Wondering In Costa Rica: How Close Am I To Barbara Struncova?

Now that I’m back in Tamarindo Costa Rica, every day I bump into someone I haven’t seen for years. Part of me still half-expects to bump into Bill Ulmer and Barbara Struncova—they were here when I left. I should find her walking along with the dog, or spot Bill on his long board in the sunset lineup, or walk up behind them in the grocery line at Automercado. Of course it’s not going to happen.

I think about Barbara all the time—and Bill, too. How did everything go so horribly wrong for both of them? Good God. In the back of my mind, I am actively wondering, no matter what else I am doing, where she is. As I sit here at my kitchen table with my computer, how close am I to Barbara right now?

People ask me, “Where do you think he put her?” I say, “I don’t know.” I have some ideas, but they are all shots in the dark. I’m up for a drive to a few places I have in mind, though, if anyone who has a car and a few hours wants to go. Yes, that is an  invitation.  I’m not expecting miracles, but I never rule them out.

“Where would I go if I had a body to get rid of?” I ask myself. But I’m not the right person to ask. I put myself in a borrowed car with expired plates and a body in an enormous board bag. I give myself about 20 hours. Would I go north? South? East?? Would I have to get a shovel? Or something to weight the bag like cement blocks or a lot of rocks or something? Would I be heading toward an estuary? A forest? A bridge? A dump? I don’t know. Would I put the board and the body in the same place? I should have studied criminal psychology.

She can’t be far. Ten minutes? Thirty? Could he have driven for a whole hour?

Costa Rica’s Guanacaste province is a maze of back roads through fields, forests and small towns. Brackish ocean inlets called estuaries punctuate the coast line like long, squirrely commas, surrounded by dense, marshy lowlands. Estuaries, on one hand, are populated with crocodiles—which could be an attractive idea for a terrified expat with a body in the back of an illegal vehicle. But estuaries lead directly to the ocean where unmentionable things could wash up on the beach in the morning or 10 years later. So, I don’t know. But I think about it. If you needed to dig a hole big enough for the board bag and the body—that would be one enormous hole! But it could be done if you were ridiculously strong and had all night. And were desperate.  In early December, the ground is not completely dried out yet. It’s been suggested to me that maybe Bill burned the bag. I think that a burning board bag in the night, no matter where it is, would run the risk of drawing way too much unwanted attention, so I personally don’t vote for that. Which means nothing.

If a perfectly normal human being can disappear in to thin air the way Barbara did, then what is impossible?

I’d like to look for her, but there is no place to start. I ask her to tell me in a dream where she is, but my only dreams are happy dreams about meeting again, even though Barbara and I are both aware, in the dream, that she is not alive. I think that she isn’t asking me to find her bones; she is asking me to remember her. She is asking me to help you to remember her. She is asking all of us that Bill not hurt anyone else.

Bill Ulmer is, today, being held in the custody of the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office in North Carolina. He was arrested on May 28, 2015 and is presently awaiting sentencing for passport fraud. At this rate, he may have served a significant portion of his sentence by the time he receives it. And any woman he approaches in the future, if she has enough sense to Google her suitors, will discover Barbara’s disappearance. Which may, when it comes to keeping potential victims out of harm’s way, be just as meaningful as any macabre discovery you or I could make on a solitary hillside or in the sand.

Like our Facebook page called “Where is Barbara Struncova?”

Barbara's face

The Day of The Dead

Yesterday, November 2, was The Day of the Dead.

I love The Day of the Dead. We don’t really have The Day of the Dead in English (as my different lives are divided in my mind); I didn’t learn about it until I got to Costa Rica. Then when I heard it named, I thought it sounded awful. I’m already not a huge fan of Halloween (gasp) because I don’t like gory/scary things—and now we have ANOTHER day about dead people on its heels? Great.

But, lucky for me,The Day of the Dead is just the opposite; it’s a fiesta in the cemetery. And maybe there’s a clue as to why it isn’t celebrated where I come from: November is not exactly picnic weather in most of the northern hemisphere. That and to celebrate it properly you have to believe or at least tolerate the idea of saints and souls and other non-Mennonite/Puritanical stuff.

On The Day of the Dead in Latin America or where ever it is celebrated, people take flowers (real, cloth, plastic, home-made) to decorate the graves of their dead. And streamers and bows and every cheerful colorful thing you can imagine. They take food and gifts and in some countries spread picnic blankets on the grass and have meals with their deceased loved ones. Children run around and siblings squabble about how to place the decorations on grandma’s grave and dogs are constantly being scolded and ants crawl on the sandwiches and everybody is wearing their colorful best. Forget ghosts and goblins and fake bloody hands poking out of the grass.

I didn’t have very many dead when I first came to appreciate the celebration, and none at all in Costa Rica.   Now I have them everywhere.

* * *

I cannot take flowers to all of my dead or even name you all anymore. You are from too many times and in too many places.  But I am having a fiesta for you in the place I have buried you in my heart.  It is covered with flowers and streamers and there is cake for everyone, including:

Janelle
A high school classmate who died in a car accident while we were still students. She is the first friend I ever lost.

Jenna
A few years older than I am and I worshiped the ground she walked on in high school and college. Everyone expected her to recover from Hodgkin’s’ Disease in her early 20s.

 Grandpa Zimmerman
In his mid-seventies when he died of complications from a stroke or of a heart attack.

Great Grandpa Horning
Died in his sleep in at age 105.

A girl in college whose name I forget. I didn’t know her.
Disappeared while she was driving to her mother’s house and was found much later, murdered.

Jorge (Papa)
My Costa Rican father and he died of liver failure. Or that is how I remember it.

Randal
A friend in Costa Rica who died driving drunk on his motorcycle.

Oneida
My friend’s perfect 10-month-old perfect baby who flew out the window during a car accident and the angels took him away.

Uncle Earl, my dad’s brother
He was struck by a car while he was getting the mail out of his mailbox.

Jon
A close friend in high school and then we lost contact. He died a few years ago from complications of brain cancer surgery.

Chuck Cook
A father figure in Costa Rica who died of cancer.

Martin (Saul)
My ex-father-in-law who was kind and I loved him. I don’t remember the name of the disease.

Rafaele
A neighbor in Costa Rica, a butcher from Italy who was always joking and smiling. I did not expect that he would hang himself.

Lucho
We had Christmas dinner together in Costa Rica the year before he went to prison where he died.

Grandpa  Brubaker
Starved to death as a result of advanced Alzheimer’s in his early 90s.

Grandma Brubaker
Died a few days after a massive stroke in her early 90s.

Lara
Crazy guy who used to cut my hair

Grandma Tina
Saul’s mother who lived to be 100. She called me her granddaughter and told me the best stories I ever heard while her mind was clear.

Grandma Paula
My other grandma in Costa Rica, matriarch of matriarchs.

Nazim
My friend in Costa Rica who always called me “Lady Di.” He died of a degenerative disease I cannot name.

Barbara
My dear friend Barbara disappeared a month after I left Costa Rica and is still missing.

For Coco, Fifteen Years Years Later

(A poem about a dream about my little dog who never lived to be a big dog.)

In the dream he isn’t my dog,
he’s my sister’s but I would
know him anywhere –
silky black fur smooth as an
otter, soft ears of a lop-eared
bunny.

In the dream it’s his neck
that snaps, not his pelvis and
I do it myself out of carelessness
not Doña Daisy in her rattling
red truck as she sees him
run toward me and she doesn’t break
even a little.

Either way it was an accident.

I frantically flip through the phone book
searching for vets and they
take him away to be examined and
then peacefully put down.
Not brought home whimpering
in the car where he lays in
shit for two days refusing to eat
refusing to drink and
finally my husband gives up
glaring at me and calls Angulo to
come over with his shotgun and
do it while we cower inside
covering our ears, all waiting for mercy.

New Moon Dreams

She is not afraid by the sea in the house with no windows or doors.
The enormous blackness outside pours in like water through open spaces.
She can feel the faint breath of stars on her skin.
The rising tide rocks her in her bed and frogs sing her songs in the language of secrets.

Time evaporates like mist and she has been here forever; a thousand years by the ancient sea, asleep between sand and stars.
She will never leave.
She will always be here where her body lies sleeping in the warm black night, salt in her hair, a girl/animal curled in new moon dreams.