Intimacy is not reserved for romantic partners. Intimacy lives in moments when you strip away your guard. When you are present amongst uncertainty. Where you bear witness to another's exquisitely dressed-down humanness.
I’m writing this from our front covered porch that overlooks a large yard with a lush garden of roses, orange trees, and lemon trees. It’s March. It’s summer. I’m in Chile.
The house belongs to one of my best friends in the world, Christian. There’s a lot to be said about this type of platonic intimacy. The type found in roommates and friendships. I’m going to resist for now, though, as that’s not what this entry is about.
It’s about cow bones, language, and unexpected intimacy.
My Spanish is… in development. While I have the grammar and vocabulary to execute basic pandemic activities (ie., getting groceries, saying hola on walks) with an ear on the other end I often become flooded. I don’t lose everything I know, it all just sort of pools and jumbles.
A few blocks from the house is a little plaza with a veggie market, liquor store, bakery, and meat market. Despite living in Santiago for nearly two months, given that it’s pandemic, this plaza is basically the only place I have been.
The meat market has much more than meat. Cheese, pasta, and antipati things like olives and peppers. Only one customer can enter at a time, so the experience is intrinsically intimate.
I’m on the hunt for bones to make a broth. I hadn’t looked up the word for bones (huesos). The butcher asks something in Spanish, which I deduce is something like “can I help you find anything?”
I go wide eyed and stammer. “Umm… si. Necessitas angus pero, no… meat?” I say meat in a Spanish accent, just in case it’s the same word. It’s not.
He looks back at me. I’m nervous. I’m regularly embarrassed for not knowing more Spanish. I know it can be frustrating in transactions like this. This embarrassment often makes me go quiet and inefficiently hunt for myself. But the butcher meets me with grace, and a little amusement. He’s patient and intent to understand me. We shared a common goal: completing the transaction.
We try words again, and it falls apart the same way. “Para… sopa?” Our Spanglish passes through lips twisted into smiles. Every so often I sprinkle in, “lo siento para mi espanol.”
“No pasa nada!”
We move to charades. I start pointing at my elbow. Afterall, is there a bonier part of the body? He spouts confusion fueled laughter.
We then weave together through the various fridges and freezers and commence a trial and error show and tell. Time feels a bit suspended. Around the third package he produces, we find it! ‘Si, si!’ Beaming, we walk together to the register. A palpable, bilingual relief.
What does any of this have to do with sexual communication? Does this end in me boning the butcher? It does not. And, sorry for not resisting the pun.
It’s relevant because it has to do with intimacy. Intimacy is not reserved for romantic partners. Intimacy lives in moments where you strip away your guard. Where you are present amongst uncertainty. Where you play witness for each other's exquisitely dressed-down humanness.
Christian meets me outside of the market, and I tell him about how funnily bad but so sweet the interaction was. Back at the house, before I go to bed, I roast the bones. I get the bay leaves, the celery, the parika. I pour the water in the pot and leave it on overnight to simmer.
Groggy in the morning, I imagine walking into the kitchen like Martha Stewart, ready to bask in the aroma of homemade broth. I walk to the pot, waiting for cartoon birds to circle me but to my surprise it is fully charred. All of the water has evaporated. Nothing but ash and a few celery fibers. Christian comes in and I look at him like a guilty puppy. He says, “Oooh no what happened?!”
I show him the carnage. He gleefully scolds me. The simmer on this stove is not exactly a simmer. Readying the steel wool, I think back to the interaction.
Had I known the word huesos, this would have been an unremarkable transaction. Certainly the failed soup and could’ve-been-fire would have eclipsed the purchase. The butcher, like Christian in discovering my almost arson, decided to meet me with grace. To simply nod,drop any impatience or frustration, and firmly align himself with our shared goal. It felt incredibly powerful.
We often have this choice in the midst of a miscommunication. To align ourselves with the objective. To focus not on being right, or getting defensive, or succumbing to our impatience, but, instead, to try our best to understand each other.
A week or two later, Christian and I return to the market.
“Si, si sopa!” I want to describe the disaster, and begin thinking of what that game of charades would look like. Instead, I hurriedly explained in English to Christian that this was the man who had helped me find the bones.
Christian, who is far better at Spanish than I am, paraphrases.
“No no, dos horas, maximum!” The man says with the same joy. We all look at each other, and move back to the freezer containing the bones.
We giggle as we check out the new batch of bones, and the man provides instructions to Christian, which I understand about 70% of (progress!).
Roughly two hours later, Christian and I sit on this same porch, looking out at the lawn, happy, the quiet broken only by slurping.