EVERYTHING CHANGES

oznorYes… disaster hits and everything changes. The flood has changed Salies. The hoarders have been forced to throw out all they have hoarded over the years, the car owner who was saving up to buy a new one but has put it off because the old one still worked, must now go and choose what make and color he/she wants. The coffee group that met at Rose’s Café where I went every morning has dispersed some going to the Casino and others to the La Pause Gourmand in town (the only two functioning of six cafés); my friend Isabel has stopped coming to coffee altogether. Three places to eat of the fifteen there were before are doing good business. People mill around the center of town and once a week the Mayor offers music and things to eat and drink around the Hotel de Ville. Some restaurant owners have been obliged to take that long needed vacation and don’t hope to see business-as-usual at least until September. Only one of the five bakeries has remained open. Of the six hairdressers only one is open and can’t handle the load. Unfortunately for Salomé her beauty salon (the Toutou.net) oznoropened last week and she has had her summer coif. The banks are closed and for cash one has to go to the only supermarket open on the outskirts of town (my usual market around the corner shows no sign of opening soon) or to the next town. The one café open in town has gotten a temporary license to sell liquor because the two bars will be closed for another six months, so it has now turned into an all-service stop offering coffee, ice-cream, beer and wine, a daily menu consisting usually of a quiche-Lorraine or a Croc Monsieur and salad, the daily news (both newsstands are closed) and a place to leave and pick up your dry cleaning. It is where the book-club meets and where the English-French language exchange convenes twice a week. The two Bio shops –one fresh produce sdrand the other dried goods- have been wiped out and who knows it they will reopen. The Tourist Office is closed as is the auditorium and the large gallery where Salies hangs its expositions during the various art festivals of the year.

The help that has poured in has been unbelievable (C-Discount, an Amazon-like internet store, donated an extraordinary amount of refrigerators, freezers, micro-wave ovens, washing-machines, and toaster-ovens, along with mattresses and chairs); people have given so much clothing that they have now stopped receiving donations. Those who were not affected dragged everything usable out of their storage rooms and offered it to the victims, and helping hands came from all over the region to join in with the cleaning, washing and gutting of the affected houses and shops. Most of the immediate work has been done now and people wait for insurance companies to come and settle, hoping they’ll get enough to replenish their losses and fearing that they will get next to nothing. Someone was told by her company cofthat they would not replace any of the kitchen ware lost because it was insured against breakage but not against flooding. When she asked what she could do, they said that she should plug everything in and hope it stopped working in a few months and then the insurance would cover it. Absurd but true: ‘Fine print syndrome’. And after the insurance comes the wait for the overburdened plaster, paint and carpentry companies to show up at each person’s house or shop. The estimate for everything to be fixed is over a year.

cofAs for myself, it is the second time in less than 12 months that the Universe has seen fit to plop the past in my lap. First it was my ex-husband’s letters and mementos which I wrote about some time ago. Now the flood has dredged up my journaling notebooks, jottings from all the years of my transition from my first life to my second: 1991-2010. They were in the storeroom in the basement, in a cardboard box, and there they would have stayed, abandoned and mostly forgotten had it not been that the storeroom flooded. A quarter of the notebooks were wet, so I pulled out the dry ones and contemplated throwing the whole smelly mess out. But as with the letters, I didn’t. I hung the wet davnotebooks on the contraption I use for drying clothes when I can’t hang them outside and daily went through the arduous chore of unsticking page after page so they could dry and be read. Through this salvaging the past has surfaced and now all the notebooks are in a dry market bag in my apartment. As with the letters, when I get back from my trip with my granddaughter I plan to re-read them and, as with the letters, I am sure they will inspire me to continue writing my life.

cof

 

GRATITUDE IS LOVE MADE GENTLE THROUGH UNDERSTANDING

cofIn my last post I mentioned the letters… (the package of letters and memorabilia that my husband had kept and which, through the kindness of his second wife and my children, reached my hands last Xmas). Well there was much more than letters. I could hardly believe finding the menu of the dinner served at the dance where Fernando was my blind date with my then phone number written on the back along with the name B R I A N D A in capital letters!!! He kept it all those years. I didn’t know, I knew nothing of this secret cache, nothing until my kids put it into my hands. To say the least: it has been one hell of a belated Christmas gift.cof

Before we were married and while I was still studying Social Work at a school near his house, Fernando used to leave small messages for me on the windscreen of my blue jeep (yes, I had a baby blue jeep that I bombed around Mexico City in, a gift from my father who figured that in an accident, the jeep would come out on top, and the day I had one, it did[1]). Little mementos… I can’t believe he kept them. Even today I can watch the movie of me leaving the building where I studied and seeing –across the street- the small cofslip of paper under the windshield wiper, and running over to find the day’s missive. A smile comes to my face and tears to my eyes… so long ago and we were so young!

Another unexpected discovery was that not only did he keep all my letters to him, but also all his letters to me, each one numbered so they can be read in succession. I have no idea when he scooped them up and stashed them away, or where for that matter. Mine are mostly typewritten (I carted my little Baby Hermes around everywhere) and his are in that clear, even script so undoctor-like that was characteristic of him.cof

First there is the series of letters back and forth from Mexico City to Acapulco that first Xmas after meeting each other. They go from the 24th of December 1961 to the first of January 1962 , and what should I discover but that he had made original drafts of these letters which he then corrected and copied onto letter paper. He kept both (which goes to show how difficult it was for him to throw anything out) so that the draft of the first letter –which had gotten lost in the mail and I never received- is there and now I can read them all complete (even twice if I want to find out what he crossed off in the drafts).

untitledCarefully folded and lost amongst the envelopes is a slip of paper with a note that he sent with 3 dozen red roses and one white one the 14th of February 1962. On the 10th of that month we had broken up after a dinner at his sister-in-law’s house where she introduced me as his “girlfriend or novia[2] ; I was 19 years old, very confused and unsure of my feelings for him (or my feelings about anything, for that matter) and he was getting serious. I remember saying that I couldn’t imagine him as the father of my children (as if I could even imagine having children at that point) and that I wanted to just be friends. He said we couldn’t be friends because he was in love with me, so we broke it off. The note with the roses said: With a thousand and one reasons and at the same time with none, I beg you receive this bouquet. Fernando. By thatcof time, I had been crying for three days since our separation so, of course, I called him immediately and suggested we give it another try. A little over 5 months later, the 31st of July, he came with his parents to ask for my hand in marriage; I found amongst his papers a note I wrote him that night to accompany the crucifix I gave him[3] to mark the event. The following day I turned 20 and, although I had managed to finally leave my tormented teens, I was none the wiser.

At the end of the month of October, 1962, I went to New York with my mother to buy my wedding dress and there was another volley of letters back and forth, this time between Mexico and New York. Mushy, icky sweet, full of I love you’s and I miss you’s and I can’t wait to see you’s and I’ll be yours forever’s; mine always trying to be a bit humorous, his never… If anything, they are boring and certainly of no interest to anyone, not even to me anymore. My first one, written on Eastern Airlines note paper, starts: Darling, I have only been in the air 15 minutes and already I miss you…” and anyone can take it from there.

fDO     BRI

The papers and mementos continued: wedding invitation, menu served, newspaper announcements and religious wedding certificate. Amidst all this official stuff, a letter written to me by my grandmother that perhaps he kept because she says how handsome she finds him. Later, two more letters from my grandmother show up, a letter from my half-brother, Manolo, and a poem written to me by my father on my 23rd birthday. After our marriage, missives map our moves, to Hermosillo, Sonora and then back to Mexico City; up to Framingham, Massachusetts where an innumerable pile of letters from his father urging him to come back to Mexico reminds me how desperately I wanted to stay in the USA and how I resented my father-in-law’s pull over my husband. We did go back however, some five months after arriving and with our three month old little boy.

cofIn September of 1966, I went up to Larchmont, New York to bring my grandmother back to Mexico to live with us. She wanted to buy us a house and move in with us. There were letters every single day of the 15 I spent in the US, one of his and one of mine, all duly numbered by him and kept in their envelopes. They tell of a falling out between my parents and my husband; it was not the first and it would not be the last but, in the end, love would always retake its course and things would be fixed. My grandmother’s stay in Mexico lasted little over a year. My daughter was born while we were in the house she had bought, supposedly for us, but shortly after I had given birth there was a fight over something so simple as to be absurd and my grandmother stormed out, went to my mother’s and put the house up for sale. It was a painful end to what I had believed to be a dream come true but, as everything, in the long run it was for the best. My grandmother returned to New York and it was several years before I could forgive her. Today it is easy for me to see how that fight had nothing to do with us, how she was sorry for her decision to come to Mexico and didn’t know how to get out of what she had promised.

Mixed in amongst our correspondence, there were personal letters to me from friends of mine, both in the USA and in Mexico, and from a Spanish cousin now long deceased who at the time was studying to be a Jesuit priest and was doing summersaults of joy over my becoming a Catholic (he never became a priest and I left all religion behind two years later). There are many notes and letters from our son, Peter, to his father, to me and to both of us. There is a letter of ours to him that, I know not how, ended up amongst the others. And there is the letter from my son to me that I most treasure, where he thanks me for the work we did together on his dyslexia for months and months when he was in 3rd grade, because he could read all the wonderful books he was discovering in College at that time.

Image (3)Amongst the notes and envelopes, a handful of photos recall the past visually: There’s me on the terrace of our weekend house in Valle de Bravo (Mexico); me with Peter newly born in Framingham,Image (2) Mass. and a snapshot that I gave Fernando when we first started dating so he could keep it in his wallet.

And then, at the end, after all the letters and notes and mementos that covered the better part of our marriage, there were three very personal documents. The first was a long, hand-written diatribe that I had sent to Fernando, basically claiming that neither I nor my children were getting the attention we needed and deserved; that he didn’t see or understand me and that every time I attempted to tell him what I wanted or needed, I found myself accused of trying to run his life and of being demanding and controlling. There is no date on it; I have no idea if it was before, after or during my psychoanalysis, but it very definitely predated the onset of our drinking together every night which led to our final alcoholism and breakup, as the drinking together every night was what I –at least- mistakenly saw as the way to get the attention and love I craved.

The other two were written by Fernando and both are about Love; in the first (and neither has a date so I can’t really know it is the first, but I intuit it) he waxes melancholic about his incapacity to love and gives himself all sorts of philosophical and poetic advice. It was the second one, however, that touched my heart to the very core. In it he begins by saying he wants me to love him because he loves me, but then he asks: “but do I really love her?” What follows is an analysis of what he considers might be his Imagefailings in our relationship and, then, Oh surprise of surprises: upon reading the next ten lines I felt for the first time that he actually saw me, saw me as I was, my longings and frustrations, my aspirations and needs, my despair in believing I had to be someone other than who I was in order to be worthy of his love. This simple but profound feeling of being seen as I was, brought a wave of love upon me.

At that moment, my heart filled with gratitude to that beautiful man who had married a woman the opposite of his self-denying mother and then demanded she turn into a self-denying wife, but who had been capable –god knows at what moment- to see this even if only briefly and admit it, even if only to himself… and then to truly see me as I was and wanted to be. What a gift!

After we were divorced, one of the things I did during my recovery (physical, emotional and mental) was to write him a letter begging his forgiveness for all the times I must have hurt him and thanking him for everything I had received from him. I remember thinking that I would have liked to receive the same from him and realizing, at that time, that he if he could have he probably would have written something similar. This small handwritten document is that letter even though it was not meant for my eyes… or perhaps it was, for it is to them it has finally arrived so many years later. Gratitude is love made gentle through true understanding.

1983 Sept DUMAC (Catira)19042014 (3)                    Snapshot_20110111_1

Thank you, my Love.

 

 

 

 

[1] It was at a cross-section in Mexico City: a car shot out of the street to my left and I hit its front fender head on. Nothing happened to the jeep, but the fender was ripped open as if by a giant iron can opener.

[2] In Spanish, novia which means ‘girlfriend’ is a term that in Mexico at the time applied to a serious relationship that was headed towards marriage.

[3] On March 26th of that year I had become Catholic and between then and when we married we had juggled pre-marital sex and confession, and that is stuff of another post.

MY SOUL DOG

Someone asked me the other day about my chocolate Labrador retriever. Her name was Catira, a term applied to blond women in Venezuela, I believe. But to me she is my Soul Dog. In this case, circumstances are important because every thing about her adds meaning to the way she influenced and –as far as I am concerned- saved my life. This makes telling complicated but I will try. Continue reading