He had a beautiful smile…

In my wife’s words, he had a beautiful smile.

I first met José Enrique in February of 2006. I could only guess his age although I would have said he was in his mid to late 20’s. He was tall, muscular, and displayed an element of bravado that belied many tattoos: suggesting another life.

Our surroundings were new and unfamiliar but this did not stop our hosts from warmly welcoming us. As our visit frequency increased in the ensuing years to this warm get-away, we seamlessly became family.

The 22nd parallel in this part of the world is truly an oasis, where the desert and the Pacific Ocean intermingle to present a fine, rich and lush band of colour, warmth, and sensory beauty. Much of this beauty exists in quiet and less commercial islands in this oasis, and we were fortunate to have found ourselves in a commercial yet set-back, small, and somewhat personalized lodging and community. The very small family run restaurant connected to the hotel had a limited menu but each bite of food and each refreshing drink was served with a rich connection to those whose daily lives depended upon our time and continued enjoyment of sumptuous simple food served in a spartan environment. We loved it, it was home, and it was as comforting and enveloping as any extended family could offer.

Mom and dad made the restaurant work with the help of a number of long-time staff. Mom spent her day in the tiny closet referred to as her kitchen and dad appeared to enjoy glad-handing, keeping a tight watch on the cash, and ever so subtly overseeing the public face of the business. I do not know how many years they had been associated with this establishment but everyone appeared at home and appeared to share a common, greater world.

Son, José Enrique would appear to help out now and again. He was affable and gregarious but appeared to have a life beyond helping mom and dad. In retrospect, I believe, at the time, he was unsure of himself and unfamiliar with his role in this family community. He spoke about having just moved to town, having left behind a life in Los Angeles. I believe he was born in the US and at some point, mom and dad left the US and returned home. Somehow in all of these fragmented, shared moments I came to believe that returning to mom and dad was a chance to step away from a life that potentially offered a short and unpleasant end. José loved to talk and although much of what he alluded to was rather vague, it did help to offer a glimpse through a foreigner’s lens that over the years further added to a broader set of lives that a Hemingway, a Greene, or perhaps Le Carré would have enjoyed parsing and eventually evince the nature of this young man and his disjointed life.

Our association with this culturally diverse and richly extended family allowed us to share babies becoming grownup teenagers, marriages and honeymoons, loves lost and loves found, corporate dismissals, the physical reinventing of the lodgings and the reshaping of the community through a meandering set of jobs-for-life. There continues to be those wonderful stalwarts that have helped to keep the community together, allow us to remain part of the family and remain connected close or from a distance.

In 2015, dad, José senior, the anchor, the dreamer, and in many ways the restaurant itself was taken down by an aneurism during one of his daily bookkeeping sessions at a table in the restaurant. As can be imagined from any family’s perspective, this was a devastating blow for the family and the community. Mom, whom I believe is well past any reasonable sense of retirement age was left to keep together a fragile social and financial arrangement and trust that others, especially young José Enrique would step up and help.

I had the great pleasure of once more sharing several wonderful weeks with our extended, away family in 2016 and enjoyed sharing stories with different members of the larger community and got to hear of and observe the changing dynamic that one must expect with time. To sit and chat about everything and nothing with like-minded souls is a wonderful treat and somehow, I knew I needed as much of this sharing as time would permit. I got to participate in a number of fabulous, and at times, raucous social events and see the exchanges and interchanges of family and friends alike. I was able to extend my friend connections and I watch the not-so-young José Enrique enjoy his children, I watched mom/grandma Norma enjoy all this from a distance, and I was ever so blessed to be part of such a tiny slice of this rich and engaging community.

Well I am not sure that this expression is the best under the circumstances, however it appears that all along there was an elephant in room and that elephant finally reared its unfortunate head just after New Year, 2018. I was contacted and informed that young José Enrique had been murdered the night before. Sadly, it seems that this young man’s previous life remained connected to him in some way and the unfortunate tentacles of the drug world reached out and touched and fractured another family and another set of communities.

None of us should have to imagine such events let alone experience them, as young José Enrique’s family is now doing. I cannot speak of the drug world, as this has fortunately remained nothing more to me than words on pages, virtual or otherwise. I can however, unfortunately speak of the pain of witnessing a family torn apart by this terrible societal greed and wonder from far away what my distant family will become.

The José family’s direct connection with the restaurant will cease and in time the greater community will heal. In the smaller world of the family, children will grow up without their father, while having some sense of a life lost and why, a mother will be comforted by her remaining family and yet forever believe she could have intervened in some way to have prevented this tragedy.

And yes, the community will move on with hurt in their hearts for different parts of this unfortunate loss of life and family. New families will arrive and be unaware of the before community yet bring new and fresh experiences and help bring life back to this little oasis, this little set-back, small, and rich community. We are ever so blessed to have known this family as part of our larger away family and community and we too will heal and continue to share in the lives of those who remain and keep the spirit alive.

Farewell young man. May your family heal and your beautiful smile be remembered.

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