“What if I should die?” he asked. “If you die, just die,” came the response.
Mara, Jade, and Walter each held the same belief about life, that it was short, but they applied that belief in different ways.
For Mara, that recognition did nothing to offset her pain and on as many days as not, she wished that life was even shorter.
She’d say to Walter, “You’ll be okay. You know what this is all about anyway. You know it’s all just an illusion. You know there is no meaning. I can’t do this anymore.”
Walter would tell her that he knew there was a part of her that wanted to die but killing that part didn’t require killing all of her. He’d tell her that he knew she was in pain.
“Just try to hang in there, for me. I believe in you. I believe that someday you will be walking on a beach or a mountain trail, happy and healthy,” he’d say, “I’ll be there with you and we’ll talk about everything you’ve been through and you’ll be happy that you didn’t end it.”
Walter came home one day to find Mara out back on the patio under the corkscrew willow, sitting and talking with a friend. Behind them, under the tree and up against the bedroom wall, was one of her amazing shade gardens filled with miniature magical plants.
Walter stepped out and said, “Hello.”
They looked guilty, as if caught in the act doing something secret and wrong. He went in and changed to more comfortable clothes, expecting to join them for conversation. When he returned, the friend was gone, having gotten up quickly and left in the brief time he was inside. Walter asked Mara what that was all about.
“Nothing,” she said.
They talked into the evening until her medicine finally kicked in and she slept.
For Jade, the recognition of life’s moderation meant that she didn’t want to waste time with unnecessary feelings, and talk, and drama. She wanted to do things, to keep busy, to accomplish. She appreciated quality and wanted fine things around her. She also wanted to be a good person and to do things the right way and, in that system, she knew that the one thing she didn’t want to do, the one thing she could never do, was intentionally, knowingly hurt Mara. She loved Mara with the love that she couldn’t acknowledge for herself. The problem was, the part of her that “felt” could only held in abeyance for so long.
Walter had once come in and found Jade sitting and crying in Mara’s living room. With Sam, the three siblings had been talking about their father and the life he’d had as an orphan behind the iron curtain. Jade couldn’t contain the anguish she felt for her father. As she sat there sobbing, Mara and Sam stood, distant and numb, just watching her. Walter walked to her and put his arms around her.
Walter realized that he had been assisting in life’s temperance, if not outright then through his behaviors; for years he had been trying to kill himself. He believed that his chronic depression was as much a choice as not and that his mind had chosen to kill his body slowly and quietly – until he met Mara. When Walter decided to really live, he realized, in a different way what “Life is short” meant to him. He decided that as often as he could he would be kind. He also decided that if he felt deeply about someone, he would tell them because he knew that, in an instant, he or that person could be gone without the object of his feelings knowing what he felt. He knew, from experience, that the expression of one person’s feelings could markedly change the experience of another person. So, when Walter met Mara and fell in love with her, and then met Jade and fell in love with her, he could only be honest with both of them about what he felt. His commitment, as a companion, was to Mara, but he was also committed to Jade.
Jade was training for a marathon when her father suffered a stroke and returned to his family. She came home to visit him and asked Walter to run with her while she was home, so that she could continue training for the race. While they were running, he asked her what she thought about on her long runs.
“My breathing, I guess,” was her response.
“On my long runs, I mostly think about you,” was what he said inside his head, but not to her.
They were driving from the lot where he’d parked his car near the running trails, and they talked about her old boyfriends, about running, about her father, brother and sister, about her dogs and job. She was used to his expressions of love for her but still bothered by it. He loved her unconditionally. She didn’t understand that he didn’t need anything from her.
“What if Mara heard you say that?” she asked.
“She knows that I love you,” he said.
“WHAT! WHAT! Are you crazy?” Walter had a friend, long before this story, who told him, “The female river runs deep in you.”
That’s important to understand as true in trying to know Walter. Our hero didn’t see it as it happened, but his problems resulted from two dynamics. The more Mara disappeared into the Void, the less she was available to him, and the more she suffered, the more he feared that she would soon die and he couldn’t bear the thought of that pain, that suffering. His feelings for Mara only deepened as she suffered but, to protect himself, he unconsciously pulled parts of himself back and away from her and, in order to balance his soul and stay sane, he placed those feelings somewhere else. Jade became the object of those projections. It made sense, at the start. Jade was someone he would have been with under different circumstances and someone he truly did love. She was safe because when he met her she was in a successful long-term relationship and that coupling looked to be rock solid and was expected to survive. There would be no risk of Jade ever returning, let alone acting, on those feelings.
It was only a few months before Mara departed for Mexico that Jade discovered that her husband was having an intimate relationship with an old classmate who had Friended him on Facebook. The discovery of that betrayal, as well as finding some pornographic pictures on their desktop computer at home, was enough for Jade to question her reality, realize that she needed some space from the person she thought would always be there for her, and buy him a one way airline ticket, drive him to the airport, and ship him back to his mother. Needless to say, Jade was heartbroken as well as stressed. During this period of uncertainty and isolation, feeling somewhat like a fool and off balance, Jade began reaching out to her sister more than she had in years. The sisters began having frequent phone conversations but Jade, more often than Mara, did the dialing. Mara was in her downward spiral, getting closer and closer to the edge, and usually the best she could do was to just listen as her sister poured her heart out, late at night, over the phone. Whatever belief Mara held about the cruelty of life was only further confirmed by hearing Jade’s pain. Mara increased her sedation, numbing herself with the pills and the booze and would often be unconscious by early evening.
Jade’s troubled heart arched, and as it approached the zenith of its pain, she would reach out to her sister and call her late at night. Mara would often be unconscious to the ringing of her phone. Jade’s soul was torn and she couldn’t sleep. Mara’s soul bled so she quieted herself with sleep. Often, when Mara didn’t answer, Jade would dial Walter’s number and he would answer, no matter the time or the circumstances.
“Hi, it’s Jade. Am I bothering you,” her soft voice would come over the airwaves.
“No, Sweetie, you’re not. Are you okay?” he would ask.
“Is Mara okay? I tried calling her but she didn’t answer.”
“She had a rough day but she’s sleeping. How are you doing?” and they would talk for hours.
Walter saw in her what she couldn’t see in herself. He’d tell her that she was beautiful. He’d tell her that she deserved to be loved. He’d tell her that things would all work out for her, that he had faith in her and in life. All he wanted for her was for her to be okay. He started sending her energy whenever thoughts of her drifted up like whisks of smoke from the ground of his mind. Back then, each time he told her he loved her, she cried. She thanked him for caring.
She wanted to know why, “Why won’t he talk? Why did he do this?” Walter would tell her his thoughts. He’d tell her of his experiences and how he thought they might apply to her situation.
“Why would he look at porn but not at me?” she thought, but she knew the answer, she knew how ugly she was.
He told her, “Who knows, you might go through this hard time and come back together and have the best marriage anyone ever had.”
Before Walter and Mara left for Mexico, Jade phoned Walter and told him that she’d been with her counselor, working on her marriage and on herself, and that they needed to talk.
He said, “Okay, go ahead.”
She told Walter that he didn’t love her, that he couldn’t love her, that he didn’t know her. She told him that this was a classic circumstance where a man was attracted to a vulnerable woman was going through a rough time. She told him that, even if he did love her, his telling her was inappropriate. She didn’t want to talk with him anymore.
Weeks later in Playacar, Walter and Mara had rented a house near one owned by the second richest man in Mexico. Each day, after their running, they would set up their chairs on the beach in front of his house. Walter would peal two oranges and share them with Mara. They would each drink one beer, and then stare at the water for hours. They’d spent the winter and early spring reconstructing their bodies and deconstructing their relationship. It was the winter but nearing springtime and while the change of seasons seemed to make little difference to the natural beauty that surrounded them, or to the agouti, pacas, wild cats, squirrels and birds, it did change Walter and Mara’s awareness that their time in this particular paradise would be drawing to a close. Each morning, as the earth revolved and the yellow dwarf that sits at the center of our solar system, it would seemingly rise up over the Caribbean Sea and draw out those who worshiped its power and its glory. The visitors from Canada, Europe, Russia, and the U.S. would line the beach from the southern boundary of the village to where the sand stopped and the sharp coral coastline began.
Walter remembered how his heart almost broke, that first morning, when Mara had agreed to try to run the mile from the rock to the pier and back. On her small frame, she was carrying an extra thirty pounds of weight put on from the daily bottle of wine and the uncounted bottles of vodka she had consumed over the past year. When they’d left the gray north, her blood sugar and pressure had been dangerously high and her cholesterol was out of control. As they moved, Walter watched for any sign that she might be coming into acute distress. She ran, never once looking at him as he jogged along beside her, never stopping, her little arms pumping with the effort, a frightened look on her face, and she made it. After that, she had taken to the running with a passion and before they left the country, she was running longer and farther and more frequently than he. She dropped the weight and began to take a new pride in her body. This extended trip had been Walter’s plan to try to save her and her apparent love of running gave him hope. The running became their shared habit.
Rolling from the small wooden framed bed that they shared, at 5:30 or sometimes 4:30, and running the beach before the rising of the sun and the people, became their habit. Walter would awaken before the alarm, rise and piss, then move to the kitchen and turn on the coffee pot before laying on his sarong on the hall floor and putting his legs up the wall. Mara, hearing his movement, would rise and pee and then step over him on her way to the coffee and then outside for a smoke while the Tortie cat, from next door, stopped by for breakfast. Mara would take off for the beach, through the darkness, while Walter spent fifteen minutes in meditation before following. The path they took would start from the green moss covered rock that lay mostly buried in the sand in front of the house they’d rented, to the pier that split the beach in two at the village, and then back past that starting point and on to the coral walls two miles distant at the southern end of the khaki colored sand and then back again. She ran barefoot on the packed sand near the surf and suffered, but didn’t mind, glass and shell cuts to her feet and toes. Walter ran in shoes, farther up the slope in deep, soft sand that tested his endurance.
They’d pass, on the beach, but not speak.
: 00, start at moss covered rock
: 09, touched pier
: 39, passed Plastic Man
: 42, passed her, she’s beautiful
: 46, at far wall, the sun’s coming up
1: 15, back at the moss covered rock
1: 35, another lap to the pier, other runners out
1: 55, another lap to the pier, done with Fase Uno
As he ran, he’d see plastic glasses, beer bottles, shoes, sunglasses, syringes, condom wrappers, air filters, empty tubes, ropes, broken plastic buckets, bottle caps, sticks, logs, coconuts, straws, shells, rocks, dog turds, sand shovels and buckets, cushions, chair parts, sea weed, and nuts. He’d see her bare footprints, the only ones in the sand at that hour. He’d see his shoe prints on the laps back, a reverse horseshoe; maritime markers out in the water, ropes strung from the shore to anchors in the surf, marking the edge of each resort. Finding his running path was like a golfer reading the lie of the greens.
Some mornings she, or they, would run it twice; on the second run weaving in and out between the flesh obstacles standing unaware in their way, the beach no longer virgin and untouched, now trampled and marked by the tourists. At the end of each run he’d kick off his shoes and they’d wade into the powder blue saltwater that had become their shared refuge. It was even more so that at these moments they didn’t have to speak.
Out over the water, they could see the lights and outline of buildings on Cozumel. Sometimes they ran far enough to run all the way to that island.
As Walter ran, he listened to his body, hearing what it needed, each part talking back, his mind telling each part that he appreciated it, loved it, giving each part encouragement and attention. When his body said it needed a day’s rest, he gave it. She never rested.
She still had her daily fix of alcohol; she replaced the vodka with beer and allowed herself one glass of red wine, and she continued to self-medicate with the plethora of pills that he couldn’t keep track of but she seemed to have found a balance that fit her. It was her occasional missteps, an accidental fire in the kitchen, the slurring of her words, and once or twice screaming at him when she became unintentionally drunk, that kept him concerned that her balance might be just a temporary improvement.
They had their U.S. cell phones, their Mexican cell phones, Skype and Vonage but it was still a challenge to keep in touch with Jade during their time in Mexico. At least weekly, they would walk into the village, sit outside the cafe that had better Internet service, and Mara would make contact with Jade. Walther waited quietly in the background during these talks. It was a difficult time for Jade and Mara’s being gone pulled out one important leg of support, perhaps the most important.
“Do you think there’s a chance you two will get back together?” Mara would ask.
Slowly, “I don’t think so,” Jade would reply.
“This is hard but you’ll find someone else.”
“No one will think I’m attractive,” Jade would say.
Mara would think she said that because of her breasts. Jade said that because in her mind she knew that she had never been attractive.
The girls talked about Jade coming down, because she really needed a break, but she wasn’t sure she could get the time off, even though she had four weeks of vacation time coming to her; she finally decided she could. She had trouble getting a passport and then had it expedited. She had 500,000 frequent flier miles but couldn’t get a good flight. She was going to stay at their rental until Mara told her they’d seen a cockroach and she freaked. Mara gave her computer links to multiple nearby resorts but she had trouble choosing one. She never made the trip but was never far from their thoughts. Mara and Walter sat on the beach and talked about her, ate oranges, drank beer, swam and ran. On one of their frequent walks into town, they had visited a store in which cut stones and coral, and other items for jewelry making were sold. Walter stood in one spot, watching Mara roam around the isles, picking up pieces, inspecting them, and then putting them back. The eye, or the mind, sees what the eye wants to see and, for a moment, Walter thought he saw Mara drop a strand of coral into the Mexican Indian bag she had hanging from her shoulder. Mara had sufficient money as well as a bounty of supplies already and he knew her to be a good and honest person. He chastised himself, thinking he was mistaken. A few days later, on a similar trip, he had the same strange perception and, once again, he shook it off as false.
He asked her, “You didn’t put something in your bag without paying, did you?”
“No,” came her reply, with a laugh.
“I’m sorry. I just had a weird feeling,” he apologized.
It was the third event, which he witnessed, that he could no longer ignore. She took a strand of large turquoise pieces from the wall of a store and rushed, practically ran, from the store.
He followed he and challenged her and said, “Take those back!”
She threw the string of polished stones into the gutter between the sidewalk and the building and walked rapidly away.
Walter, at first, wanted not to believe it. A new problem…a new drama…a new reason not to be with her. Their verbal fights began; arguments about the drinking, the stealing, the pills. He told that he’d been through this before and that, though he loved her, he couldn’t go through this again. He talked to her about getting caught, there, in Mexico. How it might mean prison but would certainly mean deportation, the end of their sojourn, and probably a prohibition from her re-entry into Mexico. She cried. She apologized. She knew it was wrong and didn’t understand why she had done it; it was just an impulse. They made up and he believed her and forgave her. In a new store, the next day, standing right in front of him with her back to him, she took down a bracelet and stuffed it into her pocket. She turned and saw Walter, shocked. She put the bracelet back and they walked away, he in front of her, silent and defeated.
The next day, as he sat on the beach staring out over the water, Walter realized, perhaps for the first time, that as much as he loved Mara and wanted a good life for her, he had to love himself first, and have his own good life. His heart broke yet understood what had just happened.
It was then that he resolved to leave her upon their return to Michigan.
That was the day that all the wild cats sat facing north-by-northeast and Mara put the kettle bell in her backpack to go for a walk in the sand.