‘Tis The Season: Authors Talk Holidays is a special seasonal feature on Pop! Goes The Reader in which some of my favourite authors help me to celebrate the spirit of the season and spread a little holiday cheer. So, pour yourself a cup of hot chocolate and snuggle in by the fireside as they answer the question: “What does the holiday season mean to you?”
About Gabriela Martins
Gabriela Martins is a Brazilian kidlit author and linguist. Her stories feature Brazilian characters finding themselves and love. She was a high school teacher and has also worked as a TED Ed-Club facilitator, where she helped teens develop their own talks in TED format to present. She edited and self-published a pro-bono LGBTQ+ anthology (Keep Faith) with all funds going to queer people in need. When she’s not writing, she can be found cuddling with her two cats, or singing loudly and off-key. Her debut, Like A Love Song (Underlined/PRH) comes out in summer 2021.
A Love Letter To That Ugly Town
The world was going to end in the turn of the century.
I was going to turn eight, so you see, the end of the world was at the bottom of my concerns. All I wanted was for Christmas to go well, for us to go through New Year’s Eve, and then my birthday would finally be there, once and for all. I would finally be eight. Never liked the number seven much.
As broke Brazilians from the south, we celebrated Christmas going to an ugly little beach an hour and a half away from the capital, where my great grandpa had built an ugly little house that was falling apart. It was made of wood, with two Brazilian hammock posts, and a whole lot of grass for the dogs to run. It was a semi-habitated beach called Albatroz, tiny town on the outside of another so-so beach called Imbé. Nowadays Imbé has some nightlife, but I bet Albatroz remains the same one-street town with the total of one grocery store and one “pub” where old people go to drink. Unofficially, it’s a beach for retired people. Always has been. I mean, I don’t know. I haven’t been there since my great grandma passed away.
My feelings towards spending the end of the year in Albatroz were inexistent. It was just a tradition that had existed before I was born and I thought would continue to exist long after I was gone. It just made sense.
My great grandma, my bisa, she was the type of woman who filled an entire house. She was fierce, vibrant, and lively. She cooked a great amount of food, wanted everyone to eat their body weight in chester (I’ll get there), and dance. But this year she was a little ominous.
My half-Catholic half-Spiritist bisa was afraid the world might actually end.
The conspiracy was that the turn of the century would not happen. I’m not sure why that was such an unholy thing. I just wanted to turn eight. But we gathered at the beach for Christmas and ate chester like a family, watching TV Globo, and all the adults got drunk and funny, and I went outside to lie in the hammock with my bisa, and we watched the Christmas fireworks.
A note about chester: in the late ’70s, an aviary flu broke out and killed the majority of the country turkeys. We don’t have Thanksgiving in Brazil, so we used to eat turkey for Christmas, and some families still do. But the government along with the companies that sell turkey were panicked. It was late October and it’s not like they could sell chicken for Christmas… so they experimented with the DNA of chicken and turkey in laboratories, and came up with the chester. It’s fully grown in not many weeks (I refuse to google oral history, but I wanna say seven? Eight?), so the government agreed to give it an American-sounding name, and called it an American bird, because of imperialism, so it would appeal to the masses. And it worked. Brazilians happily ate chester for Christmas for a cheaper price than turkey and didn’t ask a question for at least twenty years. Absolutely lovely and absurd.
It’s delicious, though. I’m partial to the bird mutation. Juicier than turkey, stronger than chicken, very good. It makes great slices for sandwiches too. My bisa could cook a mean chester with cherries and all, make it look real soap opera-y, like rich people’s.
We stared at the night sky that evening, watching it turn into different colors from the house her late husband had built for her. The only thing I vividly remember was me leaning into her, asking, “The world’s not going to be over, is it?”
She paused. Didn’t really answer at first.
If I was seven, that means my uncle was seventeen. We were raised like siblings, always extremely close, and at that point, he was my annoying big brother. He’d heard me ask that, stalking us from the kitchen door, and tipsy from the Christmas red wine, he warned me, “It’s not supposed to end tonight. The world’s only ending at the turn of midnight on Dec 31st.”
I think he had a girlfriend that year. I think she was there, because then he just disappeared somewhere with someone, I think with her. All I know is that bisa hugged me close, and said, “It’s only over if you say it’s over.”
The next few days were very boring.
The days were always boring in Albatroz.
Grandma and grandma argued and then flirted and then argued again. Mom had just started dating my stepdad, so they would kiss a lot. It may have been one of his first summers with us. My uncle maybe had a girlfriend or maybe didn’t, but definitely took the bus a lot to go to bigger beaches and see other teens. There was nobody else my age, and there was nobody else my bisa’s age, so we were stranded with each other.
We sat at the ugly little beach. We walked over the dunes, and we played with forgotten sticks pretending they were swords. We’d go into the ocean but never let the water over our bellybuttons. That was her rule. She’d giggle a lot when the first dark waves would first hit her. She also carried her hat a lot, so her face wouldn’t get burned. She had sensitive skin.
We’d sit on the sand sometimes. A few times I tried to build castles, but those times were with my mom. With grandma, we just talked. She pretended she was a full Catholic, but she always asked Iemanjá for permission before touching her feet to the brown wet sand, closing her eyes and connecting to the Orixá before letting the first wave wash away her worries. She’d talk about Jesus and Mary, but squatting under the waves, she’d talk about the power of surrendering your soul to Mother Nature and the Sea. She had a conflicting yet very clear view of religion, and taught me to be the same.
I was seven and she was in her seventies. The last day of the year, as a Roberto Carlos special was playing on TV and we were all in white clothes, she and I were the only ones restless in the house. Normally, we would go to the beach to celebrate the turn of the year. As is mandatory by culture, skip seven waves, one for every wish you have for the new year. But this was a special year. I think. I don’t remember who decided we should stay in.
All I remember was the countdown on TV.
My mom with her curly and immense hair and her white vest, arms around my stepdad, the only time I’ve ever seen him wearing white jeans. My grandpa and grandma sitting on the hammock side by side, holding hands. My uncle with his girlfriend or not, rebelling somewhere in the garden or not. Bisa and I standing still, side-by-side, staring up at the sky.
I didn’t want the world to end.
There was so much I wanted in life.
I wanted to be loved.
Good God, please let me live to be loved.
I looked at bisa. She knew love. She knew things.
I’ve always loved everyone in my family. Every single one of them. But she was made of something different. She was built of starlight. The way she smiled could light up an entire room of sad faces. The way she glared could burn a hole through someone. She was a transparent, spontaneous, absolute force of life.
I wanted to evoke love the way she did.
I wanted to love the way she did.
All of her fingers were crooked, all of them. But she wore cheap imitations of golden rings and painted her nails red until her fingers shook too much, many years later. I loved her hands. I could grab the back of her hand with my tiny fingers and pull at the skin, and I found it so funny that she didn’t feel anything. She’d laugh at that too. Always laugh with me.
It’s funny. I write this in the bedroom that used to be hers. I’m pet-sitting for my mom, and she lives here now. Everything is different, but if I close my eyes, I can still remember where things were. My first sleepover was at her house, too.
The sky exploded, but it wasn’t the end of the world.
It was fireworks again.
Jesus, Brazilians adored fireworks before there was proper regulation on that.
Every New Year’s Eve, you must kiss someone. Your first kiss reveals a lot about how your year is going to go. If you don’t kiss someone, it might go badly, especially where love is concerned. The kiss doesn’t have to be romantic, because not all love is. I always kissed my mom. But that year, my bisa hugged me and kissed me, and wished me a happy new year with so much delight…
I think she was afraid the world was going to end too.
“Feliz ano novo, Bibi.” Family always calls me Bi, but she was extra sweet. Bibi.
I hugged her so tight I can still feel the ghost of her hug.
My birthday was okay, by the way. Mom and my stepdad took me to the movies. We watched the latest Dalmatians movie. I was very excited because Mom got me a black dress, and I really liked those.
The world didn’t end at the turn of the century, but something did.
Even as young as I was, bisa taught me something that day. It’s only over if I say it’s over. I’ve taught about that so many times over the years. I’ve drawn so much strength from her words.
She passed away in January of 2017, almost two decades after all of this happened, and a few weeks after my birthday. I don’t want you to feel sad for me, because I lived most of my life in the presence of one of the most brilliant creatures this world will ever know. I am grateful instead of sad. But I do miss her, especially at the end of the year.
Our last Christmas together she wasn’t sure what was going on anymore, and the beach house was no longer ours. Our last New Year’s Eve together I couldn’t hold her hand, because she was already at the hospital.
But I hold her hand now. I am always holding her hand. She lived her life the way she wanted, making absolutely every decision she wanted. She also lived a very long and joyous life. It just was over when she decided it was time to be over.
She was a real badass, you know?
So let us too live our lives like she did, enjoying every moment, laughing the loudest when we want to, and crying the ugliest when we must too. Let us just be who we are, unapologetically, because if there’s one thing she told me constantly was to be proud of who I am.
The world didn’t end.
There’s still much we want in life.
We all want to be loved.
Good God, please let us live to be loved.
Let this year bring all the love that I feel in my heart when I think about that ugly little beach in the middle of nowhere.
Title Like A Love Song
Author Gabriela Martins
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Publication Date August 3rd 2021 by Underlined
Find It On Goodreads ● Amazon ● Chapters ● The Book Depository ● Barnes & Noble ● IndieBound
This debut paperback original romance follows a Latina teen pop star whose image takes a dive after a messy public breakup, until she’s set up with a swoon-worthy fake boyfriend.
Fake boyfriend. Real heartbreak?
Natalie is living her dream: topping the charts and setting records as a Brazilian pop star…until she’s dumped spectacularly on live television. Not only is it humiliating – it could end her career.
Her PR team’s desperate plan? A gorgeous yet oh-so-fake boyfriend. Nati reluctantly agrees, but William is not what she expected. She was hoping for a fierce bad boy – not a soft-hearted British indie film star. While she fights her way back to the top with a sweet and surprisingly swoon-worthy boy on her arm, she starts to fall for William – and realizes that maybe she’s the biggest fake of them all. Can she reclaim her voice and her heart?
Underlined is a line of totally addictive romance, thriller, and horror paperback original titles coming to you fast and furious each month. Enjoy everything you want to read the way you want to read it.