Friday, December 9, 2016

Carmen, Cats and Counting Not-Nine Lives

Carmen, Cats and Counting Not-Nine Lives
            Carmen, who had cancer, has recently died. Carmen is one of my Mazatlan friends. I just learned of her death. I grew to love Carmen and looked forward to seeing her each year. But that was not always the way.

            My first Mazatlan vacation, time passes in a blur, but it had to have been at least a dozen years ago, Carmen met Kathy and me at the airport in the resort van. The price of a “free” pick-up at the airport was a promise to give half a day to the time-share sales staff. Carmen’s job was to shuttle us into a committed appointment. She was the predator. We were the prey. We called her “The Barracuda”.

            Carmen was a loud, pushy, take-no-prisoners woman. We were walking road kill. I got to where I would stick my head out the open elevator before exiting, checking to see where Carmen lurked with her appointment clipboard, poised to dash the opposite direction.

            Somewhere along about our third Mazatlan vacation, that changed. I got to know Carmen, learned a few things about her family, her job, her truly loving heart, her courage and tenacity. She mellowed. I looked forward to seeing her, would wait around the corner just to say “hello”. I missed her when she no longer worked at the resort.

            Remembering Carmen inspired me to take a day of quiet and meditation, a day for reflection. I figured Thanksgiving would be good. That didn’t work. People, friends and workers from the Rancho were in and out my gate all day. Friday was a day of visiting, a pot luck dinner, conversation with friends.

            When I finally got my days for solitude and quiet refection, it was not quite the gift I’d planned for myself. It came wrapped in a package with fever, aches, a runny nose and sleepy listlessness. Sometimes we just have to take what we get. No returns.

            Despite my general lethargy and a head filled with cotton wool, I had a good three days of rest and rejuvenation. The “rest” I’m sure of. I use the word “rejuvenation” expectantly.

            Reflecting on the life of sweet Carmen led me to self-centered consideration of my own varied life. Never in a cat’s nine lifetimes could I have conjured up this particular period of my life, not in my wildest imagination. Yet here I am, living in a veritable paradise.

            Like that cat, I’ve lived varied and distinct lives. I file them in boxes. Now and then I open a box to play with the contents. I label each box. “Early Childhood in Indiana” reads the first box, Crayola green. The “Young Montana Years” box smells like sage brush and cactus in August. I attempt not too successfully to keep the next box duct taped and hidden on the top shelf: “Crazy Lost Years”. It’s a small box, painted black holding my shattered life.

Following those disastrous times, were twenty-five years in Washington, “Gift Years”. During this time I rebuilt my life, redeemed myself. This box appears to be wrapped in paintings by Mary Cassatt. Then the “Back to Harlem” years, to the place where I grew up. I returned a stranger, to create a new life in a familiar place I loved. Listen to laughter when you lift that lid.

My lives aren’t so cut and dried as I make them sound. The borders are smudged and unclear. But those add up to five.

Which puts me smack into my sixth box and still collecting. When I moved to Mexico, I came here to make an entirely different life, not willing to live my old life in a new place. I came here with a handful of essential household items. I have absolutely nothing of value. I’ve never been more satisfied.
I’ve taken a tiny brick casita and made it welcoming and comfortable. Friends walk in my door, relax and smile. I’ve transformed the jungle which had surrounded my house into a park, with beauty and order and surprises to delight.

Tomorrow, when life is back to “normal”, I’ll be eager to resume my Spanish lessons and Qi Gong in the park. Elfie, an Austrian woman who lives in Etzatlan, has invited me to her class in weaving.

But on this, my third day of enforced rest, while my head is fuzzy, I’ll stay curled in the sun like a cat, stretch, yawn, and close my eyes. I would purr if I could.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

December 1, 2016

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