And so I choked down deep that feeling of regret, the realization that our days in this home of ours were numbered, and I embraced the experience in its entirety.
The food, the smells, the sights, the warmth.
During those first couple of days, as we spent quality time with my husband’s family in Tijuana, I would feel younger than I have in years. I would be reminded of a quote from one of my very favorite novels, Caramelo, that recalls the experience of returning to Mexico after a long stay in the States.
“The smell of diesel exhaust, the smell of somebody roasting coffee, the smell of hot corn tortillas along with the pat-pat of the women’s hands making them, the sting of roasting chiles in your throat and in your eyes. Sometimes a smell in the morning, very cool and clean that makes you sad. And a night smell when the stars open white and soft like fresh bolillo bread.
Every year I cross the border, it’s the same–my mind forgets. But my body always remembers.” –Sandra Cisneros
And as it always is after being away from my querida Tijuana for too long, it was…just. like. that.
The familiar hum of the city transported me back years to a time and place where a naive, yet ambitious 20-year-old girl found her niche in the world. A niche in a place most simply pass through, in a language and a culture not her own, but so very much her. Awakening in the morning in the hotel room to the heavy, cool air of the city. The competing scents of exhaust, rain, and Suavitel on the morning breeze would bring me back to the days when I lived and worked at the children’s shelter just a stone’s throw from our hotel. The buzz of the traffic zipping by on the old highway to Rosarito would recall to my mind Don Braulio’s singing, Doña Mary’s cooking, the drive in me to serve the migrant transient population, the strong friendships forged, and the love cultivated within the walls of this beautiful city, mi Tijuana. It was here that for the very first time I felt comfortable in my own skin. It was here where I was embraced for my quirks and irregular beats, where I was loved for the unique light that I harnessed and shined, where I felt whole.
I welcomed my beautiful Tijuana with open arms. My husband, the two boys, and I would bask in her glory over the course of 2 short days while Sole visited with her mother. We would eat richly, gluttonously really. We would indulge in the company of our family there, savouring the moments that we knew at the back of our minds were numbered. We would be tourists in this home of ours, visiting the local cultural center, the mall, and restaurants. In the blink of an eye our time there would end and we would find ourselves parked in the familiar and excruciatingly long lines of the border crossing headed to San Diego, surrounded by vendors peddling ice cream, shrimp cocktail, candies, chips, cigarettes, rosaries, and ceramic renderings of The Last Supper.
During our time in Tijuana we would have high points, like Jonas playing word games with his Tio Hugo. High points like when I nearly cried (okay maybe I really did) when Jonas scaled the play structure in the Burger King in Plaza Rio with minimal assistance from big brother Micah.
High points like me meeting and then playing with my beautiful niece, eating shrimp tacos, admiring and tasting ingenious coffee, and the conversation.
And so we would have low points too, and the pattern of our trip would emerge: tumultuous meltdown followed by unexpected, inorganic calm. Low points like Micah contracting food poisoning the second night we were there, like Jonas’ lack of understanding about the lack of available wifi in Mexico, like the high-energy of the city that would attack his senses, like the disruption of routine and the time change, all of which would lead to an inevitable spiraling meltdown.
And then we would arrive in San Diego. And then there would be calm…inorganic calm.
TO BE CONTINUED…