Mr. Tambourine Man
Coming back to the United States was more of a culture shock then going to Colombia.
We returned in the heart of the Beatles craze. Being so far from home, we had missed the hype over these new emerging artists. Bob Dylan was another popular musician who had the power to shake us to our depths. Indeed, he accomplished more with the riffs of his harmonica then most protesters seemed to accomplish with entire campaigns. Musicians who would influence music for decades to come had appeared as if overnight and it was all shockingly new to my Colombian psyche. In Colombia, we learned to dance the merengue and the cumbia, carrying candles in our hands.
The country I knew had vanished in those four years, and we came back to a radically different American culture; what was to become the free love era of the late sixties and early seventies. In Colombia, there was hardly any television. In the States, every single household seemed to have one.
Before I knew it, the children and I were on our way to Lincoln, while Martin went to Washington, D.C. for his final State Department debriefing. In the dead of winter, we moved in with Martin’s mother once again.
Our Colombian maids, worried that our children would not be able to adapt to the bitter cold of Nebraska, had told me, “Tomasito va a sufrir mucho,” but once there, I feared that I’d suffer more than Fritzy. No longer elegant Doña Glenna, I faced the Luschei family’s subtle disapproval of me, the daughter-out-law. I had no father to watch over me and my mother and sister, who were my abiding source of comfort, were still far away in Onawa, Iowa. Martin’s mother questioned my long telephone conversations to Washington with Paul Lawson. I could talk with him and he understood how hard it was to come back. He talked to me about the hippies, another cultural fascination I had missed.
In that light before rain,
you watch the moving van
You forget your schedule.
You haven’t begun to live here.
In the light before the rain
you stand by the window
wait for thunder.
You can’t remember
what you call important.
Only the familiar paintings on my walls and the poems dear to me help me when it comes to being uprooted from one home to another. I am a monumental failure at adjusting to change, yet I married a man whose work led to frequent relocations. Every new beginning broke my heart but also, ironically, led me deeper down my own singular path.
We spent a year on the Nebraska plains, while Martin taught and applied to graduate schools.
My doubts that I could cope with the losses in my life increased. When I went to Washington to see Martin, Paul Lawson took me to a sympathetic doctor who acknowledged that I had a lot to deal with and offered a year of State Department-sponsored therapy for me. I couldn’t see any other way to ensure a smooth transition from the bright joyous life in Medellín to living in my mother-in-law’s house with four children under the age of eight in the dead of winter, watching an Israeli war play out on the television.
I had to snap out of it, but how? I called a therapist in Lincoln. She gave me a Rorschach Test, and told me the result showed I liked men. Big news! She said I had too much female influence in my life, living as I did with my mother-in-law, so she assigned me to a male doctor who told me that the newest thing in psychology was a combination of drugs. Martin filled a prescription for two drugs, one of these being Stelazine.
The druggist at the counter said, “Careful, this will knock you out.”
How, I wondered, could Martin let me take that?
In the midst of my Stelazine haze, he and his mother decided to take a trip to see his sister with the two older children, Linda and Erich. They left me with Gabriela and Fritzy. My mother-in-law said, “Now you can have a good rest.”
But I was in no frame of mind for any kind of repose. I was jittery and unable to sleep at night. On top of this, the doctor prescribed me a sleeping pill. I became even more restless and I could not write. My pen just wrote chicken scratch.
What on earth could I do? Once again, I was saved. Rodger Scott came to see me, driving through Lincoln, and accompanied by a nephew. I don’t know how I would have survived such loneliness, such lack of human touch without him.
Martin decided on Albuquerque for his Ph. D. studies. He went first to find a house for us. When we were packing, Martin’s mother put in some quilts for packing furniture.
She asked me, “What will I do without my grandchildren?”
Linda said, “You will have to order some.”
“No,” she said, “I could never order children like you.”
I know it was an ordeal having us there with her even though once, when Martin and I were squabbling, she had said, “I have been so lonely in my life.” Looking back now, as a widow, I feel empathy for her.
When my ex took off for sky diving
and left the kids and me off with his mother
I told her we’d have to split.
She said “I’ve got something to give you.
We are pioneers.” She handed me a log
cabin quilt she made in the depression.
“I have been lonely
many years.” Her young husband
came down with pneumonia in frigid
South Dakota. She opened the window
so he could breathe, raced downstairs.
“He’s gone.” They buried him in solid ice.
Insurance money bought a Gamble
store. She stayed up past midnight
memorizing wrenches and pipes.
The same year her parents lost
the farm. At Christmas they could not
hang up stockings.
They made quilts from overalls.
My ex came home from sky
diving. I was not a widow yet.
My love also died when his breath failed.
I did everything I could to inspire him.
And I still would.
We packed up a U-Haul with our few belongings and drove down the Santa Fe Trail. Along the way, sunflowers blanketed the roads. I kept thinking that I was one of them. They were wild, no one told them where to grow on the roadside. Linda loved the sunflowers too. Many years later, they became her motif for survival.
"The Power of Prose"