I don’t have many physical objects to stand for the time I lived in Mexico. I think if my departure had been less quick, maybe I’d have made a point to come back with more things, mementos of my time there. But I had a “knowing” I needed to return to the States, and I left four days later. So I never bought one of those bright-colored baskets the man I liked would carry around Ajijic. I’d had my eye on the big clothes hamper. And I came back with only the one small skeleton, not the collection of dia de los muertos figures I’d imagined. I wanted to buy blankets and rugs, the texture and color that calls me to that country. But I came back without them.
So instead it was the incidental things that returned with us, Lolita Roja packed to her gills with our ordinary possessions. I used the rest of the cinnamon I’d bought in Ajijic in the first few months of our return to the States, and when it was empty, I kept the narrow plastic spice jar for a long time, reluctant to recycle it, its bright orange lid and its Mexican label a strange keepsake. My fondness for the little canela container went beyond the norm. It had lived with us there. And I stretched my aspirin for years, doling out each aspirina tablet like treasure. I loved the Mexican aspirin. I meant to buy more the day I spent in Algodones, but I forgot. They come in small rectangular sheets. You poke them out of their little plastic resting places through the foil backing. You only had to take one. (I did the milligram math when I first moved to Baja California Sur.) They were so handy for slipping into a small zipper pocket. And you could just buy one sheet if you wanted to: eight aspirin. It’s one of the things I love about Mexico–you aren’t penalized if you only have enough money to buy a small amount. The culture isn’t like ours. It’s not all about the more you can afford to buy the less you have to pay for it.
I brought back dried marigold blossoms from the Aldama planters. They have thrived here in my desert garden, my “Mexican marigolds” I wrote about in last year’s blog. They are one of the dearest things I have to remember Mexico by. And on my bathroom windowsill I have another, this little cactus I found in Ajijic. It’s still in the small calcified water glass I placed it in when I first got back to the Aldama apartment with it. When I crossed the border, it was hiding in the trunk. I didn’t know what the rules were, and I wasn’t willing to risk losing this small living evidence of the world I’d left behind. I’ve thought I should plant it in my garden, that it would be happy here. But I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it, our time here uncertain, and I’m still not willing to risk parting with it.
I remember how excited I was the first time it sent out a tiny new shoot. And I remember when I found it, lying in the dirt below its parent plant on the side of the road just west of Ajijic. I’d headed past the cemetery, walked until the road ran to dirt, kept going, all unplanned. I came to big fields with running horses, half-finished dwellings made of red brick. The sounds of the cars on the carretera were faint as I walked, and now and then I caught a glimpse of the lake two blocks south of me. In time I came upon the giant parent cactus, ten feet tall, sprawled behind a brick wall. I stopped on the road to study it. There was a tree in bloom beside it, big puffy cotton-like blossoms. I wanted to come back with my camera. I stood in the road for a long time taking it all in. I felt something ease in me. I hadn’t known how much I needed to get away, how much I’d craved open space, earth beneath my feet, solitude. I soaked up rural Mexico, released breath I didn’t know I was holding, gave thanks. And when I was ready to walk on, I found this little piece of cactus lying in the dirt beside the wall, and I carried it home with care.