Irony seems to be the only flavor my romance comes in. The only way I meet men is when I’m leaving the next day. That man with cappucchino-colored eyes in India. El Capitan. The handsome mechanical engineer moonlighting at my hotel in La Paz. We shared a cigarette and a heartfelt kiss on the cheek after a half-hour’s conversation in the lobby. Why, I wondered as the bus swept me off to Lake Titicaca, did I only meet him on the very morning I was supposed to leave? Why does this keep happening to me?
I maintain that I am not afraid of commitment. I want commitment. Commitment is afraid of me.
Although my bank account frowns on the idea, I’m entertaining the thought of returning to all the places where I left men who begged to know when I was coming back.
“I don’t know,” I said to them each, “Next year?”
Next year is a foreign place. Next year doesn’t exist. Next year I may very well be bogged down in debt, frozen to the bone in the Humboldt rain, entrenched in a job I just can’t quit, hopeless or happy. Who knows?
Luang Prabang, Laos. Cochin, India. Mar del Plata, Argentina. La Paz, Bolivia. The Thwarted Romance Tour.
And what flavor would the romance be if I returned? Intuition tells me not nearly as sweet. They’ll have moved on, or rebuked their affections, the passion that one afternoon of flirtation offered will chill quickly when the strange girl returns with open arms, offering weeks or more of the love she withheld.
Better to leave it a sweet mystery.
How strange, then, that commitment of a different form found me this afternoon. I stopped to buy (sigh, yes) cigarettes at a little kioska around the corner from my hotel. The owner and his wife were kind and pleasant, chuckling as I stooped to talked to their toddler daughter. She was beautiful, smiling, one hand in her mouth as she babbled in the indeterminate language of one who’s just learned to talk.
“She talks a lot but says little,” I said, a favorite phrase of my father’s.
They laughed at that and before I knew it, I had been asked to be the baby’s godmother.
I wasn’t sure of the meaning at first, madrina, although I had an intuition. My Spanish is far from fluent, but I gathered it meant returning to Bolivia for her baptism. They told me to think it over and let them know tomorrow.
Tomorrow is a foreign place. It doesn’t exist. I’m scared beyond measure. I consulted my new friends at the coffee shop and they confirmed my duties. Presents every year for the little girl’s birthday, for Christmas, and Easter. Money for her wedding, possibly for college. A lifetime of availability for consultation, affection, possible foster parentage. Her parents are a canny sort, I think, picking an ostensibly rich Americana for this duty.
Still, on the other side of the scale, I’m flattered to be asked. They couldn’t know how incredibly unsuited I am for the job. How my financial future is insecure and I often hand over birthday presents a week late and unwrapped. How I have flaked on more duties than I’ve followed through on. How I gulp espresso, chain smoke and flatter myself as a breaker of hearts across many continents. I am terrified that I will say yes and be unable to perform my godmotherly duties, that this sweet little girl will be so much the poorer for her parents not having picked a better candidate.
They say that when you ask God a question, there are three possible answers: yes, no, and not now. They (and “they” refers to people much wiser and worldlier than I) also say that God has a sense of humor. Well ha ha ha. Very funny God. I asked for commitment and you got all Socratic on me.
Am I ready for commitment? No. But tomorrow I’m going downtown and spending my last Bolivianos on something cute, pink and frilly. Here's hoping they can Skype me in for the baptism.