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Flying to New Mexico


Feuding Lovers

I'm on a small plane flying to New Mexico, which I hate. It was a last-minute decision, impulsive, after Leslie called me last night and said …


I hate flying. I hate New Mexico. I hate small planes. I'm sitting next to the wings, and the constant humming of the motor is singing "Roar Roar Roar," which I interpret as: "There is no us, there is no us, there is no we."


We used to live in New Mexico, Eric and I, on the outskirts of Albuquerque, in a house with a red rock garden and stucco white walls. Eric loved to move the red stones about, and arrange them artistically with cactuses, sedums, and red yucca. Some of the rocks were tub sized, and he pleaded with me to help him. I bristled at the idea of manual labor, as complaining is in my nature, but I helped him with his garden because I loved him. "Where do you want me to put this fifty-pound boulder," I said to him, holding a medium size rock excavated from the sand to decorate the landscape. "Over here, or over there," he answered, pointing to the four corners of our garden. And then he used his dirty and musky shirt to wipe the sweat off my brow because I tend to sweat profusely. "You are my sweet-sweat lover," he cooed, as he cleansed my skin with his shirt drenched in Eric-body odor.


It's snack time on the plane, and Marianne Stewardess, with bleached hair and black roots, is pushing her monkey cart down the aisle. "Peanuts, water, tea, or coffee?" she asks, interrupting my sleep. I want her to go away. The airplane motor is still humming, "There is no us, there is no us." I tell Marianne I want "nothing," using my leave-me alone voice. Marianne looks me in the eye, and she sees the sad furor. "Let me know if you change your mind, sweetie," she answers warmly. She is faux-gentle and gently-honest. I am embarrassed by my angry reaction to her kindness.


My temper is what ruined us, Eric and I. We often fought ruthlessly and bitterly, particularly over control of our money. I proclaimed myself the banker in the family, and I ruled with an iron fist over household finances. When Eric bought patio furniture for our Albuquerque garden, the first thing he asked was: "Do you like it?" My pre-programmed response was the same as always: "How much did it cost, and who's paying for it?" An argument ensued.


"You don't trust me."

"I trust, but show me the receipts ."

"All you care about is money."

"I care about saving us from bankruptcy, Mr. Happy Go Lucky."

"Don't you want to make our Albuquerque home comfortable?”

“Not enough to spend $900 dollars.”


It was our first home together, Albuquerque. We both had jobs that allowed us to live and work anywhere, and we chose New Mexico on a whim. When we saw the garden and the red-blue clouds that swept over it, we both fell in love with it and decided to buy the house. It was a decision based on passion rather than reason, like so many things in our relationship.


In Love with a Garden

Getting together had been an impulse. We met at a coffee shop in Washington, quite by accident. We had both ordered the same drink, an oat milk latte with cinnamon syrup, and it sparked a conversation. At first, I was not attracted to him, because he was bald and scrawny, and I'm not generally attracted to such men. But after talking for thirty minutes, I saw the sincerity in his voice and the humor in his eyes, and spontaneously I thought he could be the one. He could be the one to heal my broken spirit.


Recklessly, in six months we decided to set up house together. It was too early. We didn't know each other, really. We knew both of us needed healing from previous relationships, but that should not have been enough. It wasn't enough.


The night of the fight over the $900 patio furniture, I left the house and went to stay with our friend, Leslie. Leslie was the first person we met in the Albuquerque neighborhood. Like us, Leslie was a transplant from another state, attracted by the serenity of the desert and the windy skies. In another city, in other circumstances, we would not have been friends. Fashion, clothing, and body image meant nothing to Leslie. I never saw Leslie exercise or diet, in contrast to my obsessive exercise routine to keep my weight down and my muscles toned. I pounded the pavement with my running shoes and counted every calorie that crossed my lips. Leslie enjoyed eating good food and drinking good wine. At least we had that in common, good wine.


In our cul-de-sac neighborhood, Leslie was known as the quirky one, the one that sometimes forgets to put on pants and a decent shirt when they go out to check the mail, revealing their rolls and blemishes. But Leslie had a wonderful heart and was a great confidant. "You two are an interesting pair," Leslie told me whenever Eric and I fought. Without hesitation, on the night of the $900 patio-furniture fight, I was allowed to set up camp in the spare bedroom of Casa Leslie.


I didn't call Eric for two days, and he didn't call me. On the third day, like a resurrected ghost, I came back to the house and we kissed and made up. In our bedroom, I noticed a pillow with my name scribbled on it with a marker.


"What's this?" I asked.


"It's you," said Eric. "I couldn't sleep without you."


"Did you hug the pillow with my name all night?" I queried.


"I hugged it, but mostly I punched it, trying to put some sense into your thick head."


Marianne is arguing with the passenger in front of me. There's a bit of turbulence and the captain has asked us to fasten our seat belts. Passenger 13A has had too much to drink and does not want to comply. "It's alright," cajoles Marianne. "Here, I will buckle it for you, sweetie."


I'm thinking Marianne has a miserable job, and I probably made a snarky face to that effect. I don't hide my emotions. Eric used to say that everyone could read my face like a book. Marianne must have read me, and smiling a fake smile said, "You know sweetie, it's not as bad as you think. Do you want your snack now?"


Eric was a considerate person, like Marianne. I swear I don't know how to handle such people. It's not in my nature. I admire kind souls; I envy their gentility. But I push them away, and I act as if I want them gone. I love them, and I hate them. The urge to push away the ones I love was rampant during my time with Eric . At first, I only nagged him about money, but then we fought about friends, about trips, about the color of the walls. The only thing we did not fight about was the garden. There we could be ourselves.


I want Marianne to be quiet now, and not remind me to clear the aisle and buckle my seat, and put up my tray. She is intruding on my semi lucid memories of Eric's shirtless chest, hairy and lean, moving tub-sized rocks in our red sands garden. I remember that I called out to him, "watch the cactus Eric , as I will not pull out the thorns from the palms of your hands." And he gave me that stubborn grin, which I always loathed because Eric never did get that chipped front-tooth fixed. I laughed, and I called him careless and handsome, and he wiped the sweat off my forehead with his musky shirt, and gently said to me "Still-now, you are my sweet-sweat lover."


But the red-rock garden was not enough. We continued to fight, over everything except our love. Leslie was our mediator and confident, but even Leslie could see no hope and asked us, point-blank "Is this really what you want?" And Eric decided it was not, and asked me to move out.


I returned to Washington and started meeting other people. Many years passed, and many lovers graced my bed. No one lived up to my standard. I found myself comparing them to Eric . The barometer of judgment when I met Eric was how unsimilar he was to me. The barometer of judgment for all lovers after Eric is how dissimilar they are to him.


Ten years have passed since the breakup. I am still alone. From Instagram, from friends, from gossip, I know that Eric has met someone else. He met Leslie. They fell in love. Even though I have little contact with them, I know they are happy, and I am not too proud to admit my jealousy.


I feel the airplane landing now, caught in the same wicked mountain breeze that seemed to always bathe our Albuquerque backyard. Once the wind was so strong that it knocked me into Eric's sinewy arms. But today the wind barely keeps pace with this plane. I sweat as I continue to hear the aircraft motor whisper: "there is no us, there is no us, there is no we;" and I cover my ears, as the noise is insufferably loud.


Marianne says, "Prepare for landing!" and the passengers quickly arrange their bags and coats, ready to depart. But all I'm doing is standing in the aisle, numb, still-now thinking how someday soon I will learn to let go of my memories of Eric . I will let him vanish from my head, like sweat that dries, fading, insufferably slow, softly, leaving me, cleansing me, and marking me.


I will let him go, because last night Leslie called and said, "Eric has passed away."


I will Forget

Ernesto Beckford

August 31, 2022

© Ernesto Beckford 2022


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