The next morning, though, Coco did arrive, and without Patti and Jorge. They, it seemed, had forgotten some previous engagement, and sent their apologies (yeah, right! I know what previous engagement THAT guy had in mind).
Coco seemed a little more at ease that morning. I suppose being out in daylight and on the planet’s surface had some bearing on that. God knows what a murdering warmonger like me might do, in the dark, or at such depths! Anyway, she treated me to a tour of Zacatecas, the state’s capital. Since she ran the state tourism office, I couldn’t have asked for a more qualified guide. She gave me the royal treatment, as though I were some sort of visiting dignitary. We even rode the teleférico over the city!
The teleférico is basically a tramway. Imagine a cable-car, propelling itself along a rusty, frayed steel cable, about 2,000 feet above the city, in a brisk wind. Now imagine that you are soaring above an absolutely magnificent cathedral, built by the Roman Catholic church (with free Indian labor, need I say?) during the late fifteenth century. Now you tell me, which would hold your interest? The magnificent architecture, or what appeared to be pre-World War II cable? Well, believe it or not, neither! Recall, if you will, that I was accompanied on that excursion by a woman even more beautiful by daylight. There could have been three-headed, diamond-studded serpents winking at me through the windows, and I wouldn’t have noticed. I began to wonder where her head was, regarding casual sex at altitude.
We finished our ride back to the top of La Bufa, and drove back down into the city to have lunch. She took me to a little coffee shop near her office, that had been the favorite hangout for her and her college friends, and we talked. And talked. And she never trembled. Not even once! I wondered if maybe all was not lost, after all.
That afternoon, she took me for an hour’s drive to Fresnillo, where her family lived, and we stopped by her sister’s house. Lupe and her husband, Fernando, are both teachers in the local elementary school. I found out later that she valued Lupe’s opinion, and wanted to know what she thought of me, before deciding if I was ever going to get to meet the rest of the family.
Lupe’s cool! She’s got the sort of self-assurance that a second grade teacher needs, in order to keep her sanity. She doesn’t beat around the bush, she doesn’t play games, and I don’t think ANYBODY could pull the wool over her eyes. Our conversation started out something like this:
“So, Coco tells me you went to Vietnam.”
“Yes, I did. Twice.”
“Twice? Why twice?” Her left eyebrow went up a notch.
“Well, actually, two different tours. I volunteered for the second time.”
“You volunteered?” Her right eyebrow raised to join its mate.
“Did you enjoy it that much?” Her eyebrows now joined in the center, and dropped down. Very low.
“No, I didn’t enjoy it at all. I just believed in it.” She suddenly developed a nervous tic in her left eye.
“How could you possible believe in it? It was a WAR!” Small flecks of saliva reached out to touch someone.
“Well, I guess you would have had to see what the Communists were doing to those people BEFORE we got there, to understand.”
Here’s where I got my first glimpse at the wrong side of a second grade teacher since…well, since I was in second grade. Lupe wasn’t used to being talked back to, or challenged. And she obviously didn’t relish it.
“You expect me to believe that all the atrocities the Americans carried out against the Vietnamese people were justifiable because you were saving them from the Communists? Just a hint of saliva, now, but a decidedly hungry look in her eyes. In a wild animal, I would recognize that look. It’s called bloodlust.
“I don’t know which atrocities you’re talking about. I heard of a few isolated incidents, and they were usually dealt with very harshly. They weren’t nearly as common as some journalists and draft-dodgers would like you to believe.”
“Oh, please! I don’t…”
“And another thing, I think it’s awfully damned easy to sit here in Fresnillo, and judge another country’s involvement in a third country’s situation, while having no idea whatsoever why they were really involved, what was really at stake, or what was really happening, before, during or after the war.”
“Well! I don’t…”
“I’ll make a deal with you. You don’t try to tell me what happened on the other side of the globe, when you were just a little girl, and I won’t sit here and try to tell you how you should have fought your revolution, or why it really took place, before I was even born, in a country I knew nothing about. Fair enough?”
She stared hard at me for a minute, and I wondered if she was the type to go for the eyes, or the groin, when she attacked. Then she just nodded her head and said, “Fair enough. But someday, I’d like to hear your side.”
Then she turned to Coco and said, “Keep him.”
We chatted a little more, and Lupe expressed some interest in the fact that I wasn’t Catholic, that I had been divorced, and that I had grown kids by that marriage. I think the divorce thing bothered her a lot more than the religion did. By that time, I think she’d already made up her mind about me. She was just trying to see what chance I had of surviving my first meeting with their father. That thought had obviously occurred to Coco, too, because when we left Lupe’s house, we returned to Zacatecas, and I didn’t see Fresnillo again for several visits.
Having established that I was a gringo, non-Catholic, divorced, and a Vietnam veteran, everything was on the table. Nevertheless, Coco continued to see me. The second weekend, Jorge and I headed out by car on Thursday afternoon, and returned mid-day, Monday. The next, we left at noon, Thursday, and got back in Monday evening. By the end of the month, I was spending more of the week in Zacatecas than in Mexico City.
By now, Jorge had confided to me that he was planning to ask Patti (still on #4) to marry him. Coco and I had spent a very enjoyable day at the hot springs in Agua Caliente with Lupe’s family and another of her sisters. I even got to meet her mom. Dad was still a shadowy figure, from whom everyone seemed determined to keep me distant. Things had progressed well from that first night underground, and Coco and I were falling in love (at least, I knew I was). After about two months, I confided in Jorge that I was contemplating asking for Coco’s hand.
The following weekend, I took Coco to Chaplin’s, a quiet little bistro in Fresnillo, and popped the question. I felt like a 16 year old kid asking out the most popular girl in school. I was scared to death that she would turn me down.
But she said yes!
I returned to Mexico City, on Cloud Nine, and informed all my friends at Sergio’s company that I was in love, and was getting married. Ana Laura promptly told me to get out.
So, I went back to Zacatecas!
Jorge married Patti#4. When she got pregnant, he promptly left her. She never received any child support, nor did he ever acknowledge his beautiful daughter.
If you’re reading this, Jorge, and I sincerely hope you are, you are a low, rotten son of a bitch!