[Costa Rica – Same time and date]
Veronica lie napping on a padded hammock at the Sand Dollar Pub, a small beachside bar and grill where American and European expatriates frequent and drink alongside generations of natives who may as well call the spot home. Nearby, a young American traveler is taking part in a ritual—a brutal interrogation by some of the locals. Old and young, men and women alike, gather around any unfamiliar face and free-pour from bottles of dark rum while badgering, degrading and humiliating, deeply prying into the life of the stranger. If they don’t drive the stranger away, he will have earned not only an evening of complimentary rum but also a lifetime spot in the family. A family of crazies and drunkards, mostly, but they are loyal, and most are well-connected. It’s what they tend to be connected to that can be worrisome, but with enough drinking and camaraderie, you learn not to let that bother you.
Veronica glances over at the young American man named Abe, and softly catches his eyes. She winks and offers a small smile—he seems to be passing. She knows this not only because she’s seen this ritual acted out many times before but because it’s been three hours now, and he’s still there, and seems to be laughing along with the crowd. This earns you bonus points. Technically, the only requirement is to stay through the ordeal, a show of respect for the culture. However, presenting with an enduring air of confident self-deprecation catapults you to levels of very high esteem.
“And what of your Jenny? You say she left you. Why she left you, a dashing young man?” asked Greta, grasping the Abe’s sturdy thigh. Greta, a middle-aged expatriate was a German socialite escaping a rather dodgy past filled with multiple fiancés left wondering what became of her and an inflated bank account without any real explanation of how it tripled in assets within the span of two months. On the other hand, there’s no one around to ask her too many questions about that anymore, so perhaps the mystery will remain just that.
Abe paused at the question, offering no response. He may ultimately fail the test, Veronica, Greta and about a dozen other on-lookers thought, worried for a moment. Abe, however, did not leave. Instead, he slid his empty glass aside, and with a serpent’s grace, he stretched his slender but muscular body across the table, and wrapped his long fingers around the neck with a seductive, choking rhythm, pulled the bottle to his lips and emptied the slightly sweet and eminently powerful liquid into himself.
Abe retracted back into his seat, returning to his meek pose and responded, “I am in love. Carnally in love, spiritually raptured and emotionally damned—the feel of her, the sight, her fiery aura that lights up a room that becomes alive just because she’s in it. Her scent, the way she tastes and sounds hypnotizes me senseless. Her words and thoughts and emotions captivate me and hold me enslaved. But I cannot tell you why I am in love. It’s a spell. She’s horrible. The way she treats people—me. She’s at the core an angry, bitter jealous, crazy woman who bursts into rages and screaming insults when the wind changes direction. Disapproving of all people and ideas, she is an earthquake or a voyage on cracking ice—welcoming at first, but just waiting to through open the trap door on your ass as soon as you hit her mark. Her words at times sound so sweet and kind and so funny as if she’s a delightful gift and could never be anything but, worshipping the very ground on which you walk and so grateful to have you there in this warm place of love and reverence. All the while she has a dagger churning in circles, dug deep into your back, preparing to remove your organs and gleefully play with your spleen like a spongy little ball. These are a few of her favorite things. And I am in love. I too often imagine her unbroken with all of the damaged pieces whole and the crazy removed. But it’s the crazy that’s the glue holding her together, you know? If I could take out the crazy, all that would be left of her is a million little pieces and no glue. So she’s there, and I’m here, in love with her in a place that’s safer. Is there more rum?”
Veronica pops up and pours coffee for Abe saying, “All drunks are poets. You may be a better poet than most, so we’ll need to keep the alcohol poisoning at bay so that you may see another day. So, instead of more rum, let’s have you try another Costa Rican original—a full-bodied roast. Cream or sugar?”
Abe smiles, “Ah, you’re right, of course. I’ve had too much. Black is fine. Thanks.”
Greta wraps her arms around Abe, with Abe suddenly realizing how attractive Greta is, though having lived almost twice his 28 years of life. Greta says, “Abe, I think you shall not make the journey back to your hotel tonight. Too far. You stay here.”
“Here at the bar?” asks Abe.
“No. Here at our house,” says Greta.
“I’ll stay at your house?” asks Abe.
“No. You’ll stay with our Veronica. She is lovely, no? And she will see that you are comfortable for tonight. Your hotel is too far, and you are too drunk to travel that far, yes? Yes,” Greta decides for Abe. Veronica is busy cleaning up the bar getting ready to close. She has prepared a ham sandwich for Abe with thick fresh bread, and she places it along with a very tall glass of coconut water in front of him without a word. Greta says, “Yes. Good. You eat all of this. Drink all of your water. Hector will hand you Asprin. You will finish all of this, and your hangover will be much more, uh, tame in the morning.” Greta pokes Abe hard in his side causing him to wince saying, “You finish all, here? Yes.”
Abe dares not sway from these orders. He still has about a dozen eyes on him, though some had wandered off. Veronica flickers the lights on and off, signaling the close for the night. Last call took place about an hour ago, which went unnoticed do to the lively entertainment provided by the newcomer. As Veronica cleans up the last of Abe’s dishes, his eyes fix on her. She is heartily plump with more than 60 pounds of extra padding evenly distributed around her body and very short—not much more than 5 feet, he thinks, and still she looks rather athletic. She has medium-length blonde hair and a kind yet edgy presence about her, though they have not yet spoken to each other.
Soon, Abe feels remarkably sober, sober enough to realize that while he has every intention of staying the night with Veronica, she has never uttered a word about it. He gently wraps his long fingers around her forearm and asks, “Is it okay with you? May I stay the night at your house? Greta seemed so insistent, I’m sorry it didn’t occur to me to ask you until now.
Veronica explains, “That trial they just put you through for four hours? You passed.” She places her hand on top of his, which is still resting on her arm saying, “You are now family here.” She smiles at Abe continuing, “You are welcome to stay,” and she pats his hand and places it back in his lap. She continues talking to him, while Abe’s brain feels like it’s doing the backstroke, swimming around in his skull. “I’ve seen them perform that ritual, that brutal interrogation you just endured, more times than I can count. Only five people have passed so far. You are the fifth,” she said nodding at him.
“How do you know I passed?” asked Abe.
Veronica leans into him saying, “You stayed.”
“I stayed? That’s it?” asked Abe.
“Yep. That’s it,” replied Veronica. “It’s a flawless test of character, really. If you can tolerate their shenanigans and insults while revealing the most personal things about yourself in answer to their rude questions, it shows that you are forthcoming, that you respect them enough to answer, truthful or not, you have hide thick enough to take their shit and that you stick around through difficulty to a resolution. Damnit!” she pauses, “I think you might be damn near a perfect person!” Veronica laughs. “Come on. Let’s get you to bed.”
Abe hops out of Veronica’s 1992 yellow Jeep Wrangler that was decked out with the biggest tires he’d ever seen outside of a monster truck derby. She turns off the ignition, and with it stops the blaring music, Schumann’s “Erlkoeng.”
They approach a quaint house, glowing with warm yellow electric lights in lanterns hanging from the eves. As he enters the house behind Veronica, he notices the smell of fresh Caribbean beach air as though the house had no walls, and the beachside breeze painted the interior with a magical peaceful brush. The floors were all terracotta clay tiles, and the walls were painted in warm buttery yellows and cool blue-gray tones with stark white accents. The furniture was an eclectic mix of comfortable modern décor combined with antiques and local craftsmen’s creations and vibrant art and sculptures.
Veronica leads Abe to a large bamboo door off of the foyer, which reveals a comfortable guestroom, complete with a large white bed with crisp pale blue linens though a little threadbare, having been through more than 10 years of washes on a washboard. Yes, a washboard—the device Veronica has used to wash everything she owns since she moved to Costa Rica 10 years ago.
Abe dove head-first into the bed, kicking off his flip-flops, and landing with his head snuggled deep into the fluffy pillows. An avid marathon insomniac, his shut his eyes, praying that sleep would hit him soon, although he feared the dawn that would most assuredly serve him a mighty hangover. He was hoping he’d be able to sleep through most of it. Veronica flipped off the light and shut the door behind her, and Abe’s prayer was answered as he quickly fell deep into slumber.
Veronica had just baked fresh donuts; dawn had poked up above the trees in her back yard and the chickens and geese she kept there were stirring, waiting for the Saturday morning games. Abe started waking at the sweet smell of baked goods. He found it strange, considering the copious amounts of rum he consumed, that he knew where he was and even how he got there. As he sat up, he was even more astounded that his head wasn’t pounding, and his stomach felt fine. His eyes felt slightly swollen, tongue thick and head a little heavy, almost as if he had caught a light cold. But, that’s it. As he rose to his feet, his bladder felt like a sack of wet sand, and he knew he needed to take care of this issue posthaste.
He thudded his large feet towards the bamboo door, struggling a bit figuring out how to open it until he discovered the latch. Walking through, his eyes strained at the young bright orange light of the day prying through tree leaves and beaming through the large glass doors and window panes. His blinked rapidly adjusting to the light to survey the living area of this gorgeous small home. Woods of mostly bamboo and teak and accents of carved limestone appear alive, as though they grew together organically composing this architecture to create this impressive, cozy dwelling place. The life force shown through in the daylight in a way that wasn’t noticeable at night.
Veronica looked over at Abe, seeing an impressively tall, skinny man with wild dark hair, appearing more than a little lost. She waved towards a plate of donuts and a large glass of ice water saying, “Breakfast?”
Abe raised his eyebrows and smiled, “Uh, thanks. Restroom?”
Veronica pointed right next to him, to a door that was cracked open. Abe swung himself inside—just a quick pivot, latching the door behind him. Veronica exited out the back door with a donut in hand, still slightly warm, and her feather friends soon surrounded her clucking and whining ever-so gently. “No, not yet. We have a guest this morning. A spectator for the game. We must be polite and wait for him,” Veronica said to the chickens and the geese. They appeared to have limited capacity to hold their attention on anything, especially Veronica talking to them as soon as it became obvious that the donut in her hand would not fulfill their need for instant gratification. They just scampered about.
Abe walked out standing next to Veronica with a whole donut stuffed in his mouth, chewing, with his head bobbing up and down in time with the mastication. “Do you like football—American football?” Veronica asks Abe. Abe smiles politely with his lips shut tight, nodding his head in the affirmative. “Great, the girls would love to play for you!” Veronica laughs.
Abe swallows the rest of his donut in a gulp and says, “You mean the chickens are going to play football? Is this like a cockfight?”
“No! Certainly not!” exclaims Veronica, as she swoops up a small black clucking chicken into her arms and cuddles her briefly. “No fighting. Football. Here, just toss the donut out to them. You get to throw the game ball into play,” she says directing Abe towards the donut with her head and releasing the little black chicken into the playing field. “Let the games begin! Woooooooooooo!” yells Veronica as Abe tosses the donut out for the players.
“Go get it Juno! Juno is in the lead, keeping the donut away from Minerva and Venus. Oh! She drops it and wanders off, leaving Minerva in the lead followed closely by Flora hopping out of the bushes. Minerva is on the run with Flora at her heals and blocked by Pellonia! Pellonia has the donut. Good job, Pellonia!” Veronica says, serving as sports announcer for the morning.
Abe has a silly smile glued to his face. “Oh my god, I’ve never seen anything like this! They’re playing ball!” he laughed. Just then, Venus, the big white goose grabs up the donut and gobbles it—gone!
“Oh, game over! Foul by the fowl! Venus declared champion by default and claimed the prize all to herself.”
Abe’s face dropped, and Veronica noticed. “Hey,” Veronica said nudging him. “What’s with the frowning? You look like you lost your best friend just now.”
“I did,” said Abe.
“Oh, the crazy girl who stole your heart—the one you talked about at the bar?” asked Veronica, fully intending to pry.
“Yeah. It’s okay. It only hurts when I smile,” said Abe.
“Hmm. No, I don’t understand,” She shook her head. “I need to get to the bar; are you about ready to go? It’s okay, you’ll explain to me on the way.” Veronica instructed.
Back in the Jeep, heading towards the bar, bouncing furiously as if on a crazy trampoline, Veronica finally pipes up, “So, a man wandering around with a broken heart is a mystery to me. I’ve only known women to get that moody and forlorn.”
The subject alone opens deep wounds, and Abe says, “Yeah. It’s a mystery to me too. But be careful what you ask for. I try not to think about it, and I definitely try not to talk about it. Simply put, my heart is bleeding, and I don’t know why, and I can’t seem to stop it. My head knows it’s crazy, that I’m better off with her gone from me, that there was nothing good there for me. But like a drug, I still crave even the madness and pain she caused. What do they say about addictions? Despite catastrophic consequences, you’re still driven to the drug. That’s it. That’s the best way to explain it.”
The Jeep plummets into a mote-like pothole, and Veronica masterfully climbs the steep incline at an angle, exiting with ease. She looks over at Abe who is gripping the dashboard as though there was actually something there to hang onto. “You can hold the roll bars if you need to hold something,” she says laughing at him, as they return to the bumpy but trail-blazed dirt road ahead, leading to the bar. These pot holes are everywhere. You get used to them. Just as soon as Abe moved his hands, they were there, parked beachside at the bar.
“So, young man, what makes your heart so heavy that it hurts to smile? Not some damn crazy girl, I hope?” Veronica insists.
“Yep. I know, it’s pathetic. I’m pathetic!” he proclaimed laughing. “I doubt she even thinks much about me at all, or worse—I’m a punchline in her everyday colloquialisms, symbolizing suckers and waste and disappointment for her. And I’m just like a junkie jonesing for a fix of something that will kill me if I don’t shake it free. Not a physical death, but my identity was fading. I had to change everything I thought and said to meet with her wavering approval. Mostly I just stayed quiet and tried to predict what I should do or say that could maybe make her happy or at least meet with her impossible standards—that changed like the fucking tides. I don’t know, what killed me, and why I jumped on a plane to an underdeveloped country, hoping to find a way to heal this mess—she said nothing to me. Not one fucking word. A relationship of 11 fucking years, and I was there for her through everything—I wasn’t even worth on fucking conversation to her in the end. Nothing. And THAT meant I had to give up hope. Hope that the years of lies she told me that she loved me, respected me, appreciated me, couldn’t imagine me not being in her life—it was all just horse shit. A steaming wet mile high load of horse shit. All I had to do was take a second—one sober second to look back on all of the bizarre painful accusations, the constant fights she’d pick with me, the humiliation and devaluing of countless comments and actions—and in that one second a blinding flash of the obvious overtook me. I’m a goddamned, motherfucking rabbit-assed-crazy moron! So, I left.”
Abe looked over at Veronica, expecting that she had become bored of his lamenting eons ago, but she wasn’t. Her eyes were a steady gaze of interest, with her head resting on her hands, comfortable, waiting to see where Abe was going next with his tale of woe. Abe realize that he hadn’t actually answered Veronica’s question yet, so he continued, “Why does it hurt to smile? That’s what was so magical about her. She had this power. She could find this place in her, filled with this electrified joy that sent jolts of power—giddy happiness to everyone surrounding her. Fucking intoxicating! I’m not a joyful guy. When they handed out positive traits, they were all out of joy for me when my time in line came up. I don’t know how to find it. But, through her, I was so closely bonded to her, I could feel joy through her. Her smile and excitement lit up places in me I didn’t know how to reach. I don’t know how to reach on my own. And without her, every smile is dulled and every spark of joy never ignites into anything of any real worth. But, even with all of that, I know I must go on without her and that electric joy. Or I risk losing me completely, just for the high.”
Veronica, placed her hand on Abe’s knee, “Whoa,” she said. “That’s one powerful and dangerous drug. But I know it’s more than that, my new friend. You love her. And that kind of love, even when you try to kill it, the goddamned thing won’t die,” said Veronica, as she pulls her backpack out of the Jeep and opens up the bar.
“But I didn’t even get to that part yet,” Abe explained, following after Veronica.
“Yes, I know,” said Veronica, placing her hand on his back welcoming him back into the Sand Dollar. “Let me be presumptuous here and see if I can finish your story.”
Abe hopped up on a bar stool and nodded at Veronica. “Okay, give it a go,” he said.
“You worry about her. You worry if losing her didn’t actually cause her great pain, and you know it did. You worry so much it hurts you every day not to call her, but your head is saying ‘no, no,’ and you listen. You are head-sober here, far away from the intoxication of her here, and you can think with your head a little better here, and this is good. You know that contacting her, no matter how compelled you are to try to help her heal once more will only open up still fresh wounds that will only end in you both being apart anyway. Because that is what you need to find and be you, Abe, again. If you go back, everything you have strived to create for yourself will be destroyed and you will be once again trapped in the craziness she creates in her world. But you, you must create your world now. Here, you must build something new for yourself. A sanctuary where you can heal and grow stronger. Did I get it right?” Veronica asks.
Abe’s eyes were liquid with tears streaming down his face. “Yes,” he said softly. “You got it right. How did you?”
“Your paths will cross again, new friend, and it won’t be like it was before, many times before. You’re not done with this relationship. Just this chapter, but do not force it, Abe. When the time is right, the universe will insist upon it, when you are stronger, more healed, ready for a new chapter with her in it. Your relationship will be different—you will be more powerful with your own identity. You will know you, and she will see it and be respectful of it. She, unknowingly preyed upon your weakness—your weakness of self and identity. And do not worry, because it is this in you that is suffering. It is in fact dying—your weak self. And you must let it die to have your rebirth—to finally become and know Abe.”