After three years, eight months and four days, Rudy (a.k.a. “Risky Torpedo”), the man who should have been brother and was my former lover, returned to Santa Fe. He pulled into the driveway in his Volkswagen van with the cracked windshield and the prehistoric dashboard collection of rattlesnake tails, plastic toy reptiles, red rocks, and feathers.
“You’re not going to believe what happened,” he said.
“Don’t tell me. The car broke down,” I replied.
“No, I fell asleep on the road,” he said.
“I checked into the Knights Motel for a few hours,” he replied. “I’m fine.”
He looked emaciated, lean as a cougar, and hungry as a wolf. My maternal instincts raged to nurse him.
“Wow, the porch really needs paint,” he said. “I’ll start tomorrow.” “Don’t you want to take a few days off and hike, or dig for petroglyphs?” I asked.
“Hell no! I got a lot of work before our first guests arrive,” he offered.
“When do the first guests arrive?” I asked.
“June 20. Piece of cake. Wait till you see the list,” he replied.
John, the man who has come closest to me since my Daddy, barbequed that night, while Risky set his cowboy boots into the New Mexican soil, watched the clouds open like white envelopes, and acclimated himself to the home we used to share as a perceived couple. I wondered what our neighbors at La Posada would be thinking, as the three of us, the we of me, congregate on the front porch around my mayhem — Rudy’s Hank Williams music and John’s pacing during a phone conversation with his agent.
The discourse and chaos of life is what draws us together, not the complacency. Reconfiguring a gallery that we never really furnished as a home into a first-class vacation rental for six to eight people took up one entire spiral notepad.
I saved that notepad. Not because I will ever do this again but because my passion for struggle, deconstruction, and chaos has passed. I noticed that about two weeks into the reconstruction. At times, I think I mine mayhem because our family home burned when I was 8 years old, and the impression it left was that everything can change between the time you get on the bus to go to school and when you come home. Ann, my therapist back in the ‘90s suggested that the fire that burned our family home was why I became a transient mover, rearranged furniture incessantly, and loved hotels. I kept a list for years of all my addresses; by the time I was 40, I had moved 42 times.
What you do if you convert your home into a vacation rental is to remove any signs of personal stain, sentiment, or residency. The catch is that that we are, in fact, not moving. We are going to hide everything that identifies us. By the third day of Risky’s arrival, the worn paint on the porch went from sulking yellow to stormy grey. John and Risky carved a friendship between breakfast and dinner, and I was the light bulb of supposed neutrality that could not go off. Buckets of paint and brushes, new light bulbs, tins of gold leaf paint, and tubes of caulking were scattered like leaves.
“Risky can’t you put your tools in one place?” I asked.
“No, I cannot. I never have. Why would you even ask? You know this is how I work,” he answered.
“I ask because you know I have to ask,” I said.
Inside John fluctuated between rewriting a script and agreeing to my yelps for help: “Would you help me move all the books to the dining table?” And he didn’t just move them; he stacked them by subject. Then I boxed them, and painfully stacked them in the other closet, next to the boxes of albums, personal photos, journals, and Lanie’s dice collection that has grown to casino-caliber numbers.
A box of photographs marked 2003 tempted me to peek inside. I lifted the lid and landed on a photo of Rudy and I in Taos, perched on a boulder in the ski valley. Flashing images, not of where we were, but of who we were, who all of us were back then. Then came the cartons of FBI and INS files; the beasts that entrap me. These boxes, filled with the answers to my family history, have been attached to me for 17 years.
“Gee LouLou, why not pack a few dozen more? They’re not heavy enough,” Risky said. “Do you know how many times I’ve moved these?”
Risky lugged the boxes down two flights of stairs to the basement, which he had to rearrange because my Vacation Rental Advisor told us it wasn’t presentable. All this activity stirred a family of mice who turned up on the garden pathway and zipped by me as I laid the platter of food on the outdoor dining table.
“The mice are not dead,” I told Risky over and over.
Because he loves all creatures, he avoided the traps until the mice turned up in the flowerbeds while he was planting. It’s the first time in several years that it took six months to fill one lined journal. And without my journal, I swell up, and then explode. The explosion comes in swift unmanageable bursts. During one of the manuscript box moves, the one marked “Rejection Letters,” prompted me to take a great deep breath and drop the box squarely over the second-story landing.
“What happened?” they asked.
John and Risky took giant steps toward the box and then looked up at me to see if more were coming. “Rejection letters,” I replied.
In one of the free tote bags that come with a purchase from Nordstrom’s, I dropped the books I would need, the ones that nourish my appetite for understanding: Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Joan Didion, Lawrence Durrell, and the ones I have not read yet. I was able to pack 15 books in the bag, which I imagined would go in the front seat of the car if we were driving or in the suitcase if I was flying.
It was still undetermined to where John and I would escape during the eight days our guests would live here. My pal Jewels invited Risky to stay in her casita, but that was still undermined too. After the books came the wardrobe, shoes, cosmetics, toiletries, porcelain pets, fans, masks, magazines, hats CDs, DVDs, and then my desk. Within hours, my private writing room and literary sanctuary for the last five years was ransacked, broken down like a theater set, and stored in stackable trays that I wheeled into the closet.
“This feels very weird,” I said. “It’s as if I’m stripping from the inside out.”
“What about the filing cabinet? Where does that go?” Rudy asked. He was on the floor, attaching wheels to the cabinet, and I was in the closet, where the space was shrinking around me.
“LouLou, What about Cancun?” John yelled from another room. “What about it?” I shouted from the closet floor, where I was organizing jewelry.
“I have a time share I can exchange,” he said. “I’ve never been there.”
“It’s too late,” I said. “Cancun is California. We may as well go to Malibu.”
And 10 minutes later, it was Oaxaca, Hawaii, and British Columbia. I was separating half-written essays from memos to the Las Vegas Mob Experience. The heat came in waves from the hallway, but I couldn’t get out of the closet. Later that afternoon, my browsing eye turned to Craig’s listings, and John continued his efforts to find us an escape.
“How about Laguna Niguel?” he offered.
My finger landed on a posting: “Writer’s Cabin on 40 acres in San Cristobel, Taos where Aldous Huxley wrote Island.”
“John, I found a place! Let’s go tomorrow to check it out,” I shouted. “This will be such an adventure! It’s next to a riding stable, and creeks, and trees and D.H. Lawrence lived up the hill.” To be continued.