DECISIONS, LIES AND INDECISION
Back in the USA, I go and stay with my parents and little brother who are living in Vermont.
"Barn at Valley Head, Putney, Vermont". NdA. Oil on Canvas.
I am unsettled, unsure. I paint still life and landscapes and another portrait of Reg the Potter from memory and a photo. I draw his face with string underneath the paint, always searching for some other way of working, some other technique which will tell me what my own style is, and not finding it because there are too many possibilities.
"String Portrait of Reg" NdA. Oil & thread on board.
Reg and I have been writing to each other constantly since leaving Mexico and the letters have deepened our relationship. I have sent off an application for a scholarship to return to the Institute Allende and am waiting for a reply. Meanwhile Reg is urging me to marry him and come to Vancouver. I am undecided.
One day, I go for a long walk in the fields behind the house, intending to make a decision. Walking the length of a hilly pasture in one direction, I imagine what it would be like to choose the option of marrying Reg. I am not so madly in love that I can say Yes! with no hesitation but we did have a good start and he's making me an offer that's hard to refuse: true love, great sex, stability and a studio.Why should I refuse? But there's a nagging voice in me that says: is this really what you want?
I walk back across the field in the opposite direction and think about the other option: returning to San Miguel, continuing my studies and then, just see what happens. Reg and I would certainly get together again but without the commitment of marriage. The nagging voice in my head says: yeah, that sounds good, but let's face it, you'd probably fall for someone else, get distracted, then what becomes of the art career?
A reply arrives from the Instituto Allende: they are granting me a half-scholarship, ie free tuition but not living costs. This wouldn't amount to much, as it's Mexico, but my father doesn't agree to support me (I know he thinks I will be led astray by bohemian influences). I am not brave enough to say, "I don't need to be supported, I'll go anyway and find some sort of part-time job, enough to live on in San Miguel". Reg's letters are encouraging and tender. I agree to marry him.
We decide to meet in New York, have a no-fuss wedding there, spend Christmas in Vermont with my family, then take the train to Vancouver. I go shopping with my mother in Brattleboro, looking for something to get married in. The only thing I can find that I like is a short black cocktail dress. It will be my wedding dress.
I am at the airport in New York to meet my husband-to-be, the man in the yellow shirt, the ceramics Professor, my San Miguel lover. It's only three months since we said "Hasta luego". The moment I see him walking towards me I want to tell him to go back. This is a mistake, I can't go through with it. But I don't say any of this. My emotions are in such turmoil I don't know what I want. I am glad and not glad to see him. Everything is wrong.
We stay at a dark, gloomy apartment in the Bowery loaned by an absent friend. It's mid- December, bitterly cold and the neighbourhood is deserted as we look for a church which will marry us. We've already got all the requisite civil documents but want some kind of ceremony to formalise the union. Reg is agnostic, I am nominally Catholic but really an unaffiliated believer. Eventually we chance upon a Lutheran church where the Vicar agrees to perform the ritual as long as we can find two witnesses. The Vicar's wife stands in as one and we persuade a passing stranger to be the other one. I am wearing my black dress, strangely appropriate. Outwardly I'm smiling, inwardly I am in despair. I am betraying a good man who loves me by marrying him. I don't have the courage to tell him that I've changed my mind which was uncertain in the first place. The lie is gnawing at me as I pronounce the wedding words.
In Vermont, things start to look brighter. My parents give us a great welcome and get on well with their new mature son-in-law. Reg teaches my kid brother guitar chords and is instantly hero-worshipped. My mother cooks wonderful meals and is her irresistibly charming self. My father tells Reg about his projects in South America and fires up his enthusiasm, already kindled by my nostalgic descriptions of Paraguay. We make plans to move there as soon as possible.
On the long train ride from Vermont to Vancouver, we cuddle under blankets, in full view of fellow passengers.
A MARRIED WOMAN
At the train station in Vancouver we are met by my husband's children from his first marriage - a teenage son (who lives with him) and his daughter with her young husband. We go to a cafe so they can catch up with each other's news. They greet me politely but act as if I'm not there during their conversation.
My feeling of being in the wrong place at the wrong time grows and reaches crescendo when we arrive at Reg's house, a pleasant bungalow in a neighbourhood called Kitsilano. A bohemian father and his teenage son living alone are unlikely to be house-proud but there are mounds of dust and socks under the beds, piles of dishes in the sink, greasy grime, cobwebs - you name it. Not just the mess but the ambiance, everything is alien to me. What the hell am I doing here? I want to go home (where is home?).
I am lying in bed with my husband on the morning after my first night in his house. He is unaware of my seditious thoughts. The phone rings and he gets up to answer it. He chats for a while then calls me, "It's your mother".
My Mommy! She must have tuned in to the way I'm feeling. I go to the phone but before I can say hello, I lose consciousness. Reg catches me as I'm about to hit the floor. Later, tests reveal that I am pregnant.
We discuss it and discuss it over the next few weeks. Reg says the decision is up to me but he would rather not go through fatherhood again now (he brought up his two children almost single-handed). A new life of freedom and adventure is ahead of us. I am undecided. I don't have an urgent desire for a child but am viscerally opposed to having an abortion and the little voice within whispers that my husband should not be pushing me in that direction, however much he insists that he'll support whatever choice I make.
Meanwhile, I reluctantly adapt to my new role as wife, stepmother and exile. I clean up those areas of the house I inhabit and form a tentative rapport with my stepson, though I'm aware that in his eyes and in his heart, I'm an intruder, destroyer of the special friendship he had with his father.
He is a student at university and sometimes I join him and his friends around the kitchen table, talking, talking. A room in the house is allocated as my studio but my creative drive is at a low ebb and I mostly potter around planning "projects". Reg teaches ceramics at the art college and I visit him there and do some life drawing and clay modelling.
We come first in a competition to design and build a "Monument to Youth" to be situated in a public park in the city. But it's never built. They put up an equestrian statue instead because the public considers our model too unusual. I look at a picture of it now and it's not unusual, just rubbish.
We are asked to create a puppet show for a children's televison channel. We make papier maché puppets, write the script, sing the songs and appear on TV for a one-off performance.
Reg shows me places he loves in and around the city, drives me out to the rivers and lakes where he and his son go fishing. It's all beautiful and I can't connect to any of it.
Those enormous blackish-green fir trees along the road seem ominous, oppressive, frightening. I want cactus and palm trees and hot sun and Spanish. Reg, unlike me, can adapt anywhere but he shares my preference for tropical places. We have decided to move to Paraguay before the year ends.
But first there's the matter of the little creature in my womb.