New Year’s Eve, 1995 (Cut from an untitled work-in-progress)

 

(Cut from an untitled work-in-progress)

… In Los Rios, decent women don’t drink.

Yesenia drank beer in cantinas, and Eugenia told me she wasn’t decent. Norma told me she wasn’t decent. They cautioned me against drinking beer with Yesenia, but I never saw Yesenia do anything that didn’t seem normal enough. She would walk into a bar, order a beer and a small plate called a “boca,” and talk to the other people there. It wasn’t her fault they were always men. I never saw her do anything that seemed remotely indecent other than just simply be there against the rules.

Rumor had it that Yesenia’s daughter Iris was Enrique’s. This didn’t bother me in the least—at first because I didn’t know who Enrique was, and later because why should I be upset about a child conceived before I knew either parent? I couldn’t see the logic. Yesenia said the rumor wasn’t true but her denial was unconvincing. Either way, I didn’t care. I liked sitting in the bars with Yesenia once in a while, drinking beer until the room spun. Men bought us beer and told us we were beautiful. We smiled and drank and when we were tired, we went home. Yesenia could drink a lot more beer than I could. I was always the one to get beer-logged and heavy-eyed after a few hours. Everyone frowned on my friendship with this indecent woman, but I didn’t care. If she in any way deserved that reputation, she never demonstrated it while I was around.

I was with Yesenia the first night I danced with Enrique.  She asked me if I wanted to go to the New Year’s dance in Santa Barbara. I was dying to go. My other choice was to stay home with Norma and either watch TV or go to church—the two things she did in her free time. I put on my bright-colored new dress, my new terribly uncomfortable shoes, put some money in my bag, and split. I felt beautiful.

Yesenia and I sat on high wooden stools in the cantina across from the dance hall and drank the beers a fat guy named Orlando was buying for us. I wished we could buy our own beer because I wanted Orlando to go away and I knew as long as we were drinking the beer he was buying, he wouldn’t. I was hoping Enrique might come to Santa Barbara, and if he did, I didn’t want to be stuck owing another guy attention for having bought a bunch of beer. I wanted to drink with Enrique, and I wanted him to ask me to dance. I didn’t care whether Yesenia’s 7-year-old daughter was secretly their love child or not. I didn’t care whether or not he had a grumpy wife he fought with, and kids. I didn’t want to marry him.  I didn’t want to become his secret lover.  But if he showed up at the same dance as us on New Year’s Eve, I hoped he would reach for my hand at least once.

And then Enrique and Randy rode up on their bicycles and walked into the cantina where we were sitting.  They tried to act cool, but they both smiled widely when they saw Yesenia and me, and bought us each a beer even though out beers were full.

Orlando quickly figured out he wasn’t needed anymore and he went to drink at another bar. Enrique and Randy pulled up the last bar stools and sat down. …

Excerpt from Chapter 3: MARRY A MENNONITE BOY AND MAKE PIE, 3 Weeks to Release Date!

This is a partial excerpt, set in Costa Rica, from the title segment of Chapter 3, called “Chino’s Moon”…

If I were the child of my host parents, the man called Chino would be my uncle. All day he sits outside his little store where the men and children congregate, selling soda pop, single cigarettes and mint candies. He laboriously reads the sports and human interest stories in the newspaper he pays for every day from his till. At night he sleeps on a fold-up cot in the back of the store to discourage thieves and ambitious coons from helping themselves to his wares.

He has an impish grin on his face when he says to me, “Quiero hacerle una pregunta.”

“Okay,” I agree.

“¿Usted cree que un hombre fue a la luna?”

“¿Cómo?”

He repeats the question, asking if I believe that a real man went to the moon, and then adds, “Un americano.”

“Sí,” I say, perplexed, thinking, doesn’t everybody know that?

Then Chino does something I have not imagined. He throws back his head and laughs a deep belly laugh, not of mockery, but of genuine mirth, as if I have performed an amusing and clever trick. It’s one of those contagious laughs that makes you giggle even when you don’t know what’s funny.

“¿Usted no lo cree?” I ask. I have never heard of anyone who flatly disbelieves what we all know to be true.

“No, no, no,” Chino shakes his head. “Yo, no.”

“¿No?” I ask, a burst of laughter escaping me, too.

“¿Cómo puede ir un hombre a la luna?” he asks, looking at me as if I have told him I am certain elephants can fly.

But didn’t you see the pictures? I start to say. Then I stop. But they showed it on TV, flashes through my mind. Sweet Lord. Listen to me. These are the stupidest reasons on earth to believe anything…

A live link on Amazon.com on September 17 will bring this book to you.  For residents of Tamarindo, Costa Rica, a book signing (date to be announced when books arrive) will be held shortly after at Bookstore of the Waves.

 

MARRY A MENNONITE BOY AND MAKE PIE: The Costa Rica Scenes

I haven’t actually been straight with you yet about Marry a Mennonite Boy and Make Pie. As usual, I don’t throw all my cards on the table at once.

So, the story is that the book isn’t only about somewhat-silly/somewhat-naughty Mennonite girls learning about the joys of cheap wine and no curfew. The book is also about what happened to me the first time I came to Costa Rica—how I fell so completely in love with something I was supposed to find curious and interesting. How I fell in love with someone I was supposed to walk away from and forget.

Yeah. I don’t talk about it much. But the book is coming in mid-September, so I’m about to.

Throughout the book, interspersed with the vignettes about that unforgettable summer in that precious and miserable apartment, are snapshots of moments in Costa Rica. I named the town they took place in “Los Rios.” The scenes from Los Rios are placed there to show you what I saw, play the sounds for you, create a moment of the feeling of complete immersion in a different world. The Los Rios segments are spoken in a different voice than the rest of the story. They might almost be considered prose poems, and are told from a more distant, omniscient point of view than the main story of girls in the summer figuring out to survive.

Today I am sharing the first Los Rios scene with you. It’s a picture of a kitchen unlike any kitchen I had ever imagined on any day of my life previous to the day I walked into it. My intent is to convey a sense of stunned admiration and wonder at its essential simplicity, and therefore, its beauty.

On the kitchen in the house in Los Rios, from Marry a Mennonite Boy and Make Pie

There is no refrigerator in the kitchen. Nothing here requires electricity except the bulb. The kitchen is not even a room in the house; it is a wooden addition with a brushed earth floor connected to the back of the house made of cinderblock. It is neat as a pin. It is virtually empty.

Beside the back door is a woodstove. Is that what I will call it? It does not have a name in my language. They call it the oven but it isn’t that either. On top of a roughhewn wooden base, two open-ended clay ovals are placed, and, inside of them, sticks smolder. There is no stovepipe. Thin white smoke escapes through the spaces that are purposefully left between the boards that form the walls, the space below the roof.

The kitchen sink is a sectioned cement tub. It is set through the wall so that the drain runs into the scorched yard where chickens dash around clucking. Cool water comes from a faucet with a round metal knob like the one outside the farmhouse where my mother hooked up the garden hose on dry August evenings. The sink is also the washer, where every morning Hilda who asks me to call her “Mamá” scrubs the clothes of the day before into spotless submission and drapes them over the barbed wire fence at the back of the yard to dry.

In the shallow section of the sink sets a clay pot, its opening covered by a lid. Inside the pot, the half shell of a round nut called a jiícaro floats on water. When we are thirsty, we reach into the pot, scoop water into the jiícaro and lift it to our lips, cool water running down our chins in the smoke-blackened kitchen. Curling mango leaves skitter and sun stripes slip across the floor.

In this kitchen, more than anywhere else, I am a foreigner. Here, I not only have no words, I am helpless. I do not know how to wash my own clothes. I cannot fry an egg. We do not have cereal or apples or bread. We have rice, beans, tortillas made of corn that my papá, called Tito, grinds. We have canned tuna, sometimes a tomato, a strange sweet custard made of purple corn, stewed chicken for a birthday. When Diego who says he is my brother goes fishing and brings home little bagre, mamá Hilda fries them in boiling vegetable lard, eyeballs and all, and we devour them down to the brains in their heads, driven by a need for nutrients for which we have no names.

Marry a Mennonite Boy and Make Pie will be available from Amazon.com on September 17, 2018.

My Window

You all so kindly and generously held onto me through the last unbelievable months.  It seems right to me that I should tell you what comes next, what comes now.   I don’t have a lot of eloquent words, but I can pull back the curtain and let you look out my window.

You wonder how I am.

What can I say? Alright, I think, all things considered. Glad to be back in Costa Rica. Glad to be “home.” I put the quotation marks around the word, because nowhere without Pio feels like home. But Costa Rica is my home and I am glad I am here. I’m better, here, than anywhere else.

I got of the plane from Italy about 2 ½ weeks ago. I moved into a lovely house with lots of pretty wood, an extra bedroom, a huge porch, and my cats. Those things are all good. I got my washer hooked up yesterday, so that took things up a notch. I have a hammock on my porch. My bike works and my legs are catching up to the job of pedaling.

This is the beginning of my second week of work. Work is good. It’s weird, because I hear the truck Pio drove pull up to the office 100 times a day, and it’s never him. Maybe, eventually, I’ll get used to it and stop looking up every time I hear it. His workshop is dark and quiet. Exactly what he feared most. He was so proud of that workshop. I’m doing some accounting clean-up right now, not trying to run the maintenance department anymore. I didn’t love being in charge of maintenance before, and I have no interest at all in doing it without Pio. I’d rather play matching games with numbers. I’d rather sell coconuts on the beach.

You wonder what you should say if you see me.

Don’t worry about it. “Hi, how are you?” works. What are you supposed to say? Unless you say something like “Good riddance,” or “You were never a very good wife anyway,” you are not going to say the wrong thing. And no, I am probably not going to come unglued and bawl all over you if you hug me and tell me how sorry you are. I’ve only done that twice: once with my parents, and once with the closest thing I will ever have to children. So if you’re not my mom and you’ve never called me “mom,” you’re fine.

No, I don’t dread running into you or anyone else. If I didn’t want to see people I know, I wouldn’t have come back to Tamarindo. I would have gone to another province or another country. The only people I actually don’t want to see are the ones that didn’t like Pio–and as you can imagine, it’s slim company.  So, again—you’re fine.

Talking about Pio and receiving the pictures you have of him does not upset me. They make me smile and laugh. They’re like little visits.

But don’t

Don’t talk about “starting over” or “getting on” with life.” Ok? Those are the wrong words. I realize they are the ONLY words our language has for this, but they are the WRONG ones. Don’t say them. I know what my job is now even if I don’t have the right way to say it. I won’t be mad at you if it pops out, I’ll just feel a little sadder and a little more lost.

And don’t say “Everything happens for a reason.” It sounds mean. I’m not telling you what to believe, I’m telling you what not to say. I am at peace with as much of that concept as humanly possible, but I was never a fan of that snooty saying before, and I’m sure not about to convert now. I’m good with, “Everything happens.” Put the period right there. Less is more.

Ashes

Yes, I have them in the house with me.
No, that is not weird.
Yes, I intend to put them in the ocean as Pio always asked me to, but not yet.
No, I don’t know when.
Yes, I tried to open the box.
No, I couldn’t.
Yes, it is sealed.
No, I am probably not going to hold some kind of event where I invite other people when I take his ashes to the ocean.
No, not even you.
Oh, that’s selfish? Ok.
Yes, I will tell you about it afterward.

 

I sleep really well. I’m tired. Everything takes twice the effort. I don’t mean to complain—I’m trying to explain why I sleep like a log when you’d think I should be tossing and turning. Also, it’s warm, and I sleep much better when I’m warm than when I’m cold. I sleep better when I can hear what time it is by listening through my window.  If you live in Guanacaste, you know what I mean: tree frogs and crickets, owls, roosters, monkeys, dawn.

Tamarindo Bay is like a lake right now, but when we get some waves, I’m ready to go surfing.  And then I will be better than I am.  The ocean is big enough for everything.

Tree Poem Week– #1: El Mango

If you’re not familiar with the trees of the tropical dry forest, let me introduce you to some of my friends.

Company of Mangos

I cannot live one more day without
the company of mango trees.
How am I supposed to breathe
without their green certainty
exhaled into the world?
There is no other way
to survive.
Who else will hear my prayers and
whisper them to heaven?
Their roots pushing down
show me where to
put my feet.
Their parakeets remind me when to
stop sleeping.

An Inch Too Far To The Left

I wanted to lie in my hammock and look at the moon. It was shining onto the porch through the trees, so if I lie with my head at the feet end, and my feet at the head end, I would be able to watch it rise. Up until that Wednesday night, I kept the hammock tied high and tight. It took some talent to get into, but it’s a much more comfortable position once you’re in, than half-sitting with your knees hyper-extended like what happens to me in normal hammock position.

One second, I was trying to wiggle up into the hammock with my left hip. The next second something slammed my head so hard I knew it was trying to kill me. That is literally what went through my mind: an attempt on my life.

I was lying on the floor. What? The cement floor under the hammock. On my porch. It was very hard to think about things, to understand that one second I was balancing into my hammock and the next second I hit the floor head-first on the other side. Sober, in case you’re wondering. Mortally clumsy.

It seemed clear to me that I might die. The sound I heard inside my own head as it slammed the cement echoed. I put my hand to my head and a soft, hot lump like the skull of a newborn filled my palm. If it’s swelling like this on the outside, what is happening on the inside? Am I going to die?

I called for Pio who was inside watching tv. The moment before, I kissed him and said I was going to go out onto the porch to lie in the hammock for a while. At 8 PM on a Wednesday. The night before full moon when I can’t bear to be inside. Then I was lying there trying to scream for ice.

*****

Clearly, I didn’t die. I walked around in a fog for a few days, and I still have a black eye even though the hit was nowhere near my face.

I’m writing this to tell you what came to my bruised brain as it bounced around inside my skull and decided to keep doing its job of making my body live. This: Pongase las cuentas al día. Get your accounts in order. Literally. And so-to-speak. Leave a paper trail. Say what you mean. Don’t start things you have no intention of finishing. Don’t start things you shouldn’t finish. Because any day, for any stupid slip-up, you could be gone.  Before you know what happened. All you have to do is lean in an inch too far to the left.

Pio got me ice. I don’t know who was more scared–him or me. I lie on the ground with my feet propped up while he iced them to keep me awake. It helps. Keep ice in your freezer. It might keep you conscious some night, which helps. I thought about Jon and the crocodile attack. He held on for 45 minutes or more lying on the beach while he waited for an ambulance. If he didn’t let go, I wasn’t going to. Not that there is any comparison between falling out of a hammock and being attacked by a crocodile. But I thought about it. No ambulance was going to come for me.

Pio called our neighbor who showed up with his truck, they put me in, and hauled me off the the “emergency room” in Santa Cruz, a very bouncy 30 minutes away. At the “emergency room,” they asked me what day it was, how old I am, looked in my eyes, pushed on my arms and told me I was alright. This is the type of free “medical service” available in Costa Rica. I got my first wheelchair ride. They told me if I started feeling or acting strange in the next days, to come back. I left as terrified as I’d arrived. The town I live in has lost more than one person several days after a head injury.

But I feel better now. I think it’s safe to say I made it. The day I leave this world, it will be because of something else. But you know what? I like it here. I don’t want to go anywhere. I’m staying right here if I can help it, in this yellow house with Pio and the cats, my dying computer, the wind, the dusty road and a couple of low-slung hammocks that hyper-extend my knees.

Albertina Talking to Jaguars

a poem for a girl who isn’t born yet about a woman who has passed on

Your bis bis abuela
Albertina
knew about the danger of
jaguars at the quebrada.
She remembered when the
mapmakers came to town and
tried to change its name to
something holy like
Santa Barbara down the road, or
San Lazaro further on.
She said she told them no.

Your mamá was
too little to listen to stories back
when Albertina’s mind
was clear, and then Albertina
started seeing angels.
She walked
barefoot to Santa Cruz with
comales on her head and
sold them each for one colon
to buy sugar and
coffee–
things she couldn’t grow or grind herself.
Then she walked home.

She knew the old stories
the old ways.
She had seven sons and
no husband to obey.
Me decía “mi nieta”
because she knew I belonged to her
even after she forgot my name, and
sat on the porch talking
to jaguars until
she turned one hundred.