It’s 1997 and I am living in Cuenca, Ecuador for the semester. My host parents are Bertha and Guido Alvarez.
Guido is an architect and painter and we’re living in a house of his design. All of the rooms are platforms that radiate out from the center of the house, a giant dining and living room.
There are windows and skylights everywhere. The house is always full of light.
My host dad is a bit impenetrable to me. He is friendly but not effusive. I spend almost every afternoon with Bertha drinking coffee and talking about life but I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation with Guido on my own.
But I like him and I hope he likes me. I think he likes me.
One evening, towards the end of the semester, we go to a mini family reunion. Guido drives Bertha and I to a house full of Guido’s family. His mother is there, something that seems like it doesn’t happen very often.
We eat and talk and drink. And then we talk and drink. And drink and drink and drink. I throw back endless aguardiente & Sprites.
By the end, Guido and I are standing there with our arms over each others shoulders. He is calling me hijo and talking about how we’re going to go fishing together. It is a glorious moment.
As drunk as I am, I can tell that Bertha is trying to arrange for our exit. Guido insists that he has to finish his drink first but he’s not actually drinking it.
I take the glass of straight aguardiente gently from him and pound it in one gulp.
“Vamanos, Papi”, I say and set down the glass. He puts his arm around me again and we stagger to the car where Bertha drives us home.
I collapse into bed and am just about to drift off when the light clicks on in my room. I look up and Guido is standing in the doorway in his bathrobe, holding something in his hands.
He comes across the room and sits on the edge of the bed and hands it to me. It’s a small painting that used to be hanging in the hallway.
He tells me how much they’ve enjoyed having me stay with them and kisses me on the top of the head.
He stands up slowly, then shuffles back out of my room, clicking the light off on the way.
It’s been 18 years since that night and I still treasure that painting as one of my most prized possessions.