Wednesday, March 2, 2011


I read a book called Red Glass (You should too) and it inspired me to write about my experiences in Mexico and the odd sort of connection I feel to it.  This is the first of what I hope will be several stories.

I became aware of sound first.  The constant beep beeeeeep beeeep , the dull roar of the bus engine, the rumble of its tires as it bumped along the uneven road.
Next I felt.  One side of my face stuck against the firm, fuzzy bus seat.  The other side of my face felt the cool, old air that had probably filtered through the bus since we left San Cristobal.
Finally I cracked my eyes open.  A yellow light seeped through the slits so different from what I had fallen asleep to.  A few hours ago, when I could no longer prop my eyes open, harsh white light flashed through my lids and Spanish speaking voices sounded through bus punctured by the music of the soundtrack.  Then, the uneven beeping and red light from the speed device hanging from the ceiling at the front of the bus was barely noticeable beneath the overbearing stimulation of the movie.
I woke up in a totally new world.  Sunrise, I thought as I blinked my eyes open.  Good.  I had slept several hours.  That meant several hours less left ahead of me on a bus.  Slowly my vision cleared and I turned my head toward the window.  I could see the silhouette of my dad’s head, black as his hair against the window.  Around the window’s perimeter I saw his business cards still stuck over old chewed gum – proof that I had drifted into the same world I had drifted out of.  It was newer, but the same. 
I stirred.  My dad turned toward me slowly. “You’re awake.” He smiled. Why was he so happy when we were still so far away from our destination?  I recognized the look in his eyes. It said he too had been drifting, but not through sleep.  The look sparkled in his eyes at home too, though I never felt him really present at our house when the look came.  At home, yes, but not that home.  Instead, memories transported him to another home.  A half smile sneaked onto his face, exposing crooked teeth. His usual down to earth voice dissipated, becoming light enough to float.  And away he would float, dropping names of far off people and places as he went – Manuel, Tsumina, Paxcu, San Juan, San Cristobal.  I hung on to every word of his tales.  They both fascinated and frustrated me.  I desperately hoped that in hearing his light voice and hanging on the words that his memories would transport me too.  Then maybe I could see them as he saw them, but instead I remained on the couch sitting next to him, seeing only him, not his vision.  To him the stories were vivid, moving, surging, living, intertwined with a complete world and timeline.  To me they were black and white snapshots, fragments, scattered splinters of the past.  A wall of my limited experiences separated us. 

“Take a look out the window.” He pointed.  I followed his finger, but I didn’t need to. One landmark stood out against the horizon, rising out of the earth but still a part of it.  A mountain stood bold and golden, illuminated by the yellow sunrise.  Everything around it was flat in comparison.  My dad’s voice spoke beside me, mellow, deep, yet somehow airy with memories.  I did not have to look to know he wore a blissful, crooked smile.  He told me the volcano’s name was Popo.  Popocatepetl was a soldier called away to war. His love thought he was killed and died of grief.  When Popo returned and heard of her death he killed himself.  A lower peak that I had not seen before represented his love Iztacc√≠huatl. Then dad drifted again into memories, sharing his history with the mountain.  He and his parents passed it each year when they drove from Minnesota to San Cristobal. The sight of it meant they were back, almost home.  He reminisced about standing between the front seats, keeping his dad awake, knowing all the restaurants along the way.  I sensed his connection, an ownership of the roads he’d traveled and of the scene before me.  I asked how far away it was.  We never seemed to pass it, I pointed out.  It just stayed, huge, framed by the window.  We speculated it’s distance, it’s size, together.  “Jali,” he spoke my name no differently from anyone else, but I knew he thought of it spelled this way J-a-l-I, the right way, “I’m glad you were awake to share it with me.”  We had finally turned and we had to strain to see the volcano.  I settled back into my seat, my eyes still tired.  I felt uneven as the beeping from the front of the bus.  The beeping sounded each time the driver went too fast, which happened every few seconds.  It had gone too fast, this moment of ours.  Even the week before spent immersed in the memories of others and making memories of my own went too fast. I didn’t know what to make of the memory just formed.  One side of me felt heavy with the fullness of the moment.  The other felt somewhat as empty as I always had when listening to my father’s stories on the couch at home. I looked over at my dad, staring again out the window, remembering.  Between us I imagined a veil falling over the plastic arm rests.  He didn’t know I saw it there.  Maybe a veil always exists between people.  In our case it could be woven of many things - a generational gap, a cultural difference, or still my general lack of experience.  It was only a veil though.  The whole week behind us worked to thin it out from a wall to a veil, sheer enough for a great bit more understanding to pass between us.  

1 comment:

  1. This got me a little choked up, not going to lie. It's really cool to hear about your experience down there...I remember it kind of, but we didn't ever really talk about it, did we? It's also really neat to see the pieces of you that I don't ever get to see, but that you share with dad. Want to go back there with me someday?