I wake up in Merida, sweating and alone, a double bottom bunk to myself. I kick my foot out across the lumpy emptiness and wish the whirring fan could blow me out of the bed. I turn the fan off and hear the faint tinkering of forks and plates out on the patio of the hostel. Breakfast. I don’t want it.
The last time I was on a bunk was 6 months ago when Sam and I stayed on a ship in the IJ in Amsterdam. We squeezed ourselves onto one twin sized mattress even though there were two. Eventually, I moved over to the other bed. “I miss you”, he said. The boat swayed, metal clasps clanging against the mast in the wind.
Ten months in and it fell apart. 4-5 whiskey shots in 30 minutes and he was just starting. I saw his shaky hands on dry days. I curled up and slept close to the cold wall when he passed out across the bed. But when he’d look at me with his green eyes over dinner and we’d talk about Serge Gainsbourg or what we both loved and hated about Barcelona, I was powerless. Side by side at the bar, my leg crossed over his.
“I was reckless with you,” he said after we broke up.
I spent the past two months at home in Minneapolis showing up late to work, yawning through my appointments. I started to resemble a Tim Burton character, the dark circles under my eyes smudging progressively farther down my pale, hollow cheeks. I spent afternoons on the couch staring out the window, the maple tree morphing into memories, blurring into tears.
And now, Mexico. I alternately feel the need to be alone and the desire to explore. I’m traveling, after all. I’m supposed to engage the locals, utilize my Spanish, learn the history of the place, jump in the cenotes, investigate the Mayan ruins of Uxmal and come home transformed—or, something. Right?
But the loneliness fills me with dread and my mind is a wasteland.
Three months ago we were in New York for his job interview. The inaugural spring sun introduced itself, my head warm and receptive on a grassy hill in Central Park. The metal and glass buildings of Midtown protruded from the behind the hill, a metropolitan canyon sparkling in the light.
I step out of the wide hostel door into the heat as it radiates off the narrow brick sidewalk and steams my face. The streets are corridors of hot blasts that are propelled by the zooming cars and buses and their stifling fumes. I make my way towards the leafy Plaza Grande because he told me to go. “You have to see La Iglesia de San Idelfonso” he said. I’m sitting on a bench admiring the old, graceful, and crumbling structure to my right. The Mexican flag in the Plaza flaps in the wind, and I’m alone.
I walked down 5th Avenue towards Midtown to meet him, the sparse branches spreading above me. I saw him before he saw me, and when he looked up, he did a brief gallop (the same way he did on our first date and it made me laugh), walked up to me, put his hand in his pocket and offered me his elbow. The zoo at Central Park was closed, so we sat on a bench and watched the ducks and talked about going to Mexico.
A stranger sits down. I can’t breathe.
He introduces himself as Fernando, as a Mayan, as a sociologist. It’s a random conversation that winds around to his Mayan spiritual beliefs. He stresses the importance of being balanced mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually, saying that Mayans believe in expressing emotions freely as one way of staying centered. I occasionally nod.
I get up to leave and turn to face him.
“You have been through some difficult things”, he says in clear, slow Spanish, his black eyes looking directly into mine. I look down at his polished black square-toed shoes, alarmed.
“You can’t heal your heart if you stay blocked to yourself.” He suggests. “You have to allow yourself to express your feelings”.
Tears involuntarily drip down my cheeks.
I sit back down on the bench and stare at my hands in my lap. His shoes are pointed my direction, and we sit together quietly on the wrought iron bench. Merida honks and shuffles around me, but I don’t hear it.