Illegal: a true story of love, revolution and crossing borders [Ch.28]
I'm a journalist for publications such as The Guardian, Vice, The Diplomat and Narratively and my first book, a memoir, came out just over a year ago [Amazon link]. It's won numerous awards and sold thousands of copies. And now I want to give it away. This is the twenty-ninth installment [Prologue | Ch 1 | Ch 2 | Ch 3 | Ch 4 | Ch 5 | Ch 6 | Ch 7 | Ch 8 | Ch 9 | Ch 10 | Ch 11 | Ch 12 | Ch 13 | Ch 14 | Ch 15 | Ch 16 | Ch 17 | Ch 18 | Ch 19 | Ch 20 | Ch 21 | Ch 22 | Ch 23 | Ch 24 | Ch 25 | Ch 26 | Ch 27] and every few days I'll post another chapter. From the back cover:
A raw account of a young American abroad grasping for meaning, this pulsating story of violent protests, illegal border crossings and loss of innocence raises questions about the futility of borders and the irresistible power of nationalism.
Giving Up On Hope (2) [Chapter Twenty-Eight}
The mobs in the streets who had elected a president were now enforcing the law, chasing away any semblance of resistance. The headlines in El Universo seemed worse every day: Protesters Gather Outside Congress; Congress is Full of Tension and Doubts; Government Will Not Permit Representatives to Enter Congress; American Society of Press Worried About the Freedom of the Press; Political Violence in Rocafuerte; Six Injured in Violence at Congress; Shots Fired Outside the Marriot.
I sat in a bar, drinking beers with Kleaber, and watched the nation I had fallen in love with break down toward violence. Crowds were attacking opposition politicians. The television ran clips of well-groomed men in gray suits lying on the concrete stairs outside Congress, bleeding from their heads. “My country was never like this before. Ecuadorians are peaceful,” Kleaber told me, before tilting his head back and emptying his glass. The hopeful idealism of a year before had turned into a greedy hunger for power. The mobs in the streets began to resemble what they had vowed to replace.
And then there was Lucía. She was my everything, mi todo. She was what kept me going, the person I could do anything for, but that fantasy began to unravel along with everything else. I had wanted to change her; I had thought I could help her and mold her into everything I thought she could be. But I slowly began to realize, that’s just who she was. I wanted to make her into someone who wasn’t real and wondered if she had convinced me of the fantasy, or if I was the one who’d fooled her. She entered my life when I thought that not only was anything possible but that it was probable if there was only enough effort, determination and love.
As everything else was turning sour, I began to realize I was wrong about her. I came home from work one day in early March and found cigarette butts and empty bottles of beer stashed in a cabinet. When I confronted Lucía about it, she lied.
“My friend Maria came over,” she said.
“I saw Maria today—and she doesn’t smoke.”
“Fine, it was another friend. I thought you’d be mad, that’s why I didn’t tell you. His name is Rene. He’s just a friend; I promise.”
Rene kept coming over when I wasn’t home.
Lucía had lied to me throughout our relationship, and for most of it I believed every word she said. I’m not sure if I stopped loving her because I realized she was lying, or I started seeing her lies because I stopped loving her.
I realized it wasn’t just other men in her life that she was lying about; she was lying about everything, even the small stuff that didn’t matter. She would watch one movie then tell me it was another, or say she saw someone in the park when I knew they were out of town, or so many other insignificant things. I suppose this was happening all along but I never saw any of it; suddenly, I saw all of it.
I may have even seen more lies than were there. I doubted everything she said to me. I started to doubt my own memory. I didn’t know what was real anymore, even in my own life. Even now, years later, I’m not sure which parts of my fairytale life were always fantasy.
I didn’t trust her anymore. I didn’t love her anymore. I didn’t want to go to sleep next to her at night. I didn’t want to wake up alongside her.
“I think we need some space,” I told her. “This is just temporary. Maybe we can still work this out.”
“I don’t know.”
That afternoon I told la Señora I wanted to move. She didn’t ask why. “Espera,” she said and walked out. When she returned, she handed me a key. “Take this room for now.”
Her shop and the buildings behind it were owned by a couple who lived in Quito and rarely visited Latacunga. La Señora helped them rent the rooms and collect payment.
That night, I went to sleep alone.
A week later Lucía and I went out together. She had had a meeting with her lawyer that afternoon and she told me that the divorce was finally going to go through. “It will just be a few more days,” she said.
“It’s always just a few more days away.”
“This time it really is just a few days away. We are so close.” She was beaming.
Not long before her optimism would have been infectious. It wasn’t this time. But Lucía still wanted to celebrate so we went out to a discoteca.
We drank too much and I didn’t want to dance. Lucía found other men to dance with while I sat and watched from the table. Another girl sat next to me. We said hello to each other. Lucía looked over across the dance floor and came back fuming. “Let’s just go home,” I told her, trying to avoid a public fight. “I’ll walk you.”
We left, but fought on the way. It was petty and stupid and continued inside her apartment, onto the bed we used to sleep in together.
“I can’t do this anymore,” I told her.
She looked at me, rolling her eyes up and pushing her bottom lip out. “Are you leaving me?
“Will you stay here, tonight? Just tonight,” she asked through tears.
In the morning, we woke up and she rolled over and kissed me. “¡Buenas dias!” she said, with a broad smile.
I looked at her, confused by her good mood. “Do you remember last night?”
“Not really. We went dancing then came back here and went to sleep, right?”
“We broke up last night.”
Her smile faded and tears welled up in her eyes. “I don’t remember that.”
I called out sick from my class later that morning and stayed in bed with her so we could break up again.
We lay in bed together, both on our sides facing each other but not talking, not touching. She turned her back to me and scooted closer so her body was pressed against mine, her back against my chest. She grabbed my arm and draped it over her.
“I slept with Rene,” she said.
I felt cold and indifferent to it all. Lying awake that night next to the cemetery, on a bed stained with the sex and sickness of whoever rented the room before me, I just needed to get away.
In the rare moments when life wasn’t consuming me, chewing at my still living flesh, I was able to take a step back and look into the mirror. And I hated what I saw.
That first time I had snuck back into Ecuador, I had done it for her; she represented all of my motivation. So much had changed since that day.
The sunflower had wilted away and died.