Isn't It Pretty To Think So?

Dispatches on life, love and the human condition by a wanderer and hopeful romantic

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Why My Mechanic Is One of My Favorite People In the Universe

Photo Disclaimer: This is not me, nor my bus, but thanks for thinking so…

Since being an expatriate in Portugal I’ve forged the most unlikely of friendships. In fact, if life has taught me one thing up until this point, it’s that connections between people are often found in the strangest of scenarios, and shouldn’t be so much questioned as treasured.

For me, one of the brightest and most consistently positive relationships I have here in Aljezur is, unexpectedly, with my mechanic, who I’ll call Luis (not his real name). In Portugal unless you have a lot of money (I don’t), your car—or in my case, a 1999 Volkswagen Transporter bus—is usually either really old, in a constant state of disrepair, or both.

A good mechanic here is worth more than gold–“good” meaning one you can trust won’t rip you off or overcharge you, while still doing a decent job to ensure your automobile of choice stays on the road and passes the yearly Portuguese vehicle inspection that fills most residents with dread (and usually requires a monetary bribe).

I completely lucked out with Luis, a tiny Portuguese man who comes up to my boobs (I’m nearly 5’9”) and—while only about 10 years my senior—seems more like a wise and kind uncle than a contemporary.

Luis speaks—in addition to Portuguese—perfect English, German and Afrikaans, the last from a long stint living in South Africa; has been married twice; and used to be an avid motorcyclist who at one point suffered a severe accident that not only nearly killed him, but changed his outlook on life and his behavior forever.

From the first moment I met him, Luis gave me a calm, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it for you” feeling, something that—let’s be honest—is incredibly desirable in the guy who’s going to make sure your shitty van isn’t going to suddenly fall apart or veer off a cliff. I’m a generally nervous person (in case you haven’t figured that out yet), so this type of demeanor is not just something I value in a mechanic, but also in my friends.

Luis, in the five or so years that I’ve known him, has become just that. Lately, he’s also become a relationship counselor of sorts, listening to me sound off about my now ex-boyfriend (who he’s met a couple of times) and our troubles, and sharing with me his views on marriage (ie, if he had his life to live over, maybe he’d leave out that part) and how ridiculously sometimes people act in intimate relationships.

Today I had to meet Luis to get a couple of new tires put on my van. Rather, I had to pick him up at his shop and then have him drop me off in Aljezur to run errands while he went to another mechanic shop to fit the tires—which he’d gotten nearly new at a bargain especially for me. He was then going to pick me back up in town and I would drop him off at his office, which is just on the outskirts.

These types of arrangements are typical with Luis. In fact, the last time I had tires put on the van, he drove his motorcycle to my house to pick it up, drove it to have the tires installed, and then drove it back and picked up his motorcycle to return to his home in the nearby countryside. He didn’t even make me pay in advance, just asked me for the money after he’d finished the job.

Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had this type of relationship with a mechanic before. In fact, Luis sometimes even refuses to fix things because they will cost me TOO much money rather than fixes things needlessly (or breaks things so they will need fixing), like many mechanics. (This, in fact, was a running joke between my ex-boyfriend and me after Luis explained to him the seemingly infinite number of things that were wrong with my van but said he didn’t want to fix them because they would run up a huge bill.)

Luis greeted me with his typical, “Hello, beautiful.” He never misses an opportunity to tell me what a lovely woman I am (I suspect he says this to all the ladies, but no matter) and always greets me kindly and with a warm embrace in addition to the customary two kisses that is the Portuguese way.

We proceeded to drive into town, where I planned to run some errands while waiting for my tires. We joked about if I would be safe alone on the streets of Aljezur—a tiny village with little petty crime and a murder rate of about zero. As he dropped me off, Luis asked, teasingly, “What would your (insert ex’s name here) think about you walking around alone in dangerous Aljezur?”

I told him that he would think nothing of it, as he abruptly dumped me by WhatsApp message and hasn’t spoken to me in a week and a half. I tried to make light of it and we didn’t speak more about it, and I headed on my way.

Later, though, when he picked me up and we drove back to his office, the discussion got a bit more personal and intense. Luis, as I mentioned before, has been married twice, and it seems the first time was a rather painful experience.

We talked about the toxic cat-and-mouse game that exists in many relationships—including the one from which I just emerged–with one person doing the chasing and the other running away. “That’s what all the songs are about,” Luis said, alluding to the myriad pop songs about not knowing what you have until it’s gone (including the one very obviously titled “Don’t Know What You Got ‘Til It’s Gone” by the legendary hair-metal band Cinderella) .

“In my experience, when something becomes broken, it gets cracked and is impossible to put together again,” he said. Luis told me he tried very hard with his ex-wife but still couldn’t hold on to her. However, she came back to him later when all was said and done and told him that once he was gone, she idealized him and their relationship.

“I have a feeling that if you give him the cold shoulder, he’ll come back to you,” Luis said of my ex, thinking of his own experience. I mulled this over as he prepared to leave the car and said, “Well, if that’s the case, I absolutely won’t take him back unless we acknowledge this unhealthy dynamic and work on it. I’d even go to therapy.”

“Speaking of that,” I continued, “what do I owe you for this session?” Luis laughed, and said, “Nothing of course, my dear. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you.”

Then, he stepped back and took a long look at my van, which he’d also fixed to the tune of 1,000 euros several months back. “I think your van is in good shape for awhile now,” he said, knowing that this also meant we probably wouldn’t see each other for some time.

“Muito obrigada, Luis,” I said to him. “And thanks again for listening to me. I’ll let you know what happens.”

I started to drive away, and he watched me for a moment before, his mind already on other things, turning back to his shop and the business of the rest of the day. I watched him in my rearview mirror for a second before stepping harder on the gas—a small, late middle-aged man in a blue mechanic’s uniform, shuffling peacefully back to his life’s work of repairing the problems that other people can’t fix.


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My Heart Is on the Mend…Again


When I’m heartbroken, I take solace in doing the smallest things. Drinking a cup of tea. Putting diesel in the tank. Hanging the laundry on the line. I find that by focusing on the little things that take up a lot of our practical time in life, I am soothed, somehow, in knowing that I am taking care of business. Step by step, day by day, if I don’t let these things fall to neglect—these simple acts of self and household care—it means that I am on my way to healing.

I’m heartbroken again, for nine straight days now. I didn’t choose to be this way, not on any surface level. But I know deep down–and all the psychology website and YouTube videos tell me so–that it’s essentially my fault.

I find myself heartbroken all too often, so much so that it must be my comfortable state–incurable love addict, hopeful romantic and general emotional basket case that I am. Although I wouldn’t call the catatonic way I can stare into space these days for what seems like hours on end; the unexpected and sudden crying when someone asks “How are you?”; and the nights spent in my bed staring numbly at TV-series episodes exactly the most “comfortable” mode of daily existence.

My nearly year-long relationship with a man I thought might finally be a good candidate to be a life partner—the longest relationship I’d had in, I’m not kidding, something like 14 years—ended with two simple WhatsApp messages. Then…silence so loud it’s been deafening.

Without getting too personal about what happened, my last ex is the latest in a long line of failed relationships, mainly because I usually find myself barking up the wrong tree when it comes to getting what I want—a stable partner with whom I can spend my life.

I also am not the type of woman who is very good at playing the “game” all the self-help books tell you that you need to play to keep a man—I tend to show my hand of cards far to quickly, speak my mind too easily, and imagine my ever-after far too soon–things that tend to kill most relationships before they even start.

However, I thought I did everything right this time and took it slowly. I didn’t even really like this man that much at first, but wanted to give him a chance because he was attractive enough and we had nice conversations. I also live as an expat in a rural Portuguese coastal town, so the availability of single men my age (mid 40s) is limited. Any man with decent looks, similar interests, a job and a pulse is potential life-partner material around here. Even some of those without a job or decent looks can be negotiable–teeth, however, are a must.

I ignored early red flags that he might be the noncommittal type, something we women like to do when we want very badly for something to work. Now nearly a year of a roller-coaster ride of push-pull with this guy—me being clear that I wanted a relationship and more time with him, him alternating between resisting (even once, for nearly two weeks, basically ignoring me) and meeting my needs in what seemed like sincere and even rather extreme ways that led me to believe he was in this thing for real.

Now, quite abruptly, I find myself alone again, dumped after a ridiculous argument only a day after he finally hung out with some of my friends and was asking me what I wanted for my upcoming birthday.

I’m stunned and incredibly hurt, of course. But when I look under the hood it’s fairly obvious that I should have seen it coming—that I was on thin ice the whole time, if not already kicking and thrashing in neck-high freezing water. This guy was never going to commit to me because we were playing out our respective roles in a toxic pattern of an avoidant-anxious attachment relationship. (Again, this is what the Internet tells me, so it must be true.)

He repeatedly told me he would never change when I would point out his clear resistance to a real relationship and to evolve as a person, and said that I also should not. I tried as best I could to accept him for who he was and adapt accordingly as best I could, telling myself this is what you do in a relationship.

I also carried on being exactly who I am and being perfectly honest, not playing games or holding back the less attractive parts of my personality—which inevitably led to his WhatsApp break-off of the relationship and respective refusal to speak to me. (Great idea that was!)

I guess this is the part where I’m supposed to move ahead, know I am better off without him and get on with my amazing life—which includes but is not limited to surfing, freelance writing, continuing to work on home improvements to my Mediterranean-style bungalow, yoga, drumming lessons, potentially interesting projects on the horizon, and lovely group of friends. I should be planning my next solo surf vacation. I should be working to learn from my mistakes and heal myself from my anxious attachment patterns and get ready to meet someone secure who is far better-suited to me and can meet me halfway in a relationship.

A bit more than a week after the shock to my already well-scarred heart, I’ve started slowly and gingerly resume doing all of these things. I planned a redesign of my garden BBQ area earlier today, and have plans to meet a friend for surfing later. I continue to diligently do the requirements of my freelance job every day. Tomorrow I’ll go to my mechanic to fit my van with new tires.

Slowly, after a week of being fairly useless, I am returning to the business of living and managing my life alone again, trying to push out of my mind the fact that I won’t have my boyfriend around anymore to support me and to do all the practical things I’m so inept at doing.

I’m also trying to wrap my head around the fact (without bursting into tears) that i have lost his companionship and my partner-in-crime for hiking, dining, swimming, boating, laughing, dancing in my kitchen, late-night grocery shopping, sex, wine-drinking, cuddling, movie-watching and the myriad other fun activities we used to share together. Because, aside from our opposite relationship styles, I can’t say that we didn’t have a shitload of good times together, and that I was hoping for a hell of a lot more.

I am slowly putting one foot in front of the other, it’s true, but all through a huge veil of sadness and heavy feeling that threatens to topple me when I stand up, so much so that I find myself feeling physically dizzy, the earth unsteady beneath me. I’ve certainly been through worse than the thoughtless dumping by a narcissist (the death of my mother the day before my 33rd birthday comes to mind), so it can’t be this singular blow that itself is such a knock-out punch.

What I think, though, is that for some reason, each new heartbreak, instead of getting dimmer with age and familiarity, seems to get more difficult. It as if all the heartbreaks of our whole life gather into a massive ball of emotional twine that gains momentum and rolls down a great hill over you, leaving you flat out on the ground. And when you do get up, it’s slowly, with much staggering and confusion, to a world that has been–without your knowledge or consent–irreversibly altered.

Time tells me wounds heal, sadness passes, people come and go. The spiritual teachings I read and witness tell me that the universe has a plan for me; that some relationships are not meant to be forever; and some people are put in our lives merely to teach us something or point out things we need to change.

I find the same solace in these existential things as I find in feeding the cats and taking out the garbage, knowing that with every day my head will get lighter, the sun will shine a bit brighter and I am one step closer to being back to not just my old self, but an even wiser version of me.