During the winter break of 2008, I decided to spend my only savings by taking a memorable and cheap trip to Chile with one of my best friends, Vida, her two kids and my two girls. I pictured this trip on my mind to be a wine-sipping, girl-gossiping, kids-fun trip. I wanted to ski some, drive some, visit Santiago and Viña del Mar, and get inspired for my books, even maybe my personal life. I was hoping that being with a loving couple in their farmhouse would inspire me to get my hopes up, and maybe open myself again to love. Well, that is nearly what happened. But with funnier, more dramatic twists and vivid colors, like one old Almodóvar film. No, seriously, it was hysterical.
Vida's house and vineyard were really cozy. Skiing was a traumatic experience for my daughters.
The Grass is Always Greener on The Other Side
The perfect couple with gorgeous kids living in a vineyard was a figment of my imagination. Vida’s husband was having an affair, and I detected it in the air the moment we landed in their vineyard. He was completely off and would take his phone and computer to the bathroom with him. It was in the air, if you ask me. Of course, my friend was oblivious to it, as she is one of the purest hearts I ever met in life. And I, at this point, was one of the most cynical, suspicious bitches on earth… Instead of keeping my apprehensions to myself, I told her on day three. Her husband had just left for a business trip, acting even weirder than before. I got extremely conflicted about bringing it up to her, but then that’s also what friend are for, right? I would hate to have one of my bffs grasp something that I was missing and not bring to my attention.
My friend put two and two together and agreed with my suspicious. The poor thing got devastated over the following days, while trying to connect hulking facts. Basically, that led her to being unable to do anything else during the trip – not drive, take care of her kids, or stop crying. I had done such damage that now I needed to step up and make her feel better. The trip transformed into this kind of tragic-comic road journey.
La Roja was a red wagon with a lot of personality. Here Alice after La Roja bit her finger!
Vida had an old red wagon, in which we squeezed all the kids in the back seat all buckled under one big abdominal seat belt. I became the designated driver, since all she could do was smoke her cigarettes and stare at the farms passing through the passenger’s window while she shed more and more tears. The funny thing was that the wagon – I nicknamed her La Roja (red, in Spanish) – had a temper. It would spit out the key from the keyhole while rolling, and I had to bend and look for it under my seat before I hit the break so the car would not die. A very tricky thing to do when you are driving with four kids in the back and a friend having a nervous breakdown.
The craziest day of the trip was when we all went to Isla Negra to visit the house of one of my favorite poets, Pablo Neruda. Vida was so bewildered that she accidentally shut the car’s door on my daughter Alice’s fingers, who of course cried a lot. La Roja did not want to open up and release her little fingers, so the drama got serious until I went inside the car to open it by kicking the door. Then, my other daughter went to throw a coin in the entrance fountain and fell right inside of it. It was winter and she got all wet. All of a sudden, Vida and my two girls were copiously crying. It took me a while to calm all of them down. Thank God Vida’s kids were angels, very well behaved, and still unaware of their father’s romantic adventures.
Floating Log Whisper
After forty minutes, we finally entered Neruda’s house, now transformed into a museum. I immediately went upstairs, to where the poet had his study, a big bay window overlooking the ocean. The desk itself is made from a tree log that he spotted floating in the sea one sunny afternoon, probably after a storm. Because he was so afraid of the ocean – yet completely fascinated - he had his friends go in and pick it up. Then he hired a carpenter to carve a desk out of it. As I slid my fingers on the uneven surface, filled with little holes that I imagined being house to the tinniest water creatures, I felt a chill and a voice. “You need to go back to writing, Laura. You absolutely need to do it!”
I will never forget this afternoon. Everything that went down was so surrealistic, but the message had been delivered to my heart: I needed to write another novel. As miserable and broke as I was. As crazy and irresponsible as it sounded, especially in a moment in which I was penniless and jobless, but still spending money to feed my and my daughter’s souls with trips and adventures.
When we returned from Chile, I was positive that the experience was one of the richest ones I had ever lived. It had been so intense, staying in that vineyard and looking at the naked skies every night. Connecting with my daughters outside of our household. Ruining my friend’s vacation and yet being there for her. Deciding that I would write another book and starting to conceive my new character. I was deeply connected to my soul, and that feeling is extremely rewarding.
The bad news was that I was right about Vida’s husband. Absolutely right. But it was even more serious than we had thought. I felt an excruciating pain when she called me to break the news.
“Laura, you were right,” she said.
The background was so loud that I could not properly hear her.
“Where are you?”
“I am in the middle of the traffic. I was crossing the street and then I cannot move. I don’t know which direction to go: if back, or forth,” she said as someone honked at her.
“Get out of the street!” I yelled, grabbing my coat to go meet her.
“I don’t know which way it is safe to go, I don’t know where to cross to. Should I go back, or forth?” she continued, in the middle of what sounded like a panic attack.
My poor friend! I knew her confusion way too well. When you don’t know where to go, it doesn’t matter which road to take, right? When everything feels unsafe and home is nowhere to be found, because it just got torpedoed.
“His lover is pregnant,” she finally said. “He is leaving me and the kids to be with her,” she finished before hanging up.
WHAT? What kind of monster does this? That way? How? Why?
I got my jacket and took my car to go find her. She wasn’t far from my place, since we were neighbors, and by the moment I got there she had made it safely to the south sidewalk. But her soul was so shattered that, as I hugged her, I could feel the small bits of glass cutting through my heart.
That night I made a promise to myself: never, under no circumstances, trust a man again. Ever. Seriously, I had already decided, deep inside, to stop looking for a relationship. But from now on I would specifically run away from it. One-night stands would save my mortal soul! It was a conscious decision and I took it extremely seriously. If any romantic interest were to approach me, I would just push them away. All the way away!
Vida wasn’t as bitter as me. She was able to move on, find love, remarried. And that is exactly why she is still my role model: because the most important thing about sisterhood is to help and inspire each other.