“…The truths of our hearts and memories never finish running their risks,” wrote Peter Abelard to his love, Heloise in the 1100s. I look down from that flash card clipped to the lampshade on my desk as my eyes catch sight of a dusty wood carved turtle.
Sorting and tossing all the junk that fornicates overnight to create, the ‘…what the hell? I thought I cleared all this crap off last night…?!” - first responder response of the following morning, I decided to stop and polish up the old ‘tortuga’ from Mexico.
Blonde and brunette coloured wood layers the cocobolo tree. Really looking at this little sculpture. I smile as I think about having it given to me as a gift 32 years past, by the man who died 26 years ago.
Peter, my husband was not my husband at the time of the gift giving, but he did finally introduce me to the fabled cocobolo our last Christmas together as my husband in l993.
We were in Puerto Vallarta when he properly introduced me to this wood on the beach. Weakened by chronic myeloid leukaemia, he was beside himself having found such a valiant piece, a good 2 feet long. Battered like he was, perhaps it was a spiritual bonding as a sculptor who loved best carving in exotic woods. The shadow of a smile recedes when I think how he held onto that piece of wood, as if it was a prize he had won. Some kind of subconscious, metaphysical, esoteric bonding of the tangle of tangibles; life and death, wood he loved, and loving life.
Now, the cocobolo is a tropical hard timber, reddish in color often used to make cutlery handles. It’s a Spanish word from the Arawak peoples now living in Guiana, but originally from the Greater Antillies and adjacent parts of South America. Oh. And. It is very heavy. I know because I had to lift the damn thing back to our suite as it was too much for Peter.
It was kind of sweet and nutty the way he would cradle this thing, dragging it around like Linus’s blanket from the Peanuts comic strip. But, I was glad to see him drawing plans for mini- sculptures in jewellery because it indicated his creative facilities were inspired. I loved seeing that fountain of pure genius in him…
…Until the day we were packing to leave. The night before had been a somber and sobering realization we would probably never be back. Each of us knowing it, neither of us saying it. Both of us savouring that moonlit night on the beach, holding hands, not letting go. Not speaking. Not needing to.
But that morning, all practicalities for the journey home were the order of the day which you can understand is a hard won battle for two artists who could barely balance the clumsy world of the mundane in making a sandwich without making a mess. Packing to go and do anything was always a chaotic festival of rainbow moments decidedly unlinked to reality.
Thinking back, like rewinding a video: I stop and stare as Peter attempts to pack this 2 foot long, sand infested, Methuselah-old log in his suitcase.
“What are you doing?” I asked, like all women ask, when they can see exactly what the man is doing, but ask anyway.
The response is as typically male, as is the question typically female.
“I’m packing the cocobolo.”
“Yes, I see that, but what are you intending to do with it?”
“I’m bringing it home.”
“I see. So, the rest of your stuff that you cannot now fit into the suitcase is going to go, where…?’
There was a pause. I blame the interferon.
Then his look of despair at having to give up something that had become dear. A look that could break a child’s heart.
“Well, maybe this will do,” I said more gently, as I go into my own suitcase and pull out a 4 inch piece of — cocobolo —something I found on my solitudinal sojourns on the beach sorting out my own tangle of the intangibles.
Six weeks later, when we got back to Gibsons Landing he presented me with his cocobolo sculpture.
It was Valentine’s Day. It was his last gift of art to me.