The things I love don’t belong to me–life in Mexico City

There’s a bottle of Jimador brand tequila, half full, in the kitchen, the remains of a conversation about the Mexican student movement. But I didn’t buy it. The bottle of J&B holds just one swig and I never touched. It landed in my kitchen after a book party I didn’t attend, brought over by someone who doesn’t live here, but did for a few weeks while I was in New York and who unraveled my narrative conundrum. The near empty bottle of red wine, originated in a vineyard near Monterrey, in northern Mexico, and arrived at my home via a friend reporting on ‘election campaigning in areas controlled by organized crime,’ the assignment itself mocking any notion of democracy. The wine, too sweet to drink, made for an excellent stewed beef with vegetables, prepared by that reporter who covered the story, scored the wine and who rode off in a cab driven by a spy for a local crime cell.

The sky blue antique ashtray sitting on my refrigerator, in the early months held the bullet shells that I collected after an off duty cop in Guanajuato rang in the New Year by firing his pistol into the air. It was later filled with countless cigarette butts, produced from the dark topics that often dominate discussions and precipitate clandestine smoking. Death, disappearances, corruption, impunity. The ashtray, not mine, is now empty.

Just beyond the kitchen, in front of the door to the back patio that I mainly use to store the trash until the garbage truck comes around, stands an oversized slightly tacky arrangement of artificial flowers with a musky odor purchased from a 10 year old boy. He made the rounds at a steakhouse where some 30 journalists had gathered after learning strategies for coping with trauma. He slapped hands with the men, flirted with the ladies and flashed a wily smile, charming his way into selling five arrangements. In truth, he was welcomed as an unscheduled dose of relief.

A yellow rose that I presented to a man who helped me find towels when I arrived and who later held my hand occupies the center place in my living room. The rose, now shriveled, made him smile, and it will stay in the glass art deco vase as long I can see faint strains of life or as long as I’m still here.

The sheets aren’t mine, nor the down comforter, nor the massive white desk of pressed wood where I spend all of my time. They stay behind, along with the spices and cheese grater I bought, my only contributions to this apartment. Within 10 days all of it, along with the plants and trees I have tended to, will be off limits to me. I have nothing left in hand from the late night whispered conversations in the garden about the teachings of love that defy intellectual exercises. No memento from the nights that we searched the sky for stars, and imagined shaping stories from the void left by the 10,000 disappeared and what their absence says about the lies told about what some call a war, and how we tolerate those lies. I failed to record those conversations and I failed to figure out why nights out in Mexico City always seem to end after 3 a.m. But I have noticed those are the conversations that become plans realized, editorials written, alliances formed.

I also failed to keep my bamboo plant alive, it was overcome with a plague and the remedy—shared by the friend who bought the tequila– involves mixing tobacco with water. I haven’t tried it, I’m not good at concoctions. Even the hummingbird spurned the nectar I prepared for her. There’s no possible way to preserve these things or even say good bye, not to the hummingbird that tiny wonder who snaps me out of my obsessive thinking with the sharp flap of her wings announcing her arrival. She is simply an inspiration, as is the glow from the evening sun that radiates from the stone walls in the garden. There can be no good-byes for things that make me stop and look, things that last for a moment, things I can’t hold in my hands.

The things I love I leave behind, they don’t belong to me. I am empty handed after my time in Mexico City. Progress was slower than I expected, ideas I once thought brilliant soon seemed untenable and distracting and were abandoned. The book flourished but remains unfinished. But I love the things that belong here all the same because they are reminders of moments that forged a deep appreciation and respect for loosening my grip, claiming nothing as my own, and allowing truth to reveal itself —the focused surrender to the work. For that bounty, and the people who brought it to fruition, I am grateful.

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