As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments. Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.
Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…
Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast. Email me for more info: Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com
I HAPPY, by Ani Bell
You like me a lot.
That’s what Brian (pronounced Bree-ahn) said to me on New Year’s Eve, nearly nine years ago. We were salsa dancing at an outdoor club in Samara –a hard-to-get-to coastal town on the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica.
You like me a lot.
Hands on my hips, smile on his lips, a direct gaze connecting his brown eyes to my blue.
You like me a lot.
I was — for once — speechless. A confident, strong, thirty-eight-year-old woman – yet a twenty-three-year-old Tico rendered me unable to connect two articulate words together.
You like me a lot.
I felt I’d landed the leading role in a silent remake of ‘How Stella Got Her Groove Back’. I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out.
You like me a lot.
His words were cool water splashing my face, electricity shock-coursing through my veins. I was stunned. I’d never encountered a man so self-assured, so straightforward, so bold. Or so right. It was true. I liked him a lot.
Once I could breathe again, I managed a chuckle, looked into his eyes. ‘Si,’ I mumbled — proving my continued inability to construct a sentence. Just as well. The instant the acknowledgment left my lips, Brian’s came to meet them. And meet them. And meet them. And meet them. His friends stopped dancing to watch.
Thus began one of the greatest love affairs – & most unexpected learning lessons — of my life.
Five minutes after that incredible kiss, worry set in. Mi dios! What was I THINKING?! A twenty-three-year-old?! Seriously — besides that. Sure, Brian was exotic & smoldering & sexy & had a head of long, crazy-curly hair any supermodel would covet. But he was twenty-three. What — besides a sweet-hot tropical fling — could he bring into my life? He was twenty-three. What — besides how to speak Tico-slang — could he teach me? He was twenty-three. What — besides sweaty-steamy-beach-sex — could he do for me? Did I mention he was twenty-three?
Being so close to the equator, I can plead heat-induced dementia. Being on vacation, I can plead being-on-vacation. Being single & thirty-eight (& no dummy), I can plead sweaty-steamy-beach-sex.
At the time, I probably did plead those things, & I’m sure What-Happens-In-Samara-Stays-In-Samara occurred to me more than once whilst considering the pros & cons of a romance with Brian.
But the real reason I said, ‘Si’, was because I felt a connection to him that surpassed sex –even the sweaty-steamy-beach variety. I felt a connection that circumvented language & cultural barriers. I felt a connection that magically transformed the fifteen years between us to mere seconds. I felt a connection I couldn’t explain. But he could.
The night we first kissed, walking home along a deserted stretch of beach, I asked, ‘Por que`? Why me?’ I hadn’t yet made peace with a holiday dalliance, especially one involving a markedly younger man. Brian stopped walking, took my hands in his. ‘You have big energy,’ he said. Well, I silently mused, THAT’S original! I thought I’d heard every pick-up line in the book, but this one certainly takes the tortilla.
Instead of attempting to translate cynicism into Spanish, I opted for confusion. ‘No entiendo. I don’t know what you mean.’ ‘Big energy,’ he repeated. ‘You have big energy. First I see you, I say my friends — I marry that woman.’
‘Marry?’ I squawked. ‘No. No. No marry. No marry!’ Fear turned me into a wing-flapping parrot with very bad grammar, ‘You no mean marry!? You no mean marry!? No marry! No marry!’ He grasped my hands again, attempted to calm me. ‘Marry. Yes, marry. I say marry. No because you beautiful. No because sexy. You have big energy. Good vibration. I see it. Light around you. My friends see. I see. Good energy.’
Even with Brian’s broken English, understanding began to blossom. I stopped squawking & started breathing again. He smiled, encircled me with his arms & said, ‘We have connection.’ I didn’t know what to say, but I knew what to feel. He was right.
There was an energetic connection between Brian & I that had little to do with sex or romance or wanting to wrap my fingers in his crazy-curly hair. We were old souls — & we’d recognized one another. I’d felt it from the beginning, but hadn’t known how to convey it in words or whether he’d grasp the concept even if my Spanish were sufficient to do so.
But he was twenty-three. I couldn’t fathom what I’d get –besides sweaty-steamy-beach-sex –out of a relationship with a twenty-three-year-old. I fell for him nonetheless. How could I not? We genuinely liked one another, danced well together, talked easily & openly, laughed a lot.
One afternoon in bed, lying in the crook of his arm, I reminisced about the New Year’s Even he’d been so brazen as to declare, ‘You like me a lot.’ When I told him I couldn’t quite believe he’d had the huevos to say such a thing to me, he looked perplexed. I was fairly sure I’d used Tico-slang correctly. [Translated, ‘huevos’ literally means ‘eggs’, but Ticos use it more as a colorful description for ‘man-eggs’ -- if you get my drift.] But Brian appeared flummoxed. Between his broken English & my shattered Spanish, it took ten minutes to unravel the miscommunication. When we did, I laughed & screamed so hysterically, my landlord poked her head in the window to make sure I was OK. I was.We’d discovered, when Brian boldly said, ‘You like me a lot,’ he’d actually meant to say, ‘I like you a lot.’
Realizing his gaffe, he smiled shyly, said, ‘Lo siento. I sorry. I no mean say that. I mean say — I like you a lot. Oh, man!’ Then he kissed my cheek murmuring, ‘Lo siento, lo siento, lo siento.’ I assured him there was nothing to be sorry for. He liked me a lot. I liked him a lot. We have connection.
The next day, after a first-ever surfing lesson (big waves, bigger wipeouts), we sat on the beach laughing at how terrified I’d been at the prospect of encountering sharks –which I was convinced wanted nothing more than to chew me to bits, JAWS-style. Truth to tell — I had no plans to become shark-bait on my vacaciones, & if I hadn’t trusted Brian & already seen firsthand what a gifted surfer he was, nothing could’ve lured me into the deep waters of the Pacific. But it was obvious the ocean was his home, & he was born to surf –perhaps even born to teach others how to surf?
As the idea erupted in my brain, the life coach in me shifted into high gear. I realized Brian could turn his passion for riding the waves into a lucrative way to earn a living. Genius! I shared my inspiration, described in detail how brilliant Brian would be to quit his job at Hotel Giada, start a surfing school, maybe ask his cousin to help run it. Thrilled for him, I thought of the money he’d make, the independence he’d have, the exhilaration of success at his young age. I chattered on for two or three minutes before I realized – Brian wasn’t chattering back.
Halting my dream-scheme in midsentence, I asked, ‘Well, whatdya think?’ He kissed my cheek, seemed to struggle for words. I assumed the language barrier prevented him telling me what a ridiculously talented coach I was, that he was busy translating glowing words of praise from Spanish to English. I sat patiently, awaiting the accolades to come. He kissed my cheek again, smiled.
‘Ani — your idea, I thank you,’ he began. ‘Is good idea. Is bueno. I thank you.’ He squeezed my hand, continued, ‘Is good idea. Verdad.’ His eyes locked with mine, guileless. ‘But my work is be happy. And I happy.‘
You coulda knocked me over with a palm frond. He went on, ‘I understand your country is good to success. Is bueno. Is good for you. But my work is be happy.’ He shrugged his shoulders, a light in his eyes. ‘I happy,’ he repeated, the smile on his face confirming his words.
It was true. He was. Even working long, hard hours as a waiter. Even catering to tourists who could afford to vacation in Costa Rica, but seemingly couldn’t afford to tip. Even going without the conveniences I took for granted –owning a car, an overstocked grocery, air conditioning. Even living with his mother, his father, his sisters, his brother — in a home with little privacy. On an occasion when I asked if he wouldn’t prefer to move out of the family casa — get his own place – he searched my face for answers, bewildered.
‘Why I want leave my Mom?’ he inquired. ‘Um, maybe to have privacy, be on your own?’ I offered. ‘Oh, no, Ani — I love my Mom. If leave my Mom, I no happy. Nooo happy. I happy with my Mom.’ I couldn’t argue with that. He was. I knew firsthand.
The morning after Brian & I first spent the night together at ‘my place’ – a rental casita located a few houses down from his own — he awoke early, jumped into the outdoor shower, crawled back into bed squeaky-clean, a half-grin on his face.
‘Come, Ani. No sleep. We go. We eat breakfast.’ Receiving no response, he reached under the sheets, threatened to tickle me if I didn’t get a move-on. I closed my eyes, mock-snored as loudly as I could, ‘Conk-shuuu. Conk-shuuu. Cohhhnnnkkk-ssshhhuuuuu.’He wasn’t buying it. ‘Aaaaanniiiii,’ he coaxed, ‘is time awake!’ ‘Cohhhnnnkkk-ssshhhuuuuu.’
Trying a new tactic, he put his lips to mine, puncuating his words with kisses. ‘Aaaaanniiiii!’ KISS. ‘Is time,’ KISS. KISS. ‘Breakfast!’ KISS. ‘Cohhhnnnkkk-ssssshhhhhhuuuuuuuu,’ I replied against his lips.
Assessing the situation, he played the sympathy card, sighing, ‘I have hungry. Think I die if I no eat, Ani. Think I die if I no eat, ahora!’I opened my eyes, made a funny face. Giggling, I said, ‘You look bueno to me!’ He whistled in exasperation, started grumbling in Spanish, faster than I could translate.
One thing was apparent — the way to a man’s heart really is through his stomach, even in Costa Rica. I laughed, told him I’d cook something muy delicioso as soon as I had energy sufficient to lift my head off the pillow. He rolled his eyes, said, ‘No, no, no. My Mom cook! She want meet you. We go. Is late. She wait.’
Suddenly I had no problem lifting my head off the pillow. I bolted upright — speechless again — mouth agape. My heart danced a merengue, my mind twirled to the pumping beat: I’ve spent the night with a twenty-three-year-old, & his mother — who happens to be a mere six years my senior – wants to meet me & cook breakfast!?
I found my voice. ‘Mi dios, tell me you’re kidding! Tell me you’re joking! Tell me you’re not serious! Por favor, tell me your mother isn’t waiting to cook me breakfast?!’ I pleaded.
‘She wait y she cook. Pero no eat if we no go ahora,’ he said, pulling me into his arms.
‘Oh, God, Brian — I can’t walk into your family’s home the morning after we’ve had sex & expect your Mom to cook for me! Are you loco?!’ He handed me my flip-flops.
I pulled the sheet over my head. ‘No way. I’m not going. I’m NOT going. She might try to poison me or something.’
‘No, no. She no poison. She no poison! She cook with love! Have big, love energy in eggs, gallo pinto. You see. She no cook bad energy except when she mad. When she mad, I taste difference. Taste muy malo. Last time she mad with Papi, I no eat nothing for two days!’ In spite of Brian’s disturbing attempt at reassurance, I got dressed, trudged the dirt road to his family casa, A Dead Senorita Walking.
A howler monkey in the low branch of a mangrove screamed bloody-murder. ‘You can say that again,’ I mumbled, feeling sick. Brian held my hand the entire way, had the grace not to mention how slick & sweaty it was. Smiling, oblivious to my dread, he walked into the house, pulling me along behind him. We entered the kitchen. There she was. This woman — quite nearly my contemporary — whose son was falling for me. My mind begged the question — Oh, Blessed Maria, what have I done to deserve this?! But my heart already knew the answer – I’d slept with a twenty-three-year-old.
Brian kissed his mother on the cheek, lingered in a hug, gestured my way. He seemed so proud & happy. Dizzy with fear, I hung back in the corner, leaned against the stucco wall, bracing myself for the tirade to come. Silencio. I wondered if I’d comprehend whatever curses she’d hurl my way, thought I’d be lucky if I didn’t. I said a last-minute prayer. Oh, God — please protect me and forgive me for my sins. Please let this Mother Hen spare me and let me go on living another day on Your Great Green Earth. And if she does and if You do, I promise to never sleep with another twenty-three-year-old again! And if I do, I promise not to show up at his mother’s house the next day for breakfast. Ever. Again. Amen.
I resisted the urge to cross myself, took a step forward, resigned to my fate. With a rigid smile plastered on my face, I waited. She closed the distance between us in two steps, kissed my cheek, & took me into her arms.
‘Hola, Ani!’ she crooned. ‘Mucho gusto.’ I’ve never felt so welcome. Or so relieved. The meal — rice & beans & eggs & plantains — was cooked with such Big Love, I tasted it. I understood why he never wanted to leave. I understood why he’d miss his Mami if he did. And I understood why he was so happy.
A week later, an illness hit Brian fast & hard. Feverish, swollen glands, aching all over, he was barely able to get out of bed. Afraid for him, I advised a visit to the doctor in a nearby village. He said he wanted to surf instead. I pushed him back into the pillows, covered him with the sheet, mopped his brow with a cool washcloth. I thought he was delirious.
‘Bri, you need a doctor. This is serious,’ I warned.
‘No, no, no. I need surf. I need medicine. Surf my medicine. I go surf.’
Once again, I found myself speechless in the face of a young man whose wisdom defied his years. I wanted to argue, force him to see things my way, coerce him into seeking a professional so he’d be healthy again. But since I’d underestimated him more than once, I held my tongue, decided to trust. Maybe the love he felt for surfing would heal him? Weak but determined, he labored out of bed, got dressed, kissed me ‘adios’. From a sore throat, he croaked, ‘Hasta luego!’ over his shoulder as he ambled down the dirt path to the beach.
Somehow I knew he’d be well in a few hours. While Brian went in search of surf-medicine, I curled up in a hammock, watched colorful parrots flitting from lime tree to mango, back to lime again. An iridescent blue butterfly fluttered onto my hand. I smiled, burrowing deeper into the hammock & into my reverie. I thought about all I’d learned in six weeks in Costa Rica, how I hoped to carry the lessons with me back home to the States. I thought about how a twenty-three-year-old taught me more than I ever dreamed possible. I thought about how love finds its way through words, through food, through cultures, through the joy of dancing & surfing & passion. And about how love found its way through two old souls born years & miles & countries apart. We have connection, I thought. And I happy.
That’s My Story,