My keyboard looks like a pirate’s maw, gaping holes that were once keys, stains on others, and its hard drive is jammed full of photographs: pyramids, pink stone, parades, fireworks behind cathedral spires, and hundreds of hotel rooms I could never afford on a hotel reviewer’s income. My clothes are ragged (who knew clothing in Mexico was so expensive?!), and so is this body that still shows of pregnancy and has not been for a jog, ridden a bike, or seen the inside of a yoga studio in so many months. My son picks up the phone and says ¿bueno?, calls tanker trucks pipas, and prefers chongos over all other flavors of ice cream. My husband is pulling out his eyebrow hairs, one by one, frustrated that the product of his fieldwork looks so different from the proposal that won him so many fancy grants a year ago. And the baby, fat and giggly and so eager to be cooed over and pinched by señoras in the streets, at last has all of the paperwork he’ll need to enter the U.S., his newborn eyes crossed in the picture in his crisp, blue American passport.
Which is all to say that, it is time to leave Mexico. To go home, I’d say, but “home” doesn’t really exist anymore for academics under forty. Mexico is one of four countries we’ve lived in since my husband and I aligned our itineraries: if getting tenure means we have to outsource ourselves to universities in Dubai or Tel Aviv or São Paolo, we will. Next up: I’ve been granted a one-year writer-in-residency at a university in the northeast. I’ll write a book and teach. My husband will write his dissertation. My kids will learn to live with cows and snow.
Goodbye loveinmexico, hello love(ideally)inthelandofperpetualgrayness.
We are fortunate for this future, but it is hard to remember this because what is to come can’t actually be known. What is more poignant is the gratitude I feel for the recent past.
If I were a better poet, I would write an ode, but since I’m not, I can only say goodbye to Mexico. Goodbye to the workers building the hotel across the street—painting it a rich brick orange and then butter-cream and then orange again, and laughing off the owner’s fickleness as the opportunity for more work. Goodbye to the smiling baker rolling dough all day in the panaderia. Goodbye to the trash man ringing his bell and asking, for the third time this week, if my children are still growing, reminding me that we still falta la niña, lack the girl. Goodbye to Juan, who teaches me about fruit, and his boss, Don Pepe, who throws in a free cucumber or jicama para el niño. Goodbye to the grumpy man who sells the long loafs of yeasty bread in the market and never lets my husband buy the wrong kind. Goodbye to the old woman who runs the restaurant on my street where no one ever eats, myself included, and goodbye to the family who run the almost identical restaurant across the street where everyone eats. Goodbye to the writer’s widow who invites us over and explains to us the why of things. Goodbye to the roof dogs, the long-faced hound on one side, the two humping Great Danes on the other. Goodbye to the night stench that wafts in on the breeze. Goodbye to the kinglets who live in the bougainvillea in our garden. Goodbye to hanging laundry on the roof. Goodbye to the quinceañera girls posing in the park and the exchange student selling ice cream. Goodbye to the secretary in the doctor’s office next door who approves (or doesn’t) my infant’s outfit before I leave home. Goodbye to combis and Gas de Lago trucks. Goodbye to Victoria beer, chiles peron, and blue corn tortillas. Goodbye to mangos and limes. Goodbye to pay de queso and sweet hibiscus water. Goodbye to our bumper-dragging VW Pointer. Goodbye butterflies and hummingbirds. Goodbye to Alice’s smiling face at my door, and goodbye to Alfredo’s sorrows. Goodbye to so many holidays, to parades, to balloons and bubbles in the plazas. And goodbye to the teachers at my son’s Montessori whose holistic approach does not stop at the child when his parents are so clearly inept. Goodbye to Dr. O. who delivered my too-soon baby and looked a bit like a matador doing it. Goodbye to that baby’s birthplace. Goodbye to Spanish in my mouth like a handful of marbles. Goodbye to the soldiers and goodbye to their guns. Goodbye to the musicians who sing in the taqueria, and goodbye to the viejitos who dance by the cathedral, and goodbye to the fairy mime, my son’s first love…
Today, I will prepare a despedida for my son at his little school: ice cream and crepes. On Tuesday, his grandmother will fete him welcome: belated birthday cake and a new bike. Transitions are important, I think. And I know there will be sadness between these celebrations. Every day this week my son has packed a box with toys and books and his red shoes.
He’s only three, yet he knows how leaving works. But I don’t think he knows that the best of this life we can’t take with us.