||January 24, 2000
Pelicans dive, wings jack-knifed, long beaks plow straight down into the water. One of them, successful, floats, raises its long neck to swallow. Pelicans on maneuver glide in formation silent and swift over the water. I see two caught, surprised and toppled under, by waves that catch a wing, tugging them off-flight. Tumbled, wings akimbo, they surface, shaking their long necks with aplomb, dignity unruffled. I like it that even they can screw up, miscalculate, be tossed like jetsam by Big Ocean.
The beach is soporific in the heat. Sun bakes, ocean hisses and thumps, lulling us with its whispers, secrets of a forgotten tongue.
Betty helps me string some tarps the second day of camp set up, ventures down once to drop off some chula. But for the first two weeks my beach camp is virtually empty. Bob never shows his face except to wave from his truck as he drives by. At first I'm hurt, feel shunned. Were they all just Steve's friends, I wonder in paranoia? But I know that isn't true.
And it's really all right. I need this time to do more of my work, the daily practice of my solitude. Steve was always the garrulous one, up and about, chatting everyone up. He would befriend every person in a bank line. Twenty-four hours in a trailer park and he would have talked to everyone in the place, comparing driving times, routes, ferreting out a new piece of travel trivia for his enormous encyclopedic knowledge of Mexico and its by-ways. He was pals with most everyone on this beach. I've always been more reserved.
In some cultures, widows are taboo. At the death of their mate they take on a dangerous aura, glittering with grief, or dark and somber, curtained in a dusky gloom. What can you possibly say to one? Struck mute, it's safer to stay away, leave them alone to the scary pull of their interior tides. And, to some, widows are as good as dead along with their mates, invisible, useless. Better to have jumped on the funeral pyre.
But gradually it comes to me how frightening loss is. My very existence is a reminder of Steve's death, of the big gaping hole left by his portly demise. Another friend down. And--if him--when me? That thought can't be far behind, surfacing from the dark silvery depths where we send the unwanted thoughts, like giant fish that stalk us, ready to seize the prey of a passing glimpse of our own mortality and take us thrashing down into the terrifying depths of our own fears, creeping on the sands beneath the sea.
Even more frightful to some than the loss of their own life is the possibility that they too could lose their mate. After all, one member of every couple I know that endures will someday learn this passageway that I tread now. So I come to compassion. Compassion for their loss, as well as my own, compassion for that inarticulateness, compassion for the fears.
Patty is among my braver friends. She visits one day, comments "Look at all your chairs!"
"And nobody to sit in them," I answer, remembering last year's crowded gregarious camp, when privacy and solitude were sought-after treasures.
We visit, take a dip in the ocean together. Patty's not afraid of grief. She recounts her experience of the loss of a beloved friend and concludes, "The only thing good that came out of it was Joe didn't have to do dishes anymore!"
The Sunday after New Years I go to Lucy's house in town to give her an English lesson. We sit outside her new home, plank walls instead of palapas, cement floor replacing seasonal dust or mud, built last year with financial help from her compadre, Chaparito ("Shorty"), a lumbering six foot plus Canadian. Lucy takes in wash for the beach gringos, so we focus first on words useful to her work-- shirt, blouse, underpants, socks. Then we add some sentences. "No, your clothes aren't ready. The towels are damp."
Lucy speaks with an endearing accent, practicing seriously. Then she broadens the subject.
"Como se dice--Da mi un beso"?
Her "Give me a kiss" comes out more like "keys."
I laughingly tell her if she pronounces it that way somebody's going to hand her their car keys.
"Kees?" she practices.
"--i--", I say, helplessly, groping for a Spanish word with that sound. "Como en indio."
"Kiz?" she says hopefully, smiling? I nod. I'm sure she'll get her point across.
We finish the lesson, and she asks, "Y tu esposo?"
I'm getting better at this. She's shocked and very sympathetic.
"Look," she shows me her second bedroom proudly. "If you get lonely, you can come and sleep here," she points to a double bed, "and your daughter can sleep here." She points to the single. Come in and watch t.v., she invites me.
Wednesday Dobie and I make a San Patricio run, lists in hand. It's just like Oregon--I haven't finished the list, but soon I'm hot and cranky and want to get home. But there is one errand whose time has come. I've been carrying two sets of keys, mine and Steve's, hooked together the whole trip. His set has the fuel cap key, mine the key to the camper, signets of our appropriate domains. This means every time I misplace the keys, I misplace them all. Determined to protect myself from my own creeping dementia (as Tom Horn says, "I need my ginko in an IV.!") I head for the key maker on the square.
As he makes me copies, a passle of women in white trail by carrying banners for Maria that denote their respective towns. It is a pilgrimage. I am just thinking it must feel good to have that kind of faith in some over-seeing saint, when the young key maker, as if reading my mind, asks me "Creas en Maria?"
I pause before I answer that, yes, I believe in the power of the Virgin of Guadalupe. I don't say I just am unsure of how much access I have to her merciful interventions. The young man, Carlos, announces that he is a Jehovah's Witness, handing over my keys.
I fit them to their respective rings. When I get home to my palapa I separate the two, Steve's with the green plastic hook, mine with the miniature Coleman lantern. It feels momentous. I hang Steve's set up on a nail on a post, insurance against my next "senior moment." I'm now playing with a full deck, as it were, my own.