Chapter 18: Yellow Thread, Purple Thread

(C) 2011 by Metta Anderson – All Rights Reserved 

The whole Arizona thing was worse than he expected. He’d called Grace from Germany in February and tried to talk her out of leaving Colombia. He couldn’t imagine what she thought she’d do there, after all the time she’d lived in Bogotá. Even though Julian had gone to Europe with the best intentions, he realized it had taken him almost a year to get used to the customs and lifestyles encountered in Holland, Germany and Switzerland. And he still hated the coffee they served. Grace had spent, what? Ten or twelve years in Bogotá. She had friends and a social life and a maid and was writing. What in the world could she do in Arizona that she wasn’t already doing in Bogotá? Where the hell did she get this bizarre idea!?

He would have been pleased to know that her maid also tried to talk her out of leaving, as did Louise Jacobsen, who had moved with her husband to a very large duplex apartment on Carrera 16 with Calle 86 in 1971. Everyone had the same questions–what are you planning to do? Where will you live? Do you know anyone there?

Grace was surprised but pleased that her decision had created such a reaction among some of her friends. She noticed, but didn’t think it important, that only Emma and Josephine (“Jo”) Quinn (recently married to Pablo Ospina, an American whose father was Colombian and whose mother was American) thought she was making the right decision. What Jo did not say was that she and Pablo were already thinking of doing just that, even though they had private misgivings. America (i.e., the United States) was still the land of opportunity, a place where they’d have the freedom to do everything and be wildly successful at it. Right?

Grace also had misgivings, but when she was in Arizona, she couldn’t find the strength to argue with her mother. From one day to the next, she found herself signing a mortgage for a condominium on the far west side of Tucson and then agreeing that her mother and a decorator named Phil Hawking would do the house for her. The rest of the plan was also her mother’s–pack and ship what she felt she needed, and sell the rest; fly to Michigan, pick up her new car and drive it to Tucson with her mother, stopping in Texas to see her grandmother and aunt on the way. Then Arabella would fly back to Michigan–also on Grace’s tab.

Grace felt as though she had no choice, no say, no right to object. Her mother insisted that everything would be wonderful, so that must be right. Julian’s phone call made her stop and think, but then, in the morning light, she felt that she couldn’t anger her mother by reversing herself.  Besides, even her father had hinted that he’d look forward to visiting her once she’d “established herself out there in the desert” (his phrase). That was a genuine morself from the gods. Finally! She’d get his approval.

And in June, when she turned 32, she sat alone in her superbly appointed new condo, having breakfast and wondering what she could so to fill the day. Her father called and wished her a happy birthday, and in the evening, so did her mother. And that was it. Once the heat dissipated, around 7 or 7:30 p.m., Grace drove down to a strip mall and bought some chicken and corn on the cob at Church’s. She stopped at a 7-11 and got a pack of Hostess Cupcakes and went home. She carefully avoided thinking about all the birthday parties she’d had in Bogotá, and how successful they were.

She’d also done the sensible thing after she moved in. She subscribed to the daily newspaper and started to go through the “Help Wanted” to find a job. Then she went to two different temporary employment agencies, highlighting the fact that she was bilingual (Spanish-English), could type and file and answer the phone. She also had teaching experience, even though that didn’t count because she didn’t have an American teaching certificate. The Tucson definition of “bilingual secretary,” however, was a cute and buxom young Mexican-American woman taking classes at Pima Community College. If there was a company in Tucson doing business with Mexico or Latin America, absolutely no one had heard about it.

Then she took a drawing class offered by the Tucson Museum of Art, but could not seem to connect with anyone on any basis. Interestingly, the woman teacher thought she had a talent worth developing, suggesting that she take classes at the University of Arizona. Grace showed her some of her recent photos, enlarged by a professional lab to 8″ x 10″ or 11″ x 14″, and the woman was emphatic that Grace get involved with the university’s art department.

Except that by then, Grace felt so isolated and frankly abandoned that she didn’t take the art teacher’s comments seriously. At the same time, she couldn’t even think about her mother’s negative reaction to her art pursuits. In her weekly phone calls, Arabella made it crystal clear that Grace should find a high-paying job (which she felt were abundant) and/or a husband NOW. Grace had to get out there and DO SOMETHING!

The summer heat practically finished her off. Bogotá’s average daytime temperature is 60-65° F, all year round. Tucson’s in the summer is about 110°F.

By the time Julian arrived, she was gaining too much weight, becoming disconnected and desperate for companionship and had given up on doing anything except write a book.

He was glad to see her, to find her again, but he was appalled at what he found. Being right about her move did not make him feel good. He was glad he’d been drinking on the plane, because it was a cushion against the reality he contemplated the next morning. The light was harsh, the heat suffocating and the lack of human presence was scary. He wondered what the suicide rate was in Pima County. Probably abnormally high.

Julian quietly took charge until Grace pretty much returned to normal. Luckily, that only took a couple of weeks. They talked, they went to movies a couple of times, they went to Tubac, Tombstone, the Sonora Desert Museum and Old Tucson. Grace took pictures, and he was genuinely impressed with how good she was. Elisabetta, in Europe, had dragged him to this, that and the other art gallery because she had finally decided to pursue a career in design. Not fashion, but something related to it. Fine art photography was becoming important over there, and he thought Grace’s work compared favorably to what he’d seen in Germany and France. When they went somewhere, he made sure she carried either her Pentax or her Mamiya. Photography made her glow, made her the happy woman he’d known in Bogotá. And when she was happy, she was relaxed, and so was he.

But otherwise, Tucson made him very unhappy. Elisabetta called, they talked, but he refused to leave Arizona. He liked being with Grace. He liked her and he liked being around someone who did not see him as a potential criminal because he came from Colombia. Americans and Europeans did that all the time. He liked Elisabetta, but she was with those idiot friends who thought Julian was a drug-toting butler. Tucson was boring, but living with Grace was pleasant.

And then one day, he started thinking about disappearing, changing his name and identity. During a conversation one afternoon, he brought up the subject of how drugs were being smuggled over the US-Mexican border in small planes flying at tree-top level. Once they landed in the middle of the Sonora desert (i.e., any place ten miles from Tucson, if you forget the presence of a US Air Force Base and an international airport), the drugs were delivered and the pilot paid off, in cash. And it was a lot of cash. What would Grace do if Julian got his pilot’s license and started flying in drugs?

She was so horrified she almost became catatonic. He could see her reaction on her face and amended his question. What would she say if he got into drug smuggling? Would she let him continue to live with her?

She whispered “yes, of course,” (because she loved him), but then sat down in the livingroom, staring off into space.

Grace felt as if she’d just slipped behind a big glass wall. She could see and even hear everything around her, but had no reaction to any of it. Of course she’d follow Julian regardless of what he planned to do. She was that loyal. But she also wanted to tell him (order him) not to do it. Drug smuggling was illegal and immoral, obviously, but it was also so lower class that she couldn’t even contemplate it. Neither she nor Julian were lower class, so therefore, he had to be fantasizing and she’d just wait til he stopped, and hoped it would be soon.

Mercifully, it was. He spent a couple of days at the Tucson Public Library, reading obituaries to see if he could find an identity to assume. He found one name and looked up the surviving relatives, who lived just outside of town, but on the southeast side. He called them, invented a story about doing background research for a Ph.D. thesis and asked if he could interview them.

The address led them to a dirt road and an old, run-down “early Spanish Colonial style” house (if you’re being kind) surrounded by aging pecan trees, overgrown rose bushes and a few barrel cactuses. The older couple and a son stood outside, skeptical if not hostile, and answered the questions Julian made up as he went along. He was quite convincing as a doctoral candidate, and Grace would have been impressed if they hadn’t been in surroundings that would call to mind the films of David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino twenty or thirty years later.

And then abruptly, Julian thanked the people and gestured slightly toward Grace. She smiled, said thanks, and got into the car with him. They drove away calmly, even though their gut reaction was to floor it and spin the tires on the gravel before releasing the clutch and screeching away (difficult to do with an automatic transmission, though).  They didni’t even have to speak to communicate their relief at easing themselves out of a scary situation.

A couple of days later, Julian suggested they drive down to Mexico for a week or so. Just the two of them. He’d never been there. Had Grace?

Yes, in 1969, but only Mexico City, with her mother. Where did he want to go? From Tucson they could cross at Nogales and then follow a highway along the Pacific coast, eating shrimp from Guaymas.

The next day, they picked up a map at a gas station and Julian looked it over. Yes, they could go south down the coast to Mazatlán, maybe Acapulco or Puerto Vallarta. Had Grace ever been there?

No, and anyway, Acapulco didn’t really excite her, since it was a very expensive tourist mecca. But Mazatlán sounded cool.

A few days later, they were over the border and driving south, the Pacific Ocean on their right as they followed the road signs and stopped from time to time for a snack. They both liked the driving and the scenery, but there was something about Mexico that made them wary. Still, there they were, together, and for once, no one could bother them.

In hindsight, they should have stayed.

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