My life in Santiago wasn’t all sedentary. July in Santiago is cold. Our bungalow had no central heating. You couldn’t even just really stay in bed all day—the cold is damp and it sneaks inside you, no matter how many blankets and sweaters you fight back with. My parents, after the first week, mostly forgot I was there and carried on with their regular church business. I had to get out of the house.
Las Condes, my neighbourhood, was well-maintained and proper. It was too far from the centre to offer any real amusement to a 14-year-old with time to kill. Most weekdays on my summer vacation I left the house, took the bus to the closest Santiago Metro station (Manuel Montt, on the red line) and went downtown, where I sought warmth and amusement in equal measure. I also wanted to be left alone; I had become self-conscious about my Spanish, and I felt embarrassed having to speak it. Being sent to both school and church in English had done my Spanish fluency no favours; at 14, my Spanish was no better than it had been when I was 12. I made no eye contact with anyone ever to make sure a conversation could never break out. I watched a lot of early matinees in magnificent, dilapidated and empty theatres, chain smoking contentedly from the back row; I frequented video and pinball arcades which were enormous, cacophonous almost beyond belief, and blue with smoke—I became so extremely proficient on Elevator Action that I came to consider it my domain and for entire weeks I fought with unknown foes to keep my initials top of the winner's list.
At the end of August, my dad drove me across town to the airport and back I went to Quito. I was always wearing a parka on that end-of-summer flight, and it seemed silly to the people who picked me up because they invariably guffawed—was it really that cold where I lived? Yes, it was. My summers in Santiago were ridiculously cold and soul-crushingly lonely, but still they were better than being sent away.