Sunday, June 8, 2008

Brief as Photos - 7: A Diplomat’s Wife

Imagine what it would be like if a local newspaper got wind of the news that a U.S. diplomat’s wife consulted with the “bruja” of Izalco? Isabel could not help making a face at herself on the rear view mirror as she drove west of the capital city. She realized that what she was about to do was quite embarrassing, if known.

Izalco was only 59 kilometers from the capital. She could do the trip quickly and still be home for dinner. “But, who’s going to miss me?” she asked Mr. Big, the silent life-sized male doll seated on the front seat of her Subaru. Some of her friends thought her quite weird driving around the city with an inflatable doll. But with a husband engaged somewhere else most days and now nights, too, she thought it best to ride with her “security blanket” at all times. Another person in the car, particularly of the male persuasion seemed to discourage crimes of opportunity like carjacking. Most days, the security guards at the grocery stores could not even tell the difference. So unless the bad guys looked really closely, they would not know that the guy sitting next to her was nothing more than plastic and air.

It was the end of the rainy season and as she drove through the countryside, she could not help but appreciate the lushness of the country. The mountains were vivid green and the sky was as blue as indigo, without a hint of clouds anywhere. The fire trees dotted the mountainside with their vivid red flowers like flames dancing in the wind. The sun was bright in the sky and the breeze was blowing just so. She rolled down her window and breathed in the fresh air.

She had met her husband at the university many years ago and they were married shortly before he joined the diplomatic corps. Despite the challenges of overseas life, she enjoyed every place they had been posted to. She taught herself to be the perfect wife and hostess and she was a tireless community organizer, performing countless hours of volunteer work inside the mission and in local schools and orphanages. She could not imagine any other “career” but this one. When her husband was promoted into the ranks of the Senior Foreign Service, she felt as if she also gained a promotion. She always appreciated the fact that he often referred to his FS career as “our career.” She did not mind being the helpmate, if that was the word. She thought of their life as a full partnership, and imagined being with him when he makes the ambassador ranks.

But sometimes when one is not looking, life can changed in so many subtle ways; one is often surprised when confronted with the details. As a senior officer, she understood how much of his work resulted from having the right contacts in the right places, and she did not complain. Later, there were late functions and weekend invitations to the beach house or the mountain retreat, always prefaced with being a boys’ night out. It was right there in front of her nose; she should have realized sooner what was going on, but then what?

Last night he came home and over their usual late dinner, told her he did not want to be married anymore. Just like that, 25 years later, just like that. She tried to take the news calmly; after all, she was still a diplomat’s wife. Cool and collected they talked, and it dawned on her that it was not so much the state of marriage that he was now averse to, it was the state of his marriage to her that he wanted to conclude. He claimed there was no other woman but she knew him for far too long. She knew negotiations had already been reached behind her back.

It was mid morning when Isabel arrived at Izalco. She stopped at one of the comedores around the Iglesia de Dolores and inquired about the woman named Concepcion de Alvarado. One of her local friends told Isabel once that people across the country still come to Izalco to speak with this 81 years old woman, the oldest living witch in town.

The witch looked as ancient as the house she lived in. She asked Isabel what she wanted as her dark, gnarled hands, surprisingly strong, gripped Isabel’s. Isabel took out a photograph of her husband and quietly said, “I’ve devoted my life to this man for the last 25 years, he does not want me anymore.”

Old, wise eyes looked at her and asked, “Do you want him back?”

“No,” Isabel replied, surprised at the word that escaped her lips. She wrote two requests on a small piece of paper; the witch used it as kindling to the coals burning slowly in her wood stove as she sang a litany in a foreign tongue. Just like that, she saw her marriage over in the ashes, and a new life came forth from the embers.

Shortly after, she was back at her house. She started making phone calls, and prepared for departure. Surprisingly, with no real marketable skills, and a checkered employment history, she has never felt stronger. A large project needed to be tackled – getting back on her feet, as best as she could tell, would require all the energy and talent she was known for; she was not about to shy away from the task. As for her future ex-husband, she felt confident he would always have his dream just slightly beyond his reach, close enough but no cigar. He would wallow in DCM-foreverland, about the highest he could be in the alphabet soup.

In the meantime, her new life beckoned, out there in the full sun, with no shade for comfort, nor shadow to cloak her, and she was not afraid.


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