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67# First the cake, then the icing

Updated: Apr 25, 2020

- Hey you! Could you get a me a beer please? -Sure, which one?

-A Pilsner, and another one for you. I don't like to drink alone... Thank you

Salva picked me up at La Guitarra to go to see Jose, a reputed physician in San Salvador. Jose worked in the private sector. The clinic was clean and the staff welcoming. As I waited for my turn, I compared the room with the one I was in the day before. The public hospital seemed to exist in another century, where people still died from a cold. Here, sick people seemed healthy, and wealthy. Money can make even death appealing.

Jose looked more like a melee rugby man than a physician. Despite his imposing build, he spoke in a soft voice and had an even softer touch. In his youth, Jose did an exchange year abroad. Of all the countries, he picked Japan for its academic excellence. He studied there for one year in a tiny mountain town; and didn't speak Japanese.

The only person Jose befriended that year was a senior ramen street vendor. The old man had learnt Spanish thanks to a Spaniard first love. The academic hardship and total isolation made his experience a mental battle, the hardest year of his life. If not for the ramen street vendor he would have turned mad, Jose admitted. Sometimes we all need a ramen street vendor.

Jose's honest confession made me reflect on my last rages. Looking back, I spotted a trend. Whenever I held difficult emotions inside, they fueled my anger. Over time, anger built up and often imploded in damaging ways. Laughing it off had worked so far, but only on the surface. To get to the root, I had to find a better way. More difficult perhaps, but healthier for sure.

My friend Mireya is to me the closest thing to an angel. If you are lucky, you have a person like that in your life. The kind of person who will always love you, no matter what you do or become. Unconditional love, trust and loyalty come naturally to them. They are the confident, the lifetime friend, the emotional crutch. They always have your back, in good and bad times.

It is hard for a man to be vulnerable, to say things like they truly are. I grew up among bullies, where vulnerability was a weakness, picked on and laughed at. Decades of toxic masculinity had led to toxic behaviour. Laughter was the only way I knew to express vulnerability. Because when you laugh at yourself, you own your weakness. And when you do no one can hurt you. I'd always been the first to laugh at myself, to put on a smiling mask. But the recent events cracked the mask, and the smile turned ugly. I needed a different mask, a different smile.

Jose patched me up with proper straps and gave me crutches. Finally, no more hopping! Upon return, I called Mireya. We caught up on our lives and current challenges. I told her about the spectre of bad luck haunting me, about my isolation, all of it. The bad the worse and the ugly. She listened and understood. Most of all she empathized, as angels do. Sharing my emotions with her and feeling her empathy relieved my pain. Mireya was my ramen street vendor.

I returned to a quiet La Guitarra in the afternoon. A brunette was sitting by herself at the bar. I waived my crutches and asked her to get me a beer, then another one for her. She couldn't refuse, my handicap played in my favour. Her name was Perla, a cute Mexican living in Costa Rica. Perla was in El Tunco for the week-end and luckily for me, she knew no one. Shy at first, she took pity on me. I used that pity to my advantage, as one does.

Perla did everything by the book. My lifestyle was the opposite of hers; that charmed her. Estas loco she kept saying. We drank and talked the entire evening. Alcohol made opening up easy, and physical touch easier. We debated controversial topics, teasing each other on every disagreement. The more we talked the sexier she became. I hugged her goodnight, and in a long embrace our lips found each other. The goodnight kiss turned to many and the rest flowed like water down a stream. Her skin was warm, soft and caring. Her breasts radiated a motherly, protective energy. I fell asleep in her arms.

We spent the rest of the week-end together. Empathy emerged from intimacy. We both needed it, me more than her. Her last kiss breathed hope into my mind, I felt invincible. Cleaning up the emotional closet was necessary and intimacy the cherry on top. Perla's empathy and warm embrace dissolved my anger like an effervescent pill; no more pain. I called Mireya and told her everything. Thanks to her and to Perla I was back. Light, joyful, ready to conquer the world. Mireya couldn't believe how quickly I had bounced back. She laughed at the simplicity of men. I laughed without a mask.

Laughter is always good. It relieves short term hassle and could brighten any situation on the spot. But to get to the root of pain, laughter is not enough. The recurring bad luck and roller coaster of emotions hammered that in my mind: laughter is only the icing. Through words or through touch, the vital mean for healing is empathy. Empathy is the cake.


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