Arms Opened Wide

Zeek was born on a Tuesday afternoon in June in 1997 on his mother’s birthday. It was the same year my father had passed a few months before, and in my deepest time of mourning, the anticipation of Zeek’s arrival became a new beginning in my mind. Jourdan and I had given up our apartment and moved in with my mother, and on many evenings, Cristina would come watch TV, curled up on the floor with pillows at her back and her very pregnant belly resting on the blanket that was foundation to the nest we built for her when we knew she was coming. It was during this time that Cristina asked if I would be there at Zeek’s birth.

I have often said over the years, that birth is not that different from death. I was in the room moments after my father passed. He had walked through a cosmic doorway that, while I could not see it, was no less tangible. The father I knew for 34 years, was no longer in that shell of a body. In that same way, I watched Zeek walk right through the same doorway and into our lives, from a distant idea to a living, breathing, boy.

Early that morning, Cristina called to tell me that her water broke, and she was going into the hospital. I called out at work, and drove to Zion Hospital after I hung up the phone. When I got there, Cristina was nervous but excited. It seemed only a few minutes, an hour at most, until she would give birth. The promise of labor, however, stalled on and off throughout that day until finally the doctor made the call to put her on Pitocin to speed the process along. What it also would do, was increase the pain of labor.

My experience of childbirth is that, no matter how much you plan, it never goes completely the way you thought it might. We brought music and ointments. We came ready to chant Sanskrit prayers. But at the end of the day, the pain was just too much. Karlos and I became Cristina’s cheering section when she most needed it, and we shut the fuck up when she was over us and just needed to get through a contraction.

Cristina labored for many hours. At moments I would rub her feet. We counted the contractions, how long they lasted, and after a long day that went into the afternoon, finally Zeek was positioned to be born. At some point Karlos and I started counting “1, 2, 3, push!” over and over. It was our own made-up call. I don’t think it was something we learned in a birthing class, but it became our mantra, our rallying cry to help bring Zeek home.

By the time his little head had crowned, Cristina had used almost all her energy, so the doctor ordered a large mirror be wheeled in. She told us that sometimes the last reserve of energy would come when the mother could see her baby’s head so close to birth.

The moment they placed the mirror at the foot of the bed, Karlos and I both yelled in excitement. We could see Zeek. I remember saying, “Cristina, you’re about to meet your son!!!” To this she started pushing with all the force of the warrior that she is. “1, 2, 3, push!” we yelled, me on her left, and Karlos on her right, each of us holding an arm and propping her up while she did all the work.

When I close my eyes, even today, I can see the moments that followed as clearly as I if I’m right there in the hospital room on a Tuesday in June, 25 years ago. Christina pushed and almost in slow motion, Zeek’s head emerged. Then I watched as one shoulder made it to this side of the birth canal, and his little arm arrived, and within a millisecond, his other shoulder entered the world and as the doctor tugged on his tiny body, Zeek’s arms opened wide as if to say, “Hello world, I’m here!”

Over the years, life happened. People moved. People changed. There were marriages and divorces and other births in other cities. In January 2014, I met Zeek as a 16 year old. He knew I had been at his birth, but I don’t know how much else he knew of me at that time. But in this very innocent youthful way, Zeek opened his arms again, to invite me into his life. Cristina and I decided to rent a big house where we could all take care of one another. Me, my sister Andrea, Jourdan, Cristina, Santos, Zeek, and pretty frequently, Jorge who made the couch in the living room his home away from home.

These last few days, I started reading my journals from that time, searching for the times I spent with Zeek. My work often includes quite a bit of travel, and in one entry I noted that every time I returned, when Zeek saw me he would say, “I missed you.” Those three words meant the world to me. I remember the day we sat outside talking and he told me, “Claudia, honestly, if I had a car I would be completely happy.” I was just gullible enough to believe these words, and three days later we went to pick up Zeek’s first vehicle, a tired blue minivan.

That day Jourdan rode home with Zeek and later shared that he kept trying to drive with one hand so he’d look less like a new driver, to which his aunt quickly reminded him to keep his eyes on the road and both hands on the steering wheel.

My journals tell stories of calls from the side of Interstate 5 where he ran out of gas, to losing his keys at the beach and me sending a locksmith so his mom didn’t find out. We had long talks about college, about the future. He worried that I would be disappointed in him if he didn’t finish school. What he never knew is that I could never have been disappointed by Zeek.

From driving to Santa Barbara to enroll him in community college and find him an apartment, to flying to the Bay Area where he picked me up in his Jetta that he had washed so it was clean for the ride from the airport, I was always proud of him.

These past few weeks, I’ve come to understand the depth of my love for him. In truth, the stories in my journals also include times when he wasn’t sure. That boy who came in with his arms wide open, hesitated from time to time. Sometimes he paced for hours. Other times, he would knock on my door late at night and ask if he could just sleep in my room for a little while. The anxiety was real, and not a stranger to me as my Jourdan has always battled with it to some degree. As he lay on top of the covers, I’d wait to go back to sleep until I heard Zeek’s breathing go deep and I knew he was finally resting, that he, on some level, felt safe.

The last time I saw Zeek was May 19, 2021. Jourdan and I drove to Oceanside to get him. When we arrived, it was as if no time had passed. He talked the whole way back to San Diego. He wanted me to know that he graduated from college, something I already knew. He talked about the drugs that had become part of his life. He talked about wanting to be clean and sober. When I dropped Zeek and Jourdan off, I got out of the car and walked over to him. His arms, again, opened wide. He held me and told me he loved me. I told him I loved him too. As he walked away, he turned and said, “Let’s do lunch sometime,” to which I answered, yes, let’s. Then he said with a wink, “And maybe I’ll move in.” We both smiled and he turned and walked into Jourdan’s house.

At times like these, we question all the moments we might have had a better answer. While losing loved ones is always hard, the loss of a young life is far more painful. It just is.

I believe that Zeek came here as a blessing to so many of us. The day after he passed, Jourdan wrote about the loss of Zeek in an Instagram post. She said, “Zeek was a beautiful freak. Insecure and self assured, anxious and overly confident, creative, kind, difficult…he was exactly who he should be.”

We love you, Zeek…

My Secret Garden

I am in the spring of my sixtieth year. It is a time of great reflection, and a time to stop and feel the gratitude. While all around is chaos…wars, hunger, displacement, destruction…I have only this moment.

“Beautiful Trespassers”

My life, while not yet simple since I work in the system that has brought me here, has a simplicity to it still. I wake in the mornings to quiet. Next to me are two sleeping dogs: Hazel, my tiny black poodle who is almost eleven, and Chelsea, a hound who lead a life racing around in circles until she was retired and came to live with me this year at four years old. They rest peacefully in the wee small hours when I rise to make coffee in quiet solitude before the day begins.

For years I envisioned where I would like to spend the last third of my life, and while I don’t know if this house is it, I do know that it is the closest to that vision I have ever experienced. The house is older than me. It has a history that I can only piece together one hint at a time.

The bones of this house, like my own, are good. The garden has natural ivy that at one time swallowed the house whole. Now the green leaves try their best to creep back in, to engulf my little house. They are beautiful trespassers, green and white and climbing the cypress trees around the parameter of the yard. I cut them just enough so they don’t take over, and I admire their will to survive, to grow, to be seen.

At dusk I like to sit outside in the backyard and feel the breeze from mountains in the distance caress my face like a love from so long ago I don’t remember its name. I ride the gentle line of memory, loving those who no longer walk the earth but not staying too long in my thoughts of them else the sadness creep back in.

Sadness was my bedfellow far too long, and he has no place in this house. This house is for me, just now. It’s for the hound and the poodle, the ivy and the cypress trees. It’s for my secret garden.

The Big Smoke…Preface

london-forestLondon. The story would end here, but with every end, there’s a beginning, with any luck at all. This city is a blank sheet of white unlined paper waiting to be filled with the lines of my life. I have always loved a good “do-over” story—one where at the end of chaos a new life begins. The stories begin with heartache and uncertainty, and then, rising from the ashes like the great Phoenix, the main character starts to find a way. The fog begins to clear. She makes sense of all the pain that brought her here. She has fleeting moments of success, a few steps forward, then an inevitable step back. Fits. Starts. But in the end, a new life begins.

This is what London was for me. A break in the ordinary, and a respite from the loss. There are times in life when all there is to do is to take a pause. That’s what London was for me. Despite all my protests about leaving the comfort of my cottage in Berkeley, when I landed a new piece of consulting work that would represent three months away from my life, I took a chance. I had just come off a nine month project in San Francisco that had allowed me to ride Bart into the City and come home to the remains of what was left of my life. At the time the London contract signed, work was the only place where I could forget about my personal life. It was the only place where I resembled some semblance of me. I smiled when I worked, standing in front of a classroom of business people who had paid to learn from me. I was funny, charming, knowledgeable, and underneath it all, I felt nothing.

Then London became an option, a place with no memories, good or bad. My experience of England at that time was little more than a trip just after college where I’d spent only a few days as a London tourist and taken a drive to Oxford, then a visit to the Highgate Cemetery to the grave of Karl Marx, just to say I had. Thirty years later, once I agreed to go, there was something refreshing in knowing that I was heading to a place where I had yet to make a single mistake.. No one-night stands, no break ups, no drunken parties I wished I’d never attended. London knew me unblemished. I was perfection for London. At the same time, London knew nothing of the losses. I never traveled to London with all those I had lost, and for this, I was most grateful.

I left California with all the best of intentions. I would walk. I would write. I’d make friends. Who knows, maybe I’d even meet a man. I’d clean up my diet and quit smoking for quite possibly the hundredth time, but this time for good. All of this, was my hope for London. I left a house that had become my cave, and a personal life that had taken so many hits in the last twenty-six months that I felt emotionally battered and bruised. Home no longer was a place of comfort. It was where I went deep within with a bottle of red wine every night and the better part of a pack of cigarettes while sitting on my tiny back patio with dead potted plants from summers before, summers with hope and energy that I barely remembered.

So, on a warm day in June, I took a taxi to the Oakland airport, laptop in tow and work clothes in my roller bag. I had a last smoke outside before throwing half a pack of cigarettes in the trash and walking to the ticketing counter to check my bag. In my head I heard her voice, “That a girl! You’re going to be okay.” It was her sweet southern twang that always got me. The voice of my mother. By then she had been gone for more than two years, yet still I heard her voice at the moments in my life when I most needed her. Sometimes it was that scolding way she had of letting me know what I was doing was getting me nowhere. Like the time the summer before when I scored coke from the gay neighbor three doors down, just to see if something, anything, could break the chains of the oppressive sadness. “Jan, honestly?” My mother said as I felt the gentle burn in my nose and closed my eyes. I know, mom, I thought.

The truth about my relationship to my mother is that it was not perfect. What I know of mothers and daughters is that it’s often complicated. When I was young, I adored my mother. I can remember as a small child the sound of her voice as she read to me before bed. There was a gentle quality to her voice that was like a warm cup of milk with honey and nutmeg. She read books with happy endings. Kittens that came home. Children who learned lessons. Little trains that could.

The youngest of four daughters, I was the last of my mother’s children at home when the first tragedy of my life hit with the death of the second to the oldest of my sisters. My mother and I went through that together, and all these years later I have no idea how my mother survived that loss. I was thirteen, and my sister was twenty-seven. My poor mother would call me into her room late at night, my father downstairs in his den, drinking and smoking and listening to Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash as he drowned his sorrows.

Sitting on the side of her bed, my sister’s jewelry spread out all over she would ask which pieces I wanted. Every time, I’d say, “Mom, I can’t choose. It’s too soon.” To this she would nod and one by one put them all back into the velvet Crown Royal bags she had gathered all over my sister Carly’s apartment. I would stand at the foot of my mother’s bed, watching her place those bags of my sister’s jewelry in the cedar chest, one by one, like precious remnants of my sister’s short life. I wondered back then why she took each piece out. Why she called me once they were all displayed on the crushed velvet duvet cover on my parents’ king-sized bed. That she never called me before she took the jewelry out never made sense to me.

Then one night I was passing by her room and I heard her on the phone, her voice cracking as she said, “I can’t talk to you anymore.” She saw me out of the corner of her eye, and motioned for me to come in, handing me the receiver of the phone. “Hello?” I said in my thirteen-year-old voice, with fear and uncertainty, yet courage to help my broken mother to never again speak with whomever was on that line. What I heard in response was the voice of my sister’s lover, sobbing, begging for forgiveness. I didn’t know for what then. I only knew that Carly was dead, and so I yelled, “Don’t you call here again!” and slammed down the phone. My mother fell into my arms at that moment, and it was that night in 1976 when I knew my childhood had ended as I held my mother, her sobs muffled into my long brown hair as her shoulders shook and I felt the moisture of her tears on my thirteen-year-old neck.

As I got older, as happens in most relationships between mothers and daughters, ours became one of dishonestly and deceit. I couldn’t wait to get as far as I could from her. She controlled me, and I rebelled. I had sex before I should have, drank too early, and drove across the border to Mexico anytime I got half a chance. I was seventeen and the beat of discotheques and light shows in the Tijuana of the 1980s beckoned me every Friday night. My mother knew, even though I lied to her about where I was going. Then one night she asked to go with me to Tijuana. I remember walking into Marco Disco on a Saturday night, my mother by my side. I half hated her for the inevitable damper she likely would put on that night, but half respected her moxie for insisting on going. She bought drinks, and we sat together listening to the music. She didn’t belong in this place, yet she was there to see what her daughter saw. Later that night Luis came. He walked up to our table and without saying a word took my mother’s hand and led her to the dance floor. I watched as his young body moved like a ballet dancer dancing disco and my sweet mother did her best to fit in, and in her own way did. At that moment my mother and my best friend, the coming together of my home life and my social life aligned to perfection.

The years passed, and somewhere between my twentieth birthday and the day my own daughter was born that same year, my mother became the smartest woman on Earth. I called to her every morning when I woke up from the guest room I moved into after Jess was born. I was a single mom, and my parents welcomed me home from college with their youngest grandchild. I had to know that my mother was there. She became everything that made sense. On the weekends we made breakfast together and sat for hours after we ate, long after my father left the table and Jess had fallen asleep nursing and I’d put her down on my mother’s white couch. We would talk about everything. What I should do with my life. What we had endured. Sometimes we relived every moment of Carly’s death, and sometimes I felt we were the only two who could talk about it, and we never tired of every detail. My two other siblings had lived through Carly’s passing, but they had gone on with their lives. For me and my mother, it never really left us, and so we relived it over and over and drank coffee and cried until Jess woke up.

For my marriage and my divorce, my daughter starting school, me going back to college, and my father’s health beginning to fail, my mother never left my side. We co-parented Jess. My mother loved her, and was shocked by her. Sometimes she thought I was too strict. Sometimes she thought I needed to pay better attention.

But all this was how life was. It was the fabric of my life. My life with my mom and dad, my sisters, all that made me, me. This was the life I relied upon. Jess became an addition to that life as did the children of my sisters, but at the core, was the nuclear family: me, my mom and dad, and my two remaining older sisters, Abby and Martyne. Even after my father passed in 1997, the family remained intact. He was our patriarch, but my mother was the real leader of our family. We got married. We gave birth to children. We started careers. We lost jobs. We made money. We lost money. But through it all we were a family.

As my mother started to age we were all in denial, I think. I threw her 80th birthday party at my home and she was every bit the mother and grandmother she always was. That year I put together a scrapbook of her life. She loved that book and for the last seven years of her life she pulled it out to show people who came to visit at every opportunity. Over time, her memory faded. My oldest sister, Abby, was the first of us to admit the possibility that my mother had Alzheimer’s. I preferred to think of is as a kind of senility. Maybe it was just old age, or maybe it was that she had just decided to go inward.

Over time she started asking the same questions more than once. She liked to leave the house less and less, and the mother we had known our entire lives began to fade.

And then, on a Thursday in 2013 my sweet mother died in a tiny spare bedroom in my sister’s home. My mother died with all the love anyone could ask for all around her. She was beautiful in death, just as she was in life. If I were to assign a color to the last days of my mother’s life, it would be pink. The color filled the air in that little room in those last few days. I still have the satin pillow my mother’s head rested upon as she passed from this world, me sitting by her side. I don’t know if she would have liked that I kept it. She might think it a morbid thing to hold on to, but it gives me comfort to know that it’s in a box of her things in the hallway closet in the cottage in Berkeley.

I smiled when she left, at that very moment, because she did it so gracefully. She hadn’t communicated in three days, and I believed I would never see her lovely blue eyes again. But she rallied in that last second, in her last breaths, and opened her blue eyes to look at her youngest daughter one last time before leaving. I was proud of how my mother died. She went without fear or hesitation. She was resigned. I kissed her forehead which was still warm, and said, “You did it, Little Mary. You did it.”

The months that followed that should have been spent mourning and healing, proved to present even more challenge. My mother’s passing was only the beginning, and so, in some small way, losing her had to go on hold as I navigated the waters of more hospice care and funerals. My mother was the first in a line of five loved ones I would lose in the next two years.

So, when London called, I answered.

Beginning My Last Juice Fast of 2016

img_1594I started my original juicing journey five years ago.  I started with my friend, Terrie. We worked in a building in the financial district in San Francisco, and we were given a storage room on our floor to convert into our juicing room. I found a used juicer on Craig’s List that I brought to work so I could keep my own juicer safe at home in my kitchen for my evening and weekend juicing. Every morning we juiced together, bringing vegetables and fruit to share with each other. Around Noon we would juice again, and then once more before we went home.

What I learned from that experience was profound in many ways, and I have never quite mastered the same magic of that time since. I learned the power of micro-nutrients, that my body was perfectly sustained on only veggie and fruit juice for twenty-one days. I found a mental clarity that was unexpected. I looked the healthiest of my life.

Five years later I’m looking at the end of another year. I have always been a planner, and for me, this time of year is about looking to the New Year and deciding what I want to create next. Last year one item on my list was “Get a puppy.” The year before it was “Buy a condo.” Next year, I’m not sure what I’m looking to do yet, but what I have decided is that I’m retiring the Juice Gurl blog, and replacing it with one that is just for my writing. Thus, the idea of doing one last juice fast to close out the blog that has seen me through five years of juicing, writing about it, and sharing the journey, seemed like a good idea.

Today, day one began. I got up, walked Hazel (puppy mentioned above), and then came in to do my morning ritual consisting of lighting candles in my meditation room, doing morning spiritual reading and meditation, and then planning my day. Currently I’m reading the Bhagavad Gita for the third time, and with each reading I get all new inspiration—things I never saw before suddenly jump out. My copy of the translation by Eknath Easwaran is dog-earred and marked up in various colors of ink…a very good sign that a book is worth my time and will be a mainstay in my arsenal of spiritual text.

I don’t know if I can make it twenty-one days. What I know is that I made it through today on spinach, carrot, and apple juice. I went to the gym and I felt slightly less energetic than usual, but I made it through a Zumba class.

So here is to wherever this experience leads me. I am sharing for myself, and for anyone else who is in search of a juicing journey of her own.


cover-jpegOn May 24, 2016, I took my first real vacation in over 10 years, traveling from San Diego to Cancun, Mexico, and from there I drove south. I traveled alone, except for a character who seemed to follow me along the way, and came to be a fully developed personality in my mind as I wrote about her every day in a novelette by her same name, Magdalena.

Many of my Facebook friends read chapter by chapter as I posted the blend of my own experiences with those of Magdalena, also known simply as Lena, on my blog each day. Once I returned home, and with the very gracious help of my dear friend, Julie Hocking, I did a fair amount of editing.

So, if you’d like to read Magdalena from start to finish, here it is. Enjoy!

She Is

NOTE: This is a short novella I’m writing on my 10-day vacation to Mexico, so if you are reading it for the first time, start with “She Flies” and scroll up from there. Enjoy!

IMG_0769There are moments in life when whatever initial expectation a person has, the outcome can be far beyond that first intention. Lena left California to escape. She couldn’t imagine on that flight to Cancun that there was anything profound waiting for her there. Her only thought was to escape from the reality that had become her life. What she found was more than a transformation, although that did happen for her. For Lena, though, she realized a returned to herself along the soft green waters of the Carribean.

From her kitchen window, she looked at the hummingbirds on the feeder she bought the week after returning from her trip. Every few days she made another batch of sugar water, and the birds seemed to flock to the garden she had rarely enjoyed so much in twenty years in this house. She would have to leave once they put the house on the market, but wherever she landed she would have hummingbirds in Southern California. She loved this.

In the days since her return, to Lena’s amazement, she never felt like the woman who left in rebellion, scared and injured by a husband who never really understood her. There were days when she felt angry at him, but for the most part she felt relief.

As for her time in Mexico, the part of her that was found there never left. On the last evening at Playa del Carmen, she went back to El Fuego for dinner, a restaurant she had frequented on several of her evenings there. She had run into Rogelio earlier in the day and promised to dine there that night. To send her off on her last night, he had set up a special table close to the pool, a short distance away from the main dining area. He had collected flowers from the grounds, a red hibiscus, tiny succulent flowers, and baby palm leaves, put them in a clear vase and stabilized them with sand from the beach, a perfect centerpiece for her private table. She felt his excitement at showing her the table he had set up for her. He brought her a glass of red wine, and one by one the other servers she had interacted with over the past ten days came by to greet her and tell her how much they appreciated her. The young woman named Minerva who tended the front desk came also, and Lena reached in her bag for the book she had finished about the three sisters in the Dominican, and gave it to her. She explained in Spanish that the strongest of the sisters was named Minerva, and she wanted to share the story with this young woman so she remembered to always be strong. The reaction was a warm smile that spoke volumes. Minerva held the book to her chest, telling Lena she would have to get a Spanish copy, but she would compare both so she could improve her English.

Lena sat at the table, taking her time eating the last meal there. She listened to a Sade tune that played in the background, and her heart felt full. Finally, Oswaldo came by, kneeling close to her to keep the managers from seeing the familiar connection they had.

“Oswaldo, my friend,” Lena smile, “What time do you get off?”
“About 10:30, mi amiga.” He said.
“Can I take you out for a beer after work?” Lena was bold but she felt he was her friend and she wanted to have a chance to talk to him away from here. His face lit up, telling her he would call her when he was off, and to meet him down the street from the restaurant.

When he called, she walked up Avenida Quinta until she saw him waiting for her on a corner near the Cuban club. He hugged her and asked if she was okay to walk a bit. She nodded and they began their friendly banter that was comfortable and familiar. He told her about his business, a problem customer he had that week who had too much to drink on an excursion and lit up a joint on the ride to the ruins. She laughed with him, shaking her head and telling him she was glad she hadn’t done that on their trip to Ek Balam.

After a few twists and turns, he took her to an area in La Playa she hadn’t seen. There was a small bar close to the water where they ordered Sol beer and talked late into the night. At one point she finally asked, “Oswaldo, can I ask you something?”

“Of course, amiga.” He answered.
“Tonight, I felt so special. All the staff at the restaurant treated me in a way that I don’t even understand or feel I deserve. What was that about?”
“Lena,” Oswaldo began, “We all felt that you cared for us. You are special. You looked at us every time you came to the restaurant like we were human. Rogelio knew you were coming, and told all of us we needed to make the night special for you. He was very proud of the flowers he made for you.” The both smiled at this.
“But we are all the same. We’re all just humans.” Lena said, looking out to the water.
“Yes, it’s true, amiga, but we don’t meet many guests who treat us like that. It’s different.”

At this Lena looked into her friend’s eyes. She knew he was telling her something she had never really considered. She also knew that in years past, she might never have been seen in this way. She would have been perceived as remote and standoffish.

On the walk back to her hotel, Oswaldo told her about his life, the struggles he had endured as a young man. He grabbed her hand to pull her out of the way of a moving scooter or a rowdy crowd in front of a club. It was sweet and protective, and she felt taken care of as she had been often on this trip. They said good night, and Oswaldo told her that he wanted to have her come to his home for dinner next time she was there. She told him that would be lovely as she gave him a last hug and thanked him for all he had given to her in this adventure.

On the plane ride home she wrote in the handmade book all the things she remembered from her trip that had changed her. The walks on the beach, swimming in the warm blue water, hiking up Mayan ruins, diving into a cenote, dinner outside at the table Rogelio set up for her, Oswaldo, and even Minerva. The greatest gift she received from La Playa was that she found herself there, she thought. She wasn’t there as Ned’s wife or Beatrice and Clinton’s mother. She was there as Lena, the woman she was just beginning to know again.

She Writes

NOTE: This is a short novella I’m writing on my 10-day vacation to Mexico, so if you are reading it for the first time, start with “She Flies” and scroll up from there. Enjoy!

IMG_0768Lena woke early on her last full day in La Playa. She dressed and headed out to catch the ferry to Cozemel, the island just off the coast from the mainland of the Yucatan Peninsula. It felt nice to be on the water, looking back somehow on the beach town where she had spent the last week. The memory of this place and what it meant to her would stay with her always, she thought on the forty-five-minute boat ride.

Once in Cozemel, she meandered among other tourists, took a swim in one of the public beaches, and had breakfast at a little restaurant in el centro. As she sat watching the vendors start their days, in a distant corner she saw an older man setting up a table upon which he carefully placed books. He then brought a stool from the orange cart in which he had wheeled all his merchandise, and sat quietly behind the table. Lena watched as tourists walked by his table. Unlike the other vendors, he didn’t speak to them, try to get them to look at his wares. His skin was weathered from the sun, and he seemed to be lacking several of his teeth, but Lena thought he was beautiful somehow, in a simple way.

After paying her bill, she walked toward the old man’s table, and there she saw some fifty different blank books in varying sizes. She asked him in Spanish what they were, and he explained that he used the trees in the jungles and made each book by hand. The spine and the corners of each cover was leather, and on the spines of each book was the word apuntes, notes. Each page he had artfully placed in the pages in the binding so that when closed the ridges of the pages had a design of intertwined red hearts, each one connecting to the next.

Lena didn’t know what she would use one for, but she knew she had to buy one. She asked how much, and he replied to her with a price that was so low she repeated it to him to make sure she understood. He explained to her that he didn’t make them for money, but for love of producing something beautiful from nature. If he made a few pennies, he was happy. He smiled up at her, his gums showing on the other side of his lips. He didn’t flirt with her to close the sale. In fact, Lena had the distinct impression that he didn’t really care if she bought one or not.

She carefully looked at each one until finally finding the perfect book, and upon paging through the blank pages, she handed him money, slightly more than he asked. As she started to walk away, the old man said, “Señora,” to which she turned back to him as he said to her in Spanish. “I believe that whomever buys one of these books, they take a piece of the jungle with them. It’s very special. And I saw how you looked at each one, and chose the right one for you.” Lena smiled at him, and he continued, “I think you have words to write in this book.” That was all he said. She nodded, wondering if he would go on, but he simply sat back down on his stool and waited for another customer.

The book felt good in her hand. Not too large, but thick enough to, as he said, write the words she had for this book. She didn’t put it in her bag, but instead carried it in her arms as she walked back to the ferry to head across the water. What would she write, Lena thought? She could start a journal, but that didn’t quite feel right. Then she decided it would be words that meant something to her. Maybe her own. Maybe the words of writers she loved. The idea made her smile as she stepped onto the stairs to get on the ferry.

Once on the water, she remembered the night before. On some level she was embarrassed. What was she thinking? But then she decided to file that memory away for a time when she wondered if she would ever be desired again. At that moment on the bench, a young man she would never see again desired her. Yes, it was true that at his age he likely would have desired any number of vessels in the form of women traveling here, but what did it matter? He wanted her, and she had an infinitesimal second of returning to her womanhood. If it could happen with him, it could happen again with someone else…someone more appropriate.

For the rest of the day she lounged at the other end of the hotel beach, the one with the least chance of running into Eric. She had told Rogelio and Oswaldo that she would be at El Fuego this evening for one last dinner before going home. She would wear one of the white embroidered blouses she bought at the beginning of her trip, and her white linen slacks. She would begin to return to the Lena she was going to be at home.

The reality of the war Lena had ahead of her with her husband was beginning to weigh on her. She and Ned had only had one battle so far on the subject, but it was more about his relationship to Jean. She wondered now at her own reaction. She realized that back then, she hadn’t felt jealousy or even disloyalty. She thought back then that if he confessed, she would put it away once he promised to let it go. What had shocked her in all of it was that Ned made it very clear that he was going to “try to make a go of it,” meaning his relationship to a woman who couldn’t have been much over thirty-five at best. It wasn’t that she was so young, but what about how old he was? He was hitting sixty this year. She was a complete generation behind him.

Lena shrugged, picking up the little book for apuntes. On the first page she wrote two quotes from one of her favorite writers, Joan Didion. She had to look up the first one she remembered about writing. The second one from her favorite book by the author, entitled Democracy. This one, she knew by heart and was in response to the main character being asked why she was leaving it all to go to Malaysia, “colors, moisture, heat, enough blue in the air…four fucking reasons.” This, she thought, would be reason enough to return to Playa del Carmen next time.

Ella Baila

NOTE: This is a short novella I’m writing on my 10-day vacation to Mexico, so if you are reading it for the first time, start with “She Flies” and scroll up from there. Enjoy!

FullSizeRender (8)The sun was rising over the water, and Lena sat on the beach watching the workers in the distance starting their day. She went to bed so early that she woke refreshed at five a.m. After a long walk, she decided there was no hurry to go shower and plan her day. Instead, she sat. She let her mind drift, and then closed her eyes to listen to the gentle waves hit the shore. What is it that you want, Magdelena Ortiz, she thought. She tried to envision what that might be. She thought of the house in Irvine, and while she had loved it when they bought it twenty years ago, now it seemed more of part of what had imprisoned her. She didn’t really want to go back there.

She thought about the old life, and most of it felt beige to her…not like the colors of this place she had been exploring for the last seven days. Everything here was rich in color. I want color in my life, she thought. That was a first. I want some kind of little job so I can be of use to people. Maybe a florist or an antique store. She didn’t want to be tied down though, she went on dreaming, her eyes still closed. I want more Mexico, she thought. I live two hours from the border, so why can’t I go once a month and explore? Do I want a man, she asked herself. Not just yet, was the answer.

Opening her eyes, she looked out at the ocean. The colors of blue were many, and she smiled at her luck at landing here.

After breakfast, Rogelio came to chat for a few minutes. He asked her in Spanish what she did yesterday. He listened with great interest as she described the ruins, and she could see a certain pride in his heritage as she described the buildings and the steps she climbed. Then he asked her what she was doing today. She hadn’t really thought about it. In English she said, “What should I do?” She sounded like a child speaking to her friend who was at least twenty-five years younger than she was.
“You have to go to Tulum, my friend.” Rogelio replied.

He went on to draw her a map of how to get to the shuttle that would take her there for less than five dollars. He told her which stop to listen for, and where to go from there. She nodded, paying close attention to every word.

“Okay,” she said, “You have planned my day.” She went back to her room and showered, answered an email from Beatrice, and sent Clinton a text letting him know she was okay.

The walk to Avenida Juarez was longer than she would have guessed, but she followed Rogelio’s instructions to the letter. Avenida Quinta became crowded with American and European stores as she walked. There was an American Outfitter, a McDonalds, a Michael Kors boutique, and even a Forever 21. There were still plenty of Mexican vendors, and she stopped at a couple, buying two pairs of earrings and a bracelet for Beatrice.

When she arrived at Avenida Juarez, everything changed. The stores were mostly for the locals, and there were no tourists anywhere. She walked by several parks, and when she saw the police station in the exact spot Rogelio said it would be, she turned right, and there was the bus station. She asked for the next bus to Tulum, and was directed to an oversized van that was already packed full of passengers. She saw the last seat at the back was still empty, so she made her way there. Once seated, Lena realized that she was the only tourist, and that her Spanish skills were going to have to get her to Tulum. A peace came over her. I can do this, she thought.

What little air conditioning that existed on the shuttle was blowing on the seats in front. She noticed the moisture on her arm glistening, and she knew it was going to be a long ride. The bus stopped to let people on and off. There was a waiter sitting next to her. She could tell because he wore a uniform from a resort in La Playa. Midway to Tulum, two women who appeared to be sisters hopped on the bus with four small children. They referred to one another as “Gordita,” and in truth, they were large women, but she thought how sweetly the word sounded when they spoke to one another. It wasn’t an insult. It was out of affection. Lena loved watching them with their children, how they laughed at the youngest who was just waking from a nap in one of the women’s arms.

An hour into the ride and she heard someone up front point out the turnoff for the Tulum Ruins. At the next stop, Lena went to the front of the bus and asked the driver if there was a downtown area, to which he replied that’s where they were. She handed him forty pesos and got off the bus. The area she stepped into was anything but a downtown. It was definitely on the outskirts, so she found a group of taxis on a corner and asked one of the drivers for a ride. Fifteen minutes later she was at the area outside the Tulum Ruins.

In many ways, it felt to Lena a world apart from Playa del Carmen. Tulum felt like it catered less to American tastes. There was a Starbucks, but other than that, it seemed smaller somehow. She found a small restaurant that touted quesadillas and tacos and beer. She thought to herself how delicious a beer would taste just now, so she sat, ordered, and people watched for at least a half hour. A family sat in the table next to her–two adult daughters and their elderly mother in a wheelchair. The mother was beautiful, with short, snow white curly hair and silver jewelry. Her daughters were laughing as they enjoyed the food, and from time to time their mother would chime in, and the three of them would nod and laugh some more. Lena wished she was sitting at their table as one of them. Would that have been Elsa sitting there in a wheelchair, enjoying a meal with her daughter? What a strange concept, Lena thought.

The walk to the ruins from the entrance was hot and long, but once there, the grounds were lovely and the view of the ocean from the highest point was breathtaking. She walked from building to building, taking her time, stopping for sips of cold water she had bought from the shop at the entrance. She stopped to look at iguanas that roam the ruins, admiring their leathery skin and agile legs as they soaked up the sun from ancient bricks.

By the afternoon she was exhausted from the sun so she caught a taxi back to La Playa. Once back at her hotel, Lena took a dip in the pool, and then curled up on one of the beach chairs with the book about the Dominican sisters. The story had captured her interest as it told the story from each of the sister’s lives. There were four sisters total, but only three of them were political. The only one who didn’t engage in the communist movement survived to tell the story. She compared the character to her own life, being an only child to Elsa and Luis, she often felt that their stories had ended with her, and then she became Ned’s version of what she should be. What was there to know about her own family? From all she knew, she only had one or two surviving aunts and an uncle on her father’s side. Lena thought about finding them in Tecate. The idea appealed to her, though she wondered what they thought of her after so many years without contact. She had one cousin who found her on Facebook and had periodically given her updates on people there.

A young waiter she hadn’t met came to where she sat and asked her what she would like to drink. Lena thought for a moment, “Algo refrescante…” She said, something refreshing…almost to herself. She couldn’t quite think of a drink that wasn’t heavy like beer or that would make her drowsy like anything with tequila.

“How about a special drink from fruit we make for you.” He answered in English.
“Sounds good,” she said, as she smiled at him. He was young and handsome and she read his name on his nametag, “Eric.” She said with a Spanish accent.
“Oh, you say my name very well, Senorita.” Eric said to her, and the complement of the younger version of a pleasantry didn’t go unnoticed.

Eric brought a drink that was some mixture of mango and coconut with rum. She smiled, taking a sip from the straw as he stood by her, awaiting either a tip or a nod of approval. She gave him the nod, and he smiled back.

“And what is your name, if I may ask?” Eric asked.
“Mucho gusto, Lena. A beautiful name.” Eric replied. Lena smiled, realizing that the banter of flirtation was something she hadn’t done in so many years that she felt like a complete fool even trying, and she knew she blushed. Come on, she thought. He can’t be a day over thirty. “What are you doing tonight, Lena? I mean for fun.” Eric was bold, Lena thought.
“I hadn’t made plans just yet.” She replied, taking another sip of the sweet drink to hide her nervousness.
“There’s a place the locals go that isn’t far from here. It’s called Salsanera, if you want to check it out.” Eric leaned in as he said this, placing a napkin under her drink.
“Thanks. I’ll think about that.” She allowed herself to smile up at him, and for a moment she was twenty-one, without a husband or children or a divorce pending at home. She looked away as he turned, but allowed another quick glance at him as he walked away. He’s young, she thought. Not an option, she reminded herself. But then she remembered what it was like when she was younger and bolder, how it felt to hold on to a young man’s body as they moved to music. What a beautiful feeling, she thought, as she returned her attention to the book on her lap in an effort to control her mind from venturing further.

After a quick shower, she took a two-hour nap in her room. The crisp white sheets were cool against her skin, and by the time she woke her room was an icebox from turning the air up so high when she came in. She was starving. It was already seven thirty, so she dressed in a simple black and white dress she brought with her that was cut with a full skirt, short sleeves, and a rounded neckline. She put on red leather flats and after applying moisturizer to her face and a bit of powder, she painted her lips red. Ned would be taken aback by the sheer daring of her look, but in the full-length mirror she liked what she saw. She looked good for 57, she thought, and the tanned arms and chest were becoming. She smiled into the mirror the way she had at sixteen. “Que linda!” she could hear her mother say as clearly as if she were standing right there with her.

She walked down the familiar Avenida Quinta, and then strayed up a couple blocks to an area she hadn’t explored. There was an outside restaurant with white lantern lights strung above all the tables. She sat near the street, listening to the music they played. It was a salsa, but slower than most, and Lena felt happy being here. Over dinner she thought about returning home in two short days. What would it be like to not be on vacation? She dreaded going back to the house.

After dinner she strolled among boutiques and other restaurants, and whether it was by chance or some seed she planted in her mind, right in front of her was Salon Salsanera. She paused, looked beyond the three or four young women waiting to get in to see what it looked like inside, and then before she lost her courage she walked in behind them. The young woman at the front door showed Lena to a table in the back, and up at the front on stage Lena saw the band setting up as the canned Latin music was still playing from earlier in the evening.

There is something about a Latin beat, she thought, ordering a shot of tequila that she would sip as she watched the other dancers when they hit the floor. She was only here to watch, after all, and she knew she was lying to herself. What would she do, Lena wondered, if the waiter from the pool walked in? What would she do if he didn’t? What if someone else asked her to dance? What if nobody did? Her mind was running in circles. Stop, she thought. She took another sip of the tequila.

The band started promptly at nine. Right away several couples got up to dance. They moved beautifully, she thought. As the club started to fill up, she looked around the room for Eric. He wasn’t there that she could see. It’s fine, she thought. I’ll have this drink, watch the other dancers, and go back to the hotel.

Just then, a man who looked to be in his forties walked up to the table, “Te gustaría bailar?” he asked politely. She nodded, let him take her hand, and followed him to the dance floor. The song was a slower salsa, and he recognized that she was nervous, so he motioned to her to watch his feet, which she did. She was surprised at how quickly she picked up the steps. Next, he guided her with his hands, turning her and bringing her back in close. Lena felt exhilarated. She was dancing. How long had it been?  She couldn’t remember having danced like this as an adult. Maybe in her teens, but back then it was to disco music.

After her first dance, she sat back at her table and ordered a Coke, but before it came someone else asked her to dance. This time she followed her partner easier, and by the next time that her first partner circled back to ask her to dance again, she had the moves down with only a couple missteps when she was thinking through the moves too much.

When she finally returned to her table and took a long sip from the bottle of Coke, she looked across the room and there he was, standing at a table closest to the dancefloor, the handsome pool waiter named Eric. He looked at her, smiled, and raised his bottle of Corona in her direction. She laughed, looking at him and reading his mind. He had given her the clue, and she had followed it.

Eric weaved his way between tables, walked up to her, took her hand and kissed it before leading her off to the dancefloor. The song that the band played was a cumbia. She watched Eric’s feet, and moved with him. He smiled at how quickly she followed his lead. At the end of the song, she turned to go back to the safety of her table, but his hand pulled her to him for a salsa. She laughed when she lost her step, and so did he, before helping her right back into the dance. She moved her hips to the music, and on several occasions she made eye contact with Eric. He was so young, she thought. He couldn’t be much older than Clinton. But as quickly as that thought crossed her mind, the next song started and Eric lead her toward the door of the club.

“Where are you taking me?” She asked.
“Come with me while I have a smoke.” He replied. Once outside, they walked to a small garden across the street, and he sat first, patting the seat next to him. “Come. Sit.” Eric said. He had a smile that was mischievous, and she sat next to him, her heart beating from the dance as well as the energy of being summoned by this handsome young man.

“Thanks, Eric. That was fun.” Lena’s voice sounded like a den mother at that moment. She didn’t want to be presumptuous, and it was safest to think that he was dancing with he because she was a hotel guest, and older woman on her own. He probably felt sorry for her.

He offered her a cigarette, and to her surprise, she took one. The women in her yoga class would have been so disappointed had they seen this, she thought. He lit her cigarette first, then his own.

“Lena, you came to dance with me.” He said, flashing that smile at her.

She started rambling about having dinner close, stumbling on the place, not being sure if she would come in, and at that, he put his hand around the back of her head, gently pulled her hair before pulling her in and laying a passionate kiss on her lips.

At first she was afraid, but after a few seconds, she kissed him back. His lips felt so taut and full. Not like Ned’s at all. He pulled back and looked at her, and then started kissing her neck. She dropped the cigarette she had only puffed once, and he again kissed her lips. That something stirred in her was a surprise. She imagined what it would be like to be with him. She let her hands touch his back, feel the muscles of his young body.

“We should go back in.” She said.
“Okay, mi amor.” He said, again smiling in that knowing way that said he knew this was new for her, and that it was forbidden in so many ways. He didn’t know if she was married or divorced. But he could read from her body language that he had sparked a fire that had been out for a very long time, and she could tell that he also knew he was completely in charge.

Once inside, she returned to her table. She was rattled and invigorated, but also a little out of her element. When she turned to find where Eric had gone, she didn’t see him. She sat at the table, and took another sip from the Coke before putting her small purse over her shoulder and walking toward the door. She didn’t look back.

Lena knew that what she had experienced was perfect. There was nothing more needed. To have had this moment was enough. It was what she had come for. Anything more would become complicated and would ruin the memory of that moment on the dancefloor, the way he had kissed her, and how for a second, she wanted nothing more than a young man named Eric.

She walked through the streets of La Playa, the music still buzzing in her ears. She felt beautiful. The ocean air was cool on her skin, and she let herself remember what it felt like to be desired just moments before.

She Sees

NOTE: This is a short novella I’m writing on my 10-day vacation to Mexico, so if you are reading it for the first time, start with “She Flies” and scroll up from there. Enjoy!

IMG_0704Lena woke at six, washed her face and threw on shorts and a t-shirt to head out to the water for her morning walk. She hurried this time so she could make it back by seven to meet the guide who would take her to the ruins. She knew little more than that. It didn’t matter, she thought. Whatever unfolded today would be fine. She walked to the pier and saw people fishing, as well as commercial fishing boats in the distance. Further out, she saw cruise ships and she thought it was only a matter of time until this paradise was overrun with timeshares and corporate interests. Already there were signs of it happening, and Lena felt sad that this place would inevitably change in time—probably sooner than anyone might guess. Just ninety miles and a bit south lay the island of Cuba. In all its complicated politics and economic struggle, it still lay untouched by the outside for some seventy years. She felt sad at the thought that soon, Americans would flock there, and so would corporate giants. Even here, in La Playa, there was a Starbucks on Avenida Quinta—an establishment Lena would avoid this trip.

Once back in her room she showered, packed a bag as she had been instructed via text from Oswaldo with a swimsuit, a towel, and sunscreen. She wore her running shoes, a clean pair of shorts with a tank top, and a ball cap from Columbia University, one of the first gifts Clinton had sent home after his arrival on campus. She wondered how Clinton was doing. She knew he wouldn’t engage in the details of his father’s leaving. Not the way Beatrice did. For Clinton, it wasn’t about what he said. He was all about action. He would be there for his mother when she returned. Offer her advice if she asked for it, and answer the phone late at night if she needed him to listen.

Outside the hotel gates Oswaldo waited for her. He had  a Nissan of some sort, and he graciously opened her door on the passenger side, “Buenas dias, Señora,” he said. She smiled and returned the pleasantry. He looked different out of his waiter uniform, she thought. Younger, wearing khaki shorts and sneakers.

On the road he explained that he wanted to take her to a lesser known ruin called Ek Balam. It was ninety minutes from the hotel, so they could stop on the way for juice and something to eat if she got hungry. The ruins were less commercial and had many fewer visitors, but promised a true Mayan experience predating many of the other ruins. At the heights of its history, Ek Balam was most active somewhere around 750 AD, but much of it was even older still.

“Then, Señora, I thought you would like to take a dip in a cenote close by. How does that sound?” Oswaldo was formal with Lena, and she wondered if a private tour had been a good idea. The warm, friendly manner he had the night before when Rogelio introduced her, was replaced with nerves that she felt as well.

“That sounds fine, my friend,” she said, “and please, call me Lena.”
“Sure, Lena. Gracias.” Oswaldo smiled at her before returning his gaze to the road ahead.

Over time, they began to talk. His English was quite good, and even had a hint of having lived in the States. Once he relaxed, she heard it, and it made her calmer about spending so much time together. He asked all the common polite questions…where she was from, was she enjoying her stay, how she found La Playa, to which she answered politely.

“Can I ask you a question?” Oswaldo asked, this time indicating that it was truly something he wanted to know and not the typical questions he asked everyone.
“Of course.”
“Why are you here alone? Is someone joining you?” He asked hesitantly.

Lena thought about how she could answer this question. “Maggie” would have said something indirect but true that would leave more questions unanswered, but stop him from asking more. She might have said, “My husband and I planned this trip, but he had a work commitment that came up and will be joining me later.” That would have stopped further personal questions, but it would likely have stopped communication as well. Lena thought about it, and decided that she would say exactly what was going on. She would never see him again, so what did it matter.

“Just before I left California, I found out that my husband has been seeing another woman, a younger woman, whom he intends to be with now. We were supposed to come on this trip together, but instead of canceling, I left without him.”
Oswaldo sighed, looking at her. “I’m sorry, Lena.”
“It’s okay, really. Neither of us were happy for a long time.” she replied.
“You know, men are crazy.” Oswaldo commented. They both nodded and laughed. “I mean, what does he expect to find with another woman? I mean, and I hope you don’t mind me saying it, but you are a keeper.” As he said, this, he blushed and she saw he had embarrassed himself with the last remark, and wasn’t sure he should have said it.

“Well,” she started, “if I was a keeper, I think he would have figured that out after thirty years. It would be easy to make it all his fault, but over the last few days, here in Mexico, I have wondered what I could have done to keep us from growing apart.” She said this, remembering the dream from the night before, and she knew her face hinted at sadness that she didn’t want to be the context of this trip.

On cue, Oswaldo seemed to read her mind when he said, “Okay, let’s not worry about the past today. The past is the past. Today, we go to see some beautiful things, Lena.” She nodded and smiled.

On the long drive she learned about Oswaldo and his family. He was born and raised in Guadalajara, had traveled as a child in the States, helping his father with his business. He had lived in Fresno, Oceanside, and even for a short time in Nashville. When he returned to his home, he married, and together he and his wife had three children.

They talked about his wife’s cooking, how he had two grandchildren already from his oldest son, and why he and his wife had chosen to stay in La Playa. “It’s beautiful here. The people. Late at night, sometimes when I can’t sleep, I tell my wife, let’s walk to Quinta for a drink. We walk home along the ocean. I make enough money to be comfortable, and we are happy.” Oswaldo explained.

He wanted to know about her life, where she grew up. She started talking about Tecate, having been a young girl there. Her father’s business as a real estate developer, and the car accident that made returning to Mexico less important to her as a young adult. She talked about her children and her life in Irvine.

“It’s actually a life that no longer exists.” She said, realizing it was true for perhaps the first time.
“What do you mean?”
“When I return, I have to start thinking about a divorce, selling the house, and what I will do from now on.”
“It’s a little exciting, no?” Oswaldo asked.
“In some ways, it is. I get to decide what the rest of my life will look like.”
“Do you think you’ll re-marry?”
“I really don’t know.” Again, a thought that hadn’t really occurred to her. Would she ever feel love again? It was something she couldn’t quite feel just yet.

Once at Ek Balam, they met a Mayan tour guide, Aurelio. He was true Mayan, small, with smooth skin, and he spoke English with a different accent—almost African sounding. He took them through each of the buildings, described the history, the spiritual aspect of the Mayan culture. She noticed stray dogs sleeping all around the ruins. They were black mostly, and skinny. She thought they looked like hyenas. “Mexican Jaguars,” Oswaldo joked when he saw her watching them.

She hiked up the largest building which had served as a palace to Mayan royalty. Midway up, they stopped so she could see the detailed hieroglyphs. Lena gasped at the similarity to the Egyptian inscriptions she had seen in photos. The view from the top was magnificent, and she looked at Oswaldo who saw the ruins through her eyes—something he had explained on the way there as a wonderful experience when tourists truly embraced what they were seeing. Suddenly, her eyes welled up with tears and Oswaldo put his arm around her and kissed her forehead, “I know.” He said, without saying another word.

Walking down, Oswaldo held her right hand, and Aurelio held her left, saying, “Today, you are the queen.”

Lena smiled and said, “And you are my two strong hombres,” to which they both laughed in agreement.

The drive to the cenote took less than fifteen minutes. The buildings around the cave were modern and designed for tourists. Oswaldo told her he would watch from above the cenote, and told her to change in the women’s dressing room.  She put on a black one-piece suit, and all her things in a locker. Oswaldo sent her down the stairs to the water, and she looked back at him standing there watching her. She felt like a little girl he had taken under his wing. Safe, somehow, as she turned and made her way through the winding stairs to the wooden deck floating at the water’s edge. There were other tourists, but only a few in the water.

The cave was dark except for where the sun shown through a big hole in the ceiling, shedding light on the sapphire blue water. She couldn’t remember the last time she dove into a pool of water. She stood at the edge, her toes curling over the wooden slats. Without hesitation, she went head first into the water that was surprisingly cold and sweet. She expected salt water, but the crisp sweetness was even better than she would have guessed. She swam under the water, opening her eyes to see an assortment of fish all around. Paddling further out, she lay back and floated, looking at the opening in the ceiling, and seeing birds flying overhead.

In all her years of marriage and being a mother, she didn’t participate in these kinds of experiences. She would plan. She would pack. She would make sure everyone had every possible need met for such an excursion, but she would have been waiting at the top of the cave for her children and husband to return. She would have wrapped Beatrice and Clinton in towels, heard about the wonders of their experiences, but only known what it was like from what they had to say.

This, was solely Lena’s experience. She loved the feeling of the cold water all around her. She breathed deeply, letting her legs relax and the gentle water take her where it would. After a while, it was time for the next group of swimmers to come in, and she lifted herself up onto the dock and walked up the stairs to where Oswaldo met her with her towel.

“How was it?” he asked smiling at her.
“It was beautiful, my friend.”

That night she ate alone at a small restaurant on Avenida Quinta. She noticed couples all around, and for the first time since she landed, she was lonely. She fought back tears between sips of the chilled red wine the waiter had brought to her, and once back in her room she crawled under the covers and drifted off to a solitary sleep.

She Dreams

NOTE: This is a short novella I’m writing on my 10-day vacation to Mexico, so if you are reading it for the first time, start with “She Flies” and scroll up from there. Enjoy!

Lena woke up at 2 a.m., tears rolling onto her pillow and out of breath. Even with her eyes wide open, she could feel the deep pangs of sorrow that she felt in the dream. For a second she forgot where she was, and she reached for Ned on the other side of the bed. She had dreamed about him. Not the Ned of the last decade, but the young man she met in college. The one she was madly in love with.

In the dream he looked as he had in his early twenties. He was tanned and not yet burdened by being the corporate executive he had morphed into over the years, and even become in his personal life—especially his marriage. In the dream she was standing at the bottom of the stairs in their two-story home in Irvine. Ned was standing halfway down the stairs, and he was sobbing. In his hands he held framed photos that Lena had hung when they first moved into the house. There were pictures of the two of them, the children when they were little, family vacations. But all the glass was broken in all the frames, and shards of glass were all around Ned, dropped all the way to the bottom of the stairs where Lena stood, looking up at Ned. The way he looked at her, into her really, took her by surprise. His eyes were pleading for her to do something, to understand. In the dream she realized that her face was wet, not with her own tears, but with Ned’s tears that had somehow reached Lena’s face, warm and salty and sad.

Waking from the dream she realized that it had been years since Ned looked into her eyes that way. It wasn’t that he didn’t make eye contact. It was more that when he did it was like he was talking to a stranger or someone who worked for him. She wondered if, when he talked to this new woman in his life, he looked at her the way he used to look back then. She got out of bed, threw the white gauze dress on and opened the French doors that led to her patio. The wind blew in from the ocean, and Lena stood looking at the sea, taking deep breaths to cleanse the sadness of the dream.

She remembered before Beatrice was born when she and Ned waited in a hospital room between contractions. He was so different then. He held both her hands and leaned close, his head resting on her stomach from time to time. Then after their daughter was born and she held her in her arms, she watched Net looked from her to their daughter, and she knew they had created a bond that would never be broken. She had let go of her parents, her cousins, her culture, and everything she was before coming to this country, and it was just fine at that moment…worth every minute.

So how was it that they had drifted so far apart, she wondered? Was there something she could have done to keep them close? Was she no longer attractive to him? She tried to recall when they had stopped laughing together. Surely laughter could have brought them back together. She remembered a day last summer when she heard Ned laughing in the family room, watching some silly movie. She had walked in, looking at the screen, trying to join in whatever it was he found funny. She had smiled at the characters, looking to be with her husband where he was at that moment. Ned had looked over at her, shrugged and said under his breath almost embarrassed that she had seen him laughing at the movie, “Crazy” as, remote in hand, he had changed the channel to some sporting event.

She shook her head. What did it matter now? It was done. He had moved on, and so had she. She thought of calling him. Asking him why. But it was useless. She remembered Ute saying to her in her raspy German voice, that now was the time to start singing, “Es wird ja alles wieder gut, nur ein kleines bißchen Mut,” which translated as, it’s all okay, just have a bit of courage. That was all she had now, and not all the time. That, and the understanding that try as she may, she couldn’t go back from here. What was done, was done, she thought as she drifted back to sleep to the sound of the wind and the ocean in the distance.