Monday, December 21, 2009

Your name has come to put me in mind
of a dot on a map, the name of a place
I haven't been in years.

There are towns I've lived in and loved
but left behind, for whatever reason.
I return, months later, and names of streets
have changed; I don't remember the shortcuts;
my favorite spots have become hard to find.

Once, I built a nice warm home
on your shoulder. I went to church
in the crook of your neck, my favorite dive bar
a dimly lit joint on your upper thigh. Live music
all the time and the best drinks in town.
But I've been away for some months now and wonder:
When I go back to visit, will I remember
the shortcuts? The backroads? The best hill
to ride my bike down? Will I find it only
to feel the wind in my face just once, strong and wild,
right before I have to leave?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

I fly home tomorrow.

I leave my house at 10:30 AM because I found a couple to split the two hundred peso cab ride with, so that's worth it. My flight doesn't leave until almost 3pm though. Good thing all the books are in my carry-on. I layover in Phoenix or something and land in Memphis Tennessee at 11:54 PM. My father will pick me up and we'll go straight to the Beale Street Blues City Cafe for a whole mess of ribs and tamales, but not the kind of tamales I've been eating here, these are ridiculous southern-style wrapped in parchment paper and boiled in spices, and we'll eat baked beans and slaw and Texas goddamned toast and drive home miserably full and sleep until I can't anymore.

I'm walking much better now. Still a little hobbly, but you won't hear any complaining from me. I still feel like I won a prize. But I will be coughing up whatever they want to ask for luggage carts, you can bet on that.

I said goodbye to my piano teacher today. I can't believe I failed to put him on the list of things I'll miss. I've been adding to those lists, things I'll miss and things I can't wait to get back to, in my head over the past week or so as my departure sneaks up. Lately he's been playing this nocturna by Chopin, his last I think, and loves to tell me the story about how Chopin's girlfriend used to lie underneath the piano while Chopin would write songs... "EE-MAH-HEE-NAH-TAY" he says, 'Imagine!' Then, "No manches!" the way of saying, get out, no way, ridiculous, you've got to be kidding. And his eyes get all full of water because of the beauty of life and music.

Lately he's been saying I can't go. He's goign to get a chain, he says, and a lock, and I won't be able to leave.

Telling him goodbye today was the saddest thing I've done since I can't even tell you when. I didn't cry like this when I left my father or my puppy to come here. I think because he's so old and fragile, and the odds that I'll ever see him again are so slim. I practiced for a while, and he came in and visited a bit, and when I was done I went to tell him goodbye and his face was just like... heartbreaking. We hugged, I told him I'd miss him more than anyone, that I hate saying goodbye, and thanks for everything he taught me. But he couldn't talk and ended up kinda pushing me out so he could close the door.

I'm crying now. I've been crying off and on all day. The thing is, I have gone and practiced piano there every single weekday with very very few misses. He's been an absolute inspiration in that he got me back interested in an instrument I played for eleven years and then hardly touched for twelve. And he didn't just guide me and teach me about music. He's been the kindest person I knew here. And he's so ancient, so old and fragile, and the odds that I'll make it back here aren't super high. I mean, it's possible; I finally made it back to Barcelona after five years. But does he have five years? What if it's ten?

I'm so mixed up. After leaving school I went to the center, to go to the Mercado San Juan de Dios one last time, this huge indoor market downtown. I wandered around, looking for I didn't know what, last minute somethings to give people. I got some bracelets for my cousins' wives and my aunt. I got a jersey for myself, for the national futbol team, and a cute top that's very Mexican. I got some copal to burn for incense, since I loved it so much on Day of the Dead. I got some other nonsense to give away. I ran into some friends from school and we hugged and got sentimental. I tried to eat some pozole but it just didn't go over well, my belly was too sad, and I ended up giving it to this hungry old lady and little girl.

I want to go home. I want to see my family and friends and dog and house. And I want to keep practicing in the music building every day and see my maestro and go find amazing cheap food on every street corner and speak Spanish all the time. It's not possible to have both. I've complained about attitudes I've encountered in this conservative catholic macho country, but now that it's time to leave ...

I'm out of words.

I still owe you the story of my pilgrimage to Mexico City and Fridalandia. Hopefully tomorrow will be completely boring and uneventful and I'll get home and tell you once I'm settled there.

Monday, December 7, 2009

How I almost died. Or worse.

The thing of this story is, I didn't do anything crazy. It's not like the time I went to Mexico City all by myself, and while I was there met this random guy who seemed sincere so I hopped on his motorcycle. Whoops, sorry, Dad. I'll tell you the whole story soon.

No, in this story I'm really responsible. I met three amazing kids here locally through a girl who's been my friend the whole four month stay. They're her neighbors. I was talking about how I wanted to go back to the beach before I left. One of them asked, Which beach? I said, I guess Vallarta. I've been there, I enjoyed it, I know the hostel... this kid says, No, Vallarta's the worst beach in Mexico. I know a beautiful one. We'll go. I say, if Vallarta's the worst beach in Mexico, I can't wait to see what you're gonna show me because Vallarta suited me just fine.

We left on "Mexican time." Which means, I was freaking out because they said we should leave midday and I got there at almost one. We left at two thirty. But it was a beautiful drive, just gorgeous. Amazing mountain ranges the whole way, and mountains on one side with dusty plains on the other with warning signs about dust storms and we could see the stuff flying through the air and huge bridges that went over enormous valleys in between two mountains and we got to look out on all sides and bridges that went over banana tree fields and then lookouts when we got to the coast, and I got to go through two real Mexican military checkpoints set up for narcotraficantes. Beautiful pueblos and nature and everything, man, just an epic drive.

We finally made it to the spot, after a stop off in the last market on the way there, all open air and kids with no shoes and stuff, and made it to La Llorona beach, so named because the sand is kinda magical. When you walk on it, because of how fine it is and the compression, it sounds like sneakers on a gym floor. Or, alternatively, someone crying if you really want to stretch your imagination. Hence, La Llorona, the crying woman. I guess looking back now that should have been ominous. Whoops.

It was pitch black because it's started getting dark by 7 here now. We set up the tent and the bedding and commenced to a-drinkin. Don't get nervous here, the bad part doesn't happen until I'm sober again. They had tequila and I had whiskey. They wanted to be all fancy and mix drinks, meanwhile I'm like, I'MA SHOW Y'ALL HOW WE DO IT DOWN SOUTH. We all laid around on the beach watching stars and clouds, picking out shapes, until the moon came out and chased all the clouds away and lit the whole place up like it was noon. Just gorgeous man. We're nestled in between these two big hills right on the edge of the water with this long beautiful beach... seriously. It was one of those moments where I think... in my past life, I was either a saint or a war hero or found some cure for some disease or...

Hung out and enjoyed life until it was just Time To Sleep, at which point I did. We woke up... to the sound of rain. Not hard rain, more of a sprinkling, but just enough to keep us from going out from under the palm-leaf roof thing they had set up for everyone to camp under. The lady who owned the place made us a mean breakfast of scrambled eggs with pico and some mashed black beans and fresh made tortillas and quesadillas oh my lord for thirty pesos god bless her. We got full, watched surfers trying to manage the crazy waves, laid around, started packing the car back up, got lazy and took naps. Woke up to Paulina going, the sun's out! Quick! We have to use this time while we have it!

Everyone got ready and Carlos said he had the perfect place for us to swim because it was just so beautiful we wouldn't believe it. He was right. There were several tall lumps of rock on the way there that looked more like art sculptures than nature (but isn't the best of either always kinda both?). When we got to "the spot," there was one particular tall lump of rock that jutted on out. It was actually quite beautiful to watch the water crash up against it and swirl around. We stood there just watching everything for a minute, then Carlos started to swim and I started getting jealous. If you know me at all you know how I love being in water. I jumped in.

Oh, and I just got ecstatic. Just being in the water, moving around, splashing. Letting the waves pick me up and move me around. I must have paddled away from shore no more than five or six good strokes. Then I turned around.

Fucking shore was gone man. I had ended up in some crazy current that was going nowhere but out to sea and taking me with it. I mean it was there, but it was far, and the people on it were quite tiny.

I got nervous. Not panicky, but concerned. I started trying to paddle back but was really only succeeding in staying put. Since then I have learned that when you're in what is called something like a "rip tide" or "rip current" or something like that, your best bet is to swim sideways until you're out of it and *then* go to shore. Which is funny, because it's what I instinctively tried to do when going back wasn't getting me anywhere. I started getting closer to the rocks. Oh great, I thought, that'll work fine. If I can get some footing over there I can just climb my way back to shore.

But I was getting closer and closer really friggin fast. And then I started noticing, now up close and personal, what exactly the water was doing when it got to those rocks. It was smashing and crashing and swirling around like it really just wanted a rag doll to seriously fuck with. And here I was coming, completely against my will.

I kinda had a little flash back. Once, when I was 7 years old, or thereabouts, my family went to Virginia Beach. We had a little floaty raft. I was small enough that I could stand on it and surf a little and I really enjoyed it. I had this great idea that if I went further out, I could catch the wave earlier and somehow it would be bigger when it got to shore. It made perfect sense at the time. But I got to this point where the waves weren't coming in anymore. They were going nowhere but out, and they were taking me with them. I got really calm, though, because the other option, which is to panick, wasn't going to get me anywhere. I tried paddling back, I tried to touch the bottom, I tried and tried but it wasn't working. So, I decided to save my strength because I would need it on my long trip across the ocean. I would have to eat fish on the way, even though I don't like them, and I'd have to eat them raw, but I'd heard people did that in other countries so I'd probably live. Hopefully a boat would find me but if not, when I landed, I'd just try to find the American Embassy to get home.

Then I looked back at shore and saw my father and a lifeguard running out to get me. And they did. And I got to go back home and eat real cooked food that I liked with my real family on land. It was pretty nice.

But here, in Mexico, at La Llorona, there is no daddy. There is no lifeguard. There's just me, the waves, and the rocks, and the three friends I came with who may or may not even have noticed what's going on. I looked at the waves as they did what they did on those rocks and I thought about what they were about to do to my body.

I got really calm. Because, once again, the only other option, which is to freak out, isn't going to help at all. I thought about how I could die. I was mostly sad about how I would be letting down my family and friends so bad, dying right before I was about to fly home. I thought about how bummed out they'd be, and how I'd never finish college like I thought I was finally about to. I thought about that, and then I thought about how I could live but end up paraplegic, which actually seemed worse. It was somehow calming to know that death wasn't the worst possible thing that could happen.

I tried to think about everything Lake Ouachita had taught me. I knew it wasn't worth it to try to keep my eyes open underwater. I'd just lose my contacts and be unable to see anyway, so I resolved to keep them closed. I knew that I was always more buoyant when I took in a big gulp of air, and since the water would probably have me swirling around underneath a bit I'd need it. I resolved to try and stay as horizontal as possible so maybe I could stay near the surface, and at all costs to try and keep my head up. I took a gulp just as the wave sucked me in to the rocks.

That's about all I know for a bit. I know I got swirled around and banged three good sessions in total, and I know at one point, in between swirl-bangs, I got to go back up for a much needed breath. As I gulped in air again, I took in some water, but I was immediately back underwater and had the presence of mind not to choke or gasp while I was underwater. I toughed it out. I really wanted to live.

Before I knew it, I felt sand under my feet. I pushed up and got air again. I was on the shore somehow! But I couldn't make it out just yet. I was super high from adrenaline and really hurt all over from the bashings. I tried to push toward land when the wave was going in, and to lose as little ground as possible when they were going back out. They were pretty strong waves. As I finally was able to stand, I watched the faces of the two kids on shore go shocked and their mouths drop open. I looked down.

I was covered in scratches and gashes and they were all leaking blood. I looked awful. What I just went through really started to set in as the adrenaline faded and I started getting weak. I got just far enough away from the waves and laid down. Paulina rushed over and asked did I want her to try and stop the bleeding. I said sure, grab my white shirt, it was free. I just laid there while she dabbed and blotted. She assessed which ones were actually deep and which were mostly superficial.

Then the boys came over. They said, does this mean you're done swimming? The salt water will help close the wounds.

I said, look, y'all swim all you want but I need to get back to camp and chill out for a minute.

Paulina walked me back, god bless her. Got there and went to the showers and washed all the wounds with soap and water. Remembered I had neosporin in my bag for lord knows what reason so I grabbed it and started covering myself. My whole left side is scratched from toe to tit, my right side has a little scratching on the foot and leg, and my right hand is really whacked. Typing's tough, we'll see how I do on the piano tomorrow.

The boys made it back eventually. Said they'd stood there for a minute watching the waves over the rocks and said I was actually really lucky. I said boy howdy do I ever know it. We ate lunch, tuna salad on tostadas, and eventually I felt good enough to walk back to the beach where we built a sandcastle and I sat in the waves for a minute, letting them wash my wounds. We strolled back to the scene of the crime and watched the waves go apeshit a little more. Went back and started our final packup and I realized there was just one shot left in my bottle of whiskey.

I took the bottle down to the shore. I walked out just enough for the waves to be washing over my feet and poured it out. I said to the ocean, Thank you so much for letting me live. Thank you so much for letting me make it out as intact as I am. I love you. I love you. Thank you.

The waves got stronger. They started pulling on me and before I knew it I was knee deep. Don't be so confident, young lady, the ocean said. I may be water but that doesn't mean you know me as well as you might think. I'm different everywhere. Be more careful.

Okay, I said. I'm sorry. Thank you. I respect you. I made my way back out of the water and back up to shore. Got in the car, still in my swim suit because I'm sorry clothes would hurt way too much. We made it back to Guadalajara, I took a shower and passed the fuck out. Spent all day in bed today because the real bone and muscle ache has set in but I'm so glad to be alive, to have all my limbs working. To not have let you all down this close to coming home. I swear, sometimes I think in a past life I must have been a saint or a war hero or something...