I’ve told you almost nothing about Guatemala other than the volcanos didn’t blow while I was there. I’ve kept it to myself (for over a week) not ready to share. The tale of my Star Island experience two summers ago, wrote itself quickly, mostly because the place - simultaneously shabby, distasteful (literally) and wildly beautiful - was its own story.
In Guatemala we were permitted to shower as often as we wanted – but who had time?
Something crazy (good crazy) happens when Joyce Maynard brings a bunch of women together to talk memoir. The first time, I thought it was a fluke. Now I know better.
Why is it that when strangers sit down in a circle with Joyce for the first time the most profound shit about their lives comes out? Now Joyce would say that you can’t draw a picture of the most profound shit about their lives and she’s right but the list - alcoholism, abortions, infertility, abusive parents, suicides, eating disorders, incapacitated partners, Customs and Immigration making decisions about the future of one’s relationship, a) makes it sound like the most depressing week ever and b) doesn’t draw a picture either. But it's ok. They aren’t the stories, they are just signifiers, placeholders.
Lake Atitlan is rising. Grecian-style stone patios that two years ago served as lakeside vistas, lie beneath the water like old ruins. Joyce embraces the almost cliché, near impossible message to swallow, nothing is forever, love it while you can then move on.
How is it possible that precisely the group of people I needed, ranging in age from early twenties to mid-seventies arrived in Guatemala to work alongside me? If I was to narrow it down from the hundreds of millions of North Americans to the hundreds of thousands of closet memoir writers, to the tens of thousands who travel outside of their country, to the hundreds that might venture to a rising lake surrounded by live volcanoes in a somewhat politically volatile country, where taxi boats consider life jackets an unnecessary frill, I couldn’t have imagined, even in a fiction of my own making, that such a group would have come together – like a gift basket filled with just the [write] things.
In the lush garden with more flowers than I can names (which, to be fair, is not saying much) we sat in the breezy warmth of seven perfect days opening up our suitcases and showing each other even the grubbiest torn underpants forgotten at the bottom.
Thank God the hours of sharing, which, in my real life are relatively few, were punctuated with foods that tasted as beautiful as they were colourful. I was ravenous and thought repeatedly (eating disorder survivor that I am), eeek what will become of me?
But it was a can’t get enough week.
By next year or the year after, Joyce’s house on the lake may be its own ruin, through which someone else will swim. But everything precious left with each of us, holding hands with the most soiled of our possessions, as we crossed borders back to our own lives.