He Could Still Turn Around
Her second trip to visit him in Mexico started off with a familiarity that lulled her into complacency despite herself. There, just before the baggage claim area, was the bathroom with the concrete sink where she had freshened up last time, and where she did so now, too, changing into the jean miniskirt that she had worn that frigid night the previous January when he had thrown up in her bed.
He kissed her in the car ~~ he’d driven his black Mercedes sedan down from Pasadena ~~ and she felt herself withdraw from his hunger, ever so slightly, in fear. She held back from voicing her mind, which clanged with all the times he was supposed to come visit her in New York over the last few months; this trip was supposed to erase all that noise, and make the relationship better.
Besides, she was being picked up at the airport in Mexico City by a man who had said he loved her. When would she ever be satisfied with enough?
The bed in his apartment was too small. They squished in and she didn’t sleep well.
The next morning, after freshly squeezed juice from a shop around the corner, they went to the local baths that he had been coming to since he was a teenager, and then they set off for a park he wanted to take her to, outside the city. She had yet to learn that they had about 24 hours before she came apart and everything imploded along with her, and she was so happy to be with him, making up for all the time they had lost apart.
(She wants to call him now, all these years later, and ask him the name of the park so she can look it up and read about it. But, as with the painting/Juan Carlos thing, she knows that, if she does, he might yell at her and insult her for not remembering ~~ she doesn’t pay attention, ever, she never has, he has shared all these special places in his home country with her, all of his life, and she is useless, she doesn’t remember anything.
It’s not that she doesn’t remember, she might try to say, she has a very clear memory of many things they’ve done together, she just can’t remember the name of each individual place, she can see them in her mind, she took pictures and she wrote a lot of their memories down in her journal ~~ she just didn’t always note all the names.
At which point he would unleash a stream of vitriol, and for many years she would push back, but then, after she reaches the point where she can predict the unpredictability of these episodes, she simply listens and shakes her head, as she hardens against the world ever further.)
With the entire park almost to themselves, they took a paddle boat out into the center of the light blue lake there, and then shot across zip lines over the water ~~ he was so nervous that he trembled, strapped in, she has pictures ~~ and on the way back to the car they paused to gaze out over a valley of rolling lands and fincas and horses, shimmering.
That afternoon he took her to a pueblo where she bought a silver ring with three blue stone gems ~~ which she wears virtually every day, thinking of him whenever she puts it on ~~ and then they ate at a restaurant on top of a hill.
It started before dinner with a shot of tequila, followed by a couple beers with their food, followed by a shot of tequila afterward.
“Why don’t we walk around a bit before getting in the car?”
He complied for a minute, but then he got mad because he saw what she was doing, trying to buy a few more minutes in between the drinks he’d consumed and their drive to Mexico City. So he threatened to leave her there, in that pueblo on the hill, to find her way back on her own.
She gritted her teeth and buckled herself in. As he sped down the mountain roads way over the speed limit, she screamed out in fright, wishing inside that they would crash and she would die.
There is but one truth of the pure life that she so wanted to live, a course which, through the exercise of Justice, Courage and Temperance ~~ the lofty ideals that she kept her eyes on ~~ she hoped might lead to happiness. Esteem these qualities, she wanted to urge him, and you will not only understand me, you will also appreciate the beautiful light of the soul that I so desperately want to show you.
Know also, she longed to explain to him, that we can rise above these strictures to the clarity of wisdom, knowledge and prudence, which I want you to understand are the virtues I hold in the highest regard, a moral life ~~ that’s all I wish to live.
Still, however varied these doctrines may be, remember that there is but one single light of truth that guides me, through which the world I see is beautiful.
Can you not love the beauty of the soul as I do, or at least appreciate how I appreciate it, even if we are different?
Can we not agree that the one truth to which we both aspire, even if we disagree on its origins, is one and ought to rise from one, the union of our love? And can we not also agree that there must be one wisdom above our souls, however high they dance, which remains undivided, the one Wisdom from whose single truth the multiform truths of our separate perceptions spring?
She ended up in the street with her suitcase in the middle of the night on the second trip.
Months of barrenness passed, and, now, it is her third.
And, for the third time, she stops in the little restroom with the concrete sink just before the baggage claim to make herself pretty again. This time she dabs on some kohl ~~ a new discovery of hers ~~ to darken her eyes in a way that she believes is sexy.
Outside she tries to smile, maybe a little seductively, and he tells her that she looks tired…
His new apartment had wood floors. Their hollowness made everything seem bigger, more resounding, hard.
They had sex in another bed that was too small ~~ even though he’d promised her, when she’d asked, that he now had a bigger bed; it’s just that she wasn’t used to sleeping with another person and got no rest when crammed in, which meant agitation from lack of sleep, she didn’t do well on too little sleep ~~ and her heart fell when she saw it, and probably she said something.
He took her to another baths, closer to the city center. (She asked about the ones they went to before, but he said they had closed. She wasn’t surprised because they seemed from another era, so sparse, and no one was there.) They made love in a private room.
That night things were still off a little, and she could tell that the end of the 24 hours they were allotted was going to come soon.
He told her about a mountain nearby that he had walked up and she said she wanted to go. She did not tell him that the real reason was that she wanted exercise in order to maintain her weight, because they always did so much driving and eating down here in Mexico, and she was going to bottle up and explode.
She sped ahead on the climb, hoping to teach him some sort of lesson. The view from the top was breathtaking and transported her. But she felt so lonely and she wanted someone to appreciate the experience with. So she went down the path and back up again until she found him, and tried to hold his hand.
It was too late.
At the bottom of the mountain an hour later, he slipped into a bar that she didn’t even realize was a bar, until she looked inside and saw a few sad figures wavering on their feet in the shadows.
She pretended like it hadn’t happened, and they made their way through the mishmash of booths in the town market on the way to the car. He purchased a bag of grasshoppers, which she tasted and said she liked, trying to smile.
They were high up in elevation and the proximity to the sun made everything brighter.
(She can’t remember the name of the mountain, and, once again, she can’t call or text him to ask for the reasons you already know, and he won’t tell her anyway ~~ unless it happens to be one of those times when he’ll remind her, touching the words with his teeth like a song, and they’ll reminisce.)
They walked into the apartment in Mexico City and he went straight to the liquor cabinet. She sat on the couch, trying again to smooth over her misbehavior with pleasantness.
He told her to sleep on the wood floor of the living room that night, and only let her into the little bed when she begged. But her sobs disturbed him and so he made her go back to the floor.
And then it was the liquor cabinet again, and once more she was out on the street with her suitcase, searching around for a hotel, just like before.
He e-mailed her the following morning, and they Skyped, and a quarter hour later he took her to the airport. And that’s the moment you could choose, on that short drive, when she thought: maybe, just maybe, he will say he’s sorry and turn around and we’ll go back and start all over again and I’ll be okay in the little bed and I won’t make any trouble, I promise, I’ll stay for two weeks like we planned, and I’ll fix myself and behave and we’ll enjoy Mexico together.
This piece is excerpted and adapted from my book To Whom I Could Have Been: A True Love Story ~~ with subsequent installments to follow. Thank you so much for supporting my work!