Our house in Carmel
by Pam Walters
Not everyone is faced with the challenge to start over relying only on faith.
There's an image I remember of a person inching his way out onto the limb of a tree. The limb got narrower; the risk of falling got greater. But there's this big, juicy peach hanging off the farthest tip of the branch. The guy was willing to go out on a limb to capture the peach – his goal was in sight.
But what about if there is no peach, no prize? And let's say that all you know is that the tree is dying. It's coming apart at the seams. You can't go back. So you keep moving away from what you used to know as the security of the tree. Then something snaps, and you're free falling.
That's what it felt like when I decided to leave the States and my husband behind.
John and I moved to SMA last summer from Palm Desert, CA. We never much liked Palm Desert, but it was more affordable than Carmel, CA, where we were from. We'd fantasized about traveling even further south and moving to Mexico – especially after the 2016 election, but could we really pull it off?
John had an advantage because he lived in Mexico City twice. The first time was when he was a teenager. His father was transferred there for work. The family stayed for three years. Then, when John was married to his first wife, they both relocated to Mexico City to teach. They also stayed about three years. John said that he adored Mexico. He learned the language.
The fact that John is fluent in Spanish made it more feasible when we talked about moving here. But where? We both like the water. We both had spent time in Puerto Vallarta. We loved it there… but not the summers.
Our first night in San Miguel
Then I heard about San Miguel de Allende from several different people. One right after the other. They talked about the big Writer's Conference in February, all the cultural activities and the large ex-pat community. They explained the wonderful mix of colonial heritage and modern conveniences.
We decided to come visit for a month to see how we liked it. We came. We saw. We were conquered by the obvious beauty, the charm, the warmth of the people, and the excitement of all the interesting things to do. And since I couldn't say anything beyond "Coca light con hielo," I was comforted by all the English-speaking ex-pats.
We looked at lots of apartments. John prefers a more serene, country setting, yet with access to a city. I'm a city girl through and through – Chicago born and raised and then New York for about ten years. Carmel was as "country" as I wanted to get.
John acquiesced (at least he agreed to live in Centro for the first year), and we signed a lease on an apartment smack dab in the middle of town. The parades marched right under our windows. It felt like the church bells and the explosives were going off right in the entryway downstairs. I didn't mind it. In fact, I thought he liked it as much as I did.
I opened up here. My friends said that in San Miguel, I seemed to "come into my own." Years as an advertising exec in Chicago and New York made me rigid. I had a hard edge. And while it served me well as a younger woman stomping around big cities alone, it didn't look good on a mature, retiree.
In fact, when John and I first arrived, he pulled me aside and talked to me about my lack of manners in simply walking down the street. Without realizing it, I expected other people to get out of my way. I paid little attention to what was going on around me. Quickly, I learned con permiso and disculpe.
Next I forced myself to make eye contact and to smile. I even began saying "Buenos dias" to people I didn't know. And, lo and behold, they reacted with kindness. My icy exterior began to melt.
I connected with other writers at workshops and literary readings. I started a weekly writer's critique group. I went to events: cultural, theatrical, musical. I even went to a few places where there was dancing. I love, love, love to dance. My old motto was, "Dance with me or get outta my way."
Where my husband was in all this? I dunno. I can't tell you when it was exactly that we stopped being a couple. Was it "conscious uncoupling" as Gwyneth Paltrow would say? Or was it "unconscious uncoupling?" But I got used to doing things alone or with girlfriends. John insisted he didn't mind. He encouraged me to go out and have fun.
How long does it take for a relationship to unravel? It depends. You'll know. Yet, even then, there are some people who stick around and keep sorting and sifting through the broken pieces. We drifted apart. We let it happen. Although we'd been best friends in Carmel for about ten years, we'd only been married for about a year. For us, expectations of "growing old together" were slipping through our fingers.
Then in May, John's health became a bigger issue. Because of numerous blood transfusions from having had leukemia in 2006, he has extremely high iron, dangerous levels, in fact. He wanted to be near his regular doctors. He'd grown weary of Mexico. I went along with it, at first. I even tried convincing myself that I no longer liked San Miguel. The cobblestones were killing my knees. My allergies here were terrible. I complained that I never adjusted to the altitude; I couldn't catch my breath. The streets were too congested. Traffic was a nightmare. Problems with Megacable. Too many parades. Too many church bells. The taxi driver wanted 60 pesos to take me to Comer. We couldn't afford to hang out at The Rosewood. On and on I went.
So we packed up the car with all our crap and headed back to Palm Desert. The ride was awful. We stopped complaining. We stopped talking. We both just sat there in stony silence. I felt adrift from reality, from my marriage, from the man I thought I knew.
We arrived in Palm Desert and walked into the condo we'd rented online. The place was in such disrepair it would have been laughable, except that the joke was on us. To make a long story short, the owner let us out of our lease. She even said she'd return the security deposit. I remember standing in the kitchen after I got off the phone with her. I can still feel the sense of freedom when she let us off the hook. Freedom. I hadn't felt that in a very long time. And now I saw a way out of our predicament.
But there was no peach. I didn't see a prize. When I looked into the middle-distance, it was pearly-gray. I couldn't see beyond this smoky vision. I went into the bedroom and told John the owner was letting us out of the lease and that now it was time for us to go our separate ways.
John said nothing at first. Later that day, he opened up a bit. He said a lot of things in the way of an apology. He wanted us to give it another try. He said he'd change. I didn't respond. I didn't offer; I didn't want to try to change any more than I had. And it would have only been a temporary change. Although circumstances and outward appearances can look different, I don't believe people change unless they really, really want to. But even then, we never lose that initial knee-jerk reaction to people and situations.
I thought John and I shared the same Midwestern sensibilities. I thought – at 70 – I knew myself better. I believed I'd never have to "wing it alone" again. Yet here I am, back in SMA, working without a net. And it's exhilarating.
Pam Walters is a resident of San Miguel de Allende. Her poetry and prose have been published in The Southampton Review, Chicago Literati, Switchback, Cutthroat, Cutbank literary reviews and Round-Up Writer's Zine. Seven of the chapters from her memoir, "I Hope Prince Charming Drinks," have been published in literary journals. She's won writing competitions for memoir and humor. Two of the chapters from her book were performed live. She recently won for non-fiction at the San Miguel International Writer's Conference.