Chapter One: Baby Steps


The lot, at least, is right. I know that much. Even blank and empty, it feels like home, and while I don’t know much about myself as a person, I do know I crave home.


The only name in my phone contacts is Jasmine Holiday, so I call her. She doesn’t offer friendship, or instructions, or reassurance, but she has something very valuable to give me, and I accept it gratefully. For the next week, my needs will decrease at one third the normal rate. I’m short on time, so this blessing will help me to make the most of it.


There’s a beach, and there are fish, and I’ve got to come up with $200, so that seems as good a place to start as any.


The neighbors arrive, and not wanting to seem rude, I race back to greet them. Justin Delgato informs me that it’s customary to invite the welcome wagon in. “In” to what, I wonder. We both realize the awkward impossibility of the situation and stare at our feet.


Supriya Delgato isn’t much more help, but I’ve got two new phone contacts, and that’s more than I had an hour ago.


And then, the first thing that’s really felt good, and right, and true since my realization that my lot was the right one. Gizmo. He licks my face gratefully, and I believe he might be as glad to see me as I am to see him. He’s hungry, so I break the rules and feed him a treat for $5. This is what was missing, and as soon as he joins the household the path ahead seems magically clear.


The first purchase is, of course, preordained.


The second becomes just as obvious. The third will have to be a bathtub as soon as I can afford it. He’s expensive, but knowing what the next step is is beyond price.


He’s loyal, and stands guard all night as I fish and plan.


As the sun rises I become hungry for the first time and cook my first breakfast.


And then the bath.


It looks nice, so I take one, too.


The Delgatos prove useful after all, when they invite us out to the Humor and Hijinks festival. There’s a contest, which means there’s a winner, which means money.


So we join up.


Am I a comedian? I think not, but for $500 I can fake it for a night. An extra skill or two never hurt anybody, either. At least, I don’t think so.


Victory. We take a moment to savor the bright lights and the new heaviness of our pockets, but the loud booms make Gizmo whimper, so it’s time to move on.


And then, again, that feeling of “this is right.” My fingers in the dirt, and the sun on my shoulders as I pry loose a treasure from the dusty ground. I am a collector, and this is what I was born to do. My heart aches as I immediately sell off the fruits of my labor for an uninteresting wad of cash, but money is precious at this point, and someday I know there will be prizes I can keep.


As I rest that afternoon, I dream of a house where every wall is filled with shelves, and every shelf is laden with treasures. The leaves part again, just slightly, and the next section of the path forward is revealed. I know what I have to do, what I want to do. I have a mission, and I can’t wait to get started.


So we travel. Gizmo and I leave behind our lot with the sounds of the sea and the safety of our bathtub, and enter the jungle.


It’s late when we arrive, but there are still vendors with tables full of supplies.


And fantastic things to eat.


And new friends to be made.


The cantina is abuzz as well. I order something called “Espuma Agria,” which I later learn translates to “bitter foam.” It’s bittersweet, though, at least, and tastes like adventure. I end up having several. Drinks, that is, though I believe the adventures cannot be far behind.


This emboldens me to speak with the locals, to start asking more and more pointed questions, and before the sun comes up I feel ready act on the knowledge my new friends have shared with me and strike out to explore this fantastical land. My cheeks are flushed with anticipation (or maybe that’s just the espuma), so I go off in search of my dog.


He’s been exploring trash piles, but I can’t be mad at him. I give him a very mild lecture and a very generous ear scratch before we ready ourselves to set out for the trailhead. The way forward may still be murky, but at least I’ve got a machete now to help hack my way through it.

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