Patterns – Excerpt from Chapter 8 – of Turquoise Interlude –A Counterculture Memoir of Free Love, Drugs, and Personal Growth in New Mexico 1968-1970

That the patterns of my relationships were similar never entered my mind. I couldn’t recognize an alcoholic and I didn’t know about the violence that often accompanies habitual drinking. Drugs were the norm; heavy alcohol use did not alarm me. 

My psychotherapist self screams at my old self now, “Don’t you see the men you are picking? Why so many alcoholics hurling their anger without inhibition?” But the me of then hadn’t learned anything about this. Rebellious excess, especially among artists, had been glorified in recent literature, so I did not become discouraged nor question my choices in men. Their art and our shared passion loomed important to my psyche. I did not know enough to be scared. I had no clue about addiction and was only lucky that my body didn’t crave alcohol, that my genes were not alcoholic. 

My present self also knows that I have always been attracted to artists (all forms) and most of the artists I have known through the years fit the stereotype of “struggling” in many ways. This includes poverty, intense and focused artistic expression, and often drugs and alcohol. Artistic passion is what has always drawn me in. Alcohol and drugs are merely incidental, but not what attract me. 

©2021   Marianna Mejia

“Baile, Maria, Baile,” Excerpt from Chapter 4 – Andy’s Lessons, Turquoise Interlude –A Counterculture Memoir of Free Love, Drugs, and Personal Growth in New Mexico 1968-1970

During the fall, after the tourist season, La Cocina restaurant on the Taos Plaza hosted a weekly, inexpensive, all-you-can-eat shellfish buffet. Every Friday night during the “local season,” Andy and I would go there to eat. With my insatiable appetite for clams and oysters, they lost money on me! If I tired of the clams and oysters, they also served crab, lobster, shrimp and fish, all freshly flown in from New York. This sumptuous feast did draw the people in and so did the entertainment. 

After dinner, Antonio, a Chicano from Santa Fe, would play romantic, Spanish-flavored guitar and I would be moved to dance. “Baile, Maria, Baile,” he would call to me when he saw me. At his invitation I would pull myself up and let the music carry me, improvising song after song. I loosened my wavy brown hair and felt the damp sweat at my neck, cooled by my turquoise earrings which swung gently as I danced. My body stretched and turned, reached and drew back in, urged by the tones from Antonio’s guitar, inexhaustible. The trance propelled me until the music stopped and I came back to this world. Everyone clapped and shouted “Ole.”

©2021   Marianna Mejia

Aloka, My Dog – Excerpt from Chapter 9 of Turquoise Interlude –A Counterculture Memoir of Free Love, Drugs, and Personal Growth in New Mexico 1968-1970

Early in spring, when the green was starting to come out of the earth again, I met Ben, a successful and brilliant painter. He visited the house one day with his “old lady,” whose beautiful black lab had recently had puppies. “I just dropped the last three puppies at the Taos pound,” she told me wistfully. “You have to go get one before they are put to sleep. Do it now. They are special.” By the next day I was convinced that I was ready for a puppy and I had to do it quickly. On the way to the pound, stopping for a minute at the Safeway parking lot in Taos, I met some friends who were standing outside with their brand-new baby named Aloka, a word they said, meant light in Tibetan. “What a beautiful name,” I exclaimed, “If your baby wasn’t already named Aloka, I would name my dog that.” 

“You can use it anyway,” they generously encouraged, “It’s okay with us.” 

By the time I arrived at the pound, it was closing, and I had to bang on the locked door. But the man in charge let me in when I informed him I had, “come for my dog.” He led me to the cage where the puppies were waiting and I reached in and pulled out the shorthaired, golden brown one, as if I already knew and loved her. Aloka’s warm body fit in my hand. I held her close to my heart and tears came to my eyes welcoming this important new family member.

©2021   Marianna Mejia

The Seeds of New Mexico – Excerpt from Chapter 12 of Turquoise Interlude – A Counterculture Memoir of Free Love, Drugs, and Personal Growth in New Mexico 1968-1970

The seeds of Northern New Mexico had been planted in me when I was seven years old. 1952. The memories come unbidden and mixed: arched, rounded adobe fireplaces, piñon trees and purple canyons, desert sagebrush and old ways of life. The smells of horse sweat and crushed sage mingled with forest bird songs.

Above Taos, above the valley of San Cristobal, red and white mushrooms popped up in the wet, rocky earth next to smooth, sculpted, maroon manzanitas. Cleofes led the way along the narrow and steep mountain trail, his black horse big and powerful. I followed, small upon the brown horse, the stiff leather saddle supporting my seven-year old body, the stirrups holding my feet, the reins in my tiny hands. The views painted my imagination and lodged in my heart. I was entranced by the blue valley looking like a picture far below, disappearing for moments behind the piñons, then revealing the distant red orange sunset snow of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Mesquite trees grey and twisted, added texture. 

Brown skinned Cleofes, wizened but still stocky and muscular, worked as a ranch hand for friends of my parents, at their mountain guest ranch where we had arrived a few days earlier. My family, packed into our old Chevy, had just traversed the Southwest, through Santa Fe and up to Taos and beyond, until we reached the rutted dirt road leading to the brown adobe ranch house high above the miniature blue and green valley.

Inside, the white walls felt smooth and cool when I touched them. Each bedroom had an adobe fireplace built into it. The dark, main room had its own big fireplace, with rounded corners. Grey woven Navajo rugs brightened with stick figure designs in maroon, green, yellow, blue and black, hung on the walls underneath the brown wooden “vigas” that supported the ceiling. In the niches and dark shelves next to the rugs, clay pots painted with black and white figures from the New Mexico Pueblo Indians, and carved stone animal fetishes, their turquoise eyes matching the sky, exuded the character of the southwest. My mouth hung open in wonder and my heart felt happy.

Outside, we looked down at the tiny pueblo below, where Cleofes was born and raised and still lived. That experience birthed those New Mexico seeds that grew, hidden inside of me, until my return.

©2021   Marianna Mejia

Cloud Girl’s Legacy – Excerpt from Chapter 12 of Turquoise Interlude – A Counterculture Memoir of Free Love, Drugs, and Personal Growth in New Mexico 1968-1970

 Cloud Girl was my soul sister, pulled from my child’s storybook, she became part of my being. Her winter home was a hogan in Arizona near the border of New Mexico. In the summers they camped with the sheep where the forest smelled fresh, its piñon trees shining after a summer rain. I identified with her and yearned to be Navajo. On that trip my parents bought me a velvet-clothed Navajo doll. Her turquoise skirt and brown shirt were belted by a silver conch, her black hair tied back with yarn. I treasured that doll, imagining that she could have been Cloud Girl’s mother, or Cloud Girl grown up, or me in another life. 

Seventeen years later, finally drawn back to New Mexico, I was alone and searching, finding my way in the high, thin air among the rocks and relics, wet, warm earth, and dry sun. Living near the Taos Indian Pueblo, the most Northern of the pueblos strung like a belt of unpolished diamonds across New Mexico, that strong Native American presence drew me in again. I felt called to be there and things were easy for me. New Mexico opened her doors and kept welcoming me. I was in heaven. The seeds sprouted and became ready to bloom. 

©2021 Marianna Mejia