Posts Tagged ‘emotional memory’

“There are many more layers to innocence than one might ever imagine, and we are ever unaware of them until each barrier is breached.”― Paula ReedHester: The Missing Years of the The Scarlet Letter……..

Night Wind, graphite on paper A4, (8x10)…...

Night Wind, graphite on paper A4, (8×10)……

Part of the story, an aside……..

My brother, Number 5 (with me being number 1) of my siblings, lived in Houma with his Cajun princess bride. All of us had chipped in and made their wedding possible in the house in New Orleans. Only my aunt and myself were happy for him and his beautiful bride. The rest of my siblings, including Capitán, thought they could have picked someone better for him. There was great and inappropriate hatred expressed by sisters number 2, 3 and 6 that made the bride cry. It was both a happy and sad day.

So when my sister (number 6) came to New Orleans to stir the pot of evil with my aunt, her long fingers reached out to my brother. Unbeknown to her case manager she was mingling and meeting with the local drug lords and even some who had ventured from Miami to take advantage of her semi freedom. I saw her with these burly types who reeked of darkness; and when she involved my innocent and emotionally slow brother I felt she had gone too far and stepped forward. I tried to tell her case manager who laughed at me. I even called the local FBI to report her but her case manager had already notified her and she had contacted Capitán who was now in town, who told the FBI that I was jealous and trying to defame my poor sister in order to keep all the family money…. and they believed him and told me not to bother them again. (My family in New New Orleans did have some very powerful and corrupt contacts.)

So the evilness of it all began to take shape as my sister began to ply my brother with drugs and convince him to leave his wife and children and go back to Ecuador into the loving (?) arms of Capitán, the man who had emotionally tortured and abused him as a child.

When Michael called me and asked me what he should do, I immediately called sister #2 in Ecuador to ask what the devil was going on and why. My sister responded, ” You are not considered a member of this family and what we do is none of your business. If we need your help, someone will contact you and tell you what to do.”

Like hell they will, I told her…her need to dominate and control everything had just gone too far. “Remember”, I said, “when we were children and if we did not do what you wanted us to do you would tell us “do not speak to me further, you are dead in my eyes”? Well my dear sister, please consider yourself dead in MY eyes.”

I did what I could but one day Michael was gone and his wife called me in tears. There was nothing I could do. In his innocence he could not defend against all the lies they told him and once back in Ecuador, they took his passport and his life became misery as they tried to make him into something he could not be. It took him nearly 3 years to escape and return to his wife and children, but he was changed, his wife was changed, so much damage had been done that could not be reversed.

Although I stayed in touch with my sister-in-law during his absence and did what I could to help her, I did not see my brother again for many years. By that time I had disowned all my family and although I loved him dearly I could not keep contact with him for fear the family would use him to get to me, he never could understand that I was trying to protect him. We would both hug each other and cry.

It would be many more years later I would get a call; from sister #2 saying “Michael is near death and demands to talk to you.”

I said my tearful goodbyes and told him how much he was loved. I would only later learn from a stray conversation, that he was divorced and had stage 4-lung cancer.

I spoke to my sister-in-law once once a few years later when my mother died, but it was only a casual conversation about Michael’s share of the inheritance and since my mother had basically disinherited me, I could not answer any of her questions; I could only advise her to contact the attorney in charge of the estate.

I often wondered what happens when all the barriers to innocence are breached, do we take the remaining shards and try to hold onto the illusion of what we once held to be true? Or do we rebuild a new illusion that allows us to carry on as we discard the shroud that once tried to devour our souls?

What does happen to the dreamer when there are no more dreams?

“If all is illusion, let’s choose the most beautiful… “- Jodorowsky

unfinished graphite sketch of one of my paintings, 2015, 15x25 cm (6 x10)

unfinished graphite sketch of one of my paintings, 2015, 15×25 cm (6 x10)     …….

The story continues……

.. My sisters unrelenting plan to win my aunt over to her side continued at a steady pace. There was nothing I could say or do to deter the situation. This accomplishment was made easier by the fact that my aunt was starting to go a little dotty and was developing a mild paranoia brought on by recent stress factors, such as her cat dying, a few friends dying, a bad tenant that had to be evicted and the apartment totally repaired from damage, among other small things. I was blamed for most of the occurrences (since I was suppose to be taking care of things) and just accepted it because I understood what was happening.

. I continued to do what Nan had asked me to do. As her condition worsened we moved her out of her boyfriends apartment into her house, in which we were currently living and renovating. I hired help during the day to watch over her and eventually by the second year had to hire an overnight home health care nurse as her Alzheimer’s worsened.

. The boyfriend’s duplex was repaired, and sold for a large profit. This made the wolves at the door salivate.

. My aunt had a serious car accident, she was not injured, but she lost her license. This event became a major set back for her emotionally. The upstairs apartment was re-rented to a nice young girl who decided I was the enemy and became very protective of my aunt. My sister was still living upstairs in the other apartment but it had been over a year since I saw her and she would not answer my phone calls.

. By year 3 Nan had deteriorated so much she could barely walk, getting good night help became a problem since Nan would now refuse to listen to anyone but me. I was operating on 3 hours a night sleep and it was beginning to stress me out. I sat down with Nan in one of her more coherent moments and we discussed her moving into a nursing home. She agreed and selected the one she wanted. That move caused a furor in the family claiming that was my intention all along and my aunt became even more paranoid that I was going to do the same thing to her and take all the money.

. We finished the renovation of Nans old house and put it up for sale. A bidding war ensured and the property was sold for several hundred thousand over the asking price. The vultures were very restless with this amount of money being deposited into Nans account. (It is very hard to sneeze twice in New Orleans without everyone knowing about it.) With the help of the accountant the money was invested and protected. With the sale of the house, we moved to the third property in Lacombe, about 25 minutes outside of New Orleans.

. My departure from the city allowed my sister to encourage the family to take full control of my aunt, which they did. All of a sudden my services were needed less and less as my aunt would state, “my family will take care of that, and if I need your help, someone will let you know.”

. Then my aunt decided, with assistance of course, that she no longer wanted to share lawyers with Nan and wanted her own lawyer. I tried to convince her that this would not be in her best interest since Nan’s lawyer was the best in town, but my aunt was unwavering. So I agreed.

. Once she had her new lawyer, her next step was to remove my power of attorney and give it to my cousin, whom I knew without a doubt, along with my sister, was the force behind everything.

. I did what I could to help my aunt by obeying her wishes as much as possible. I came into town daily to visit Nan and check on her progress, and I would also go by my aunt’s house to check on her. However, now my aunt insisted that someone else always be present when I came over, as she was not sure she could trust me. So the upstairs tenant would be called down or we would stand outside the house so the neighbors could see.

Alzheimer’s is without a doubt devastating, but at the same time it is quite amazing, for even though Nans deterioration was escalating at a daily rate, she would have moments of complete clarity where she would tell me how the nurses were treating her, asking about the properties, her accounts, and we would have normal conversations about everyday things, and then she would just fade back into that empty space. There was only one glitch with these awakenings, when she talked about the nurses it was what was happening currently, but when she talked about life and people, she would pick up where she left off, the exact time before the onset of the disease.   Here again, I was the only one visiting her and even though I would offer my observances to my aunt, she no longer pretended to be interested, she only wanted updates on the money. At the same time I began to see the signs of deterioration in my aunt: she would repeat the same statement two or three times in a row, loose track of the date or year and she was frequently disoriented, and she would become hostile if I asked too many questions or if I made too many suggestions. A perfect example: I would suggest we visit the doctor so he could check on her medication (a year previous her doctor had prescribed a memory medication.) She told me that “her family” (I was not included in that group it seems) convinced her that this medication was harming her and she had stopped taking it, and she thought I was just trying to make her sick so I could put her into a nursing home.  There was no convincing her otherwise.

. My sister was now doing all the little things I use to do: cooking, small repairs, making arrangements, going with her to social functions…etc. This additional rejection emotionally stressed me even further and I sought council with the mother superior at the nursing home, who advised me to stop trying to be a martyr and let God do what needed to be done. So I took one step back, and then another.

. The work on Lacombe was continuing. It was a beautiful piece of property, 4 acres on a running stream filled with ancient oaks with 15-foot trunk circumferences. The house itself was a miniature plantation style house, built in the 1930’s and badly in need of repair. Living in New Mexico I truly missed the sound of water and the green and this place seem to wrap its arms around me. We had finished the renovation of our old adobe in New Mexico before coming to Louisiana and we talked about maybe it was time to move on. I felt my continuing obligation to Nan and in spite of how my aunt was treating me, I thought if I was living closer in a more permanent situation I could at least keep an eye on her and protect her as best as I could.

Sitting down with Nan’s attorney he did not see any problem and would go ahead and draw up the papers for us to buy the property at a fair market value. We then put our house in New Mexico up for sale and within 3 days of it going to market there was a bidding war; we took the highest bid and the deed was done.

Oh, but fate and karma can be most wicked, for as soon as I announced that we had sold our home in New Mexico, would be buying the Lacombe property and staying in Louisiana, Capitán came into town.

I had stopped being a martyr, but I still foolishly held onto my beautiful illusions, my love and empathy for my aunt and Nan unrelenting and my need to fulfill my promise made me dig in my heels and stand my ground. The family had brought in the big gun and my life was to become a small nightmare.

“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”

― William Wilberforce

Night Lines graphite on paper 8x10

Night Lines
graphite on paper
8×10….

…Back-tracking ….an aside that is part of the story…….

Beatrice was my grandmother’s housekeeper/maid. Beatrice cleaned house, washed clothes, helped cook and care for my grandmothers 9 children. Beatrice only had the one daughter, LiliMae, born about the same time as my aunt (circa 1924). Beatrice would bring her to work with her six days a week until she was old enough to attend school. Hence, LiliMae and my aunt grew up together.

I do not think LiliMae went very far in school for as Beatrice became too old to continue with the heavy daily work, LiliMae took over and when my grandmother died, she stayed on and worked for my aunt and other members of the family including my own.

The family took good care of Beatrice and continued her salary until the day she died and then paid not only for her funeral and burial but that of her husbands as well. LiliMae stayed in the run down rented shotgun home of her mothers, married a good and kind man and continued working six days a week. My aunt and Uncle took care of all her extra needs whatever they might be. This was all quite normal in New Orleans where slavery was still alive and well just hidden under the veneer of social correctness.

LiliMae, being 1 or 2 years older/younger than my aunt (I never knew for sure) was in her late 70’s when I arrived on the scene in New Orleans. Still working for my aunt but only every so often as she was quite frail and arthritic from all the years of hard work. LiliMae’s husband had long since departed and my aunt was “taking care” of her in the sense that she would take her to the grocery or just go buy groceries for her or to the doctor if LiliMae could not go by herself, and of course as tradition demanded, she continued her weekly salary.

With my arrival and the fact that my aunt was now getting a regular month stipend and had more opportunities to go out and spend her money in the social circles, she turned the care and feeding of LiliMae over to me, proclaiming in the classic southern princess tradition, that she “just couldn’t take it any more”.

Yes, LiliMae was a bit of a pain, a 4-foot 3-inch scrawny whirlwind of a woman, an incessant talker and complainer, she reminded me of my maternal grandmother, but I always had a tender spot in my heart for her and her plight in life and her ability to continue despite any and all obstacles thrown at her.

So once a week I went to see LiliMae. Now this was a very big thing for her and when I arrived she would come out of the house, before she would let me come in, and loudly make sure the entire neighborhood knew who I was and what I doing there and the fact that I (“a white girl”) was taking care of her “black ass” as she use to say. This would continue on for several months until LiliMae’s knees gave out and the doctor suggested a knee replacement. Medicare took care of most of the cost and my aunt (or rather Nan) paid the rest. The recovery was slow and so home health care was needed. But something else was going on and it was two months later when the second of the home health care agencies quit because LiliMae was beginning to prove to be “too difficult to handle”, that I realized there was a serious problem. I took her to another doctor and after some test she was diagnosed with bi-polar dementia. I managed to find another agency to help out and make sure that LiliMae was taking all the correct medications, to do her exercises so she could get out of the wheelchair, but it was becoming a downhill battle.

Of course I kept my aunt informed of everything that was going on except the fact that before her surgery, she had me take her to the bank one day and added my name to her account in case of an emergency. She said I was the only person she could trust not to steal her money. LiliMae knew my aunt larcenous heart very well and I could not, in good faith, tell her of this occurrence. Over the years LiliMae had managed to set aside over $20,000 from her salary and gifts and whatever, and she was afraid my aunt would take it all back.

A year passed and by this time my sister had her hooks deep into my aunt and along with my first cousin Nora they decided that LiliMae was a “family” concern and that “thank you very much” but she would take over now, and boom!, that was that. My relationship with my aunt was strained at best at this point and with my hands being tied and no voice in the matter, I stepped back.

One month later they, the family, put LiliMae into a State-run nursing home. My aunt being the closest thing to a living relative signed the papers and walked away. Within a week my aunt had made arrangements for all of LiliMaes possessions to be sold at auction. I do not know what she did with the funds.

No one asked me about anything, so I waited out of curiosity to see what was going to happen. Two weeks passed and my aunt called me saying, “The nursing home wanted to “talk to you”. When I asked about what she responded, “I have no idea”. I knew she was lying through her teeth as she always did when she did not want to face anything difficult. So my aunt and I went to the nursing home and we discussed the financials, I explained the situation and said of course I would turn over the account to the state for her care. My aunt never said another word except “well that’s taken care of”.

I would visit LiliMae once a week until she no longer recognized me; the home had put her in bindings to keep her from hurting herself, she was heavily medicated, and she would nonsensically rant to anyone who was close. My aunt never mentioned her name again; it was like she never existed.

LiliMae died of a heart attack about a month after I stopped coming to see her, I received a note from the Home saying they wanted me to know since I was the only one who ever visited her and that she would be buried next to her husband.

I laid a flowers on her grave and there was, like most things those days, a sad finality to it all, and perhaps I was the only person who shed a tear.

 

Sleepwalking

Posted: January 19, 2015 in journal, Women, Writing
Tags: , , , ,
Beach Chair, oil on canvas, 77x102 cm (30x40)

Beach Chair, oil on canvas, 77×102 cm (30×40)

Its true, I feel like have been sleepwalking…..painting, thinking, working, sleeping, trying to breathe.  And so I sit and wait.

A new birthday approaches and the 30 days prior have been adventurous to say the least, ripples in the force, a glitch in the matrix, passing shadows… patiently I move slowly, because it is best to let these things pass in order to have a clean page, a sharp pencil to begin writing.

Words cloud my mind, the fog of too many years and too many rivers rushes over me as I think of a way to put it all into perspective.

And so I wait.

It will come when its ready.

“We are all exactly where we are supposed to be, doing what we need to do at any point in time.” Unknown–

Paper Play 7 mixed media on paper A4 (8x10)

Paper Play 7
mixed media on paper
A4 (8×10)—

 

 

The story continues……….

If bridges were burning behind me, I did not notice, but the smoke did cloud my eyes for a while as I moved forward in life. Once the air cleared, everything was bright and new again, another door opening, leading me forward and my heart beat with anticipation as the plane landed on that cloudy and humid day.

New Orleans has such a unique pervasive smell. It envelopes one like a favorite old blanket in need of a good wash. Centuries of stale beer, urine, fried oysters, and mold have saturated every brick with an empyrean scent, one known only to those who were shaped from the muddy waters of this city’s embrace. Of course there was also the dampness that always hits you in the face, forcing you to breathe though a wet sponge soggily saying: Welcome Home. That is, if I was going to call some place home, this was as good a place as anywhere, better, because here there were open arms waiting to embrace.

Embrace is a mild word as my aunt and uncle consumed me with love and affection, and plans. I would live with them until I found a place, I needed a job, I needed to meet so and so, I needed clothes, “my god” my aunt said, “what are you wearing, you don’t own a stitch of decent rags!”

I found a wonderful one bedroom in an old Victorian and then I hit the pavement looking for work. My first cousin crawled out of the woodwork offering to help me find a job as she had an employment agency. I agreed even though I knew I would never meet her standards or that of her clients. She reminded me of her position, the favor she was extending and how difficult it might be for someone of my character. I smiled and continued looking on my own.

Fortune lead me to the doorstep of WSMB AM Radio and a position as a receptionist. This pleased my aunt immensely and was considered an acceptable position, since one of her sisters and a brother had worked in radio. The work was simple and I had the pleasure of meeting every big star that came into town.  It was a small station and overall only number three in the market but they had a stellar morning show that was entrenched in the number one slot for morning drive time. My cousin would call once a week with a job offer for me and I would say I have a job and she would say but this better; and I would say but it pays less, and she would but it’s what you should have. I would then politely thank her and hang up, shaking my head.

My life was going along quite nicely. In my spare time I was writing for my aunt again, and her talks, installations and speeches were gaining popularity within the social circles she traveled. My relationship with my aunt and uncle took on a deeper closeness that is difficult to explain. To say I was wrapped in the comfort of love, feeling protected, strong and secure would be an understatement.

Within 2 months, I was promoted to continuity at the station and a month after that I made a proposal that would change the course of my life.

The station had a problem slot: afternoon drive-time: 2:00 pm to 7:00 pm. They were last in the ratings and everything they tried failed.  I listened to all the noise, the talk, the discussions going around and one day I walked into the manager’s office and said, ” John, why don’t you put a woman on the air.”

He laughed and said. “That’s never been done, and who would you suggest?”

“Me”, I answered.

There was silence and then he said, “bring me a proposal and we shall see.”

I bravely said, OK! And as I walked out of the office I was shaking but smiling. Three days later I presented the who, what, why and the benefits of putting a woman on the air, mainly me, in a 10-page proposal. The station manager smiled and said. “We’ll let you know.”

Three weeks later I was called into the office and told that the only way they could put me on air was if I had a 3rd degree engineers license so I could work the “board”.  OK, I said and went out, got information, learned it, took the test and came back with an endorsed license in hand.

Within a week I was on the air and within a month the ratings rose to put us in 3rd place.  The station thought it would be better if there was a duo so there could be more repartee, and we went though 6 men who refused to play with me, only wanting to get rid of me and take over. Then Richard came along, 20 years my senior and a veteran in radio with that unique deep voice.  We were magic and a star show was born. Within weeks we were number one in the afternoon drive time and I became the first woman on-air in the city of New Orleans. My aunt was especially ecstatic since a lot of my conversations were about her eccentricity without ever mentioning her name, but all of her friends knew and her popularity soared along with mine.

However, I was not recognized for that accomplishment because our greatest competitor and the number 1 station in the city, decided to fight back by putting a woman on in the morning drive time slot and she became known as the first woman on-air and received all the publicity. Simply because the morning time was the highest earning sales time slot. That was fine with me, Richard and I held onto our number 1 position for the afternoon, I became a star and advertising for our show increased exponentially to make our show extremely profitable for the station. I was asked to MC numerous charity events and special events like the Summer Pops. No matter where I went, there was free food and drink, people knowing I would mention them on the air. I got to interview every big name star that came into town, and aside from Richard’s and my repartee, up to date music became our signature. No other station could touch us.

I rode this lovely train for over a year and then I received a phone call, out of the blue, that would set me on an unexpected path that I would follow for the rest of my life.

 

“Like all dreamers, I mistook disenchantment for truth.”―Jean-Paul Sartre, The Words —

Night Lines graphite on paper 8x10

Night Lines
graphite on paper
8×10—-

An after thought…

When I left Galapagos, Ecuador had just raised the number of tourist allowed into the island to 35,000 per year.  The big ships were already arriving and making visitation of nesting sites awkward as the small boats had to wait for all the passengers from the big boats to embark and disembark their passengers.  There were limits on how many people could be on any island at any given time.  Already numerous deaths of animals were occurring due to introduced vegetation or water pollution. Land iguanas were dying with boated bellies, sea-lion and seals were developing eye infections, marine iguanas were dying because the regular green algae was being overtaken by an introduced red algae.. The introduction of foreign vegetate, plant and trees combined with and animals; the continued practice of overfishing decimating many ocean species, the foreign elements replacing the natural ones and the animals are left without defense.  Then there is the human element, the physical slaughter of sea lions for their skin, not to mention other atrocities.  Guides were not adhering strictly to the rules of take nothing, leave only footprints and the inevitable consequence was beginning to show on all the islands.

Today I cannot image how the islands must look and cringe at the thought.  Over 140,000 tourists come to Galapagos every year, over 25,000 people now live on 3 islands, there are 3 airports, and over 4 billion a year is generated in tourist dollars. What was once one plane twice a week is now six planes a day.  The math is quite simple.

The increase of tourist affected all the animals in different ways. The effects of the human population growth can only be stated as an uncontrolled disaster; eventually there will no longer be a Galapagos, just the memory and photographs.

In 2007 the Unesco’s World Heritage Committee finally put the Galapagos Islands on the endangered list not only for the multiple species but also the entire archipelago.  In 2010 it was removed from the list under extreme protest from the International Union for the Conservancy of Nature siting that even though the Ecuadorian Government was making strides, it was not enough to save the islands.  The human population on the islands continues to increase at 8% a year.  The Ecuadorian Park Service rules have so many holes and loopholes, very little can be enforced.

I had become an environmentalist during my years on the islands and when I boarded the plane back to the USA, I left with a heavy heart, knowing that the first generation of guides would probably be the last to hold tight the need to protect the animals.   I was proud to have done my part but sad at the same time, knowing I was leaving a bit of magic, watching the enchantment fade and that nothing there would ever be the same again.

Humans never really learn and are indeed poor stewards of this planet.

 

 

“ …and a new day will dawn, for those who stand long, and the trees will echo with laughter.” Led Zeppelin

Girl with Bird (2008) conte crayon on paper 22x24

Girl with Bird (2008)
conte crayon on paper 22×24—

 

The story continues……….

Funny how when I look back on my days in the Galapagos, I never realized at the time that I was the only woman running any kind of boating operation.  There were lots of women there doing wonderful things from scientist to photographers, shop owners to hotel managers (there really were 2 hotels!), it just all seemed natural.

So, there I was managing 2 boats and an all male crew of fifteen.  Actually I gained the respect of the captain and cook of both the boats and they in turn kept the unruly crew in line, I only had to intervene a few times.

Six months after my arrival construction began on “the road”.  Steps would be built down one side of Baltra Island and up the side of Santa Cruz Island; a small makeshift ferry would unite the two landings.  At the top of the stairs on Santa Cruz Island homemade “buses” would carry the tourist across the island down to the bay.  The road was poorly built to begin with, using red scoria as a base, which under the heavy rains would melt into pools of rusty-red giving the impression of a bleeding wound in the land.

Better material over time would be brought in, better busses enabling more traffic; and with more traffic came the first murder, the first rape, and the first outbreak of measles. A jail had to be built for the drunk and disorderly that the potential of tourist dollars attracted and at the same time little bars and restaurant sprouted up hoping for its share of new source of income.

Our business was booming, the company growing in fame and fortune, which made Capitán happy and kept him completely off my back, which made me happy. I went out with the one of the boats whenever I could but mostly my work became managerial with the exception of meeting each group of tourist as they arrived and getting them settled either on the boat at Baltra Island or bringing them across land to pick up the boat in Santa Cruz depending on their scheduled tour.  I fell into a routine that would vary only slightly from my morning meet with the milk truck from the highlands to afternoon coffee with the Port Captain who was the highest authority in the land.  Those afternoon coffees were most pleasant conversations on just about any topic. The Captain turned out to be a former math teacher of mine, I did not remember him, but he said he always remembered me as “La Dorada” (the golden one).  The nickname took and it was by that name I came to be known and respected.

Evenings were either spent at my house with a good book or with friends on one side of the island or another, good conversation, wine, food and laughter melted the nights.

Two wonderful years full marvelous adventures, some heart breaks, much joy, unique and fascinating people both natives and tourist from all walks of life filled my experience file and gave me great joy.! I felt I had finally found a home, a place where I could stay forever, a place where I was just one more different person among many strange and different people.

That was unfortunately an illusion.  Unbeknownst to me, the money Capitán was making off the two boats was being re-invested (with the help of a few associates) into the refurbishing of an old cargo ship into a cruise vessel that would enable him to carry 125 passengers at a time for one and two-week cruises. During the last trip into Guayaquil for a re-fit, I was invited to dinner with him and his new partners.  The people he would be working with on the new ship and the people to whom he had just sold the business along with the two smaller boats.  I was informed I could stay on with the new owners or join him and work on the larger cruise boat.  It would mean leaving the islands and living in Guayaquil. I told him I would give it some thought and let him know.

The new owner of the island business was an Englishman married to an islander. He was a fanatical re-born Jehovah Witness zealot who had harassed me every chance he could get on the islands for my manner of dress, mainly shorts.  Although his wife and I were friends, I could not tolerate this sanctimonious man and his died in the wool religions convictions.

The writing was on the proverbial wall and I certainly did not want to work on a large cruise ship.  Never liked the big boats, and I did not want to live in Guayaquil. So I searched around the island for alternatives and was offered a position at the Darwin Station, which I thought I might accept, until the nightmares began.

The first dream came and I saw myself lying in a coffin, peaceful, but there was terrible sense of foreboding and I was afraid.  In the second dream I saw myself standing next to the coffin looking down at myself and I was crying. Again, the same sense of foreboding and fear.  In the third dream, I was standing next to the second me with my arm around her shoulder, as we looked at the first me in the coffin. In the dream I told the second me, in a very sad but comforting voice: “It’s time to go now.”

I turned in my resignation the following week, contacted my aunt in New Orleans who screamed “yes!, yes! Come!” Within the month I was on a plane bound for Louisiana.

 

 

 

“When stars collide, like you and I, no shadow blocks the sun”-  The One by Elton John

Blue and White, 2007, graphite and ink on paper- variation of Correggio's "Jupiter and Io"

Blue and White, 2007, graphite and ink on paper- variation of Correggio’s “Jupiter and Io” —

 

An Aside to the Story………..

I have reached an age where I can look back over my shoulder and see with great clarity the illusions of the past.  Recounting the highs and lows of ones life is like skipping a stone across a deep, clear pond.  The ripples from the collision of stone on water are ever expanding across the depth of untold passions, ambitions, desires, driving ambitions and a myriad of emotions running the gambit of human sensibility.

Some of those deep pools were the men that traveled though my life.  They came and they went, some gentle rain showers others thundering storms, none stayed very long, all of them wanted to control me, to harness the magic.  None understood what I needed but I cared for them and loved them all with great passion, and they loved me. Perhaps I was too complicated, too different; perhaps because I never formed a strong attachment or perhaps I used them as much as they used me.

All of them except for Barry.

He was an engineer on a British Schooner called the Golden Cachalot.  A hundred-foot beauty with a crew of 25 dashing young, bare chested Brits and 25 passengers looking for adventure.  The day she sailed into Santa Cruz Bay everything changed; for she was the opening door allowing larger vessels, more tourist which in turn changed the islands and its inhabitants.

We met by chance, both of us unloading shipments from the monthly cargo ship.  It was a bit of magic from the start, an instantaneous attraction, an all-consuming passion. My year-long relationship with Barry was something out of a corset-buster romance novel, glorified onto a Cecil B de Mille production.   Two stars headed on a karmic collision course, which would rip both our hearts to shreds.

When it was time for the Golden Cachalot to head back to England for re-fit, Barry looked for a way to stay in the islands or in Ecuador. Many jobs were offered to him, but in the end he decided to go back with the ship and return on the next tour.  I was wickedly in love and bravely waved him off, my heat aching at his leaving but secure in the knowledge he would return.

Life has a way of changing the course of every river and mine was no different. When the Golden Cachalot returned, he was not onboard. He had sent a letter with one of the crew, explaining how it was all just an “island romance” and how he made a mistake and he was moving on with his life.  At least he wrote me a letter, more than most would have done, and left no other choice I no longer looked to the horizon for sails.

Six months later another British passenger brought me a letter from Barry. This one was very different; this was the letter girls dream about receiving. This letter begged me to come to England, said he could not live without me, said he loved me, said he was a fool…….

In the days before Internet as we now know it, I sent a cable with the date and time my plane would arrive; I would go and see if his words were real.  Before I left, just about everyone on the island gave me money and their personal shopping list, so I left with minimum clothes and empty suitcases. I planned to be gone a week.

Landing in London two weeks after I sent the cable, he was there to meet me…..so wonderful.  He took me to his parent’s home where I would be staying; they welcomed me with open arms.  He would be staying at his apartment on the other end of town, as it was nearer to work.  I thought it was a bit strange but perhaps this was the proper way to do things.  I arrived on a Friday and we spent a glorious weekend together. Monday morning arrived and his parents left saying they were going to visit a friend and would be back the next day. Barry came around noon and I fixed us lunch.  He then began to tell me his story and I thought this is how it feels to buried alive.

He had made the biggest mistake of his life sending me that letter.  He did not have the courage to tell me not to come when he got the cable. His mates had convinced him I was just after a British citizenship and nothing else, that I was not of his class, I was too good for him, I would be miserable, that I really did not love him.  He had met another woman who looked a lot like me and knew I would love her, she was living with him for 6 moths now and they were planning on getting married. Seeing me again he said make him realize deep in his heart he truly loved me, but there was nothing he could do, nothing he could change, things had gone too far and he begged me for my forgiveness.

And then he cried.

If my heart was broken with his words, my soul was ripped apart with his wretched tears, and all we could do was hold each other, for when stars collide there is nothing left but a bit of fairy dust.

I did my shopping and returned to islands ahead of time without any stories to tell, diving back into my work, my life. To this day I remember him with great love, pain, and an occasional tear for another life, another path that might have been.

“Reality lies in the greatest enchantment you have ever experienced.”― Hugo von Hofmannsthal

Shadows, 2014, oil on canvas, 76x50 cm(30x20) -

Shadows, 2014, oil on canvas, 76×50 cm(30×20) –

The story continues…….

An overview:

The memories and smells of the Islands rise up and smack me in the face occasionally.  Triggered by some inconsequential, word, sight, smell, it would be as if I was there again in the moment, time traveling back to the land that was apart from time itself.

Anyone who has ever lived on an island knows the feeling, a core memory of belonging to the land, standing still in time as the rest of the world ceases to exist. The memory of Galapagos held no exotic scented flowers or wide white sand beaches, these “Enchanted Islands” as they were known held a course, barren, raw, base memory of salt, sweet rain, baking bread, stale beer, urine, coffee beans drying out on metal rooftops and the unforgettable odor of freshly slaughtered beef in the sun. A memory of ingenuity and strength enabling survival.

Since I was already a permanent resident of Ecuador, and an accredited “Guide”, getting my Colonist card and permission to live on the islands was a simple matter of tons of paperwork accomplished in a miracle of a week.   I took the next available plane out, a TAME airlines DC8 cargo plane delivering supplies to the Ecuadorian Navy who had a long-established base on Baltra Island, a former US base during WWII.  TAME also flew a passenger plane out one a week for tourist.

Baltra Island was nothing more than flat, barren rock with a large shack on the high ground that served as the airport with a runway that could handle jets. Down the high cliffs a large docking area was built for refueling purposes for the Navy and any other boats willing to pay the high price.  Only a few scattered trees struggled to survive on this arid rock amidst the debris of the US base.  The foundations of these remained, the wood having been carried away by local settlers over the years to build their own houses on Santa Cruz or San Cristobal Islands.  Baltra Pine it would be called.

One of the two company boats was anchored at the dock to pick me up and make the 6-hour journey back to Santa Cruz Island.  A 3-mile wide channel separated Baltra and Santa Cruz Islands; but at the time there was no available access from one island to another except by boat,  a 6-10 hour voyage from the Baltra dock, out to ocean, and back to the far end of Santa Cruz Island, safe harbor and town.

The company had also rented me a 2-room house constructed out of lava rock with a detached lavatory connected by a raised walkway.  The house itself was also raised as it was nestled in a grove of mangroves sporting a usable dock. However that dock was only useable at high tide when my house would become an island unto itself.

The first thing I did upon settling in was to remove my shoes.  I would only put them back on once a year when we took the boats back to Guayaquil for a re-fit.  My feet would quickly develop thick calluses enabling me to walk on any surface, including the sharp lava fields.

The mainland travel agency would arrange cruises and inform me what the tourist wanted to see and how many days (or weeks) via Ham radio. (I was HC2WG once I obtained my radio operators license). I would then plan the menu and the itinerary sending the list for both back to the agency.  The tourist would be informed of their itinerary and the ordered food would be shipped out for the cruise on the same plane as the tourist.  There was a cargo freighter that would visit the island once a month or so, bringing canned goods, beer, rice, any vegetable capable of surviving the 10-day trip., building materials, and anything else anyone could buy on the mainland and have shipped out.  We would also receive some basic supplies in this manner but it was costly.   It would take me 4 months of gentle coaxing before I was accepted by the locals thereby giving permission for me to buy locally grown fresh food (eggs, milk, green vegetables, tomatoes, cheese, potatoes, meat, fish, pork) reducing our operating costs.

I would not only be managing the operations/maintenance of the boats and its crew but also serve as guide until both boats were operating, as one boat was still undergoing renovation.

At the time “The Road” as it would come to be known, had not yet been built across the island (enabling a connection between Baltra and Santa Cruz), electricity ran for 4 hours a day, and fresh drinking water was collected from the roofs of individual houses during the rainy season and held in concrete tanks. There were no fresh water wells, even in the misty moisture laden highlands.   (Water filter though the ground and the porous rock to accumulate in  equally porous aquifers that would touched by the sea.)   The main piped water from the town well was brackish, good for toilets and cooking but not much else.  In the center of town near the docks was one bar, one bakery, the port captains office, a small and very dirty hospital with no doctor just a midwife/nurse (usually a doctor would come out every few months for a week), a church, a small tienda (store) selling everything from canned goods to miscellaneous supplies and used items for trade, and the homes of the islands inhabitants. The large bay of Santa Cruz would anchor many fishing boats, sail or powerboat available for hire by tourist to tour the islands and of course the never-ending flow of the traveling cruise yachts headed out across the pacific.  In the highlands where the soil was rich and the climate alluvial, farms flourished, run by immigrants that came from Europe in the late 1930’s.

At the far end of the island was the Darwin station situated in a large bay where the “Beagle” its scientific research boat anchored.  It was populated by a small staff and overrun most of the year with visiting scientist conducting one experiment or another. They had their own generator which enabled them to have what was known as “24 hour magic”.  My house was situated halfway between the center of town and the Station.

A small inlet separated one half of the island from the other, access to which was only by a row-boat, then climbing up rough-hewn steps cut from the lava rock.  This area was known as “the other side” and was inhabited by a fairly large population of German immigrant settlers. Of course from this side, town was also considered “the other side”.

There was only one sand and rock “road” (more like a wide path) that went from town to the highlands and from town out to the Darwin Station. There were a few vehicles on the island, but most belonged to the Darwin Station.

Everyone walked and everyone had a rowboat or speedboat, but most importantly everyone had a good sense of humor, which was key to survival.

Not everyone who came to the islands would stay, they would have difficulty adapting to the harsh conditions the islands imposed.   Only if you were willing to allow the islands to change you, to become enchanted, would the islands give back to you and like the ever evolving resident animals, you would learn to survive to the fullest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“A single slim trunk – Branches that bow in a storm – Green, leathery leaves with a soft centre – Glittering against blue sky – White bark scarred, bleeding – Heart wide-open – Bandaged, but upright she stands… ” ― Fadia Faqir, The Cry of the Dove

Traveling on the Spine of the Dragon (2005)- acrylic on canvas - 182x137 cm (72x54) -

Traveling on the Spine of the Dragon (2005)- acrylic on canvas – 182×137 cm (72×54) –

The story continues……….

There was a bit of  trouble writing this part, unsure as to the feelings my memory evoked, words eluded me for a while, I was interrupted by the holidays but clarity returned and I condensed it all…..

My friend who had sold my car met the plane and after one look rushed me to the hospital where I was loaded up with antibiotics.  Confident I was on the road to healing I asked him to drive me down to Galveston where I would stay with my grandmother until I was better and could make some clear-headed decisions.

When we arrived, he said he would wait to make sure she was there and everything was all right, so I headed up the walk, onto the porch and rang the bell.  My mother answered the door with “ You! And what are you doing here?”   Surprised and a just a little miffed, I explained I had just gotten back from my sailing adventure, managed to get a massive infection and was planning on spending a few days with “mawmaw”  to heal and rest until I could make plans.

“Well you will have to make other plans,” my sweet mother said. “Your grandmother died two months ago, I now own the house, your sister is living here and there really is no room for anyone else.”   “Well, then,” I commented, “let me get my things from the attic and I will be on my way.”   “I sold everything.”  My mother said.  “Why?” I asked.  “We had no idea when you would be back and those two boxes were taking up room I needed.”  “I see”, said I, “well I will just leave you to it and move on, nothing here for me obviously.”  As I headed down the walk back to the car she called out “Let me know if you need anything.”   All I could do was laugh.

Quietly I closed the door of the car and asked my friend to just drive.  Once we were headed back to Houston I told him what had happened.  He said his wife would be glad to have me at the house and offered to put me up for a few days until I could find a job and a place to live.

The next day I bought a few clothes and started the search for a job. The Sunday classifieds offered a position with the University of Texas School of Public Health (now the Health Science Center) for an administrative assistant in the International Health Module.  I set up an interview on Monday and was hired that afternoon. I would be working with two professors: an epidemiologist and a demographer.  By Wednesday I found a furnished garage apartment walking distance from the school and moved in the next day.

I loved everything about my job, my bosses, the students, the Dean, the environment, I felt most fortunate.  I even was given the opportunity at night to teach a non-credit language course in Spanish and in French for use in rural communities.

The more involved with the school I became, the more I wanted to continue my own education.  My other sister had been in touch with me letting me know that when my grandmother died she had left a sizeable amount of money in a trust fund for her grandchildren’s education.  My mother’s brother had been made executor of the trust and I would need to contact him to apply to the board.  He was a captain on one of Lykes Lines cargo ships and it was not difficult to find out his schedule and arrange a possible meeting the next time he was in port.

Two months later I received a call from my uncle inviting me on-board for dinner, the ship would be in Houston in 3 days and we could discuss the trust’s provisions.  At the appropriate time I took a cab out to the port and went aboard.  The captain’s cabin was quite large with a small office/dinning area.  The meal was wonderful, the conversation informative and I was looking forward to having my expectations fulfilled when my uncle asked me to come over to the desk so he could give me forms to complete and send in to the board of directors.

As I approached the desk he turned to face me, grabbed my hands with one of his and slapped me hard with the other knocking me down to the floor. He then proceeded to hit me again, pulled up my skirt, ripped off my underwear and while I lay there stunned, he raped me.  Climbing off of me he said, “ You are not the good little whore your father said you were, so get out of here! …and don’t expect this family to do anything for you.”

Humiliated, shamed, in pain, and partial shock, I straightened my clothes, gathered my purse, held my head high, left the ship, found a taxi and went back to my apartment where I laid in a tub of hot water shaking, unable to feel clean, unable to get warm. I called in sick the next day and the day after.  The swelling around my mouth had gone down but my mind was in turmoil, shadows flooded the dark memories, but I could not hold onto the whirlwind in my heart and soul, so I let it all sink back into the darkness.  As I lay there, in that dark dank cave, I looked up, found a shred of light, pulled up my socks and just moved forward. It was the only thing I knew how to do best.

The months passed, work consumed me, I made new friends, I joined groups, I spent my evenings in the bowels of Rice Universities’ library where I read every book I could find on cultural anthropology, my favorite subject.

December arrived and with it a phone call from Capitán offering me a job as Operations Manager for a Yacht Charter he had just established in the Galapagos Islands with two diesel-powered 60’ converted fishing boats.  He was having difficulty finding someone to handle the job as well as the crew and I was, he said, his last resort.

I have no explanation for what I did next.  I accepted the offer.   The only thing I can think of is that at the time, my torn, battered and broken mind was damaged beyond any reasonable repair.  The invisible bandage I wore covered my delusional state, and in that twisted madness, I saw his offer as an opportunity for my personal redemption.

I hung up the phone and cried, making small cooing sounds like the doves that sat on my windowsill each morning.

Within the week I was back in Ecuador showing no sign of what the past year had wrought.