As a Tico documentary filmmaker, I gave a voice to the voiceless, but when I met my American Girlfriend Bonnie, I found my voice. We had crossed paths four years ago when I was interviewing orphans after another Nico and Tico dispute broke out in the Granada, Nicaragua, and her gringa accent was a song as she taught them English. I’d like to say our story was simple. We settled in my hometown of San Jose, Costa Rica, where I worked for the news company, covering the various homicides and corruption while she taught ESL. That upon visa runs and eating Mexican tacos she announced her pregnancy, a kid for us and permanent residency for her. That I never desired another woman and was faithful, not just loyal. But all that’s a lie.
I’m not an intentional liar, but I focused on the easier version to avoid the complications. Reduced it down, much like the stories I tell with my camera of the impoverished Carribean Ticos who couldn’t work in San Jose, to the thieving Panamain pirates. I didn’t realize how much I’d hurt Bonnie until two weeks ago, when I woke up in an empty bed, her absence like a phantom limb. She called to apologize, said her father just died, and she booked the first flight to California for the funeral. The rain storm tapped a bossa nova ballad on my roof, my home empty. No arguments about sending her to Cuba for fertility testing, no mocking of our motto–that we belonged with each other, but not too each other.
After our shift, I spoke about it with my assistant Robert in a packed dive bar, covered in graffiti, electric blues and pinks, and young, long-hair college students.
“I miss her,” I said. I sipped my gin and tonic.
“You’re fucking stupid man,” he laughed.
“You’re an asshole man,” I replied. “Don’t you miss your old girlfriends?”
“Only when the maid’s on vacation,” Robert said. He was a pot-bellied Panamanian with square glasses and a side part in his thick dark hair, who wore flamboyant too-tight shirts, copying the Tico playboys. He impressed girls with his fancy job, pirate tales and pictures of his private Bocas del Toro bungalow, which he promised to take them to, but never would. “Allen, you’re only 32. Work should be your wife. Speaking of work, Nicos have invaded Guanacaste again. The American Navy is coming. There’ll be lots of good-looking girls. Exotic working girls.”
“We have working girls here.”
“Tons of Germans, Austrians.”
“I’ll call Bonnie tomorrow.”
“I don’t get why you’d get one of those snobby gringas, think they’re the only Americans. You should’ve gotten a Tica. They understand us.”
I shook my head. “We were a partnership.”
Robert motioned the bartender to send two drinks to the tables behind me. “You changing who you are?”
He turned to wave at a pair of girls he’d likely seen when we arrived earlier. Two pretty blonds waved at us.
This part was easy. Taking women to bed was a dance I memorized. Robert and me strolled to their tables and introduced ourselves. Amidst that smoke-filled bar and the American hip hop music, we danced as a precursor to the nightcap. I tucked my blond’s long hair behind her ear and kissed her neck. Pretended to know her soul when I’d forgotten her name, and invited her back to my house for vinyls, chocolate, and wine. I took home every woman I could, but I pined for petite brunettes with short hair, Bonnie’s doppelganger. I fell asleep with women in my arms, surrogates for what I’d lost. But in the sunlight, over and awkward breakfast of true Tico coffee, pico de gallo and eggs, they all looked like themselves.
The next morning, I lied to my blond and dropped her off early. The rainy seasons showered San Partido as I dialed Bonnie’s number.
“How are you? Where are you?” I asked her.
“I’m as well as I can be,” she replied. “I’m home. It’s hot and I’m bored. You?”
“How was the funeral?”
“Depressing, but peaceful. At the wake mom told me about their marriage. They had the American Dream–love till death, but she gave up her life for him. She’s too young to wait for death, too old to start over.”
“That could be us.”
“I’d have to give up my country.”
“We belong with each other.”
“Just not to each other,” she hiccuped. She sobbed a little, expected. “I’m sorry, I’m already drunk. Tell me something you haven’t before.”
I fidgeted and thought for a bit. “You gave me purpose.”
“My parents hated that went into journalism, because they worked so hard so I could avoid a job like that. You validated my need to do good. Your turn.”
“I almost considered sleeping with your neighbor to see if I could get pregnant with him.”
I laughed nervously to hide my jealousy. My neighbor was a successful Black Gringo who owned an architecture firm. “It would be obvious the kid wasn’t mine. Did you sleep with him?”
“You couldn’t judge me if I did.”
“Like when you pissed on me.” Thankfully we both laughed. “On that visa run to Panama at that resort with free alcohol.”
“That happy hour rule that if someone used the bathroom, everyone had to pay for their drinks. You got a beer for that Colombian girl.”
“You walked behind me and pissed on my leg. Territorial.”
She let out a deep breath. “I had to. Like that time I came home early from work, and I saw those tulips on the table. I went to the bedroom and asked you to lie to me.”
“And I knocked on the door and that Chinese Tica walked out without a word, and took the flowers.”
“They were hers anyway.” Bonnie got weepy. “Why are you like this?”
“Because we belonged with each other, not to each other.”
I listened to Bonnie’s sobs. Her childish cry, a sonnet of snot and sniffles, I was embarrassed at her raw grief, not sure if it was from her father’s death or me. I wished she was here, so she could throw a cup at me, call me selfish, and then I’d kiss her tears away, carry her upstairs for several rounds of makeup sex.
But I couldn’t relieve the tension like this.
“Marry me,” I said. “Isn’t loyalty enough?”
“Is fidelity too much?” she asked and hung up.
I stared at the phone and listened to the dead hiss of the receiver. Unfortunately I was sober. I called Robert. “Let’s go to Guanacaste.”
Guanacaste is Costa Rica’s Helen of Troy, irrevocably beautiful with its white sand beaches, clear turquoise water, and acres of palm trees. Ticos ride the bus and then boat to reach the secluded Northwestern province. Gringos who struggled with Spanish smiled with relief that the native Germans and Austrians speak English. Nicos have lost their lives every few years in an attempt to gain control. The Tico government had promised Nicaragua Guanacaste upon the tourist boom, then reneged. Since Costa Rica doesn’t have a military, the U.S. sends the Navy to push Nicos back onto their land.
It’s a big party. Fresh-faced gringos, some military and others tourists, Austrians, Germans, prowled the small blue-skied province for a life in a dance, weed, liquor, cocaine, and hookups, or just to listen to the waves crash, or swim, likely praying to avoid sharks or jellyfish. Working girls from all over the world traveled to Guanacaste to service the Navy, not just for money but the rare chance to bed a young and handsome client.
Upon arrival, Robert and me rolled up our pants and walked barefoot along the shores with our camera to interview the Ticos who complained about the dirty Nicos on their soil, the apolitical Germans thankful for the province’s beauty, and the Nicos with their solemn expressions in their uniforms who spoke of frustration after I revealed that I was a sympathizer and they were safe.
After our interviews, we celebrated with a nightcap at a small, nearly empty bar. Robert sent a drink to a petite redhead.
“Austrians are so lovely,” he said.
“I’m getting Bonnie back,” I said.
“She needs fidelity. I should start here.”
“Allen, mijo, we don’t want much. Money, food, shelter, caceite, beautiful women for erotic friendships. What about her?” he pointed at a curvy girl with long, wavy hair.
With that, he strolled to the redhead’s table and sent two drinks to my table before whispering in the curvy girl’s ear. She walked toward me, her tank top revealing bountiful breasts, and her shorts, a round, generous bottom. She was statuesque. Rubenesque in her beauty.
“That guy bought this drink but I had to drink it with you,” she said.
“I’m Allen,” I said.
“Thank you,” she replied. Her Midwestern accent reminded me of Bonnie’s.
“What’s your name?”
“Does it matter? It’s not my essence. Why exchange perfunctory details that won’t matter in a few weeks? This could be the perfect overnight relationship.”
While she sipped her drink, I tucked her long, raven hair behind her ear. Under the bar’s pathetic strobe lights, amongst an island where everyone search for the meaning of life in conveniency, I’d already found it. We danced on that empty dance floor, and she grinded her luscious hips onto mine and I fell in love–not the cheap tawdry version but the pinnacle of idealization. I’d never even loved Bonnie that way. Love, after all, involved misunderstandings and messy endings, and now, I loved this woman how I wanted to love all women! We partied ironically in the bar until we walked on the beach.
“You’re perfect,” I told her.
“I never thought I’d meet someone like you.”
“I’m not like other girls in Fort Wayne.”
“A perfunctory detail?”
“Certainly not, because I’m about to tell you my essence. I got with my ex because we were both studying engineering, rent was cheaper split, but I want to paint on the beach. To study nature’s architecture. What human could create all of this,” she asked, raising her arms to the stars.
She skipped ahead of me, a gentle breeze swept her hair across her lovely freckled face, the most alive thing I’d ever seen.
“What’s your essence, Allen?”
“To do good and be good. It’s why I’m a journalist.”
“You do good, but are you good?”
I took a deep breath. Normally I wouldn’t share this, but she was safe. “I had an American girlfriend named Bonnie. I wanted to keep her and my freedom.”
She nodded. “You cheated.”
“Ticos don’t hide that from their women. I’ll get her back.”
“Then why are you here with me?” She raised an eyebrow.
“You accept me as I am.”
“That’s all we want. Last month, when I was in Bocas del Toro, my boyfriend dumped me, and I was on the beach drunk and alone. Then I thought of where I’d be a decade from now. Likely married, working, picking up after my husband on a Friday night, and filled with nostalgia for that time when I sipped drinks on the beach.”
“Are you a good person?”
She stepped closer. “I’m an authentic person. We love each other. Let’s make the evening perfect.”
I pulled her close and dropped my hand to her waist. I saved her lemon-scented hair and soft lips. With the stars underneath us, the waves crashing, I liked–no– loved this unnamed woman. Not just the fullness of her figure and her long hair, but her generosity of spirit. When I kissed her, we built future memories, silence. Our bodies fulfilled the promise of the night as we returned to my room and undressed. She kissed my forehead. I buried my face in her ample breasts. We consented from our hearts as she wrapped her thick legs across my back, her hips danced a sensual ballad. Her soft and magnificent body, with her long dark hair grazing her breasts felt dreamlike. Complete.
Afterwards, she laid her head on my chest and we split a joint. I wished she was Bonnie yet dreaded the night ending.
“Deep in thought?” she asked.
“I thought being single would make me happy, but I need her back,” I said.
“I thought love would make me happy, but I was miserable. My ex was like you. Claimed to love me, but he kept cheating with skinny girls. His fantasies.”
“How did you feel about it?”
She shifted, wiped her face with her free hand. “Like I was nothing. Destroyed. How did you feel when you cheated?”
I shifted at the word. “Nothing. Didn’t feel like I’d be a man without it.”
“You’re selfish, Allen. You’ve hurt her more than she could ever tell you.”
“Did you tell your ex?”
“He left before I could. What we have tonight will never be tainted.” She climbed on top of me, stroked me again and sucked on my nipples. “You’re free with me.”
She was right. I grabbed a handful of her hair and kissed her hard. In that dank, mosquito-filled room, I felt accepted and loved in its purest form. I wanted this love to last, and remembered when I had first met Bonnie, I believed it would. I turned onto her back, raised her legs over her shoulder and whispered, “I love you more than anything right now.”
I wished the night would never end. She fell asleep in my arms but I woke up alone. Loneliness enveloped me, and I wanted more of her. I thought I’d convince her to stay with a cup of coffee and a trip to Santa Maria, the neighboring beach. I found her at a cafe reading a book, wearing a pink floral dress.
“Buenos mananas, guapas,” I said.
I kissed her on the cheek but she flinched. A goofy-looking blond man sat next to her. She smiled for him.
“I’m Matt,” he said, stretching his arm.
“I’m sorry, what’s your name again?” she said to me.
She nodded. “He interviewed me for this documentary on Guanacaste.”
“Pura Vida,” Matt said, waving his hands like a stupid surfer. “I love Costa Rica. We’re going to see the sloths in Puntarenas.”
“Would love to chat, but we’re off to Santa Maria. Good luck with your documentary,” she said.
Idiot Matt walked away. I set the coffee next to her as an offering. My eyes challenged hers with questions. Was Matt the supposed ex-boyfriend who cheated? Was she playing a game? Was she sincere in anything she said at all? But she was silence. She frowned and returned to her book. When the bus for Santa Maria was ready to board, she ran back to Idiot Matt and left my coffee on the table.
While I waited for Robert to return to San Jose, I walked along the beach and already heard his teasing: I had no cajones; perhaps she lied. Perhaps she too, needed a fantasy, a break from her life. I stared out at the sky; the endless clear blue sky, the same sky that Bonnie was under. My American Girlfriend, who I loved but an alternate, imperfect love; not the love she deserved or the love I earned. A love no longer mine.