Illegal: a true story of love, revolution and crossing borders [Ch.12]
I'm a journalist for publications such as The Guardian, Vice, The Diplomat and Narratively and my first book, a memoir, came out just over a year ago [Amazon link]. It's won numerous awards and sold thousands of copies. And now I want to give it away. This is the thirteenth installment [Prologue | Ch 1 | Ch 2 | Ch 3 | Ch 4 | Ch 5 | Ch 6 | Ch 7 | Ch 8 | Ch 9 | Ch 10 | Ch 11] and every few days I'll post another chapter. From the back cover:
A raw account of a young American abroad grasping for meaning, this pulsating story of violent protests, illegal border crossings and loss of innocence raises questions about the futility of borders and the irresistible power of nationalism.
Bleeding Hearts [Chapter Twelve]
A few days after returning to Latacunga from my border trouble, and while preparing for my month-long trip to New York, Lucía and a few of my closest friends gathered to send me off. The day before I had let the lease on my celestial blue box expire, packed up my things and carried my duffel bag across town to Lucía’s new place. When she moved she had taken an odd collection of things with her. There was a plush queen-size bed with a thick pink comforter but no frame; the mattress laid on top of flattened cardboard boxes, separating it from the cold cement floor. There was a TV at the foot of the bed and a cheap desk behind it holding her computer. A brand new, dark green couch squeezed against one wall, which along with the edge of the nearby bed formed the living room where we entertained our guests. The walls were an ugly lime green and mold grew in streaks where rainwater dripped in.
There were seven of us sitting in a circle in Lucía’s room. These were the people who meant the most to me. Ana and Kleaber were there, and Veronica came with two others. Each of them gave a short speech about our friendship.
Veronica toasted, “When I met you in the park, I had no idea that you would stay. No idea that you and Lucía would be together. You’re a special person and I thank God that he put us in the park together that day. I thank him that you are in my life.”
Ana went next. “When Kleaber brought you by my shop that first day I thought you were a tourist, just another gringo. I never liked Americans before; I always thought they were all capitalists and imperialists with cold hearts. But you have the kindest heart that I know.” She laughed. “And you’re crazy. I remember how excited you were when we went to the barricades. I never thought an American could care about my country so much. You taught me that nationality doesn’t matter; we are all just people who share this world. Enjoy New York but don’t forget about your family here in Ecuador.”
We all raised our glasses.
I was on the verge of drunkenness and giddy with joy. As each person spoke and I looked around our small circle, I felt a wave of warmth pass through my body and my face stuck in a wide smile. After everyone had finished I spoke to them all.
“Everyone here is like my family. It was difficult when I first arrived but all of you helped me, all of you were kind, and now I never want to leave. This is a dream, my life is a dream here. This is everywhere I want to be, and it is because of everyone here. I miss my family in New York, but all of you have made this my home.”
Lucía and I snuck away from the others for a few minutes and talked excitedly. We were both so happy to be with each other, so happy that this was real. We had been talking about moving in together for a few weeks, ever since she’d left her husband and came to live in Latacunga, but the day before we had actually done it.
We drifted into conversation with our guests, but when Lucía got up to find new music to play, I followed behind. She giggled and gave me a kiss when she turned around and saw me.
“Hola,” I said, smiling, clasping my fingers in hers.
“Hola mi amor. It’s so good to live together isn’t it? I’m so happy, so happy that we are together,” she said.
“Me too, baby. When I come back we will find something bigger, something more permanent for us.”
In the corner of the party, just as the liquor was kicking in, we looked into each other’s eyes, and the wave had never been so high. From its crest I could look out and see the rest of my life.
The tipsy joy didn’t last long. Everyone had been drinking heavily, especially Lucía and I. That was always a bad combination. She was sitting next to a new guest; Veronica had invited him though we had never met. Lucía had her hand on his leg and was rubbing it as they chatted. Alcohol made her very affectionate and a more rational and sober me may not have been as bothered.
I saw her outside the bathroom again.
“I know it’s not your intention, but it makes me uncomfortable to see you touching that stranger. Could you stop, for me, baby?”
“You don’t like that, huh?” she said mockingly with a wry smile. Pushing past me before I could respond, she returned to her seat. She looked back at me and grinned as she placed her hand on the same man’s leg and rubbed it up and down, now inching farther up than before.
Lucía continued to drink next to her new companion as the party wound down. When the last of my friends left I walked them outside to catch a taxi; Lucía stayed inside with her new ‘friend’ and one other male, neither of whom I had previously met. When I returned the three were standing in a tight semi-circle; Lucía was laughing and had her arms around each of them.
Both of them announced they would be leaving as soon as I returned and we said our goodbyes. The second one kissed Lucía on the lips as he walked out the door.
For a long time I had been burying things that upset me. Everything boiled over in that moment. Everything I had tucked away came out. When I recall that night and look down upon us standing in that room I don’t recognize the person standing opposite of Lucía—and I don’t want to.
Lucía ignored me and turned to the last bottle of rum.
I grabbed the glass from her hand and dropped it purposefully to the floor, watching it shatter. Then I grabbed the bottle and poured the last of the amber liquor over the shattered glass. The rum splashed up from the floor and scattered glass shards, making the air drunk with its scent.
Lucía screamed, took out her new cell phone and began dialing. “I’ll find another man to sleep with tonight,” she said loudly, almost at a shout.
Without hesitation, I snatched the phone from her hand and snapped it in two.
If breaking the glass had escalated the situation, this turned it downright bloody. She attacked me with the same rage I had shown an instant earlier with her phone. Neither of us seemed to have any control. She punched me in the face over and over again, pulled my hair and even bit me, anything to make me hurt. I stood in disbelief. We had fought before but never anything as intense as this, never anything physical. I didn’t move or try to defend myself, and deep down, there was a part of me that liked it, that never wanted it to stop.
I let my mouth hang open, taking rapid but shallow breaths that dried out my tongue.
“You’re just a whore.”
She swung at me, connecting her fist with my face again.
I screamed at her, daring her to continue. “You’ve always been a whore. You’ll always be a whore.”
We both collapsed onto the bed, with our backs turned to the other, both of us sobbing. She began cutting her wrists with a broken plastic knife, letting blood drip down her arm. I grabbed it from her, jabbed it into my own veins, then tossed it aside. We were competing to inflict the most pain. My mind was blank and in that moment it just felt good to bleed.
Any distraction, even physical pain, was a better alternative than my mind processing the situation.
When she hit me again, I got up and walked outside in my socks.
Completely mindless and fairly bloody, I walked into the courtyard and then into the street. It was now three or four in the morning and the dark streets were deserted save for the odd speeding car. I lay down on the sidewalk and gazed up at the stars; and I felt peace.
Staring up into the cloudless night a single thought entered my vacant mind and woke me from my slumber: Lucía. What was Lucía doing?
I walked briskly back to her apartment and met her in the courtyard. She was on her way out.
“Where are you going?” I asked her.
“Nowhere!” she shouted.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m not telling you!”
She tried to walk around me but I stopped her. She pushed me.
“Please, just tell me where you are going,” I said.
“No!” she yelled, and swung wildly into the air, trying to hit me but not watching where her fist went.
“You are not going to be alone tonight.”
She looked up at me with big wet eyes.
“If you don’t want to be with me, I will go with you in a taxi to Veronica’s house. Even if you want to go to Lenin’s house, I will get a taxi and go with you until the front door. But you are not going to be alone tonight,” I told her.
She collapsed into my arms and started sobbing. When she looked up again she said, “Let’s go inside.”
Exhausted, we fell asleep together.
Overnight our bodies had found each other and we woke with our limbs intertwined. Broken glass, spilled liquor and dried blood surrounded us.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t know what happened last night.”
“I’m sorry too.” She kissed my forehead then pulled back and stared into my eyes. “Do you still love me?”
We lay next to each other looking into each other’s eyes. I watched her eyelashes as they shut together and then opened again. “Are we going to be okay?” I asked.
“I hope so. Last night was a mistake. I’m so sorry, John.” Her eyes broke from mine and her voice softened so I had to strain to hear it. She told me she was still broken from before we met, that she still needed time. “Will you stay with me?” she asked. “Will you stay with me even when I make mistakes?”