We came together as strangers for the dangerous ride over the mountain.
Driving through the bustle of town. Cosas, cosas mucho. Everybody selling something. The smells of leaded gasoline and the mixture of all those foods from the street venders cooking in hot oiled pans fed by charcoal fires in home built stoves. Fried tortillas, papas, pollo. So many smells and sounds coming right at you. Then finally leaving all that. Leaving us with the darkness beyond the headlights. Everyone focused on willing that van to stay on the road.
I did not see her eyes when she came in at first and sat so close. Beyond full, that van. I could feel the whole side of her body against mine. From the side I could see a prominent brow and full lips and dark, shiny hair to her shoulders. Rounding those high mountain curves in the darkness of the night, I could feel the fear in her body leaning so close to mine. The van came to a screeching halt where a landslide had filled part of the road, raising our anxiety. We both needed comfort. I moved my shoulder so it was outside hers. She slid in closer and leaned against me, later resting the side of her warm breast against my arm. It was more an act of trust than anything else. I needed that. I needed to be trusted. I needed to feel her as a woman. We were in this ride together now easing our fears, willing the van safely to Oaxaca. Never once talking, we stayed focused on the road.
When I’d made the trip before it was daytime. I’d seen all the dangers then. How the building of the road had made the mountain unstable. All the crosses on the side of the road. The path of a fallen bus had scarred the mountain side, burned and rusted remains still resting where it stopped. A tribute to the dead. We came upon the soft light from adobe homes, the smell of burning charcoal from the cook stoves. A boy on bicycle. We were coming down the mountain, the worst of the steep curves behind us, that she let go and feel asleep. Her head rested on my shoulder. Her hair smelled of lavender and sage and something unique that was all her. I could hear her breathing and sometimes a soft moan of fear from the trauma of her dream. So tender and precious. When I had first seen her profile, she looked so strong. Now with her guard down, so vulnerable. I wanted to hold her, protect her from the night, from the demons in her dreams. I had a purpose now, focusing on her breathing and easing away the fear in the night. Rocking her in the crook of my head and shoulder.
When we came into the outskirts of Oaxaca she opened her eyes trying to get her bearings. I thought she might jerk her head up when she realized it was on a stranger’s shoulder. But she kept it there for a while clearing the sleep from her eyes. I was happy for that. When she lifted her head she put her hand on my thigh for support and let it linger there for a bit. Then she straightened her hair, gathered herself together and gave me a nod from the side letting me know she was ready to leave me and face the world. Not long after that she called to the driver to stop at the next light. The first sound of her voice so lovely to hear. When she got out, she turned and looked me square in the eyes. I can still see and feel that look. So open and honest, one of a deep connection and gratitude without a word being spoken.
The previous ten days I had been walking the beach holding my arms high across my chest, cradling a broken heart, letting my brain beat me up by rerunning the scenes of betrayal over and over again. A pathetic sight I must have been, those ten days on the beach. But the edge on that journey over the mountain took me away from the drama in my head and got me focused on the desire to just stay alive and keep this woman safe. The darkness of the mountain and the rhythm of the road burned its way into my soul that night. I can still feel it in there so many years later. I was lost struggling for a foothold. Feeling betrayed and without love. When I got out of that van I was no longer lost. She had been my rock and I had been hers; I had a purpose.