03 September 2015

Paradise Lost and Found

view from the laundry room window
How many prodigal-blogger posts does this make?  Whatever. 

I found an assload of drafts in here. Apparently, I wrote a bunch of shit while strapped to the roller coaster that is culture shock, after blithely setting off for paradise with nine suitcases and a dog.

I almost deleted them. But this is how I felt at the time, and this was my path from there to here.

I wrote this three years ago.  I'd forgotten the post, but I remember that night so clearly.


Paradise Lost and Found

It's March. 2012.  Seven months since the exalted move to Paradise and entering into wedded bliss with the proverbial Latin lover.  Who needs Calgon?  This chick probably spends her perfect days on the beach, being served cocktails in a coconut by her surf-instructor husband, listening to toucan calls and the spicy strains of salsa music while all her troubles are borne away on a sultry, floral-scented, tropical breeze.

Bitch probably has a pet monkey, too. 

Well, sort of. I don't live anywhere near the beach.  Or even a pool.  The esposo is a librarian whose swimming skills are about in line with my salsa skills. We are, however, surrounded by coffee fields and volcanos, and we do enjoy the occasional coconut with a straw.  Or box of cheap wine. The breeze, while often floral-scented, has not borne away life's troubles, but it does occasionally deliver volcanic ash or monstrous insects through the screenless windows. There are banana trees (which are not actually trees), palm trees, mango trees, papaya trees, avocado trees, and fifty-eleven-jillion types of flowers, birds, and butterflies. Sunshine. Always.

No pet monkey, though.  Sorry.

I live in paradise.  I wake up to sunshine, birdsong, and warm tile floors every single day.  Except sometimes I feel like I'm supposed to feel like I live in paradise, and I am secretly guilty if I'm not 100% ecstatically happy all the time.  Like I have to live up to living the dream, you know?

There really is no magical place that is paradise, though you can be coaxed into believing in it when you're vulnerable, when you're shivering under a Snuggie, alone in your vast expanse of king-sized bed, listening to the endless rain beat down on the new roof you just paid for in your soon-to-be-foreclosed house, and it's dark by 4pm.

You can sure as fuck believe in paradise then.

I moved to Costa Rica, but my kids didn't.  My friends aren't here. I feel isolated, emotionally and linguistically. I'm getting better at Spanish, but it's like communicating with your head wrapped in a thick, wet blanket. That shit's hard, people. I now have a husband to have and to hold till death do us part, but marriage doesn't magically transport your ass to the pages of Harlequin any more than taking a salsa class magically makes you Shakira. (Yeah, that shit didn't work. Turns out they don't actually put those footprints on the floor for you to follow.)  I traded in my big, empty bed for the challenge of managing marriage across two languages and two cultures, after a largely long-distance courtship.  And that, my friends, no es nada fácil. We could be a weekly sit-com, trust.  Yes, I walked away from my job -- how great is that?  Everyone's dream!  But I also walked away from my own pension and salary, stepping into the role of a housewife completely dependent on her husband in a machista part of the world.  And that kind of messes with your head.

The separation from my kids and friends ... ain't enough paradise to fix that. My insides try to rise up and choke me if I let myself go down to that cellar where the real feelings live; oily, snakey things, locked up tight, away from the daily business of life.  As a single mom, I got pretty good at compartmentalizing, at handling shit while appearing sane and competent, at keeping that padlock snicked shut. Tight.

Until I'm alone.

Because then no one has to know. 

So one night I'm cooking dinner (because I'm a housewife now, y'all) and my iPod pops up this lullaby I used to sing to the kids when they were babies, in that big rocking chair that got left on the porch of my now-foreclosed house.  It was fast, too -- James Taylor reached out and gut-punched me with a baby's song, hard, and the padlocked things slithered out, into my consciousness where they don't belong, except I'm not alone now, because I moved to paradise and new husband is sitting over there playing computer chess, and James Taylor is singing "and you can sing this song ... when I'm goonnnne," and now I'm the one who's gone, and freaking James Taylor slams me back into the rocking chair with that soft, chubby baby in terrycloth sleeper pajamas, except it's not real because now the baby has a goatee and a job and college and  bills and is doing it alone, without his mom, because she's in paradise peeling beets ...

... and then I'm in the laundry room of this tiny apartment, trying to get it under control because I need to be in control, but it won't stop, and I'm looking out at the coffee plants and banana trees (which aren't really trees) under the moon, with the mountains blocking the low stars, and this is paradise, where I'm not alone but I'm a different kind of lonely ... and then new husband is in the laundry room, probably hoping like hell it was nothing he did to make this gringa volverse loca in the laundry room (possibly wondering if this is an appropriate time to practice the "go nuts" phrase he just learned in English), and I try to tell him it's just that I miss the kids ... I just miss the kids ... only it's hard to speak clearly when you're crying and James Taylor is crooning his freaking baby's song, and I'm speaking in English because I can't think in Spanish when I'm crying, so it's harder to understand me, and we're doing that "¿Qué? ¿Cómo?  What?" thing, and I want to punch James Taylor but I secretly believe I deserve to feel this way because (you wouldn't be missing them so much if you hadn't LEFT THEM) really, who deserves to be happy in paradise?

And that's how it hits you. Like a fucked-up, run-on sentence that won't stop.

Anyway, I've been doing a lot of thinking about paradise and happiness and relationships and about how where you are affects how you are.  I'm having a pretty hard time, to be honest, living without my family and my friends.   I was prepared for the whole culture shock thing; I didn't Pollyanna that shit. I know the drill, I've done international moves before.  But not without my kids.  And in those places, there were other transplanted people who got it.  And who spoke my language. 

How can you feel sad when you're "living the dream"?  I feel like an ingrate. I mean, you quit your job, moved to a tropical country and found love to boot?  Bitch, shut the fuck up and get back to your fairy tale before I throw a mango at your ass.


In Seattle, I had people whom I loved more than life, but I wasn't happy.  I had happy moments with my people, but I wasn't really happy in general.  I don't think most people know how deeply Seattle got in there, what it did to me. It was sucking the life out of me, sucking the me out of me. 

Here in Costa Rica, the sunshine restores me, I feel better, I feel more like me.  I feel happy in general.  I have someone who loves me.  I have my dog.  I have time to breathe. It's warm.  It's yellow and red and so many greens and nothing is grey or cold or damp.  I just miss my kids, my friends.  Sometimes almost to the point of panic if I can't keep it shut up tight, where it belongs.

Even in paradise, life is trade-offs, people. Always.

I feel like I'm healing something, being here.  It's a process, but I feel it happening.  A location isn't really paradise, but it does make one hell of a difference.  There will always be stuff, but sunshine makes handling the stuff easier.  At least for me.  I'm that freaking Seattle crocus escaping the cold, snowy ground, basking my ass off in the sunshine.  Alive.  Sunshine is so fucking good.

Now if I can just find an agreeable monkey and teach it to ride on Batman, we'll be golden.


  1. Oh my. I popped in to refresh my depleted Cowbell fix with expectations of light hearted, "Hey, a funny thing happened today on my way to the forum, let me tell you about it," and then I got to the end of it and now I feel like I need to make a special trip down to the laundry room while I wait for my stomach to expand back out.

    Damn, you can write the hell out of some shit. This is going to be something.

  2. Wow, that's some powerful stuff. Not sure I have more to add than that.

  3. "Even in paradise, life is trade-offs, people. Always."
    There have been some sacrifices, I was not prepared to make and have yet to come to terms with. Strange, you and I have had very different experiences with regard to leaving the PNW and yet have arrived at such similar places emotionally. I related to these words so deeply and feel so connected to your friendship. xoxo

  4. Thanks, guys. I've missed it, turns out. It's been too easy to Facebook my way into short attention spans, memes, junk clicks, and basically a hazy (lazy?) lack of focus or thinking.

    In CR, there is a glut of blogs from people either trying to cash in on it (Buy my book! Discover my secret! You, too, can escape to paradise!) or wanting to showcase their expertise after living here for a few months. The thought of falling in with that crowd was about as appealing as waxing my nether-regions on a cold day. Thus the drafts languishing here. So no fanfare, just a quiet return to the old crew. Good to see so many of your houses resurrected as well.

    I am, however, feeling a bit odd, not being able to "like" your comments. Or particularly delicious turns of phrases at your various abodes. Habit.

    Hat, yes, it's odd -- so many similarities in life between us, yet our ways of getting there are sometimes polar opposites.

  5. Wow great writing and I love to see you back, maybe you will encourage me to get back into it. Just tell me, is the coffee better than Seattle?

    1. You know, it is better, as coffee goes, but it's basic coffee and that's it. I confess, I miss the cappuccinos, the pumpkin spice lattes (regardless of the Internet mocking), the caramel macchiatos. But drinking my basic coffee in sunshine ... I'll take it any day of the week.


I've got a fever ...