by Tina Rosa
|February 3, 2000
Churpa bursts back into my life fresh from her Yucatan adventures. I get a whole day with her before her friends from Oregon arrive. They set up their camp down the beach, next to Juana's neglected broken down palapa, known as "the condos", where we had our camp last year. Grief is put on hold, as I savor the energy of the "yutes", who are soon in competition with the next door boys from Georgia to see who can have the cooler camp. The boys make much of their plywood table, a coveted item. Immediately Churpa flies her skull and crossbones flag, banner for their pirate camp. That's worth some points!
I find bribes to lure Churpa into my camp. Luckily, I've got coffee and can count on a morning visit. After she arrives my supply ground in Ajijic flies away like fairy dust. It's time to get out the hand grinder.
I found it carefully and tightly wound up with plastic bags and tape, Steve's rare job of tidy packing last winter. After all, this is an important kitchen item! Using a knife I unsheathe this rusted family relic and puzzle over setting it up -- another first, now that there is no division of labor clearly labeled "his" and "hers". I screw the base tightly to a small wooden crate that had been designated as a future camp altar.
With Churpa's help, we get the grinder functioning successfully, and Churpa remarks, "It can still be the altar." It seems fitting to place the black box of Steve's ashes inside the crate, beneath the coffee grinder. After all, this is the machinery of an ancient brew surely sacred to some gods, legal drug of choice now in these racing times and dear, also, to this particular ancestor.
I never could have imagined how Steve's death would knock the wind out of me like this, the very breath of life. I never knew my reasons for living were tied up, implicitly, in his living. And now I wait to find reasons to live. So far each idea I try to wrap myself around dissolves before any inner vision can sprout and take root. It's like wrestling with air; there's nothing there.
Maybe it was our contention that kept me going all those years, the tension between us. I struggled to escape him, spent half of our time together trying to leave him. He was tenacious in his loyalty. As Churpa tentatively set forth on her own life, first solo flights, the separation between Steve and me grew wider. It was as if I were trying to define myself apart from him, know some edges and limits. But I could never quite make the break, tear myself out from our entangled roots. And then Steve left me, the only way he ever could.
I miss the silent solid comfort of his loyal love. He was like a great absorber, a sponge that soaked up the excess energy, the static by-product of human contact. He muted the decibels of life too strident for my inner ear, that I found unbalancing. Now I have no buffer, no big belly to absorb what is beyond my tolerance. Life beats on me full force, impacts with a shudder. I feel naked, exposed, an unsheltered nerve, the string of an instrument tuned too high. Used to living at C, I'm teetering up around G#!
Jacques emails me. For him the totality of Steve's dying and death has occurred in cyber-space. And the aftermath. We have only spoken on the phone once between his return from Portugal and my departure for Mexico. He needs to ground the experience out by being in the places he knew with Steve -- our Deadwood home, this beach, riding in ES -- without Steve. He needs to sit here and watch the sunrise with the black box of Steve's ashes sitting beneath the coffee grinder.
I write him -- "All of us are neither more nor less fantasmas than Esteban."
The sun seeps up behind the coastal range east across the bay. Another dawn -- my favorite time of day here. Four garzas, long-legged, plump white birds stand stolidly on the glass-wet sand at the edge of the surf, hump-necked, waiting for the mysterious unanimous impulse to fly down the beach. A lone pelican floats in the pink glaze on the water, a squadron of five passes majestically, and a flock of black grackles fly swiftly over the carpet of beach weed that fronts the palapa.
Right about now Steve would be lumbering off with his cup of coffee to visit Bob or Al, talk fishing or cars, pilfer a little beach gossip or news from the real world out there. Sometimes I can just about imagine him off in the background somewhere, doing his Steve thing.
Breakfast is uninspired. Eating has lost most of its pleasure. For me, eating has always been about people. For Steve, eating was about food, the meaning of life -- good food and plenty of it. I remember many a meal, just the three of us, where there was so much to choose from that I didn't even taste all of the dishes, and Steve would be hurt.
"Aren't you having any of the dahl?" he'd ask alluringly, peering at me expectantly through his glasses, when my plate was already choked with food.
"I'll have some later," I'd answer placatingly, guilty.
I'm having a sad day. What I need to remember when I have a bad day, is that every day used to be a bad day. What was normal, daily, the first three months and common the second three months is now occasional, thank God. But I still feel like dying on those days.
This morning Chito, Mosca's son, stops by. He says Octaviano told him I may have some fins for sale. I invite him to sit while I get Steve's fins out of the tent. They are old, big and heavy. Steve hadn't used them in years.
Chito tries them. They're a little big on him, but he asks, "Cuanto?"
I tell him I'd like to pass them on to him, that they were Steve's, and I'd like someone who knew him to have them.
We chat about his experiences as a "coyote", guiding wetbacks across the hills at Tijuana, a two day hike through the desert. He would take 10-15 people at a time at a fee of $60 per person, bringing them as far as San Diego. Once, he said, he found two dead in the hills. Weak ones or people with bad hearts, get left behind sometimes on those forced marches.
He lived up there with his aunt. Recently her family visited, invited him to go back up with them. But he stayed. He's building a house so he can marry his sweetheart, Sara. When will the wedding be? I ask. "As soon as I get the roof on!"
He leaves, taking the fins, promising to bring me some leaves from the hierba de raya, a remedy for the sting ray's painful stab. I am half glad, half sad, to see Steve's fins go. But they were so heavy, too heavy to keep carrying them around.
Betty reminds me that I had bad days with Steve, too.
"That was a different kind of bad. That was anger, frustration, irritation. "
I think how ironic it is that someone whose presence could annoy me so has left me so bereft by his absence! And how did we spend so many years together, I wonder? There were so many ways it worked, and so many ways it didn't. There's a lot to ponder remembering 24 years of a life together as I seek purpose and meaning for my life alone.
....Continued with Butterflies & Turtles