You are moving from constant fear into a state of resentment, a hysteria which makes you say terrible things to your husband, to yourself, to strangers, in short to anyone who is not helping you in some way. You are sick from doing everything while your husband watches reruns of Law & Order (I forgot to mention the 54 inch flat screen TV we dragged along with us in the car). One night you go to the bathroom at 3 a.m. and he is in the living room, dazed and dopey, staring at a wrestling match. Something is wrong. The infection grows deeper over the next months. You are beginning to understand a little about loneliness, though it is just a start, a hint that it is not so much a fact as a sense that being alone is not the cause as much as being apart when you are strung together. The inn grows around you both. Your husband does not respond to it as you do, and you find him, his essential being-ness, more inexplicable than ever. “This climate destroys everything,” your only San Pancho friend Barb explains during one of your horrendous can’t-find-anything-shopping-trips. “Plastic, concrete, pipes, wires, wood, appliances, engines…everything rots.”
The exhaustion deepens into a permanent weariness. A toxic fog permeates your brain. Your legs plod, your hands shake. You know as well as you know anything that if you stop even for a minute, the world will end. You have finally moved out of the apartment from hell into the house from hell – a construction site which has a hollowed out space where you and your husband camp out on the king size mattress which you have set on top of a blue plastic tarp on the floor. The truck with the furniture you ordered in a small city two hours south of Guadalajara has not been heard from in weeks. The phone line is sketchy, and the internet more down than up. After you have watched the dramatic collapse of each day into a bold orange and pink sea, you move your plastic chair from the veranda back into the kitchen, wash the lettuce and tomatoes in Microdyne and talk with your husband about what has and has not been accomplished while he was pitching paradise to wary strangers. These are not happy dinners. There is no wine, no simmering sauce, no exotic cheeses. The dimmers on the recessed lights have not be installed yet and the unfinished, unfurnished apartment is as eerily bright as an operating theatre. You wash the dishes in cold water and globs of self pity and tuck another day in paradise under your belt.
The next morning — every morning – 17 obreos whose names you cannot remember jump out of a couple of pickup trucks and begin wrestling with concrete blocks and cement mixers and bricks and rebar. Dust is everywhere, a relentless mist of it drifting over the floors and windows and into your pores. When your husband comes home from the Grande Mayan Resort, he moves his hand over a smudge on the glass veranda door which you missed. You have been trying to seduce him with your dream of moving to Mexico and building an inn and sleeping late and walking the beach and falling in love again. To this end, while the obreros build your house, you attack your bit of it with scouring powder and mops and windex. This is called nesting. Unfortunately, the top floor of a gutted building — even if it has magnificent ocean views — resists all efforts, and your husband who has not sold paradise to anyone for 10 days moves his thick fingers over the smudge and shakes his head: No sale.
The only identifiable feeling you have is FEAR, and that is how you think of it and how you experience it – Bold-All-Caps-FEAR. You are on the far side of life, and despite writerly cautions against ever using All Caps, you have reached a place where FEAR has earned this status.
When you are not standing on the veranda — your crumbling Evita perch — watching the oberos drilling and pouring and mixing and laying and banging out your future, you are shopping for things which you cannot find and which give you no pleasure when you do: bells with clappers, cables, electric switches and plates, toilets, sinks, drains, 3-in-one, power tools, exterior lights, bombas (water pumps), pressure tanks. You go to terrible stores where you do not know the names or reasons for anything. You say you are overseeing the construction, but really you are hanging on for dear life.
Sometimes while you are swiping away at a huge expanse of sliding glass window you stop and look at the light moving over the surface of the sea. Before San Pancho you thought the ocean had three colors: the muddy brown after heavy rains, the turquoise sea of the Greek islands, the teal Atlantic blue of your Long Island childhood. But in between swipes, an array of blues lives and dies a dozen times. You remember a Monet painting in the Springfield Museum where you and your father had escaped your mother’s relentless housekeeping one autumn afternoon three decades before. Your father had been pointing at details – differing brush strokes, the various thicknesses of oils masterfully applied, and the light at the heart of all great painting — but you had been too overwhelmed to listen. You wish you could tell your father who had died 18 months before that you get it now – the thing about the light and how it falls over Monet’s radiant haystacks. Here, now, with a paper towel in one hand and Windex in the other, you are reminded that the world is brighter than the one you have been living in for months while the house — a square beast of gray concrete and blasted walls — rises slowly around you. A split second, a shift of sunlight on the sea, the possibility of living without FEAR. And then your husband comes home.
You are anxious – exhausted from driving cross country from New England to Mexico. You have sold or given away everything you owned in the rainy days of September 2005 except for a king size mattress, your father’s antique bookshelf, a square cocktail table you bought at an auction for $75, and 600 books.
You are temporarily living on the edges of Puerto Vallarta, out by the airport where you can hear planes landing and taking off from the pool on the top of the shopping center where your crappy “studio” apartment — long and narrow and dark — is covered in grime. You feel always as if you are stepping or sitting on some old expat’s skin. Outside the bang and clatter and rumble of taxis and delivery trucks reminds you that life as you know it has stopped, and life as you want it to be appears impossible.
Your husband, a former bartender and used car salesman, who you once thought was the love of your life, is conning visiting gringos primed with Drambuie and dinner cruises into buying time shares at a resort along the 100 kilometer stretch of Pacific coast shoreline the tourism arm of the Mexican government has christened The Riviera Nyarit. On maps, this burgeoning Mexican paradise has been known for centuries as the Bahia de Banderas, but Riviera paints a significantly more seductive picture, and it is hoped that it will lure greedy land developers south of The Wall.
While he –the husband of eight years — manipulates customers into shelling out dollars for slices of time, you drive back and forth — an hour each way — to the fishing village of San Pancho where you pretend to supervise the construction of an Inn, which is rising slowly — very slowly — like a child’s set of square white blocks, one placed atop the other on the sandy soil on a hill overlooking La Riviera. Once it is built, you plan to live more happily within your marriage than you have managed to do in the last few years. You plan to piece together a good life with social security checks and revenue from the inn. You see yourself reading in a hammock, sipping lemonade, your cat named Whiskey purring on your belly. It is sunny – all dreams of the future are sunny.