Pucallpa Journal Entry I

It's on the bright, long boats to the Shipibo village of San Francisco when I finally pull my phone into my lap and start to write. The water flowing by in smooth curtains under the rise and fall of the prow is ochre green, with plastic bottles occasionally floating past and little white birds with long beaks diving into it over and over again, hoping to pull up a shining fish.

The trees lining the banks of the river are so full and lush, something my eyes have felt hungry for in the city of Pucallpa where yellow and red and the color of the rich dust line everything in sight.

 Daniel seeing us to the motocars

Daniel seeing us to the motocars

The humidity presses us into the smooth, worn wood of the boats and drops of water land in my lap as we glide past the shores. Bright blue houses with tin roofs watch from tall stilts as we go by, children running along the docks and then clambering into the moored boats to take a closer look. The sky blends right into the waters edge here under the clouds threatening rain and this year feels very different from the last one. The children are different, Pucallpa is different, and most of all I'm different.

Something in me feels very heavy right along with the sky, the weight of Ben's presence missing for so long now feels a little like a brick in my rib-cage that only weighs more the further I carry it. My heart has stopped looking for him, expecting him to come around corners, or that his voice will suddenly reach me somehow, either laughing or explaining something in his careful, ardent way. It's an ache now that only slips to the surface when I see a photograph suddenly or the wonderful priest who presided over his funeral.

I sat on the bus at the window for a long time trying to remember who he was, knowing I knew that face somehow. Then I remembered the vestments and the basin of water to bless Ben's ashes and the way he took my hands but the world was only a pretend world that I watched the way you watch a film, none of it real.

The younger girl in me who was so profoundly in love with her beautiful fiancee is lying in pain beneath the surface of everything- watching with somber eyes as the world and even myself has to continue on without him.

Seb has the most beautiful girlfriend named Oriana now, and someday soon my Lili will fall in love. I'm afraid to always be the odd one out, the one missing my other half, my arrival into the story set in place by so much hope and then more tragedy than anyone can navigate, really. But my Clan is as loving as ever, and our bonds are growing more and more underneath the otherwise hurriedness of everyday life.

It's only that something in me has changed, but I fear it. I feel an exhaustion that I can't explain and that can't be cured by sleep. It's always there and the lightness that I used to feel is muffled underneath it. I wish that I could be curious again, adventurous, wondering- with the awe and joy that I've felt so often before. But those moments don't come to me now, or if they do, only as a surprise, something like a bolt of lightning that clears the atmosphere and frees me from the closeness of grief for a little time.

How could I ever explain to anyone what I really feel?

In my soul sometimes, I feel like I could never speak again and be somehow very content. I just want to watch the world very quietly now, without drawing any conclusions. Once upon a time I was naive and relentlessly positive. Now I think if I can manage just to be honest, to see the world as it truly is and still to love it, I'll make it out of my ideas about it alive. Here in the boats some darker piece of me wonders if I'll ever be truly happy again. Sometimes my Ben and his leaving feels like a black hole that consumes more of me every day, not as a depression or even an acute pain, but a vast nothingness with an endless mouth that day by day disappears more of the girl I was, and was becoming.

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Fishermen standing on a tall boat are swarmed by the white birds, dipping and diving around their shoulders and calling out to each other in their own old languages. The men pull sodden nets from the water laden with food and garbage. The sun comes out for a moment, burning through my black jeans and the volunteers talk in sweet, thick Quebec French about the egrets and University and their lives at home. More and more I've begun to realize how much I take for granted, the kind of comfort that I plead for from my life. I think of my bedroom at home, laden in soft, warm blankets and pillows, stuffed animals and books and pens and everything really that my indulgent heart has ever been tempted by. 

It feels somehow less pure than what I know here in Peru. 

It seems strange to remember myself sitting at a desk coated in the Coop Bookkeepers perfume only a few days ago, filling out documents and having blackberries with coffee. Peru is nothing like my world in Vermont, which is why it pulls me out of myself in a way I can't help but to powerfully love. This world is wild and humid and strained; the babies at the Center rip the bags of candy out of my fingers and at first the polite white person in me is always astonished, helplessly saying 'Gentle my loves, don't hurt each other' in hesitant Spanish.

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Who am I to know what it's like to wake up and fight for just a little piece of something? 

I can have almost whatever I could want, whenever I might want it. I don't have to rely much on the charity of strangers to bring sweetness into my life, to bring novelty or specialness. Every day is my own and I have the luxury to be lazy in all my hurts. The people of Pucallpa might never live that, but they're so truly content and they do what they have to, to put gasoline in the motorbikes and to have a bit of plastic and a roof for the rainy season.

I think of rainy days at home with music on a record player and the mugs of tea I leave all over the house. When I get home it will be just starting to be spring, and rainy warm days when everything smells like freshly woken earth will be all mine to treasure. Buds will be opening on the trees and I'll lie under the apple trees shedding all their blooms in the breeze. I realize I live in paradise and I feel ashamed when I think of how the children might never see snow or falling leaves in autumn, or a Christmas tree, a bubble bath, a movie in the theaters with too much candy and popcorn.

Maybe they wouldn't know what to make of it and it would seem as alien to them as the bottles of yellow soda, the honking of the bikes and the men with Rolex's who roll down the tinted windows of their trucks to stare when we leave the hotel does to me.

We land at the long bridge to the Shipiba tribe and men in tall porcupine quill hats and beautiful embroidered robes are playing music to greet us with rattles and flutes. Children are clambering over the wooden planks dozens of feet above the river. The women I recognize from last year greet us with kisses while the music plays and then we walk hand in hand along the new bridge over the water and the egrets and the abandoned boats dissolving into the mud.

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The thatched roofed homes are waiting like last year and they usher us into the marketplace again where rows and rows of tables ring the room covered in tapestries, bracelets, necklaces, painted monkey skulls, beads, rattles and bowls. They put things in my hands and I try to tell them again and again how beautiful everything is and then the Chief comes and whirls us around the room dancing. A boy half my height pulls me away from Joel and we laugh dizzily the whole time; he drags me by the wrist through a bridge of hands and arms the others form and for a little while the room is just a stream of color and everyone clapping and swaying around each other while the drums play.

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Two little girls run up to Oriana and I and take us by the hand saying 'Hi friends!' and then give us their own version of the tour, making sure the larger group never leaves us too far behind and letting us stop for flowers and stray dogs with big soulful golden eyes. We tour the school where the blue paint is peeling off the walls and there are hand drawn posters in crayon done by the children where they are learning phrases in English. One drawing features a person walking saying 'Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye'

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We pass huts and hammocks and boys playing soccer at their high school, chickens missing all their feathers and babies running barefoot in faded shorts. We kneel down at the bottom of a hill and a little dog watches me very cautiously, then approaches with a wag of his tail. I pet his sweet face and he closes his eyes for a long time. I wonder if anyone else ever pets him.

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But then we are going back down to the bridge, another friendly black and white puppy bouncing between our feet as I walk slowly with Donna and Joel, drinking the jungle in. A bird with a long red beak fishes in the water and we find 'Touch-Me-Not' ferns along the path that shyly hide their leaves when we stroke them.

Another Western person, a tall boy my age with flip-flops and long hair emerges from one of the huts and seems unhappy to see us. I'm surprised at first and then realize he must be here, alone in the jungle for Ayahuasca. He marches silently past us to a little store for a bottle of water and doesn't return my smile, but I understand what he must think of a group of 30 foreigners snapping photos of the poverty-stricken village where he's come to examine his spirit.

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I am so grateful for my dearest friends Kirk, Lizzy, and Joel who have stepped so lovingly into the place he left empty, and really I'm astonished with gratitude to be right here, all of me still present, my heart still beating and my old worries growing more calm and easy again. Every time I hear 'Lulu, Lulu!' and the sound of the childrens feet running in Los Jardines, something somehow seems to make perfect sense, but what exactly it is I couldn't say, and what my ultimate purpose is, I can't tell yet.

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.....

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Tonight we walked through the humming, bright streets of Pucallpa along the riverbanks. Piles of fruits and vegetables and many things that I wasn't quite sure of what they were sat steaming in the sun. Fish with flashing opal scales just pulled from the river lay writhing in plastic buckets and I felt a little conspicuous weaving through the stalls and vendors under the rainbow colored umbrellas. We wandered through a crowd down the busier streets filled with people selling balloons and plastic sandals and TV's and auto parts.

Everywhere in Pucallpa is alive with sound, there's no way to escape the stream of voices and the roar of the bike engines- I realize I'm so unaccustomed to the volume of noise coming here from my quiet, empty farmland world of forests and hills. But in truth, I don't mind. It makes me feel more a part of everything, only a quickly passing face in the crowd where a little girl is chasing bubbles dispensed by a man with a bubble gun, shrieking with laughter and clapping her hands. I secretly love the voyeurism of it; to quietly watch people being themselves in their countless myriad of ways, and for myself to be only a set of admiring eyes beholding them.

I wonder if maybe that's why I love taking photographs so much. With my face behind the camera, I'm only a lens and a mirror, and the world happens in 1/60 of a second. A woman in the muddy water holding a baby, the man half my height who asks if I want popcorn, Sam and Murielle walking together in the sun, Daniel laughing at something the other drivers say, Liam watching the world in his gentle way. 

I always find it so much more delicious to observe rather than to be observed, and I'm careful about the way I present myself. In Pucallpa, I wish I was invisible, and all the throngs of people could melt right into me with their stories. But I could romanticize everything, and there's something better ultimately about having to stand right in the midst of it with my pale skin and arm of tattoos, and to have to meet everyone who stares and asks me to buy a necklace. At times I worry that I greet the world too far back from within myself.

Peru pushes me to step outside of my life, of myself, all my watercolored interior worlds- and to embrace the real one that is happening so quickly all around me, everywhere I turn.

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We had dishes of ice cream in a tall green and orange building and I stumbled through asking in Spanish for chocolate and trying to place the word 'boleta' when the kind waitress said it to Sam over and over again. I realize every year I remember less and less, it's been almost a decade now since it was a part of my life. Every now and then I catch only a moment of Mana playing on a radio and I remember learning Spanish to his voice first, and then Alejandro Sanz, Juanes, Reyli. 

'Poquito a poco, te llevo al cielo amor, poquito a poco yo te inundaré en mi amor'

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The funny sweet man named Richard whose tenacity for selling eagle feather earrings and jaguar claws is admirable and always makes me laugh, caught sight of us on the balcony and settled in on the sidewalk below to wait for us. We slipped past him just in time to buy playing cards on the way back to the hotel and to find everyone relaxing in the pool of soft, cool water.

A doctor from Tanzania joined us at dinner and spoke to us about his work in Pucallpa and what is being done to save the life of a young boy with leprosy named Luis. Tomorrow 4 volunteers are going to give blood at the hospital for him, and I squeeze Lili's hand at the table. His heart is so full of concern and compassion for others and I sense how much this story touches him.

After dinner I hid on the steps high above with the brothers and Joel and Lizzy to watch the dancers who come to visit us and later everyone throws each other into the pool before we go upstairs to sleep and then alone in the warmth of the approaching night, I sit in my favorite rocking chair high above the city to put words to all my thoughts.

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from the desk downstairs

laced with water, blueberries, sticks of chalk

to the garden overflowing

with dahlias, sunflowers, green tomatoes on the vine

this is the way I trace my path through my world

at the bookstore

in Neruda and myths

the scent of antique paper

a man asks for directions in English, thick with French

and I ask for more poetry

the pills in my bag

roll and shift in the quiet of the room

cookbooks, for how to heal the gut, the liver, the extra weight

but on how to save a life

there are none

no one wonders who I might be

when I walk past

I'm like the familiar deer in the yard

nuzzling feathery stalks of corn

shy and content and always a little tensed

I might be ready to fly if you raise your voice

or to come a little closer

if you will be soft

the whole village knows me

little soul who lost such a big thing

but who doesn't look for it here

in the morning glories or the mist on the river

it's gone from the bed

from the grasp

it's cup of coffee left cooling on the counter

it's owner has gotten up from that table

and only comes here by night

when the stars are beaming full in the sky

He must wait until I fall asleep

because when first light comes

and the sound of morning reaches my ears

He's abroad again in his own world

Explaining himself, perhaps

Or else not saying anything at all,

but feeling the sun on his face like I do 

the warm ground beneath his feet like I do 

the hard-bought patience of waiting 

like I do

watching with a quiet aching

the vast territories of God and men

like I do

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Ben

Can I help it, if I want the whole world to know who you are?

My heart is in my throat when I watch the van headlights miss my driveway and wander into the one adjacent. The door is in the way, the steps are underfoot, the gravel beneath my feet feels like heavy sand. Night is just arriving to the valley and the first stars are watching with interest above. I stand at the end of the driveway in the time-stopped stillness of that moment, take a deep breath and wait for you to realize you've gone to the wrong house.

White dress in the dark.

Suddenly the headlights sweep back over through the trees. 

'Oh, hello!'

Then everything takes off at light speed.

We're shrieking with laughter, I can't remember you opening the door to the van just this tumbling of motion, my whole body shaking, you're the same height as me and there we are in each others arms saying 'Oh my gosh' over and over again. Your neck smells like heavy cologne. 

I don't even really know what your face looks like yet.

I chase your van back up the hill to the glowing house. Black hat. Necklaces, coins suspended at the ends of them. Bracelets at your wrists. Suddenly, there you are. We're staring at each other wide-eyed and a little shell shocked, laughing all encased with nerves.

Ben McKinnon.

Lulu Lovering.

We were only ideas of us before. A filmmaker from Montreal who made me hold my breath late at night as the music picked up and a giant crow came falling in slow motion out of storm clouds. The little boy closed his eyes. 

And then he was gone.

A photographer from Vermont, a girl with a remote and a heavy black camera and all these feelings that never found their way into words but instead inside of those moments. Those hold your breath moments. The lift before the drop. The dreams you see when your eyes close for just a moment, and then...

You open them.

And there you are. A dream come to life, pulled from my head and into reality. The voice on the phone telling me you had to run to a meeting while I paced the floors of the house and tried to drop my own voice just a pitch and a half. I was so worried you'd be like any other dream- one that arrives in the middle of the night and comes too close to the morning and dissolves. When you wake up you can half-remember it. Did they really care for me, for just a moment?

I had only just dragged myself through some kind of relentless search for you- except I couldn't find you. Other men appeared and disappeared, voices on the phone, half-hearted messages. One, only at 2 in the morning when he was drunk or else very lonely and maybe I was like a glass of water and a blanket for his shoulders when he was disoriented and scared. Another, only until he heard my singsong mannerisms when I was very tired and I stammered my way through a time-zone difference and an explanation of my countryside life. And a last, only because I crept close like I was stalking a timid animal in the woods and it didn't know what I was, so it held still and waited to see what I would do. I almost touched it's face for a moment but then...

it was gone.

I had always loved to love. I didn't want crazed passionate kisses, really, or jewelry or someone to go out to dinner with. I wanted to be the only one to have a key that could unlock someone, so that their soul came spilling out, someone as lost and vivacious and wondering as I am. 

'Two spinning spheres, two spinning spheres,

in a bed of stars'

A soulmate. 

Someone to pour my life into. Someone who would pour their life back. And after a little while we could be some kind of torrent river on it's way to flood into the wild sea. We'd be full of rainwater and bottles and brightly colored fish and maybe someones tears and maybe water lilies or ancient pebbles worn all smooth from the passing of time. 

Something the world had never seen before and perhaps, would never see again.

But it was always wrong, or else at least it would end wrong and I worried that for this person I had been far too much, and for that person maybe I had been too little. And the rest of the time my spirits would lift for a moment to say 'Maybe... it's you?'

But it wasn't.

Heaven only knows how I got like that. I think maybe, you understand it. That when life feels devoid of all else, love is like water and it rushes in and fills all those empty spaces. And maybe for me it was only some kind of tepid, sad tale that happens to many; that without parental nurturing and safety, one goes out on the hunt and is always scouting for it elsewhere. To face a barren desert of a childhood maybe it's set in some kind of whistling stone, you have to march with a glass jar- always on the lookout for an oasis, for something to quench all that aching thirst for connection.

I prayed I wasn't like that. I prayed my intentions were different. But my efforts had been marred by failure up until that balmy June night, and I couldn't be sure (though I hoped), that you would turn the tides any other way and I think maybe you thought the exact same of me. 

I knew more about you than you realized. 

You didn't send photos of yourself, or reveal them, and they were nowhere to be found. The latest was years old. You kept delaying our time together. There were little clues all along the way if I looked keenly enough. A hint that something was terribly wrong, that something somewhere was troubling you at a place no one could catch sight of. 

'He's so... cold' 

I said to my sweet friend who was staying with me, the night we met, after the stars and the hill and the van and the stuttering, halting conversation. 

'I don't think he likes me at all'

You were fast asleep or at least pretending to be on the couch. She was smoking a cigarette on the front porch in the middle of the night. I'd lain awake on the opposite couch trying to look at you without really looking at you, your face all hidden in the pillow and the darkness of the house. You were like some kind of fortress, your emotions indiscernible, your true feelings hidden just past where I could see them in the fall and rise of your chest.

It had been a secret pride of mine- the ability to read an emotional landscape like it was a vast expressionist painting, every stroke of the brush and where it came from visible to the eye.

But it wasn't that way with you. Everything was instead carefully organized and tucked well away. When I reached in your direction the space was grey and shrouded in clouds. What emerged from behind them was carefully placed just so.

Your face was unreadable. Your blue eyes huge and unfathomable. What you thought as you watched me fumble through making you tea and putting on an animated movie in a panic as I lost track of what I could possibly say, it was all mystery.

But then I stumbled across the way in.

You couldn't go straight through as I had always done in the past, turning handles and unlatching and walking smoothly in past all the hastily constructed doors- so easy to breeze by and relatively ignore in others.

Instead you were made of walls. A maze of dark stones that towered high above my head and out of sight. There were no doors, there were no windows. No signposts, no hints. 

The only way in was to go in at the very start and work my way through, path by path right in the thick of the endless dead-ends. But at times the ground was very soft and if I looked very sharply in the dim light I could follow where you had once been, the mark of your boots on the interior of your world.

I found one clue and then another. Into the Wild. A boy runs away from his family to rush away into the sky in solitude with only his thoughts and his mistakes in the epic frontier of Alaska. 

The necklaces.

Medallions from your beautiful mother. Protections against whatever was always chasing you. 

The Kin Fables. A sad young prince with only two friends in all the forested green world- a swirling fairy made of the light on water and baubles from the sea, always running together, and a Knight- watching from the background, always ready to rescue and protect, until the little prince with his curls and his fears, vanished. To try again somewhere else. Or else to be reclaimed by those who wouldn't give up on him.

With his motorcycle and his exhaustion and his striving to blend in. His attempts to love and to feel- only everything blurred together, didn't it? 

You can't outrun your problems.

But you don't have to face them alone.

Did you realize Seb was telling you your own story?

Fable, indeed.

A relationship that hadn't quite made it. As everyone bears, a thorn in their heart, a hope that fell to the ground on shredded papery wings. A hurt that still hurt. The face you made when your phone went off occasionally, eyes all pooled with pain. I knew that feeling from both sides- when forever turns out to look a lot shorter than you thought it would. It wakes you up in the night and you have to always blink it back, all that sweetness turned sour and into what looks so much like deceit. Wasn't this the One? Wasn't this love? And if it wasn't, where did I fail? What did I do wrong? How did we lose?

The love you were cautious to begin.

Me.

Not so much of a mystery, or so you thought. The girl everyone claimed was made of light. Sunshine. Smiles. Picnics with strawberries and two friendly kittens in the summery sweet-smelling grass. Always reaching for your hand, always laughing, laughing, laughing. Swinging on tree vines, wading out into the ponds, sparklers at sunset, marshmallows over the fire. I was supposed to be so good. My life, wholesome and healthy and shining. 

But here is how I won you in the dark. My first glass of blood-red wine that turned into two glasses and you eagerly running to the gas station to buy me Sprite to mix with vodka and grapefruit juice. Two lost souls at the kitchen table talking until the sun came up about films and Instagram, and nature and love.

'Tell me something you've never told anyone before'

I paused for such a long time, lost in thought, alcohol singing with my heartbeat, my head only a muffled daze of happiness and longing. But you were watching me so intently, so cautiously to see what I would say. A secret no one else knew. 

I looked for a long time at the tiled floors while I said it, what I had never said to anyone before, what I had hidden far back and never even allowed myself to think about, but now just flooded out unbidden but unmistakably called forth by some whisper:

'When I was very young, I made an enormous mistake. I tried to commit suicide'

Then the air in the kitchen was so thick and every crickets chirp through the open windows slowed and there the maze opened up in one fell swoop.

There you were at last, right in the center, your eyes blazing fire before the water put it out.

That was how I found you.

In that long, long quiet before we left the glasses on the table and you began to cry, before you fell into the couch sobbing in my petrified arms, before the whole story came tumbling out in one headlong rush of despair and a one last-ditch attempt to turn it around in the West or else to never come back at all, your own Christopher McCandless....

The river begins to flow.

 

Our first day together

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inferno

'I stand in clay and I say "I am soft like new ground"
I stand in the mountains and I am tall like deep stone
I stand where I met you and I think "I was born to come here"
I stand in the ocean and look at the moon pulling the tide on silver strings
But I am not quite clay, and I am not quite stone
Not quite the day I met you or the currents that brought me here

I am so quiet the deer don't hear me coming
I am so bold the storm rolling into the green hills knows my name
I am real and I am fairytale alike and I know all of this the way you can return to a place where you were once a child
And you know that place in your bones

Everyone is asking you secretly to save them
You watch as everyone drowns a little when you can't
But you and I are moving forward the way the world is moving
In looping arcs across the Universe so full of light and color
Everyone is asking you to do what they think is important
You watch their disappointment when you choose instead what you love

But you and I are moving forward the way the world moves forward
Burning like an arrow as it streaks towards its mark
Don't let anything put you out, love
Don't let anything put you out
You are denying physics and astrology both
People put their palms together and greet you with 'Namaste'
But they don't see you

I know you're trying and you're failing to meditate with your fever-pitched heart
Everyone wants to ease the places where you scorch
They want to file your nails and pet you gently and be able to say 'Look how nice you are'
But don't be nice to me, love

Be enormous and wild-eyed in the morning singing a song you're just making up and will never remember to sing again
Don't settle down and make it work and get through this the best that you can
Don't retire your dreams before you live them
Let yourself dream in a way thats soft like red clay and deep like old stones
Dream in a way where you're pulling the moon into your arms
Dream from your wellspring of embers
And don't let anything put you out, love
Don't let anything put you out'

L.L