The cats and I crossed the border from Sonoyta, Mexico, three years ago on the second of July. I sang “California Here [We] Come” most of the way through Arizona. Near the California border, we were perched on a ridge on the highway with lightning breaking beside us, my fingers white where they gripped the wheel, the thunder drowning out the beat of my heart. But it cooled the air, welcome relief from the July heat, the desert washed clean around us, alive in scents and color. We bogged down just west of Blythe, an accident on the interstate, and I dipped a washcloth into a bucket of ice water, squeezing it out again and again on the heads of my two cats. I remember running ice cubes over my own forehead, across the back of my neck, along the curve of my collar bone. I decided I was being groomed in some fashion, learning a new kind of endurance on that journey. I would feel that again in the weeks that followed our new lives in the Coachella Valley, coming to terms with the lethal summers, knowing the heat could kill me.
I took comfort in the bright orange blooms of the Mexican birds of paradise that laced my new home. I thought it was a happy omen. I remember sitting that first evening on the lawn of the motel across the street from the apartment I’d rented over the internet, using their wireless to send emails to Mexico, letting people know we’d arrived, safe, sound, staggered by the feat. I remember walking in the days that followed, feeling like I’d landed on another planet with the wide, clean streets, the expensive landscaping, the manicured everything. After the narrow cobblestone streets of Ajijic that had been my world, being here couldn’t have felt more foreign. I remember feeling like an alien, desperate to connect with the Mexicans who crossed my path, the woman in the mall restroom, the tailor near my new home, the bartender at the Mexican restaurant who told me the owner there was from Guadalajara. I was stripped of the need to speak Spanish, but I didn’t want to stop. It felt wrong. And everywhere I looked, I saw signs of wealth, and you could walk for miles without being able to buy a bottle of water in the brutal heat.
I wanted a tiendita on every block, even in the residential neighborhoods. I wanted brown skin, black hair, warm, laughing bodies greeting each other in the streets, greeting me. I craved the rich, textured, vivid world I’d left behind. I felt small and unveiled, vulnerable, alone. I missed Ana and Rodolfo so much it hurt, an ache that didn’t go away. I didn’t want to be here. I only wanted to be there, in that other world that already seemed like a dream, all those hundreds of miles away, where I’d left all the food that had flavor, all the color that had depth, all the people who met me with an open heart, warm brown eyes meeting mine. I wanted fruta picada on every corner, tortillas delivered every morning, still warm, the sound of the tamale man calling in the early night. I wanted the life that had become mine. I wanted to go home.