Saturday, July 30, 2011

Judge Not Lest Ye Also Be Judged

July 29, 2011 – Judge Not Lest Ye Also Be Judged

Some people are just better off not drinking. Walter is one of these. When he drinks he becomes a bully, just looking for someone to push into tears. He hasn’t tried this with me. Not yet. Hold up, now that I think about it, he did try to rile me up after that Harrowing Drive home, asking me about money matters and my futures plans. He intentionally goaded me about not getting on with adventure trips. I didn’t take the hook. I nearly did. I remember thinking at the time, “He isn’t my dad. These aren’t questions that are his to ask. He wants to get my goat, he’ll have to work a little harder.” For a moment though, he’d made me feel inadequate and I wanted to fight back, to justify myself, until I realized I had several pokers in the fire (he talks a lot in clichés and I’m afraid it’s catching) and I was working to do what I wanted to do. I also had seen in his eyes that he was spoiling for a fight. Nuh-uh, brother, find someone else to fight with.
Today, Friday, he has his friends over for a BBQ and he drinks some Pisco.
Maybe he has some rum. He’s getting louder, but it seems like he’s having fun. I’m not really paying attention because I’m enjoying the sun in my own spot. I’ve laid out a towel in the grass away from the pool and away from the guests. I’d thought about just catching a little bit of vitamin D before getting back to work on Walter’s memoirs, but it doesn’t happen that way. Not today.

“Hey, they’re missing you,” Walter tells me as he walks by. His friends Lawrence and Terry whom I’ve met are here. Terry’s girlfriend Fiorella is also here. Cosmo, an American who I meet for the first time today though I’ve heard his name before in conversation, is here.
I pack up my books and leave my private sun spot to go join the party. “I didn’t mean to be rude,” I tell them, “but I didn’t want to crash your party.”

“Oh no,” Fiorella tells me. “Join in.”
These aren’t my kind of people. They’re good people, I bet. And sure, I can blend in, somewhat. I can make conversation, but there’s no comfortable silence. There’s no easy camaraderie. There’s a pressure in the air that says “It’s better if you’re rich. It’s better if you have a big house. It’s better if you make up your face and wear the latest style of boots.” They don’t think the way I think, their concerns aren’t mine, and vice versa. They’re commercial, I’m minimalistic. They’re the upper crust, I’m the middle of the pie. Maybe they’re better and I’m worse. Or I’m better and they’re worse. Or maybe there’s neither good nor bad, but thinking makes it so.

I put in my time. I make small talk. I even drink a couple fingers worth of rum on the rocks prepared for me by Cosmo. In my mind I’m thinking of other things. I’m not really being in the moment. I’m wishing for this sun with different people. The kind of people I can laugh with.
Their meat gets grilled and they all flock in under the covered patio to get their food. I’m alone by the pool. Left with my thoughts to myself. For a moment.

Terry walks by on his way to get something from the house. “My email is,” he tells me. “Write me a note so I’ll know how to get in touch with you.” He’d asked me a little bit earlier how long I was going to stay in Peru. I’d told him I’d most likely be in Lima for at least another six months after August 31st.
I think I need to learn to lie. To certain people.

Maybe I’m reading him wrong. But he comes off bad to me. His twenty-four year old (he’s in his 50s), fashionable girlfriend is less than one hundred feet away and it feels like he’s coming on to me. I don’t assume every interaction with the opposite sex is a come on, but from him… well.
When he walks back by he asks, “What’s my email?”
I parrot it back to him. I wonder if Fiorella knows about this email address.  Walter had told me she gets really jealous and keeps a tight leash on Terry. She’d have to, I’d thought, he’s not really the trustworthy type. I wouldn’t trust him. And okay, I know my email address isn’t the best, but at least it isn’t
“I expect to see an email from you tomorrow so I’ll know how to reach you,” he says. “When you’re in Lima then I can entertain you.”

I just raise my eyebrows at him. 

While the whole party is filling their plates, I go into the house. Geraldine and I talk while she’s washing dishes and I’m waiting for it to get late enough for me to make my own dinner. Geraldine and I talk a lot on a daily basis. We talk movies, culture, language, music, world events, animals, weather, travel, religion, politics, pretty much anything. She gives me the 411 on a lot of things. She’s a great source of information.  She’s a terrific conversationalist and the closest thing I have right now to a Spanish teacher. She’s given me her impressions on Walter’s friends before. She likes Terry, she finds him to be funny. “He gives me a hard time about not knowing any English,” she’d told me before. “I ask him when he’s going to learn Castellano.” She doesn’t mind the mild flirtations. She can brush them off.

Now I lean up against the counter. “I don’t know about Terry,” I tell her. “He’s a flirt. I mean, his girlfriend is right here and he’s asking for my email?”
“I don’t think he meant it like that. He’s good people,” Geraldine contradicts me. “He’s not the same as Señor Walter. He’s all right. Señor Walter is good too, don’t get me wrong, but Señor Terry, if someone needs money he gives it. Sometimes Don Walter will say he’ll help out but,” she closes her hand into a fist to signify stinginess. “But, no, Señor Terry is good people.”

By their deeds you shall know them?

My personal opinion is that Terry tends to come on stronger to girls who speak English.
“Another English speaker,” he says when he spots me at the Casa del Gringo today. He doesn’t speak any Castellano even though he’s been in Peru for the last twenty years. Since Geraldine doesn’t speak any English he has no reason to really go after her. Or maybe I just don’t like his looks and for that reason don’t take to his perhaps innocent flirting. If I found him more physically attractive would I be less judgmental?

Or if I hadn’t heard Walter talking on the phone with him earlier that day about bringing a female coworker with him instead of his girlfriend would I be more inclined to feel amiable towards him?
“Did you sleep with them?” Walter asks at one point in the phone conversation.
I’m listening, not necessarily intentionally, but it’s hard not to hear because Walter’s voice is loud and carries through the screen door to where I’m sitting outside.
There’s one part in The Dawn Treader (a book in the Narnia Series) when Lucy intentionally eavesdrops on a conversation between a few of her classmates. In the course of the conversation Lucy hears one of the girls say something against her and thinks that the girl isn’t really her friend. It turns out that the poor girl had just felt pressure to fit in with the mean girls and really liked Lucy. But for Lucy because of her intrusion on the conversation, and the fact that she can’t distinguish between thoughts and words, she never feels the same way toward her friend. After Aslan chastises Lucy for what she’s done and told her the girl’s real thoughts, Lucy wishes for the rest of her life that she could undo that moment. But she can’t and their relationship carries a taint from then on.
I’ve often wondered what would happen if we really knew what others thought of us.
Would the discrepancies be too hard to deal with? Probably. Because we can like someone and hate them at the same time. We can admire and be jealous in one thought. We can want one thing from a person and deny the desire when they ask us. We can be with our best friend and wish for a moment that we were alone. We’re contradictory and complex creatures.  
Maybe I’d like Terry better if I knew he hadn’t first met his current girlfriend when he’d been out with his then girlfriend. Maybe I’d like him better if I knew he hadn’t been married four times already. It’d be better if I could like him while knowing these things about him. But I can’t.

While Geral and I are just chilling in the kitchen, Terry comes in. He and Geraldine exchange their jabs in their own languages. “I don’t know what he said,” Geraldine tells me. But they’re still communicating. They’re having fun.
“Geraldine doesn’t love me anymore,” Terry tells me with a pathetic tone.

She looks at me. I tell her what he said.
“She doesn’t love me anymore,” he repeats.

“It’s because you have Fiorella,” Geraldine says, teasing.
“Well, I have her on the weekends for sure, but I’m free during the week,” he says.

I translate. I give Geraldine a look that says, “You see what I was talking about?”
“Tuesdays and Wednesdays,” he tells her. “That’s when you could be with me.”

Now Geraldine gives him a look. “I couldn’t do that,” Geraldine says.
“That’s because you haven’t been with me at night yet,” he tells her and then turns quickly to me, “don’t tell her what I said.”

I’m not protecting him. I translate. You don’t want to get caught saying something bad then you best not say it, I think meanly. I feel a mite like the pot calling the kettle black as I write judgments and opinions. I know I’m no angel.

But also I think I’d say these things to him directly. Does that make it okay to write all this?
I often wonder what people think of me. Not just good things, but like a descriptive summary. I’m a writer. I think in paragraphs. I write people up in my head. I characterize them. I write myself up in my head. If I could leave behind my own desire to be liked how would I describe my character? In fiction the more complex a character is--the more flawed--often times the more interesting they are. How interesting am I? Am I willing to reveal me to the world as I see myself? In all the dark reality, not just dwelling on the résumé-type good points, how would I describe myself? And if while describing myself, would I ever really make myself out to be bad?

I am a girl who values freedom above family, and yet, at the same time, I’d give up my own happiness to ensure my siblings (especially) had happiness for the rest of their lives. I have the capacity to love with an intensity, but I am selective of whom I let in close to me. I am at times completely selfish. I can be uncommunicative and sullen. I have the capacity to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. I can see two sides to every story, even mine. I view the world with the excitement of a child. I am both naïve and jaded. Sometimes I hate people. I don’t want to be jostled, bothered, or talked to. Sometimes I ache so bad for the pain of others that I want to do anything for everyone. I want every person to live to their fullest potential. I want to be the best at anything I do. I have moments when I doubt that anything I do is worthwhile. I hold myself to a high standard of achievement. My biggest asset is my ability to accept people exactly as they are. My worst fault is my arrogance.
Does that tell everything about me? Of course not. That’s just my own view of myself in this moment. And probably only a partial view with still the majority of thoughts being good ones.

Walter to me is different to me than Terry. He’s no angel either. I know this for a fact. I’ve got my own opinions, naturally enough, based on my own experience and by what I’ve heard him say and seen him do. But then as his ghostwriter I also see many of the parts of him no one else sees. I know a lot more about his life because I’m helping him record his memoirs.
Lots of people have asked me if Walter’s life is interesting enough to write about. Anything can be interesting, I think. It just depends on how you tell it, right? I plan on writing a blog about snails. But yeah, he’s had an interesting life. Some of his behavior is abominable. Some of it is admirable.

Today he’s abominable.
He calls Geraldine outside, and for reasons I’m still not sure about, he reams her upside and down in front of everyone. This enrages me. I got reamed by a boss once in an inappropriate manner and for a reason that wasn’t my fault so I know what it feels like. I’m mad at Walter because I know he gets more aggressive after a few drinks. I know he picks fights when he’s got alcohol running in his blood and in this moment Geraldine is the easiest target.

He makes her cry.
She comes back into the kitchen and stands in a corner trying to get composed. I don’t bother her. I know that when I’m trying to get composed it helps if no one gets sympathetic. Mary comes in and pulls Geraldine into a hug, says comforting words. Geraldine doesn’t hug Mary back, but she also doesn’t push her away. When she has a chance, Geraldine leaves and goes to the small room she has at the Casa del Gringo to cry for a moment, I imagine, and then to stop crying.

I finish up the dishes and start my dinner.
“Where’s Geraldine?” Walter asks as he comes into the kitchen. He gives me a hug. The angel side to his bi-polar personality.
“You made her cry,” I say flatly.
“I’m not done with her yet either,” he says.

“I don’t know where she is,” I lie.
He leaves the room.

Mary breezes in. She can tell I’m mad after I tell her, “He shouldn’t have talked to her like that in public. She’s got this whole place to run on her own and here she is washing the dishes from his BBQ. He expects her to do everything all at the same time.” I don’t like that he sometimes treats her like a servant.
I have authority issues. I know this.

Mary tries to smooth things over. She’s mostly drunk on Pisco. She’s talking loudly to me in English. “He gets like this when he drinks,” she says. “But at the same time, this is a job that requires you to be able to multi-task. Geral knows this.” She gestures wildly, “I like Geraldine. She’s good people. She’s been here a long time. She knows a lot of things that happened in the past. I used to cry on her shoulder. I don’t want anyone else to come in and take her spot. I like Geraldine. I told Walter not to fire her right now. To wait at least until tomorrow to think things through.”
I stir my vegetables.

Mary breezes out. A little bit later she breezes back in. “Don’t say anything,” she says, putting her hand on my arm. “Don’t get in the middle. Don’t say anything to Geraldine about this.”
It’s good advice. I don’t like playing sides. I never have. But I’ll say it like I see it if asked. I remind myself not to talk bad about Walter to Geraldine when we talk later. They’ve worked together for a lot of years. It’s not my place to get in the middle of a work place situation. Mary is right, it’s better not to get in the middle.

When I can I retreat to my room. The drama plays out. I can hear it. Walter is loud and mean when he’s drunk. I don’t want anything to do with him right now.
Eventually all his guests leave and the house quiets down.

“Que drama!” I’d told Fiorella when she came into the kitchen where Mary and I had been talking.
“Oh this?” she asks, “This is usual. This is normal. When I first started going out with Terry and hanging out with his friends I thought, ‘Oh my god!’ But now, it’s no big thing. It’s always like this and it’s always fine in the end.”

Some people live for the drama. Me? I don’t like to live it; I just like to write about it. And I prefer it when the pain is all fictional. C’est la vie?

This morning, Saturday, I go out to my “office” on the front porch. Walter walks past me and puts a hand on my shoulder. “Employees have to have a tough skin to work here.” He says it as if to apologize and justify his behavior of the day before. I don’t respond.

Some people just shouldn’t drink. I think Walter is one of those people.
Geraldine has the weekends off. I’ll check in with her some other day. For now I’ll edit Walter’s memoirs and write the things that come into my own mind and post it for all the world to see. And then maybe even then, it’s a good thing for a Mean Girl to keep her Mean Thoughts to herself.

1 comment:

  1. "Anything can be interesting, I think. It just depends on how you tell it, right?"

    Love this. The whole post is brilliant.