I’m sitting in a squeaky clean room, sanitized by professionals, feeling self- consciously un-scrubbed. Rooms like this are serious; medical sitting rooms, where surgeons come in after you’ve met all the cheerful and optimistic staff members.
Just a few days before, on a pillow size slice of beach, Rudy and I
crouched up on two boulders. “It’s better up here; I don’t want to sit a foot away from a couple kissing.” He was right; we had mezzanine seats, and were at least twenty feet from the sleep over party down below. It reminded me of a fold out beach photo; guys and dolls on their stomachs, leaving their bronzed backs to glow in the sunshine. The girls legs dangled in the air, rising up and down with each giggle.
“You don’t look happy.” I said after watching the corners of Rudy’s mouth tighten and drop. He stared out to the ocean for a long two minutes.
“ I get nothing from a beach swarming with people. I go for the closeness to nature, the silence beyond the roar of the ocean. When we were at Kelly’s there wasn’t anyone else but us. ” (Kelly’s Cove, San Francisco)
I thought about it, and how the crowd was entertaining me, and how I’d dismissed the bold and demanding essence of the oceans power.
“You’re right, it’s different. I don’t ever remember Del Mar so crowded on the 4th of July. I was here in 1986, with Hannah Head, and a crowd. It was overcast, and
we ended up at one of the crowd’s house in Encinitas, in a hot tub. I still have the photo.”
“ Where was I?”
“ Remember? You didn’t like her. Or we’d broken up, I can’t remember.”
“ Why don’t you go in the ocean?” He asked.
“ I don’t want to go in if you can’t”
“ No way! I want you to enjoy yourself. I’ve not been in the water in three years, but I’d go today, except I have to wait another week. The stitches look all healed. See the scars. ” “ He raised his shirt, and pointed, “I look like Carlito; ‘ no big deal, in and out, boom boom.’ The scars were still purplish red from a hernia operation then an appendectomy, in one month. That’s why he was on the boulder; wearing a cowboy hat and cowboy boots.
“I must look like a Hillbilly from West Virginia.”
“You look like Clint Eastwood! All right, I’m going in.”
My skin was warm and damp and I walked through the aisles of legs, blankets,
chairs, toys, and cabanas to the water’s edge. Prissily sensitive to anything cold,
I layered my body down slowly under water, and got lost riding waves. Everyone had a boogey board or surfboard; and one kid swiped me as he passed. Rudy was right, not the same, but under water the thrill was not gone. Beneath the surface, I surrended to the sea as if he was a lover.
Maybe it was that night we ate outdoors on the terrace and watched the sunset slip. We didn’t talk too much about the medical meeting, or what was said, in such long-winded sentences with words out of medical journals. They were preparing us for the next surgery. Rudy wanted to talk about old times; in Del Mar, and old times in Taos, and New York, and all the other places we’ve experienced together. One day we went up to San Juan Cap to browse the antiques stores. Rudy spends hours picking through shop collections. He walks slow as molasses while I am aisles ahead, and miss all the good stuff. That’s one of collisions we have adapted to. I go fast, and he goes slow, I turn right and he turns left. I say, ‘did you get the for rent sign?’ And he says we have on, and we discover we’re talking about different properties.
We didn’t see anyone we knew when we were in Del Mar, because neither one of us wanted to talk or not talk about the medical meeting. We did see those same Starbuck sippers, now with less formality and an air of comfort in retirement.
“Wonder what happened to Blondie?”
“Which one?” I answered.
Afterwards, while we were waiting for the talking pedestrian traffic light to shout out; WAIT, WAIT, WAIT, Rudy started imitating it really loud. The family behind us joined in and the kids got wild in the middle of the street.
“Remember when Whitey threw the keys to his new Jag to you and said take a ride?”
“Yea, that was the first day we met him.” Rudy said.
“No it wasn’t.”
“Yes it was, or maybe the second day, but it was right in the beginning.”
“David empowered our café salon. He was one of the fascinating characters in my upside down life.”
“You’ve always been upside down. Like me, but you’re worse.”
“ I wasn’t before.”
“I became writer.”
Rudy leaped into his encouragement serum, knowing I’m at the end of the tight rope, and also knowing I won’t look for a safety net. One time I threw out a few boxes of manuscripts and he rescued them from the dumpster. In another home, he picked up pages I’d let drift out the window and tapped them back together. We’ve lived in at least a dozen homes, casitas, or apartments since we met.
This morning I walked through the Plaza, still waking up from last night’s festivities, and summer preparation is everywhere. Big storewide sales, street vendors, hobos, dogs on leashes, old men searching for a memory, and crews setting up the sound stage in the Plaza. All of us are thrown out of our homes to either collect or spend money. Beyond the money, there’s the circumstance of meeting someone you haven’t seen lately, or a movie in production, or a blazingly poetic sunset.
The air is perfumed with grilled chilies and sizzling greasy meat from push carts, bringing flies and children, like they do in Spain or Mexico. I walked into a Jewerlry shop and asked about a Navajo cross on a string of pearls. The saleswoman was a girl, with a laughing smile, and birch-brown eyes. She told me the cross can work for anyone, and that they pray four times a day, once in each direction. I thought it wouldn’t hurt to start the same practice, because who can remember to pray but the tribes.
Then she told me a secret. “All the pueblos are preparing for the big dances, and they are secretly praying for rain.”
“ Really? You mean all this rain we have had…
She tilted her head to one side and smiled. “ You can come in anytime and I’ll tell you stories.”
I walked out, with that singular enraptured sense of climbing off my boulder, and into the waiting discovery. Late at night I sat outdoors listening to the song of the crickets and thought how a hundred years ago this house was here. This was Ed Barker’s home and his relatives come by often to tell me stories. He was a very prominent wildlife and game protector, and the first Commissioner of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. It was Ed who suggested the little black bear cub who was caught in the 1950 Capitan Gap Fire, a wildfire that burned 17, 0000 acres in the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico, become the mascot for fire safety. One moment you’re safe, the next you’re not; but you can’t live on a boulder, anymore than a cub should live in a Zoo. To be continued.