Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Necessary Pain

Casa Alexandra is located just a few blocks from the malecon in the heart of the Cinco de Diciembre neighborhood. To get here, one must drive up a hill and negotiate a sharp left turn onto a narrow street. Calle Brasil is located behind the other big church downtown, Our Lady of Refuge, remarkable mainly for its twin cupolas and clanging bells that toll on the hour 24 hrs. a day. Everything here is on an incline, with the cobblestone streets rising like the steep ratcheting climbs of a rollercoaster track, testing the transmissions of cars and requiring that residents place rocks behind the tires of their parked vehicles.

Walking Bo is a challenge, because there is no grass to speak of and the only way to go is up -- up the cobblestone streets that rise at 80 degree angles, zigzagging ever higher into the foothills, with houses stacked like the tiers of a wedding cake -- all commanding killer views of the bay.

Yesterday morning, Israel and I walked Bo up Argentina Street, feeling the burn in our hamstrings as we went. Near the top, we stopped to marvel at a three-story villa covered from top to bottom in flowering vines -- bougainvilla and cupa de oro, reminiscent of the enchanted villa in "Enchanted April." As we leaned against a car to catch our breath, water cascaded down from the rooftop, showering the flowers and splashing on the cobblestones. We mused about the occupants, and just then the housekeeper exited the bldg. We asked her about the place and she called up the stairs to the owner, who invited us in. We were met at the top of the stairs by a wizened old gentlemen named Ricardo, an engineer and artist from Columbia, with a bushy white beard and a white towel wrapped around his head. He had the imposing physical presence of Picasso, dressed in a beige t-shirt, long shorts and crocs -- but lacking Picasso's life force. He seemed weary and distracted, but also grateful for the company. He invited us to sit down at his large farm table and pulled out pastries and fired up the espresso machine. We then went up to the rooftop terrace which had an even more dramatic view than Casa Alexandra's, if that's possible.

It turns out that Ricardo recently lost his partner of nearly 50 years. He ambles around his villa, feeling lonely, listening to opera...until curious people like me come knocking at the door. He says he plans to sell the villa and move back to his house in San Francisco. Everyone he ever loved in Vallarta has died, he says. It's not like it used to be. I found myself unable to offer anything but affirming condolences...yes, it must suck getting old, Ricardo. Weathering one loss after another. Watching the colonial hill town you loved for 45 years be gobbled up by condo high rises and dune buggy franchises.

Sometimes you have to honor a person's grief, even though something inside you wants to nudge them toward hope and possibility. Let people feel their pain, dammit. Trust the process. More on that momentarily...

After an hour, we said goodbye, and I vowed to come back and see Ricardo on another day, perhaps bring him some good bread and a stick of butter.

Okay, I'm a Bitch...Is that So Bad?

Sadly, Israel and I may be coming to a ragged end. He hasn't adjusted well to the new living arrangements with me locked behind the fortress doors of the casa -- he must ring the doorbell to be let in, and he doesn't understand WHY I would want to have time alone. He says he can't even eat if I'm not there to remind him to eat. So now I have to be responsible for someone not starving themselves to death.

I've been analyzing my pattern in relationships, and my tendency to reinforce men's romantic fantasies, always giving in, afraid to assert my own need for physical and emotional space. Today I thought...it comes down to not wanting anyone to experience pain. If a man experiences pain as a result of my setting boundaries, then what a terrible, selfish person I must be to allow that. That's how my ex, Stephen got me: sobbing and telling me he'd kill himself if I didn't marry him. I could almost hear the cell door clanging behind me. The suicide threat was the key turning in the lock. I thought Stephen was my jailer, when in fact, it was my own people-pleasing psyche. Be nice, no matter what the cost.

But psychic pain is more often than not the precursor to emotional growth and insight...so who am I to rob someone of that experience? Yet, this is what I do, try to play God in my shortsighted, inherently limited way, with one basic goal: to keep people comfortable. Nurse Rand, tucking in the patient and smoothing out the wrinkled sheets. Oh, and by the way, I've got a pocket full of Vicodin to take the edge off. One for you. Two for me.

I don't know what will ultimately happen with Israel. Break-ups are never as easy as slamming a door and it remaining slammed. These things tend to happen in agonizing increments, with a series of mini-dramas, playing out over and over again until the thing finally sputters to an end. It makes me sad, because I have enjoyed Israel's friendship over these past six months. I just can't let myself fall into the trap again. If that makes me a cold-hearted bitch, then I guess I'll have to live with that judgment. To quote my friend, Dolores Claiborne, "Sometimes, bein' a bitch is all a woman has to hang onto."

1 comment:

  1. I love your writing Roberta. It has been a pleasure to get to know you here at Casa Alexandra and I have cherished our insightful conversations. Thank for being such a wonderful addition to this home. You are a generous, lovely spirit...