San Miguel de Allende is my home now: self-exiled from “el otro lado”. I am trying to escape the politics of my life, but everything is such a graphic image or a shrill announcement on the news. Pain follows me around like a starving child. Why would anyone ever ignore some dying kid? It happens. I know. My doctor tells me that some types of heart medication can cause vivid nightmares. I believe it.
I love Mexico in a way that carries me deep into the night. Maybe you love it as much as I do. Of course, I can never truly be a Mexican, but at least I can be a Tejano, and if you have the right kind of heart, that is almost as good.
Mexico is half of my being; the color of my mind. I first came to Mexico as a 14-year old and ended up lost, alone, and stumbling on the wrong side of Ciudad Acuña. I was thrilled: eating diesel fumes, playing guitars on a coke case with an old man, talking to women from outer space, and understanding, for the first time, the true meaning of beer and lonely neon signs. Being able to speak Spanish helped and I was staying with Don Lucas, a gringo pilot who flew hacendados and big-hat Texas ranchers back and forth over the border.
There are unforgettable things about Lucas: the brave blue roan in the barn stall beside his Cessna Skyhawk, the red bloodhound warm in the sun, glowing velvet paintings, and metal cages of exotic parrots on the veranda. My memory of Lucas is a kaleidoscope turning round and round. His son and I were best friends. We’d take shotguns and go hunting in the wilderness, as if it were an ocean at dawn and the stars were some form of literature writ large in the sky.
Don Lucas was a “border man” which meant he led a life that has vanished now: running cows and horses along the Río Bravo, swimming across to visit girlfriends, searching for gold and oil in Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas, landing his plane on sprawling ranches bigger than small countries, declaring loyalty to old Mexican families, and living the highlife in Mexico City a few times a year. He could fix anything mechanical and understood Mexican horses and cattle as well as any gringo. His main source of patronage was through the Quiñeros family out of Vera Cruz. The patriarch was a retired Mexican Army general. All of these sorts of things are gone now. The romance has given way to a much harsher reality and we are the lesser for it.
I am lucky to be living in Mexico, but I have always been lucky. It is part of what I am.
I have occupied many houses around the world. Once I had thirty-five in eight years. Most were proper homes or the occasional office with an attached bedroom. I would wake up and not know where I was. It was always raining and I had a hard time talking on the telephone. Face to face meetings with soldiers or the authorities were not a problem, short-wave radios didn’t bother me, but a distended voice inside a telephone receiver caused me to freeze; what to do? Where to run? Cold triggers in your stomach are interesting things.
If my luck holds, San Miguel de Allende will be my final home unless some great sadness causes me to leave. My health is not bad, except for my heart.
I have noticed that only other people die. Three acquaintances have passed away since I have been here. Brain tumor, heart attack, and colon cancer: the hat trick. You might have noticed the same thing: only other people die and you and I are still alive. That must be a positive and perhaps an indication of immortality. One never knows.
I have some familiarity with death. Once I spent a few weeks on a vast field with about 10,000 corpses. That was one of the extreme points of my life, but it is not enough to merely say I was in wars and disasters often signified by nothing more than a line or dot on a map. No, that lacks insight, compassion, and becomes only a tourist comment. I am searching for something of value embedded in those moments of chaos and decay: hidden behind the twist in my spine and scars on my hands. I have a longing to be reborn in those moments, to see the mistakes for what they were. I can’t shake those days and I am always thinking about how people ended in those terrible spots. What great disregard allowed it to happen? Who is to blame? Piled corpses are ugly, nothing holy, lying there cloudy and cold, far from the origin, hurtling outward, leeching into the soil.
Children were the worst. They never understood anything, and only felt innocence lost to the pain.
You have caught me on my way to the doctor. His specialty is the heart. He plays the odds on my body as if my skin is green felt and the probabilities are constantly changing with a test here and an episode there. I flag down a taxi. The driver is maybe thirty-five years old and somewhat reserved. I wonder about who he is. Does he know about the border and parrots and how a few gringos love Mexico?
I feel love for the taxi driver and there is a strange texture inside the vehicle. My eyes begin to water. When I look at him from the side, his face covers with snow. He turns the corner and gives short answers to my questions. He fails to tell me that six months ago his son died from stomach bacteria. The doctors at the state hospital were at a loss, but there are so many problems and everyone is overworked and if you want really good care you need money and a helicopter.
The memory of his son is buried under the rote motion of his days and is marked by the cross on his dashboard. We arrive at my destination. I pay him fifty pesos and wish him well. The taxi driver disappears into the traffic as if he was never part of my life and his son was still playing in the dirt somewhere on the outskirts of town.
I stand before the hospital. My doctor waits on the second floor and I am early for my appointment. The idea of love and the taxi driver float in front of me. Someone is beating on metal nearby. Last night I dreamed I was to be executed in a prison. The nightmare set my heart racing. Perhaps my doctor can help me and offer a cure for my condition.
Somewhere on the stairs I feel my heart. It is a lonely sensation and I recall waking up sweating.
My nightmare was fairly typical: They took a man out of my cell. He had a terrible wound across his chest and never spoke while he was with me. The cut was deep enough for echoes and someone had done a poor job with a bandage. I could see inside the body. I understood who he was and I knew he was dying. We were not friends. I watched the blood spill out of his chest. The red color collected on the floor in piles of petals and there was nothing I could do but watch as he dug into the cement garden. No doubt future prisoners would admire the abstract way in which he grew there; placing madness on hold and turning death into art.
I will tell my doctor all about what has happened to me. I have never told my story to him before, but I am beginning to think that I love my doctor in the same way I love the taxi driver.
If I burst into tears in front of him, I will not mind. Perhaps he will cradle me in his arms. Will he be kind? No matter, I will be who I am and I will not tell him about everything, since I know he will become bored. I will try to stick to the facts, the vital points, because those are enough and they are like green taxis taking all of the sick sons and all the political prisoners to the airport. Don Lucas is there, standing beside his plane, and joy of joys, there is a line of dignitaries waiting to wish everyone a safe journey. They stand at attention beneath the Bajio sun and above the fossils of the sea.
Visas and official letters are stamped with my lost dreams and my infecting nightmares. I hear my named called.
I am ready.