When I was a child, I had a dream I was running fleet-footed from my mother’s house, past the homes of the young girls who shunned me, past my elementary school, past the old Catholic church, past our railway station, past an empty park bench, past the five and dime all the way to Jones Beach, where I crossed what seemed a mile-long expanse of burning sand so I could dive into the water and sit at the bottom of the sea. There, I discovered I could breathe easily and well if I took small, sip-like breaths. In my 20s and 30s, I ran through streets, up and down hills, and around tracks. I didn’t much like it, running, but it was the only thing I could do to persuade myself I was free. In recent years, I discovered long-distance walking around and around an indoor track, where I again found a kind of freedom so long as I didn’t stop. Now it appears I have badly torn my Achilles tendon, what with all those many miles of my moving sorrow from pillar to post.
Just now I was rereading a beautifully written short essay from one of my more bashful students. In it, he writes of his connection to the Chesapeake Bay—a mighty body of water that ebbs and flows across six states, including Virginia and Maryland—and then goes on to use the image of ebbing and flowing as a way of describing his inner state.
While reading the essay, I saw before me an image of a man I had known only from a photograph. I cannot say why he appeared, since I had not thought about him for many years, and I cannot tell you the reason he was sent. I can say, though, that he had been the handsome amante of my friend Mary and that he had died one night of cirrhosis.
At first, she did not know of his alcoholism because he had been able to stop drinking for a while and because they lived countries apart—he in Mexico and she in the United States. An intellectual who frequented a university where she had gone to study Spanish and Mexican literature, he saw her one day in the school’s cafeteria and, no doubt because of her beauty, made a beeline and struck up a sexy conversation. Soon after, they fell in love and carried on their long-distance romance until his sudden and tragic death.
For reasons I do not understand entirely, her romance with him and with Mexico marked the beginning of my love affair with Mexico, in particular, and with Latin America, in general. My second husband, now an ex-husband, is from Bolivia and, like Mary’s departed lover, is an intellectual (or somewhat so) and an alcoholic—this last a fact I discovered only after we were married. Perhaps somewhere within and down low, though, I knew from the start that he was in trouble.
Alcoholism, or at the least heavy drinking, has flowed through my family for generations: grandfather, mother, father, brother. So embedded in my sense memory is the boozy stink of my lost mother and the liquored-up reek of my lost husband that I, myself, cannot even bear to smell hard liquor, especially scotch, much less drink it. Sometimes, however, I will drink a glass of Pinot Grigio or Prosecco and usually will enjoy it well enough. Also, Mary and I are no longer friends.