Saturday, September 03, 2005


My parents are both extroverts, by even a loose definiton of that term. They both "know everybody" and are well-loved in return. My mother befriends people at the grocery store- always coming back with some story about how she met a wonderful person in the vegetable aisle. My father is the grand entertainer, hosting parties every weekend, even to this day.

I still like to tell the story that as a child - it was me who was diligent about doing his homework while my parents and ten of their closest friends were dancing to salsa music downstairs, my mother cooking up small plates of food, my father passing out beers and going through his immense record collection. It was me who would say "Can you keep it down, please? I'm trying to get my schoolwork done." It was my own parents who replied "Aww. Always so serious! Come on down and have some fun!"


When traveling to visit family abroad, I was known as the "serious" child - the one who seemed lost inside himself. I made friends warily and only with others who seemed to have something to say. Otherwise, I kept to myself, a private person who some still consider to be unfriendly or aloof. I know that this sometimes embarassed my parents. They would anxiously try to explain me away - "That Ricardo lives in his own world." - "He has a rich inner life, you see."

That inner life consisted of my own explorations. Imagined worlds. I still have old notebooks that I used to write in as a child. I see them today only as the monologues of a lonely child. They are full of stories, dreams, invented worlds, attempts to create the axioms of new geometries. There's even a touch of paranoia that I can see now - I was convinced that the role of parents and teachers were to quickly feed us illusions about the world, quickly, before we could see it as it really was - a sort of naked view of things, the world laid bare. And, just as the memory of a dream vanishes quickly upon awakening, most of us have forgotten what we once saw, the pulleys behind the stage, the un-interpreted world.


My brother was more like my parents. He started drinking at an early age. He started dating girls before me even though I was two years his senior. He partied downstairs and away at other people's houses while i studied upstairs. He got involved with street gangs, was thrown in jail for graffiti he painted on walls. He never graduated from high school.

As children, and even later as adults, we would have these tremendous fights. We would sometimes hit and punch and brawl, sometimes drawing blood, until our mother, in screams, would separate us. And yet, and yet, despite our seeming differences I will always tell people that the person who is most like me in the world - is my brother.

All of us have a mischievous side - the child-like part of us that loves to play and laugh. That part of us that attacks the world. That part of us that confirms the act of being alive by embracing risk.

That particular part of me is just like my brother's. We have the same sense of humor and the same sense of what is attractive danger. Despite our seeming differences, it is not uncommon to find us both in the corner, laughing together at some joke or plan that only makes sense to us and to nobody else. If our mischievous side is like an inner demon, then the only difference between me and my brother is that he let his demon have too much control. Uncharitably, my brother is how my inner demon would appear - fully unleashed.


At the age of 16, I did not know what to do with myself. I can't say that I had many friends although that seemed to be of my own choosing. I did have girlfriends - for some reason I had the inverse problem of most young introverts: I knew how to talk to women but had trouble making lasting friends. My fellow high school students had inexplicably voted me as "Most likely to start a cult."

As I was reeling in indecision, a recruiter from a distant college named Harvard called me at home. He said that all of my high school teachers had urged him to talk to me and that he was impressed by what he had heard. I hadn't really decided that I was in fact going to college. I thought that an ideal life would be close to a monastic life - except with some sex involved somehow. But, maybe academics would suit.

I recall telling my mother: "These people from Harvard keep calling me - urging me to go to their college" Her response was: "Well, that sounds suspicious. I've never heard of the place. Let me ask my friends."

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