What can YOU say in six sentences?
The way I remember it, it was a warm winter, though it might have been colder. I think we were wearing jackets. His difficulty in breathing had reached the point where he could not easily manage the few steps from the bedroom to the kitchen in our small apartment for a glass of water, and he asked me to help him in getting up to the clinic to see his regular doctor, who advised a brief stay in the hospital would be the most beneficial course to take. Unfortunately, the taxi left us on the other side of the building away from the entrance to Emergency, and with his stopping to catch his breath, it took us almost thirty minutes to walk around the block. They checked him quickly through triage because he was in such bad condition, but even at that point I still believed he would emerge in a week or two and we would be able to celebrate our twenty-eighth anniversary in better spirits. Two and half months later, four days after my forty-seventh birthday, in the early morning hours before they were set to move him to a hospice because as they said, they could do nothing more for him, and the morphine was no longer helping, an attendant called and asked me to come over as soon as possible, for John had passed away in his sleep.
I had spent New Year’s Eve with Horacio’s family watching the fireworks sizzling and bursting in the sky over Tuxtla with plenty more beers in the cooler and conviviality flowing among those in attendance like some kind of velvet stoppage. Both heartache in remembrance and soothing hope for renewal came easily in those days. My third semester as an English teacher would begin in two days, and having won an award of merit after an unremarkable start in my new career, I was looking forward to fresh, inspired classes, so perhaps overdid the celebrating as I paid for it the next day with one of the worst hangovers I had suffered in a long time. That evening, Horacio and his old friends, my new amigos were still up for drinking, but I backed out, choosing to stay home, and tried to shake off a bout of melancholia. I fell into a fitful sleep and woke from a nightmare of being unable to breathe under water. I was wearing an apparatus, but it weighed me down so heavily, I could no longer see the light from above, and then, waking in the darkened room, it took more than a few minutes to accustom myself to the gothic silence.
I was worried about turning fifty-three and associating with a group of thirty-five year olds, most of whom did not teach, rarely experimented with my language, knew nothing of my previous lifestyle, and with whom I had little or nothing in common save for the readiness to toss back a few evening beverages and put problems off to the side for a while. It was when their preferred activities seeped into daylight, and over time required fewer excuses to be happening that I began to withdraw. I could still see the need to let loose on weekends, but Monday to Friday I had an awful lot of work to do, and what with traveling up to New York now and again to visit my brother and sister, having more than once to replace equipment stolen in Mexico, and paying rent here and up there (just in case things did not work out), my small savings dwindled further. I was trying to participate in something I thought I had finished with years earlier, and though in physical appearance I did not stand out so much, on the inside I was growing weary. For the next few years I sought an answer I had forgotten I knew all along.
A month before I found the group of writers, which has expanded, and to which I am still so very much attached, I pulled out and polished up my old notebooks, and decided to revive the one hobby that supplied my greatest satisfaction. There were sad and happy tales of my life in New York with John, adventurous explorations of time spent with Horacio and friends, early experiences relating to the rash, and not always wisely chosen decisions made concerning teaching in such an exotic place, and some pointless pondering only requiring a bit of plot, characters, dialogue, and setting to make it whole. By the end of the year, I was discharging a healthy flow of what I liked to think had some literary merit at a rapid clip. Acquaintances who took to calling me The Phantom, as I more and more avoided party nights, hinted they thought I was suffering from verbal diarrhea in a tongue which held no sway in these parts, and thus I might just as well have remained silent, lifted my cup in good cheer, smiling and nodding at jokes from whose punch lines I still had trouble deducing the humor. I taught English, wrote in English, dreamed in my native language, yet, though admittedly not so much as before, cavorted in Spanish. If I thought about it, I had difficulty in discerning the foreign element, so decided not to think about it much, which may have constrained me from winning any more awards from my paying job while I gleaned some recognition in the other.
I had two good classes, with an uncustomary dynamic activity and a mediocre one today, and realized how one bad apple can indeed spoil the desire to bite into any of the others in the barrel. That old adage, which is supposed to make us take heart in the bright moment, overlooking bitterness and reproach, is only true to a point. Over morning coffee, I had noted the mathematical configuration of the date, and left the house, the new house, believing I had done my numbers, could thereby count on fate’s beneficence, and would glide through an uplifting afternoon. In truth, were it not for my daily coffee and cigarette break, and filling spare moments with fictionalizing my rather dreary extra-murals, I doubt I would have stayed at this for this long. I may have drifted, or may not have done, depending on how my viewpoint is affected by the uneven sunlight, but I am going to be sixty years old next April, already experience more than occasional achiness in joints of which I was formerly unaware, and predict beach retirement days, will not be interminable, filled with nothingness. There may not be so many of them.
I will wake around six-twenty, just before the alarm goes off, will trudge downstairs to prepare a large cup of coffee in the microwave as fresh-brewed is for the weekends, and will smoke one or two cigarettes while I sit and stare out at the back garden, and do absolutely nothing else for maybe a half hour—forty minutes. Then, I will shit, shower, and shave, pack a lunch in order to save a few pesos, meet up with Horacio, and he will drive us to the school. I cannot afford to maintain a car. I will have one or two good classes, smile and say something noting the time of day to about twenty-five other people, and catch a ride home somewhere between six-thirty and eight o’clock. If it’s early enough, I will try to get some writing done, although I sometimes think I have just about disinterred all of the personal experience I feel comfortable putting into words. I will probably do much the same the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that for years to come if my luck holds out.