The River Takes and the River Gives

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| This is the 571st story of Our Life Logs |


People say cats have nine lives. I don’t know how many lives humans have, but, so far, I’ve lived two.

My first life was worry-free. It started in South Dakota in April of 1987. I did many of the things people expect: I went to college, met a boy, and fell in love. There was also the unexpected: I met my boyfriend when I was studying abroad in Argentina. When I finished college, I moved to South America so that we could live together. Things went well, I started a little English language school, and my boyfriend ran a shop. A few years later, in 2011, we got married. Then, right when we getting to the happily-ever-after part, my second life started.

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My second life began on a happily-ever-after sort of day. It was October 25, 2014. It was spring in Argentina, where my husband, Eloy, and I lived. After experiencing morning sickness for the past two months, I’d finally started the second trimester of my pregnancy. That day, I woke up feeling healthy, energetic, and not nauseous.

I celebrated by going to the plot of land we’d recently purchased. My husband and a workman were building a little cottage from local river stones. The construction site was on an old cherry orchard, and the trees were in full bloom; there was an audible buzz of bees visiting the white, lacy flower bunches. The sun was warm, so I just laughed when Eloy sprayed me with the hose.

We were cheerful because we had exciting plans for the afternoon: we were going to the river. Eloy and the guys would ride the innertubes in the strong, ice-melt current. A friend and I would wait a few kilometers downstream with the cars.

Eloy gave me a quick peck on the lips and whispered, “I love you,” before jumping into the pickup truck. My friend, Elena, and I, both pregnant, sat chatting by the river. Our gossiping dropped off when we saw an empty innertube float by.

It took about 12 hours before the search and rescue team found Eloy’s lifeless body on a sandbank. I called my mother-in-law, repeating the phrases the policeman had uttered when he broke the news to me.

I lay on the bed next to one of Eloy’s sweaty T-shirts. It smelled like him. “What do I do now?” I asked.

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My parents came to help me. Too soon, they had to fly back to the US. I didn’t want to go back with them. I wanted to stay where I was.

I was worried about losing my independence if I moved back home, but something else bothered me as well. I didn’t want to leave my little stone cottage half-built. I’d seen abandoned construction sites before. Whenever I saw these unfinished projects I wondered why people would put in so much effort, just to leave them behind later. Now I knew the answer: in the midst of their projects, something devastating had happened and plans changed.

I wanted to finish building my house. I didn’t want my life to end just because Eloy had drowned. An enormous weight fell on my back; I’d never realized before just how much he used to take care of in our day-to-day life. Now, I was the only one responsible for paying the bills and getting ready for the baby.

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Eloy drowned in the river, but I was drowning in my anguish. I was lonely and feeling anxious about how I would take care of a baby by myself. That’s when I received an intriguing message over Facebook’s chat.

The man texting me was a friend-of-a-friend, but I didn’t know him. Diego wrote that he was a pianist and working in a local restaurant. I don’t remember much of what we said to each other, but one day he invited me to eat homemade pasta with him. I agreed to go, but I secretly suspected that he might be a serial killer. Since losing Eloy, I felt like I didn’t have much to lose, so I said I’d bring ice cream for dessert.

He came by my house to pick me up and we walked together to his. The pasta didn’t materialize. Diego explained that his housemate had asked him not to make a mess in the kitchen. Would I like to order a pizza? I accused him of not knowing how to make pasta. He seemed to have a sincere interest in becoming my friend. Later, I found out that our mutual friend had told him about me and that, after hearing my story, Diego worried that I must be feeling lonely, living so far from my family and having recently lost my husband.

The next day he showed up at my door with homemade pasta. On a different occasion, he made me hummus. We picked cherries together and made jam. I showed him how to make raspberry muffins and he made me homemade gnocchi with pomarola sauce. He fished a trout from the river and baked it in butter. We ate and we ate and we ate. In addition to being a musician, he was a chef! A little spark of joy returned to me.

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Then in March 2015, just five months after Eloy passed, I traveled to back to Eloy’s hometown. Before the accident, we’d decided that our baby would be born there and I stuck to the original plan.

My parents came to help me again and my in-laws were with me each step of the way. It wasn’t the joyful experience a birth should be. I remember crying at my last ultra-sound. I was worried the technician saw something abnormal on the screen. Eloy wasn’t there to hold my hand and reassure me.

My mother-in-law recalled her own pregnancy. She’d had Eloy when she was 38 and losing hope of ever having a baby. There had been too many miscarriages earlier and then, like magic, Eloy had arrived. Now, he was gone.

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Matias’ delivery was easy. He was a healthy little boy. My parents accompanied me back to my home at the foot of the Andes Mountains. Diego was waiting for us there. He’d aired out the house and gotten things ready for my return.

I wasn’t sure how to react. Having a baby and spending time with Eloy’s family had been emotionally draining. I still hadn’t faced my grief over Eloy’s passing and here was Diego, looking hopeful, wanting to help. I didn’t tell him to go away, but I didn’t make him feel welcome either. He was hurt.

The day my parents left, Diego looked me straight in the eye, “Do you want me around or not?” I asked him to stay in my life, and our friendship grew.

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It’s hard to pinpoint the moment we fell in love. It might have been the day that we visited a friend’s farm. We dug up raspberry bushes together and then planted them behind my cottage with Matias observing from his stroller. It could have been on a hike in the brisk autumn air. We first kissed one evening as we watched a movie together.

At first, I worried that Diego might harm Matias. I even asked him one day if he would ever hurt my son, but I soon realized that Diego was gentle and caring. He loved plants, faithfully watering the sunflowers, poppies, and snapdragons he’d planted in front of the house I rented. He made friends with the cat next door, Tequila, bringing him trout he fished from the river.

I finally learned to trust Diego when Matias was four months old. Diego had traveled to Buenos Aires for work and to visit his mother there. I’d stayed behind, working in my language school and caring for Matias. When it was time for Winter vacation in July, I planned a trip to Buenos Aires—I needed to register Matias’ birth with the US embassy.

I called Diego and told him about my plans. He invited me to stay at his mother’s house and assured me that he would pick me up at the airport. I didn’t believe him, going so far as to make a reservation in a hotel and memorizing the address so that I could tell a taxi driver quickly if I needed to. Diego came through, though, picking me up on time and taking me to his house. I realized that our friendship had grown into a loving, caring partnership.

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When I was pregnant, I kept myself busy enough that I didn’t have to think about what had happened. I preoccupied myself as I packed and moved to a new rental. Then, I focused on preparing for my baby’s arrival. Once Matias arrived and I was back at home without my parents, I went into a downward spiral.

I tried focusing on caring for my baby and planning my classes, but I couldn’t concentrate. I was stressed by work and my postpartum hormones were out of whack. As a new mother, I was always tired. There was also the secret I didn’t want to admit: I missed Eloy and was angry that he’d died.

I was furious for more than a year. I raged around. I would wash the dishes and Diego would bring me a dirty plate. Instead of thanking him, I’d snap at him to wait until I was ready, to stop crowding me. Small things would make me explode and I’d kick whatever was lying on the floor near me.

Diego suggested that I talk to a psychologist and helped me schedule an appointment. Her name was Laura. She said I was suffering from PTSD. We worked through my anger and fear—inexplicably I’d developed a debilitating fear of dogs in addition to my angry outbursts. Where I lived, the streets were full of stray dogs and I was scared that one could bite Matias. This made it hard for me to leave my house, even if I just needed to walk to the grocery store.

Laura helped me see that overwhelming sorrow was the source of these feelings. She explained that the anger I expressed towards Diego was meant for Eloy for having abandoned me. In another session, she told me that I hadn’t been abandoned at all, that Eloy hadn’t wanted to go. She was right, but I still felt terrible.

More than a year after Matias was born, at Laura’s recommendation, I worked up the courage to return to the river where Eloy drowned. Now, as a family, we visit every year on Eloy’s birthday and on the anniversary of his death.

Eloy and the river.

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Poor Matias! Throughout my pregnancy, my body had been pumping stress hormones through the placenta and into his little body. Then, after he was born, he saw that his mother was an angry monster.

These conditions meant that as soon as he could walk, Matias displayed behavioral issues. He started hitting me when he was just a year old. There was hair-pulling, biting, head-butting, and kicking. For no apparent reason, he would have violent temper tantrums that lasted for more than an hour. If we weren’t there to protect him, he would flop down and hit his head hard on the ground.

Diego said Matias needed help, but I didn’t want to believe it. “Temper tantrums are normal,” I rationalized. After two years of agony, I finally agreed to take my son to a psychologist as well.

We’ve had to change how we parent. I had to accept that Diego, not Eloy, was Matias’ dad. As excited as he was to see his son, the only contribution that Eloy made to Matias was his genetic material. Diego, on the other hand, stayed by Matias’ side—even through his tantrums. He ran after Matias in the airport when he escaped. Diego sang Matias to sleep every night and took him to preschool in the mornings.

Matias, Diego, and me.

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Matias is five now. This week he started first grade. He’s matured and he’s also taking medication to help him control his impulses and stay calm. I’m doing better too. I’m not angry at Eloy anymore. I just feel regretful about what happened. I miss him sometimes. There’s so much I wish I could tell him.

All the way through, Diego has been firmly by my side to support me. He knew when I needed to talk to a professional and got help for Matias. He inspired me to continue work on my cottage. He still makes incredible meals for the entire family every day—today was broccoli with Roquefort.

We have a new addition to our family, as well: Linus, who was born in 2019. Matias is a great older brother, always looking out for what could hurt his little worshipper. Linus, who’s one-and-a-half now, follows behind, mimicking everything Matias does.

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So far, I’ve lived two lives and I’m only 33. Who knows if there will be more? Parts have been tremendously difficult, but I’ve had the incredible fortune to find great love. Many, many times.



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 This is the story of Dora Nuss-Warren

After her husband died suddenly, Dora worked through her grief and pain with the support of a new friend, Diego. Today, they live together at the foot of the Andes Mountains with their two sons, pair of rabbits, and couple of cats. Dora works as a freelance writer and Diego as a musician.

Dora with her children and their pet rabbit.

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This story first touched our hearts on March 2, 2018.

| Writer: Dora Nuss Warren | Editors: Kristen Petronio; Colleen Walker |

#writersofArgentina #Argentina #loss #widow #motherhood #death

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