In 1975, when I left Riberao Preto to go to college in Sao Paulo, I waved goodbye from the back seat of the car giving me a ride. I laughed joyfully as my parents looked back from the corner of our street. My mother was crying. They didn't want me to go by myself to the big city, and although I was the third in a family of six children, I was the first to venture off to the capital.
I was exhilarated. I had just gotten into the university I wanted, USP (Sao Paulo University)! I'd be independent and a journalist in the biggest city in the country! A journalist! I knew exactly what I wanted to be since I was 14, when my teachers told me I was a good writer and should invest in this.
I went to Sao Paulo on the condition that I'd live with an aunt. I spent two years with her, then moved in with some other students and later into a small one-bedroom with my first husband, Fernando, whom I'd met in college and married during my sophomore year.
My marriage lasted seven years and was, for the most part, bad. My career, on the other hand, was smooth sailing. When I was 23 I was already an editor at Folha. I loved my job, but I worked a lot, sometimes too much, often 14 or 15 hours a day. It was always like that at every job I had. As I climbed the ladder, I accumulated more responsibilities, and my life became my work.
Of course, I also had fun. As I made more money, I got to go to better restaurants and the best new bars. I discovered good drinks, marijuana, and one-night stands. I fell in and out of love several times. Work, however, always came first. I was always very professional, responsible and, according to some people, mean. I don't agree: When the work wasn't good, I would speak very softly with the author. When the work was good, I would cry out loud for the whole floor to hear. Yes, I recognize, I'm loud.
Overworking and other excesses took their toll. I was diagnosed with an incurable autoimmune disease that is thankfully under control. But after that, I had a deep depression and, later, ischemia in the arms and legs that left me unable to walk for a long time. I suffered way, way too much. Recovery was slow, yet I went on working. My neurologist was the first one to say, "Renata, you have a disease that requires you to have a more relaxed life, because it causes you stress. You should only work six hours a day." But how? I had become director of Casa e Jardim (House and Garden), a Globo magazine I was completely redesigning. I worked all day, and when I left, it was all I could think of.
I had been married to my second husband, an artist, for seven years (the same number of years my first marriage lasted) when I had the thrombosis, which left me hospitalized for fifteen days. When I was discharged, while still in the hospital bed, we decided we would do the most important thing in our lives: We would adopt a daughter. We waited for her for five years.
I started to think about the kind of life I wanted. I thought about going back to Riberao Preto. I could stay near my mother and those I had left 30 years before and take care of my daughter when the time came in a more relaxed environment. In the 30 years I had lived in Sao Paulo, the city had changed a lot, and for the worst. It had become violent, too crowded, with too many cars. I couldn't even dream of walking the streets at night. We went out very little, and most of our get-togethers were either at home or at friends' houses. People became harsher. I didn't want that.
I talked to my husband about it, but he didn't want to move to a small town. I entered a retirement application thinking it would take at least six months, enough time to get my things settled, but it was granted the same day. All of a sudden I saw myself without a job, and I was stunned, really stunned!
I was making a lot of money, and every year I traveled abroad. I had a marvelous apartment on a quiet gated street. I could have lived that comfortable life for many more years, when suddenly it all made sense: I didn't want to live like that anymore. I wanted to have my feet on the ground, live in a house, grow fruit trees and have neighbors to talk to. I wanted to reach my destination in 15 minutes and not in one hour, like in Sao Paulo.
We agreed I'd move and my husband would remain in Sao Paulo. We would see each other on weekends. It all worked for a very short time. I soon found out he was cheating on me, and we separated. That was the worst part of the move. I suffered a lot, cried a lot, and we fought a lot. It was ugly. It was punk!
The good thing is that I didn't let my sentimental defeat alter my plans. I bought a plot of land right next to the house I used to live in and built the house of my dreams. It is all I've ever dreamed of: modern architecture with a touch of country style, burnt cement floors, hydraulic tiles in the bathroom, and the breeze wafts through the whole house. The ceiling is over seven meters (22 feet) high, and from the living room, through the windows, I see a public square out front.
Yes, I live on a dead-end street that is only 100 meters (110 yards) long and ends on a public square full of fruit trees: mango, jackfruit, acerola, pitanga, avocado and carom. In the front garden, I planted an ornamental banana tree that produces enormous flowers. In the back, we have something we call a square planted with trees from guava to banana to jabuticaba, with fruit every two months. Beyond this square lives my sister, who moved in with her three daughters at the end of the year.
This is also a new experience: living near the family, in a community. It has been very good. Both families live side by side and talk while maintaining our privacy. I became a hippie at 50! It is too good to be true. I have little money, and I'm always broke, but I water the garden and walk on the wet grass, and almost every day a hummingbird flies into the house. I'm finally living, and I think I'll probably liver longer than I would if I were living in Sao Paulo, where I go once in a while to see friends.
Does this seem too good? It is too good, and it's real. You have to be brave, give up your money, go all the way inside yourself and find happiness wherever it is. Surprise: I have a new lover. His name is Vasco, and we'll get married in May, with paperwork, a wedding party and a trip (everything I'm entitled to).
And the best and greatest thing, the one that seemed impossible: My 2-month-old daughter Manuela arrived! She is now 2 years and 5 months old, is very close to me, calls me "Mommy" and pecks me in the mouth all day long. When she sleeps, she holds my hand. I changed my whole life. Today I have a life.
Next time, I'll talk only about Manuela.
This blog post was translated from the original Portuguese.