Saturday, July 3, 2010

unexpected turns

We're going home.

We haven't given up on this crazy adventure, but it's taken an unexpected turn. A few things are calling us back, including a sick friend and the fact that this little Costa Rican town has grown even soggier and slower than seems possible. It feels like time to reconnect with the world. At least for a while.

The thought of leaving Costa Rica is bittersweet. It hasn't always been easy, that's for sure. It's been educational, surprising, beautiful, hideous, amazing, infuriating, exhausting, exhilarating – mostly all at the same time.

I'm actually really surprised at how bittersweet it is. If you had asked me three months ago, I would have given you a long list of rantings why I wanted to go home. Now? Not so much.

Why should I miss this place? Last night I tripped over a mouse on my way to the bathroom. Tonight I found a scorpion under the girls' princess step stool. Not exactly reasons to want to stay someplace.

But then there are the sunsets, the tide pools, the quiet, the rain, the booming thunderstorms, the slow pace, the little Montessori school, the monkeys, birds and butterflies in more colors and sizes than you ever imagined. Most of all, the girls are so happy here and we've been able to spend so much time with them. I could go on and on.

Those are all great reasons to want to stay, but they're not the only ones. They're not even the best.

In short, thanks to the scorpions, mosquitoes, mice, prehistoric bugs – flying and otherwise – snakes, lizards, washed-out bridges, power outages, closed roads, ancient stick shifts, super mold, big waves, mud, dust, unidentifiable foodstuffs, and cultural quirks (mine). You have tested my courage and strength. You have bested me at times, but you've made me a better person.

Don't get me wrong – if I had to choose between having a washer and dryer or just a washing machine and hoping the sun will dry the clothes before they get moldy – I'd pick a washer/dryer every time, thank you very much. Gentle cycle, if you please. Or how about a good beer on tap? A really good beer. And a great burger? All I can say is "Pass the fries. Get your own damn order"

But I'm going to miss it here. It will be good to be home, though. To be with family and friends, and do and see all the things we've missed.

We have a little more than a week left here. So take a big deep breath of fresh clean air, soak in the sun and drink in the rain. Remember the faces and most of all – remember that you never need as much as you think you do. Remember you're always stronger than you think you are – and there's beauty in everything, especially the things that scare you.

And always check under the princess stool.

Monday, May 31, 2010

the storm

It started raining on Monday morning – a rain like I've never seen or heard before – and it didn't stop until Thursday. (El Nino has nothing on this kind of rain.)

During that terrible magnificent storm so much happened.

PJ helped build a bridge by carrying rocks down from the hillside to fill the gaping hole between the little bridge that connects us to the mountain road. The hole was the result of a gentle stream turning into a raging river that covered the bridge and washed out the land connecting it to the "mainland."

The girls learned to bake bread. We saw pineapples growing by the river's edge. We saw a cockroach the size of a small armadillo. ("Don't look at it, it might fly!") I waded across the river to an outstretched hand and a smiling face. We all stopped and listened – filled with wonder and gratitude -- when we heard the first bird sing after the rain. I learned that in an emergency my first instinct is to stock up on chocolate and beer – the good kind. I don't want to die with Budweiser on my breath.

I thought those four days would have been the hardest since we got here. No electricity, no phone, no water, no Internet. No road. No bridge. No washing machine. No sun to dry wet, wet, clothes. We were marooned on our own soggy little island: PJ, me, Zuzu, Vida, our landladies Emma and Anna, their five dogs, and a cat named Louie. And yet it was some of the happiest times we've spent here. Maybe it's because I'm a glutton for punishment, but I think it's because I felt really connected to this place and to people other than my little nucleus of PJ, Zuzu and Vida.

We shared food, water, rain jackets, stories and coffee. Emma made a delicious dinner. The girls swam in Emma and Anna's pool and made friends with their dogs. We bonded -- for lack of a hipper word – and we realized that whatever we have we'd gladly share. And if we needed anything, providence, or in this case two lovely English women, would provide. If none was to be found, we didn't really need it, after all.

This feeling of being connected made me think about why we came here. I left my home, family and friends to find something. Proof maybe? Proof that there's something that will make me feel like, "Yes, THIS is it. THIS is what I should be feeling, doing, saying, being, knowing, loving. Yes, thank you! Now I know. I can relax. I have certainty. I have confirmation. Can I get a confirmation number, please?"

I don't think it happens like that, as much as I wish it would.

That's not to say there aren't momentous events that hit you like a storm. But more often than that proof comes in an outstretched hand when you really need it. And that's all the proof anyone really needs.

Monday, May 24, 2010

bound for santa teresa

This is a story I wrote for the local Santa Teresa magazine . . .

Any day can be the day that changes your life. The day that becomes the marker between what happened before and what happens after.

It's not usually the day you think it's going to be. Like the day you lose your virginity or move to Costa Rica to live in paradise. It's the day you don't expect. The day that starts like any other, with you sitting at your favorite café watching the dust settle in Santa Teresa.

That's when your life changes, with the inkling of a breeze and the rumbling of a bus. You look up from your coffee to ask the waitress for something and suddenly you're swept away by a face gazing from a dust-covered window.

It's the most heart-stoppingly -- give-your-life-some-meaning -- beautiful face you've ever seen, and it's clear what you must do. You leap from the table, throw down some coins, and start running for the bus.

You never do things like this. But maybe that's what paradise is for – to reinvent yourself as the man you always wanted to be. And the man you want to be is hers.

The bus rolls on, picks up speed and disappears around a corner. You run past lazy dogs stealing shade, little kids playing under mango trees, and a fire roasting in the sun. You taste the dust kicked up by quads and run till your legs ache. They say love hurts … so far they're not wrong.

Then you see the bus up ahead, stopped at a Super. You're this close to the rest of your life.

But she's not there. You search the windows and all you see is your own reflection. You laugh. Maybe it's the heat. Or maybe it's the hope that love will rumble into your life like a big, green bus. And you think ..…

Tomorrow is another day.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

begin again

How to begin again?

Say thanks.

Thanks to friends, for friends, for words of encouragement, for everything.

For well-prepared landladies who have extra lighters for novice jungle dwellers who don't know enough to stock candles and flashlights in case of the inevitable – and frequent – biblical thunderstorms and power outages.

Thanks for a husband who will try to fix the kitchen sink – at night, in a blackout, while it's pouring rain outside -- with only the light of a tea candle to see by. It didn't work out so well, but I'm no stranger to doing dishes in the shower.

And thanks for something Mr. Ippolito said. He said I sounded like the girl I was in high school.

That brought tears to my eyes. I haven't thought about that girl in such a long time. I almost forgot she existed. Then I think maybe she's been waiting for me all this time. Like a friend you can bump into after twenty years and talk to like no time has passed.

So what would I say to her? Or maybe I should shut up and listen. What would she say to me?

You should have kept those Fiorucci t-shirts. You've never loved any piece of clothing more.

I told you geometry was a waste of time.

Don’t let me down.


Have I let her down? Would she be proud of me? A voice tells me to ask her and see what she says.

I'm trying to hear her voice and see her face – but she's fuzzy to me.

Clearer to me are the girls she knew. The girls who laughed all the way up five flights of stairs to homeroom. The girls who walked to the deli and called it gym class. The girls who listened to rock or danced to disco in the Tea House.

Such amazing girls. Passionate. Beautiful. Immortal.

They're the same to me even now -- only wiser and stronger, full of accomplishment and life stories. Children. Spouses. Partners. Good news. Bad news. Struggles. Triumphs.

So if those girls still exist then maybe it’s not too much to hope . . . ?

I begin again, "Have I let you down?"

I hear Mia now. "You think too much." Maybe. Probably. Most definitely.

Humor me, I'm in the middle of the jungle and there's no one else around.

"Have I let you down?"

I wait. I hear something.

"That's the wrong question," she says.

"So what's the right question?," I ask.

"Dunno. But that's not it."


Then I start to remember the girl who loved to go to Bloomingdale's on Saturday and the movies on Sunday. The girl who loved Norma Kamali and Stagelight makeup and skating in the Park. The girl who loved to dance and dream and laugh. I can see her. She's there. Still.

I guess I'll try to stop asking the wrong questions and try to figure out the right ones. Or maybe there are no questions. Maybe they get in the way of what you already know, and what you think you've forgotten. Because somewhere out there, in there, is the person you used to be. And she's not disappointed. She has faith. She has friends.

And for that I am most grateful.

Now turn on the shower, I've got dishes to do.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

leaving the dream

I was supposed to start this blog six months ago. That's when my husband, our twin two-year-old daughters and I left everything but a double stroller and three suitcases filled to the breaking point with clothes, children's books and stuffed animals and moved to Costa Rica.

I was supposed to write a blog about how we chucked L.A.--and all that comes with it--to live in paradise. Paradise would wash away the stress of modern society and reveal to us who we're meant to be. Meaning happier, healthier, wiser, more creative, more productive, and thinner. Much, much thinner.

We would be living the dream.

Here's what I realized.

Paradise is hard. Really fucking hard.

It's not what you expect it to be because you're not who you expected to be.

I'm a lot more afraid than I ever wanted to admit to myself.

One of the reasons I'm afraid – but probably not the biggest – is that I just lost my job of ten years – the freelance job that's been paying our bills and that allowed us to come down here in the first place. The job was more than that, too. It was my tie to my old life. The link to who I am. Or was. Who knows.

I'm afraid because I'm beginning to think I may not be happy anywhere. And that means the problem is . . . me.

I’m afraid that I'm just not up to the challenge of living in paradise – or of returning home triumphantly. But the thought of going back home with my tail between my legs gives me a stomachache. I guess I'm afraid I don't have gumption, guts, moxie, spunk.

But I do have . . . what do I have?

An incredible chance to find out who I am and what I'm made of?

The future lies before me like a sleeping giant. All I have to do is tickle his toes and he'll give me the world. Or squash me like a bug.

Can you see why it's taken me six months to start this thing?

What I now know is that living in paradise isn't a dream. It's a wake-up call.

Suddenly you see what you're made of.

There's the stuff you learn about yourself that makes you proud. I can learn to drive a stick shift -- then drive an 1989 SUV up a dirt road in a rainstorm. I can stare down a tarantula. (From behind a glass door. But still!) I can raise twins in a beautiful place where they play in a clear blue sea and know the names of monkeys and butterflies.

Then there's the stuff about myself I'd rather not see.

I'm afraid.

I'm kind of lazy.

I'm totally lost.

Everybody knows the Costa Rican saying "Pura Vida." It means "pure life." Or basically "No worries." But there's another Costa Rican saying that goes: "First Dura Vida, then Pura Vida." Which means "First hard life then pure life."

I promised my husband and myself we'd give this adventure at least a year. We're at the halfway mark now. And it's strange. I feel like I'm at the halfway mark with myself.

Gumption don't fail me now.