••• The International Writers Magazine - Our 20th Year: Relationships
The Man from Managua in New York City
I learned about your death on Facebook. A friend wrote some memoriam for you. By then, the drift between us was well established in the world and the daily earth ways of living our lives had gone forward.
It had been years since we first met in a class at college when the city was my great aphrodisiac, and the world was your mother and inspirer, and your visa and passports were the only things you could ever love.
When did you die? Was it 2003? When my memory comes back about you it’s usually during the month you were born. You would have been seventy-seven now and we would still be in each other’s ideas about the chemistry of writing and the evolution of god. We were sipping espresso in a café in Greenwich Village when the late September day drifted across the table, in 1983, as the sidewalk swiftness of New Yorkers ran past us. The moments would lead both your moodiness and flippant ways toward a trip for months to Nicaragua, and when the school opened for the spring semester, I was unable to find you there.
A year earlier, we met on Grand Street in the family owned loft where the canvas paintings by your brother took up the walls with the speed of colors that were taller than we were. A couch faced the television. A coffee table was piled with papers from students who didn’t want them back. They were worth keeping you thought. They blew in the wind from the open windows from the front to the back of the room. I came to meet you there, in the million-dollar cave with cracked walls and uninsured art. I had to cling to every hair on your hand and as the pupils in your eyes darted into mine we left the table for a walk up the street, so I could go home.
You talked about ‘young love’ and so I immediately pulled in the offerings of us being together forever. You made love like a pirate. The arch of your hand over your eyes would insure your wanting to scope out all the possibilities that were around you. I liked that. I learned to liberate myself because of you and that gift of not loving too young, but like a grown-up person who is too mature to surrender his feelings.
There were lessons to learn at that time. The early days when we met and dated after school finished for the semester. We quietly stared at each other when the Brooklyn Bridge celebrated being one-hundred-years old in 1983. It was May when the crumble of an old hippie’s brain could be heard in the class he taught. The rights of humans have to be more important than money and the financial security and power of the leaders of the world needs to be handled better. “The world is going to burn down,” you would say, and I would listen to your brown eyes that stared into me until I catapulted thousands of years backward and swore, I knew you once before.
I was ready to travel to the coffee plantations in Managua and live in a straw house where the windows had no glass. My star rose inside the inside of my intestines. My children would wait for me. The fantasy was so strong I could feel the dead who were never found as I stepped into the path with you.
It wasn’t necessary to ask you to stay with me forever. As my steps took me into life, along the paths of doing and nothingness, when compared to the way the world looked when I looked into you, my desires went into yours and so I dissolved like a cherry lollipop in water. The problems in Nicaragua pulled you into the lens of your camera. Nine months after you left, and no one knew where you were, you called me. Nine months past the time I spent with my original love, the one I married in your absence, you began to look for me. You contracted hepatitis during that time in the unsanitary world where filtered water was a privilege. “It was painful,” you said.
“Yes, it’s been painful,” I added.
I looked at the poster we bought together that I had framed by activist, Ernesto Cardenal hanging on my wall between the fireplace and window. The air shaft echoed my mind. The bricks that were carefully placed eight decades earlier, remembered the bed where our worlds disappeared two years ago. The quiet tone of bricks with cement were still solid. Uncrumpled voices were smooth that night in the silence of the city noise outside, inside we found each other.
In days of remembering how my mother and taught me to love, we ignored the pleas of the women who brought us into the world. You ran to the war in Nicaragua. It was necessary for you to do that. The war with your mother who abandoned you at four-years-old was destined to kill you. You avoided the real pain and took on the pain of a troubled country by taking photographs of their poverty, abuse and the death of their dreams.
Everyone else’s bones were easy to step on. Nicaragua and the contras pushed you to be the hero, the lifesaver against the fences that collapsed in the desperation of war. You insist on going to see the movie on Eight Street Alsino Y El Condor together. Your fixation with the fight of people and the poor compromised lives they have pull me into you. Can I rescue them with you? Can we live in a small hut as you take your camera and document the struggle of the poor?
You never knew your father who was an editor for Time and married your seventeen-year-old mother, then disappeared from both of you. She in her beautiful turquoise and orange skirts, and red lipstick, was enough for you to be your first love. Until she put you into a boarding school where you stayed until you were eleven years old. I pass out from emotional exhaustion when you tell me this. Your ferrell heart can be understood now as the history is painted from your cold veins.
True love couldn’t arrive in your arms. You spent your life waiting for the woman to be repent for her actions, and it was never to be. So, you ran with your camera and mature style of love until they buried you at seventy-one-years old. In a river of letters and collections of crosses from your last wife and rocks and dead leaves, your girlfriend at the time cried. She went through your collections. Then she found our letters.
“What does he do for you?” you wanted to know.
“He doesn’t have to do anything other than make me happy,” I said. “I feel good with him. I feel safe with him. He stays the night; I need the night for the extensions of joy after the conversations stop and the breathing begins to change.”
We carried on in the months and joined each other on occasions of needful decompression. New York City was our home where we lived separately and met forty-years after you were born to the unloving mother and thirty-years after I became a high school graduate in 1968. The other students in your class were waiting for you to take them to movies and long walks and perhaps more time while recording their class projects.
There was time for me always after recording the others; when the first night you came to the walk up where I had lived for seven-years. We danced with a few oranges that you said was the food of the gods. I kept thinking of Egypt and pharaohs when you said that. I went back to canoes and oars and gold threads in my clothes and your long black hair was a match in my memory.
You explained that the central Americans were dying and were at risk of being taken over by the Sandinistas. We talked over folded legs and arms on the table in front of us. Red and white checkerboard tablecloths were the standard for bar tables. A revolution from your home transferred to the dirt and it was then, as you watched the injustice outside your heart, you felt good about documenting the pain of others.
The time since you were dying at home with your brothers and mother, who was in her nineties by then, with postings on Facebook and you were too weak at the time to send me anything. Your impending death was the new portal for us to go through. I looked at your mother in the pictures on the internet. She looked like she could not have loved you any more than what she was capable of. I wanted more for you. I knew the weight of your broken heart that even after this lifetime you couldn’t get past.
I knew that I was your princess for over one-thousand-years. That we ate together and slept together during the early times on the earth and no one would know. It would always be between us. The well runs deep it gets dark as it travels toward the center of the earth; it holds our secrets in between the sun and the underground caverns. Fish will swim past our dreams in the springs that rise from the water. In time, we will recognize each other again in another life.
But during this one your mother gets to outlive her first child. She pushed you away when you were small. You said you forgave her. You needed her as you pushed the boy inside of you into the unhealthy demands of two divorces, many others who left you and then me. We never parted. We never were. We accepted the lack of flowers and birthday dinners as immature and so it didn’t happen. You taught me that. You showed me with tenderness how to use my diaphragm as you put it in for me with your thick fingers that at any other time would have hurt me. I became accustomed to not expecting anything from you other than the moments in between you chasing down the contras in Central America and going back to California during the cold months in New York City.
Later on, we kept seeing each other as the years of your cancer swept away the possibilities for us to be in the same rooms for a long period of time. You stayed with me. You slept on a mattress on the floor in my home, my New York City apartment was our last time of hearing each other in the middle of the night. You left your clothes behind during one of those visits. I threw them in the garbage. I could do that with you and your stuff the pants you bought at the thrift store and a shirt that had become too loose for you. I couldn’t look at you in the fabrics any longer.
The school when I returned without you in your class changed drastically. Your sallow skin clashed with the blackness of your hair. The black cape in winter that was rescued from Mexico on one of your trips flew in the stillness of the corridor. I could still see it. The smell on your clothes from the #6 train that ran on Lexington Avenue. New York City wasn’t protesting for the Sandinistas or for your cause in the country that you were in love with.
I traveled downtown to see you. I left my son with someone, so we could dance at the Spring Street Bar with a small amount of alcohol in us and the loft not too far away. Even when we were together, I knew it was just a movie of love and lust and that it would play in our minds marquee for no charge, for as long as we wanted it to. As the days of death surrounded you in the end, we still found time to stare at each other in cafes. There was no room in the world that would remove the flame and there was no other who could line up behind us waiting for a bite, that could replace you.
A long time before we walked the concrete and I kept my hands in my dungaree skirt pockets, you knew the world better than I did. By the end days when the discussions were less contrived and more relaxed, even though you wanted to run upstairs and perform you rooster style dance with me, I grew past your limited worldly ways.
I wasn’t afraid to challenge you. In your absence I learned that even though you were the most amazing man at the time that I had ever met, I didn’t need you. The memories of the fantasy fueled my joy as I traversed around the planet after your death. I was happy with myself. Realizing, that even at thirty-years-old I was young in retrospect. As we arrived in front of each other over the years, I outgrew you before you would come around again. Then, you seemed to get smaller. You were now an older man who laughed easily, who was content taking you insulin and eating starch once a day. You were on borrowed time. In the death walk you traveled again to India. The book you were writing with a friend’s wife about water availability in India was intriguing.
A critical and judgmental side sometimes appeared in you. A pestilent child who would compete with me and warn me that others were taking advantage of me and needed to pay me for my writings. You rose out of your shell in defense of my rights and I didn’t ask you to. You would become physically distant and keep repeating that they weren’t paying me enough. You, who would invite yourself into the homes of others while traveling and not offer a gift or a dinner outside. And so, you became the expert in my life in the later years while the fantasy I held onto to that you were perfect, let me overlook your short comings. The abandoned son and the fatherless boy would dance in the room with anger as I grew past you. You didn’t want to lose me, even though you never had me.
On the evening when you turned forty-four, I was thirty-three-years old. “Come to the party,” you said. “Come and be with me when the year in my life moves forward by one,” and I said I would. When the room filled up with others, those you never talked about and those who didn’t notice me, I realized when a woman with darker hair than me sat on your lap and put her leg around you that it wasn’t an evening for us. She drank alcohol. She kissed your face and neck while my stomach went into the lost child mode.
You told me that I would be going home that night. I already knew that. You looked happy with her, and with the fun you were having with loud bursts of laughter you got the attention you crave.
I brought you a diary. A place to write your ideas and poetry and why the mysteries of the world look so simple at times, especially when the black hole was compared to the devil.
The world is probably a shit pile in the universe you said. Then, later on in the years, past your marriage to a Mexican woman who died of cancer before you did, you denied saying that. It was useful for you to get married again to her before she died, as a Catholic. She wanted it. You wanted to make her happy.
She sat in a wheelchair in a white dress with Mexican colors and rainbows around her now pious head. You looked taller as you took the wedding vows. You cheated on her anyway. You cheated before, and during the second vows. I know you loved her. The best way you could love having been a discarded son from a young and adventurous mother who longed to sell her own wares to the best bidder at the time.
I went home on the #6 train about 9 o’clock at night. The Greenwich Village darkness over cobblestones was spooky. The June 13th night with you upstairs with your nighttime flirt who I was to learn, was married at the time. A few drinks over warm thighs with a flame who you knew before me kept your interest as the presents were opened. I could see that in both of you. That look you gave her was the thing I remembered as the train took me home to the 68th Street station. It pulled my rejection memory from my years of feeling like nothing. It reinforced my unworthiness that conversation and deep discussions about the contras in Nicaragua was not going to keep me that night under your blanket.
I had ironed my skirt. Made sure my hair was clean, the mascara was working to deepen the green in my eyes, but nothing seemed to work. Not that time. When I opened the door to my apartment my skin fell off me. It went back to be a beginner in the world of being loved.
The new world is here. We have arrived at living with despair toward a division of humanity because of political party alliances and religious hands that cling to each other and therefore our hearts have become blackened. There is no longer a shadow of a difference. The wounds around small children that were caused by a cruel man who wears a red tie, and that tie he believes makes him look powerful. You predicted that it would come to pass. While eating a buffalo meat sandwich while walking down the street, with the sauce sticking in the hairs on your face, you said it. You bent your head outward, so the food wouldn’t fall on your shirt.
The families you aligned with during the freedom fighters war in Nicaragua now have their grandchildren in our glorious America in fenced cages. You would not have wanted to see this. It would have reminded you of the removal of your own innocence as a child when your mother placed you in a facility for children. It would have been worse for you as she placed you without the government telling her too. It doesn’t matter for the babies; they cry at the separation. A big difference would be that your mother turned her back and took her twenty-something stride and stepped in a different direction than what you faced. These families are screaming into each other that they want their children with them. So glad you aren’t here to see this.
The sound of your misery weaves into my mornings when the light is invisible to me. Hours before what is a so-called normal time to wake up, I reach out to the darkness. When there is no light my vision is clearer. Today the world continues to clock away into the misery of small children where their needs have become a bargaining tool for politicians in America. Foreign born children are the chattels for weak white men in grey suits and white shirts to prove they are correct in abusing darker skinned people. When the world was too much for your mother, she too became an instigator, so she wanted to prove that children are in the way of better meals at tables with white cloths and softly cooked beef.
All the while, those soft baby faces that look up to the big people with need and wonder in their eyes, continue to be victims of people like yourself who missed out on the nurturing chip. Your camera gave you the veil of protection while you got close to the discordance, you also kept your safe space. It couldn’t be known that you were not interested in the pain of the world, but needful of getting a view of those who had been abandoned like you were. It was easier to see it from the lens. Every time you clicked the shudder of small feet running in the dirt from the contras, you let go a bit more of the mother you always hated.
New York City
It was inconvenient to desire warm hands on my body while I was a single mother. It was never enough to keep myself and my son safe and behind a door of our own where we could talk and eat. The Chinese guy in the restaurant knew what we wanted when we walked into the take-out menu that they sold to the starving New Yorkers. The door to the restaurant opened and closed all the time. We waited for our order in the steamy store, then George would yell out our number and laugh at us. He was missing his two front teeth. I found myself staring at his teeth often. The gap was intriguing. At times I couldn’t understand what he was saying. It didn’t matter as he was always kind and laughed at his own jokes while he tried to cover his missing teeth with a tortured upper lip.
During that time when Chinese immigrants came to America, I believed that they were all cooks that never smiled and looked away from me when taking my money. He was an immigrant with his wife and two kids. The kids had an extreme Chinese look to them. They were caught in the cultural crossfire of the old world and the one in New York City. They never smiled. The girl would take the orders for the customers sometimes. When we went in there you ordered a pint of chicken fried rice with a plastic fork. You opened it up and ate it on the steps of my building. We laughed at the city dogs on leashes as they pulled their owners down the street.
Our bodies could have been Chinese or Chilean as yours was. We could have hailed from a small village in Central America or Columbia, but my face was European. You were sallow with green tones with darting brown eyes.
My fantasy ran deep into the jungle with you. I desired a life that would trail behind you and your baggy pants that were green like the leaf of the Sacuanjoche flower. Then, you were incidental about the rest of the world. You were narrowminded in regard to the pain of other compromised cultures and playgrounds where broken swings had nothing to do with you.
My wounds ran deep. And when you appeared in the world, I wanted to be good enough. My transitioning self-image was still trapped in the estrogen desire of sex and babies. I wanted them. It would throw me into a spin when it occurred that one didn’t have to equal the other. It was possible to be an enchantress and a mother and a friend to a good mind that was trapped in a man. We could bridge the needs of the intellect with sensual ideas and foods and be fulfilled. The path cleared, and the gate opened and then the power within was like nothing I had ever known in my life.
© Kareena Maxwell 10.15.19
The Secret of a Dragonfly by Kareena Maxwell
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emil: kareenamaxwell at aol