Stacy Pershall

Que Le Vaya Bien

The first time I saw Gideon, he was wearing a peacock-blue polyester jacket with heart-shaped plaid patches sewn onto the elbows, swinging his head wildly and grinning from ear to ear, thumping out “Turkey in the Straw” on an upright bass scrawled with the Sharpie signature of Mike Watt of The Minutemen. I sat at the bar next to my best friend Glenn, who also happens to be my ex-husband, and said, “That’s the man I’m going to marry.”
 
Glenn, used to me declaring this over some rock star on a regular basis and Stewart Copeland specifically at least once every 48 hours, turned toward the band and said, “The bass dork? The R. Crumb-looking guy?”

Yes, I said, swooning.

It was the spring of 2006, and I hadn’t dated for a year and a half. Like a good New Yorker, I’d been in therapy, determined that I would abstain from dramatic relationships for the duration. My therapist and I had recently parted ways, she having deemed me sane and I feeling such. That spring night when I first saw Gideon in the East Village bluegrass bar, something sprang. My fancy turned to love. I wanted that man in that 1940s fedora and Buddy Holly glasses.

I spent six months subtly chasing him. I waited out his relationship. I knitted him a pillow when his band was about to go on tour and handed it to him on a set break and finally he figured it out. He wrote me from the road (his old-time band was on tour eight months out of the year) and asked if I wanted to hang out when he returned. I floated, waited, wove a robe for Laertes.

One month later. Long subway ride, East Village to Jackson Heights. I mentioned Dr. Ralph Stanley and he expressed disapproval and my cheeks matched my red dress. Then he said “I like your socks” and grinned. We ate Indian food at the Jackson Diner and he made a sculpture of a flatfish out of a plate and napkins and silverware because we had been talking about flounders and how ontogeny recapitulated phylogeny.

I said, “Is this a date?”

He said, “It feels like a date, but I don’t want to call it that because it always makes me start spilling things on myself.” Outside, unable to wait another second, I said, “kiss me,” and he did. And it was beautiful beyond belief for ten months, shooting Super 8 movies in the snow, singing Paul Simon songs against each others’ lips, until one morning the following June when he woke up and told me he just couldn’t be with someone who wasn’t a musician.

“The love of my life is going to be an old-time fiddle player,” he said, apparently oblivious to the fact that his two exes before me were old-time fiddle players and it hadn’t worked out. “I don’t know who she is yet, but I have to go find her.”

He put on his clothes, dropped my house key on my desk, slung his bass over his shoulder and clomped down the stairs in his big brown latex-paint-splattered hillbilly shoes. I never saw him again.

I cried nonstop for three months, lost 30 pounds, did what wounded mammals do. Then, having just sold my first book, I bought a ticket to the tropics of Oaxaca, Mexico and went to cry and write it all out in a hammock in the jungle.

There are lots of things I can describe in lots of words but Oaxaca is not one of them. It is a place of color and magic and light, of fuchsia houses and untuned tubas, of Mariachis who serenade you out of key and the teacher’s union usually on strike. Mayan women who come up to your shoulder, smile with wise eyes and try to sell you chapulines, grasshoppers fried and sprinkled with chili powder. Everything in Oaxaca is sprinkled with chili powder. If you eat the chapulines, they say, you will return to Oaxaca. People congenially park buses in intersections to protest things, and if you ask your taxi driver why the road is blocked he shrugs and says with equal congeniality, “Because it’s Oaxaca.” When you get out of the cab, he says, “Que le vaya bien,” a Oaxacan saying meaning “May you go well.”

I have learned this lesson twice in my life, the first with New York City, and the second time with Oaxaca in spite of agonizing heartbreak, so I know it’s true: you can fall in love with place and situation just as much as you can fall in love with a person. You can get amoebic dysentery in the jungle and have the reek of copal incense and marijuana threaten to suffocate you as you sweat out the poisons in a concrete posada in 109-degree heat. I did, and still I loved Oaxaca.

The next week, my tooth abscessed and I had to ride 30 miles in the back of a camioneta, or pickup truck, my tooth threatening to shoot slamming through my skull with every bump we hit, and still I loved Oaxaca.

In the middle of having a root canal, my appendix burst, and I had an appendectomy, before which I had to walk myself to surgery, climb myself up on the table, and pull my knees up to my chest to receive an epidural. They gave me just enough twilight sleep that I didn’t care about them slicing me open. I woke the next morning in an old-fashioned bed with a crank, in a yellow adobe hospital room with a courtyard garden outside. The morning rains poured and I scanned the tray table across my bed: chamomile tea, purple Jell-O, a styrofoam cup of atole and my appendix in a jar. My surgeon came in to check on me and asked if I wanted my atole. I said no and he drank it. He said, “In America, you would have lots of tests to find out if you had appendicitis or diverticulitis. In Mexico, we do not do those tests. We pulled out two feet of your intestine and checked. You did not have diverticulitis.” Then he asked me for 1200 U.S. dollars and I was free to go and I loved Oaxaca almost like I loved Gideon.

I am a heavily-tattooed woman. Tattooing taught me how to trust another human and live in my skin and I got a tattoo in Oaxaca. Across my knuckles it says “todo” and “nada”: all, nothing. Go, live. Agonize and recover. Grieve your lovers, but find your place, the place, don’t stop until you get there. You will know it by its pink houses and green trees dripping yellow fruit.

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STACY PERSHALL will read at Freerange on July 11, 2011. Pershall, born in Arkansas in 1971, is a lifelong gypsy who has lived in nine cities and three countries. She holds a MFA degree in electronic art from the University of Cincinnati. Her memoir, Loud in the House of Myself: Memoir of a Strange Girl (2011; Norton) was chosen for the Barnes and Noble spring 2011 Discover Great New Writers program. Booklist called the memoir an “electrifying account … one whirlwind ride.”