Our Fifth Trip to Pura Vida (Early March, 2018)

“I’m a Queens’ queen!” was one of the first things Michelle said to my husband and me.  While declaring this, she smiled broadly with full, dark lips and quickly swayed from side to side, her body a big “snap” of exclamation.  And so, our first full day in Costa Rica at Pura Vida Spa Resort felt like it had truly begun.

The next day, while lounging on a comfortable couch of the Wellness Center during the first of my husband Ray’s spa treatments over the week, I got more acquainted with Ronnie, Michelle’s long-time friend.  Comparatively quieter than Michelle, she opened up with me there in the empty porch of the treatment waiting area.  We exchanged pieces of our life narrative.  Ronnie had moved from New York City, where Michelle still lived, eighteen years ago to join the police force in Baltimore.  My mind began to open about about future vacation travels, such as to Anguilla, where Ronnie has relatives.

Ronnie’s face would be still with seriousness one moment then expressive and animated the next.  Her wiry hair was kept short and pulled back, leaving me easily able to think of her in a police uniform, including hat.

Over the week, Ray and I enjoyed meeting up on a few occasions for lunch in the dining area with Ronnie and Michelle.  We spent a bit of time with them in the outdoor hot tub once too, until they had to return to their yoga retreat group from which they were briefly playing hookie.  At one of our lunches together, Ronnie shared more about her work, such as some challenges of being a woman in a still predominantly male-filled profession, where many men abuse their power over citizens but the women officers do not.  “We know how to listen,” Ronnie explained, referring to herself and her female colleagues.  She had a boyfriend from Nigeria, a tribal prince there, who had moved to Baltimore.  He treated her well.  Ronnie’s face lit up with a big smile when she spoke about him.  They would be leaving together to Florida soon for a long weekend, shortly after her return from Costa Rica.

As a testament to Ronnie’s incredible resilience, she exhibited a level-headedness and determination to balance work with frequent fun-filled travel, this despite– or partly because of– having lost her one and only child, a daughter, in a car accident about seven years ago.  The young woman was still in college at the time.  I noted with quiet respect how Ronnie memorialized this daughter by having a photo of her as screen wallpaper on her phone.  I’m certain I would do the very same after such a loss.

At one of these lunches, Michelle shared how she had been working in New York City as an accountant for HBO over the past twenty-four years.  She had purchased a house in Queens in 2007, right before the housing crash of ’08.  Michelle was single, having divorced her Nigerian husband some years back, her daughter then still a toddler, though now twenty-one and finishing up college.  Her thick eyelashes over large, dark brown eyes on an unmade-up face were pleasantly striking.  I think they were eyelash extensions, but they did not at all appear overdone or fake-looking.

This vibrant duo of women New Yorkers said farewell to us a few days before our own departure.  Ronnie shared how she often makes a tasty “jungle juice” with Amaretto and five different kinds of rum and would find a way to send Ray and me some in the near future.  Everyone agreed that this delicious-sounding refreshment would be great to enjoy at that very moment if she only had some handy.  We talked about possibly meeting up again at Pura Vida, as both Ronnie and Michelle agreed how pleasant a place it was, despite some of the run-down look to much of its buildings.  We laughed together one last time while voicing a fantasy about what we would do if we collectively ran the resort, such as getting walls repainted and some structures remodeled, sooner than later.

We exchanged embraces, then they were off to get their luggage.  Ray and I walked on along the cement walkway, grass and shrubs on our right, while on our left, the not-too-distant mountains cozily encircling the city below.

******

One afternoon around mid-week or a little before, I sat on a cloth hammock overlooking a sun-lit view of the tropical trees and shrubs before me, a lightly clouded sky just beyond.  A cicada, or some insect sounding very much like one, hummed in a high pitch for a long moment before stopping.  Bird sounds took over, filling the brief silence.  Leaves beat softly in the growing breeze.  Further off, someone dropped a metal bucket, disrupting my attention to write next about the distant drone of traffic.

A ways below Pura Vida’s mountain perch spreads the city of San Jose, though Alajuela is the immediate urban area of which the resort is a part.

I was struck by many things there, including the black vultures with their white-tipped wings gliding on the up drafts overhead.  My husband managed to see two of these raptors touch their talons together while in flight, all while we lay back in hammocks.

Ray and I enjoyed being graced by the intermittent attentions of Julia (the “j” pronounced as an “h”), Pura Vida’s resident cat.  A slender and petite calico, Julia followed us to our room at least three times, spending the night with us twice.  One evening, she walked by the front desk area with a squeaking mouse in her mouth.  Clearly, Julia’s job involved many duties, ranging from pest control to greeter and relaxer, her mere presence and playful ways a treatment of sorts.  On this trip, Julia startled me with her initial appearance by bounding into our path from out of the darkness.  It seemed like she remembered us from last year and before.  Or maybe she simply liked making surprise grand entrances to unsuspecting visitors.

******

Our mid week tour to our favorite excursion was disappointing.  As always, the hot springs under jungle canopy were a relaxing balm to our bodies and minds.  We spent three hours sitting back in different sulfur-smelling pools by a large stream, leisurely immersing in, and then emerging from, hot then warm then cool before returning into hot again.  But, the tour guide seemed burnt out, embittered, or both.  We had had him before for another excursion about four years ago, at which time he spoke prolifically about the countryside’s natural history and climate zones.  He also expounded in detail then on the agriculture of the region, this being a significant segment of Costa Rica’s economy.  This time, though, he was brief, repetitive, and negative.  And while the guide had good reason to feel upset about the government’s imminent tax increases on largely the middle class and the slow recovery from a large earthquake that had hit the region in 2009, I felt for our three fellow bus mates who had never been on this particular trip.  They were missing out on a wealth of information regarding the verdant land opening up on each side of the narrow road winding along the mountainside.  Instead, we all sat listening to our guide as he couched so much into a complaint.

On the way back from the hot springs, the tour guide broke his silence by pointing to outside of the bus window and exclaiming in his thick Costa Rican accent, “Look!  Scarlet milk cows.  They’re very rarely seen around these parts.  Scarlet milk cows!”

I looked intently at a group of cows behind a fence not far off the road.  Some of them had a reddish coat.  I had never heard of a “scarlet” breed of cow.  In my mind, I guessed that was a rarer one alongside all the Jerseys and Holsteins.  My husband Ray turned to me and remarked on seeing a pair of beautiful scarlet macaws flying by, two of what we had seen so many more of while on excursion along the Tarcoles River for years before.

I replied, “I thought he said ‘scarlet milk cows.’  Damn!”

******

The day after our excursion, I received a hot stones massage from Mar Y Sol, one of the treaters.  She and I talked about our families of origin and our good fortunes at having love-filled marriages.  I listened a lot under her skilled hands while she shared heart-felt concerns about her parents and one sibling.

Before the massage was over, we’d both agreed to ask our husbands if we could all go out for dinner at Las Espuelas, a restaurant closeby Mar Y Sol’s and her husband Miguel’s house, located in the small town of El Roble.

Mar Y Sol and Miguel are each thirty-five years old with wide, white-toothed smiles.  Miguel assists Eduardo with managing Pura Vida.  Ray and I hit if off with this warm and friendly couple early on in our annual visits to the resort, which led up to us visiting their home and eating out at the nearby Las Espuelas last year.  Well, this place had since been completely redone from a hole-in-the-wall dive to a slick, spacious eating establishment.  Huge square windows looked out into a mostly bare parking lot before the view swept downward into a blanket of city lights.  Mountains silhouetted the night sky further on.  The ceiling above us was lined with a covering of long, thin wood sticks, lending a somewhat tropical look against the smooth, concrete walls.  The lights were pleasantly dimmed.  Fun.

On occasion, our conversations were momentarily broken by the harsh shine of car lights through the windows behind me.  Miguel and Ray sat opposite Mar Y Sol and me, their faces enduring these brief white blasts.  The front of the restaurant had a parking lot as well, a poor design completed by large low windows left uncovered.  Not fun.  But, the company of Mar Y Sol, her tall and swarthy husband Miguel, my partner Ray, and Eugenia, a yoga teacher at Pura Vida, all out-shined this annoyance.

We talked about politics in Costa Rica, which had started to become dismally comparable to the scene in the States.  We discussed movies, social media, each of our family dynamics, and other things.  I enjoyed the ease between us all.

The food was decent.  Ray and I both ordered shrimp with rice.  The white foamy sour sop beverage especially went down easy.

I remember Mar Y Sol and Eugenia talking the most, including in moments to each other in Spanish.  Their graceful speech felt pleasant to listen to even though I hardly understood what was being said.

Eugenia sat at the head of the table while I was placed by the other end.  As the evening wore on, her position seemed naturally apropos.  Eugenia had been an elementary school teacher in her previous career and, now teaching yoga to adults, she continued to be used to holding the attention of a roomful of people.  Newly forty, here she was, a dynamic, independent woman opening up about herself.  For me personally, Eugenia had acted a little brazen by asking at the last minute if she could come with us all to dinner.  While we all were gathered at the front desk area, Miguel had turned to me with his big, soft, hazel brown eyes and asked, “Is it alright if she comes?”  “She asked,” I replied as politely as I could, smiling through my disappointment.  I proceeded to encourage my thwarted wish for an exclusive evening with Miguel and Mar Y Sol to gently shift into an openness around getting to know an additional dinner mate.

I ended up finding Eugenia interesting, engaging, knowledgeable and full of compassion.  We connected around the topic of Internal Family Systems therapy and she seemed to readily agree with how she has a “part” of her that cold be harsh and bossy, particularly back in her schoolteacher days.  This part had since softened in her, she explained, and I did sense that to be the case.

Mar Y Sol’s deep, gentle voice and open-book self-reflectiveness encircled my attention like an elegant, soft-furred cat.  I could listen to her for hours.

Miguel grew more quiet after we’d all finished our meals and I wondered if his rigorous hike up and down Costa Rica’s highest mountain peak (about 12,000 feet) was catching up with him.  He and Mar Y Sol had just completed this trek the day before.  I selfishly said nothing, though, and let someone else decide when to bring the get-together to a close.  Mar Y Sol eventually suggested concluding things.

Ray was generally quiet throughout, which Miguel remarked on with respect and understanding.  “You like to listen and observe, don’t you?” Ray nodded vigorously and smiled, “Yes.”

******

The following day was our last full day at the resort.  For a final treatment, I had Mar Y Sol guide me through “Ananda,” which entailed listening more to her soothing, often velvety voice.  I lay on the massage table receiving Reiki and some light touch before she guided me through a most unique visualization.  This was derived from her Himalayan Masters training she’d received some years ago in India.  The energy began to run through me like undulating waves, a pins and needles buzziness, and, eventually, an overall sensation of floating.  Visual imagery in my mind’s eye was simple and limited.  I “saw” light beneath me, as if it were reflected from water.  Powerful, trippy, relaxing, heart and mind opening.

Before we ended, Mar Y Sol instructed me to sing “Om” with her.  Interestingly, I felt a longing to open my mouth and sing several minutes before she told me to do just that.  We softly but strongly san at least three “Om’s” together.  She then removed the light cloth placed over my eyes.  I started a slow transition out of my trance by sharing aloud what I had experienced and continued to feel.  Mar Y Sol sat off to the side.  At first, I kept facing the ceiling, but then I turned my head to the right and looked into her broad face of coffee dark skin and large black-brown eyes.  I acknowledged the incredible opening to energy, including a sense that she had brought me briefly to other portals of existence and activity before repeatedly focusing me back to my center, a center of a much larger center.  Mar Y Sol validated my narrative with ease, out of her own familiarity of deep meditative experience.  I stated how my knowing and trusting her as I did made a big difference with being able to “go deep.”  She suggested I try doing this guided meditation at home on a regular basis via using a free recording available online.  I told her how it would be fun to do together with her and my husband in our upstairs loft bedroom, should she and Miguel ever come to visit us.  “That would be great,” Mar Y Sol replied.

I now understand why dear Ray has done the Ananda treatment three times with Mar Y Sol.

******

Before leaving Pura Vida, Ray and I looked one more time at the pair of tropical screech owls perched high up in the interlacing palm trees next to the main entrance.  Hugging against each other, the brown-feathered duo looked down with a soft sternness, or so it seemed.  From my heart, I bid them a warm farewell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heart/Lotus

An image I often come back to is that of a full lotus blossom. Earlier last month, a massage therapist at Pura Vida in Costa Rica reminded me that this flower represents the heart chakra in Ayurvedic medicine.  Right before she told me this, I experienced an open lotus filling my whole chest, which prompted her to explain what I was seeing from within.

This living more consciously from the heart– being with a sense of openness, wonder, and gratitude– has been a path longtime in manifesting.  But, I seem to come right back to it after straying off now and again into fear and anger.  It’s like I have a clearer, new-found baseline to live from and always return to.  Thank the gods!

 

More From a Baby Boomer’s Child

Elaborating further on my previous blog post, I do think my hippie elders I grew up with and around had their hearts in the right place in many respects.  But, they didn’t in other ways, such as most of the men at the time with their sexism. This helped lead to the next wave (certainly not the first) of the Women’s Movement in the 1970s.  Also, homophobia and heterosexism remained largely unexamined, which then contributed to the Gay Liberation Movement concurrently manifesting with the feminists’.  Recent reflection on my childhood has elucidated for me just how pervasive a self indulgent ethos existed, expressed, for example, through loose sexual boundaries and a general self-centeredness (the “rampant narcissism” I previously mentioned), in addition to the already discussed plethora of substance abuse.  All of this behavior and mindset hurt the next generation, i.e., the children of these hippies, such as yours truly.  It’s like these Boomer and pre-Boomer progressives spent a lot of time extending their adolescence, as much as doing so helped to foster artistic cultural expression along with (formerly referenced) healthy political rebellion.  I deeply appreciate the occurrence of both these social phenomena to this day, as they became foundational to my own value system.  And, in significant part, these same Boomers et al went on to form the two aforementioned Movements, which were inherently political, formally and personally.  However, at least one important domain, that of attentive, responsible parenting, got somewhat set aside, a big psychological, even arguably spiritual, price to pay.  “How so?” one might ask.  Well, many progeny of West Coast hippie folk internalized experiences of being and feeling set aside (or worse) while our parents rebelled, created, partied, and focused on “finding themselves,” both in and out of marriages or less conventional, traditional unions.  Indeed, we all err throughout life, so this automatically includes whole segments of a generation.  These mistakes of my elders are ultimately forgivable, much as holding them to account is important.

As I have grown comfortable in my own beliefs and overall sense of Self, what I am no longer doing is idealizing in any way a particular movement or cultural scene, in this case the very one I grew up within.  Now, I just idealize the gods, as expressed through nature, some art, scientific wonders, those deep moments of love between one and another/others, etc.– whatever opens my heart up and transports me into a deep place of wonder, connectedness, and gratitude.  These are above and beyond any particular person, group, generation, or specific movement or culture.

From a Baby Boomer’s Child

I find that a segment of the Baby Boomer generation went too far with rebellious behaviors. To a point, they were understandably bucking the staid ways of the middle and upper class establishments. Jack Kerouac, from the preceding generation, was one such inspirational voice (among others) of rebellion for a swath of Baby Boomer, and some pre-Boomer, intelligentsia. His often crass ways of speaking and relating were taken up and run with as a way of life by many folks. Substance abuse was a significant factor in much of these behaviors/interactions. And while boundaries were duly, constructively pushed and even broken, namely in the political arena, leading to some much-needed awareness and change (for which I am very thankful), a lot of damage was done interpersonally and intra-psychically along the way. I speak from personal experience and observation while growing up.

For the longest time, I idealized a lot of aspects of the Baby Boomer and pre-Boomer generation (including my own parents’ critical thinking, much of their values, and progressive-minded idealism), namely those in the West Coast-based hippie poetry scene. I also cringed at other parts of this very scene in which I was raised, such as all the substance abuse and rampant narcissism.  Over the years, I have steadily embraced my pragmatism and emphasis on self-examination as I continue to integrate these with lessons learned, and worthwhile values retained, from my elders, including many Baby Boomers.

Writing As a Part of My Life

I am steadily fixing up and typing out my long blog post about our recent trip to Costa Rica. About half of it is still in long hand. Slow and steady wins the race, or so they say. This is different for me than my often compulsive-feeling, do-it-all-at-once approach to completing writing projects. I can embrace the former of the two ways gladly, particularly for longer pieces of work. Since I have a non-creative writing job, a marriage, and other responsibilities and needs, it’s a must that I take this long-range, steady strategy anyway.

What I feel happening is a new-found trust in my muse that she won’t fade off or shut down just because I’m not sitting with her for multiple hours at a time each moment I engage in the creative process. I know she’s there and I feel she senses I now listen to her with my inside ear, even when I am not actively writing. Engaging more with my inner life this way and putting some of it out in written word form is helping me to feel both more whole and productive. It’s been pleasantly satisfying in an increasingly gentle, steady manner.

I highly recommend everyone engage in whatever creative endeavor(s) strike(s) their fancy, and doing so as often as possible, a bit at a time here and there. Do your best not to think about the quality of the effort while first creating it. There will be time enough later to re-work and polish up the results. Just do it!

My Inner Muse

My inner muse feels and is very feminine, which is great to know so clearly after all these years. This makes sense given how I identify as being significantly part woman internally/psychologically-spiritually, even though I am cis-gender male on the outside. Lately, my muse has had me creatively writing steadily and often about many things, all from a feminine-feeling sensibility in terms of what I like to write about and the overall aesthetic I draw from when writing. All very feminine in content, feel, and style. This goes far beyond the influence of my parents and other major figures in my upbringing. It is a strong, sometimes strident, sometimes gentle female voice coming through me, into my fingertips, and out as words onto the page or computer screen. She doesn’t sound like anyone I know or have known in particular. She sounds like…me, or, more specifically, a very major part of me.

One reason I have been inhibited with writing for so long is that I had to release an old internalized belief of how and what I thought others wanted me to write, namely parent figures in my life, past and present. I thought I should write “like a man,” whatever the hell that even means. It’s like there was a subtle layer of homophobia and sexism just under the surface of my conscious awareness, constraining my dear muse as if she were being tied and gagged to a chair most of the time, allowed to be unbound to write a bit of “proper,” “neutral,” “professional-sounding,” or “acceptable” material here and there. Then, she had to go back into the shadows and shut up. Yeah, enough of that. She’s done with being silent and I am the much better for it. I’m done with being silent.

Interestingly, my folks no longer hold over me these strict expectations that I write in a “masculine” voice. However, I do remember that they once did long ago via all sorts of indirect and direct messages they used to convey that I needed to butch it up more, be a man and not such a sissy/fag/weakling, etc. After all, I (read: they) didn’t want my peers to think I was gay, even though these peers pretty much already knew I was. (That horse left the barn at my birth, folks.) That wouldn’t be good. Conform or be isolated, either/or. It could be argued that my folks didn’t extend these expectations of cis-gender conformity to my actual writing, but then even one small memory of my father’s disdainful face over a short story I had started to write in detail about a pretty boy when I was…a (somewhat) pretty boy…reminds me that I am speaking truth to experience here.  That little story promptly died in my mind.  Well, my folks didn’t know any better at the time, bless their hearts. They do seem to know a lot better now. People can and do evolve.

And I thought I’d unburdened all of that old shame. Well, there was a bit more there, it seems, which has steadily melted away. I write in the voice that’s mine to write from. And if some or many readers find my writing sounds/reads as “manly” (yeah, right, but okay– lol) or neutral, that’s fine with me and doesn’t matter anyway. I hope people enjoy my jottings, grapple with my views, are stimulated, regardless of the gender tone the writing comes across as being, if there even seems to be a “gender” there at all for readers. Perhaps I may not always feel a gender to this inner muse, or I may find another writing muse comes forth who has another gender or no gender or is a mix of genders. That will be interesting. I’m not concerned, just open and curious.

In the meantime, the inner muse I do know and experience is female and growing ever-clearer of late. She has always been there. She loves being out in the open– in the light of day, in the dark of night, under the winter sun, under the spring moonlight, in faraway lands, at home in Beverly under the bedroom skylight. Listening, watching, then drafting the best choice of words to knit together into points to be made, thoughts to be shared, images to be conveyed. She’s here, folks, and she’s going to stay. She has a lot to say. I have a lot to say. And I’ll listen, with my inner ear. And my muse will sometimes write out what she has heard with me. She will do so with gusto, like a woman tossing back her long, black hair over one shoulder, before looking down to write, smiling and sighing, “Ooh la la!”

Joyce and Lolita

From October of 1995 to the end of January 2000, I worked at a human services agency in the Greater Boston area.  I was a freshly-minted Masters degreed social worker who didn’t feel ready to fill his shoes, specifically that of being a psychotherapist.  So, I took a job as an adult foster care case manager to get to know the ins and outs of my profession in the real world.  I then could ease myself into my particular, true calling I’d awoken to at the age of fifteen.  I was still so overrun by anxiety and a subsequent lack of confidence long developed during my childhood.  Well, that combined with having attended Smith College School for Social Work, an impressive place of learning which had left my brain top-heavy with psychodynamic theories but hardly any practical training in treatment methodologies.

Working in the adult foster care department of an elder services agency, I nervously struggled through my job, especially during the first six months or so.  I got to know some kind, interesting people along the way.  A little over two years into this position, the agency relocated, losing some great staff in the process, which included a mini exodus of diversity, these nonwhite folks being competent, savvy workers.  The move into a less expensive, more industrial area off the beaten path from our previous site in the heart of a renewing, artsy urban center helped to shed these employees.  But, financially, a non-profit human services organization simply could not keep up with increasing office rents in a fast-gentrifying city square.  This change was one of a handful of reasons why and when my job satisfaction started to go downhill.

Feeling too insecure to look for other work, I stayed for almost two more years after the agency moved.  Midday often found me in the building before driving around to homes for the afternoon to meet with my assigned foster families or returning to the office down the hall to complete paperwork and make phone calls.  The kitchen was a larger space in the (old) new building, usually filled during lunchtime with a handful of the same people over and over again.  I don’t remember ever having any stimulating or particularly engaging conversations in that eating area.  The culture there largely consisted of heterosexual white women who tended to gossip and complain, which is probably why the same ones generally showed up there and other employees stayed away.  I don’t recall how long it took for me to catch on, but I eventually did.  I started meeting up for lunch downstairs with Joyce and Lolita, two friends who worked together in the fiscal department.

Joyce and Lolita were two heavyset women who lived in Dorchester, or Joyce did and Lolita may have resided somewhere else close by to that part of Boston.  Many details are no longer clear to me.  Joyce talked more than Lolita, had some grown children, and, I believe, was divorced.  Lolita was at least ten years younger, childless, and never married.  Her voice was deeper than Joyce’s.

These two women of African American descent quietly took me into their precious space and break time, their duo of support and unspoken understandings.  Their caring warmth was palpable to me, like a calming thickness in the air between them.  I don’t recall much what we talked about and, honestly, that didn’t matter.  Their communication with each other, and then with me too, was often nonverbal.  A single sentence would be said and the other usually nodded, adding a slow, “Mm hmm.”  Then, silence would resume.  I think I spoke most often, filling the air needlessly with my voice, though I never once got the sense that this bothered either Joyce or Lolita.  Their wide faces always appeared relaxed with a calm, wise knowing.  It’s hard to explain.  I remember expressing appreciation for letting me hang out and eat with them, stating that I felt uncomfortable with the social scene in the dining area upstairs.  Joyce nodded in empathy and said something like, “Yeah, we know.  We don’t care for it either.”  I felt a wave of relief.  I’d finally arrived at a safe haven there at work.  An implicit understanding of how all three of us were outsiders had been made explicit.

I sometimes joked with Lolita, calling her “Queen Lolita– you know, like Queen Latifah.”

“I wish I had her money!” She’d reply in her smooth bass drawl, slowly smiling.

I agreed with her on how nice that would be.

This brief banter happened on at least three occasions, probably more.

Joyce was the main person I spoke with in the fiscal department whenever I had to inquire about a monetary concern with a case.  She was always responsive and easy to problem solve with.

I remember talking to Joyce a little about her being from a Southern-based family, her being black something I did not overtly ask about.  I didn’t blatantly come right out to her as being gay either.  It was simply understood.  I can’t recall now what state her family originally hailed from.  I do remember consulting with her about a young African American man from Florida who had flattered me with his almost aggressive attentions at a movie theater one Saturday afternoon.  I wish I still knew exactly what she had said, but my mind draws a blank.  The gist of it was that being direct was culturally his way, that she too had not been raised to beat around the bush.  This felt refreshing to hear about, me being a “proper” white boy whose anxiety included feeling conflicted over the need to be polite and “not too intense” versus being forthright, up front.  (Years later, another woman I met would say to me how some of her white friends and coworkers described her strident frankness as “having a black moment.”  I’ve always admired the directness of many African American women.)

This exchange with Joyce elucidated for me Joyce’s and Lolita’s natural openness and comfort with their feelings.  Even though they spoke little of their innermost thoughts or — so often– actually much of anything at length (at least in my presence), whatever they felt was right there on their faces, to be known, shared, joined in feeling.  Their ample bodies were an extension of all this sensing and emotion, or vice versa.  Their calm, slower movements relayed a graceful comfort and centeredness in their fullness, indifferent to some foreign, white-created standards of health and beauty.  I find myself thinking of the ancient Venus of Villendorf figurine when I reflect about Joyce and Lolita.  Earth Mothers incarnate.

After leaving that first job out of graduate school for a full-time clinician position elsewhere, I returned a few times to visit Joyce, Lolita, and some other former coworkers.  When I said a last “goodbye” to each of these two women, I don’t remember thinking about the finality of it.  I was preoccupied with my new job, my home life, and whatever else that was going on for me at the time.  Somehow, I recall it being rather brief and casual, almost as if I were soon going to see them again for lunch by the small break room area not far from their office cubicle.  At least that’s how it comes back to me.  The last time I ever spoke with Joyce may very well have been that conversation about the much younger (than me) guy from Florida.

My farewell to Lolita is even fuzzier.  I still think of her in the hallway, chuckling at my calling her “Queen Lolita” while wearing a lovely bright cloth wrapped around her head.  I saw her in more than one headscarf over the year-plus that I knew her.  I think one was bright yellow, or had yellow in it along with green.  In my mind’s eye, I see her in a red one too.  And while it ultimately doesn’t matter what colors Lolita actually wore, that my brain has long shifted around and altered the hues and patterns of her headscarves and clothing beyond factual accuracy, what is important is how I so clearly remember her quiet yet bright fabulousness.  And then there was Joyce’s more understated fabulousness.  It came through in other ways, such as in her big-toothed smiles and kind words of clarity and understanding, very much a fabulousness.

And I feel a warmth, mingling with gratitude, rise up inside from my stomach into my throat and head, to settle all through my body as I think about how Joyce and Lolita offered me safe haven of real human connection while on the job.  From their presence flowed a sweet water of sorts that I came back to drink in, now and again, at lunch time.