Chapter 11: Spaces Between the Threads

(C) 2011 by Metta Anderson – All Rights Reserved 

Except for a short and disastrous reunion in 1971, Grace and Julian didn’t see each other until the summer of 1976. Each pursued what they understood would be their careers into a bright and secure future. That they were unprepared for what followed came as a severe shock.

Julian remained at the language insitute for several years. He was put in charge of a new branch of the institute in Chapinero and did well. Tere finished her degree in anthropology and began working with a non-profit organization doing research on the indigenous tribes in different parts of Colombia. She loved her job, but found her personal political beliefs shredded by the overwhelming evidence of government neglect and even malfeasance. From a polite Liberal, she moved toward the left. She never got completely radical but she was part of a generation that was willing to fight for change. Julian thought this was great, at first, because even he could see that Colombia was changing in so many ways and realized the trick would be  to direct this movement toward a positive end, without falling into revolutionary chaos. The FARC and the ELN were already strong presences in the countryside, and by the mid-1970s a new group, called M-19, had sprung up as a group comfortable in the cities as well as the country. In some ways, M-19 was the most subversive of all, because almost all its leadership was made up of college graduates from upperclass families, with an underlying goal of ousting the old fogies currently in power. The fogies, for their part, did feel their power base crumbling, bit by bit, and retaliated swiftly, but somehow, not with much logic or force.

Julian sided with the rebellious spirits, but with the help of liquor and pot, was able to maintain the facade of a young executive capable of handling any situation thrown at him. In fact, the only way he could deal with his wife’s “livingroom leftist” political rallies in their apartment was to supply everyone with the best grass available and open the livingroom windows.

One day he got a call from a Colombian who had been raised in New York and now worked for a multinational corporation. His name was Alberto Londoño Restrepo, “Al,” and he’d been sent to Bogotá to head up operations for his company’s expansion. He wanted to offer English classes to his executives at the offices so they’d be prepared for promotions to the corporation’s head office in Philadelphia. He’d spoken with the Centro Colombo-Americano and another language institute, so he wanted a bid from Julian’s institute. Would that be possible?

Absolutely! When could they get together and discuss it, and where?

They got together for lunch a few days later at a kind of midway point–Salinas Restaurant, in the expanding Industrial Zone, in the southwest area of Bogotá. More business deals were struck there than probably any place else in town, and the food was excellent. The owner and his head chef were from Spain, and they had personally trained the entire staff in  the European traditions of food preparation and customer service. Therefore, reservations weren’t required for lunch, but they were definitely a great idea. Since Al and Julian had expense accounts, they looked forward to a very lengthy conversation.

They hit it off right away. Al was about five years older, but they seemed to have a lot in common, starting with being taken to the United States as children and assimilating the language and customs from a very early age. This gave them a certain distance from Colombian customs when they returned, although both maintained their native languages. Al even retained the “paisa accent” spoken by his parents.

From this luncheon sprang the contract through which the institute would send English teachers out to Al’s offices five days a week, as well as help the executives prepare for the international language exams required for those who wanted to study abroad. As was also the custom, neither Julian nor Al thought too much about how difficult it was for teachers to get to and from those offices. This was cold water on Julian’s triumph–he had the teachers available, but almost none of them wanted to go out to Carrera 68 with Calle 12 at 6:30 in the morning for a 7 a.m. class, or try to make it to a 5 p.m. class and be stranded out there after 7 p.m. when taxis stopped appearing. When he found two or three teachers, he finally had to offer them more money, which increased the amount Al’s corporation had agreed to pay, but after another lunch at Salinas, this problem  was ironed out.

Al had moved to Bogotá with an American wife, his second, but after a few months, she got bored. Then she got angry and finally, she left. Living in a male-dominated culture, not speaking the language and not finding anything constructive to do with her time had already soured a lot of foreign marriages, and Al was sorry, but he wasn’t surprised. At one point, he even thought of forming a kind of club for executives whose foreign wives had left them because they couldn’t stand living in Colombia. He thought the membership would be very large.  On the other hand, this left him free to meet other women and have an active social life, which more and more included Julian, who was getting bored not only with his job, but with coming home to find the leftists camped in his livingroom chanting slogans. Julian and Al became those extra men that hostesses are delighted to invite.

Al made Julian a job offer, to become vice president of human resources at the corporation, a tempting possibility. Al was impressed with Julian’s ability to work with all kinds of people and solve problems with diplomacy and creativity. Sometimes the social and intellectual differences between Julian and a teacher or a student would be so obvious it was like watching a neon sign flashing in the dark, but Al was struck by the way this played out. Julian was never condescending nor arrogant. Instead, he’d modify his language and behavior, becoming very patient and charming until the issue was resolved. This created loyalty among his staff and teacher turnover was low. This was everything Al was looking for in an executive. The drinking and the drugs were just signs of the times.

Julian thought his life was moving swiftly but pretty smoothly, except for the arguments with Tere, which became more frequent and volatile. When he found out she’d had a brief affaire, he was hurt and angry, but decided to give them both some time to get over it. He hadn’t been the most faithful of husbands, either, which Tere knew simply because she knew her husband and his circle of friends and family. That they cheated on each other was painful, but could be overcome.

Until he found out she was cheating with Al, and Julian moved out, back to his parents’ home. What Tere did with the apartment and the furniture and the rest of it, he didn’t really care. He was devastated and spiralled into such a severe depression that he spent several weeks in a psychiatric clinic. The institute gave him a medical leave while his parents began talking with lawyers to start the paperwork for a “separation of bodies and assets,” which was the closest thing to a divorce available in Colombia at the time. Only later would Tere apply for a dissolution of the marriage in the Catholic Church, which appalled Julian. The separation was considered a legal civil divorce in other countries, allowing Tere to marry whomever she wished, as long as she did it outside Colombia. What angered him was that the dissolution implied that his son was not his, and he never quite forgave Tere for that.

When he was able to go back to work, he also fell back into his old habits with the pot and the drinking. He knew he should quit his job and do something else–go abroad, study something else, get a job in another field. And yet, he was very comfortable in Bogotá. It was his city, he had family and friends there and a good job. He knew he could afford his own apartment in Chapinero or Antiguo Country or maybe even Chicó, or just about any other part of town he wanted. He could buy a car, too. But he wasn’t in the mood to take on those responsibilities, so he continued to live at home. Besides, he liked to be able to help out his family economically when he could. That meant a lot to him.

Among the new friends he’d met through Al were some girls who somehow managed to get busted and end up in the Buen Pastor Women’s Prison, in the northwest part of town. He wanted to help them, if he could, so he’d visit them once a week, taking them English language magazines, food or clothing or whatever else the prison allowed them to receive. One of the women had been a teacher at the institute’s downtown building for about six months and thought it’d be easy to smuggle some pot and about 500 grams of cocaine, the latest fashionable drug, back to the US. She was caught at the airport and was now serving a three-year sentence before she’d be deported back to her country of origin. There were also some French, British and German girls, all of them with the same idea that it’d be easy to fool the Colombian port authorities and take genuine, high quality drugs back to their home countries, where they could sell it and make a huge profit. More often than not, they were right. But when they were wrong, the Buen Pastor became the new Hilton.

It was after one of his mercy visits that Julian met the girl who eventually gave him a slightly better life, although the cost of it was something he had to learn to live with. Her name was Elisabetta van TerHuyens and she was from Amsterdam. She was 6′ tall, blonde, blue eyed and extroverted without being loud. After five minutes of conversation in the prison parking lot, they discovered they had similar interests (drugs and alcohol) and even friends in common. She was staying with some German friends in an apartment downtown, but looking for something nicer, something uptown, closer to the clubs. . . Perhaps Julian knew of something. . .?

It crossed his mind to offer to share an apartment with her, but something stopped him. He didn’t know what, but he did realize on that partly sunny and breezy afternoon in front of the prison’s wall, that this was not the moment to leave his parents. He grinned and laughed, which enchanted her completely, but dodged the invitation. He offered to give her a ride and maybe they could get together later, but he did have a job and had to get back to work.

Elisabetta accepted the offer and on the way, they exchanged phone numbers. They were happy. They’d met someone they liked.

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