Only now

[A snippet from a writing project in gestation, which will probably make very little sense if you haven’t read these other snippets: Square one, No importa, New tables, Belly of the beast, No turning back, Memories, dreams, reflections, El campo de pueblo, Wait and see, & Bug in the Jug.]

Know what I like? Roosters. Wait, no – I wish death to all roosters. That’s what I meant to say. But I do like mornings here on the Pueblo. The sun is shining. The roosters are roosting, or whatever the hell it is that roosters do. Molly is off interviewing local health care providers for her research. The kids are at school. Jesús and Juana are off doing whatever the hell it is they do during the day. Sweet solitude.

One good thing about having been crippled so many times in my life is that I’ve developed an impressive array of compensatory skills. A few years ago I broke my leg, and of course was obliged to continue functioning at work despite being crutch-bound. This meant operating the clutch on my VW Bus, a problem quickly solved with a mop handle, some duct tape, and a total disregard for safety. My right hand shifted gears while my left hand operated the clutch, which left the steering wheel in the hands of the Good Lord, as it should be. I was working in a group home, taking care of six guys diagnosed with schizophrenia. I cooked, cleaned, shuttled them around town, occasionally arranged for emergency transportation to the hospital for “re-stabilization” – that sort of thing. The most challenging part of the job, from a one-legged perspective, was preparing the meals. I eventually got to the point where I could carry multiple pots and pans to and from the kitchen, using just my armpits to operate the crutches.

This morning I only went so far as to employ the “one armpit technique,” in order to prepare and clean up after breakfast. It’s nice to be back in a routine of sorts. Breakfast (Raisin Bran), coffee (cold Nescafé), and a bit of reading while the bowels prepare for take off. Sipping my Nescafé, I hear a knock at the door. It’s the tile guys. Rumor has it they’ve been too hung over to work the past several days. They want to do the bathroom now, and even though it will mean keeping the “cargo on the runway” for several hours, I’d rather they get it over with, as this promises to be the last major disruption, vis-à-vis the room. Presently, the entire bathroom becomes a muddy, mosquito-infested swamp after each shower. Last night, coming out onto the bedroom tile, one of my crutches slipped out from under me and I fell (onto the bed, fortunately). Hopefully, they’ll slope the tile so that the shower water runs down into the drain. I don’t want to insult their collective intelligence by explaining this to them, yet I don’t think I can resist doing so (by way of miming).

I’m trying to learn to let things go. Kabat-Zinn lays out the seven foundational attitudes of mindfulness practice as follows: Non-judging, patience, beginner’s mind, trust, non-striving, acceptance, and letting go. So far, I’m getting straight F’s across the board. Non-judging? Hello! Juana, anyone! And so it is on down the line. One thing I find amusing about this whole mindfulness deal is that here I am getting this heavy emphasis on staying in the present, when all the while I’m constantly struggling to express myself in Spanish, due to the fact I only know how to conjugate verbs in the present tense. So, for me, there really is no past and no future. There’s only now, Bobby, there’s only now. And even in the now there’s not much more than “Good morning,” “How are you?” and “I need to use the bathroom, please.”

The toxic fumes of burning garbage drift through the large window directly behind me. Here on the Pueblo, what garbage is not littering the streets is heaped into pits or piles and burned, and our neighbor Rosa typically torches a pile around this time everyday. Everything, from plastic Coke bottles to soiled toilet paper, is set ablaze not fifteen yards upwind, creating a steady flow of lung-coating, eye-burning, stomach-turning smog lasting an hour or more.

The chickens here are “free range,” and they roam from yard to yard feeding on trash heaps. I just threw some leftover chicken bones on the pile the other day. I wonder what chickens think of the taste of chicken. “Mmm, tastes like chicken!”

Despite the beauty of the natural surroundings, if nothing is done about the poverty and total lack of infrastructure, this pueblo will be one big garbage pit in a few years. I can hardly fathom the health problems that must result from the unsanitary conditions. Sometimes I wonder if my nine months here won’t be unlike living in the womb of a crack-addict. Back home, I was more health-conscious than most. No hydrogenated oils. No high-fructose corn syrup. Everything organic, when feasible. My coworkers seemed to get a kick out of it, me with my daily organic spinach salads and PB&J’s made with twelve-grain bread, all natural peanut butter and pure fruit jam. Here I use Skippy and Wonderbread, and I scarf it down like it’s manna. And sure, Coke and Pepsi might be dissolving my teeth, but at least there’s no worry about “the amoeba.” Besides, all the supposed health benefits of mindfulness meditation should balance things out, right?

There’s only now, Bobby. There’s only now.

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