Traveling (33)

Traveling is an odd thing. I bring myself with me wherever I go, but I don’t always feel like myself. I am still tethered to my home, feel its tug. I am tied to who I’ve left behind there. My cats occupy my space, glaring in their absence, a small prickle or a larger ache. Even when I go where I am known, even loved, I carry their absence, feel the tug of my tether. I am missing bits of my self, the one I have grown comfortable with over time, quiet mornings on the patio, the solar Christmas lights a happy glow on the hedge when I walk home in the new dark after dusk.

The birds here are not my birds. But when I reach in, find my way to fullness on the deck of this other home, their unfamiliar calls comfort me, companions in the quiet autumn morning. They tie me to my world, tingle my self, charm me silly. I feel the sun on my forehead, my ankles, my cheek wet from dog kisses. The house is waking up around me, and my eyes fill with warm tears, my breath deep and grateful in my lungs.

I Carry My Longing (32)

I carry Mexico inside me in a way I’ve never known before. It’s half longing, half comfort, I think, as though the country is part of my bedrock now from my short stay–unexpected, surprising, constant. Other places reside in me, too. The open fields of Sonoma County, Sebastopol’s apple orchards alive in the white of full bloom. But they live quietly, rich moist earth breathing peace. I loved it there. For the first time I thought, I could spend the rest of my life here. But I don’t dream of going back, not like with Mexico, though I don’t rule it out. I dream again and again of going back to Mexico. I imagine really moving there this time, not just going like I did before, for a year or two, maybe forever, not returning in a rush to the United States. I can see myself there, sitting in my walled garden, sparrows and white-winged doves in the bougainvillea, daily walks along the malecón, the boardwalk, watching my volcano across the lake. I can picture myself older, taking extra care moving across the cobblestone streets.

Day to day, I hold the longing to return, to make Mexico my own. It lives in the crook of my elbows, hides behind my knees. And yet I wonder if I will ever make that choice. Questions rise in me, yeast in the dough. Can I live again with spiders the size of my hand? What about feeling like “the other” there? Would I grow used to it, morph into new skin, my roots sinking deep in foreign soil? Would my life in the United States fade like a dream? I think it might. I can imagine missing people here, urging them to visit me there. I can imagine missing the conveniences, Trader Joe’s, the rules of a bureaucracy where I can know what to expect. But I can’t picture me living in Mexico and carrying this same longing for life in the United States. When I think of living in Mexico again, I only picture being home.

Mexicans Are (31)

It’s some strange hubris of travel to think we know a country or a people because we came and saw a slice of it, of them. How many different versions of the United States do you imagine foreign visitors carry home? Did they stay with family in the Appalachians? Visit a dude ranch in Arizona? Make a wrong turn into Watts one afternoon when they were looking for the Hollywood hills? My Mexico was made up of poor villagers. They are the bedrock on which I base my sense of who the Mexican people are. They are quick to laugh, treat their burdens with a light touch, pay a man to rake the dirt road in front of their home because he needs the pesos even more than they do.

I met a handful of wealthy Mexicans, came to know two handfuls of people who struck me as part of a burgeoning middle class, enough to understand some of the differences between the socioeconomic strata there, how education and money shape their world. Enough to know better than to base my assumptions about life on Mexico on the lives of poor people in rural villages. But not enough to keep me from doing it anyway. I still remember the look on my Senor Soto’s face when I made this mistake, embarrassed myself. “Es raro, no?” I asked him. That’s unusual, isn’t it? He’d just mentioned he and his wife had two children. I was surprised, though looking back on it now I realize all the middle class families I knew there had only two children. He was driving the taxi, so he couldn’t stop to stare at me, but I remember his piercing look. His voice was kind, but there was steel beneath it.

“You can’t do that,” he told me in Spanish. He’d agreed to let me practice my Spanish even though he was fluent in English. (He even taught me the difference between the words “writer” and “author.”) “You can’t make assumptions about all of us like that.” His gaze moved between me and the highway. I was sitting in the passenger seat. We were on our way to the airport in Guadalajara. “Many people have only one or two children,” he said. “It just depends.” I had known it, seen it already, and yet I blundered in, two feet in my mouth, insulting this well-read man who was fluent in two languages, whose son was attending the university, whose wife and he had practiced family planning. I nodded, blushing.

“Entiendo,” I said. I understand. “Lo siento.” I’m sorry. His kindness never faltered, but he’d put me in my place, and I was glad he did. If I might muster even a faint echo of his grace the next time I need to speak up, I’ll be grateful. I have his business card tucked in my wallet. The day I return, I’ll call to see if he can pick me up from the airport. Or maybe I’ll email him ahead of time, so I can know Senor Soto will be waiting for me there.