Since Too-Big-to-Fail failed us so spectacularly, I don’t eat out that much anymore.
It’s not just the money; a bit of the hermit’s set in. It was easier when there was someone else to do the encouraging (and the driving), and certainly easier when I was already downtown, closing up shop for the evening. Ande would often meet me at Frontier: It was always best when the kids were with him too. We’d traipse just up the hill to Compadres, a huge Mexican place on the corner, where Davison’s department store once was. The store and the restaurant are long gone, and so much else is too.
It’s been forever since I’ve even thought of Compadres, but my memory was triggered by a recent dinner at La Puerta del Sol, a new and long-awaited place on the East Side. The similarities between this cavernous space with its balcony and the haunt that nurtured us so many nights during those early Frontier days were superficial: Bruno and Lourdes Rubio have graced our town with lively, evocative Latin restaurants before, but Compadres wasn’t one of them.
Impressive as this new establishment is, it really made me miss the Rubios’s earlier ventures. There was Pollo Criollo in Normaltown, where I had many cheap and easy lunches on a sunny terrace with The New York Times. A plate of moist and crispy roasted chicken, a light fresh salad, and those perfect skinny fries. Green sauce. Sigh.
And there was Caliente Cab, yet another place lost to landlord squabbles, or zoning regulations, or any of the many things that change a town, for better, often worse. I remember a sparkly, magical place, with lights strung above a gravel open-air dining “room,” a footbridge over a gurgling creek in a bordering ravine. It was so musical and colorful that if you turned your back on Tallassee Road you could believe you’d been transported to some earthy, small-town Central American cantina.
One day I met Ande and his crew there for lunch. We were waiting behind a group of Hispanic construction workers to place our orders at the counter of the trailer that served as the kitchen. Suddenly, one of the workers whirled around and shouted straight into Ande’s face, “You! Time-traveling Spaniard!” There was no fear or malice in his voice, just recognition. The man calmly turned back around, and was shortly ordering his empanadas. And while the outburst was of course unnerving, it really didn’t surprise either of us. (The same cannot be said for Ande’s assistants, especially Al.) Time travel is, after all, one vehicle for rebirth, and Ande and I had, from the beginning of our “this-time-round” adventure together, often speculated about the various incarnations we’d shared before.
Who hasn’t experienced an instant affinity with someone, a recognition so natural that you’re convinced you’ve known them from somewhere “out of time?” Who can explain déjà vu, those supposedly new experiences that nag like some half-remembered dream? Little girls who matter-of-factly let their mothers know they once were little boys? Kids who psychically visit far-away villages, who, chillingly, have no problem naming names?
Scientists say that energy doesn’t die, it only shifts form, and we characterize flesh-and-blood humans all the time as “bundles of energy.” So who can say where that energy goes when our bodies succumb to destiny and return to dust? It makes sense to me that that energy – call it soul or personality, the very essence of who we once were – would seek a new vessel to enter, another entity to attach to in pursuit of dear life.
It’s not just Ande: I see my late husband, John, in the crinkle of James’s eyes, and the resemblance when he’s wearing his motorcycle helmet is so uncanny, I sometimes have to look away. But I’m not disciplined enough to formulate theory (let alone one that takes on linear time), and I’ll be the first to grant that my belief in reincarnation could just be wishful thinking, the spiritual manifestation of my earthly (often misplaced) tenacity – the epitome of “can’t let go.” These feelings are like sprites in my attic, sprites I’ve chosen to befriend.
Maybe Ande and I did ford streams, stoke teepee fires as Native Americans; maybe we did harvest together in the high country, Peru. Remember? Rina was surely with us too!
Maybe I was Mirabella Behrmann squabbling with A.J. Carson in some lusty, dusty frontier town. The footsteps that reverberate on the deck outside my kitchen could be approaching on some sun-bleached wooden sidewalk; one enters James’s market booth through a swinging “saloon” door….
Maybe Edward, my teacher and touchstone, was once my brother, and that’s why we both know and mystify each other so.
Could I have grasped another rung of the karmic ladder? Is this my chance to right past wrongs?
I don’t know, but I wonder enough that I wrote this poem:
On a road trip taken to forget the future
and sat on a rock by the Nantahala River.
You want to know:
How can something be so turbulent and serene
at the same time?
You clamber over the rocky waters,
your metal coffee cup in your workman’s hands.
You’re speculating on the iciness
of the waters that surround you,
their capacity to shock.
Then suddenly you’re still
on the slippery pass
and I know you are pondering:
Should I go?
Should I leave for the prairie?
I was there with you.
Our boots falling in unison,
the tall grass caressing my hips,
brushing away unsettling concerns,
dwindling supplies of sugar.
I see golden oceans of seed and shaft
reflected in your sky-eyes.
They’re saying, “Don’t worry, my love.
We’ll take the train to the city.
Make a day of it. You’ll look so pretty.”
But here, now.
You’re back on shore.
You extend to me your warm silver cup.