Tidal waves of raw emotion wash over me as I reach back into my memory and revisit our early days in this country. To be honest, a part of me doesn’t want to tell the tales. Perhaps they’ll disappear if I can just keep them locked away long enough. But I know it doesn’t actually work that way. So I type.
We only lived in the village with Eje for a month. It was a very full month. At first we labored to make some semblance of order in our little one room on Eje’s property. We cleaned all we could. We organized our toiletries on a table near the plastic pitcher and basin that amounted to our sink. We hung the decorative rug my sister-in-law made for us before we left. We made our “bed” (i.e., mats on the floor) every morning. We bought an electric burner so we could make coffee out of the stove-top coffee maker we’d brought from Spain. We didn’t have a refrigerator for milk, but we managed to find powered creamer at the store.
Most mornings we ate bread with honey. (No refrigerator needed.) Sometimes we boiled oats. We always washed our dishes in a plastic basin after breakfast and set things neatly to dry on our “kitchen” table. Then we’d head to our language classes and let the teachers beat us over the head with foreign words for five-and-a-half hours. After that it was back home. We did our homework, ate, and slept. The next day we’d get back up and do the same thing again.
Although, to say that we got into any type of routine that month would not be entirely accurate. The surprises just kept coming. It was about a week after we met Eje for the first time that we finally figured out what all the little bite marks up and down Laura’s back were. Our bed had fleas. A few days after that, I got physically sicker than I remember ever being in my entire life. Spent that night hunched over a bucket, punctuated by trips to the outhouse. Then it was Laura’s turn. Same story. Same bucket. Same outhouse.
Fleas? OK, sure. Stomach viruses? Par for the course. But then something truly extraordinary happened. This is how it went down.
It was late at night and we were walking the final stretch back to Eje’s. Once you cross a bridge and leave city limits, there’s a slight hill before you enter the village proper. Before we reached the hill, Laura made it very clear she was in need of a toilet and soon. We hurried up the hill and down the street’s to Eje’s turquoise gate. I slid the key into the lock, heard the click, and pulled on the handle. And nothing happened. Eje had closed the sliding lock on the inside of the gate. There was nothing we could do. And time was ticking.
The walls surrounding Eje’s property were probably eight feet high and made out of cinder blocks. I’m no Spiderman, but I figured I could get myself up and over. I had to try at least. Getting up wasn’t hard. In fact, neither was getting down. Gravity took care of that. It was a single detail I failed to notice that was my downfall. You see, spaced every third or fourth block just above the top row of the wall was a decorative cinder block, of sorts, and those weren’t well cemented to the rest of the wall. I grabbed on to one of those blocks to slow my descent. Wouldn’t you know it? It decided to come with me. I suppose I should count myself wildly blessed. The thing could have knocked me unconscious, and just think, then where would Laura have gone to the bathroom? Instead, the cinder block was very gracious and only decided to smash my thumb up against the wall before falling the rest of the way to the ground.
I managed to pull back the sliding lock, and Laura managed to make it to the outhouse. The fact that the cinder block hadn’t cut off my thumb altogether was of little relief given the circumstances. I loaded up on a generous dose of Ibuprofen, and we both hunkered down for the night in our little room, trying to understand why.
The next day came as next days tend to do. My thumb got progressively worse. At its worst it was probably about twice as big as my other thumb. The nail turned completely black, and the pressure reached levels capable of running a water compressor. It got to the point where we had to ask a doctor friend of ours to puncture the nail, which she did, at her kitchen table, as her children watched in wonder. It was painful but worth it. The problem was that the hole clotted and the pressure began to build again. Laura reopened the hole and bled me several times that week. Then she got all fancy and realized that a heated needle could puncture the nail without all the pressure. When all was said and done, my thumb nail was full of more holes than a block Swiss cheese.
The most epic moment had to be the afternoon we got home from language class (because what else did we do with our lives, right?), and I could feel the need to again relieve the pressure that was building. I had the thumb wrapped in a Band-Aid, as much for cosmetic reasons as anything else, and so, with Laura looking on, I began pulling at an edge of the Band-Aid. It was spectacular. I barely pulled when suddenly blood exploded everywhere. It even made it to the wall. My thumb felt immediately better.
In the end, time was the most effective medicine. Somehow the swelling went down, and my thumb returned to its normal size. The nail was black for months before it fell off altogether later that summer. I wasn’t sure it would grow back. And yet, just like those tulips in our yard after a long winter, it did. Now, these four years later, the only trace that anything happened at all is that the thumbnail on my left hand is not quite as smooth as the thumbnail on my right hand. And of course, we’ve still got the memories.
I’m thankful thumbnails are apparently just as resilient as tulip bulbs.
This post is part of a series entitled “Places Where Flowers Bloom.” You can find the first post in this series here.