Chapter 10: Trying to Find the Design

(C) 2011 by Metta Anderson – All Rights Reserved 

It was the middle of July 1970, one of the long weekends to celebrate Colombia’s Independence Day. Grace sat at the diningroom table with her diaries, going through them in the hope of finding something that would make her feel that she was accomplishing a goal. Or maybe fulfilling a plan. But what struck her most were the unintentional coincidences. For instance–1967. She’d gone home to Michigan for her brother’s wedding and this is what had happened:  the Detroit riots, Bobbie Kennedy’s assassination and that war thing between Israel and Egypt.

1968: She went home for Easter and to feel better after the new academic director took away all but one of her classes on the grounds that he thought she lacked discipline. She ws teaching three classes, never missed one and only one student–a woman who was a stone complainer in class–had filed a complaint against her. Just one. And then she and Julian broke up, which was a lot more painful. She wondered if teaching was the right thing to do, especially since she was more and more interested in photography and the arts. She bought a great new camera in East Lansing, a Pentax Spotmatic, and concentrated on learning it. But at the same time, Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated, which shocked her Southern mother maybe more than it had her Northern friends.

1969:  Eileen, Sean and Eddie had gone to Ireland when Sean’s contract with the oil exploration company had ended. Grace was sad to see them go, but she was more than happy to hire their maid, Lina. Eileen told Grace about a job opening at the Abraham Lincoln School, where Eileen had co-taught kindergarten in 1968, and the American applied for it. She got an interview, learned it was fifth grade and was delighted when she was hired. At the time, the school was almost at the city limits, on Calle 170 on the western side of the North Highway, but a fleet of buses picked up students and teachers and dropped them off after class, so transportation was never a problem. If nothing else, she learned to make the wax original so her exams could be mimeographed for her students. And she made friends with two other women teachers, so by the end of the year, she was horsebacking riding with them on Saturdays. That helped her get over being told that she would not be re-hired in September because the assistant director, an American nurse who had come to the country after marrying a Colombian doctor, thought Grace was immoral. No one at the school understood the assistant director’s thinking, but no one defended Grace either. Her new friends, however, Jean Gutemberg and Rebecca Meulendyke, laughingly pointed out that the assistant director was a prude from the word “go,” was dying to become the school’s new director and surround herself with like-minded women as if the Abraham Lincoln were a convent and mostly she was just jealous of Grace. There were other schools, and they encouraged Grace to apply to them. She did, but wasn’t hired.

In the meantime, one bright sunny morning in May, Grace went downstairs to pick up her newspaper and on the front page of “El Espectador,” was a large black and white photo of a girl screaming over the  body of another student, who lay dead in front of her. It happened during an anti-Vietnam demonstration at the small school in Ohio called Kent State. Grace later remembered standing in the hall for several minutes, staring at the photo and feeling very, very cold. “This can’t happen,” she had thought. “This is what they do in other countries, not the United States. And definitely not in Ohio!”

And in April of that same year, Grace had gone back to Michigan for Easter and then went to Mexico for a week as her mother’s guest. They stayed in a deluxe hotel, she loved the Anthropological Museum and Teotihuacán and Chapultepec Park, and she was very happy taking pictures of it all. But she felt that her mother kept her on a very short leash, so she couldn’t really explore the city or talk to people in Spanish. On their last night there, over dinner, Arabella confessed that she’d brought Grace to Mexico with an ulterior motive–that Grace would fall madly in love with the country and move there. Then mother and daughter could see each other more often. Mexico was so  close. . . (Four hours or so between Detroit and Mexico City; three hours between Bogotá and Miami, and two hours between Miami and Detroit. Distance was very elastic, in Arabella’s mind.) Grace could hardly wait to get airborn on the Varig flight to Colombia the next day.

As a culminating calamity, in Grace’s opinion, Julian married Tere in what “El Tiempo” and “El Espectador” considered one of the wedding of the year, at the Santa Barbara Chapel in Usaquén. Grace hadn’t seen him in at least a year and he’d actually dumped her one night when they’d gone to Chez Dénis with some other friends. They were dancing and laughing, even though she began to wonder if Julian was drinking a little too much, when Tere arrived with her supposedly “new boyfriend.” She was delightfully sweet to everyone, including Grace, easily inserting herself into the group. The boyfriend was new to the group, and when Tere said he’d just arrived from Manizales, everyone nodded and he was given a drink.

Grace began to feel uneasy. She and Julian were dancing and Tere cut in. She didn’t exactly dance as crawl all over him til even Julian in an alcoholic haze got embarrassed. He’d carefully push her away and go back to the table, sitting down next to Grace. This happened at least three times, until finally, Tere leaned around him and said innocently, “Ay, Gracia, please, let me borrow Julian for just a little moment. You see him all the time, so. . . Please? Can I talk to him? Just for one little minute?” She held up her hand and pinched her thumb and middle finger together to indicate the length of time. “Sí?”

Not wishing to start a fight, Grace smiled and nodded. Julian and Tere stood up and moved toward the dance floor, but then Tere took his arm and walked toward another part of the club. A new group of people were arriving, coming through the heavy curtains over the front door that kept the street noises out and the club’s noises in. Even though it was dim in the club, Grace could see that Tere pushed Julian into the crowd. There was a swirl of curtain and then nothing. No crowd, no Tere and no Julian.

Grace decided to believe that Julian would be right back, but after a couple of hours, she realized he’d really left. She felt acutely humilliated and was glad it was dark in the club. She knew the others were starting to feel embarrassed and no one knew what to say. Finally, Grace picked up her purse, smiled and said good night to everyone and left the club. She didn’t even feel the chilly night air as she stood on the sidewalk while the doorman got her a taxi.

And that was the last she’d seen or heard of Julian til the wedding announcement in the newspaper. That was in June or July and she heard in December that Tere was pregnant and that the couple was living in a 2000 sq ft apartment downtown which was furnished in black leather.

Her father’s father died in December, too. She hadn’t seen the man in at least twenty years, but she wrote condolence notes to both her father and his sister. Her father replied with a Christmas card, “Thanks for the note.”

1970 was better only because she was involved in other things. Her brother and his wife had a daughter in 1968 and a son in the spring of 1970 and seemed to be doing well. Rob hadn’t been recruited for Vietnam and she didn’t know how he’d avoided it, but there was a very handsome cousin on her mother’s side of the family who was an Army officer and he was on his first tour over there. Arabella said his mother, an Episcopalian like the rest of the family, prayed for her son daily, almost more than a Catholic would.

“And if Rob were in Vietnam, Mom, you’d be camped in Saigon complaining that there was no Junior League over there,” Grace thought, turning a page in her diary.

She sighed and glanced out the window in front of her. The sun was out, the maid had the day off, the music was pleasant. . .

She knew she wanted to write, to do more than keep a diary. At the same time, she was happy with her camera and the pictures she was taking. Everyone wanted copies! Everyone really seemed to like her pictures! But what was she supposed to do beyond that? At the moment, she couldn’t quite see the next step. What did she have to do to earn some money with these talents?  Not because she necessarily needed the money so much as to make her father understand that she was a worthwhile person, and then maybe he’d love her. She wanted to do something like the stories with photos in “Life” Magazine, but wasn’t sure exactly how to go about it. And what would be the topics? If she could figure that out, getting from her current Point A to her future Point B, she’d be happy. And she knew she’d figure something out, eventually.

But in the meantime, in a large apartment in downtown Bogotá, Julian slouched on the sofa and stared out the window toward Monserrate. No radio nor lights were on. Tere and their month-old son had gone to lunch at her parents and wouldn’t be back til eight o’clock, at the earliest. There was a bottle of scotch and a glass on the end table next to him, along with a freshly-rolled joint. Tere was angry that he wouldn’t go with her that afternoon, but he just wanted desperately to be alone. He’d spent the whole week and even part of Saturday at the language institute, where he was a director now. He was really happy about that. He’d joined the institute to earn money for college, but ended up as a director even without the degree! How cool was that!?

But that was just about the only good thing in his life right now. He had a child and fatherhood was not settling well on his shoulders. He had specifically told Tere even before they got married that he did not want to become a father for a while, and his reasons included doubts about how long the marriage would last and how responsible he actually felt. In the middle of one argument after Tere announced her pregnancy (first to her mother, then her mother-in-law and finally, very casually, to Julian), he angrily told her that he married her to get his parents off his back. She was a means, not an end. Consequently, no kids!

He stayed angry throughout the pregnancy and was able to keep quiet only by drinking and sometimes with his own new best friend, pot. He was amazed that it was almost easier to get than liquor. He learned to clean and mix the pot with tobacco from his cigarettes, repack the mix and be able to carry the joints in the pack he always had with him. When he felt like things were getting to be too much, he’d excuse himself to take a walk around the block, enjoying part of the joint in the fresh air. A cup of coffee when he came back then covered up any residual odor and he felt he could face the day again.

When the baby was born, he did insist it have his name, which disappointed his parents and in-laws alike. They’d all come up with a long list of names that would underline the child’s lofty pedigree, but Julian was so adamant that he won the fight. While his mother raced to Gimnasio Moderno to enroll the baby into kindergarten in five years, Julian took some very long walks through the Palermo neighborhood and then the downtown area, trying to keep from falling apart.

The little boy was handsome, with very black hair. Julian wanted him to grow up and be happy, with a good education, but at the same time, he did not want his son to end up in the social straitjacket in which he felt he’d been raised. Some of that feeling was behind his fierce insistence on the baby’s name. What was wrong with being Julian Fernando Pardo, for God’s sake!?!?!? He’d been able to accomplish something, although it wasn’t all that much, on his own, and that’s what he wanted for his son–the education and independence and ability to accomplish things on his own, and not because he had an illustrious name. In fact, he wasn’t even happy that his mother had enrolled that day-old child in the Gimnasio. Why not wait til he was older and see what kind of school he needed? What was this insane rush to arrange a baby’s life from birth to death? Was it a good thing? Julian didn’t think so, especially as it applied to his own life. Consequently, he did not want that for his son. Why couldn’t anyone else see that or understand that?

He sat up, poured some scotch into the glass and then lit the joint. The silence was wonderful. Bogotá was so peaceful on Sundays, and his apartment on the tenth floor isolated him further from the noise. The maid had gone out, his wife and child had gone out and the phone wasn’t ringing. When he looked out the window, he could imagine the people walking up the mountain to the shrine at Monserrate, lost in their thoughts and prayers. He’d climbed up there a couple of times with his mother and even enjoyed it, but these days, he realized he’d be better off taking the funicular because he doubted he had the energy to walk up there anymore.

He wondered if Grace was still in town or if she’d gone back to Michigan. He knew he should have married her. He had the chance and he fucked it up, that night at Chez Dénis. He was drunk and he let Tere manipulate him to get him outside, teasing him into thinking she was so turned on to him she was going to give him a blow job on the dance floor. Instead, they had sex in the back seat of her father’s car, which was parked on a side street around the corner from the nightclub. The next day, while Julian wished he could crawl away and die from a hangover and remorse, Tere showed up and charmed his parents into believing that she and their son were a perfect match no matter how the relationship was viewed. She had money and political connections and a distinguished family tree, as well as substantial lands in Caldas. All this would be Juian’s (and to some vague extent, theirs) upon marriage.

Except that Julian’s mother wasn’t buying it. She smiled and served coffee and made all the right answers, but when she was alone with her son, she made it clear she did not want him to marry Tere. Marry the American! She’s nice, she’s well-educated and she can get you a visa and let you work and earn money in America!!! Don’t be an idiot! Marry the American.

Feeling trapped and confused, and knowing that he’d hurt Grace profoundly, Julian rebelled. Two weeks later, in a big party at The Jockey Club, a priest blessed the rings and announced that Julian Fernando Pardo Samper and María Teresa de Avila Gutierrez Jaramillo were officially engaged.

He drank some more scotch. He was no longer confused, but he was definitely trapped. He knew he wanted to resolve the situation, but he didn’t want to face that right now. His mother said these situations work themselves out, one way or another, and he decided to agree with her. In the meantime, the scotch and the pot would help him wait for the solution.

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