Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hector and Juanita were on the patio ceiling, near the bare bulb that attracted the slowest, dumbest bugs. They'd been there all evening and had eaten so many mosquitoes they were full and lethargic, barely even trying, now, to catch the occasional ant that wandered past.

Beyond the patio, the rain fell softly and cicadas sang, lulling the two geckos into a quiet, pensive mood. They'd known each other since college and felt comfortable together, often sharing childhood memories and their thoughts on politics and celebrity gossip. While Hector tended to be easygoing and sentimental, Juanita wasted no time saying exactly how so-and-so failed to measure up to her high standards, standards she applied with Puritanical fervor to her own life. Although she was too well-mannered to tout herself as an example of perfection, Hector suspected she was deeply self-satisfied. He was surprised, then, when she cleared her throat and said the following:

"God, I feel like such a loser."


"A loser. I feel like a loser."

Hector thought for a second. Was she joking? Was she testing him--trying to see if he'd react in a way that was "too nice"? Oh well, he thought, he couldn't help it: "You're not a loser! What are you saying?"

"I told you, Hector--I. Feel. Like. A. Loser."

"Aw, Juanita, you're not a loser! Come here," he said, lifting a clammy arm.

Juanita stiffened. He should have known better. When she spoke, her words came out in a growl. "I don't need a hug, Hector. I just feel like a loser. Ok? That's all. I don't need a hug, I don't need anything, I just"--her voice cracked--"I just...I...I'm such a loser, Hector!" She began to cry, and Hector listened, aghast. "Juanita," he said softly, "what's this about? You, of all people, a loser? Come on."

"I know," she said, sniffling, "it's not like me to feel this way. That makes it worse, actually." She was quiet, and he waited for her to continue. "You know how I play the saxophone?" Hector nodded. "Well, it's embarrassing to admit, because, I don't know, it sounds so dumb, but Hector, it's all I think about." She paused. "It's all I want to do."

"I know, Juanita, you told me! And you played that song for me the other day--it was great! You're so talented!" Hector believed that, and he was glad to tell her, but doing so didn't seem to help: the corners of her mouth still trembled and her eyes were still wet with tears.

She sighed. "Thanks, Hector. It's just that sometimes it seems so pointless. I love playing the saxophone--I really, really love it--but I can't do only that for the rest of my life, can I? I spend so much time practicing. What for? I can't make a living playing the saxophone, I can't even take my student loan payments over from my parents. I'm thirty-five, Hector, and all I do is play the saxophone." She shook her head, disgusted. "Do you realize how much time and energy I've put into it by now? Playing the saxophone while lying on your stomach isn't exactly easy. And getting my lips around the mouthpiece--my god! I don't even want to think about it."

Hector's answer was ready: "Juanita, every time you play the saxophone you're adding to the beauty in the world. When you played for me the other day, my skin got all dry--I'm not kidding, that's how much it moved me. You're a good saxophonist, Juanita, and you need to keep playing. Do it for me at least!" Hector's voice cracked--he, too, was close to tears.

Juanita turned to look at him. "It's nice of you, Hector, but what you're saying doesn't help much. 'Adding to the beauty in the world'? Please. What I need to do is add money to my bank account. The fact is, if I'd put the same amount of effort into, say, freelance mosquito-baiting, just think where I could be now! I could have my own business. I could have an income and, instead of relying on other people, I could be helping them..."

They were both quiet. The rain had stopped, stars were peeking out from behind the clouds, and the air was fresh and cool. An enchanting smell--mosquito larvae?--drifted by on the breeze, and something stirred deep down in Hector. A strange feeling began to grow inside him. What was it? He wasn't sure, but he thought--no, he was certain--it was good. The feeling continued to grow, getting bigger and stronger every second, and as it did he thought about all the times he'd been understanding, sympathetic, conciliatory. His whole life, he'd been nice. Why? What good had it really done him or anyone else? The feeling was spreading to his fingertips and toes now, threatening to burst through his gray translucent skin, and when he turned to speak to Juanita he knew things would never be the same.

"You're right, Juanita, you've been acting like a loser. You want to keep playing the saxophone? Fine, go ahead--just don't complain that it's the only thing you do. It's time to get your head out of your butt and start doing something else--doing something productive, for god's sake. You know it, so do it! Stop moping--it's annoying." Juanita's eyes widened, and it looked like she might cry again. This time, though, Hector wasn't worried: he was tough now, and he would push her. With his help, he knew she'd be ok.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Coming back from a bike ride this afternoon, we passed by a tree that was nondescript except for all these sounds, these parakeet sounds, emanating from it. I called to Joedy and Lula and after looking up into the branches for a minute, wondering where the hell the birds were, we saw them! Little green parrots EVERYWHERE! They had short tails that were bluish at the end and pale yellow beaks, and they were so cute--oh my god, they were so cute!--I just wanted to eat them.

They were the same kind of parrot an old friend of ours had in Santa Barbara, a little guy named Tabu (the parrot, not the friend) who died after catching a cold. Thinking about that little parrot, and a certain parakeet named Kiki from my own illustrious pet-owning past, I couldn't help feeling terrible that they'd had to sit in cages so far away from their real homes. The parrots in the tree squawked and pecked at each other, fighting over those strange green fruits they were eating, but they seemed happy, really, and I vowed never to keep a pet bird in a cage again--next time, I'll just tie its little leg to a piece of furniture, or maybe a brick.

Speaking of tying creatures to furniture, Malko has officially reached the Dangerously Mobile stage, zooming around the house in his walker like a pygmy on speed, uncannily honing in on the interesting stuff--electrical outlets, plastic bags, knives--with an obvious lust for adventure, making his parents resort to increasingly desperate safety tactics. For a while, my favorite tactic was looping a dog leash around the couch/bed/table leg and then attaching the walker to it, but the occupant of the walker quickly understood he was being confined and retaliated with a scream that was not cute in any conceivable way. Since tying him up is no longer an option and we don't yet have any of those electrical outlet covers, we've been finding ways to cover up the exposed outlets, leaving nearby drawers wide open and arranging suitcases just so.

Although we'll continue Malko-proofing the house as best as we can, in two weeks we're going to Texas to visit Joedy's family and to renew our Costa Rican tourist visas, and when we come back we'll be moving into a new house, one that's not as expensive (hopefully) during the tourist season. Our bike ride this afternoon was to look at a house I'd noticed for rent--it was bigger and more secure-looking than the last one I found, which we decided not to take--but unfortunately it'd already been rented. We'll have to look hard these next two weeks to find a place, since the pets and all our stuff will need to stay there while we're gone, and though I'm excited about the next house, about starting a new chapter in our Costa Rica story, I know I'll miss this house--it's been a wonderful little home, and we'll have lots of good memories of it.

I'm really looking forward to going to Texas, but I'm pretty sure every day I'll be thinking about Samara, wondering what our new friends here are up to, wondering if it's hot or rainy, wondering if the cute brown horse in the field near Lula's school has had her foal. Will the green parrots still be squabbling over fruit in that tree? I already can't wait to find out.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Last night we walked to the little grocery store down the street. It was dark out (the sun sets at 5:30 year-round here) and there was a storm way off in the distance--we could see flashes of lightning, but it was too far away to hear the thunder.

The lightning was almost constant, literally happening at least every few seconds during the whole walk/shopping event, and it continued after we got home and then later. We heard thunder close to midnight, but the storm never got very close. I was kind of glad, because the intensity of the lightning (it lit up the whole sky) made it clear it was a big storm, and the last thing I wanted was to start worrying about the roof blowing off or someone getting struck by lightning.

It's actually been a very mild "winter" for this part of Costa Rica, apparently. October is usually a month-long deluge, but we've had moderate rain even by my standards, and I'm coming from Southern California. It sounds like it's global-warming induced--who'd have guessed?--and that it means a probable drought during the dry season (January-April). We've been advised to find a house with a well so when the water gets cut off we won't have to drink from malaria-infested puddles! Yay, adventure--it's SO much FUN!

I have to admit to a little giddiness happening right now. I don't really know why it's happening, except that I did sample some more of the local dried herbs (they were sprinkled on my pizza) and they were WONderful! Also, I just went for a walk in the rain. And, I don't know, we discovered the bakery truck! Which has donuts AND German rye bread! And is driven by a German baker from Liberia, which is almost two hours away! We also "do" the fruit and vegetable truck, and there's something unbelievably fun about climbing into the back of a truck to choose carrots that have just been picked. Plucked?

Another thing--the most important thing--that's making me happy right now is the Costa Ricans. They really do seem unusually happy, peaceful, and relaxed. The word "benign" keeps coming to mind--I keep thinking how nonthreatening people seem, in the best possible sense. One thing Joedy and I've noticed--we're maybe biased because we live next to a forest--is that there's less yelling here than we're used to. We haven't heard many (if any) parents yelling at their kids, or at one another--arguments are whispered, I guess. The other morning I woke up on the wrong side of bed (the smooshed cockroach side) and got very annoyed with Lula and almost followed through on my threats to spank her. Later I realized that this time last year I was giving a lot of spankings*, and it was not great. I realize I don't have a job to get up and go to, and that means I'm a lot less stressed about time, but I can't help thinking there's something else to it too--maybe it's all the greenery and high-grade oxygen?

Maybe it's that, or maybe it's that the Costa Ricans don't have an army. Whatever it is, I think--I hope!--it's had an effect on me too, and that I'll be mellow from now on instead of passive-aggressive**. That would be good for my surrounding environment, and would mean, I think, I'm headed in the right direction.

*my informant says I didn't give that many spankings

**and that I'm not actually passive-aggressive


Friday, October 16, 2009

Last Saturday I spent the whole day convinced I was dying. Since I'm superstitious I'm not going to say what I thought I was dying of, but I will say that there were two ailments involved and that my supposed imminent death revealed what I thought to be the meaning of my life.

By afternoon I was so freaked out I went to the pharmacy to, hopefully, buy some Xanax. Some Vicodin or Percocet, or heck, even Valium, would have been fine too--I just wanted something to quiet, for a little while, the voice of doom that loudly confirmed everything I saw, heard, and thought as a sign my end was near. The "mortality worries" had been going full-force since Joedy left for California, and it was getting out of control: I was getting out of control. On some weirdly rational level I knew my worrying had to do with Joedy's being gone, and although I was convinced my remaining days were few I was also aware that all was not quite right "up there": I knew my worrying had become obsessive, and I was starting to worry about it.

I'd been to the pharmacy before, and I recognized the young woman behind the counter. Although I'd heard painkillers could be bought without a prescription in Costa Rica, I didn't know about anti-anxiety medicine. The pharmacist, who'd discreetly sold me something for an embarrassing problem a few weeks ago, smiled gently. She seemed trustworthy. "Hola," I said, "tienes qualcosa...para el anxioso? La panica? Como...Xanax?"

"Para usted?" she asked, looking at me carefully. I could tell she was wondering what was wrong with me, and although I hadn't yet told anyone that I was dying and it made me a little bit jittery, I knew I needed to give her a reason. "Si, para mi. Soy anxioso por que soy possible...inferma."

Spoken aloud, the words sounded so dumb and melodramatic I could hardly keep my own eyes from rolling, and when she came back with three tan pills in a purple and silver package decorated with flowers I felt both sheepish and disappointed. Just voicing my fears made them seem less serious, and anyway I wanted a bottleful of pills, thank you very much, not just three. These pills looked so...healthy. Like vitamins. Nothing so benign-looking was going to work the right magic on my frayed and frazzled nerves--nothing without a good kick was going to set me in the right direction--so when it turned out the pills weren't breastfeeding-friendly I was kind of relieved.

Leaving the pharmacy--Malko wobbling around in his seat behind me and Lula talking nonstop on her bike beside me--I thought how crazy I must have seemed to the pharmacist. Tan, slinging a baby around on one hip, I'm sure I didn't look sick--I probably looked pretty fucking healthy. Riding up the hill towards home, soothed by the kindness in the pharmacist's manner and by the fact that, well, she'd taken me seriously, I started to see the humor in the situation: I was sick, all right, in the head. I felt silly, and that was a relief: my problems weren't so big after all. When I spoke to my best friend later and learned she had both viral laryngitis and pneumonia and was going to the hospital, for god's sake, I felt even sillier...

Joedy came home the next day, and the morbid dreams I'd been having stopped. I stopped examining my skin for strange bumps and analyzing the tingling sensation in my hands when I put them over my head. I stopped thinking about death, my death, and started housecleaning. In twenty-four hours I de-stained, washed, and folded three loads of laundry, scrubbed both bathrooms, color-coded the contents of the fridge, and put a plate of strawberries out in the sun to ripen. I wasn't really worried about my health anymore, and life overall seemed manageable and good, even wonderful.

We saw the ants the next morning--big and black, with spidery legs and a stinging bite, they swarmed all over the back yard in lines three inches deep. Although they looked scary and their bite hurt, they were described by our neighbors as a natural cleansing phenomenon that eliminated rot and decay, a sort of physical purging of the environment. It was best to leave them alone while they "cleaned up," but for all their skittery creepiness--there were so many of them!--they were harmless.

It was easy leaving the ants alone when they were outside, but when they started wandering into the house, threatening a mass invasion and maybe a little too much help with the housecleaning, we bought some ant poison. Joedy sprayed it carefully--we didn't want them to go berserk--and in a few hours it seemed like they'd left. There were no more in the back yard or on the patio. They weren't climbing on the trash can or creating a pretty black ring around the pool. We praised the can of ant poison, and then we saw them on our bedroom window.

Luckily, we have screens, so the hundreds--thousands--of ants that ran past our windows couldn't get in, but we moved Malko's play pen to the other side of the room anyway, and we've been shaking clothes out, and swatting ourselves, compulsively since. After purging our windows of rot and decay the ants tackled the empty upstairs apartment, climbing the outside wall in a dark upwards-moving river. Watching them gave me the shivers, but there was something in their purposefulness that was comforting, too, and when they finally left I kind of missed them. Sorting laundry outside by the washing machine, I thought about the ants and how important it is to purge and clean, to let go of the old, the sick, and the dead--to clear out all the junk and move on.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Recently I was asked what it is I like about Costa Rica. I was stumped. I wanted to say, "that I can wear flip-flops all the time," but that seemed lame, unthought-out, and underappreciative. I knew I should be saying more--something about the seven ecosystems or the charming bakeries--but I didn't care. I didn't care enough to put the mental energy into it.

A few hours earlier I'd been woken from a nap by someone telling me they had "to go caca." I wasn't actually asleep yet, just hovering in that delicious pre-sleep floating place, that blissful, overly-tired zone that's only accessible when one's esposo goes to another country, leaving one solo with a teething baby, a five-year-old, a cat who will not ever fucking stop asking for fucking food, a dog who emits clouds of fur when she blinks, and another dog whose breath smells exactly like the other dog's ass (I know, because I saw it happen). Only after living alone with those five entities can one reach the level of mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion that permits one to...

lie down, head on the wrinkled sheet. grasp baby's foot with one hand (even though baby is asleep). note presence of other child on its bed, reading. close eyes. briefly think about the fact that esposo missed his flight and will not be coming home for a whole other day, but then...drift.

I drifted for a few minutes, I think, and it was wonderful. When I felt the finger tapping on my forehead, a few too many times than was absolutely necessary, I didn't even mind it too much. But when I became totally awake, when I saw the hot tropical sun shining on the curtains and realized I'd been woken from a nap--goddammit!--only to be told that someone had to go caca it seemed so un...something. Unacceptable. Unright. Unfair--very, very unfair.

So when later I was asked what I like about Costa Rica, what I really wanted to talk about was naps. How much I like them. How much I just wanted one of them right now. I knew, though, it was pointless: I wasn't going to rest until mi esposo came home. A day later than planned. Good god.

When he did come home the next afternoon I didn't slash his rental car's tires--I went for a bike ride. The air was cooler than usual, the sun going in and out behind the clouds. I rode past Lula's school and saw a bunch of beautiful white birds sitting in a tree in the middle of a marsh. I bought a bottle of water at a pulperia I'd never been to before, almost speaking in coherent Spanish with the cashier, and rode to the spot where we saw monkeys. On the way there, an old man wearing an elegant shirt smiled at me, and I saw a particularly cute horse in the big field by the school. Near the monkey spot, I noticed a house for rent. I met the owner and saw the inside of the house. It was charming, with big windows, high ceilings, and a bunk bed in the kids' room. I rode home, totally excited to tell mi esposo, and when I saw how tired he was I took the insane moving baby from him and didn't feel resentful about the whole extra day of solo parenting.

Today we looked at the house together, and then we drove to Nosara, a town thirty kilometers away. The drive was beautiful, all fields, trees, and hills, and although I had a beer in my hand and it made me happy it was also the thought of the little house's big windows, the cute horse in the field, and the smiling old man that made me happy. It was the fact that the color green weaves in and out of everything here in Costa Rica, that there are no strip malls, and that people greet each other with words about life. More than anything it was the fact that I'm here--that I'm able to be here--experiencing all this.

It was those things, I realized, that make me happy, those things I like about Costa Rica, but taking a sip of my Imperial I realized there was one more thing: being able to wear flip-flops. My feet have been living pura vida since we got here.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Joedy left Tuesday to go to Santa Barbara, and I have to say it's been a little difficult being here without him. I was really, really nervous before he left, imagining Lula or Malko getting hurt, imagining a tsunami, a fire, boa constrictors, etc., but more than any precise worry it was the idea of him being so many miles away. If something did happen here, he couldn't exactly hop over, and what if something happened to him? How would I know?

Although apparently there really are boas lurking in the bushes in this part of Costa Rica, it's Malko who wins the prize for being Most Difficult Thing To Deal With since Joedy's been gone. Except for when he's asleep, all twenty pounds of Malko's Sumo-wrestler body are constantly wiggling, grabbing, sliding, and flailing--just holding him requires one's full attention and the dexterity of a gymnast. Recently he discovered a new pastime: night crawling. After waking me up for the eighth time to "nurse" (more like "bite" and "chew"), he'll decide to practice horizontal movement. Usually I'm half asleep by then, clinging to one of his chubby feet to keep him on the bed, and the banging sound I'll hear is his head against the wooden headboard. It wouldn't be nice to say I've wished he'd just knock himself out, but night after night of crappy sleep has made some odd thoughts cross my mind. Although I'm the one who breastfeeds Malko, the lifting of the fat heavy child from his crib, the positioning, the restraining, and the muttered swearing are done equally by Joedy, and at the very least I've missed him these last few days for the bleary looks we give each other while the coffee drips and while Malko, finally tired, sleeps in the middle of our bed.

Tuesday afternoon I squeezed Malko into his bike chair and gave Lula a push on her own little blue bike, and we rode from the carneceria, to the store that has Danish butter, to the store that has diapers, to the store that has cat food. By the time we'd gotten everything, my bike had a bag in the basket and two more dangling from the handlebars, and pedaling all that weight while monitoring Lula ("Stay on the side on the road, Lula. The side! Stop talking! Watch where you're--oh my god--going!") and while reaching back to keep Malko's head from wobbling was hard enough. When we saw the tiny kitten curled up by the side of the road, its eyes closed shut with crust and goo, my mothering instincts should have said "Enough!" But the kitten looked abandoned, just a lump of bones and fur next to a pile of trash, and when I picked it up and heard its pathetic meow I thought maybe, maybe we could save it.

I wrapped the kitten in Malko's burp cloth and put it in my basket. Although it wasn't far to the pet store, where we got advice, and the pharmacy, where we got eye drops, riding my bike was made more challenging by the fact that the kitten kept trying to climb out. I'd glance back at Malko to make sure his head was okay, and then I'd hear Lula scream, and then I'd see the small furry body dangling from the rim of the basket, and then--jesus!--I'd reach forward to save the cat, running through a deep muddy puddle and looking, I'm sure, totally ridiculous. Needless to say, it was a relief to get home.

I fed the kitten some milk with an eye dropper and cleaned its eyes, and was encouraged to see it walk around a little. It kept coming up to me and nestling between my body and the couch, and when Diablo licked its ears it raised its head, wondering maybe if this fuzzy animal with terrible breath was its mother. The kitten slept in the bathroom that night, beneath a shelf that created a cozy dark space, and it looked cute in there, curled up next to Lula's stuffed tiger. In the morning I cleaned its eyes and fed it again, and though its eyes were open now they still looked strange--bulbous, and a matte grey-blue color that made me wonder if it was blind. It seemed like it could hear and smell, but I couldn't tell if it could see. By the end of the day its eyes were still swollen and watery, and although it had drunk some milk it was still so weak and small, so sick and obviously in need of its mother, that I started seriously wondering how long it would live.

This morning, Lula asked if she could go look at the kitten in the bathroom, and when I heard her say "Maman, the little cat's not moving," my heart sank. When I saw it, I could tell it was dead--its body was stretched out, its mouth open--so I closed the bathroom door and prepared myself for Lula's reaction. When I told her it had died, she first protested and then began to cry, saying how much she loved it and how much she wanted it to be alive. It was sad seeing her so upset, and while I hugged her I decided I'm going to have to be a little more thick-skinned in Costa Rica: we'll probably see many, many more animals in need of a home, but we won't be able to take them all...

Lula stayed home from school and we spent the day drawing and watching a movie about a fox. She was fine by this afternoon, but she mentioned a few times that she couldn't wait for Joedy to come home. Grabbing pencils out of Malko's mouth, sweeping up dog hair, and thinking about the little cat who'd briefly been part of our family, I couldn't wait for Joedy to come home too.


Friday, October 2, 2009

It's probably a bad idea, seeing as I just sampled some of the local dried herbs, but I thought I'd write a little so my reader, that unidentified person in Kingsfolksshire, wouldn't worry the cocodrilos finally got me.

This is the end of Lula's third week at the Samara Pacific School. The school was begun two years ago by a Costa Rican/German woman named Nicole, and although it's a small school (twelve students), it truly seems quality: the kids do "work" (letter and number practice, mostly) every day and there's art everywhere--a stained glass window, a mural, ceramic bugs the students shaped and painted, and color, color, color. Lula goes in the morning from 7:30 to 11:30 and then in the afternoon from 2 to 4, and already she's fallen in love with her teachers (Hillary, Nicole's assistant, is from Maine) and her classmates. Instruction is in Spanish and English, and when Lula comes home she "speaks" in Spanish incessantly. It's clear she's happy and excited about learning another language, and it's amazing to see how quickly she's taking to it.

The other day something cool happened: I got a bike. It's an "altered" (it can't have bicyclebabies) beach cruiser, blood red, with a basket and child seat. The basket and child seat diminish the bike's overall toughocity a little, but when I ride it I remind myself that I have a five-inch, two-time scar to dispell any (self-inflicted) accusations of fragile femininity. The bike--I call it Rojo--is actually pretty groovy, and thanks to the added gears and hand brakes I've been enjoying riding around town, picking up Lula and getting groceries. Yesterday Joedy, Malko, and I went for a morning ride on one of the many country roads around here, and I think it will go down as one of the best bike rides of my life. I feel like a 5-year-old saying this, but there's something about a winding dirt road and a bike! A beautiful red bike! that's just, like, pure heaven. Pedaling along, the sun flickering through the trees and the warm smell of greenery all around you, you're so happy you can't stop taking pictures of everything: your husband in front of you, that yellow bridge, that blue house.

You want your reader in Kingsporknham to know it's not all bad here--it's actually kind of nice--and if he/she is still thinking about visiting then he/she should hurry up and look at tickets. Costa Rica's country roads are beautiful, it's true, and you want to share them, but rattling along on Rojo you realized that part of their appeal is their uncertainty: you don't know where they lead to, you don't know when you'll find out. The grass is green here, greener than lots of places, but grass, after all, isn't everything.