3.21.2013

Saw there was one for every day.

S--
It's dirty, they told me. At home in Panama city they told me I'd hate it, that it's too expensive, that Costa Rica has been so Americanized that it's not worth more than a passing glance. They told me it's capital is unimpressive and small, that a night, at most, was the best way to see San Jose.

I've been here almost two weeks.

I forget sometimes that I like that: all the dirty busy cities of this world, the buses and trains and hoards of people. Here the cabs are red, and they encircle the city center like I do, seeking a new fare, scrounging about at a somewhat thankless job for ten or fifteen bucks here or there.

I know you hate all that stuff, the people and frenetic pace of giant metropolises, but I love it. I love feeling anonymous in their streets, and here when I walk alone I make sure to do so swiftly and with purpose, and for a minute or two in my head I'm passing for a local, and everywhere I ever go I ask myself the same question: could I live here?

But I suppose we shouldn't call this what it isn't.

I sleep in a nook of the upstairs dormitory that we colloquially call our room. We, Oliver and I, are not very good at keeping our room clean. There are usually clothes and empty packs of cigarettes and all of our chargers to our many devices strewn all over the place. But it works, somehow, and in the morning when the sun rises and streams so fiercely though our windows I never have too hard of a time finding all my toiletries under my bed and dragging them into the sole shower that we all share. This is usually the only time that I am alone all day, and so my anonymous walks through town mid the melee of the urban center will have to serve, in the meantime, as my majority source of solitude.

But here's the weird thing Sam: I need less and less solitude the longer I'm here. My months on the road and especially my week in Panama has left me acclimated to being around people all of the time. There are people packing their bags on their beds outside the bathroom when I'm exiting, wrapped in a towel. There are people around when I'm cooking dinner, and I will turn from the range with a sizzling hot pan only to narrowly miss bumping into one of my roommates. There are people around when I descend the stairs first thing in the morning when all I want is a coffee and a cigarette, but there they are, and they know that I work here, and so they, at seven-thirty or eight in the morning tend to greet me with a barrage of questions. How do I get to Manuel Antonio? Which bus station serves Managua? Can I stay another night? Who's coming back today? I don't know, I tell them. I'll look it up for you after I drink this, smoke this, wake up. And that's on my day off.

We used to do that. Remember? Our little world of two from which we shut everyone else out, and we could spend days and weeks in rooms full of people and still be completely alone. Together.

But I suppose we shouldn't call this what it isn't.

Here, in Costa Rica, we have all arrived alone, or most of us have, and we make our family dinners like we've done this forever and like it's never going to end. We chose who will do the dishes and set them out to dry, and then my co-workers and I will roam about downstairs turning off all the lights and locking up for the night. And when everyone has already gone off to bed, we might pile into Richard's secret bedroom, off the kitchen, and we'll drink cheap wine from a box until the wee hours while we fight over who will open the next morning. It's usually me.

And I know, Sam. I know that here isn't exactly like us, but it seems so similar, like we have nothing save what we've built right here.We so fiercely protect this feeling, and if you're me, then you spend day after day postponing buying a bus ticket to Tegucigalpa wondering if a part of you will die if you cross those borders.

We built something once, you and I. We did, I know it. We built it with canvas and latex paint and razors and songs and eyeliner and cans and cans of Oly. We built it from one, solitary Old Style. We built it from what was left when our parents were gone and we were but 16 and perched at a slate table overlooking downtown-hometown, and we were often skeptical of those who came to live inside our creation. It was real, it was, and I remember how safe I felt sleeping together in our little glass house. I guess I've just never exactly admitted how much I miss it.

My alarm goes off in the morning at 7. I tap the red icon on my iPhone which means I'd like to sleep for nine more minutes, but this fierce Central American sunshine will jar me from my thin blanket in five. Then I'll shower and dress while most people are still sleeping, and by eight I will have descended the marble stairs with my hand trailing the patinated oak banister, and then I count the till and open reception. When my second alarm goes off at nine, I pad into the kitchen and fill the electric kettle, I plug it in and turn it on so it will boil, and while I'm waiting I retrieve a bowl from the upper left-hand cupboard and put one yellow label tea bag inside of it, its tag dangling from a string toward the kitchen counter. You see, Ollie is from Belgium and he takes his tea in a bowl, and he'd likely sleep all day, or at least until his shift at two, if I didn't bring his tea to his bedside.

It was dangerous, Sam. I mean, I think about it all the time. Do you? I held you before everyone else in my life, I would consider you before my husband when making decisions. I left him in Miami for a bar stool across from yours on the opposite coast, and to this very day it seems, somehow, like a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Last night we all piled into Richard's bed again and I told my co-workers of you, and I heard myself say, out loud, that I will probably never love anyone as much as I love you. And that's so hard to know, because of all the questions I have left in this wide world I'm quite sure that I can never know you again.

But I suppose we shouldn't call this what it isn't.

I'm not even writing this to you. These letters back home, this is a device, and even if I did still know you this wouldn't be for you. These are for me, to chronicle some largely unimportant stuff that I've done, and this one happens to be addressed to you. Why? I'm not really sure, actually. It just all seems so fitting: all this heat, our strange built family of misfits, the slight late teenager that I met in Panama and shares my room and who's tea I make every morning at nine and how I'm determined this time not to fucking destroy him. I wont, Sam. I wont. We tried to be good to him, didn't we? But I look into Ollie's face now and they look so much alike, or rather Ollie looks as he once did, back then, and I'm no longer so sure. Our distance, I think, would have served him better.

We're older now and these things are easier, at least they are for me. It's easier now to distinguish those things that wont turn out the way that we want them to and I thank my years for that, but it's hard to remember that 22 year old me and 32 year old me are the same exact person, and it makes me cringe to see Ollie's face now and remember that one fateful August ten years ago when I let, for the very first time, a very forbidden pair of lips lower to meet my own.

Fuck, I don't even know what this is anymore.

We spent years designing ourselves as twins, but I'm not sure at all how alike we ever were, because I love this. I love it here, both in San Jose and in the wide world anywhere, and I love the twinge of fear I get when I think of relocating here forever. Because Sam, I could do this. I could live in San Jose and live off a few hours of sleep each night and check in new nomads every morning. I love this because they are actually like me, and so are Richard and Ollie, and I could walk these streets anonymously for years as my Spanish improves. I could keep working here, I could be here, and although I always wanted you to, being anywhere else than our hometown is just something you probably can't, or more aptly wont, do.

This should have some eloquent ending, but it wont. The truth is that a four pack just walked in, I have three new emails to answer, someone's buzzing the front door, and in a half-hour's time I have to turn my till over to Roger and go buy groceries for dinner and I have to go.

But it's cool. Right? I mean, to you, this isn't the first time that I've left.

--M

3.07.2013

Today, we wait.

E--

We talked of this in Phoenix, and in some ways I agree, that at best it's hard to reconcile the people that we were some twenty years ago and the people we are now. I've made my share of mistakes, yes, but I actually regret very little; it's so easy to look back at 13 and 14 year old us and think, "man, I wish I hadn't been such and asshole back then," but let's just say, for shits and giggles, that we could go back: what would we really actively do differently?

There is always, as I'm sure you remember, so much pressure when you're traveling: pressure to wake at a reasonable time, to see everything there is to see, to make perfect memories. To take pictures of yourself in front of the Tour d'Eiffel and Sydney Opera House. To drink beers every night among new friends. To engage in that perfect holiday fling. And every few days or every week you move on; you fall asleep on a bus or a train and you awake in a new country, and if you're like me then you may blink a couple of times and smile, reminding  yourself that you've never been there before. Panama feels nothing like this.

After you drove me to the airport in Phoenix I found out my flight was delayed, but eventually I flew through the night to Dallas and then Atlanta and then Fort Lauderdale. And then I took the long bus ride into South Beach and I saw my girlfriends, and I had just enough time to see them that I miss them more than I did before my arms were wrapped tightly about their tanned shoulders. I had to leave them too soon! We were just catching up, and then I had to get back on the slow and winding bus to Aventura, transfer to the Central line, and I shit you not when I tell you that I was crossing the threshold of the automatic doors of FLL fourteen minutes before my plane lifted its wheels from the ground. And Eddy, I tell you this story not just to catch you up on my last few days, but also to illustrate that this is also exactly how I feel about the last few times, before this week that I just spent with you in Phoenix, that I've had the chance to see you.

I get the feeling that maybe you didn't think I'd respond so enthusiastically when you offered to let me come and teach your 6th grade science classes with you for a day, but I've already spent the last couple months being shuffled around between my friends various lifestyles and professions and I think it's been good for me since I'm in the market for a new one. I've been a bit of a chameleon lately: In Melbourne I rolled my own cigarettes and slept out in the north end grade, and in Sydney my and Dayna's nights would end when the *goon did. I spent days and cold evenings reading alone in Noah's Brooklyn bed just like he might and New Years Eve dancing under the auspices of a seizure inducing green laser in the rear of Tandem Bar with Sally. I babysat for my sister in Atlanta and taught my niece and nephew card games. I joined the ranks of hustlers with Lauren in New Orleans and rode a swift road bike through the French Quarter home every night. And then I was ready to move on, to start making plans, and by the time I was in Austin prepping to arrive in Phoenix the following day I realized how actively and swiftly I'd been changing recently. And then I got a tattoo.

It's crazy Eddy, because I know that we're adults. I know that. But when I see your face, even when you're surrounded by your beautiful home and your wife and child, it's hard for me to not feel like I'm thirteen again and we are in our baggy jeans and flannels and combat boots. But there, standing in front of your class with 25 expectant pairs of eyes on me I was suddenly very aware that you are an adult and that I'm still not sure who I am.

I like Panama City. I like it a little too much and more than most people around me; it's a very transitory place and it seems to put many on edge. Here, travelers arrive from coffee farms in Nicaragua and the jungles in Belize, they come off boats from Colombia wobbly from the open sea, they have sat on the long bus from San Jose overnight and have taxied in from the station at the mall and when they get here there are throngs of Panamanians weaving about the dirty streets and there are cars driving seemingly lawlessly with horns blaring and there are the hundreds of hijas d'escuelas giggling about in their pleated navy skirts and it's off-putting for many. I get that. But the dirty streets and fast cars and humidity all feel like summer in New York which is one of my favorite homes, and I am in love with our most popular pastime here: we wait. We wait for everything. We wait for the kitchen to be less crowded so we can fry our plantains for dinner. We wait for storms to pass and boats to arrive to sail us to South America. We wait for our cohorts to wake so we can figure out what our day will bring, we wait for the ferry to Toboga, we wait for liners to pass through the Canal from Colon so we can watch them lock up and down, we wait for something more interesting than another day in Panama to drive us away. We wait for new people to arrive with news from nearby countries so we can plan our next move. Then we find some reason to wait to plan that move.

There don't exist the same pressures here as Moscow or Rome; most know little of Panama and so we don't feel as compelled to thrill folks back in our various homes with uploaded pictures of well known landmarks. We stay up as late as we want, we drink fifty cent beers from El Chino down the street, we wake and make pancakes and plan our day on the spot. Sometimes we are ambitious: we have designs on a fish market with two-dollar conche negro ceviche or we decide to brave the mean streets of Casco Viejo, but some days, like today, it's is hot and we want to sit around late and then go to the Mall. No matter what we do we return at night and fix our simple meals, and then we pad about in our flip flops smoking cigarettes we've bought on the street for a dollar or so, and then we wait again. Some wait patiently, some expectantly, but I'm fairly certain that I'm the only one who revels in this waiting like it's my only plan at all.

But see, Eddy, I've already been waiting. I've been waiting for money to arrive and planes to land and for emails to be returned. I've been walking and sitting on busses waiting for phone calls from my scattered bespectacled exes. I've been all over the fucking place waiting for something to spark my interest, for something to occur to me to do to end all this waiting and I'm still fucking waiting, and here, where yachts and tankers and cruisers have anchored for days waiting for passage from one ocean to another seems as good a place as any to wait for a great idea.

I've been to Florence, but I've never been to the Uffizi. I've seen but never climbed the Eiffel tower. I chose the Stedelijk over the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Sometimes I regret these things, I think that I wish I had it to do all over again and go to these places, all those ones that you're supposed to, but then I remember that all that stuff is still there, maybe waiting for me to return. Sometimes, instead of planning them to a tee you can let your days and late nights unfold, and you may, having traded a day of snorkeling in the Carribean find yourself able to be one of the last men standing because you slept in late instead, and there on Calle 5 on a small town in the Yucatan you might find yourself sharing the last Corona over a brilliant sunrise with your dearest friend from high school who is about to get married in two days time. And it just might be perfect because you may have no idea that it will be so many fucking years before you will get to have a moment like that with him again.

Eddy, everywhere I go people tell me the same thing. You could live here, you could do this. You could make coffee or paint faces or go to school or watch the kids, and in Phoenix, with you, it seemed so reasonable that I could teach. But for now, I wait. Tonight I wait late to go to sleep. Tomorrow I will wait through the hot, hot midday and on Friday I will wait for a taxi to take me to and from Mireflores and I will return to wait for the washing machine to be free so I can wait for my laundry to finish. 

But I can't wait forever, Eddy.

I know this because even here the line handlers all eventually maneuver their vessels through their narrow cut and the sailboats all finally arrive from San Blas to deliver their waiting passengers to Cartagena, and someone might eventually decide on the long trip north and are, maybe even right now, waiting on a bus for it to stop in San Jose so they can wait there for me to arrive in a few days time.

One day my proverbial Saturday will come when I will wait no longer to make a plan, but for now, very real Saturday is looming when I will finally stop waiting and leave for Costa Rica.

Please don't worry for me, I am fine and I fucking love you. But mostly, Eddy, I want you to be proud of me.

xoxo--M



*This is slang for wine in a box. And yes, it is just as fantastic as it sounds.