There is a condominium complex in the beachfront town of San Carlos. The exteriors are white stucco with rod iron stairs leading to the second floor and curved terracotta tile topped porches.
Inside are glazed terracotta floors and tile countertops, dark wood accents, built in couches, and outdoor sitting areas with views of the Sea of Cortez. Down a ways is a salt water marsh where pelicans congregate. And in the water, close to the shore, is a pod of dolphins whose fins peak out of waves from time to time.
So much of my life has played out in this desert beach town, but especially in those condos.
There are different models depending on how many bedrooms you need. When it was just the two of us, D and I got the single floor with a bedroom. And we’d take the laptop and a stack of Netflix DVDs down from Tucson, through Nogales and Hermosillo before turning west towards the coast of Mexico. Days were spent on the beach, eating cocteles de camaron and snacks from Trader Joe’s. Nights were spent watching film noir classics I’d picked to teach the ex a thing or two about film when I could get his full attention.
When there were more of us, we’d get the two-story unit with two bedrooms. Our guests would stays downstairs with no view and we’d take the loft upstairs that would flood with light in the early morning.
On those occasions, I’d wake up to the sounds of waves, alone in bed, because he had gone for a run on the beach. I’d head downstairs, fix a bowl of Frosted Flakes and go out on the second floor deck to dreamily start my days.
I thought it was the heaven I’d written for myself because childhood vacations were always tense affairs.
My parents had been going to San Carlos since the mid 70’s. And they had it down to a science. The condos didn’t necessarily offer much in the way of cooking implements so the first trip was always into neighboring Guaymas to get things from the VH superstore.
And on one trip, my mother had bought a frying pan. On the last day of our trip, my father, in a very male way, gave it to the woman of the couple we were vacationing with. My mother went from 0-100 in the way she always did, and the children, all of us, sat on the couch listening to my mother yell from the loft at the top of her voice at my father for what seemed like an eternity.
It wasn’t a new experience. I’d just never had to deal with it while guests were cowering in the ground floor bedroom. I didn’t feel scared. I felt ashamed that people knew how things really were. In that moment, I vowed to never let the seams show. I’d have pride or be damned.
So you think I would have grown up dedicated not to being that way. That is where you would be wrong.
On a similar trip about ten years later, the ex invited his college friend (and later best friend at our wedding) and his wife to come with us and stay at those condos. We did our shopping in Guaymas and spent days on the beach and nights playing board games.
I didn’t like our guests. I never liked them. They lacked a basic gentility that I required from friends. They were American and crude; northern Arizonans who camped a lot and got chiggers and had decidedly libertarian views about politics and hippie views about personal hygiene. And I couldn’t stand the wife’s cooking and the condescension she believed was her right as my elder.
And on the last day, I cracked.
She decided to make dinner. It was a trigger. I was tired of what I now know was masking, or putting on a fake personality to deal with people. I threw a bit of a fit and refused to eat her food, demanding to cook my own. At the ripe old age of 21, I’d become my mother. But then again, I’ve always been a bit precocious.
When you’re throwing a fit, even while you’re doing it, you know you’ve lost the fight. You know you’re irrational and you look crazy. But you can’t stop. Or at least I couldn’t.
Looking back on it, I see why my mother could go to 100. It’s always been a bad marriage, even 44 years later. That’s not a secret to anyone. But she was so young when they married. She never got to see the world on her own. She was trapped in the bell jar.
I was the same way, glued to the ex by various external forces, and by extension, his own dysfunctional family and his tacky friends and their spouses. I don’t take that part back. Even on reflection, they really were awful.
All through the relationship, I felt compelled to do what my parents told me and what the ex told me. I never felt like I made a single big decision without the forcefully guided hand of one of those three. I could put a good spin on anything, but there were times when I could not contain the Hulk in me. And when she came out, she would leave a wake of destruction in her path.
I am her now? No. Thank the Lord in heaven, I have been freed of that bondage. I feel bad for that girl. She really was trying to do right by everyone. And I’m sure my mother was, too.
But the sins of my mother shall not be visited upon me any longer. I am not a slave to my frustration and impotence. It isn’t my roars that should worry anyone. They always come jovially. I don’t fly into rages. I get exasperated. But then I pivot and problem solve. My silence, on the other hand, speaks volumes.
I am grateful, so grateful, for all the lessons that came, as painful as they were. I will continue to make mistakes. But new ones. Of my own doing and not those I inherited from a mother and hers before her.
I love them and always will. But I’d much rather be that young woman, in the early morning sun, eyes closed, stomach filled with Frosted Flakes, laying on a stuccoed parapet, just listening to the ocean waves and cries of distant seagulls. That is the place I go to where I am the most me I’ll ever be.