"If I knew it would be like this, I would have kept you all in Nigeria."
She always does this. My mother values her children more than anything in the world, and it pains her deeply to see any of the six of us leave her side. Though I've left her many times, her reaction is predictably overwrought. When I first left for Salt Lake City to join Real Monarchs, I kept trying to say that it wasn't a big deal, but she threw me an embarrassingly large party. Three years ago, when I landed an office job with an auto parts supplier, a job I hated, my parents had people in Nigeria throwing parties and killing goats in my honor. I quit it eight months later in order to train.
I've left for the New England Force and Sevilla in Puerto Rico and so many trials I've lost count. Even as I'm going through TSA, she'll stand there watching me and crying like a child. It's why I stopped letting her come with me to airports.
So, I went to visit her at the school where she teaches before I left for Antalya, Turkey, off an invitation from Vatanspor for three weeks of trials. If it all goes well, I will be signed to play for them. She reacted with the usual drama, leading me by my hand as we walked through the school while she wept. She introduced me to everyone who would listen, and made me out to be an ingrate guilty of the unforgivable crime of leaving her. She raved about the harsh punishment I was inflicting on her heart by going where she could not be.
When it was finally time to leave for the airport, she wept openly for as long as I was in view. My last glimpse was of her standing halfway in the door to the school, wiping her face with her blouse.
I didn't sleep the night before. I'm still young enough to believe in the invincibility of the human body, and naive enough to think that the future will resolve everything. "I'll get some sleep on the plane," I thought to myself. Once I boarded, I realized how very wrong I was. Even as I laid across the two empty seats next to me in the half-filled plane, sleep was as distant as my destination.
Rather than stare at the plane's ceiling on my flight to Frankfurt, I opened my book, "I, Pierre Rivière, having slaughtered my mother, my sister and my brother ...: A Case of Parricide in the 19th Century." It's about a 20-year-old French boy who in 1835 bludgeoned his mother to death to free his father, and then killed his siblings because of their love for her. The author, Michel Foucault, collected witness accounts, court documents, analysis of the boy's behavior from behavioral scientists and the memoir of the murderer himself for the case study.
In the book, Pierre, after being caught, is asked to explain his reasoning for his crime. He states plainly that his mother had caused his father great agony through her constant tormenting and he wished to relieve his father, whom he loved very much, of that pain.
Yet, for all of Rivière's admissions in the interrogations and in the memoir itself (in which he accounts for every pain, great and small, that his mother had caused his father), it didn't deter the officers and witnesses from trying to mark him as insane. Before his crime, Rivière had been categorized as a madman, so anything he did that happened not to fit that diagnosis was disregarded as a rare moment of sanity. The many things that did fit that profile were seen as infallible proofs of that characterization.
Then again, he did murder his mother, sister and brother so maybe the villagers were onto something.
But reading the police questioning while I was sequestered in air, having waved goodbye to my ranting mother, I could feel Pierre's frustration. The officers and witnesses needed him to be possessed or insane to comprehend his situation. He couldn't be personable, familiar, human. They needed to believe in the distance between him and their own selves, even as he tried to correct them. Rivière's parents married young, were ill-suited to one another and fought constantly. He wanted it to stop.
Once I'd turned the last of Foucault's pages, I pulled up "Ronaldo," the movie and its subject both familiar enough to comfort me through my insomnia. Upon its release last year, the general reaction to the personal look inside Cristiano Ronaldo's life was that the movie ultimately was a failed piece of propaganda. Where his interactions with family should have shown Ronaldo as a caring father, a loving son -- a man with the same bonds as everyone else -- people saw a lonely player obsessed with himself and the Ballon D'or.
Rather than showing him as a person, "Ronaldo" pigeonholed and distanced him from our humanity.
The movie is propaganda, sure, but so is everything else we might use to define him -- rumors, hearsay, newspaper accounts. He is singular in his pursuit of greatness. The assumption of his loneliness comes from a failure to understand his discipline. Just as he does not intake alcohol or sweets, he also shuns excessive relationships. He is surrounded by love, but only in concentrate.
Ronaldo's mother, Maria Dolores dos santos Aveiro, is as emotional and as dramatic as my own, and because of that, I fell in love with her. Her love for him is so tragic that when she sees him get tackled on the field, she says "It's like they hit me, as well." In one scene, Ronaldo asks if she has taken her anxiety medication -- which she needs because she can't bear to watch his big games anymore -- and says to her, "You are not gonna die, this is not war."
The wretched depth of their bond can be traced to two events. First, when Aveiro considered aborting him upon learning she was pregnant. Ronaldo admits in the movie that that moment of deliberation has now become a family joke: he reminds her that she did not want him and yet he's now providing for their whole family. The second occurred when he left for Sporting Lisbon at the age of 12. She said that it felt like she was abandoning him. As a result, her devotion has only grown more fervent. She lights sainted candles and kneels in prayer during his big matches.
Aveiro loves her son with all the cruel intensity of a truly devoted mother. She also reveres him as a deity best honored through penitential behavior. Her anxiety was so overwhelming during one of his games with Portugal that she left the crowded living room, asked for her sandal while frantically pacing about, and departed to walk the streets in the dark, alone. His son, Cristiano Jr., then presents a chance to redeem herself through her devotion to her son's reflection.
I can't ignore the relation to my own mother and her near heart attacks from what I deem the smallest things. In one of the opening scenes, she telephones Ronaldo to congratulate him, saying, "My dear boy, your mother's heart almost exploded."
Mothers, the world's greatest tragedians.
Then there's Jorge Mendes, the supposedly intimidating super-agent, who is just as anxious and devoted as the mother. While watching the Portugal vs. Germany game from the 2014 World Cup, Mendes fidgets and distresses at everything, so much so it seems as if he's vicariously brutalized as much as Ronaldo's mother. By the end of the movie, Mendes gives a speech in appreciation of Ronaldo that would have seemed scripted had it not been so verbose and embarrassing.
The scene was a great display of the frustration in the relationship between love and language. In trying to express your emotions eloquently and effusively as your love deserves, you become so exasperated that you start speaking in circles. Words fail where emotions prevail.
Ronaldo's brother, Hugo Aveiro, exhibits the same characteristics and these three together are his closest relationships. They love him in a way that makes explanation futile, but can be understood when their faces glow radiantly when they speak about him. It's a devotion that leads to the high level of anxiety that makes each unable to sit still while watching his games but elicits a shower of relief and joy when he does prevail in his matches.
I think there's madness in that, too, because for the subject of their love, it sometimes feels surreal that people with their own individual lives and troubles, would have so much rooting interest in yours. And to constantly suffer the pain of another, a pain beyond your own control, is masochistic.
So, as I watched this film, I was frustrated that many derived from it the notion of loneliness. And I must admit that it's partially because my life is similar to his in that manner. I don't have many friends, for no other reason than because I deem it unnecessary. As he does, I have a devoted and tragic mother, along with a few others that constitute a circle of unconditional and almost child-like love. It seems that they feel my pain even more than I do, and they celebrate my successes to an embarrassing degree.
How can one be lonely when surrounded by that? You thrive given the opportunity to be alone knowing that love, unlike anything else in nature, is not in flux. It is constant. So Ronaldo spends most of his time in isolation, away from the frenzy of the world, in peace, because it allows for that. He doesn't feel the loneliness that drives others into fruitless relationships or associations. Why should he? What can they offer that he doesn't already have?
Home is not necessarily a place, it can also be people. Ronaldo and I in this sense, can travel to the ends of the earth, chase the loftiest of goals, fail and suffer, try again and succeed or fail better, without fear because there exists a group of people who enable this freedom and form a safety net to return to.
It's knowledge that makes me feel shameful when the movie is over, in the privacy of a quiet plane. I knew in that moment, and for the rest of the trip, my mother and those close to me will be on edge till my return. Even when I am walking down the beach by the resort in Antalya, they will be unable to rest.
When I made it to Istanbul after 11 hours of travel, I texted my mother, who had been messaging and calling me relentlessly that I was almost to my destination. To which she replied with: "I am very grateful to God. I wish you the best of luck and a glorious success. Remain blessed and take good care of yourself. Love you."
Even as I write, there are at least five voicemails sitting in my phone from her, and I know that back home she's anxiously glancing at her phone, waiting for a phone call for no other reason but that so she can hear my voice.
If Pierre felt the agonies of his father 10-fold as Ronaldo's mother and my own do, his actions, while still wholly heinous unforgivable, aren't so shocking. He pretended to be compelled by God at first, but later realized there was no need to use that lie. That type of love has the same religiosity that can be mistaken for madness.
Maybe, I don't really know. What I do know is that jet-lag can drive a man insane and doesn't help my insomnia at all.