They didn’t need to be seen or heard to be known. They just were and they would be tomorrow too.

She raised her head slightly to look at him, inquisitive of his thoughts, hoping to catch a glimpse of them in his cafe-colored eyes. The creases around his eyes etched a smile into his face as his eyes focused in on hers, wondering what her questioning eyes could want. His nose brushed hers and his deep, brown eyes asked for a kiss. But with her lips lightly pressed against his, she just smiled. To not only see it, but to feel a smile against yours, knowing that you are the reason for that grin — it’s perfect.

She pulled her face away from his and found his eyes again. She brushed her hands through his hair, kissed his cheek, and laid her ear against his chest where it had been before.

Words weren’t necessary, but he decided it was rude to leave them hanging around.

I love you, he whispered, but she already knew.

I love you too, she said, though he’d already seen it in her eyes.

The stars don’t beg to be seen, nor did those words beg to be spoken.

You know the stars will always be there, hanging in the sky just as they did yesterday, but you look anyway. Beauty doesn’t need to ask to be desired. It is because it is. And though there wasn’t anything to be said that night that they didn’t already know, those words were spoken.

They didn’t need to say anything at all, but it would have been rude to leave such beautiful words just hanging there.

Hello, Stranger

Parents teach their children not to talk with strangers. I’m not sure if my parents ignored that lesson in safety or if I refused to hear it, but somehow I grew to love introducing myself to new people and learning who they are – the thrill of saying our first shared words and watching conversation unravel; the fulfillment of attaching a name to a face; the joy of finding commonalities with previously mysterious stranger – it’s a beautiful concept to be welcomed into a stranger’s life, into their story, if only for the ten minutes we share on a city bus.


My hands rested in my pockets and my feet shuffled to the beat of Miel San Marcos, my favorite Latin American praise band. The wind blazed through 3rd and Pike, rustling my hair and widening my smile, as the 17 arrived. I breathed it in one more time: the busy people, fast cars, and roaring buses—forcing their way through crowds and traffic, ignoring lights, ignoring the wind, ignoring each other; the smell of stale smoke and a whiff of weed from the gangsters and homeless delinquents; the unrelenting wind, barreling through tall buildings and into my cold lungs. I took in the sweet elements of my imperfect city and stepped into the bus, sitting down in a familiar green seat.

Other riders shoved through the crowd, unaware of the people around them, and made their way to their own green seats, selecting the place of least conflict or conversation. But I smiled at them as they marched up those first steps and made their way through the narrow aisle. I smiled eagerly, awaiting someone, anyone, who would reciprocate my desire to befriend a stranger.

“Hola,” he said to me. My head turned toward two gentlemen and I smiled at them.

“Hola.” I turned off the music on my ipod and wrapped up my earbuds.

“She speaks Spanish!” he said to his friend while letting out a hearty chuckle.

How many times can a smile grow? I wondered; mine grew again. He overestimated my ability to speak his language, but I didn’t tell him my secret. I met Mario and Alberto that morning. Mario asked me for a hundred dollars and Alberto just shook his head.

“He’s joking,” said Alberto.

“I know,” I assured him, smiling again. “So, what do you guys do?”

They told me about being fishermen and how work was hard to come by. Mario asked for a hundred dollars one more time. I told him I didn’t even have 50¢, so then we talked about family. They told me about brothers and sisters and family in Mexico and El Salvador; and they told me how they missed their families, but Seattle was their home.
Mario mumbled something in Spanish to Alberto, their eyes glancing at me, then back to each other. Alberto told me Mario thought I had nice eyes.

“Thank you,” I told him. We turned the corner and they reached their stop.

“Nice to meet you, muchacha. It was good to talk with you,” said Mario.

“Nice to talk with you too.” I waved to the strangers who became my friends between Pike St. and Westlake Ave.


I met Shawnti on the 41 while laughing at the ridiculousness of those who complained about overcrowding. If only they could see public transportation in Japan or India, we agreed. I met Kris on the 347 — a conversation that started with overcrowding and ended with, “see you next Tuesday,” was filled with dreams of travel and a mutual desire to know and experience culture in a way that changes us. I met Mark somewhere on 3rd while waiting for the 511. We went out to coffee together and he told me about his family and his old life before living on the streets.


The treasure of getting to know these people is great. Months or a year after talking with them in one instance, I still remember. I remember the way they made me smile and the way we connected over our short conversation. But not everyone seems to think this form of conversing is so wonderful.

Hundreds of people commute to and from Seattle every day by bus, yet every day I observe the same scene at the Mountlake Terrace Park and Ride: lonely riders, eyes viewing books or eyelids, and a still silence except for the rumble of the engine. Riders develop a routine. After finding a familiar spot in the parking garage, they walk down the steps to the platform, saunter to the end of the line, set down their bags and wait. Everyone shuffles when a bus arrives, scurrying onto the bus or shortening the line of people that is still waiting. Once on the bus, there is a sea of familiar faces, but the familiar faces are nothing more than that. They are rarely friends, coworkers or even acquaintances. They are merely recognizable faces. Each of these persons catches the same bus downtown every day, and most often ride with the same people every day as they venture to their various office buildings; however, very few take the time to get to know the people they sit next to every day.

Maybe I should blame my extroverted tendencies, but it is odd to me that a person could spend so much time with another person yet not know their name or a single thing about them. The average bus ride downtown is thirty minutes, on a good day. If there is rain or traffic it’s a little longer. If two people spent one week chatting on their thirty-minute bus ride, they would spend two and a half hours learning about each other that week. Discounting vacation days, it would be about 130 hours a year. If the average person works forty years at the same job (assuming the other person also works forty years at the same job), these two people, invested in each other, could spend 5,200 hours talking just during the time they ride the bus. It is unrealistic to think these two people would ride the same bus all the time, never miss a day together, and always talk to only each other, but it shows the enormity of the amount of time they have together.

Why then, do people choose to remain silent? We are scared. Of what, exactly? What is there to harm us? We’re afraid our words will be unheard or rejected, afraid the conversation will turn awkward and we’ll be left looking foolish. We’re afraid of the pounding in our chest and the daunting butterflies of talking to the stranger.

But there’s a struggling single mom who needs a person to remind her why she does what she does, or a just-out-of-college businessman who needs encouragement that he doesn’t get from his boss. There’s an elderly woman who needs to be reminded she is beautiful because no one has told her for many years. There are two Hispanic fishermen who need someone to tell their story to. Or maybe that’s you.

Sometimes life is awkward. Sometimes the pounding in your chest doesn’t leave. But everyone needs a chance to tell their story, and many are only waiting for someone to ask.

The airport.

I took two steps out of customs and walked into a country I’d never known. Bienvenidos. I was ushered in with blank stares and courteous hello’s from the airport employees.

My bag was heavy. It hurt to carry my high maintenance wardrobe. There were only a few more steps before I reached the door. A stoic security guard watched me as I struggled in all my glorious American stereotypes. Primped hair. Huge luggage that I couldn’t carry. Dazed look. My eyes scanned through the window at the crowd outside. I didn’t see them, but they were there, maybe watching me as I was looking for them. I took my first step outside and, once again, scanned the crowd.

Jota was the first to run up and hug me. My stomach did somersaults. I was in Costa Rica. I flew across the world to hug my best friends and I was there..

“Can I hug you again,” I asked Jota. I didn’t wait for his reply. I threw my arms around him and hugged him again. It didn’t feel real.

Josue and Gabo walked over and I hugged them too. Real bodies for real people, filling in the spaces between words and pictures.

“What do I say to your dad?” I asked Josue. Butterflies taunted my stomach.

He looked at me curiously. “Hello, Victor. That’s all.”

I laughed. Of course. But how do you say, Hi, I’m the American girl you’ve never met who is the friend of your son and his friends and I’m going to be spending the next couple weeks in your house. Thanks! You’re awesome. I’m glad we’re not strangers anymore.

“Hello, Victor,” I said when I saw Josue’s dad.

“Nice to meet you,” he said in his brilliant Tico accent, before giving me a big hug and a kiss. His English was choppy, but he spoke well, and he loved to practice with me.

The whole ride home Victor talked in all the English he knew, and Jota often took over the conversation, adding his hand motions. “Church.” He made a church with his hands, just in case there was any confusion, as he talked about Renuevo and a million other things. Josue translated as best he could and Gabo just smiled. He talked in Spanish every once in a while. The guys would chuckle and I would just smile back. We didn’t understand a word the other was saying, but we were friends just as much. I eyed him with silly smirks and he did the same. We laughed together. That we could understand.

Josue smiled at his joking friends and began to tell me about all the things we were passing… the stadium, the old church building. He laughed at the way the others tried to talk to me. We were all so excited in the midst of this strange scene — four Ticos and an American girl, experiencing our in-person friendship for the first time and attempting to communicate in Spanglish. We didn’t stop talking the whole ride home and even until late in the night after I’d met Rosaura, Eri, and Jahred.


I woke up this morning with this giddy memory at the front of my mind. I couldn’t stop smiling as I replayed it over and over. The next time I arrive at the airport in San Jose I won’t be hugging strangers. I’ll hug some of my best friends.

(Twenty-five more days.)

Casa 601

I’m taking a creative nonfiction writing class this quarter in which my first assignment was to write a descriptive essay about a place. Here is my essay about my friend Josue’s house in Costa Rica on the first night I was there in June. It’s a bit longer than what I usually post, but I hope you enjoy it.

_ _ _

The little, bronze key unlocked the iron bars. They swung out toward me, creaking, and invited me in. “Es mi casa,” said Josue. As we walked up the ceramic steps onto the ceramic porch and passed the threshold, it was too dark to notice the mint green paint covering the cement walls outside the house.

The lights at first hurt my eyes. I fought with the light, desiring so badly to surrender, but unable to convince my lips to say good night to fresh faces, fresh names, fresh, wet kisses on my cheeks. It was late. I’d flown from Seattle to stay in a stranger’s house and now, twelve hours later, I’d arrived. Their eyes rested expectantly on my sweaty, greasy figure, waiting, perhaps, for an explanation. I had none. It was curiosity that brought me here and curiosity that kept my heavy eyes glancing around the room.

I sat at the kitchen table, collecting gifts – a tall glass of guava juice, cookies, a Samsung phone for my time in the country, a house key. If it was theirs it was mine now too, and this was the center of their world. I knew because I’d seen pictures of friends — Juan Pablo and Gabo — sitting here, hanging out; Josue blowing out twenty-two birthday candles; the Martinez family eating dinner years ago on this same pastel blue table-cloth with white doilies.

I tried calling my mom that night to let her know I was safe, but there was no answer. She usually went to bed early. It was Tuesday so she’d probably spent the evening in our living room on the worn, green couch watching NCIS or some other cop show. I imagined my dad snoring on the adjacent couch and my mom annoyed at the interruption. She would have gone to bed early because her eyes don’t handle mornings well. I left a message and rejoined the expectant faces.

No walls separated the table from the brown suede couches in the living room where my Costa Rican dad was torn between the Saprissa game and the American girl at his kitchen table. His wife was occupied with making me comfortable, using Josue and her daughter as translators, running between rooms to find more accoutrements to give me. Comfortable chaos darted in and out; people kept coming. A sister, a friend, a brother, a nephew.

The TV spoke a language I could hardly understand and so did the house. Puerto; door. Mucho gusto; nice to meet you. Cocina; kitchen. Comida; food. Buenas noches; good night. My Spanish-speaking mom and dad kissed me good night, again welcoming me to their home. The chaos dissipated, but the house wouldn’t rest. The TV remained on. American sitcoms; National Geographic; gaudy Christian praise shows; Spanish-speaking cartoons I’d never seen before.

The refrigerator hummed. It must have been hungry. I noticed it’s belly held some cheese, fish, rice, guava juice, margarine, and other condiments, but not much more. Next to the fridge, on the orange, sponge-painted walls was a painting. A small, circular, white house with a Spanish roof. The house was surrounded by wild flowers and a white horse. I knew this painting. Josue took a picture next to it a couple of months ago and posted it on Facebook. I often looked at that picture and wondered where he had taken it, wondering also about the white horse and how beautiful it would be to be there too.

“Let me show you my house.” Josue left his laptop on the blue table-cloth and we got up to wander the empty house.

My sweaty, bare feet stuck to the ceramics as we walked out of the kitchen and came to a cross-roads. To my left was a sink. A bathroom also, with a toilet and shower, but outside the bathroom, in the center of the cross-roads, there was only a sink with a mirror above it and a bright light illuminating the tired eyes that stared back at me.

Across from the sink was a closed door. My sister’s room, or so I was told. And next to that, an open door. My room. Before it became mine, it belonged to Josue’s 7-year-old nephew. He painted blue stripes on the wall and hung up personal artwork. A picture of him and his mom holding hands. “Te amo,” it said. There was a bed and a closet, but all toys were put away. A large TV sat on the ground in the corner by my bed. I’m not sure if it worked, but it did guard me while I slept.

I turned off the light, and forced the door shut as it protested, then followed Josue down the hallway. To the left, another closed door. His parents’ room. To the right, the door was cracked. I curiously let myself in and my heart fluttered. I knew this room.

I laughed and smiled as I noticed a line of blue stars and moons that danced all the way around the room. “Nice blue stars,” I chuckled. Estars. We often joked at his difficulty in saying the English word.

This is the room Josue and I often skyped in. I remembered the first time we met. I was introduced that night to the white lace curtains that hung behind his headboard and the blue stars and moons that his sister painted years ago when the room belonged to her. He told me, “Wait. I have to show you my guitar.” Those were the first words my brother ever said to me as he reached for his out-of-tune beauty and played a song for me that he had written. We talked for three hours that first night, and now we stood in the same room where we met two years ago. His guitar rested against the closet doors. He picked it up to show me again and told me dreams of owning a new guitar with a prettier sound.

It was after midnight when we finished wandering, but I wasn’t ready to sleep. Rain tapped the zinc roof, reminding me of my lullaby in Seattle. We walked back through the hallway, beyond the cross-roads, and across the threshold where I had taken my first steps into their world. Josue and I stood on the ceramic porch, leaning our faces into the iron bars and watching the rain and delinquents pedal the streets. “I like the smell of Costa Rica,” I told Josue. “It smells fresh.” “It’s the rain,” he said. “And the humidity.” I nodded in agreement. Whatever it was, it smelled like home.

The moon was a bright crescent. Josue asked what the moon looked like in Seattle. It hadn’t occurred to me it might have looked different, but it must have. I couldn’t recall. I didn’t remember much about the home I’d slept in last night. Why was that? Why did something so familiar feel so distant now that thousands of miles separated my skin from its home? And how could this home, this place so unfamiliar, feel like a place I’d always known?

After three hours of sitting at the kitchen table, the Martinez home was now also mine. The puerto was the entrance to my home. The cocina was the center of my world. The comida in the hungry fridge was as much mine as it was Josue’s.

These mint green walls and the home inside it were not merely necessities for this family, nor were they simply a collection of things that defined their culture. The guava juice, the painting of the white house, the blue stars, the key to the iron gate – they were pieces of a world that gave my heart rest.

Go talk to strangers.

I like talking to strangers. Most parents tell their kids not to; my dad marches up to them and starts a conversation. That is one trait I inherited.

On Monday I took a new bus to school for the first time. I sat next to a woman named Jackie. Jackie was really nice. It was her first time on the bus too because she was starting a new job downtown. We talked and laughed and connected on the 30 minute bus ride downtown and as we parted, I gave her directions to navigate the city streets that she was still unfamiliar with.

Monday evening I was home at the transit center where Jackie and I met and happened to see her going to her car. “Jackie,” I called out. “How was your first day of work?” I was genuinely inquisitive and thankful for this opportunity to meet her again as most of my random conversations are never resolved. They are left with questions of who are these people and what will they do with their lives? On Monday I got to ask Jackie more about her life. She gave me a summary of her day and as I turned to walk away she offered, “Hey, do you want a ride home?”

Parents tell their kids not to get in the car with strangers, but I did that on Monday too. I got in the car with Jackie and shared more of my life with her and about my day at school.

Today I waited at my bus stop downtown for the last bus home. There was a blonde girl sitting on a bench, thick black eyeliner circling her light brown eyes. Cheaply drawn tattoos of anime characters drowned her pale arms. I stared at her too long. It was awkward. She seemed sad. In my gut I felt drawn to say hello. So I did. I sat down right next to her and shook her hand, “Hi. I’m Hannah.” She looked at me strangely but answered. “Hey. I’m Ashleigh.”

Ashleigh said she wasn’t sad, but I wasn’t convinced. She said she was just fucking bored waiting for the bus. I still wasn’t convinced. Her eyeliner was smeared. She looked tired; tired of waiting; tired of life. I found out she has a tent in her squat, volunteers at Orion Center and has a great heart. She would rather stay in a bar until 2 am than take up a bed in a shelter where a minor could be sleeping.

She pulled out her beat up, outdated blackberry and asked for my number. “Text me whenever you want,” she invited. I gave my number to a stranger. That’s probably against some parenting rule too, but I didn’t care. I gave my number to girl who seemed sad today and now that I’m home, we’re texting about how we wish we could have done more this summer and when we can hang out next.

There are some strangers you shouldn’t get in the car with, and there are some you need to get in the car with. Some people need to see that the world isn’t judging them, and others need to know that they’re loved.