The Gardens - In the Beginning

Friday, October 7, 2011

My Panama Journals...1987-1991 Chapter One

This story has taken an odd form for me...written in the third person...more like a novel.  It seems to be the only way I feel like digging up this part of my past.  There were good times, but also troublesome times, both with the world around me and the emotions inside me.  I didn't want to be there this second time around, but I did choose to follow my new husband to his new job, rather than stay behind alone.  It proved to be a decision I sometimes regretted immensely.

Interlude of Discontent - 1987

If one is so unfortunate to have their world capsized during the most inconvenient and non-opportunistic period of said person's downward spiraling existence  it's ever so difficult not to succumb to the pitfalls created when their aspirations and needs are sucked right out of their being leaving only dust in the wake.  She could have been strong...she should have been strong.  Someone responsible for planning and coordinating events in the theater of defense; she knew he would be the best agent for her future in the same realm...she just knew it.  Partners...they looked out for each other.

To find out, after she had stepped off the face of the earth, those decisions of a private nature were pulled out of thin air, only thin air, she felt plucking the wings off a butterfly that had come to rest on the outstretched hand of that cruel child.  She mentally beat herself up over, and over, and over again for allowing herself to trust without cleaning out all that excess relationship crap stuffed in her running on empty burnt out head and heart.  She was going to have to suck it up and get on with this detour of her life to the tropics, and let go of the madness that boiled in her veins, realizing she had just chucked her career down the toilet, and her life was completely changing.

Sitting at the dining table, her gaze of emptiness lingered on and on...concrete...all there was to see through those floor to ceiling windows stripped bare of drapes long before she ever moved in, was the windows of the other three apartments and that bloody bare concrete courtyard.  She never opened those windows to step out onto the balcony.  What would have been the purpose...she hated all that concrete and all those windows.  It would have been like being the center of attraction on a stage for all her landlords siblings in the other three apartments to view.

She wondered who was staring at her now as she sat there motionless, staring back through those windows whose reflections prevented her from seeing past the glass.  She knew she was being spied upon, it was mentioned at the dinner party her landlord's son and family graciously invited her and her husband to on the third floor.  They commented on her dinner parties, they knew how many sat at the table and how many bottles of wine were served.  They had no shame in spying, it was all just part of their routine.  All so unfair...hers was a lower apartment...theirs were upper apartments.  They could all watch her life pass by, she could only see glass.

She had not been prepared to step off that airliner on that October day into a life filled with Panama militia carrying rifles at ever corner she maneuvered past.  A dull sense of fear was slowly wrapping itself around her as she walked down those corridors to collect her baggage and check on Michael and Bryon who had been stuffed into the cargo hold for such a long flight from Charlotte to this city of Panama on the Pacific Ocean.  The felines would be whisked off to quarantine, and she with husband and luggage in tow were hustled off to the transient quarters of some army base.

Her life became one indoctrination meeting after another, and then she was expected to gather on the parade grounds and stand at attention while all the beginnings of her, her husband, and all the other newbie's new lives were discussed.  Knowing nowhere to eat that first evening, the first meal of her adventure was a Panamanian version of American pizza made with a tasty quart of salt.

Not wanting to go through another salt choking episode the next evening, the next choice was the military dining hall...bad choice.  She concluded the Panamanian cooks, from which she could not escape, were out to kill her, out to cram a bucket of salt down each Americans throat each meal each day.  Something had to change fast before she shriveled up into a little slice of spicy beef jerky.

Left alone in the military's version of a motel six complete with a free there any place left in this world roach free she wondered; she entertained herself with reading a magazine, yawning, staring at the four walls, reading the next magazine.  When she couldn't stand it any longer she ventured into the lobby to see if she could survive what was non-interestingly playing on the one television set available.

Dinner was her salvation, when husband and she managed to escape to one of the Panamanian downtown restaurants, or better yet; driving downtown, then on to the shoreline drive to the far away Marriott that was just a bit more like home to her.  She fell in love with the Marriott...deep, deep love with its gardens, lovely rooms, non-salty cuisine, and the weekend Mongolian barbecues.  It was where they moved to the second month, after the cats were released from their torturous prison.

The cats...oh, yes...her cats, her month of sweating a quart of mealtime salt out of her pores in that sweltering humidity every day she visited the vet clinic that contained her two felines in its outdoor kennels of environmental isolation, out in the open, out in the humidity, out in the elements; her Michael and Bryon cringing from the Panamanian keepers who yelled constantly around them, dared to put newspaper down for their potty pans like they were related to dogs, and each day put more cheap food into the bowls that still contained the dried up food from the mealtime before.


She spent her second, third, and fourth week each day carting in kitty litter to change their pans she provided, opened up canned food they were used to after cleaning out their bowls, and put them in harnesses and leashes to let them escape for an hour into the court yard where she sat on the one lonely bench with her two cats beside her, caressing them with guilt, and gently talking away her hour with them.

She and her husband repeated the same thing in the evenings, minus the courtyard meditation; but not minus those four inch long flat as a tongue depressor cockroaches that seemed faster on their feet than the speed of light that was nowhere in sight now.

In her daytime vacations with the feline duel, she would morph into a glob of dripping sweat in two seconds flat, so she daily packed a thick hand towel with her that made its way home after the hour soaking wet.  She began to notice the leaf cutter ants marching in single file across the courtyard up that huge tree that occupied the center, with another line of ants leaving the tree back across the courtyard with a piece of leaf in each of their jaws...such perseverance and dedication.

If an ant can survive that kind of life, surely she could survive her plunge from the privileged into the bowels of tropical sweaty hell.  Surely she could adjust to every sweaty moment of that growing uncertainty that was beginning to plague her that she indeed had made a very grave mistake.  She needed to survive.  It was paramount that she find that one ray of shining light that would be her salvation. 



  1. A brilliant post about a very difficult experience. One which with hindsight, presumably made you stronger.

    Nice looking cats - I wonder what they made of it. Loving the glasses in your pic :-)

  2. This is going to be a great story, I will be looking forward to it!!!

  3. Reminds me a bit of when we went to Turkey. And yet I missed it when we left!

  4. Excellent; looking forward to more.

  5. Please do continue, I'm hooked ! BJ

  6. You do have a way with words, and should go on with your story. Thanks for sharing. Have a great weekend.

  7. Tell us more, it is always interesting to look back at where we have come from and remember how far we have come. Beautiful beginning.

  8. Oh my, gosh it must have been so difficult ... and it would have turned me in two having to leave the cats there :o( It really does sound like another world, look forward to reading more.

  9. Your Bryon look so much like my Lacey.
    I hope things got better for you.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...