Once back in Buenos Aires, I caught a job as a deck hand on a U.S. merchant ship, which meant leaving Beti in Buenos Aires. I could tell she wasn’t sure I’d come back, but I knew I would, and did.
A few months later, I flew back to Buenos Aires, and for the next two years, Beti shared my nomadic existence. In Spain, at an Ibiza rooming house, we met a Danish doper who said we could get through the winter as kibbutz volunteers. A couple of months later, in Athens, we counted our pennies and realized we had enough to get to Israel. After landing in Haifa with $20 between us, we went to a kibbutz in the Valley of Elah and became volunteers.
For the next twelve months we were a couple but were separated, for long stretches, by my ship work and by Beti’s father’s sudden death, which required her to fly back to Argentina to be with her mother, to comfort her and help run the small underwear factory they owned. A few weeks after Beti went back to Argentina, I flew to Buenos Aires to be with her.
That first night back together, in her mother’s twelfth-floor apartment, Beti and I made love. I mention this because a few weeks later she realized her period was late, and a medical check-up confirmed she was pregnant –a child conceived my first night back in Argentina. My mind, reared on literature, saw a connection: Beti’s father’s death and her pregnancy were connected, like the rhymes “womb” and “tomb,” death and life intertwined and inseparable.
The next day was a Saturday in February. Beti and her mom walked to the factory while I remained in the twelfth-floor apartment alone. I smoked a joint, then took the elevator down.
People were hawking all sorts of things in open-air markets, and shop owners were trying desperately to lure customers. It was noisy and busy: oranges here, jewelry there, boutique shops, second-hand goods. I drifted on the periphery, watching others, observing it all.
This was what I’d been doing for years, gliding on the slippery outer skin of the planet, standing outside the human drama, watching others live their lives, observing but not being a part of it. Unbidden, a Spanish word started repeating in my head, Metete. It had the Argentine pronunciation, with the accent on the middle syllable meh-TEH-teh.
Get in there. Get involved. Do it. Do it now.
Beti and I had now been together for more than two years, but I was still roving, still working on ships, leaving her behind, traveling, having adventures, then later reconnecting with her.
She’d never complained about that, but now the situation had changed.
A fetus had been tossed into the mix. A fetus that would grow into a baby, then into a child who’d need a father. Could I be that father and attend to that child’s needs?
The repetition of that word, with its pa-PAM-pa rhythm, as sinewy as an acid trip, as life-changing as brain damage or falling in love, had a potent effect. It left me breathless. Literally. I was gulping for air, reminding myself how to breathe.
And that was the moment I knew I wanted to be a father, wanted to make a future with Beti. I knew that everything that came after this decision would be different from everything that came before. But I felt ready for the change. I was. I was ready.