It’s my last night in Panama. My birth father and I are sitting at the dining room table eating dinner. My stepmother and sister are away, so it’s just us. As we finish, he looks at me and asks:
“So, are you Nelson or Roberto?”
I pause for a second before replying “Both.”
I don’t think I’ve always felt this way. When I first found out my birth name was Roberto, I wasn’t sure if I liked it.
“I don’t feel like a Roberto.” I would say to myself.
Over the years, as I grew closer to my family in Central America, the name grew on me as well. It even got to the point where I would secretly cringe when family in Central America called me by my American name. In this place I was Roberto.
Of course, the reverse was true in the US. There I could not be anyone other than Nelson. Occasionally when I told friends my birth name was Roberto, they would proclaim that they would start calling me that. To this day no one who has met me as Nelson has been able to call me Roberto. Even my Spanish speaking friends can’t make the transition.
Somewhere over the years I absorbed this other identity. I never changed who I was but I allowed this other world to become a part of me. Now, many years later, the two lives and worlds pull me in different directions.
So now what to do? Now that I have these two identities and two lives what do I do with them? I feel like the world wants me to pick.
“You can’t be both you have to choose one.”
I think somewhere deep down inside I am afraid that picking one of these lives means giving up the other.
From time to time my birth father asks when I am going to “settle down.” When I am going to get a job that is going to give me a stable base. I hesitate to tell him that I would not see him as much.
When I finished college, I worked a job that only gave me two weeks of vacation. Sure it provided security, but I sacrificed this whole other part of my life.
Of course, he has his own ideas. He would love for me to live there and work in the family business. Unfortunately, staying in Panama is an equally tough decision. I’ve realized many of the activities that I love are a lot easier to come by in the US. There is also the honest truth that there are more opportunities in the US than Panama.
I try to explain this to my father. I tell him how no matter where I go I’m always missing someone and the only solution I see is to always be traveling. I’m not sure if he understands. How can he? This is his world. There is no other life waiting for him in some far away land.
So here I am stuck. Stuck between worlds. Stuck between lives. One foot in US the other in Central America. One day I may have to choose but I hope, with all my heart, I never have to.