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I was putting the groceries away when I found out my grandmother had passed away.
I remember taking out two heavy jars of pasta sauce as my dad broke out the unexpected news. I froze. As I heard his words, the jars suddenly seemed heavier, as if all my feelings and thoughts had poured out from my head, down to my neck, past my shoulders, through my arms and into my hands. I stayed locked into that position for a while. I could hear my dad’s voice but I couldn’t listen to what he was saying, I was too distracted by all the voices and thoughts that rushed through my mind.
Both my brothers went to college in Brazil, each on a different year. They both lived in my grandparent’s house for about a year. That way, both could settle themselves and get comfortable with their surroundings. Both of them got into the colleges they strived to get in and as they got adapted to the city and school, they each moved out into an apartment for themselves. The same was expected for me. Apparently, everyone knew exactly what I was going to do after I left high school, expect for me. It was only until March of last year, when I spent about a week in Brazil, that I even knew this would be my future. I would live by the exact steps of my brothers. Except I wouldn’t. Everything was different in my case. I had no idea what I would do in college, and I had shown no interest in any activities so far. I didn’t like how loud Brazilian people were. I didn’t like how they were so interested in other people’s lives. I didn’t like how nobody took anything too seriously in that country. Everyone seemed to exert a beam of joy. There was only one thing I was sure of: I wasn’t meant to live in Brazil.
On my last day in Brazil, as I was packing for Park Ridge again, my grandma came into my room and to talk.
“I have been noticing how overwhelmed you are right now. It seems to me as if you don’t really like the idea of living here”, she told me as she sat down on an old chair in front of me.
“Well, a little. I’ll figure it out though. Have you seen my pearl earrings?”, I said quickly, trying to change the subject.
“Isabel...”, everytime she said my full first name, I knew something was wrong. She usually called me Bel, and some days she’d be really inspired and call me strange names like ‘franginha’ which meant little chicken, or ‘besouro branco’ which meant white beelte. None of those were exactly pleasant nicknames- in fact, they were quite strange- but she’d say them so affectionately, and even elegantly, that I didn’t mind. But Isabel was never good. So I finally gave in and sat in the old chair beside hers. Next thing I know, I’d told her everything. Everything. From my anxieties, to the pressure, to my lack of interest, to my disconnection with the city, to my frustration, to my expectations, to my decision.
She didn’t interrupt me. She didn’t doubt what I said. She didn’t ask me any questions. She just listened.
After I was done she said calmly, “When I was younger, I was also faced with a decision. I had the option of becoming a professional singer, but I would’ve had to leave my hometown, my friends and my family. My mother helped me reach a decision by asking me two questions. Those two questions changed my life and I know they could change yours. Fortunately, I chose to become a professional singer and I could not have been happier with my choice. I met your grandfather because of that decision and I’ve traveled and performed all around the world. Those were glorious times.”
In desperate need of help, I allowed her two asked me the two questions. She glanced at me quickly and asked me what I was good at. I started stammering about how I never really thought about it. Then she looked me again, straight in the eye. This time she asked me what I loved doing. And that was the moment I realized my love for performing arts.
I went back home with a smile on my face. I asked my mom to bring me to the the plays, musicals, operas, ballets and everything else she’d think I’d enjoy. As the days went on, my appreciation went higher. Everything about performing arts was, and still is, absolutely fascinating. The way performers allow themselves to leave their skin for a moment to enter into the skin of someone else, and share the same beliefs and traits as the other person is so captivating. I started taking advantage of drama classes at school and asked my parents to sign me up for acting and voice classes. I even asked them to do the summer camp at Second City, not only as a way to improve acting skills but also to open up as a person. Improvisation classes made me learn how you can’t regret anything you do, especially performing. Being involved in fine arts, I finally found friends I have things in common with. I even decided to take a risk and audition for the school musical. I was as if suddenly a whole new world had opened to me that I had never known about.
When I visited my grandparents in Brazil this December, my grandma was overjoyed with my decision. She said that in Brazil, a million doors would be open if I wanted to major in that area. In a country where theater is still developing, there aren’t many people interested in it. That made me even more motivated. The fact that there is a possibility I could impact Brazilian theater sounded surreal.
Something else changed also. This time around I didn’t get the same vibe I got in March. Somehow, the people’s loudness became joy. The fact that they knew about everybody’s business turned into amiability, warmth and a welcoming sensation. And suddenly I loved how nobody took anything too seriously in that country, and everyone seemed to exert a beam of joy. I began to feel a special connection with Brazil. I felt like the city itself was evidence of my drastic change in character. The city evolved like me.
All of the sudden, I couldn’t wait to live there. My grandparents had it all settled. They even prepared my room very prior to my arrival which was scheduled to be after I finished senior year or even before if my dad got relocated. My grandparent’s even made an incredible gesture; they volunteered to pay for college and any lessons. My grandma told me I had made the right choice and that she couldn’t have seen me being anything else. I told her I’d try my best to never let her down and make her proud. When it was time to leave for Park Ridge again, we said our goodbye’s and promised we’d see each other again.
Three months later and I’m standing in the kitchen with the pasta sauce jars in my hands. And now suddenly it seems as if the whole future I had planned with my grandparents is abruptly shattered.
I promised her I’d make her proud, and I will.
I promised her we’d see each other again, and we will.
She will be the only person in the audience to me when I perform.