In August of 2008, I flew to Guadalajara to meet my husband, who had gone down a week earlier to hang his work for a group show at the Ex Convento del Carmen. It had been curated by two Mexican artist friends, both of them named Carlos, who had a loft in the building where Jon had his studio. All the artists in the show were from Brooklyn, a South Williamsburg collective the Carloses had dubbed the Leonard Codex. Guadalajarans evidently take art very seriously; hundreds of people, maybe even a thousand, came to the opening. Afterwards, a group of us went out to a Cuban dance hall to eat roast pork with rice and beans and drink mescal and dance. Jon and I sat alone together at a table and leaned our heads against each other, smiling at everyone. “You two are so in love,” said the smart, serious Dutch girlfriend of one of the Carloses. I felt a lurch in my chest.
The next night, Paco, the gallery director, invited a few of us over to his beautiful, strange, dark house, where every wall and surface was crammed full of small paintings and artifacts and his own work, an assemblage of eerie, mechanical, Victorian wind-up toys and boxes. Three guinea pigs and two reeking, semi-savage dogs had the run of the place. Paco played 1950s Mexican cha-cha on his old record player, and we all drank large quantities of tequila and danced. Jon and I sat close together on the couch, and then we danced together, by all appearances a devoted, affectionate couple.
Very late, all of us drunk and starving, we went out to a restaurant one of the Carloses knew would still be open. At his urging, we all ordered the house specialty, pork-skin and pig-feet tostadas. They were borderline-vile if I thought about it, and perfectly edible if I didn’t. My mind went back and forth as I ate them. I awoke at dawn, savagely thirsty, and drank all the bottled water we had in our hotel room.
That morning, Jon and I rented a car and drove to Cuyutlan, a tiny town on the Pacific coast, for two nights. It was the off-season. We were the only guests in the huge, crumbling, formerly super-mod hotel that must have been very swank about forty years earlier. It was like “The Shining” set in Brasilia, a long-gone architect’s modernistic sci-fi dream, rooms built around the inner wall of a huge curving shell, the lobby set within, with internal free-standing rooms, the now-closed bar, restaurant, and dance floor as grand as an MGM movie-musical set, now all falling to pieces, with chunks of concrete breaking off and plaster sconces detaching from walls. We were given the room on the top floor at the very end; we perched up in the furthermost corner in a little box with a tiled balcony that looked out over the black volcanic beach and the ocean. Except for the two of us, all seventy or so rooms were empty.
The main street felt like a movie set, too, waiters standing idle, music playing futilely, a hot ocean wind blowing across empty chairs and tables, ruffling placemats and napkins. Everyone eyed us with hopeful yearning as we strolled up and down the street, studying menus and consulting each other. We finally chose the restaurant directly across from our hotel. As we seated ourselves in the centermost of the empty tables, we could feel a collective sigh around us. Our waitress was a young girl, all merry smiles at having been the lucky winner of our business. She encouraged us to order the fish special, and so, of course, we did. We were served plates of well-fried whole sea fish with heads and tails intact, alongside yellow rice and a limp salad.
Although we had been passionate fellow eaters from our first date all through our fourteen years together, neither of us had much appetite. We didn’t discuss the fact that we both knew that I was leaving the marriage. We didn’t talk about the terrible summer we’d just had, during which Jon had worked night and day in his studio to get his photographs ready for the show, and I had gone very obviously insane with grief, longing, and panic. We sat over our dinners, trying to eat our fish, making quiet, grim jokes about being the only game in town.
After dinner, we crossed the street for a drink, because there seemed to be another customer in the outdoor bar attached to the hotel, a man sitting alone, hunched over his laptop, wearing headphones. He turned out to be the owner and local expat; he was American, and he had married the daughter of the previous owner. He was a chain-smoking, shambolic, entertaining, obsessive music buff who mixed drink after drink for us – Herradura mixed with a weirdly delicious neon-blue soda – while he played us choice, rare old R&B and jazz he’d downloaded into his computer. At about 2 in the morning, we got up to go. He begged us not to leave. There were so many more songs he wanted to play for us.
We crossed the street to our dark, cavernous, vast hotel and climbed the stairs to our room. Its tiled floor was slick with condensation, and the air was stuffy and humid. We opened the window and went to bed. I lay awake for a long time, listening to the wind blowing steadily off the ocean.