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.