Friday, October 21, 2011

Playground Bully

The other day the girls and I tag along with PJ to his yoga class. He teaches at this beautiful hotel that has a yoga deck overlooking the ocean. While he teaches his class, I take the girls down the hill to play on a jungle gym. (Which is kind of redundant, I know, seeing that we live in an actual jungle.)

When we get to the jungle gym the girls take off for the slide and I put my stupidly enormous (or is that enormously stupid?) bag, stuffed with magic markers, crayons, notebook, iPad, an empty wallet, keys, and a bunch of other crap, on a nearby bench.

We're playing "Go Diego Go" (I'm Diego.) when I realize that I should check the time. I reach into my bag and see something move. I drop the bag because seeing something move in the dark in Costa Rica is never, ever, a good thing. Then I realize I have to dump out the bag, which means I have to pick it up. My heart is pounding. I can feel my heartbeat in my ears. I dump the bag out on the ground and pray that I haven't just killed the new iPad.

I look down and see the black leather tassel that hangs on my key chain. It's not the first time I've mistaken the thing for a bug or a snake. (Don't ask me why I would keep a keychain that scares the hell out of me every time I see it in my bag.) So I say to myself, "Oh, Emily, you nut."

But as I bend down to pick up my things, there it is. The biggest scorpion I've ever seen, right in the middle of my things.

I tell the girls (in the calmest voice I can muster) that there is something "really cool to see way over there." They don't buy it, but they go anyway. I scramble for a rock to throw at the monster, but all I can find is a poor excuse for a pebble. I don't want to annoy the beast and turn a badass scorpion into an angry badass scorpion, so I find a decent-sized rock and turn to take aim.

It's gone.

Now there is a scorpion the size of my foot somewhere I can't see. I pick up a stick. It's no good. It crumbles in my hand.

It starts to rain.

I find a big stick. Actually, it's more like a sapling, but I can't think about the moral implications of killing a tree right now. For the next twenty minutes or so, while PJ is teaching a group of blissfully ignorant yoga students to breathe and envision peace and blah blah blah, I'm tip-toeing through a playground in the rain, carrying a big rock and poking the ground with a stick. If it were the States I'd already be under arrest.

I jab at the papers on the ground. No scorpion. I shake out my notebook. No scorpion. It's just fucking with me, I know it. It's just waiting to pounce. So one by one, I jab and shake out my things. Jab and shake. Jab and shake.

I'm soaking wet. The girls are slightly afraid … of me.

Then I hear PJ calling out for us. Thank God. I tell him what's happened and he says, "Oh, my God!" (The appropriate response. Smart man.) "How long ago did you see it?" He asks. "Twenty minutes," I say. "Why didn't you call Jose?" He says. Oh, right. José, the hotel's manager and resident creepy scary beast whisperer.

José arrives and, in my very broken Spanish, I explain what's happened. I'm prepared to hear him say, "Don't worry. Scorpions won't hurt you." But he doesn't say that. The man who picks up giant bugs and wrangles snakes on a daily basis says, as best as I can translate, "Yeah, Scorpions. They'll fuck you up."

PJ does a final check of my things and we all pile into the car. I have the heebie jeebies all the way home – because aside from being really scary, scorpions are also really creepy.

I'm not sure what I'm supposed to learn from this, except the fact that it's never too early for rum.

Are there some things that are just meant to scare you? Or maybe things just happen. You know, like, yeah, today there's going to be a badass scorpion in your bag for no other reason than to fuck with you. Maybe.

But then there's this: Vida cried when we left the playground. Guess mommy jabbing at the ground with a stick, hoisting a rock, trembling and mumbling to herself in the rain, isn't enough to ruin a good time at the playground.

Or maybe just because everything works out okay doesn't mean the fear or danger isn't real. It's just that most of the time things don't work out as badly as we think they will. And, more than that, everything passes. Everything. No matter what it is. I was shaking but I was okay. The girls were okay. Nobody got stung. The scorpion went his way and we went ours.

José smiled when he said scorpion stings hurt like hell. The pain hits you and moves through you like fire. He's been bitten. A few times. But he was smiling when he said it. That's one of the amazing things about this place. It's so beautiful and yet there are things that are so scary and hard, and yet the people keep smiling.

Yep, scorpions are mui malo. Mui peligroso. What are you going to do? Pour the rum and move on. Just like the scorpion.

Who's the badass now?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Mortal Coil

Last week, PJ tried to wrestle an iguana away from a boa constrictor. Well, he entertained the thought, with a sledgehammer and fruitpicker in hand. As dumbstruck teachers and a smattering of bug-eyed 6th graders looked on, PJ and another kind-hearted soul watched the boa squeeze the stunned iguana, wondering how the hell one wrests anything from a snake, let alone its lunch.

That's when Giancarlo, whom I can only describe as an existentialist Italian yogi, happened by and cried out, "No! Stop! Let nature take its course! Death is natural!!" To which PJ replied, "Well, Giancarlo, I'm not calling you if I'm ever neck-deep in a snake." Giancarlo laughed as only an existentialist Italian yogi can and drove away. Apparently, death may be natural but even an existentialist doesn't want to look at it.

Then PJ and everyone else realized they couldn't help the iguana even if they tried. It got very quiet and everyone turned and walked away. The sight playing out in the middle of the dusty road was a private one. Maybe even a sacred one.

But I couldn't help pondering the troubling questions -- from way across the road in the cheap seats, of course. Free the iguana and it dies anyway? Free it and the boa goes hungry or goes after something cute and fluffy instead?

Who decides? Not us. We're not up to that challenge, I'm afraid.

Well, isn't this a cheerful way to restart my blog?!

Sorry. It's just that we've been back in Costa Rica for a month and I've been futzing around, waiting for the perfect idea to materialize (actually, to write itself) and the perfect moment to start again. Then I realized the perfect moment has presented itself a bunch of times.

Like when we packed up the girls and boarded the plane to take another swing at Costa Rica. When we were welcomed back by so many familiar faces. When we discovered new tide pools to swim in and secret beaches to have all to ourselves. Or when our neighbor's horses grazed in our yard. Or the time a woman saw how much the girls loved her horse and gave them a ride on the beach then and there without asking for anything in return. (Those smiles lasted for hours.)

The perfect moment could have been the girls' first day of school, or watching them make new friends. Or maybe it was watching them ride off in a school bus for the first time and trying, unsuccessfully, not to bawl my eyes out.

It could have been the time PJ and I were awoken by the sound of monkeys having sex. At least I think that's what they were doing because it sounded, well, er, vigorous.

Turns out there have been more moments than I can count. Truth is life is full of them. They're not all perfect, to be sure. Then again, what makes one moment more perfect or more important than the other? Granted, the day your child is born blows all the others out of the water, and the day they discover a cure for cancer will rank at the top of everyone's list. But chalking up the moment we get that job, while letting all the times we did stuff like eat cereal for dinner or talk to a friend until 2 in the morning slip by the wayside -- well, that feels like we're cheating ourselves. After all, if you sum up your life – that is, add up only the moments you'd call important, they'd probably total a week and a half. If you're lucky.

Life is short. But it's not that short.

That doesn't mean anybody wants to read a tweet about anybody else eating cereal for dinner. Somewhere in between ignoring everyday moments and sharing them with the whole world lies the truth: Most important moments are private. The most important moments in your life are probably only important to you and one or two other people. Some are momentous. Some are sacred. Most are ordinary. Most happen unexpectedly.

When you take all THOSE moments and add them up, you get a real life. At the end of the line -- and if that scene on the dusty road tells us anything it's that the end will come -- I don't think any of us will wish for another promotion, award or big win. We'll want one more simple, everyday, ordinary moment.

So stop waiting. Stop holding your breath for the perfect moment.

It's here.

Monday, January 10, 2011

"Let's not forget this feeling."

PJ said it to me on the plane ride home from Costa Rica. He looked at me from across the aisle and said it simply and plainly – as is his way -- trying to commit it to my memory and his own.

"Let's not forget this feeling."

It was the feeling that we were leaving a place that had changed us for the better. The feeling that we were closer, calmer, quieter -- happier somehow. It was the feeling that we had clued into a secret: that a simpler life isn't an easier one, but every challenge comes with a reward. It was knowing that Santa Teresa had been good for us, as difficult as it was to live there sometimes. Maybe because it was so difficult at times.

Now I’m searching for the feeling again.

I've forgotten it somehow. I can barely make it out in the haze of my memory. But it’s there, somewhere, like an itch you can't quite locate.

It’s been replaced with feelings I wish I could forget. They've hung around me my whole life and I wish they would get the hint and hit the road. Indecision. Guilt. Fear. Enough already.

We've been back in LA for six months and it’s been really wonderful in lots of ways. Being back with friends and family. Watching a friend get better. Celebrating Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Going to the movies. Enjoying the amazing, irritating, beautiful, bloated, ridiculous bounty that is life in the US.

We planned to go back to Costa Rica in January, but we’re still here. Part of the reason is financial. But I have to admit a bigger reason is something much more difficult to resolve. Namely me.

Sometimes I think I can just stay still and my perfect life will happen without me doing anything. Not so much that it will happen in spite of me – but that it will happen in some dream state and that it will be good enough.

So here it is. Again. A choice. Stay or go.

Then I think of other feelings I've lost or can’t quite manage to take hold of again.

That feeling of skating down a hill in Central Park – scared to death but exhilarated at the same time. Linda skating -- and screaming – by my side. The feeling that anything is possible. That life is easy and sweet. The feeling that life is full and open and new.

How did everything get so heavy?

There was darkness in the past, to be sure. But from where I stand now it seemed a lot lighter.

Where do I stand?

PJ wants to go back to Costa Rica and be all Viking about it. Hit the beach and burn the boats.

"Let’s not forget this feeling."

I'm trying to believe the feeling is real. I’m trying to believe that it will be enough.