It has been 10 years since I had a machine gun pointed to my head. In a moment like this, your life spirals in countless different directions; the meaningless consistencies of your daily life hurtle around you, and eventually coalesce into a single feeling: longing. The morning coffees that cleanse your minty breath, the rooster’s sunrise song, the way your mother holds the space between your fingers, ever so loosely, as she walks you to school. Almost as if to say, in touch, I want you to be free from me. To live. To learn. To grow. But I am afraid.
Faceless men surround you from a space laden in stillness, in peace. You revel in the deep blacks and beautifully carved edges of these guns that could only admire one thing in return: your life. At that moment, the space between my mother and I was no more. Fear, as it seemed, had won. An unspoken wavelength traverses between me and the men, something about the macabre nature of their sunken eyes or their quivering hands as it teases the gun cuts into you deeper than a mother’s fingernails in the palm of your hands.
Shoulder to shoulder. Hand in hand. You promise to never let go.
You move on. You try to forget; not just the memory, but the message. One that tells you that at any moment, all the dreams or relationships or ideas that grow within you could be written out of existence.
I knew I had to forget. Yet, in doing so, I would abandon the promise to my mother of never letting go. Eight years later, I packed the few belongings I owned, filled my gas tank half way, and prayed to a god I didn’t believe in that it would be enough to carry me northward to Ithaca. It ate away at me that I had broken my promise. But in keeping it, I knew I would be sacrificing a chance to really live.
Being at a place like Cornell can sometimes mean leaving many behind. Those who wish to care for you can also be those who do not understand that we come to Cornell to become someone new, and in doing so, sacrifice people and promises. Do not let anyone foster guilt within you about why you left home, or who you chose to become on the hilltop.
At Cornell, I became a man separate from such promises. A man thrilled by writing, by learning about my people and the institutions that shaped them and equally broke them down. I came to understand my guilt of my broken promise through taking classes with Professor Sergio Garcia-Rios. I learned how to properly speak through Cicero and Philostratus. Read the works of Professor Thomas Hirschl on the very dream I was living as a new American.
I learned how to catch and cherish the beauty of butterflies with the man I fell in love with my sophomore year. Since then, I have spent my free time on the outskirts of Ithaca where Nabokov and others likely stood, patiently sitting with my net in desperation to catch the very creatures that move mountains and destroy civilizations. I’ll carry them back to the top floor of my collegetown house where I set them free in my room and watch them gracefully swarm around me.
Oh how I wish you could see it, Má. The browns and yellows. The symmetry. The elegance. The way they land on my toes and flutter away. But you only see my distance from you. With every book I read, every word I type, every butterfly I pin, I walk farther from my promise and my mother’s hatred grows deeper.
I was gone — I was living. I was learning. I was growing. I was free. Albeit, all the freedom I had selfishly nestled myself into at Cornell was faced with guilt of a broken promise. I was forced to remember that Cornell is a space and time to turn inwards rather than to seek approval for the person you become, or more-so the person you left behind. Learn, be free; grow as forcefully or as tenderly as you want. Let yourself be swayed by new feelings, new experiences. Allow those to change you, whether they are fleeting or not.
Some of the most important individuals in our lives may never understand what it means to be a Cornellian. Perhaps a mother who dreams of holding your hand until the end, and was never taught the freedom of an education. Leaving to grow as an intellectual, as a person, was the saddest yet most freeing decision of my life. Our experiences get lost in translation.
We take aim, hoping they understand, we misfire and attempt once more, with a fear growing toward them with each attempt at redemption.
However, fear, so I have heard, is nothing but the distance between a hunter and its prey; perhaps the distance between a mother and her wretched son. I write and wail in hope that something grows from this fear, anything but distance.
I no longer wish to be afraid of you Má. So be it. Let me be your prey. Hunt me, and wreck me and tear me down. Hopefully in doing so, you will learn about the man I have become here. Of the people and ideas I have come across that make me think I am so proud of how you changed me. Of the things I have accomplished, of the beauties of the world that I have learned of as I let go of your hand.
Hunt me, so that the distance between us is no more.
Hugo Amador is a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences. He is the Opinion Editor of the 141st Editorial Board. He can be reached at [email protected]. Portraits Of The Man runs every other Monday this semester.
The Cornell Daily Sun is interested in publishing a broad and diverse set of content from the Cornell and greater Ithaca community. We want to hear what you have to say about this topic or any of our pieces. Here are some guidelines on how to submit. And here’s our email: [email protected].