The airport was an anesthesized and largely empty dull-brown space, occasionally criss-crossed by khakied business professionals. Now, whenever I see “Midland-Odessa” on an airport map, I get a little shiver of abhorred remembrance – nostalgia’s dark twin – recalling the two of us freshly stranded on the concrete entryway amidst the debris of our years in Mexico, facing the prospect of spending our meager savings on a rental car, anticipating the remaining 1300-mile drive to this increasingly dubious American chapter of our lives.
We rented a silver Hyundai from Hertz, an ugly boat that made me feel small and insignificant driving, a midget snug amidst so much glass and metal. It was smooth and efficiently air-conditioned and utterly soulless, and we felt great irrational affection for the Toyota that had pooped out in its first week with us when we made a final, painful stop in Big Spring to sign the official papers at the mechanic’s and clear out our things. I gathered the CDs I’d burnt one after the other at my parent’s place in Ohio – Lila Downs, Calexico, Beirut – out of the glove compartment, tossed the Times and the coffee cups, collected scraps out of the backseat and the trunk, and said goodbye to still mildly admonishing but now sympathetic George before we backed out of his lot in the arrogant Hyundai. We stopped at DQ and got Blizzards, and maybe it was the sticky Reese’s cups in the runny supersweet soft serve that finally sunk us into despair. Jorge couldn’t finish his; the dolor of Popeyes was revisiting him.
It took hundreds of miles to speak of the $800 we were spending to drive this puppy to Columbus, of the dead Toyota, of the exploding oil refinery and Charlie and Popeye’s and this, the United States of America. We didn’t, really, until we got to Nashville, and went to a Mexican restaurant next to the spartan Days Inn, and ate warmed flour tortillas covered in mushy beans and cheese, and then we began to laugh, but not so loudly or warmly that we felt renewed confidence in the decision to leave Mexico.
And yet now, with Jorge temporarily back in Mexico on a competitive arts fellowship and me writing fiction for the first time, a year of non-stop reading and writing and some solid publications under my belt, that initial breakdown seems less a harbinger of doom than a warning about the mirages that distance can birth, mirages shattered and exploded one after the other in my first year here.