I have to tell my housekeeper that my partner is gone. I realize this in the shower this morning, and it is first and foremost a logistical problem: I simply do not know the words. Angela, the housekeeper, knows this about me; she knows that my Spanish is good but not great, and she’s always subtly helping me.
Yo: “Tuvimos una fiesta con algunos amigos.”
Ella: “Si, yo también tuve un convivio en mi casa.”
She quietly takes excellent care of me all the time, and I am so grateful, and so I have to tell her what’s happening. But my vocabulary doesn’t reach far enough.
¿Él me engañó?
De veras no fucking sé.
So I stand in the shower and I cry some more, and then I practice. “Trevor y yo terminamos.”
“Trevor ya se fue, y no regresará.”
“Había otra mujer.”
“Yo le…” At this point I just give up and make a little kicking motion as the water runs down my body and falls from my knees to the floor. She’ll get it.
But will she? For almost a week now, I’ve been begging myself to just not do this. Not be like this. Women have been putting up with men cheating for as long as there’s been history. I could put up with it too. I almost want to. I fucking miss him. But all of a sudden, I start to understand: We — women — maybe we put up with this shit sometimes because we love enough, and we’re strong enough; but mainly we put up with it because we have to. As the North American second-wave feminists put it, every housewife is one man away from welfare.
Although, seriously? Depending on welfare? That’s a first world problem. What does the global majority do, the women without safety nets? How do women in intolerable situations get by when there’re no food stamps, no shelters, no child support? Informal support systems — mothers, sisters, friends — are so often like spider webs: delicate, almost invisible, and steelier than you’d ever realize until they’re all that’s sustaining you. But even the strongest silken cable can only hold so much, and if somebody loses their balance . . . well, then everyone’s in danger of falling.
But that’s not my particular problem. I have money, and the security and freedom it buys. What I don’t have is . . . language? It’s not just my imperfect Spanish that’s lacking. It’s all the words. In my internal monologue, I’m just sputtering. How could —? Why? Even though I —? Just, just, just… HOW? I’m not unschooled in the lexicon of grief. I’ve been immersed before, and am starting to know my way around, more than I ever wanted to. Who’s truly fluent with this shit, after all? As with Spanish, I understand much better than I speak, and I’m significantly more verbose, and voluble, after a couple (five) drinks. Thus, the mourning here is a different process than it would be in a place where I’d be expected to articulate this ache. Here, for the most part, I can get away with just pantomiming sadness. I don’t have to explain it.
And then I’m down that old familiar rabbit hole again: Why am I so fortunate? My man does me wrong, and I can leave him. Actually, I can . . . shit, I still don’t know the Spanish for “kick his ass out,” but I can act it out. Simply by being born when, where, and to whom I was, I have the incredible privilege of choosing where and how I live. And with whom.
Jesus Fuck. Globally speaking, I am the one percent.
A little deeper down that spiral I find this: Thanks to those same circumstances of birth, I’m educated enough to know that this isn’t the accident I used to be so amazed by. I understand economics. I know who I owe. Yet here I am, exercising that privilege to the fullest, standing under scalding hot, pressurized water in a country where that’s a rare thing, sobbing.
I don’t know how to reconcile all of this. The privilege of being independent, living a life in Guatemala that is out of the reach of most Guatemalans, and the deep, gnawing fear that if I don’t have to stick by someone and work it out, I never will. The joy of sitting in the sun and watching a volcano, and the pain – so sharp I can barely look it in the face – of knowing that most people don’t have this, and never will. Maybe everyone is like that to one degree or another. Maybe the sad, self-destructive man who just packed up and left is always going to be looking for the exit, running away from the intense fear that is the opposite face of joy. A good fifty percent of life for those of us rich in choices is realizing that specific problem of privilege, and then getting the hell out of our own way.
But still, standing in my shower, that knowledge only means so much. In Spanish, in English, in strange nonsense noises that echo off the festive yellow tiles I’m leaning against, I have no name for this grief. It is physical, biological, and must be passed through, clamoring for words to express it and finding none.