Happy Birthday to me

An interesting birthday to say the least. Happy at being alive. Sad at being alone. Thanks to not having internet for what feels like the first time in decades I won’t be getting the usual kind wishes from friends anywhere in the world. Thanks to having left Ecuador last Thursday I won’t be doing any celebrating with all my wonderful new friends. Most importantly, thanks to leaving Cotacachi, I won’t be spending the day with the love of my life, Patricia, which would have made my birthday truly special in every way. It has already been so brutal without her and today makes it that much worse. She is such a sweetheart in so many ways and I can only imagine what she would have done for me today on my birthday.

Today I got to wake up totally freezing because the house has no heat and it is unusually cold for this time of year. Although there is a perfectly good looking furnace I don’t want to start playing around with things when I don’t know what works and what doesn’t. It’s been three days since I had a shower because there’s no hot water in the house either. Greg was kind enough to get me cleaning stuff, like soap and shampoo and even got towels, so it looks like he planned on me showering, but there is no hot water. The water heater is like the furnace, looks fine but the switch is off on the panel so I don’t want to take a chance on switching it on. I sure wish we could have made arrangements for Greg’s contractor, Eric, to meet me here and go over things. It would have also been great to have had internet so I could at least connect with Greg or Eric or make phone calls to anyone.

His house is outside a place called Foxboro, but I have no clue where that is, how far I might be from it or even what direction it’s in. I thought there was going to be a phone here with the internet package so I could call the driver, Dave, who brought me out here from the VIA station to take me into town to get some food. Thankfully Greg stocked the fridge pretty good or I would be adding starving to my birthday. The fickle coffee machine that gave me such grief yesterday smiled on me for my birthday and actually made a cup this morning. I don’t have any stove or electricity for the microwave, but at least the toaster works great so I can have cereal and toast for my birthday breakfast.

At one point I thought of staying in Cotacachi for my birthday before I left. I had to leave the apartment on the 30th but I thought I could stay with Dutch or Debra for a few extra days. It didn’t matter to Greg and, in hindsight, would have given him more time to get things ready for me here, like heat, hot water, the internet and a phone. It came down to a choice of spending my birthday with all my great friends in Cotacachi or alone here in Canada. The reason I decided against it was mostly because Dutch and Debra were throwing me a farewell party at The Bar on the 25th, so I thought having yet another party so soon was a mistake. Maybe no one would show up for my birthday and that might be worse than spending it alone in Canada. Money was also getting critical, again, so staying longer would not be a good idea. I would also have the nightmare of dealing with COPA who would certainly want to charge me extra to change my flights.

Then, of course, I met Patricia.

I had clearly fallen in love with this woman the first time I met her at The Bar a couple of weeks earlier. I don’t know if I’ve actually told the story of how we met so I’ll include it here because it has a lot to do with how I am dealing with my birthday today.

It’s hard to believe that it was only a short month or so ago that I first laid eyes on Patricia. She came into The Bar with Carlos, a friend, and sat on the couch with him. I was at the bar and, when she went to the bathroom, distinctly heard him say that she was his “girlfriend”. Just my luck. But then, a little while later, Carlos was gone and she came out to the patio and asked me for a cigarette. What boyfriend in his right mind would leave a girl as beautiful as this alone in a bar? We started talking, in Spanish, of course, and I learned that she ran a spa downtown and she was a massage therapist. A few friends had gathered around and I started promoting her massages to friends, a couple of whom knew where the spa was on Bolivar. Before I knew it we had talked for a very long time and the more I looked into that beautiful face, the more I knew I was smitten, but she was Carlos’ girlfriend, so this wasn’t going anywhere, right?

A couple of days later I was at Coo Coo’s Nest and noticed Carlos sitting with some friends. I went over and asked him if he was a violent man? He laughed and said, no, and asked me why I asked him that? I said I needed clarification on something I had heard him say about someone and asked if I could speak to him privately. He said shoot, so I asked him if Patricia was, in fact, his girlfriend. He said she was just a good friend, nothing more, so I confessed that I was quite smitten with her and hoped to get to know her better. He said to go for it.

The following Thursday I had made arrangements to sell some of my things at the Market Day sale because Deborah at Coo Coo’s Nest had decided to include the monthly yard sale as part of the Market Day sale. I didn’t get there until ten because the sale started at eleven, but there were already all kinds of customers there, so I was in a bit of a panic to get my stuff setup. Who comes along to help me but Patricia. Not only was she very helpful but we again talked for just about the entire sale. Lots of laughs and that gorgeous smile. At one point she was looking at my cowboy boots and thought her father might like them, but she didn’t know if they would fit. She said she would call her father to come down to try them on. She was also interested in the insulated cooler that I had brought my insulin in when I came to Ecuador. Long story short, her father couldn’t make it so I gave her the boots and the cooler to take home and let me know. Not something I would normally do, but there was that smile.

As is so typical with Ecuador, I never heard from her later that day, or later days. I started to think I had just been ripped off, again, by someone I didn’t even know. Stupid, Gary, stupid. I posted a photo I had taken of her on Facebook, asking if anyone knew her and could get her to get in touch with me before the following week’s sale. Someone recognized her and gave me the link to her Facebook profile and I left her a message. No response. By the time the next sale rolled around I had pretty well accepted that my boots and the cooler were gone and I deserved it.

This time I went earlier so I would be ready. Who do I see coming into the plaza? You guessed it. She’s saying hello to everyone, kissing and chatting and eventually makes it to me. She explains that she was out of town and is sorry that she never got back to me. She has the boots, saying that they didn’t fit her father, but she forgot to bring back the cooler. She jumps in to help me again and this time she ends up selling for me. Who wouldn’t prefer to deal with a pretty girl rather than me? I take some more photos with her and we end up talking the whole time, again. Now this is where the relationship takes its first turn.

First, I had told her about the conversation with Carlos about her being his girlfriend. Not only had she laughed and said this was not true, but she said she didn’t even like him. He had apparently invited her for a beer and offered to give her a place to live and anything she wanted, but, of course there were strings involved. No surprise there. Certainly not your supposedly typical Columbian woman who would do anything for money.

Next, after I was dealing with a customer I turned around to find her crying. That always turns me to mush and I will do anything to make it better. She gives me a hug I will never forget and tells me that her ex has tossed her out of their house, meaning she has nowhere to live and no business anymore, the spa. No wonder she’s crying. That night Dutch and I had planned to have our last dinner together at Jeanine’s. Hoping it was okay with Dutch, I invited her to join us for dinner and she asked me what time. I said we were meeting at six-thirty and she agreed to join us. I met Dutch there and who comes along just before six-thirty but Patricia, looking as radiant as ever.

With later apologies to Dutch, our dinner was pretty well about Patricia and I. This was the first time I started to see what kind of woman she was. First she butters the bread and hands it to me. Then, when our soup arrives, hers tomato and me broccoli, I tell her that mine isn’t all that great. She gives me a taste of hers and it’s good, so she switches our soups, against my protests. After dinner she tells me that she has to go down the street to get some invoices, I assume from the business. I tell Dutch we will be back in ten minutes and we head off. The next thing I know we are wandering the streets of Cotacachi for some reason. At times she takes my hand, usually when no one is around, but then pulls away when she sees someone. She explains that people gossip and she doesn’t want everyone blabbing about seeing her hand in hand with me. I understand.

Eventually we make our way back to Jeanine’s where I get kidded about disappearing, not paying the bill. I don’t exactly remember how we parted that night, but at some point during the night I had asked her to come to my farewell bash the next night at The Bar. At some point in our travels around Cotacachi that night we had stopped at her mother’s apartment. Not sure why, but she had asked me to hide a couple of doors away while she went in. Thinking it might just encourage her to come to my bash I told her to bring her mother because Three Shades of Grey were playing and she might enjoy the music. Total desperation, yes.

The whole day, in fact, the whole time before my farewell bash, I am dreading this because I am so sad at leaving Cotacachi and all my friends. I don’t know how I am ever going to keep it together and not just break down balling. I head to The Bar at five so as not to miss Three Shades start playing. There are several friends there who all start wishing me goodbye and I can feel the emotions starting to well up. Then I see this absolutely stunning vision walk in the door with who must be her mother. She was wearing an absolute killer dress that took my breath away. She walks up, introduces her mother to me and gives me the usual hello kiss on the cheek. I order beers for her and her mother and sit down with them. Soon more friends start arriving, mostly women with whom I have danced. I explain to Patricia who they are and that I must dance with them, and she is fine with that.

Soon I ask her to dance, but she has seen how I dance with the other women and isn’t sure she can do that, so we go out back to the patio and I give her some instructions, one two three, one two three, step, step and she laughs, trying to follow. I ask her to come to the main bar to dance and she agrees. We’re no Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, but we manage just fine. There’s a lot of laughing and when I hold her close she reminds me that we’re dancing in front of her mother. I manage to dance with her and the other women who want to dance with me, but, of course, this is my farewell bash so every woman who comes in knows me and wants to have a last dance with me. I make sure they are all introduced to Patricia and her mother before I dance with them. I see Philippe and Ronda come in and explain to Patricia that Ronda is one of my favorite partners so I must dance with her soon. Not only is she fine with that but she ends up videotaping us dancing. What a woman!

After I dance with Ronda I sit down to talk to her husband for a bit. Next thing I know Ronda is going over to talk to Patricia, something I’m not sure about. I talk to Philippe about the fact that I had asked him to support me if I started to lose it, but now that Patricia was here I was fine. After far too long Ronda comes back all excited and says Patricia is going to get a visa so she can come and visit me in Canada. I am shocked to say the least.

The other thing that was so completely unexpected, but fabulous, was the food that Dutch and Debra had arranged. Kasie had worked so hard and it was the best food ever at The Bar. I started telling everyone to please eat because it was free and they were all impressed. There were only a couple of new people there who didn’t know me, so I think everyone ate, except me. Partly because I was nervous about Patricia and I guess because it was my farewell party, I had a few too many Amarillos and no food. Not a great combination, as if I wasn’t drunken enough on Patricia. Oh, and one of those moments you never forget happened when Patricia and I went out front for a smoke. She pulled me into a darkened corner and gave me our first passionate kiss. Simply wow!

All too soon the music was ending and people were wandering off. I asked Patricia if her and her mother wanted to go to Jeanine’s for a drink and she agreed, but when we got to Jeanine’s it was closed, for the first time ever, at only about eight-thirty. Patricia knocked on the closed door and Jeanine answered, saying they were going to the Tuparishun Pena Bar down the street. This is a bar pretty well deserted on a Friday night and not somewhere Patricia wanted to go anyway, so I asked if they wanted to come back to my place for a drink, hoping, of course, that her mother would decline, but no such luck.

We got to my place and she poured us drinks, as if I needed any more. She put on some dance music and we danced. Of course I was feeling pretty amorous after that first kiss, but I didn’t want to push it or rush things with her, but every time her mother went to the bathroom, which wasn’t often enough, Patricia would grab me and lip-lock me in such passionate kisses. It sure felt like she wanted more. I realized that I had never eaten at my bash and mentioned that I was hungry. Because I was leaving I hadn’t really bought any food so I thought I might get some cereal or toast to tide me over. Next thing I know Patricia has disappeared for maybe ten minutes and I’m chatting away with her mother, or trying my best. Patricia comes back with three dinners. Chicken I didn’t even know I had and fried vegetables and toasted buns. A feast! What a woman!

Midnight came and it was time for them to go home, but I knew it was almost impossible to get a taxi at this time of night. They tried calling someone but that went nowhere fast. I said the only taxis might be down at the hospital so I said I would walk down to see if I could find one. As I walked towards the hospital I found myself thinking, oh God, please let me be a hero and find them a taxi. As I got closer I heard music and realized that there was a concert going on so there just might be taxis around. Sure enough one went racing by me, but stopped and backed up. As we approached my place there was Patricia and her mother waiting and looking ever so grateful. We said our goodnights and I figured that was that. My wonderful night had come to an end. Not so fast.

A short time later my phone rings and I see that it’s Patricia. She explains that her idiot sister won’t open the door for them, so I tell her to come right back to my place. Once they get there, no doubt relieved that they now have somewhere to stay, I explain that her and her mother can have the bed and I will sleep on my couch, although I know that’s not going to be any fun because my couch is horrible. Her mother crawls into bed in the next room and I hear Patricia in the bathroom. Next thing I know she has joined me on the couch and, well, things progress pretty rapidly despite the fact that she had said that in God’s eyes we needed to be married before anything happened in that department. Let’s just leave it at it being very difficult for her to stay quiet with her mother in the very next room.

The next day is a bit of a blur, although I do remember at one point her saying that she was planning to spend the night at my place. Be still my aching heart. Let’s just leave it that it was all private and wonderful. So much for needing God’s blessing.

She had mentioned that she goes to her church Sunday night, so I had agreed to go, more to support her and not be left without her. I met Pastor William and his wife, Sofie, along with a whole bunch of other worshippers, all of whom greeted me very warmly. Despite having spent the night together, on the way to the church I had said I gathered that there would be no kissing or hand holding at the church and she agreed. Nevertheless she did reach out for my hand a few times during the agonizingly long service, all of it in Spanish, maybe just to thank me for going with her. All I much cared about was that she was planning to stay overnight again so I didn’t want to lose her.

The next couple of days are again a blur but we were heading to Quito on Wednesday to hopefully pick up my replacement passport so I could fly out Thursday as planned. I was taking the bus and she agreed to come with me, which was great. Our driver, Dillan, took us to Otavalo to catch the bus for Quito. We had such a wonderful two hour trip, chatting away and a whole lot of laughs. So much better than the trip I was going to take alone and a whole two dollars extra. Money well spent.

When we arrived at the bus depot there was a long line of taxis waiting. Gabriella at the Embassy had said we should not pay more than five dollars to get to the Embassy from the bus terminal. Patricia had to go to the bathroom so I waited for her. This man standing at the corner of the building said “taxi” and I remembered stories of people taking what they thought was a taxi and getting robbed so I told him to wait for the Señorita. When Patricia came out she spoke to him and I guess got assurances that he was legit, so off we went. We had to actually leave the terminal and walk across the street to his cab, which made me wonder, but it appeared to be a real taxi. Patricia had already got his agreement that it would be five dollars, but we soon realized that he had no clue where the Embassy was. He was on the radio asking for directions and eventually got them but I could see that the meter was going to go well above five dollars. Patricia again told him we would only pay five dollars.

He dropped us off at what we thought was the Embassy, although it was on the other side of a crazy busy street. We took our lives in our hands getting across, only to learn that the Embassy was back on the side we just left, so we again took our lives in our hands getting back across to the right side of the street. Going to the Embassy was oh so Canadian. Not so much as a hello, then the miserable woman receptionist asks for my passport. We explain that I am here to pick up my passport but that only seems to irritate her. Finally Patricia shows her ID and they are willing to let us up to the consular section. They don’t bother telling us that we need to waive our ID badge in front of the elevator controls to go anywhere, but someone else helps us. As we arrive at the Embassy the security is worse than at an airport. I joke that Patricia is wearing so much metal that she is going to have to get naked to pass through the security scan. We are shown into what can best be described as a cubicle with a giant plate glass window between us and who we assume will be Gabriela. Certainly not going to be your typical warm greeting in Ecuador through this thing.

She does show up and immediately questions my travel itinerary from COPA because it shows I am not flying out of Panama City until October 2nd, which was clearly wrong. Just another screw-up by COPA and after hours on the phone with them by both Patricia and me. She also asks why I am not flying on October 1st when I can go direct from Quito to Toronto. I explain that COPA isn’t flying to Toronto on September 30th, the day I am booked to Panama City. She explains that I may have trouble leaving the airport because I only have a temporary passport to fly and not to enter Panama. She strongly suggests that I change my flights to October 1st, so off we go in search of the COPA office, which she says is not far away. Right.

Back down with the not so friendly receptionist she explains that we go out the door, turn right and look for Citi Bank and that’s where the COPA office is. When we go outside Patricia explains that her son, Sebastian, is joining us, something of a surprise to me. A friend drops him off across the street from hell and we again take our lives in our hands getting to him. We then head in the direction we were told but stop to ask a man waiting for the light to change. He checks the internet on his phone and tells us we need to go in a completely different direction so off we go. We walk and walk and eventually come to a building with a United Airlines office, which we have been told is what COPA now is. We enter the office and find all kinds of people waiting and we know it’s going to be quite a while before we are served. I ask out loud if this is COPA and a bunch of people say “no”. They tell us we need to go down yet another street to the COPA office which is not, in fact, at a Citi Bank building at all. By now I am getting tired of walking and very worried that we are not going to make it back to the Embassy in time to get my all-important passport, so we catch a taxi. Eventually we make it to the COPA office and again there are all kinds of people waiting. I am very glad that I have Patricia and Sebastian with me for the Spanish we will need and I explain the situation with the wrong flight date to Sebastian. I want him to explain that I didn’t book September 30th either, even though I did, because they will try to charge me another hundred and fifteen dollars that I do not have and have already paid. He understands.

Figuring that it would be quite a while before we are served, Sebastian and I head off to get some water or pop down the street. We stop for a smoke and chat about how much I like his mother, with me apologizing that although I am not his father, my advice to him is to find someone just like his mother. Next thing his phone rings and it’s Mom telling us to get our butts back to COPA. I find her clearly arguing with the COPA lady. Sebastian steps in and starts arguing with her, getting nowhere and finally we learn she speaks English. What happens next will go down in the annals of just plain bad customer service. She refuses to believe that the October 2nd date is their fault, offers to change it and naturally tells me I have to pay another hundred and fifteen dollars, on which she won’t budge. Now normally I don’t ever believe that you get anywhere by getting angry or raising your voice, but I had it with COPA. At the very great risk of losing my flights and making a total disaster of everything, maybe even getting the police visiting, I pretty well lose it on her, for anyone to hear how fed up I am. I don’t know if anyone within earshot understood a word I said, but it was painfully clear that I was not happy. She asks me to sit down.

After forever on the phone with somebody, no doubt someone in authority and her manager and her on the computer she calls me over and presents me with my tickets to fly to Panama City and on to Toronto on October 1st. I thank her and apologize for getting angry with her, but she says she now understands what they have put me through and she apologizes profusely.

We rush back to the Embassy and go through everything all over again, except we have left Sebastian downstairs. It’s close to two o’clock and he had already explained that he had to get to the university by two-thirty for his classes. I think everything is ready at the Embassy and all Gabriela is waiting for is the travel itinerary. Wrong again. She doesn’t appear to have done much and she’s gone for at least half an hour before coming back with my passport, finally. We join Sebastian again with apologies for the delay and ask if we can still get something to eat with him. He has phoned a friend to pick him up at three but now calls them to delay it even more so he can eat with us. I’ve seen a Tony Romas down the street and think that this might be cheaper in Quito, but when we get there it’s $13.99 each, cheaper no doubt than Toronto, but more than I can afford, so we end up eating at KFC, which sucked just as bad as in Canada.

We said our goodbyes to Sebastian and it was nice that Patricia said he really liked me and was happy that Mom was planning to marry me. It might not have hurt that I had said to Patricia that my original plan was to buy a Honda dirt bike, a plan that went south after the huge hospital bill. I said that if we planned better and were making money with the website business that we would buy three dirt bikes, one for each of us including Sebastian. Of course he was thrilled with that idea. No wonder he liked me.

We got back to the terminal and caught our bus back to Otavalo. Both of us knew we were very tired and figured we would sleep all the way back. Given that I was now leaving in two days I wasn’t keen on wasting time sleeping but I could tell she was very tired. In no time at all she was off in dreamland while I couldn’t sleep a wink, mostly because the movie sound was blasting above our heads. I had also read about a lot about people thinking that they were going to the terminal in Otavalo but instead got dropped off on the Pan American highway in the middle of nowhere, so I wanted to stay awake to make sure this didn’t happen. It was now getting dark and I wasn’t sure where we were, that is until Imbabura and the lake came into view. Suddenly Patricia woke up as if on cue and told me we were getting off the bus. I had no idea why but didn’t have a second to argue, so off we got. Then I noticed the sign for Puerto Lago and we started walking down the lane towards the resort. We shared a glass of hot wine with fruit which was delicious and we sat on a bench down by the lake. It was very romantic and led to what happened next.

The next day, my last one in Cotacachi, was a whirlwind of activity. Patricia had left in the morning, saying something about water problems at her new apartment so I didn’t know when she would be back to my place. Of course I was busy packing and wasn’t sure what to do for our last night together. I wrote to my landlady asking if there was any way I could stay one more night, but it turned out that the apartment was rented to another doctor who was moving in right away. Patricia had already said we could stay at her place but she had no hot water and I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of traveling all day without a shower. Then it came to me. What else could be more special than spending our last night at Puerto Lago? I emailed them explaining about my websites and asked if they would consider giving me a special rate in exchange for publicity on my website and they agreed. I texted Patricia telling her to bring some nice clothes and that we would be staying somewhere special for our last night together.

She didn’t come over until four o’clock in the afternoon, which made the day even crazier for me, but when she came over, obviously curious as hell as to where we were going to stay, when I told her Puerto Lago she just beamed. She was so happy. Eventually after running all over town with me Dillan took us to Puerto Lago. Our room, called the Junior Chalet, was simply gorgeous and right on the lake. I hadn’t eaten all day so I was starving so we made our way to the gorgeous restaurant for dinner. Daniel, our wonderful waiter, brought us two warm wines with fruit and we ordered our meals, which were incredibly delicious. We ended sharing a coffee with Baileys, a fitting end to a very romantic and wonderful meal.

Now very full, we wandered back to our room and sat out on the porch enjoying the view and a beautiful night. That’s when she grabbed the computer, which was playing music for us, and excitedly started typing something into Google translate. Earlier in the day I had noticed that something was wrong with it because you would go to correct something and everything you typed would disappear. Sure enough she’s typing and typing, then I hear “oh, no!” because she’s lost everything. She starts all over again, only to have the same thing happen again and again. I open WordPad instead and tell her I will translate it when she is finished. She hands me back the computer and I translate what she has written. There are no words to describe exactly how I felt when I read this. Because this is a record of my birthday I am going to include what she wrote. Remember that up until this point in our relationship, although we had joked about getting married, I was not yet prepared to fully believe that she loved me and would marry me. The translation is Google so not that great, but the important parts are clear, at least to me.

Papi (her term of affection for me), you are my love, my great love ... you are the man that God has allowed to come into my life, to rejoice, to make me happy in every way ... make me happy every moment of the day, you make me happy in bed, you make my being, my body reacts to every touch, every contact .... your kisses, your caresses, the way you are, you're special. YOU HAVE COME INTO MY LIFE ... today I offer you a bottle of champagne .... not because you're going, but because you came into my life just when it most necessary. That today our last night .... but this year ... because I will be waiting for the year 2016 and you will be my husband, my partner, my friend, my accomplice, my lover, my partner, my dreams promoter. We will have a home, a family, and be happy, because first of all ask God that He bless us and direct us in everything that we will be .... constructing a cabana, .. love you, I love you ... I swear before God that there will not be another man in my life and that I will be waiting as long as our goals will be necessary .... RESPECT, TRUST, HONESTY ... I toast you, you toast me, offered by the two. To our health .... I drink because I met you, I drink to celebrate that you came into my life, I give because even if you go you are coming back ... and I'll be waiting for you ......TO OUR HEALTH together my love!

With that we opened the champagne, which was quite the struggle. I was expecting it to blow when the cork finally popped but we got nothing and we laughed and laughed. I poured the champagne into our coffee cups, the only thing we had and she joked about us drinking champagne from coffee cups. Very fitting for our relationship. She then gave me my gift. She had brought along a number of very sexy outfits and she asked me to take photos of her in each of them, I guess as both a memory and to remind me what I was coming back for. It sure worked.

The obvious happened and in the morning she made the coffee and we sat outside and talked and talked. Finally I realized that Dillan was coming soon to take us to the airport in Quito so we had our last shower together, which was really tough because we both knew it was our last, so there were a lot of tears amongst the suds. By the time we got everything packed we had no time to eat any breakfast so we stopped at a deli on the way to Quito. She got me some cheese and baked things, something of which would soon not agree with me. Back in the taxi we hugged, kissed and caressed each other, knowing what was coming too soon. At one passionate moment I joked that we were going to need to ask Dillan to close his eyes. We were both on the verge of tears but managed to keep it together for the most part.

As we’re traveling through the mountains in the middle of nowhere I realize that I am going to need a bathroom and quick. Something is coming back on me big time and making me very anxious. As we finally reach the airport Dillan is driving around and around trying to find a parking spot, which apparently doesn’t exist. Finally I can’t wait another minute so I tell him to go back to the airport and drop us off. I head for the nearest bathroom, just in time. My suit would not have survived.

The next couple of hours were a whirlwind of crazy activity. I realized that I had forgotten to get my two cartons of cigarettes from Monica back in Cotacachi so we ask if where the duty free is, but get no answer. We are then told that it’s over in the other building across the way from the terminal, so off we go, but then I realize that I don’t have enough money to pay Dillan and buy cigarettes. I also realize that I’ve drained my US bank account so I need to transfer some money from my Canadian US account. This normally can take up to an hour but the last time I did it when my pensions came through it only took a couple of minutes so I was hoping that the same thing would happen now when I so desperately needed money. Back at Puerto Lago I had attempted to pay for our meal with my Canadian VISA but the PIN was apparently wrong. I hadn’t used it since I left Canada so I thought I just couldn’t remember it. It turned out it was right so I have no idea why it didn’t work at Puerto Lago.

When we had checked in to COPA they told me my large suitcase was overweight and would cost me a hundred and twelve dollars, money I didn’t have. They suggested buying another bag for carryon and packing what was overweight, so off Patricia ran to buy another bag. Twenty dollars but a lot better than a hundred and twelve. Dillan and Patricia pulled my shoes out of the big bag, which I thought would weigh more than clothes, and packed them into the bag she just bought. When we went back to check my now okay large suitcase in at COPA a tour bus must have just arrived because there was a huge line of people checking in. Patricia, in typical fashion for her, just skirted the entire line and took the bag to the guy who had told us it was overweight. He just stopped dealing with the people in line and checked my suitcase in. One problem solved.

After we checked my suitcase in at COPA and as we sat having a coffee, I logged on to the airport network and transferred some money to my US account in New York, then waited and waited. Finally it showed that the money was in my account so off we rushed to the ATM. Nada. Didn’t work. So we rushed to find the bank and tried the machine there. Nada. Still didn’t work. I had given my bank card to Patricia for money in Cotacachi before so I assumed she was entering the right information in Spanish at the bank, but I guess she wasn’t because as soon as I entered the information in English I got my money. Enough to pay Dillan and to buy my cigarettes, barely. We still couldn’t find anywhere to buy my cigarettes and time was getting short for me to check into security for my flight.

Finally that terrible moment came when I would have to leave her. We went to where I thought we had to say our goodbyes and we hugged and kissed and cried. I then rounded the corner and realized we had said our goodbyes earlier than we needed to because security was down the hall, so off we went. We asked the lady at security about my stupid cigarettes and she said there wasn’t anywhere to buy them, so I gave up, even though they were about twenty-four dollars a carton in Ecuador and a hundred dollars a carton back in Canada. We again kissed and hugged and said our tearful goodbye and I went through security. After I had gone through security I will never forget her last wave and blown kiss goodbye. It was a knife in my heart and I had to wonder if I would ever see her again. It was just brutal.

As I headed down the hall towards my gate I came into what was obviously a huge duty free area. I asked the first person I saw if I could buy my cigarettes here and she said no. I wandered a little further and there in front of me where stacks of cartons of cigarettes, so I bought two, finally. I found my boarding gate and sat waiting in total sorrow and questioning what the hell I was doing.

I was leaving the place that I loved and, more importantly, the woman I loved and, even more importantly, the woman who loved me. This was all so completely crazy but what else could I do? Marrying her would have solved the residency issue, but what were we going to live on? I had basically exhausted my pensions for the month. I was in the country illegally now with no hope of getting residency now that my passport had been reported stolen. I only had a temporary passport that allowed me to fly. My six month visa had long since expired back in May. I couldn’t stop thinking that if that bitch had not kept my passport and defrauded me out of the three hundred and fifty dollars maybe I could have stayed. Patricia was only paying sixty dollars a month for her apartment. It was rough and needed a ton of work but couldn’t we have done it and survived until we got married? She clearly intended for us to get married when I came back, so why not now? I thought about all the reasons I was leaving, most critically the falling Canadian dollar which meant I had lost another one hundred and fifty dollars a month and I couldn’t afford to live, so how were we going to do it with both of us to support? Why was I leaving, intending only to come back? It was all making no sense and I felt that I was doing everything wrong, which only made it that much harder to leave her. My heart just ached.

As I had been dealing with what they call migration officials she was calling and calling me, but I couldn’t answer the phone when these guys were asking me all kinds of questions about my temporary passport. I was thinking, fine, don’t allow me to fly and tell me I have to stay in Ecuador. That would be great regardless of the mess I would be in. At least I would not be leaving the love of my life. That would be a whole lot better than what I was doing, wouldn’t it? Unfortunately they accepted my passport and waived me through. While one guy had been entering my passport number and having a tough time getting the unusual number accepted, the other guy had been chatting with me in English. I had said that I was returning to Ecuador to marry the love of my life and he said to hurry back. I was thinking that tomorrow would be good.

Well, this has been more about Patricia and my trip back than my birthday but it’s all about how I feel on my birthday, which obviously isn’t great. I wish so much that I had internet so I could at least message her on Facebook. She must be going crazy wondering where the hell I am. Greg had said I would have internet when I got here so she doesn’t know any different. I am praying that she figures something is wrong and I don’t have internet, not that I am in any way ignoring her, which would be terrible and really upset her. It would just kill me if she thought for one second that I was ending our relationship. Not a chance.

An update here. I had gone across the road to see if the neighbor had internet and could send an email to Greg. I was hoping he would allow me to bring my computer and access the internet, but he doesn’t know Greg that well or me at all, so he just sent an email telling Greg that I had no heat, hot water or internet. He came over a while later telling me that he heard back from Greg. Eric, his general contractor, was going to come by later today which will hopefully solve the hot water issue and I can finally have a shower. He said Greg said the heat and the internet will take a few more days, which is a total killer.

I need the internet for so many things right now, not the least of which is to contact Patricia. She is not going to be happy with this one bit. I asked the neighbor if there is internet in Foxboro but he doesn’t think so. There is a restaurant that I saw on the internet and thought was in Foxboro, but apparently it is a distance from town. Right now I don’t have a phone to call a taxi or any Canadian money left. The neighbor said I would probably need to go to Belleville to get a SIM card for my phone, but Greg said the internet package includes a home phone so spending money on my cell phone is probably pointless. In Ecuador a SIM card is like three bucks and you can buy minutes. I doubt that’s the case here. I seem to remember that a SIM card is like fifty bucks, so that’s not going to happen. I’ll be lost without my cell phone but who am I going to be calling here? Once I have the internet I can call anywhere, including Ecuador, for free on Google.

So, happy birthday to me! Obviously not going to go down in history as one of the better ones, by a long shot.

Reflections on my 64th birthday

I suspect that, like many people, I am not where I expected to be at this stage of my life. In my romantic thoughts of youth I expected to have a loving family with a partner by my side, my kids and grand kids sharing their lives with me and maybe some travel once in a while. From the age of nineteen I worked hard both at my career and renovating whatever home we were in, building equity for that day in the future when we would downsize.

One of my favorite sayings has always been "life is what happens while you are making other plans". My life has been that saying personified. Although we are in control of some things in our lives, like what we do for a living or where we live, most things are a result of things beyond our control and how we deal with what happens unexpectedly.

After a life best described as what most would call "normal", a long term marriage of twenty-three years, two kids, a nice home and two cars, two things happened to change the direction of my life. The first was realizing that I was trapped in a loveless marriage that had no chance of getting any better. After a year of living apart but paying all the bills for our last house, while my wife sat doing nothing to help, not working and not even filing for unemployment, I knew it was time to end it. The other was my mother being diagnosed with fifth stage melanoma and being given only a five percent chance of surviving more than six months.

My parents, brother and sister, had moved out West in 1970 and had I not met my wife and she got pregnant I might well have gone with them and my life would obviously have been completely different. Given where I am today it would have no doubt been a lot better, for many reasons. Back then the Okanagan was full of so much opportunity, mostly in Real Estate. The prices compared to Ontario were insane. I wanted to form a syndicate, buy up properties, renovate them and put them up for rental. Homes on the lake that I could have bought for less than two hundred thousand dollars were soon selling in the millions. They weren't making any more lakefront so I knew demand would force the prices up and I was right.

With the exception of a couple of visits back and forth and taking the whole family out to Expo 86, I missed having my parents be part of my life. It wasn't my decision to move away from us but my feelings about that all changed when my mother was first diagnosed in 1991. The thought of losing my mother and not spending whatever time she had left with her made me feel selfish and guilty, especially when my own life in Ontario was falling apart. I made the decision to move out West in 1993, partly accepting that my failed marriage was over and partly to be with my mother during her last days.

When I left Ontario I naively thought that my kids would come out to visit us, especially because of my mother's failing health and because we had such a wonderful time when both of them came out for a three week vacation in 1986. As I said a tearful good-bye to my daughter I was shocked that she told me to stay out West because she knew how bad my marriage was and she said she had never seen me happier. I didn't listen and returned to Ontario mostly because I couldn't stand the thought of being apart from her. It was a mistake.

What I never anticipated was that my kids would abandon me for the next seventeen years, something I have deeply regretted every single day since I moved. My mother did beat all the odds and lived until 2007 although she suffered from Alzheimer's the last few years.

The next truly life-changing thing that happened was when my Dad died in my arms in 2005. Not only was this the most traumatic time in my life but it also sent my life into a downward spiral of bad decisions, bad timing and incredible bad luck.

Although prior to his death my father had struggled with caring for my mother, he had done nothing to get her into a care home where she belonged. His drinking escalated and he called me every night crying, telling me that he could not take this anymore, but he was consumed by guilt at putting my mother in a home. Finally he agreed to sell their place although he had no plan as to what to do when it sold. Their home was very dated and he asked me if I would renovate it for sale. I spent four of the toughest months of my life working long days, seven days a week, with them calling me from Revelstoke where they were staying with my sister, constantly pressuring me as to when they could come home.

After my father passed away and given my mother's health we decided it would be traumatic for her to lose her husband and move, so we took the house off the market. I was elected to move in to care for her, although I hoped this would be short term until I got her into a care facility. It wasn't. For months and months I did everything humanly possible to get her into a care facility with no luck. Her condition was deteriorating rapidly and she was put on an emergency first available spot basis. Unfortunately there were three hundred and fifty people on the same basis, so I had to spend my days harassing anyone and everyone who could get her into a facility. Finally I got a call that there was a spot for her and as much as it broke my heart I had to lie to her to get her to go. The day I left her there was the saddest day of my life.

How my sister ended up killing our mother by pulling her out of the care facility is another story, but it's enough to say I have not spoken to her since and I don't forgive her.

After the house sold I moved into a place where, no sooner had I got there than the by-law officer told me I had to move. On short notice I couldn't really find anything decent, but I did find one basement apartment that wasn't terrible in Kelowna. I was on my way to give the landlord the first month's rent when, for some unknown reason I checked my email. There was an email from my Real Estate agent telling me about a place In the Princess MHP that was about to go into foreclosure. He said it was a mess but I could probably just take over the private mortgage, renovate it and sell it for a nice profit.

I ended up losing my deposit on the basement apartment in Kelowna and I moved into the disaster in Princess. Even with the pad rent I was paying less than the basement apartment and I had a place of my own, albeit a mess. Thus began fourteen months of very long days, seven days a week, completely gutting the place and redesigning the layout and rebuilding it from nothing but the shell. As I neared completion I started getting opinions of value from several local Realtors. Without exception they all said it was one of the best manufactured homes in the valley and they all priced it around $159,900. At the time I had been researching other places to renovate and had found three ideal properties so I wanted to sell quickly and firm offers on at least one of these other properties. I listed the place for $139,900, much against the wishes of my Realtor.

The day before it was to hit the market one of the local Indian Chief's came out in the local paper stating that anyone who bought on native land was "stupid" because there was no long term tenancy and all the parks would be closed for redevelopment with no compensation to the owners of the homes. Overnight the market collapsed. No Realtor, lawyer or bank would touch a property on Native land. Even worse, the commitment I had for a private mortgage, just in case the place didn't sell, fell through. Even the Band's own credit union wouldn't touch financing. My world fell apart and the stress was killing me.

My doctor told me to get out from under this stress or it would kill me. The cold, grey winters were starting to get to me so I started researching somewhere warmer and settled on Panama. Another huge mistake. I left my place in the care of my electrician friend who I had let move in when he split with his wife. Another huge mistake.

Long story, but I ended up getting ripped off for everything I owned in Panama, plus the guy I left in charge of my place back in Westbank let the snow build-up on my roof, something I had warned him about, and the roof collapsed resulting in twenty thousand dollars worth of damage. If the place was unsellable before, it sure was worse now. I ended up getting less than half of what I would have gotten if I'd sold it before the collapse.

I managed to sell everything I had left in Panama and returned to Toronto to stay with my cousin. Another long story but I met a girl from London on the internet who eventually came to Toronto and for me it was love at first sight. I ended up moving to London to be with her. Another huge mistake. She ended up screwing around on me with, surprise, surprise, a guy she met on the internet. My world had been shattered yet again and now I found myself stuck in a place I loathed.

London has not been kind to me. My wacko landlady threatened to seize all my stuff so I ended up moving out with no idea where I was going. I ended up sleeping on the vacant office floor of a friends and finally got into the Centre of Hope, only to be turfed out because Ontario Works screwed up my paperwork. I then went to The Mission men's shelter, a disgusting, filthy, dangerous place. After also getting kicked out there I ended up at the Unity Project, a wonderful place full of caring people. With their help I managed to get a job at Home Depot and eventually got my own apartment. It didn't last. My contract ended at Home Depot and I was laid off along with a whole bunch of other people. I couldn't pay for my apartment but I got a call from London Housing that a place had opened up in my current building.

Best birthdays

Having had sixty-four of them you would think more of them would stand out in my mind. Obviously where you are, who are your friends and your family situation all affect how you celebrate your birthday. Maybe it's the ravages of aging but I don't remember any particular birthday as a kid or even during my marriage.

My first memorable birthday was while I was first staying with my parents in Westbank. My Dad came and woke me up early and said there was a phone call for me. It was my darling friend, Lenny, calling me all the way from Turkey to wish me a happy birthday. Now that's special.

No sooner had I hung up the phone on her than I got a full-face cream pie from my Dad. My BFF, Wade, had put him up to it. Nice start to the day. Only Wade could dream this up and I wondered what he had in store for me for the rest of the day.

At the time I was working at a client, Central Valley Trucking and I didn't even think they knew it was my birthday. Sure enough Wade had delivered a pie the day before and they nailed me with it. Made for a stinky day at work and I was happy to hit the shower when I got home.

The plan was to meet at the Corral so naturally I was on my guard. The darling manager, Meryl, said she wanted to see me in the back pool room. You guessed it. They nailed me with yet another cream pie. The problem was all I could do was wipe off what I could. What was left just turned sour and stunk like hell. My lovely dance partners kept telling me how gross I smelled. Thanks, Wade.

The next memorable birthday was my fiftieth. Unbenounced to me, my friend Karen Falloon had worked tirelessly to arrange a surprise party for me at the back of what I think was Dakotas. The ruse was we were meeting my parents for dinner. When we got there she asked me if I wanted to play some pool at the back while we waited for them. The doors opened and there was my parents and at least fifty of my friends, some of whom had traveled a long way to be there. It was a wonderful surprise and one of my best birthdays ever.

Another great one was at the Corral, of course. Lots of my close friends and my dance partners were all there and insisted on buying me a shot. After about thirteen of them my memory of the rest of the night is very fuzzy. The funniest part was a couple of days later went I went to the Corral everyone was congratulating me on how well I rode the mechanical surfboard. The only problem was I had no memory of it. Amazing that I was so drunk and still managed not to fall off.

cake_03Yet another one of Wade's excellent cakes.

Birthday celebrations have certainly gone downhill since I left the Okanagan. The only birthday I had in Panama was spent having a few beers and playing pool.

Since returning to Canada and especially in London where I have no friends birthdays have just been another day with little meaning except that I'm getting older. No fun at all.

Thoughts on my 62nd birthday

People often say "I'm not in a good place right now", usually meaning that something has brought them down temporarily. Seldom is it a reflection of their entire life status; however, in my case, it is, sadly. I'm writing this on my 62 birthday, documenting where my life is today, in the hopes that this time next year things will be a whole lot better. Either that or I'll be dead, which is a good possibility as well.

I find myself alone, living in a place I loathe, as a result of yet another mistake with a woman. When I moved from Toronto I was full of such hope for the future. I was in love and believed that I would again be part of a family, which I missed so much. Things took a tragic turn and I found myself alone in a strange city, trapped by circumstances. I longed to be anywhere else but London and obviously regretted leaving Toronto and, even more, missed being out West where I was truly happy.

Through living in a rooming house, to sleeping on the floor of a colleague's office, to ending up in shelters, to an apartment I could not possibly afford, to finally getting into public housing, it has been a long and stressful road. Laying on my filthy bed in the shelter in oppressive heat, afraid for my very life, surrounded by the lowest of society, I knew I had hit rock bottom. Those were very dark days. Although I appreciate my little apartment I face the daily struggle of trying to get enough food to survive on the measly amount I get from assistance. The little things that I have always enjoyed in my life, like having a beer, playing pool, even a meal out at McDonald's are out of the question when there is no money. I have probably applied for at least five hundred jobs over the last few months, with no luck. I have done research on many companies and sent proposals out, again, with no response. I firmly believe that my age is against me and there is nothing I can do to change that. The economy is in the dumps and finding any kind of job, especially in a depressed area like London, is virtually impossible.

I long to return to the Okanagam and I apply for every conceivable job I see in the area. I have limited funding to help me to relocate if I can find a job, but this has not proved successful either. I came close with a perfect job, covering Kelowna north and the island, but was not selected for a final interview, despite being perfectly qualified for the position. I let myself get excited and put everything in place to be able to leave immediately, which only served to bring me down when I didn't get the job.

My family situation is unchanged and still a mess. A tiny glimmer of hope is that my son has reconnected through Facebook; however, his life is as much a mess as mine and he doesn't want to let me back into his life beyond these messages. My daughter has completely shut me out of her life, ever since I drove across the country to see her and she was hidden away from me. So cruel! I have never understood why she shut me out of her life and it's a knife in my heart every single day. Having lost my mother and father I am left with no immediate family, something I have always cherished.

My health is a disaster. I was always so happy that I was physically active and healthy. Whether I was busy renovating or climbing a mountain, I had tons of stamina and could do almost anything. Today my heath is in ruins, mostly because of my diabetes. I have put on thirty pounds, which has resulted in acid reflux and many other problems. I have no energy and sleep more than I ever have in my life. My feet are painful and swollen and I can barely walk. My shoulder, which has yet to be diagnosed properly, is painful and I have very limited mobility. My toes are so painful that I can't sleep. I tire easily and can't exert the smallest physical energy without resting. I feel so very old, for the first time in my life.

There is no one special in my life in the romance department. I have lost touch with all of my friends from out west and I don't know anyone in London. After forty-five years I have reconnected with the mother of my other son and she has been a great help. She has come to London and got me out of my apartment and done things with me that I haven't done in a very long time. She has most graciously paid for everything, something that makes me feel very guilty. I have always been the one to pay and it just reminds me how pathetic my life has become that I am a pauper. I have always been a hopeless romantic and I miss being in love. I think to find someone you need to first feel good about yourself and I certainly don't.

Regardless of what a mess I'm in right now, I hope that some luck comes my way and I can get back to the person I used to be. I think that this will only happen if I find a way to get back out west, but this may only be a dream. They say you can't go back and maybe that's true. I am hopeful I can reconnect with some of my good friends, but it may have already been too long being apart. It also takes money to live in Kelowna and it will very much depend on my financial circumstances. Living on assistance in Kelowna, even if that were possible, would be just as bad as here. I will not give up on my dream to get back there before I die, but short of winning a lottery, it will be an uphill battle. No matter what, my life will be much different if I get back. There won't be any boats or dirt bikes or snowmobiles and my life will be much different. One of my passions for years was to dance at the Corral, but my feet would make that impossible right now. Hopefully if I can lose the weight and get my diabetes under better control I may dance again.

I pray that I can write a much better story on my next birthday. If nothing has changed by then I will simply not survive.