The auberge last night in Puente La Reina was the best so far- auberge jacque. They had the usual stuff. The bunks- sets of 4 that were separated by thin walls, so it was somewhat private. They had showers that played music – Losing My Religion echoed thorough the room when I turned on the water to bathe after the long hot day.
Cormac and I left the auberge and walked over the queens bridge (the name of the town means, well, “the queens bridge”). Some queen (Queen Muniadona, wife of King Sancho 3rd if you must know) built the bridge specifically for pilgrims to be able to cross the river into the town to be nourished and sleep before continuing their pilgrimage.
A few miles out of Puente La Reina the path became light sand, gravel. It reminded me of hikes I had taken in the local mountains in Southern California. As we moved on it got warmer and we started walking through cornfields mixed with grape vines.
After awhile we walked uphill and pines and various coniferous trees surrounded us. It got a little cooler. Cormac told me a story about when he lived in Korea for 6 months. Apparently he went to dinner with 2 guys he was working with. One of them he called Pakeman who became a good friend of his. Another was a big guy, older, about the age of Cormac’s dad whose name was Pac-jeum-bae. I’m talking sumo wrestler big. Cormac had a casual friendship with him.
The three were out to dinner and Cormac related that he had his camera stolen while he was riding a bike in Seoul. A guy just drove by on a moped and lifted his camera out of his basket. As the dude drove off, he turned around and smiled .
As they ate, the sumo wrestler excused himself. After about a half hour he returned with a camera, the one Cormac is using on his pilgrimage. Later Cormac learned that Pac-jeum-bae had lost a son, pretty early on. Maybe he was just doing something nice. Or maybe he was doing something for the son he never got to know, the son he never got to help guide through life, the son he never got a chance to love.
We walked through Villatuerta. It was siesta, so only a few kids were walking around the town square. We stopped and had some lunch by the church- bread I had bought locally, some salami and cheese. An old dude walked out of the arch next to us, a smile on his face. it was quiet, peaceful. I was grateful for sharing this moment with Cormac, my new friend.
Just beyond the city we moved through wheat fields. Then we hit Lorca, another small town. House martins flew above us, their mud nests built under the eaves of the houses. We moved on, it got hotter, we walked on dusty roads, and Cormac related a story about his grandmother.
His brother had gotten engaged to a Spanish girl and they were to get married in a little village in Spain. Cormac’s grandmother was 91 at the time and was reluctant to go, she was worried about traveling such a distance. She was finally convinced, and made the trek. When she got back all she could talk about was the sunshine (apparently they don’t have any in Ireland), the food, and her time in Spain.
She died a year later. What are they odds Cormac’s brother would marry some Spanish broad in a small village in Spain? Maybe the universe conspired to give their grandmother an opportunity to experience a little more of life, something she was reluctant to give to herself.
Worriers are people who think of all the variables beyond their control. We can’t take everything into consideration. In the end, I guess if you just go with your heart, sometimes against your own instincts (which are discolored by the vagaries of life) you might just decide to do something crazy like go to Spain and walk 470 miles across it…
We trundled on, got lost for a few km’s due to us talking. We commiserated with the GPS, cowering in the shadows of hay bales stacked two stories high in the middle of a wheat field. We finally found our way and got into Estella tired, aching, and hot.
LETTER TO MYSELF
Since the part of this blog has to do with relationships, I’m going to take stock of my past ones and try to make some sense of things. Throw it out to the Universe.
I was born (and still am!) an identical twin. My youth seemed normal- middle class, the suburbs of Los Angeles- walking to elementary school to hang out with friends and maybe learn a few things along the way. Summers were filled with long, hot days playing baseball until after dark, mom driving us to the beach on the weekends where I learned to body surf. It was pretty idyllic.
I’m not sure when and why I became intensely shy. Maybe having a twin had something to do with it. According to the book “The Same But Different” by John A Friedman, “… twin pairs have been emotionally reliant on one another for many years, they unwittingly develop an unhealthy dependence upon one another. Very few people question this codependency because twins are expected to experience an extraordinary closeness”.
But, I had girls as friends through 8th grade. That’s when things turned south. For some reason my brains/emotions decided I was ugly. I guess I was the perfect petrie dish for insecurity to grow and fester. I know I wasn’t the only one. I have to laugh now at how immature I was. I’ve never spoken to anyone about this, haven’t really thought about it until now.
It was somewhere in junior high that I remember being in the back seat of a parents car, being driven to dance class and having my friend Doug (resident trouble maker later put into the witness protection program for arranging for small planes with cocaine to deliver their cargo somewhere in Oklahoma) and him telling me that a girl liked me, and how she put out. I think we got together after class that night, but never even kissed. I was either not interested, or mortified. Later I was told she tried to commit suicide.
So, high school was, for the most part, about hanging out with my friends. Boys awkwardly becoming men (very slowly- in fact barely starting the process, at least in high school. I think most of us still haven’t completed the process). I was resigned to swimming and water polo in school, and whatever sports were going on at the time (I was mediocre at all of them) outside of school with my friends who were similarly afflicted with outsiderness for whatever their reasons were.
I never really even went on a date in high school. Some twins tried to make a connection (tenuous at best) with my brother and I but, well, they were a little stout and must have worn their beauty inside. I wasn’t interested. I couldn’t wait to get out of high school and head to collage, and “life”. In retrospect I should have waited, grown up a little, and appreciated college more.
As it was I was interested in college, but probably more interested in living. College though was a great place to meet woman, and I met plenty, and somewhat naturally, came out of my box. In addition to going to class, I worked nights- I could support myself stocking shelves at a supermarket 20-30 hours a week.
In the beginning it was great, but as living intervened, school became less a priority, so working at night became a burden as I fell asleep during class a lot. Still, I scraped through with a B- Didn’t even go to the graduation ceremony. I don’t really even remember that last year, I just needed a few classes here or there to fulfill the requirements. At that time in my life, marriage wasn’t even a thought, and kids certainly weren’t on my radar.
But, as I’ve mentioned before, when Janice approached me about having a child, I agreed, because it seemed like it meant so much to her, and I figured maybe I could learn something, grow up a little. What I came to learn was that I became pretty much disposable once Janice had gotten what she wanted, and I wasn’t providing everything she felt she needed.
This is sort of a poem I wrote, at the time
You were smiling, turning round to look at me.
And I was looking at you.
Until the day we both stopped. looking. And turning.
It was on that wooded trail, the smell of pine and bough.
The sound of crunchy needles underneath.
The rubber of boot and breath and sweat.
I’ll always remember the amber hues of the sun
squeezing it’s way through the needles
like two fingers opening white metal blinds
We didn’t worry about much.
We didn’t talk about the things we could never know.
We didn’t care about not finding our way home.
Now we’re so careful. You and your nervous chatter.
And your armor.
Me with my half-assed laugh and doubt. And my black hat and overcoat.
Is this really life?
I found out soon enough that Amanda had four kids. The oldest was 19, out of the house living with her boyfriend. Savannah was 18, in her last year of high school and going off to collage in Switzerland. Maggie was just moving into her teen years, getting the first tastes of becoming a woman. Her youngest, Chris was a skater boy/gamer and was probably the most affected by losing their father to the vagaries of life and what it can do to you. What I mean is, their father was probably just as messed up as the rest of us, fighting his own demons.
What are the odds that they would all be artistic? Probably a nod to Amanda’s raising them. You figure at least one of them would have leanings towards, say, math or animal husbandry. They could all sing and dance. Beautiful, but troubled, affected by the breakup of Amanda and their father, and his erratic behavior. At times it seemed obvious they were crying out for his attention.
So, it was with amazement to me when I instantly bonded with these kids, especially the two younger ones. I just never thought twice about what I was getting into, what I was signing on for. It just kind of came naturally. Maybe I was supposed to be a dad to a big brood. Looking back, I guess part of it was due to my emotional dependence on Amanda, the woman who had showed me love when I needed it the most. And maybe some of it was the relationship I was missing with my own daughter, who was always kept at arms length from me.
But it still boggles my mind how naturally I fell into having a relationship with those kids. It helped that they were smart, witty, creative kids, at least when they weren’t acting out, vying for love and attention from their mom, crying out because their dad was, emotionally, lost in his own world.
When I first started going out with Amanda, the kids had several spontaneous “performances” that included some singing, some dancing, some horsing around. The performances usually ended up with them in a pile on the floor, laughing hysterically. One night, I remember being in the backyard, overlooking the L.A. basin towards the mountains, the blood red moon emerging from a lunar eclipse, the warm wind wrapping around us and bringing us close together.
Maggie was egging me on to sing Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen with her, and dance. She was so uninhibited and full of life, even though she’d been through a lot. There is a place your brain goes when you sing, dance, create. I know that when I write, or sing and play my guitar badly, my brain goes to this different place, and my pain and hurt goes away for the time being. It’s a place of refuge and solace.
I may have given them something that they needed- to see their mom happy, at least a little bit, to have a man around to replace their father, missing in action. And I thank them for that. Maybe some day I’ll be able to repay them for what they gave to me that night.