Friday, December 9, 2016

Musing and Reminiscing about Eleven Years ago Today

Exactly 4018 days ago, on December 9, 2005 at 6:15 am I arrived at the Chiclayo, Peru airport. Now…I’ve made a lot of bad decisions and wrong moves in my life but arriving in Chiclayo on that day was not one of them. But let me back up just a bit. In early 2010 I began writing a memoir. I’m still working on it. I’ve made a lot of revisions between then and now, but what hasn’t changed is the very first paragraph of the first chapter. It reads:

“Though I didn’t know it at the time, an email I sent on Saturday, September 3, 2005 at approximately 3:00 PM would mark the beginning of what I’ve come to view as the second phase of my life. The first phase lasted exactly 64 years 8 months and 12 days; the last few years of which had been especially rough with a divorce, forced early retirement, a ton of money lost in the tech stock crash, and more recently a relationship that was on its last legs. No…even if I had known that that period of my life was passing I wouldn’t have mourned it one bit. In fact I would have celebrated. I would have had an even bigger celebration if I had known that the coming years were going to more than make up for what I’d gone through and give me greater happiness than I could ever have imagined. Every day is better than the last. And that’s the truth.”

So much (all?) of our lives is governed by chance…a chain of events in that if one little event in that chain had changed, our lives would be dramatically different. I had a friend in Miami; Dino, who had developed an internet relationship with a woman in Chiclayo. He wanted to go there to meet her, and though he spoke Spanish he didn’t want to go alone so asked me to join him. I didn’t speak Spanish and didn’t even know where Peru was. As an inducement, he sent me a photo and email address of a friend of the woman he was communicating with. Her name was Maribel and for the next two months we sent emails back and forth using Google translator. I felt comfortable and so did Maribel. I told Dino I was in and to make the flight and hotel arrangements, which he did.

Going back to my memoir again:

“When Dino phoned a week before our scheduled departure to say he couldn’t go I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t speak the language and don’t know anything about the country, culture or customs. How could I even get to Chiclayo without speaking Spanish? And if I did get there do Maribel and I just smile and nod at each other for the next seventeen days? What if I get sick? Do they even have hospitals and doctors there, and if they do how can I get to them or I tell them what’s wrong with me? These were the questions going through my mind as I sat at the picnic table next to the patio deck. A friend had sent an Oleta Adams CD to me and it was playing on the stereo system inside. I was only half-listening when I heard the lyrics “…and if you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.” I had pretty much made up my mind I was going, but those words put the period to it. Too many times in my life I had let indecisiveness control me. I would go to Peru….I was going to dance.

The plane touched down in Lima at 11:30pm on December 8, 2005. It took me awhile to get settled down enough to figure out where immigration and customs were located and what I had to do to get through them but it wasn’t too bad. The only problem I had was my luggage somehow had gotten misplaced but I finally located it. It’s a big airport and there were hundreds of people milling about - seemingly half of them shouting “Taxi Senior?” at me. Feeling that it would be impolite to ignore them I responded ‘no’, and with my hand imitated a plane taking off while saying “Chiclayo!” Brilliant, huh?

The plane for Chiclayo wouldn’t depart until 5:15 AM so I had lots of time to kill. I sat in a chair and tried to sleep a bit but mostly I just watched, trying to develop an understanding for what I was seeing in this strange country. About an hour before the plane was to leave I found myself in a restroom shaving, and experienced the only moment of doubt during the entire trip. I looked at that tired face staring back at me from the mirror and asked…” Tom, what the hell are you doing?”

I arrived at the Chiclayo airport at 6:30 AM on December 9th.  For having spent 8 hours in 3 different airports and 9 hours in the air with virtually no sleep I wasn’t feeling too bad. Standing at the luggage carousel I could see maybe 30 people outside waiting for other passengers. Maribel wasn’t one of them. After a few minutes more and still no Maribel I began to wonder. What if this whole thing was a joke? What if Dino, with the help of Maribel (if that was her real name, and if she even lived in Peru and if she even existed) had put together a gigantic hoax? I could picture him laughing his ass off at this exact moment, knowing I’d be standing in the Chiclayo airport without a clue in the world as to what to do next.

So now what? Do I try to find my way to some hotel? I had no Idea what hotel I supposedly had reservations at or how I would get there. Do I try to communicate with someone in the airport to see if I can get on the next plane to Lima? The phone call to Miami to hire a hit man to take out Dino could wait until later. Grabbing my last piece of luggage off the carousel I took one more look outside and there she was. In the back of my mind I had wondered if maybe the photos she had emailed to me were old or not even her. I should have known better. Standing in front of me was a beautiful woman with that same genuine smile I had seen in the first photo. I walked directly up to her, said hello and kissed her full on the lips. Maribel smiled and said “Welcome to Chiclayo Tom.” She was wearing a white blouse, red slacks and held a blue helium balloon that read Happy Birthday. My 65th birthday would occur in Peru in 3 more days. Happy birthday to me!”

Now it’s eleven years later. I’m still in Peru and about to celebrate my 76th birthday. This morning we ate breakfast at the Don Benny restaurant where we were on that first morning. Then we walked to the principal park and watched the Christmas decorations being put up, as we did eleven years ago. While walking home we stopped at a Topitop store. Maribel bought a dress and blouse. I bought two shirts. We didn’t do that eleven years ago but it felt like the thing to do. Tonight we’ll go out for dinner, wearing some of our new clothing and continuing to reminisce about that first day together and the fantastic years since. Every day is better than the last. And that’s the truth.

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