Nine Months of Servitude Chapter 4: End of the Tale
The romance with Jorge was short, as I already implied, for a number of reasons. Since my living situation offered no intimacy, in the initial glow of our love Jorge took me on a sweet little retreat from the servitude, an unforgettable event. Unforgettable in one sense because it was an experience of what hippies did when they were already adults; when they had a house and an income, specifically. My hippie years began in my early teens, a thing that those 10 years older than myself tend to scorn. Sour grapes. I was free to go off all sorts of rails.
Our romantic gallivant was a sun-kissed weekend at a friend’s house in the Massachusetts woods. The friends had their own garden-grown veggies, a deck to survey the surrounding woods from, and a nearby stream complete with waterfall for us to visit. We sat on the deck smoking different things. We drank wine and whisky, the sun set and the moon rose, and rose-colored glasses were all the rage. Our hearts full of hope and joy, Jorge and I talked about buying some property close by and building a little house. Love devised a cosmic future, with children, rescue dogs, organic gardens, and peace and love, baby. I wished it would never end, as they say. But it did.
The next trip was not so idyllic. We needed a test, I guess. It came in the form of a trip to his parents’ house in New Jersey; his childhood home. We started off from Brookline in high spirits, surely, despite the license plate sob. However, as we cruised across state lines over the next four or five hours, I encountered in Jorge a glitch more pertinent than the mad dog on the back seat. As we left the metropolitan Boston area, the radio started losing reception.
Jorge found this loss of reception intolerable. It’s possible he was trying to listen to a Saturday afternoon Red Sox game, at least originally. But as the AM radio stations kept garbling and then fading, one after another, he began to take on the frantic aura of the Malamute in ballistic mode. If he found a station, ANY station, that came in clear, I could feel him relax. But increasingly, stations were never coherent, just hopeful garbled glimpses that slipped into oblivion without ever reaching intelligible status.
I guess we could say he had an early form of technology addiction; he was the retro version of a computer nerd who has lost internet service. Whatever we want to call it, I was gritting my teeth, silently freaking out in the passenger seat, as he frantically fiddled and dialed and redialed. You know that moment where you find out the person you are infatuated with has a loose screw?
We arrived at his parents’ house, and I kinda got it. In my dim recall, his Mom was pretty needy, or dramatic, probably both. Hers is a style of behavior that I will attribute to the Mediterranean zeitgeist, to some extent, and my heritage and upbringing are pretty northern. Such theatrical shenanigans were ignored, and therefore unprofitable, in my family of origin. His Dad might have been an artist, of the graphic sort. I don’t remember seeing him. I do recall that emo-Mom had a lot of valerian in the yard, an herb that is a female sedative. I had never seen it before. It’s a powerful plant, that stinks.
Don’t remember much, but I recall my conclusion. To whit; these people are f-ed up. Despite the beautiful Quechua surname.
Oh gosh. Being a natural born counselor, I tried not to hold Jorge’s radio addiction and his operatic mother against him. But there was a loud clock ticking in the background, any way you looked at it. The closer we got to the European travel reward, the louder it got. Tick tock, tick tock. I realized that, as I had learned to love the little family I lived above, mopped up after, and fed, I would feel, in my own loyal doggy way, bound to stay in service for God knows how many months, or years, if I took them up on the annuity offer. For sure I would not be capable of taking the European tour and then splitting. Nope. Assumedly that was the purpose to the offer, or one of them. It’s a commonly used marketing ploy, like when charities send you address labels and your social exchange program kicks in. It’s a beautiful human thang.
Thus the ante on the relationship zoomed up at an astounding rate. The brief period where I regarded Jorge as some kind of respite, a holiday if you will, was as frustratingly short as those remote radio transmissions on the trip to New Jersey. The only other way we got QT, aside from kissing briefly in the dining room or something (door closed), was for me to go to his tenement apartment, which was in a section of Roxbury; don’t recall which one. I haven’t been in Massachusetts, let alone Roxbury, since I left in 1978. Roxbury was a ghetto of the African-American variety, at the time. I bet white people and middle class others not of the African-American persuasion have reclaimed parts of it by now: gentrification.
I had a date to stay overnight at Jorge’s apartment, and, as happens when there are children in the house, I had trouble getting away. Desperation had settled firmly into my body and mind; my youthful heart beating its wings against the bars of my servantude and its confinement. There were several public transportation switches between Brookline and Roxbury, and on a dreary winter evening I stepped out of the subway station emotionally geared for a romantic scene. Like where we run towards each other in slo-mo and embraced in an ecstatic twirl.
The harsh reality was that I stepped alone into a fairly dangerous neighborhood for white people, or for any people, perhaps. I have always trusted my angels, but still. I felt abandoned, instead of comforted and tended. My doorbell ring in the downstairs foyer was seemingly nothing very special; there’s nothing romantic about being rung through an apartment door to the harsh clang of a buzzer. Jorge, bless his heart, could not know the level of desperation I, in my Stoic way, was more than capable of hiding. So who’s screwed up, emo-Mom or warrior-daughter?
After dinner ( I think he was a fair cook) we retired to his bed, where he proceeded to watch TV, always one of my favorite things for a romantic encounter. Not. The tiny black and white screen quacking away news and politics and basketball not far from the foot of the bed. Some desultory feeling around and kissing, and then he fell asleep. And snored. Loudly.
Perhaps it sounds ridiculous, but this snoring complacency was the denouement. I had too much twenty one year old expectation concerning this hard-won respite and the comforts of cozy time with my man, and here he was, snoring away in his exhausted (and/or stoned) old man reality. I got up and paced the room through the rest of the night, an activity probably more than a little passive aggressive. Hours! He never roused. And in that he failed. He was so not tuned in to what was going on in my distressed reality, interpreted by me as “Does not give a fat shit”, with its “Does not love me” subtext, that the sadly fraying cord of infatuation holding me to him snapped.
As I paced, I thought to myself , “At least I have upgraded to a romance with someone who is not crazy in the general area where he will punch me in the face.” But then other checks on the negative side came up, such as his overly dramatic and obviously manipulative mother. The dog. Anxiety-producing Roxbury. I paced, and weighed my options, begging the gods for a sign, as we do in such moments of weighing. No wonder the ancients laid such honor at the feet of the goddesses of justice, their scales held so temptingly aloft.
Thus alike to dawn breaking the new day after I got my face stitched (first blog in series), so now the dawn broke again, with a new resolve. Though I had spent some time believing my current snoring lover was an upgrade, by dawn I was sure that upgrade was over. I had always thought, what the hell is love without passion? Which never ceased to get me in trouble, by the way. In any case I was way too young for such prosaic encounters with the opposite sex.
My needy little heart shifted its supremely disappointed allegiance at dawn of the new day. I thought of that one I had left in the midst of a seemingly viable relationship; viable in the sense of excitement, attachment, and infatuation, anyway. And so, soon enough, I began wondering where he was. As my connection to Jorge fizzled, I became obsessed with finding my old boyfriend, John, we’ll call him. He was my soul mate. He was crazy, too, yeah. But at least he was crazy in an interesting way, while Jorge was crazy AND kind of like an overly conceptual postmodern art installation; lacking any ability to maintain connection.
And John was, of course, very sorry he had hit me. That would never happen again.
Which turned out to be true- sort of. After I found him. But in the meantime, I faced up to Dori and Mark; I couldn’t continue to hack living someone else’s life, or lives. When I left, Dori hired me to do some antiques refinishing and upholstery work, possibly also making some drapes to go with cushions. Some skills I had picked up on an amateur level.
I enlisted a childhood friend of mine to help, the only one I have ever called a best friend, who was needing some cash. She was her own special kind of nuts, though perhaps, again, it was just a disconnect between my northern culture and her second generation Italian immigrant background. She signed on but soon enough got hot under the collar about the pay; she wanted to barter. She did not love my little Brookline family. Dori and I knew the deal was mutually beneficial; I seriously needed cash and she was willing to hire me despite my lack of experience. Maybe I would get some jobs in future, from her friends, if I proved my skill; who knows.
But the universe, in the form of my friend, was determined to keep me from that trajectory. My friend pushed me to demand more money than I had quoted, and when I would not, she called Dori and got aggressive, accusatory, even. Caught between the two, I ended up maintaining my relationship with my childhood friend. With deep regrets, I cut ties with Dori in a dismal payphone booth somewhere. There is a peculiar finality to hanging up a payphone; the clunk of the heavy receiver in the cradle, the spring of the stiff metal cord, the falling of the coins like a fatalistic old fortune telling machine. The folding door that swings closed behind, and the ghosts of countless anonymous other callers coming and going, briefly standing in full view of passersby yet unheard by all but one invisible ear. And so the story of my adopted family ended on a tragic note.
I did find the old boyfriend, but of course the infatuation was a wraith of its former crazy and glorious self. There were no apologies; I don’t think the scar on my lip was ever mentioned. It’s a pattern of avoiding the hard truth that I carried into all of my committed relationships with men.
When I found him, he didn’t seem overly thrilled. But having made the move, I didn’t feel like I could back out; “Sorry, I searched long and hard to find you because…” What? Because I hoped he had in my absence become the guy I imagined I could commit to, but actually, not so much? In such situations we have only ourselves to blame for diving into the abyss, rather than looking for the door. His drug use, particularly psychedelics, had once been gilded with dazzling enlightenment prospects; now the brilliance had shifted to the dark side of the moon and waxed tragic. He started having seizures, and I found out how cruel hospital staff can be when a supposed addict ends up in the ER. Though he was pretty game for imbibing whatever mind-altering substances showed up, technically the seizures happened upon drinking a single beer. The man was bound and determined to be way, way outside the norm.
One day, staring out the kitchen window of our second story Boston apartment to the squalor below, I felt like a Martian in my own life. What was the purpose of this compulsion to experience dysfunctional relationships?
I started when I heard the door open, and with sinking heart realized I dreaded John’s entrance. I attempted to verbally address my disappointment in the way our relationship was progressing, or not, and an argument ensued. I ended up barricaded in the bathroom while he raged, kicking the door and screaming threats at me. And I knew it was done.
My attempt to save a beautiful adopted animal had failed; John was actually an adopted and emotionally abused child, a whole ‘nother story. Like the malamute and many other untameable animals, he was indeed beautiful, but beauty is as beauty does. A year had passed, and here I was where I had started. I had changed, but he had not.
And that’s the old human developmental drama trope, right? But it never grows old, because this is a part of why we are here; to enter into the realm of suffering and retribution, of learning and losing, of meeting and parting, learning to bless all of it to the best of our ability for its compassion-molding capacity. After a notable experience in which I boarded a bus in Somerville and a crazy stranger accosted me, attacking me virulently, cursing me and spitting at me, I decided I did not ever want to live in the big city again. I was done with yet another life experience. And so I followed my childhood friend, the one who had severed my relationship with Dori, to the Great Southwest. I enrolled in the University of New Mexico, which was the greatest deal on the planet at the time, I bet.
I rode the rails to Salt Lake City, visited my Gram, and took the Greyhound south to Albuquerque, as there are no north-south train connections for a large part of the western U. S.. Rolling bleary-eyed into the sprawling city’s outskirts, open to the eye in New Mexico’s panorama of horizon, I saw homes that featured outhouses, and yards with adobe hornos. A few of the ovens sported drifts of smoke writhing lazily up like magic from a genie’s lamp, only to disappear in the cloudless sky, for it was summer, and time to bake outside. The third world was, shockingly for a girl from the Boston area, alive and well in my new home. Cattle mutilations were front page news that year, and I entertained myself by finding typos or misspells on the front page of the Albuquerque Journal. I laughed in a superior way when car lot ads punctuated prime time TV. So horribly provincial!
On another tack, I noticed that strangers looked up and said “Hi” when I passed them on the sidewalk, and they seemed content to keep their saliva to themselves. Albuquerque offered a small town flavor that I had never known, where you could meet someone in one circumstance and then run across them in another, a glorious, miraculous experience I never had in the big city.
It was perfect.