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Requiem for a Relationship

by Dr David, Editor / Publisher

I met H. five years ago when he was visiting San Miguel. Already middle-aged, accomplished, looking for meaning in life, he was studying theology. We spent a couple of hours together one afternoon, dropping by my place so that he could see another example of housing in town.

When I saw H. again, one year later, I didn't recognize him at first. Taking to heart San Miguel's ex-pat motto, "Reinvent Yourself," he had transformed from a straight-laced, mild-mannered, nerdy type to a rugged non-comformist with his shirt-top rakishly unbuttoned and a two day growth of beard.

Over the next few years I'd bump into H. now and again around town. He was quite a character. More than a little harsh in his opinions, in speaking with him I had the sense that I was watching a comedy routine.

I realize now that he wasn't joking, that I know very little about H. He held his cards close to his chest.

During one of our sidewalk talks, laughingly I responded to his deadpan delivery of some outrageous observation, "H., you're crazy." I think I knew even then that there was some truth in my jest.

I've always prided myself on getting along with difficult people. This skill no doubt goes back to having had to accommodate my parents. In some neurotic way, recapitulating my childhood traumas, I am far too comfortable doing it.

Building on our random encounters, over the last year H. and I have made it a point to get together a six or seven times. The last time was a few weeks ago when he invited me to join him for dinner at his house along with a couple and their 20 year old daughter.

The dinner was lively. H. was being funny in his deadpan way. Drinking his third glass of sangria H. announced that after seven years in Mexico he has recently gotten serious about learning the idiom. His newly-acquired online teacher, he told us with pride, eschews grammatical corrections in favor of keeping his students talking and trying to understand what is being said back to them.

Over the last five years with a girlfriend who speaks no English, I've done my share of talking and trying to understand what was being said to me. That method has sharpened up my Spanish considerably, but then so has studying grammar.

At that, the father, who was sitting next to H. asked him something, while the daughter, who was sitting across from me, complained that she couldn't get Spanish's past tense. I took the opportunity to describe a pattern that exists between the present and past tenses.

(The whole of this is that tomo-I take, when an accent is added, becomes tomó-he/she/you took. And that tomas-you take, when the Spanish word te-you is added, becomes tomaste-you took.)

H., heard me, stopped whatever he was saying to the father and voiced his objection, "That's not going to help." Ignoring what I took as his rudeness, I continued making my point to the young lady. He spoke over me again, "You can't learn that way." I suppose, rather obstinately I persisted, completing my brief idea while he continued his attempt to interrupt what I was saying, twice more voicing his negative verdicts. The whole exchange lasted maybe 30 seconds.

I don't know what was going on in his mind but after his four negations went unanswered, H. asked me if I had heard him. As we were sitting only one chair width apart, and that chair being vacant, how could I have not? Irritated, by his hectoring, I responded dryly, "Yes, I heard you. You said it four times."

At that H. raised his hand towards me, like a policeman stopping traffic, like a social cop arresting the conversation, and announced, "It was rude of you to say, 'You said it four times.'"

The table was silent. The irony of his calling me rude after talking over me four times, overwhelming to me, was lost on him. I was going to get up and leave. Instead I took a breath and asked the mother, a charming woman, something about the family's time in Belize. The evening continued.

When I got home I sent H. a message apologizing for being rude. I know that my father was a master of sharp remarks and that I am his son... his reformed son, but still his son. My, "You said it four times," was something Oscar Wilde might have uttered, a simple, factual statement, perfectly cutting in its restraint. My apology was genuine.

Ten days later I bumped into H. in a cafe. He seemed strange. I asked him if he was angry with me. He went off on a tirade about what a terrible guest I was. I accepted some blame, but tried to downplay my "crime." My peace-making suggestion that not much had happened only further provoked him; I was telling him that he was wrong.

It was bizarre. We were in a public space, in close quarters with other people. He was making a scene, raising his voice, giving me little room to answer, cutting me off when I tried to. I was arguing for moderation. He was rigid, extreme, already decided.

I couldn't quite take him seriously. If I didn't forgive my friends, I wouldn't have any friends. He was ending our relationship over a trifling episode in which he was not without guilt.

When I mentioned that H.'s former best friend had also told H. that he was too sensitive, H. declared that in invoking that traumatic episode I had gone too far. He held his two middle fingers up and started repeating, "Fuck you," punctuating the obscenity with recriminations against my character.

Well, I may be dumb, but I'm not stupid, so I started to walk away. As I increased the distance between us he added volume to his recriminations. The crowd, mostly Mexican, understanding that a lot of us gringos are crazy, seemed to take it in stride.

Here was a man, who on the basis of a slight offense rendered him at a private dinner, was cursing and foully slandering me across a busy cafe.

Outside the cafe the sun was shining. Unlocking my bicycle, I noticed a middle-age Mexican couple taking photos of each other and offered to take one of the two of them together. A pleasant conversation ensued.

At one moment during my university days, I was lamenting to my father a loss of a relationship, much closer than the acquaintance I had with H.. After my five-minute telling of the of the tale, focusing on my disappointment at how that person had turned against me, my sharp-witted, sharp-tongued father's only reply was "What do you care what that asshole thinks?"

At the time I thought Dad's response was insensitive. But, with apologies to Mark Twain, the older I get the more I appreciate my father's point of view.


Dr David and his merry band believe that the new expanded Lokkal will change the world, city by city.

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