Chapter 25: Losing the Design

(C) 2011 by Metta Anderson – All Rights Reserved 

Julian stood under the shower’s hot water, wishing he could feel more awake, or more alive or more something. He suspected he was about to slide into a depression and wondered if he could call the psychiatrist who’d treated him a few years before. Sometimes the tranquilizers worked, but he doubted they’d have much effect now. Or rather, combined with pot and coke and alcohol, their effect was either nil or fatal. Some choice. On the other hand, just getting out of the house and out of Colombia would help a lot.

Someone knocked on the bathroom door and yelled at him not to use all the hot water. Probably his youngest brother, who was beginning to date and took his appearance very seriously. Or his sister, who had a boyfriend and took her appearance even more seriously. One nice thing about Grace’s was that no one ever told him to get out of the shower.

He finished the shower, towelled off and shaved before leaving the bathroom. No one was in the hall, but as he reached his bedroom door, he heard footsteps and then the bathroom door slammed shut. “Après vous,” he thought, quietly shutting his own door. Then he smiled to himself, realizing that he was no longer used to living with so many other people.

As he dressed he also admitted to himself that he was getting tired of what was going around him. Maybe that was why he felt close to depression. Over the past weekend, he’d accompanied his family to an engagement party that looked, to him, more like a Liberal Party convention than cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and the blessing of the rings. When did he develop that kind of distance? The young man had gone to Gimnasion Moderno, as had at least half of the men there, while the future bride had gone to Marymount, instead of Gimnasion Feminino. She was, he noted, tall and very pretty, smiling happily at everyone but not as if she’d just won a major lottery. That was a surprise. The boyfriend came from one of the most well-known families in Colombia, and most girls would have hung banners proclaiming, “Look what I caught!”  This girl looked happy but a little shy, and her parents looked overwhelmed but equally happy. He was mildly curious until he overheard his mother and two of her friends discuss the geneologies of the parties involved. Revealing.

The girl’s family was wealthy, but had never produced an intellectual, an artist, a famous lawyer, or–more importantly–a politician. This placed them lower down on the social scale than they really deserved. They did have a couple of generals and a monsignor, but no senator or mayor or governor. Hm-m-m. . . How’d this girl even meet Mr. Sterling Qualities?

Julian sighed, shook his head and walked over the to bar. He picked up bits and pieces of conversation on the same topic–how did this girl come out of nowhere to become engaged to Juan Fernando Lleras Camacho? He didn’t know, he didn’t care and after five minutes, he just wanted to leave. But he promised his mother he’d stay and she kept introducing him to sweet young girls (early twenties) she hoped might catch his eye and make him think about staying in Bogotá.  Before ten o’clock, he felt locked into something he’d avoided most of his life, and slipped away to the men’s room to do a line of coke.

But the party bothered him more than he wanted to admit, or more than he could express, and a few days later, he gave Grace a long speech about marrying someone without a pedigree. Later, she referred to this as “The Rodríguez Rant,” because he kept returning to the subject of his brothers or his sister marrying someone named Rodríguez , “nobodies” who wanted to marry into the family because of its business and political connections. Julian decided he just could not let that happen, although he didn’t seem to have any plans to prevent such a wedding.

Grace let him ramble on and on because the subject was important, momentarily, to him, but not to her. She had heard her mother over the years warn her to be careful of men who “only marry you for your money” (so far, no one had), and by now, Julian was on her mother’s list. Not on Grace’s. She sympathized with his desire for his brothers and sister to marry well, but frankly, marrying someone with whom they had things in common seemed more important to her. Who cares what the last name was? She did not bother to remind him that his last name–Pardo–would mean squat in Lansing, Michigan, as it had meant nothing in Arizona. He lived in California most of the time, and constantly experienced being taken for a Mexican–which pissed him off a lot–so why in the world was he getting so obsessed by the last name of a girl he’d seen only once?

When he calmed down, Julian felt ridiculous. Why indeed was he worried about last names? Either he was heading for a depression or he was simply losing his mind altogether.

He sat with Grace on the couch in the livingroom, his arms around her. He wanted to leave Colombia and go back to that very structured (maybe rigid? Depends on one’s interpretation) lifestyle  he and Elisabetta had created. It worked for them in much the same way that his life with Grace worked–day-by-day, a lot of talking, pursuing things that were important to each party individually. He knew she wanted to keep writing, and that she had almost stopped doing that, so he felt badly that he was interrupting her. But he needed her and wanted to stay with her, even as he wanted to leave the country. He also knew that Grace was much much happier–a lot saner–in Colombia than in the US. If he could, he’d eliminate an awful lot of people who now seemed to be getting in the way of his, Grace’s and even Elisabetta’s plans.

He loved his family, tried to help them any way he could, but staying in Bogotá to make sure his brothers and sister went out with or married or got jobs with “the right people” seemed like a tremendous drain on him now.

He’d been trying to convince Grace to stay in Colombia, but it was more difficult than he had anticipated. She hadn’t found a  place of her own, and the diplomat in her apartment had a contract that wasn’t up til December or January. He didn’t know when the contract in the other apartment would expire. He’d introduced her to Al Londoño when she said she wanted to sell both apartments (worst idea she’d ever ever had, in his opinion, for many reasons), and felt relieved when she hesitated about the sales.  But the phone call from her mother, followed by some letters, had demoralized Grace and made her believe that she had a bigger obligation to return to Arizona than actually existed.

He and Elisabetta had worked out a companionable lifestyle in a pleasant (and expensive) LA neighborhood. But then she had written to say that she’d invited a friend of hers of many years standing to stay with them while he took a specialization at UCLA. His name was Charles van Leer and Julian had met him once in Europe and a couple of times in LA, when he was visiting other mutual friends. He seemed pretty normal, maybe a little shy, til he started drinking and then mixing it with whatever fashionable drugs were available at the moment. He’d fly pretty high for about 15 minutes and then crash into a crying jag which could last for a couple of hours, til he past out. Then he’d be depressed about the whole episode the next day. Julian sympathized with Charles’s hosts and had mentioned to Elisabetta that he really did not want that kind of responsibility. Nevertheless, she insisted in her letters that Charles had been seeing a doctor and was much better. Besides, he’d only be there less than a year. Julian shouldn’t worry so much.

For her part, Grace thought she had to go back to see if everything was as she’d left it, and suspected that she was going to find a huge mess. In a way, she was getting as depressed as Julian, but couldn’t admit it. Instead, she believed that she had to prove yet again to her mother and her disinterested father that she was truly a responsible adult, worthy of their respect and love. It would take years before she decided to stop trying to get that, and rearrange her life according to what she needed. But in the late summer of 1978, she had decided to return to Tucson and assume her responsibilities–whatever they were–despite the intense and very real headache the decision gave her.

They needed each other, but they didn’t know how to say it. Did not, in fact, really believe they had the right to open up to each other that way.

Grace knew something was wrong with Julian, but she also began to feel that he depended too much on her when she wanted to depend on him. Yet she felt overwhelmed, unsure and abandoned–not by Julian, but by something else. She kept trying to become a ghost in her own apartment, trying not to make a sound if anyone else was there. Her former maid, now married and living in Funza with her husband and two children, would come to Bogotá to visit and became alarmed that doña Gracia did not look nor sound like she used to. And when Grace finally said she was leaving Colombia for good and selling her apartments, the maid burst into tears and begged her not to. The maid finally said what no one else would–“Stay in Colombia, where you have friends and where’re you’re happy. If you go back to the US, you’ll be miserable and your mother will eat you alive.”

Grace felt terrible, unable to respond, and could only stand in the apartment’s door patting her maid on the shoulder and repeating that this was for the best.

And then, suddenly, Julian wasn’t there. He didn’t call. He didn’t come over. Nothing. Grace was now holding in so many of her emotions that she couldn’t even react to his disappearance.

A local movie theater was running a Russian ballet film festival and Grace decided to go. She loved the movies, even though it was clear that the Russian film stock was very poor. It had a grain that made the scenes look as if they were filmed in chicken soup. But the films made her feel better, at least for a few hours.

The last film was “Spartacus,” with music by Aram Katchaturian and choreography by Yuri Grigorivich. It had been considered scandalous when first premiered at the Bolshoi because the male dancers exposed their legs and chests while refusing to wear the “bloomers” usually required by Kremlin censors. Great dancing at the Bolshoi had to be accompanied by great modesty. Until Grigorivich changed all that. Grace was looking forward to seeing the film.

As she walked down Calle 62 toward the theater, which was just below Carrera 9 and next to the fire station, she saw Julian walking toward her, and he was almost unrecognizable. That he was so stoned and/or drunk he could barely stand was also obvious, and she was horrified. He wore blue-tinted granny glasses, a foulard under a pale blue button-down shirt, a kind of yellowish tweed jacket (where in the world did he get that thing!?), khaki pants and loafers. He smiled when he saw her and they kissed briefly in front of the theater. He asked her what she was doing or where she might be going.

“I’m going to the movie,” she answered, gesturing toward the doors.

“Really? What’s playing?” he asked, interested.


“Hey, great! I’d love to see that,” he replied with as much enthusiasm as the drugs would allow. “Let’s go.”

“It’s not the “Spartacus” you’re thinking about, the one with Kirk Douglas,” Grace said, not moving. “It’s a ballet. The story’s the same, but it’s danced.”

“Ballet? Oh shit, no, what a drag! Let’s go to your place. I need an aspirin.”

“No. You can go to the apartment and wait for me, but I am going to see “Spartacus.”

“You can go tomorrow.”

“No, I can’t. This is the only day they’re showing it.”

“Well I don’t want to see it,” he said, petulantly.

“I do.” She felt anxioius. She wanted to be with him, but she wanted to do something on her own, and she really didn’t want to deal with a stoned-out-of-his-mind Julian at that moment. “Why don’t you go to the apartment and take a nap? Take an aspirin. I’ll be back in a couple of hours, okay?”

He was disappointed but equally confused. Grace never left him. Why did she want to go to this movie? “No,” he said, “I’m going home. I’ll call you.”

“Okay.” They kissed and went their separate ways.

Later, Grace marked the day in her diary. It was September 3, 1978. Her parents had gotten married on September 3, 1943, in Houston, which is why she remembered the date.

Julian didn’t call.

The diplomat gave a party a few days after the movie and one of the male guests, who happened to know Julian, stole a sterling silver cigarette lighter than had belonged to one of the guests. The diplomat was very upset because she didn’t want a confrontation, but she did want the lighter returned. Grace decided to ask Julian if he could help out, somehow.

He was home when she called that evening. He sounded glad to hear from her, but just as stoned as he’d been the day they’d seen each other in front of the theater. He said he’d gotten a cold, which is why he hadn’t called or come over, and she accepted his apology. They talked a little more and then she asked if he could help her get the lighter back. He laughed and said no, because he really did not know the man she was talking about. If he said he knew Julian, he was lying. In fact, Julian thought Grace would have a better chance of getting it back, because she was a girl.

They should have ended the conversation at that point, but neither wanted to disconnect. She asked him what else he’d been doing, since they hadn’t seen each other in about two weeks.

“Not much,” he replied. “I went to dinner with Tere and Al, though.”

“Oh yeah? How’re they?”

“Okay. In fact, Tere wanted me to invite you. . .”

“Really? How nice of her!” Grace answered, surprised.

“Yeah, I know, but I decided that you two would gang up on me, so I invited some chick  that Tere doesn’t know,” he laughed.

“You what?” Grace went numb, her voice dropping to a whisper, waiting for Julian to say he was joking.

He couldn’t stop himself. “I mean, she’s just some chickie-babe, but her family’s much more impressive than yours–”

She hung up, quietly and quickly. She could barely breathe as she stumbled down the hall to her room.

On the other end, Julian realized the line went dead. He sat in the chair, holding the phone, not believing that Grace had hung up on him. She’d never do that. But she had. What had he said. . . ? He waited and out of the cloud that filled his head these days, he remembered. Of all the mean and bad or stupid things he could have said, he compulsively made an inexcusably painful remark to the one person he needed most.

He sat by the phone for a while. Maybe she’d call back, but in knew she wouldn’t. Or maybe she’d call him in a few days.

But she didn’t.


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