Snapshots of My Host Family

Ross & Marisa

Whenever I talk with friends and family members in the States, they ask for pictures of my time abroad. Unfortunately, they’re asking the wrong person. “I’m sorry,” I say, “but you’ll have to wait until my friends post the pictures they took of us.” I do my best to assure them that yes, there exists photographic evidence of my continued stay in Spain, and yes, my friends ultimately will upload the images, but as it turns out, they often have better things to do than interrupt their lives to share photos of my beaming, bespectacled face.
And apparently, I myself have better things to do than interrupt my own life to do something superfluous like put in contacts or cut my hair for the first time in two shaggy months. As things currently stand, when I finally return to America, I will do so with a bang. Or bangs. I’ll have to really trust my fellow passengers to direct me into the waiting arms of my family because otherwise, there’s no chance I’ll be able to spot them from beneath my densely matted mane.
But I digress. The point is that as the days shorten and my hair lengthens, my camera roll doesn’t. I rarely take pictures, and when I do, they are of the poorest quality. Really, I might as well not even take them. I might as well write them, and I only ask that you imagine me with the confident trim of an aspiring young man in his LinkedIn headshot.
… I’ll wait until you firmly affix that image in your mind …
Thank you for your cooperation. Without further ado, I present several snapshots of a typical day with my host family:

1. It is 8am, one minute after my host mother Marisa wakes up and five minutes before she finishes assembling my breakfast. I have closed the bathroom door behind me and flipped the handwritten sign to “FREE.” I have turned to walk through the kitchen toward my bedroom, and I have caught sight of Marisa. Who smiles first? She does; she’s just more energized and quicker off the draw than I am. Always. After two bouts of cancer. The sleeve of her fuzzy bathrobe flirts with the flickering blue flames of the gas stove on which she’s boiling eggs, but she’s in no danger. She’s in her element, surrounded by the comforting clutter of her hand-washed cookware.

2. His favorite shirt reads “Mario Kart,” and his coconut yogurt reads “Carrefour Kids.” He shares the name of that racing cartoon character. In his 32nd year of life, he lives with his mother and eats with his 27th host brother. He has just sunk back into his cushioned chair at the table after delivering Marisa and me our desserts. I have quietly removed the sticker still attached to the fire-engine flesh of my apple, and I refocus my gaze on him to note that his eyes are rolling. Marisa has remarked that she doesn’t intend to eat her jello with her hands. Already, Mario is in motion; his arms, made muscular by his work as a personal trainer at a luxury gym, grip the table, and he is ready to hoist himself up to accommodate his mother’s very reasonable (if playfully sarcastic) request for a spoon. When he returns, the spoon will brush unnecessarily against his mother’s hair, and she will swat at him fondly. They will laugh, and so will I.

3. **Auditory interlude** Hear Marisa’s purposeful footfall. Step in time to the brisk cadence of her short, staccato shuffle. A warrior of life, she is. As she puts it. Her voice is direct, certain, intent, strong. So are her steps. Strong, and slightly muffled by soft slippers on the hardwood floor.

4. The light is dim, the television twinkling. Marisa’s feet extend over the edge of her sofa-turned-throne. With his elbows on his knees and his torso tilted forward, Mario projects alertness. I do not. (The camera swivels to center on the orthodontic retainers exposed by my polysyllabic yawn.) Marisa moves her right pointer finger to rest on the pause button of the TV remote, and Mario leans back to look at me. His mother, meanwhile, considers her smartphone inside its vivid-pink case. The clock must read 10:59pm. “To bed?”, Marisa used to ask. “I’m tired,” I used to explain. Now we just nod. “Sleep well,” she intones. “Until tomorrow,” adds Mario. “Good night,” I say. By the time I reach my humble little room, the TV is glimmering, and I am yawning again.

As you read those visually-evocative vignettes, my hair grew a bit more. Luckily, I can touch-type, or else I’d need to dictate my next blog by voice. If those written snapshots didn’t give you a clear picture of how I’m spending my time at home, I can’t much help you. All I can do is emphasize that I just called it not a house, but a home.

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