Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Goodbye Geraldine

August 17, 2011 – Goodbye Geraldine
Casa Del Gringo has lost its most brilliant spark and we’re all feeling the effects of Geraldine’s leaving. I go around in a state of mourning, humming Elton John’s Goodbye Norma Jean and replacing the name with Geraldine’s. I’ve lost my favorite conversationalist and my friend.  

Not for good. I mean, it’s not like she’s dead, and to be honest I’m thrilled that she quit this place and is going on to live her own adventures. So there is that.

But who will be my wellspring of knowledge now?
 “I’m missing Geraldine,” Jose tells me in between cleaning several of the rooms and answering a barrage of phone calls two days after Geral’s last day. “We worked together for a really long time. It’s going to be really different around here without her.”

I’ve only known her a little over two months, and I feel the same way.
Walter takes all the responsibility and none of the blame. “This is another case of me and my big mouth,” he says the first Monday after she’s gone. He’s half way up the ladder on his way to fix the roof. “I told her she needed a change and not to take all her family’s problems on herself. And now look.”

“She’s going to go out and live her life,” I say proudly while somehow simultaneously biting my tongue to keep from making a retort about other cases of him and his big mouth.
“We’ll see.” Walter takes another step up. “When she gets back from her trip with her mom, she’s not going to live with her parents anymore.”
“Really? Where is she going to go?”
“She wants to do charitable work,” Walter says.

Geraldine had told me this a while back. She was inspired by the lady from Holland who came for a couple of weeks to work as a volunteer with an organization here in Cieneguilla. “If people can come from all over to help why can’t I do it from here? I’ve always thought it’d be great to help others. I think it’s scary to step out and volunteer. You don’t always know about money but the work is satisfying.”
For now, she’s heading off for 15 days with her mom and several other family members to the small pueblo where her mom was born. “I want to see the place. My mom doesn’t talk much about growing up. All she remembers is all the sad stuff. I want to talk with people and hear the stories of the good things that happened too.”

She’s dusting the patio bar and I’m working on Walter’s book.
“My mom’s pueblito is far in the mountains. We’ll go in a car up to point. Then we’ll have to get out and they’ll bring burros to carry our luggage. Then we have to walk for an hour and a half.”
“That’s far,” I say.

“There’s no electricity there.” She stops dusting. “That’s going to be tricky. If I don’t read the news every morning I’m not at peace during the day. I’m going to have to take a little battery powered radio with me or something so I can hear what’s going on out in the world.”

I understand that. I like to be informed and connected. Most of the time.
“And they don’t have regular beds.”

“No, my brother told me that I’ll have to sleep with the cuys (guinea pigs). They build special houses for them and they sleep all together with all the animals. My mom says if it gets too cold she’ll find a llama and stick her hands in its wool to stay warm.”
Jose walks by. “You’ll have a bed, Geral,” he tells her with a smile.

“No, my brother went there before and he told me that they sleep with the cuys. They make a pile of woodchips and then sleep on the ground.”

Jose nods. “I have a friend who lives in the mountains and I went to visit him and it was like that. It’s a different world in those pueblos. He told me one time, ‘I have to run home for a minute.’ It took him three hours to get to his house from where we were.”
Geraldine and I laugh.

“It’s true,” Geraldine says. “There they’ll say, ‘My house is just around the corner,’ and it’s around the whole mountain, on the other side.”
It sounds magical to me.

“They don’t have electricity there, Jose,” Geraldine says.
“You’ll be waking up at four in the morning and going to bed at six when it gets dark.”

“I can just see myself sitting in the dark with nothing to do.” Geraldine puts her thumbs together and looks into space as if she’s in the dark staring at nothing but darkness while the whole world sleeps.

“Since Geraldine is leaving you’ll have to stay until December here,” Jose tells me.

I raise my eyebrows.
“Su tarifa no es en soles (her charge isn’t in soles),” Geraldine says, “es en dolars (it’s in dollars). I don’t think Don Walter will want to pay that.”  Then she gets a twinkle in her eye, “You can take your payment in avocados.”

“Now that would be good pay,” I agree.
Jose goes on to rake the leaves. I turn back to my computer and Geraldine starts sweeping.

“How’s the book progressing?” she asks.
“It’s coming along. Little by little.”

“What do you think of his life?” she asks. “Is it good or bad?”
I think for minute. “You know, fortunately I don’t have to be the judge of his life. I just have to write what he tells me. We’re all a little good and a little bad. I think it’s the same with him, that there’s both good and bad in the things he’s done. But,” and here I have the unfair advantage of being his ghostwriter, “he might be a little more bad than good. You know how you were saying that Walter does things to help people but usually with some benefit to him in mind?”

“Like Mariella,” Geraldine says. Mariella is the eighteen year old girl who is taking Geraldine’s place. “She wants to study gourmet cooking so Don Walter told her that Mary could teach her how to cook. Mary can cook, but she’s not a chef. Her cooking is disorganized, it’s not like learning gastronomy in an institute. Don Walter always thinks he’s helping people out but he doesn’t really understand how things work.”

Emerald Colored Filters
“Exactly. I think Walter tries really hard to be a good person,” I say. “But it’s like at his core he’s bad, so he does things he thinks are good to try and better himself. So that makes him like a bad person who does good things. I don’t think I’m making any sense.” I work the Spanish words around in my head. “We tell the stories of our lives through our own filters. We tell ourselves our own stories to justify how we live.”

Geraldine is following along. “Like Doña Mary saying what he’d written was all lies and that she won’t have anything to do with his book. You said she was mad, right? Aren’t there rules about being able to use someone’s name and tell about their life in stories?” Suddenly she stops sweeping and looks at me. “Amanda, if he writes me in his book, me avisas (you have to warn me).”
I assure her I will and wonder if I should advise her right now that I’ve been writing her into my own memories, into my blogs.

“You’re going to have your own memoirs to tell after your trip,” I say.
“It’s going to be so different. Some of the people there don’t speak Castellano. They only speak Quechua. I’ll be like a stranger in my own country.” Geraldine looks thrilled.


1 comment:

  1. Don't you think that most of us, if we are honest are basically bad people trying to look good to others? #beforetheLIFE