Have you ever noticed that there are times when one is absolutely mindless? When anything done the day before… no, even ten minutes before, gets erased from the inner blackboard without leaving a trace? This usually happens in moments of stress, preoccupation or intense worry. It also happens when one is in love.
I am in such a state now. Here is how it looks. I leave my house to go to lunch after not remembering if I had made a luncheon date with a certain person or not, but after having waited a prudent time and deciding that it probably hadn’t happened for this day. I am walking up the street where I live when I notice a car parked in front of the next building which looks a lot like my car and happens to be the same color. Of course, it is my car but I haven’t the slightest notion when I left it parked there seeing as I have a parking space in the garage of the building across the way and almost never leave my car in the street unless I am planning on going out soon after coming home. But there it is, parked neatly between a black Mercedes and a silver Citroen, my metallic orange pumpkin of a Peugeot 1007 (zero-zero-seven according to a friend). When I look for a reason, I find the room of my mind empty; not a clue.
‘I’ll have to put it in the garage after having lunch’ I think, and continue on my way; it’s three o’clock, I am hungry, I see no need to move the car at that moment. But, of course, I have forgotten something else, or perhaps I should say, everything else: forgotten that Madrid has regulated parking and that in the blue zone, where I have mindlessly left my car, I am required to buy and place visibly on the dashboard, a ticket every two hours. Considering I have no idea how long my car has been there, because I have no idea WHY I left it there or when, I might expect to have a ticket, but I don’t even look. It’s as if the common reality of life in this city has completely left my field of vision, or as if I were living out of the right hemisphere of the brain only: la-la land as Jill Bolte Taylor says in A Stroke of Insight.
It is not until after having satisfied the stomach (which has been known, frequently, to outweigh the mind in importance), and upon walking back, again remembering the car, that I see from the distance one of those ever-present vigilantes that scrutinize the vehicles looking for forgetful people like myself, or purposeful infringers of the law, standing right by my car and staring at it. As I walk up, she strolls away. I look towards the windshield: the white slip that indicates the presence of a ticket is neatly pinched to the glass with the window-wiper.
The slip of paper tells me I am subject to a 60€ fine which is non-cancellable; that the fine was administered at 9:33 this very same morning and that this slip is but informative and I should wait for the corresponding official notice to pay. I put the slip in my pocket and begin walking towards my house to pick up the car key and drive the vehicle around to my proper parking place, when the mind kicks in and reminds me that, if I take the slip with me and the vigilante (buzzards, I call them) returns, she is very likely to give me another one. I replace the slip, retrieve my keys from the table in the entrance to my apartment and drive the car around to the garage where I pay by the month to park it, thinking that the ticket has now cost me half a month’s rent.
What is happening to me? Last night I was watching a movie on the DVD, someone called me on the phone and, after an hour spent talking to them, forgot I was watching a movie until it was time to go to bed and I entered the TV room to turn off the light. Alzheimer’s? Senile Dementia? Just plain old age, parts wearing out? Nothing so definite. Rather, I’m in love. That can do it! But… in love? I have to call it that because there is nothing else with which to compare the state I am in except in-love-ness.
Dreamy? From morning to night with the sensation of floating, of weightlessness. A subterranean excitement-without-reason that threatens to break lose opening wide the sternum at any moment? Every time I stop to notice. Sparkle in the eye? I can feel it accompanied by a smile that spreads across my face so spontaneously as to be mysterious. It’s as if I were waiting for the loved one to appear, to materialize, to crawl out from under my bed, to leap from the fridge, to run down the street towards me, arms open wide and yelling “I love you” at the top of his lungs at any second, but there is no “loved one”. So why is this uncontainable joy filling my being and smothering my mind?
Is this life’s gift after all I have done, and searched for, and attempted in order to be happy? To make me happy and in love for no reason whatsoever other than the fact that I am alive? Should I stop asking “why”? Should I stop searching for an explanation, a reason? And, if there is no reason, if this is just what it feels like to be alive when one finally climbs down from the dream room that the mind has created and looks directly at life, parking tickets and all? But I have to remember that alongside of my Leo nature, there is a Virgo ascending that won’t rest with “that’s the way of it”. So I question.
If I look closely at what has happened over the last couple of … what would it be? Months? Weeks? I can find where the possible shift came. It was –as all inner movements- gradual and then sudden. The beginning: when I was driving towards Salies in the middle of August and without a beck or a call, the thought of buying a place and living there entered my mind. Once the occurrence embedded on the mental screen, I found myself taking the necessary steps to see if that was possible, and ended up renting a small apartment for a year starting in December. But it wasn’t Salies and it wasn’t the thought of living there that had caused this shift, because I am absolutely aware that Salies may be a summer romance (and am going back now for ten days to test it), or I might give up the apartment after the year is over, or I might just decide not to use it at all or any of the other 1500 reasons that could stymie a pipe dream such as this. No. That was only what apparently was needed to get the process started.
The second movement came upon realizing that I had spent three years going to Salies, determined to integrate with the French natives living there and failing miserably. I had no more become a part of the community than I would have a community of field mice: my French was abominable, I only got to know store’s people who naturally were nice because I was a customer, or not because they were French, and I had actually learned so little about Salies and the béarnaise region itself other than I thought it beautiful and could now basically find my way around the adjoining towns, as to be totally ignorant of the customs and history of the béarnaise people. In other words, my mind was telling me that I should do something that I was neither equipped nor willing (apparently) to do. The realization that I was inviting failure over and over again by being pigheaded about it and shunning the other possibility which was to join the English (ex-pats) that live in Salies or visit frequently, gave me a turn of mind that completely shifted my mood from frustration to elation during my last two weeks there. It took me no more than four days to make the acquaintance of a number of delightful English or English-speaking couples and singles, and I even ended up in a passing friendship with one French lady who –after I began looking for the English- actually ‘picked me up’.
However, this too was outward circumstances, and in my experience there is NOTHING out there that can produce anything more than momentary excitement, not this internal, expanding and ever present joy that seems to be making me fall in love over and over again. Besides, once I was back in Madrid, all the doubts about my possible move took over and I found myself -to say the least- confused, confused enough as to awake one morning with a feeling so close to depression that it frightened me.
What my mind produced at that moment was this: “You’re drifting. Where are you going? What for? No children, no family, no grandchildren close by… drifting. What in the world are you doing, at your age?” The thought was anguishing, to say the least. Once more –the umpteenth time- I went over what I called “my situation”: a daughter in Mexico City, a son in Los Angeles, a brother in Pennsylvania, me in Madrid. And then the thought coalesced: I don’t belong anywhere; there’s no home, no place where I am part of something: no roots.
It was the old angst, the one that had been identified during psychoanalysis when I was 26: I had been pulled from my roots in the United States, to be more specific in New England, from my roots in my grandmother’s life, from my roots in the New Canaan Country Day School and transplanted without even so much as a ‘by-your-leave’ to Mexico City at the age of 9. But I was taken there, not to be planted in Mexico, not to be introduced to the Mexican culture and become part of it, but rather to be placed in the American School where the children of diplomats and escapees from the McCarthy Era placed their children while they waited for the chance or obligation to return to the United States. Seven years falsely living in a pseudo American Culture in the heart of Mexico, only to be then hurtled back across the border to boarding school in Massachusetts so that even my precarious ties in Mexico City were lost to me when I returned. In other words: shuttled back and forth until I belonged neither to one culture nor to the other, until I lost all real connection with my “Mother” country, and without having made any real connection with the Adopted one either. Instinct told me I was sinking so I grabbed onto what I could in order to establish some form of roots. I married a Mexican (this desire for ‘roots’ was not conscious at the time, but later I came to see how a solid Mexican family-in-law would tempt my lost cultural being with the appearance of stability and a wash of identity).
How was I to suspect that no sooner married than I would find myself more un-integrated than ever, not identifying with or being identified by my new in-laws as part of their family; finding my newlywed husband desperate to belong to my family instead. So we spent the next 30 years popping in and out of thirteen different houses or apartments and back and forth between our two different countries and our two different cultures and families without, as far as I was concerned, ever developing a definite national identity.
For the first seven years, we spoke nothing but English at home, subscribed to the English language Newspaper and I began writing in English. We moved to Hermosillo, Sonora in the North of Mexico, back to Mexico City, up to Massachusetts, back to Mexico City where we lived first in the center, then in the south, back to the center and finally in the north of the enormous metropolis. I became a Catholic, gave it up, became a mother (twice), entered psychoanalysis, studied a career at the National University (while raising –that’s what we called it- two children), changed my official language from English to Spanish, began writing, had several breakdowns, married off my kids, divorced, fell in love again and finally moved to Spain (the Father country) and still didn’t feel that I belonged anywhere. No roots, and I was about to turn 60.
As I lay that morning in bed reviewing this life-journey, I saw clearly for the first time, perhaps, that my whole life had been a struggle to belong, a struggle to feel or make myself part of somewhere, to integrate into a bigger whole. Even my conversion to (and later disillusionment with) Catholicism had been born of a desire to be the same as my surroundings, as others, like the girls I went to school with, like the nuns who ran the school. And later, my going to the University and beginning to write and publish in Spanish (instead of in English as I had started out doing) had been born of a desire to be recognized as part of the literary milieu of Mexico, the intellectual community. I was a Mexican writer, I appeared in the Dictionary of Mexican Writers, but it was a lie. I was not Mexican, my editors had to correct my syntaxes even after I had received my university degree and when I gave conferences, I was invariably asked if I was American because someone or other had detected a slight accent that gave away the original terrain from where I had been torn at such a young age. I didn’t belong. I wasn’t Mexican, I wasn’t American, and when I moved to Spain and tried to find my roots here clinging to a friendship with a cousin from my Father’s side of the family, I soon discovered that the story was the same. I was no one from nowhere, the foreigner, an interloper whose American mother had beguiled the young Spaniard away from his real marriage; I might be interesting, I might be a curiosity, I might be exotic, but I was not integrated.
All this ran through my mind that morning, all this and the new step which seemed to be leading me to Salies and the struggle to integrate, meeting the French and the English that lived there. And if someone wonders why Salies, apart from the fact that it is one of many beautiful French towns, there is the strangeness of my last name, ending in that odd “cq” that comes from it having its roots in the béarnaise region of France where every other last name or town’s name ends in “cq”. There is the war monument honoring the dead between 1914 and 1918 where three Domecqs (Pierre, Clement and Félix) are remembered. So Salies, too, is a choice that fits perfectly into the puzzle of my life, into that restless and fruitless search for roots.
Suddenly the realization was as solid as the mattress under my back: I DIDN’T BELONG, not here, not there, not anywhere: United States, Mexico, Spain, France … there was nowhere to go that could change this. NOWHERE.
And then I understood: this is my reality and I am free. I am obligated to be free, that is my purpose, that is my destiny, that is the role I am to play: forever an observer, a part but outside of each of those cultures, belonging neither to one nor the others. It didn’t matter what I did or where I went or whom I related to or didn’t relate to or what language I spoke or used to write with, or with what accent I spoke it in, or what books I had read or hadn’t read or how much history I knew or ignored … I was the wind, ubiquitous, ever flowing, ever moving, no borders, no language, no culture, nothing to stop me. I WAS FREE.
It was then the love started, and the joy and the gratitude. I understood, I stopped fighting. Other people belong, other people can “go home” after living for a while in another country. I don’t go home: I go ahead, to the next, or to wherever my fancy takes me, wherever life takes me. And I am free to be happy or not, in each one of these places. All I can know definitely is that in one of those places, sooner or later, I will go home forever.
So I forget where I leave my car, and I forget that I must pay parking fees apparently because sometimes I forget who I am supposed to be or where I am supposed to be; and I forget that I have made a date to have lunch with my friend or that I have not made that date, I might even eventually forget my name or where I live, and it doesn’t matter any more to me than it matters to the wind or the sun or the clouds that are the same here as in Salies as in Mexico as in Massachusetts or in China.
Yes, I am in love, mindlessly in love with life, mindless…