Plan C

Plan A was going pretty well. Nobody’s life is perfect, but we didn’t have a lot to complain about. After five years in the USA, we were back in Costa Rica’s endless summer, working our butts off and surfing. Making decent money, having a good time, riding around on the motorcycle, chilling in our hammocks. Something like that is worth aspiring to. That was Plan A, and it was a really good plan.

In Plan A, there are two of us, and we live in Costa Rica.

Then, two months ago, Plan A crumbled in a major earthquake. Pio wasn’t feeling well. Medical tests revealed a malignant stomach tumor that had metastasized to his liver—and had already made a wreck of it. It is impossible to guess how long all of this was going on without giving any indication except for disturbing premonitions that I refused to listen to, because, how can you tell a premonition from paranoia? (And what do you do about it anyway? Say to your perfectly-healthy husband, “Honey I think there’s something wrong with you?” Probably not.) We got on a plane and came to Italy. Things were sliding quickly down a slippery slope.

So I had to wrap my head around Plan B. In Plan B, there’s only one of us. It’s me, and I am a widow. The doctors wouldn’t say anything more than, “This is very advanced,” and “It’s a shame you’re so young.” For about 6 weeks, I worked on that one. Slowly. In very small increments. One dreadful piece of the puzzle at a time. Just because you think about something doesn’t mean it will happen. But it doesn’t do you any good to refuse to think about the possibilities. So I went there. And sat with that for a while.

I have something to say about Plan B. If you haven’t thought about this before, here’s the newsflash:  in general, women live longer than men. Most of us will become widows. Sooner or later. Tumors aside, there was always every chance that Plan B was going to follow Plan A. I’m not being morbid–I’m being observant. Part of me said I knew that someday this was going to happen, and another part answered that I didn’t expect it NOW.

And then the slide down the slippery slope suddenly slowed. So Plan A is still lying in ruins, while Plan B is also indefinitely delayed, thank God.

Which brings us to Plan C.

Plan C is better than Plan B, because there are two of us. But one of us is sick, so it’s not a happy plan like Plan A. It has happy days, though. It has happy moments. It has scary ones and sad ones too because the ghost of Plan B has been introduced to the scene and stands quietly in the corners. In Plan A, you decide things together. In Plan B, you decide them all yourself. Plan C has some of each. In Plan A, you get to do what you want with your life. In Plan B, you do what you want with what’s left of your life (if you can think of anything). In plan C, you stay in Milan and wonder what’s going to happen to you, how long you’re going to have to stay there. You don’t know if it will be for months or for years, and you don’t know which of the other two Plans this Plan C is going to give way to.

But you know it will be one or the other. Sometime. Whenever that is. Whatever is required of you in between.

Rainbow over Corsico, July 2017

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Sudden Handcuffs

A short story about a day at work in Washington.

 

Camila shows up without an appointment. The receptionist calls my desk in the social work office and informs me that she is waiting. Something personal is going on, I intuit. If she came for help with welfare forms or letters, she would not have waited in the lobby through my lunch. She is asking for someone she trusts.

I call her from the lobby into an empty office where we can talk in private. Baby Diego wiggles happily on her lap when I smile at him.

“Necesito que me ayude con mi hermano,” she says.

“Ok?” I ask. “En qué sentido?”

“Necesito que me ayude a escribir una carta.”

Now she drops her eyes and straightens baby Diego’s little hat. At her full adult height she is four feet tall like her mother and grandmother, and wears clothes she buys in the children’s section at Walmart. All of them, brothers, sisters, wives, husbands and a growing band of cousins have come from a remote mountain village in Mexico. They live together as they did before they stole across the border, in a decrepit three bedroom trailer heated by a wood stove in the living room. I have been there. I sat with her every month on the sagging bed in the living room, in that intimate chaos, discussing baby Diego’s growth from the time he was nothing but a little lump.

“Está en la cárcel,” she tells me.

“Qué pasó?” I ask.

He’s a good man, she tells me, and the family is very sad. She wants to write a letter telling the judge that he should be allowed to come home. He is not a bad person. He is a hard worker and he doesn’t drink. Will I help her?

“Sí,” I tell her. But why is he in jail?

“Lo metieron en la cárcel porque su esposa es muy joven. Ella tiene trece años. Y lo metieron en la cárcel.”

“Lo metieron en la cárcel porque la esposa tiene trece años?”

“Sí.”

Ah, I say. Yes. In this country it is illegal for a man to have a thirteen year old wife.

“Ya sé,” she tells me, “Pero para nosotros, es normal.”

“Yo lo sé,” I say, and prop my head on my hand, looking at her.

I hate this.

“Como está la esposa?” I ask, trying to understand. If he is in la cárcel, something happened. Something.

“Ella está muy triste,” Camila says. “Ella quiere que lo dejen ir.”

“Ella lo ama?”

“Oh, sí. Mucho,” she earnestly nods.

“Él la trata bien?”

“Sí, la trata bien. Es un hombre muy bueno. No toma licor, nunca.”

“Cuántos años tiene él?”

“El tiene 21.”

Well, yes. Indeed.

“Tienen niños?” I ask. I realize I don’t need this much information to write the letter she wants, but I can’t help it. Throughout her pregnancy with baby Diego, we developed a sort of lopsided friendship, and I care about things for which I can offer no remedy.

“No, she says, “Pero está embarazada.”

Quietly, a sigh deflates me.

I can see it perfectly: the thirteen year old girl who speaks no English and very little Spanish goes to the doctor with her mother, or mother-in-law, where it is confirmed that she is pregnant. They do not show their delight or any other emotion in front of the large white strangers. Their round faces are stoic, expressionless, and the nurse sends them directly to speak with a social worker. They do not know what a social worker is, but they know to cooperate with large white strangers.

They answer the interpreter’s questions in broken Spanish.

How old are you?

Are you in school?

Where is the father of your baby?

How old is he?

Where does he live?

The large white strangers note his name, his age, that his address is the same. They do not ask her if she is married, if her baby’s father is her husband, betrothed to her when he was fifteen and she was a child of seven. They read flickers of fear on the face of the older woman and they misunderstand.

“El es muy bueno, y queremos que lo dejen ir,” Camila says. The sadness in her is bottomless.

 

I write the letter to the judge, stating that Eduardo is a good man, that his family misses him very much and that they need him. That the pregnant child is his wife and that she needs him. That he is a hard worker who doesn’t drink liquor or consume drugs. That the judge may please consider that he is not a criminal and let him go.
I realize, of course, that by my country’s law, he is.

Camila hugs me gratefully and leaves carrying the letter in one hand, clutching delighted baby Diego to her small hip with the other.

I go back into the little room where we can talk in private and sit there by myself, immobilized by a sorrow that seems to expand in all directions. I say a prayer for rain in the high plains of Mexico, that corn may germinate and grow, that the goats may have milk enough for everyone’s babies, that people may find hope in their homelands far away from large strangers with our clipboards, prying questionnaires and sudden handcuffs.

And Just Like That

And just like that, we’re going home. Back to Costa Rica where my spirit has been waiting for my body to rejoin it. If I tell you exactly how it happened, I’ll lose you along the way; there are lots of false starts and lots of networking with people you don’t know. Or maybe you do know them. I try to avoid throwing people’s names around on the internet unless unless I’m furious at them for the disappearance of somebody I know.

The road back to Costa Rica started maybe a year ago with my husband trying to make a call on skype and accidentally calling the wrong guy. That led us on a circuitous route to a sudden opportunity for which we ALMOST packed up and moved just after this past Christmas. But it fell through. We were so disappointed. For days, I could barely move. Then it happened again in January—BOOM. A bolt from the blue: a Facebook message from a friend asking if we’re interested in managing a small hotel in our old hometown. Of course we’re interested! And then, as suddenly as the possibility exploded into our lives, the air sputtered out of it like a balloon, and it clearly wasn’t going to happen. Then neither of us could move. We couldn’t even talk to each other—not because we were angry, but because there was nothing to say.

And I decided that this might be God or The Universe (or whoever sends us messages) doing just that—sending me a message. Telling me it’s time. Telling me to take this seriously. Telling me that maybe we’ve done what we need to do here, taken care of what needed attention, repaired what was broken. That you can’t always listen to your heart—sometimes you have to listen to your mind—but that maybe the light is turning green.

So I called the Immigration office in Costa Rica. I could have done that on any day of the last five years, but I was too afraid. My question was, “Can we renew our expired resident status?” and if they said no, I knew that I would have to carry my dreams out the door and drown them in the cold lake. But finally my need to know was greater than my fear of disappointment, so I dialed the number. In short, the answer is yes. A complicated yes, of course, but entirely possible.

Then I sent out two messages to long-time friends. I got two encouraging replies. One of the replies included the suggestion that I contact a third friend. The third friend, who I’d thought of contacting but talked myself out of “bothering” him, was actually actively looking for someone to do what I do and someone to do what Pio does. And the price was right.

And we are going home.

We’d been thinking about visiting Costa Rica on vacation in November of this year, and I was afraid it would destroy me. I was afraid I would do something insane like refuse to leave, or something worse like leave.

Costa Rica isn’t paradise. It’s a place on the map. There are problems and potholes, mosquitoes, mud, cockroaches, scorpions and thieves. Paychecks are small, stuff is expensive. But it is home. I wasn’t born there, but it chose me when I was twenty years old and I can’t help it. I would be happy here if I could. It would be easier, more comfortable and in some ways, safer.

We’ll be leaving Washington State on March 23, flying to Pennsylvania for a week, and then continuing on home to Costa Rica at the end of the month.

To transpose the words of The Good Lord into words of my own: “What does it profit a girl if she gains the world but her soul is so sad that it withers into a dry little nut inside her heart?”

elephant and machete
My preferred garden tool:  a machete

Awake en el País de los Sueños

Me hacen falta los temblores
how the walls shudder when
the ground beneath takes
a deep breath and mumbles in
restless sleep.

I miss the soprano of mosquitoes
around the net, cantando
en la noche de enfermedades que me
darían in exchange for
my sweet blood.

Extraño hasta los escorpiones,
their wicked tails cocked against surprise
in my shoes, the folds of towels,
esperando entre las sabanas
at my feet.

In the silent safety of America,
my loud breath keeps me
awake at night en el país de los sueños
donde lo que amenaza es la
soledad.

Love Poem to the Sun

a poem from a very old notebook
(If the jungle could write a poem, it would be this one.)

rise on me
scorch me
head to toe

push yellow fingers
through the millions of miles
to love me

come to me
sliding over my skin
and turn me
yellow, brown, red

i will sing for you
scream for you
howl at the moon
and dance

Ice Age

if I were a planet, this
would be my ice age
my interminable winter of
a thousand years
who would believe the
flowers that bloomed here?
who would believe the bees?
the dinosaurs are all dead and
glaciers creep downward toward
my belly
everything has starved for lack of
fruit except the
woolly mammoths hunkered in ice
caves huffing hot breath