Thursday, April 21, 2011

Impressions of Juliet

I met her in Austin, Texas at a table outside of Whole Foods at Sixth and Lamar. The usual cacophony of grackles and doves was partially drowned out by whole foods radio. I was inside the store, heading out, as I spotted her. She was standing next to a table, in the sun, her hair was wavy, grey-white, all one length, parted down the middle and hanging half-way down her back, which was turned to me.

I approached and realized she was especially short, from the added height of my three inch clogs. She wore an off- white cotton dress, high-waisted and sleeveless with a textured button-down front. A simple prairie kind of dress. Black knee-high socks and sandals with a one inch wedge completed the look. After fourteen years apart, I hugged my petite sixty-eight year old mother, who oddly, did not reek of patchouli.

We made small talk; me, Juliet and Roger, her husband of thirty-two years. Small talk included Roger’s opinion on communism, and how my perspective on the subject had shifted given my marriage to an East German who was a teenager in November 1989. Roger was sent away and four hours of conversation unfolded, during which we covered Juliet's life history from age seven through the beginning of her fifth marriage.

Tepoztlán was not a place I expected to have in common with Juilet. She spent two months living there around 1979 with Gerard (or Gerhard, she’s not sure which), a German professor whose invitation she accepted to move to Mexico and start a new life. This was a romantic period between her fourth and fifth husbands, cut short by an emaciating case of dysentery.

From Tepoztlán, she was dropped off at her trusty white Cheve-something, at the dusty border in Laredo, and it, the car she named Augusta, was untouched, and not only that - it started. She made her way back to Austin, pausing in the telling of her story to ask:

“Did you know that cops won’t let you sleep in your own car?”

I nodded and asked, “Was that a Cheve-Impala?”

“Don’t remember, but that’s how I ended up in the tree,” she explained. “A tree not far from here.” She gestured to her left down North Lamar to a place that no longer exists, “off Eleventh and Baylor.”

She had some friends who lived in a house next to a lot filled with brush and trees. In the middle of that lot was a tree and she would climb a long ways up. Eventually a friend built a platform, way up in the tree, big enough to sleep fetal.

“I would tie myself to the tree,” she said, “so I wouldn’t fall out.” When she got tired of that, she slept curled at it’s base. “But down there you had to deal with mosquittos.”

For me, decades later, Tepoztlán was an optional day trip from a graduate school course I was taking in Cuernavaca, about poverty and oppression in Mexico. I understood that my mother was a case study in poverty and oppression, but she was too close, too real, too needy, too crazy and visiting her once a year, for six years, during my bachelor's degree was a swift kick in my own ass about staying focused on school.

I told Juliet I enjoyed spending time with her in trees. She smiled in appreciation.

I told her that my earliest memories were of beatings; her black-haired self, thrown against the white kitchen walls. She nodded, not surprised.

I told her I thought of her as a person with a broken picker. I don’t know if she understood, or if that hurt her even. But I said it. I mean, five marriages, even if one of them was to help out a friend?

She swore my dad, her second husband, didn’t start hitting until after they were married. She also swore that she was never a whore.

She mentioned that I was quite a handful as a little girl. That I never wanted to go to bed. I mentioned the roaches, endemic in parts of Austin, and the rats. She said she made friends with those cute little rats.

She mentioned that she didn’t find her voice until she was in her forties. I replied that I was born with a voice, and I’ve used it incessantly since. A few notable gaps, but still, mostly.

When I was eighteen (ish) Juliet told me that I should always masturbate before going on dates. This time I’m thirty-eight and her closing advice is to use a water-pic. She has all of her front teeth, its molars that are missing, a gaping darkness in her mouth. I explained that I brush and floss daily, love having my teeth cleaned and that all the cavities from my childhood have been filled. “But still” she said, “you must use a water-pic.”

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