Chapter 12: Holding onto Threads

(C) 2011 by Metta Anderson – All Rights Reserved 

Julian and Grace shared a similar problem–they were both analytical, they both had high expectations for their lives and they both got caught up in unexpected situations that enmeshed them even as they tried to keep their distances. Julian’s solution, which he considered temporary, was to drink and do drugs. This created a comfortable barrier which allowed him to continue functioning.

Grace, on the other hand, was not only more confrontational, she was more loyal than necessary and sometimes more gullible. Having grown up with parents whose message was that she was not quite “right,” not quite worth loving nor pretty enough,  she believed that she had to face up to whatever problem arose, even if they were not hers to begin with, and get them solved.  This only meant that her mother thought she was “too stubborn” when all Grace wanted was to avoid a confrontation or demand respect for herself and her ideas or plans. Her mother especially (her father less so, because they didn’t live together) criticized Grace for not buckling down and getting busy doing something, for not rushing out the door to do something (and the “something” was never specific), for not being serious enough about something (again a non-specific “something”), and so on. For all its drawbacks, Bogotá was a genuine safe haven. Long distance phone calls from the US were difficult and expensive. Mail might not arrive, and when it did, it might, you know, “oops,” get thrown away by accident.

But all these conflicts eventually made Grace feel that whatever she did do was not enough, that there had to be another way to accomplish her goals–to be a published writer, to be successful financially, and to get her parents’ admiration, if not love. It did not seem to matter what she actually had done, including getting published in a nationally-circulated magazine in the US in 1971, becoming so bilingual she could translate for other people, teach English and even fifth grade without teachers’ manuals, and make friends with people who weren’t wanted in ten countries. As her parents made clear, she was just a flibbertigebit, a kook (one of her mother’s favorite words) and over all irresponsible. The only way to resolve this situation, she decided, was to move back to the US, go back to college at Michigan State and become “something” that would allow her to earn a living and write on the side. Maybe take some pictures from time to time.

Her landlord, a charming Colombian man who’d been the Colombian Consul in Miami for many years, was genuinely sorry to see her go, as were her friends. Her maid Lina was even sorrier, but finally said one day, “I don’t think this is a good idea, Señorita Gracia, but I know you’ll be back, and soon!” Grace met the challenge half’way–“I’ll probably come back for vacations in few months.”

She was back in a year, and bought a large and brand new apartment on Carrera 7 with Calle 61. Eileen and Sean and returned with Eddie, now enrolled at The English School, and Lina promptly went back to work for them. They’d found an apartment on Calle 56, furnished and large, and Eileen was expecting another child. Grace was overjoyed to read this in a letter from her friends the Quinns, who’d moved into the Carrera 5 building in the spring of 1968.  On December 31, 1972, Grace stood in the empty livingroom of her new apartment with Eileen and Eddie and watched the thousands of fireworks splashing all over the dark night sky, feeling happier and more relaxed than she had since November 1970, when she’d moved back to Michigan. That night, she slept better than she had in months.

Nothing had been resolved in her year in Michigan. She applied to Michigan State and was accepted, but decided not to go. She tried to keep her distance when her mother decided to divorce her stepfather, citing “irreconcilable differences” (when there were none), but ended up driving to Arizona with Arabella twice. She flew to Bogotá twice–once to visit the Quinns, who had moved into a huge apartment on Calle 71 between Carreras 13 and 14, and then to stay with Eileen and Sean while she looked for an apartment to buy. She went to New York and met with three literary agents, all of whom liked her writing, her style and the promise it showed, but nothing came of the meetings. She understood what they were looking for, but at the time, she didn’t think she could deliver because it would mean writing about herself, her own life and being coldly honest about things she didn’t want to think about. She had nothing in common with the people she was meeting, and spent incredible amounts of time and money at Jacobson’s and Saks Fifth Avenue. When she went back to Colombia, her suitcases contained two sets of matching sheets and towels, plus Roger Vivier and Salvatore Ferragamo shoes (before they became “name brands” and hideously expensive), expensive underwear and nightgowns, and a ton of the best-looking clothes sold by Jake’s and Saks. Even better, that Christmas her grandmother Adamson (“Lally”), had given each of her eight grandchildren $1000, to do with as he or she pleased. Her father, R. E. Oswald Adamson (“Ozzie”) had commented that she was one of the few who could spend the money as she wished, because Rob, Deirdre and two cousins in California were all married, and their spouses already had plans for the gifts.

Grace spent her money on wall-to-walll carpeting, furniture and drapes for her new apartment, and did it under her self-imposed thousand-dollar limit. Her birthday party combined a celebration of that date with a housewarming, complete with a case of Undarraga champagne. The Quinns, the Brosnans, Arne and Louise Jacobsen, some new neighbors from the building, and some Colombian Army officers Grace had met in 1970 were among the guests, and everyone seemed to have a wonderful time. Lina sent her sister Berta to help out, since Lina had to stay at the Brosnans’ and take care of Eddie and the new baby, a girl named Constance.

Once Grace picked up the threads with old and new friendships, her life seemed to fall into place. She started to work on a novel, but when it didn’t take the shape she hoped it might, she put it away and began to give serious thought to photography. High speed film (known then as “ASA 400”) was available in black and white and color, and her Pentax camera had a very fast lens (f/1.4). She went to the Aldina Bookstore and bought a couple of books on the subject, but they seemed a little too superficial. When she got the chance to subscribe to a Time-Life series on photography, she grabbed it. The series covered the history of the medium as well as technical subjects concerning color versus black and white films, developing procedures, exposing the paper and lens design.

One afternoon, the intercom between her apartment and the reception deskin the building’s lobby buzzed. She was absorbed in a description of how color temperatures affect the results in color films and told the doorman to let “Señora. . .” whatever-her-name-was come up. She started to walk back to the couch in the livingroom and stopped abruptly. “Mrs. Who?” she wondered, and instantly felt frightened and guilty. She’d been having a quiet affaire with a Colombian who was married to an American woman. Oh shit! What if this was the wife, bent on revenge!? Now what!?

She heard the elevator stop at her floor and the door open. She heard voices. She wished this were Berta’s cleaning day, because then the maid could answer the door and deflect an attack.

The doorbell rang. Too late!

Grace put her book on the diningroom table nearby and hesitantly minced forward to the door. She’d never sleep with another married man ever ever again! she promised herself as she opened the door.

“Gracie! HI!” yelled Ellen Olafson, stretching out her long arms in the narrow hall. “How ARE you!?!?!?”

Grace just stood there for a moment, relieved and yet unbelieving. Ellen was dressed with great style and elegance, a major change from her simplicity of just a few years ago. Her eye make-up enhanced her large green eyes and her long natural blond hair was streaked and highlighted under an English schoolboy’s cap (albeit one large enough for an adult head, popularized by John Lennon). Ellen was following the hippie trend, but it was the one sold at Saks Fifth Avenue, not a Washington, D. C., thrift shop. The three or four necklaces in different lengths did seem very original, and probably were things Ellen had found at art fairs, and not a jewelery counter. Even the platform boots–raising her to 5’11”–were probably Italian. For a moment, Grace felt dowdy in her own Italian boots, lined wool slacks and cashmere pullover sweater.

Recovering, Grace laughed and stepped back, allowing Ellen and the Colombian woman who accompanied her to come in. This second woman was about 5’4″ and elegantly dressed, but no match for Ellen. The Americans hugged each other and squealed with delight to see each other again, and then Ellen introduced the Colombian. “This is my friend Teresa. Teresa, this is Grace, the girl I told you about.”

The two women shook hands and smiled. “How nice to meet you!” Grace said warmly. “Please sit down,” she added with a gesture toward the couch. “Can I get you something to drink? I have Pepsi and coffee. . .” She paused. What else did she have? Hm-m. . . No, that was it.

“Pepsi’s great,” Ellen assured her. “Need some help?”

“No, thanks.” Grace went to the kitchen.

When she got back, she put the tray with three glasses of Pepsi on the coffee table. Teresa had sat down in an armchair, while Ellen was on the couch, and Grace sat down next to her.

“When I say it was a surprise to see you,” Grace remarked, “I mean that in the very best way. See, I thought you were. . .” she paused and looked a little sheepish. “I thought you were the wife of a guy I’ve been seeing,” she admitted, embarrassed.

Ellen and Teresa laughed hilariously.

“But is he worth the trouble?” Teresa asked, sly. She had almost no Spanish accent, the result of living in the US for about thirty years.

“Maybe. But maybe not. Besides, there’s another guy I like a lot more,” Grace answered.  “His name’s Roberto Laserna and he’s a captain in the Colombian Army. Very  cute.” She smiled, mostly to herself.

“And what’s his problem?” Ellen asked. “I mean, what are his defects?”

“I don’t know. Not very tall, maybe? Low paying job. . .”

“And that’s it?”

“Well. . . his wife has access to military weapons, so. . . you know. . . I kind of hesitate,” Grace explained with a shy smile and drank some Pepsi. What she didn’t want to reveal was that she and the captain maintained an interesting correspondence, writing every other week. There were little hints of eroticism here and there, but mostly they were letters between two people who just liked to write, and Grace found them very enjoyable as well as informative.

“Ay mija. . .”  Teresa sighed, rolling her eyes. “Jealous wives are always such a problem. . .”

“And husbands too,” Ellen laughed.

The other women looked at her in surprise.

“Remember when I was working at that club in downtown D.C.?” Ellen asked Teresa, and the Colombian woman nodded. “Well, there were two lesbians working there, but one was married, so they were trying to be discreet, right? Except that, somehow, the husband of one of them found out, and caught them one night in the back seat of a car in the parking lot behind the club. We had to call the cops because we thought he was going to kill his wife, he was so mad.”

“Is that why you quit working there?” Teresa asked.

“No, I quit because my boss was a cheapskate. He wanted me to dance topless and I said I wanted more money to do it. He said no, so I quit. And that really pissed me off, because I was making really good money in tips, enough to stay in college. What a son of a bitch. . .”

“So what’re you doing now?” Grace asked, tucking away her shock that a friend of hers was working in a sleazy nightclub, even if it was in Washington, D. C.

“I’m on vacation!” Ellen laughed. “No, not really. I’m working for Teresa, at one of her restaurants, and going to school parttime. She said she wanted to come to Bogotá on business and I decided to come along, just to see the city again. Are you still seeing. . . um, Julian?” she asked carefully.

“No. I haven’t seen him in. . . I don’t know, five years? Four? He married Tere and then they had a baby, but that’s the last I heard. I don’t even know if he’s in town.”

Ellen nodded. She decided not to say she’d seen him only the night before, at a club that belonged to Teresa’s cousin Rodrigo. Julian was clearly drunk, but even the the club’s murky light, she could tell he was also stoned to the gills.

Ellen and Teresa stayed for a couple of hours, and the two Americans discovered they were both interested in the new available light photography. Ellen had a new Olympus and used slide film, but she was impressed with Grace’s Pentax and the sharp black and white prints it made. When they were getting ready to leave, Ellen mentioned that she and her childhood friend, Emma Blake, were thinking of coming to Colombia in 1974, as part of a planned backpacking trip down to Peru and back. Could they stay with Grace, if they arrived in Bogotá?

“Oh absolutely!” Grace exclaimed, smiling. “I even have a guestroom! Actually, two, but I use that other room as a den where I write, but still, yes! Please feel free to stay as long as you like! Just let me know when you think you’ll be here, in case I have to go to the States, okay?”

“Sure!”

The women hugged and Grace walked them to the elevator door. It had been wonderful to see Ellen again, but just the same, it might be a better idea to stop seeing married men.

 

 

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