And Then There Was One

I roll out of bed at three, having woken up hours earlier and given into my malaise, drifting in and out of sleep before the final plunge off the mattress. I eyeball my kettle, full of old grounds, and tiptoe through a week’s worth of webs and spider husks, wondering if I’ll get up the ganas to sweep. Typical Sunday. My phone rings and the number’s too long to be domestic, so I know it’s Trey, and that cheers me up as I wait for him to call again. I saw the guy just enough over Christmas to remember how much I’ve missed him since he took a job with the state of California.

Look at him

Look at him

It rings a second time and we go through our how do you dos before he tells me Janessa’s had an accident in Panama, that she’s in the hospital down there, gone into surgery, leg full of pins. I’m doing the math as he’s talking—we’ve got forty-five days out of country to recuperate on medical leave, and two bones in the leg spell more than that.

Two down...

Two down…

Another volunteer got medically separated for a fucked up ankle, did it stepping off a bus. I ask Trey what it is with us volunteers and getting down from stuff. He laughs and tells me to be careful and we hang up.

I call Ben and break the news just this one time, to get it out of me. I keep thinking I left them both in a rush in the city, that it was the only time I haven’t said “take care” to another volunteer as they left for a trip. I pull out a cigarette, me who never smokes in daylight, and my hands shake through a cup of cold coffee. The next month bears out all our hurried calculations, and Peace Corps in DC medically separates her before the forty five are up. Not sufficiently ambulatory. After fourteen months, I am alone in site.

Last December, I gave the most depressing Mid-Service Training presentation in the history of the Mexico program. I was disillusioned with the nature of my work and at a particular low in my service. For the most part, volunteers have a slow first year, networking, building teams, designing projects, and they ramp into a killer second half of service. I’d hit the ground running because of Chava and the Ecochavos’ preexisting structure, but since the entrance of the Germans and their co-optation of what were many of my roles, I had gone back to square one and was beginning my second year in the way that most of my compadres had begun their first.

My work is picking up in some respects, and I’ve thrown myself into volunteer-side stuff (our student government, and a storytelling initiative are the top billings), but my assessment of my situation became even more true after Janessa’s departure. For better or worse, we arrived as three volunteers, lived on top of one another, and worked almost cheek to cheek.

What a fucking good photo

Plus we were family

Because of the way Ecochavos is set up, I have been well-positioned to help Trey and Janessa in their projects, co-opting different groups of kids, enlisting Chava, promoting their events on the radio, lending a hand with Spanish where I could. With both of them gone, I lost the lines I had on their work. My phone is well-stocked with the names and numbers of far-flung family, Jalpan youth, even some drinking buddies in the local aristocracy. But ours was a shared set of contacts, and now I’m trying to keep up relations with people who are at base other people’s friends. While my fellow volunteers were here, they were my friends too, but now it feels like I’m struggling to keep people I’ve lost on the bad side of a divorce.

I’m sure it wasn’t best practice, but I insinuated myself into almost no-one’s weekday schedules, because if something was going on in town, we wrangled some family or, more often, we went the three of us after work. I leave the office in a confused malaise now. Back when, I worked my writing time around Trey and our bull sessions on the porch. Now, I turn out two, three, four thousand words and I’m nowhere near an acceptable bedtime. I’m making inroads on Keats and Yeats and guitar, but if I’m honest I need teachers for all three. After Trey left, Janessa and I got to be friends in a way we mostly hadn’t before, and we came up with enough schemes to fill the weeknights. Now it’s a gaping void after closing time that I think volunteers who started solo have long since learned to conquer.

If all this had happened a year ago, I might be out there right now, cruising the jardín for conversation. But I’m only nine months out from COS and overcome with ennui, the way you feel about campaigning for new friends when you’ve already lived somewhere for a year and a half. I’m working on it, if only not to disappoint the volunteer who’s arriving in June, but every time a friend invites me off the street, there’s a voice in my head asking if I really wouldn’t rather be at home making dinner, the same voice that shuts up once I’m there and staring the five empty hours between me and the pillow in the face.

I spent the week of MST ascendant, every minute after the catharsis of my presentation rising towards a buoyant optimism, planning my volunteer work and a youth radio idea, looking forward to workshopping our reporting systems and amiably quejaring with Janessa. Youth Radio became a dead end by the last day of my first week back, and my outlook for the lame duck half of my service is less rosy than it was two months ago. I’ll keep on keeping on, but the most recent two of our four lost volunteers were close to me. It’s hard to lose one and harder to lose two, and I’ll spend some of my posts between now and then trying to put down what all those afternoons and conversations and little jokes meant to me.


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