It has been two months now since you left your body. Really, I am hoping that your mind had left the scene a bit before so that you were not aware of how alone you were these last days, while closely surrounded by other people also fighting for their lives.
Alone. Hours from your village, your mom, your man. Away from your girls. Away from YOU.
Your biggest nightmare.
In my own life, your departure has been like the gun at the beginning of a race, apparently signaling many parts of my world to go completely out of whack. Off-center, off-kilter, off its rails. I have never known anything quite like it.
Two months and also, Dia de los Muertos is here. My first one in Mexico. I was so looking forward to it but now I am not. I will not be able to put your photo on the little altar, this year. I know I should. I know that’s how it’s done. But I can’t quite yet.
So because it has been two months and because Dia de los Muertos is here, it is time for me to tell a story about you. This story is one I never thought I would share with anyone other than my closest friends. It is deeply personal, private. Tender. Telling it means scratching the scab of a healing wound, it means being so damn vulnerable. But you know what? This is not about me. You’re the heroine of this story and how I look or how I feel is insignificant.
So here goes.
January 2020. A few weeks/months before what took you was on people’s lips. We had a Happiness Retreat planned and you and your mom were ready to feed us and more importantly to nurture us. We had not been together the year before and I missed you both. I missed the village, too. A lot.
And I was paralyzed.
My life had taken a turn a few weeks prior. I had finally mustered the courage to end a relationship with the man I had shared my life with for the past six years. Within days, he had reunited with a woman he had met the previous winter on the beach, actually a reader of mine, and they were living out their new love in the tiny village. There are more details that made this painful but they don’t matter so much anymore. Other than to explain that I was shaken up at the prospect of leading 12 courageous people through a transforming Retreat, while trying to process this new reality that was sure to cross my path during the class, in the place which had been my haven for many years. The whole thing intensified for me by the woman having entered our lives through my work, my writing.
I was rattled and I felt trapped. Worse: I felt displaced. By two people whom I had brought to this very place.
I needed to focus on my students, I needed to keep my own heart and ego in check and to make it through the week. Later there would be time to digest all of it, to see where things landed in regards to my work, my love of this place, all of it.
So I had made a plan.
The villa I had rented being a bit out of town, I would basically stay up there the whole time, and then move to a nearby village afterward to get some distance and rest. My trusted Retreat support and friend Hadea had agreed to accompany our guests to dinner in the village each night, to do whatever needed to be done out of the house so that I could do my work in peace up there, without going into town.
It would work. I would keep my heart protected and give all of me to my students.
As long as Hadea showed up a day early to meet me in the other village, she and I would then take a cab to the house together and I would be good to go.
I bet god had a good laugh listening to my plan.
Must have because Hadea didn’t miss her plane once, she missed it three times.
Three freaking times and only one of these times was her doing.
After she missed the first one, I knew I would have to take a cab by myself and begin setting up the house without her. She would still arrive in time to greet everyone and take over the evening dinner in town.
I arrived alone and the house was stunning. A little paradise of beauty and intimate spaces, with a glorious jungle view. I put down my backpack, took a deep breath, and allowed the original purity of my love for this place to seep gently to the surface.
A sense of belonging, of peace, and away from my personal events of late, of safety.
Minutes later, I heard a motorcycle pull up, and there you were. Calling my name from the street, waving, smiling. Your mama climbing off the back shaking her long black curls.
I felt emotional seeing you both, hugging you. My Spanish was a bit rusty and within instants, while you both expertly scanned the kitchen that was to be your domain for the next seven days, you managed to joke about it, giving me your brand of kidding that told me that we were friends and that you cherished our friendship. As I did. As I do.
We went through our yearly ritual of planning menus, looking at the schedule. We had years of doing this together and it all felt like a well oiled machine.
Business having been taken care of, we started to talk about our lives, the way women in kitchens do all over the world, and even though it had been my intention, I suddenly knew better than to try and hide from you what was lurking in my heart - and in the village below.
Your loyalty was hot and unmitigated. It jumped in my face and there was no room for one tiny crack in it.
There was no “it was meant to be,” no “everything happens for a reason,” not even “you’re better off without him.” It was so raw and fierce and loving, so un-American in a way, that it shocked me just as it soothed some sharp pointy parts inside of me.
Tears welled up in my eyes at this clarity you had: I had been wronged and that was bullshit and there was no excuse for that. You did not even give me room to introduce a new, more objective perspective - which felt darn good. For a minute, I would just feel my pain without trying to sugar coat it. For just a delicious little minute.
Because you see, the biggest pain - maybe the only pain - was what I perceived as what had to be my loss of this place, my place.
In three sentences and some very strong eye contact, my friend Corazon began the process of melting this idea away.
And then, I explained my plan.
In order to stay out of the way (read: surrender), I would stay up here during the whole week and all would be fine.
That’s when you looked at your mom and your mom shook her head and smiled.
This wouldn’t do, you told me. Aie, Laura, this is your place, you have many friends here. You can’t give that up. Come on.
I think it is about that time that I got a text from Hadea about having missed her second flight. Which meant that there was no way she would be here in time to take our guests to dinner. The plan was not working. Or rather, it was crumbling and a new plan, The Plan, was being created in its place.
I HAD to go to town that night. With everyone. Walking down the main dirt road that would most likely run me right into “them” (it did). I wasn’t getting a pass on this. I wasn’t given a chance to give up on something that mattered so much to me. I wasn’t going to bypass that fire.
Let’s go, you told me.
You walked in front on me down the stairs to the street where you had parked your motorcycle. You signaled to me to get on the back, just as your mom started to make her way down the hill by foot, her house nearby.
I hiked my dress up and suddenly, you and I were barreling down the cobblestone path, making a left onto the main road and then… then… driving down the main street, the street I love, the street I was about to give up.
I think you knew exactly what you were doing, driving me up and down the street like some modern day kick ass knight-woman on top of a motorized white horse.
You were bringing me home and you were silently inoculating me against my own fears.
From your bike, we waved at your aunt Rosa who was standing in front of her store, and I felt invincible. When you dropped me off on the other side of town, I knew I could walk home alone, my head held up high - and come back with our group for dinner.
Corazon, this kindness you did to me, I carry it with me always. You held my hand when I needed a dose of courage when I needed to not take the tiny path but rather walk down the big one, no matter how uncomfortable. You reminded me that hiding and giving up good stuff because someone is acting a certain way is not the way to thrive, to love, to be.
Thank you, my friend.
I hope that one day I will get to tell this story to one of your girls.
You were my hero and in those last days and hours of your life, I wanted so badly to be that hero for you, to bring you home, to make you feel safe, loved.
I want to believe that you knew how much we all wanted that.
(I need to add that this morning, as this was very present on my mind and I was once more thinking that I could not possibly return, I got a message from another friend, one of her close friends, inviting me to drive down tomorrow for her birthday party. Even though I can't do this tomorrow, I feel as though this is another one of these "don't give up this place" messages...)