I’m in a loveless marriage with this girl named Wilson. On the rare days we don’t hang out, she calls me on her drive home from work, just to recount the day. She’s headstrong and pushy and passionate and makes all the decisions for both of us. I no longer have to choose what to eat after work or where to go on Saturday afternoon—a million oppressive decisions spared. It’s been soothing and comforting and safe in ways I didn’t know I wanted.
One lazy weekend morning, we were making omelettes at my place, all sunlight and white walls. I started cooking, because she was still Tindering on the couch. Eventually, she moseyed over in one of my baggy t-shirts and commenced micromanaging me. She had specifications for how to brown the meat, for how fine to dice the onions, for when to flip the eggs. I paused, spatula in hand, to turn and face her. I’ve been living away from my parents since I was 8. I’ve been making my own omelettes since age 10. I’m a competent and accomplished adult. I can fry up my own damn onions. But just when I opened my mouth to say all this, I realized: That’s the trade-off. All the tiny tedious decisions I no longer have to make, well, the same way I way I got out of them also means I don’t get to decide the shade of the outside of my omelettes.
I’ve been thinking a lot about control lately. Who we give it up to, who we exert it over, when we try to cling to it, and what all that says about us.
Recently, I snuck into Cuba illegally with a girl I barely knew. Let’s call her Murry. She knew Spanish, so she became the de facto decision-maker simply because she had more information. She could ask people questions, learn facts, gather intel, while I stood by, smiling mutely. She was a terrible leader, never including anyone else in decisions or disseminating information. By the end, I was jumping into cabs and then asking, “Uh, where the fuck are we going?” I got grumpy and shut down, stopped talking to anybody in any language.
Then, just as I was about at my limit, we got sick. We didn’t notice a water bottle had been previously opened until too late. I spent 18 hours in a hostel bed in Trinidad, waking up only to diarrhea and shower periodically. Murry spent the night vomiting, dozing off on the floor of the bathroom. In the morning, I awoke more or less better, if slightly weakened from not eating for 24 hours. Murry slept on, so I slipped out with the driver to explore.
Our driver (it was cheaper than renting a car) was a quiet kid who didn’t speak a lick of English. I pointed at him and at me and said “solamente.” He said, “Que?” I repeated the gesture. We got in his ’52 Ford and drove.
For one glorious morning, I was in charge.
I saw two tourists, each with his right calf fully tatted up. I wondered if their friendship produced the similar tattoos or if the matching tattoos produced the friendship.
I touched the skull of a cow in the crumbling slave-owner ranch house of an old sugar plantation.
I pet a fat puppy and he waddled around after me as I wandered the plantation.
I drank guarapo, sugar cane juice.
I watched two kid goats prance around their mother and then suckle on her udders.
I went inside a discotheque carved out of a cave.
I saw the blackened, scorched top of the mountain where a brush fire had kept us out of the cave disco the night before.
I saw a woman wearing a Whatsapp tank top.
I saw a kitten on a leash secured to a cement wall.
I saw a European woman with a braid of hair down to the small of her back. I wondered how she put on the hood of her sweater. I wondered how nectar-sweet it would be to be her, with her life, and her hair braid, and her individual worries. I wondered if she wondered what it would be like to be me.
I saw two horseback cowboys, jean jackets and cowboy hats, carrying a goat carcass and waving triumphantly at their friends as they rode through town. I saw their dutiful dog trotting behind, the goat’s skull in his mouth.
I swatted a fly that kept landing on my arm in the car. I remembered an old lady I met once, deep in the the Borneo jungle. She wore only a sarong and sat calmly on the wood floor of her house as mosquitoes sucked her blood. Meanwhile, I kept frantically slapping at my skin, waving my hands in the air.
In some ways, the battles we choose not to fight are a type of control.
Later, on the way home, I saw birds flitting around inside the Havana airport terminal. I wondered if the expression “free as a bird” applies to the ones stuck in an airport.
When we landed in Cancun, the entire plane erupted in applause. The man sitting across the aisle crossed himself and kissed his fingers, glancing upwards toward the heavens that we had just descended from. I smirked at the Latinness of it all, but I also became acutely aware that, for the duration of the flight, no one in the cabin had had any control.