(This is the third in a short series of posts)
I drink gin by myself on Christmas and Boxing Day in Brazil – touring Iguazu Falls and doing some yoga before heading back to Buenos Aires later in the week after Christmas. I am in the muggy, jungle-y part of Brazil, and each day, I dutifully slather myself head-to-toe in mosquito repellent, because the State Department’s website has warned of Zika in this part of the world, and I am notoriously sweet to insects.
You’re not family orientated, Paul’s words echo in my head like a mantra.
Each night, I sleep with a mosquito repellent band on each of my wrists and ankles, and one to tie my long, blonde hair up on my head.
You wrap your hair? Mr. A remarked when he came to blow it out on the morning of my company Christmas party.
Of course I do, I rolled my eyes and gestured down to the coil hair-tie on my wrist; pointed at the folded satin pillowcase set out to be put on the bed when the housekeeper changed the sheets later that day.
I don’t know any white girls who do that, he laughed.
You need to spend more time with Scandi girls, I said, Austrians; German-extraction types. Our Bottle-blonde hair breaks!
And here, in Brazil, I am sleeping in a haze of gin and DEET; desperately fending off a teratogenic virus for the benefit of an imaginary marriage-wrecking child; putting up my goldilocks with mosquito bands instead of invisibobble ties. In the mornings, I kayak in rapids with a tour guide who takes me too close to the belly of the Falls, and the spray soaks me; chokes me. It reminds me of being across the border in Chile – whitewater rafting in the rapids of the Maipo River when my first divorce was being finalised.
I got sucked under, then, and thought for one terrifying second that I would drown before I remembered how to put my feet out and float downstream until the guide could fish me out of the river with a lifeline. At the end of that journey, I’d crouched over our campfire, soaked and lonely, stinking of silty water and a fire made with wet wood that was too weak to dry me out.
I do not drown, and I do not get bit, and I will not let myself be sucked under again. I fly back from Brazil to Buenos Aires where I meet friends and I laugh like a woman unchained. We fly to Mendoza where we drink wine in burning hot vineyards where the sun glints off the snow in the Andes and everything looks like Southern California.
We hire a driver and drive the road between Argentina and Chile, hugging but not crossing the border, next to the narrow-gauge railroad where the tracks are rusting and the trains have not operated since the 1970s. We stop in the valley where Aconcagua rises in the distance, and I remember that my friend PG climbed that once, because I’m the sort of woman with friends Who Do That Kind of Thing.
Everything is deja vu, even here in the middle of the Andes.
I FaceTime my parents again on New Year’s Eve, and it’s a quick and sweet call because they are with my aunts and uncles at the lake. I tell them I am in Mendoza; they ask about Pete this time, because they have read between the lines about Paul. Pete is still in hospital, I say, and I give them specifics. My dad is worried about Lady H; JRA; Pete himself. They ask me what I am doing; they are curious about who I am with – who my friends are – but I say nothing more.
On New Year’s Day, I fly back to Buenos Aires, and take a taxi to our hotel where we are promptly robbed. I can’t even be mad about this – there’s a gentle buzz of chaos all around me – few streetlights or stoplights; seemingly no rhyme or reason at intersections; invisible lane lines on roads – and being robbed in a gentlemanly way through an alleyway park job, a switcheroo scam, and some money clearly printed on a laser printer, seems rather low-stakes in the overall scheme of things.
Everything’s fine. At this point, casual lawlessness seems almost comic relief after the rigidity of Dublin 4.
I spend a few days taking in the delights of Buenos Aires; basking in the gardens of the hotel. It looks like the set of Evita. I practice my godawful Spanish, which has improved since my trip to Chile in 2010, and all the other business and pleasure trips to Spain, but is still comically bad for someone whose heritage is largely Iberian.
Argentina is a joy. I feel like myself again for a few days; or at least, like my head is above water.
And then, on the last day, my flight back to New York is late, and checkout is mid-day so we decide to go to the spa to kill a few hours of time. I get a massage and I shower off the oils and it is only as I am putting on my leggings for the long flight back to JFK that I finally notice the first swellings of a single, massive mosquito bite on my upper thigh. It all comes back to me suddenly – the river, and the spray, and the choking feeling, and the loneliness, and the wet wood, and the longing, and the two divorces, and the monsters in my genetic code, and I remember that I am not family oriented, and I feel like the water is holding me down once again.