Atrisco Mural, Henry Rael

The women are coming! The women are coming!

Corazoncito, Michelle Otero

Sixteen years ago, just two months after graduating from college, I landed at the Belize Airport to embark on a two-year stint as a Jesuit Volunteer (JV) in Belize City. With me were nine other first year JVs, five men who would be stationed at teaching and liturgical posts throughout the tiny Caribbean country, and four women with whom I would form some of my closest and most enduring friendships.

As this blog entry goes out into the universe, I will be retrieving Avi, Tricia, Vicki, and Jennifer from the Albuquerque Airport and heading to Jemez Springs for a long weekend, our first reunion since 2004.

At my request, they are bringing photos to replace some of those I lost in the fire, photos of our time together in Belize and of our subsequent visits and mini-reunions of only two or three in New York, Portland, Oaxaca, D.C., Boston, El Paso, Providence, and anywhere else we’ve been able to gather in the fourteen years (!) since completing our volunteer stint and returning to the States.

Hunger, Suzanne Barbezat

I loved the picture of Jennifer and me making funny faces in the Parque Central of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, where we spent a few weeks over the summer between our first and second volunteer years. While Tricia took Spanish classes and enjoyed her host mother’s cooking, Jen and I hung out in the parque, subsisting on two cucumbers, a lime, and a loaf of bread per day until she finally cried out, “I NEED BEANS!” and we found a comedor in our price range and proceeded to order so much food—tamales, chuchitos, corn tortillas, frijoles negros—that the cooks poked their heads around the kitchen door to see who could possibly consume all the masa we forced them to prepare.

There was a photo of Vicki in a broomstick skirt and sandals, the handlebars on her bicycle loaded down on each side with canvas totes and plastic grocery bags stuffed beyond capacity with student composition books, essays, and homework assignments. She rode this way every day to Belize City’s Continuation School for girls, later trading out her own clothes for the teacher uniform—a navy blue skirt and white, collared blouse.

Rivers, Richard Yañez

Vicki was my housemate in Belize City. She taught me to cook—pasta, homemade spaghetti sauce, black beans, stir fry—and how to bake bread. Our first Christmas in Belize, we pulled the twin mattresses from our beds and turned our living room into a retreat center, painting, writing, and making homemade cards by day, and talking late into the night until we both fell asleep.

I remember a photo Tricia took lying in the dirt on her back at our campsite in the Gila National Forest, looking up into the bare branches of a Douglas Fir that towered over and protected our site. It was October 2003, seven years after Belize. She had flown out from New York to El Paso because I was heartbroken and needed a good friend after ending a short, but tumultuous relationship that seemed to bring out the worst in him and in me. I was so bereft and fearful of what the future held that I had to leave El Paso, empty my apartment, and retreat to my parents’ home in Deming. Tricia came when my apartment was a stack of plates and cups wrapped in newspaper on the kitchen counters, small towers of unpacked books on the floor of my office, half-empty boxes—a blender and extra towels here, bulky sweaters and unanswered letters there.

Corkboard, Michelle Otero

I don’t remember spending much time in the apartment with Tricia. I remember Interstate 10 to Deming and US 180 to Silver City, curving and climbing Highway 152 through juniper, piñon, and ponderosa pines from Silver to Hillsboro, and descending on New Mexico 27 to the Middle of Nowhere Bar in Nutt. I remember giggling as Tricia wrapped a light fleece around her head like a turban before bedding down for the night, and then wishing I’d followed her lead when the dead of night mountain air wrapped my head in cold and squeezed. And I remember sitting under that Douglas Fir as Tricia started a fire. I felt held by both of them, the tree, Tricia, both promising that my despair would pass.

Journal, Michelle Otero

For Christmas of 1997, Avi painted a watercolor frame for a photo of the five of us from her wedding a few months earlier, Avi in the middle in her sleeveless gown, Tricia, Vicki, Jen, and me in our floral prints, surrounding her. It used to hang in my bathroom, and I would see it each time I brushed my teeth. Her painting was of a tree, its trunk below our photo, its branches extending like children’s fingers beyond the top of the frame. (As a high school art teacher in San Ignacio, Cayo, Belize, she used to tell her students, “The sky doesn’t end at the top of the page.”) Next to the tree she had penned in her greeting card neat hand her adaptation of a Nikos Kazantzakis quote, “And I said to the almond tree, ‘Sister, speak to me of friendship,’ and the almond tree blossomed.”

They are coming—Avi, Tricia, Vicki, Jennifer. Our love manifests differently than it did when we were recent college graduates in our early twenties. Then, we needed each other to reflect the best in us, to show us who we were. Now we speak in friendship; and we blossom.

Published in: on July 8, 2010 at 8:02 am  Comments (8)  

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Like an early morning drink from the stream preparing for the arrival of the scorching sun.
    Gracias amiga

  2. I’m on my way, dear friend! xox

  3. So vivid. I wish you all many laughs and hugs! Much love being sent all of your way.

  4. Stirred so many images of so many images of those of you I knew: Jennifer, Vikki, and You; intense, committed, playful, young, beautiful, filled with life and discovering self; discovering… Thanks for the memories my friend.

  5. I am half laughing half crying at that memory. Mostly for feeling so blessed to share such a hilarious memory with such a dear dear friend. More pictures to come that are sure to stir and shake more words to paper…and we will surely smile ear to ear. Love u.

    • That moment could have happened with no one but you, my friend. Your laughter is one of my favorite sounds.

  6. […] Belize women came to New Mexico. We spent four days together in Jemez Springs, looking at old photos, soaking at […]

  7. I just reread this, Karen. I am so grateful for our friendship over the years and miles. ♡ Reading your Belize entries bring me back….Thank you for sharing your gift of the written word.

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