The Wall

He turned and said “Everything is different, Diplomacy will never be the same again.”

My Father and I were sitting on the couch, watching the one symbol that summed up my Father’s career. The Berlin Wall. I watched grainy footage of various long lost family members embracing, crying, laughing, reuniting after an excruciating separation by one wall. I didn’t understand the significance, but saw the emotion and the feeling of light and hope. In my Father’s eyes, I saw peace. He joined the Foreign Service at the hight of the cold war, he wanted peace in the world, and like everyone of his generation, diplomats played a major role in the Cold War, and the wheeling and dealing of information. I never learned about the Berlin wall at school, or its history, that I learned mostly from my Father.

In one day, I felt the shift of what was about to happen in the world politically, and it was a strange feeling, still being a child, and one of a parent who had grown up as a Royal Air Force kid, and then joining the ranks of the Canadian Diplomatic Corps. It was a shift that would drive a wedge between the old political structure, and the emerging new.

My Father had spent his early years helping with defections, one of which was of someone famous. He never discussed what he did, until that day, watching the wall come down. His stories spilled out, in an almost trance like voice, relieved that there was hope for peace, for reconciliation. Throughout those years, he had travelled everywhere, but never to the wall, almost like he didn’t want to, because of what he knew, and what he would be forced to remember.

During a fluke, my husband and I decided that we were at a crossroads in our careers, we were unhappy, and needed to find ourselves. So we planned a crazy 2 month trip to Europe with our then 1 year old. We were going to fly by the seat of our pants, and just see where life took us. In the middle of 2 months, we arrived in Berlin. There I was, faced with my Father’s past. It was meant to be.

We decided to walk a huge loop and see checkpoint Charlie (now a ridiculous tourist attraction, sorry, but it is), but do the full length of the wall. I can’t tell you how emotional it was, it felt surreal to be standing and touching a wall that my Father remembered vividly going up, and one in which he fought so hard to bring down diplomatically. I stood there, touching it, and wept. My husband didn’t really understand the deep significance for me, my diplomatic career had nothing to do with the Cold War, it was about terrorism, but there was a significance to that history, that connection that I felt with my Father, the history of both sides, and being able to understand it standing there, seeing it.

It was a moment that brought me peace with Foreign Affairs, for some reason, it was a turning point in my perspective, over the years, I couldn’t open myself up to what my Father’s generation represented, what they had to live through as diplomats, what they were trying to achieve. It was at that point, I finally understood what drove my Father to use his ability to use words as a weapon.

Dip Kid

 

One Day To Forget

 

I heard the honk outside, before the phone rang. I ran to the phone, the guard at the gate told me I had friends at the gate, wanting to come in. I wandered outside to meet 3 male friends, all standing by a jeep in my driveway, all dressed in beech clothes and sandals, requesting I head to the beach with them. I wasn’t sure, I wanted to go more than anything, but I still had to get permission from my Father, who at that point, wasn’t allowing me to leave the house except to go to and from school. A month out of living through he coup attempt, he had tightened the reigns, to a more suffocating hold, I had no breathing room, no freedom.

I ran inside to find my Father, he was sitting in his old bright yellow and white stripped t-shirt, his old polyester tennis shorts, which were too short, and my Mother had attempted to throw them out countless times to no avail. He was barefoot, reading his spy novel and smoking his pipe, he looked like he should be sitting on the beach, not in our house. I ran up to him, and quickly asked him if I could go to the beach with friends. He looked up glared at me, raised an eyebrow and asked “which friends?” I told him they were outside, if he wanted to talk to them.

My Father got up, walked outside in his bare feet, all 3 guys had surprised looks on their faces, not sure what to do, they had curious expressions on their faces, and were completely off balance. My Father had a distinct effect on my friends, a man of very few words, and a look that could read someone in a nano second, I rarely had friends who wanted to stick around and hang out at my house, for fear that my father would learn all their secrets. My Father shook all their hands, nodded his head, and turned to me and said “you can go.” I was left a little shocked, I thought it would be a no.

I was thrilled to finally leave the house on a weekend. I quickly ran into the house to get changed and get towels and sunscreen. I wanted to get into the car before my Father said it was all a joke, or that he had changed his mind.

I ran back downstairs and my Father pulled me aside, gave me some money, then asked “which swimsuit are you wearing?’ I looked at him and laughed, pulled up the corner of my shirt and showed him I was wearing a full piece. He looked relieved, and said “good, stay close to Leslie, and make sure you and Patricia don’t leave each other’s side.” I nodded, kissed him and got into the car. I had to laugh, of course my Father had asked what bathing suit I was wearing, he knew if I had been wearing a bikini, I had a crush on one of the boys, and if I was wearing a full piece, it was actually because I was surfing. He knew me all too well.

As we drove away, Leslie laughed and turned and said “I thought your pops always wore a suit, I mean, he doesn’t look diplomatic in shorts and a t-shirt, but he is still the scariest human being!”

I laughed and said “Dad never wears a suit at home, he is wearing his comfort clothes to write his reports later.”

We drove to pick up Patricia and then took the highway to the beach.

We got out the surfboards, and I got my first lesson on a board. My focus was merely to stay afloat, to get footing on the surfboard, to prevent from getting sand burn, or get tossed off the board into the surf and hit a rock. I failed more than a dozen times, washing up on shore with bright red marks all over my legs, the more beaten up I got from the surf, the more determined I got to finally get up.  In between, we sat under the palm trees drinking coke and danced Salsa with others on the beach. I breathed for the first time in months, even as I had to hold my breath going under the water, I still felt free.

When we were ready to head home, we drove in the dark, hanging out the window. I put my hands out, feeling the damp ocean breeze, feeling free and 16 for the first time in a long while. My smile broadened, I wanted to freeze that moment, that experience. It was the first taste of feeling like I was normal, that I didn’t have to head to boarding school, that I was safe with friends, that I had my first adventure to the beach. That I wasn’t going to get shot at, or have a bomb drop on me, or that my Father’s vocation had anything to do with me. I was my own person that day, I was just there with friends, learning to surf.

Our drive was a little long, we arrived back at my house, we all scrambled out, slightly burnt, hungry and ready to recount the day. We ordered pizza, and headed out to our lanai, to play cards, and eat pizza.

My Mother greeted everyone, and said she was heading upstairs. My Father pulled me aside, gave me a hug and said “it is nice to see you with a smile on your face.”

It dawned on me, that I hadn’t smiled in months, the political climate in Caracas was impacting everyone around us, and was becoming the big elephant in the room. Something we never talked about, hoping our lives wouldn’t have to change. We all knew, it was a matter of time that the Caracas we knew and loved, was no longer to be. That day at the beach, we all got to forget, we all got to be teenagers.