After cleaning my flat and stashing a fresh Andrew Jackson in a Coca-Cola bottle for my gracious hosts, I secured my backpack, left the two sets of keys on the kitchen counter, and locked the doors behind me. There was no going back.
I marched around the corner to a new café I’d just learned was minutes from my front door – Cucurucho – where I had an espresso experience like never before. I ordered a double shot, like always, and the barista gave me one shot in a ceramic cup and the other in a glass flute. He told me both shots came from the same pull, but the smell, taste, and overall experience is vastly different. He wanted me to see for myself. I sat on the patio and watched people walk by under the gorgeous morning sky. A slight breeze made couples walk closer.
I sat and thought about all I had done over the past 23 days. I arrived with one intention – write my ass off. I did that and not much more. And I and am pretty sure I learned more about myself than I would have predicted. Gauging progress on page count alone (which really isn’t much of a gauge, I know), I arrived with 40 pages written and leave with over 100. I am confident that I’ve added some quality stuff and learned a little something about novel writing, too. I also revisited John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction and, as a result, made some hefty changes to the plot, voice, character, and point-of-view.
“So what?” you might ask.
So…I leave here a better writer, and maybe even a better human being, than I was when I came. I’m calling that progress and a worthwhile expenditure of time.
A gorgeous young woman, maybe 30s, walked by with two small dogs on leashes. She had them wrapped in jackets, complete with a hood, that made them look like sheep. An old woman, ancient, her wrinkled face marking all the love and sorrow of a life well-lived, shuffled behind her. She also held a leash attached to a small dog. Hers, however, was outfitted in a lion costume.
I sipped my espresso and thought about the people I met or reconnected with on this visit: Ixchel, Victor, Shak, Pau, Arturo, the couples I photographed for the Love Project, the baggers at the grocery store, and various baristas from the myriad cafés where I took up hours and hours of space at a table, including: Fruta Editorial, Cardinal (Roma Norte & Condesa), Espressarte, Quentin, La Selva, Volador, Buna 42, Cucurucho, and Frëims. I thought of them and sent them good tidings. I sent them love.
I recalled the 17 runs and 116 total miles I logged around the 1k perimeter of Parque México. My sore knee always turned painless after 1.5 miles when I’d consider which ultramarathon race is next. Funny how a few effortless miles makes me indestructible again. I also wondered if the runners I’d grown used to wishing a good morning would notice my absence. That one guy with the yellow hat. That old dude with the gut. The two older women who look like sisters. The speedy guy who always looked at my legs. How long it would be before I disappeared completely from their memory. Probably already happened, is my guess.
I remembered my destinations this go-round. Not many, but memorable nonetheless. The Basilica, the Angel of Independence, the replica of Michelangelo’s David, The Museum of Modern Art where I bumped into an old friend from Carrboro. I considered the uneven pavement, the treacherous footing if you’re not careful, the abundance of dog poop and honking horns. More great danes and huskies than I’d seen in one place. The smells of street vendors, Metro hawkers, kids slinging Chiclets – a country filled with relentless yet humble entrepreneurs.
I considered artwork. Of the smart street graffiti and personal tags and slogans. I thought of my buddy Scott’s artwork (“I saw a gun”) that I slyly stuck on various places around Roma. I considered the American politics that influenced so much of it. I thought of the lasting effect of fear. I considered the future.
I contemplated the meaning of the fortune-telling cards I found. How maybe they are the universe’s way of reminding me that I am OK, as-is. Something I need to tell myself. And often. That it’s OK to be a dreamer. That I shouldn’t forget that through all this life I’ve lived I have wisdom to share. That maybe my New Year’s resolution should be to make a point to be bored on a regular basis.
I thought of the tree a block from my complex. The one that stopped me in my tracks when I saw it on day one. Its trunk seeming to overflow around the surrounding pavement while its roots slowly destroy the walkway. The way its leaves catch the sun and hand it to me. The way people use its folds to hold a bag of trash, to hold their soda can. Its practicality. Its whispers.
I laughed at how gorgeous I felt after a new haircut. And how ready I was to take on the world after having my goddamn shoes shined. I laughed that such trivial things could be the harbinger I need to go home and figure out what’s next. That sometimes this external care is exactly what the internal needs. A hand-holding, of sorts. And how I often reach for empty space.
At Houston Hobby I drank a giant Shiner Bock and watched hurried travelers wheel their luggage between fits of coughing, sneezing, or turning children’s arms into something elastic. I watched beauty diminish. I felt the influence of something less grand, albeit something strangely hopeful and opportunistic. Which just might be a fractional increase in my own self-confidence. I slept on the plane and dreamed of sitting front and center on a log ride. I jumped and the man next to me didn’t notice, even though there’s no way he didn’t notice. We landed at RDU at 1:00am. I stalled in the airport restroom before meeting Katie at the curb. I drove home aggressively.
Now, it’s 40ºF outside. Today, for the first time all year, I bundled up in full winter regalia. Heavy jacket and scarf, hat and gloves. I can’t say I am overjoyed to be home – but this is more of a compliment to Mexico City than a ding on my life here in Carrboro. At various times over the past month I found myself checking apartment rental prices in Roma Norte and reading up on rules for part-time residents. In some way or another, my future will include this place. Whether it be a month here and there or the full 180 days allowed on a vacationer’s visa. It’s going to happen. I just know it.