It seems like the key somehow. It’s like watching a movie where the detective returns to a crime scene over and over, hoping that he can sense something new, something he’d missed.
I’m going back for absolution. I want to go back so that everything that’s happened makes sense. I would understand why my family was so sad, so desperate, so anxious. I’ve been here before. It feels like the more I know the more elusive the answer becomes.
The last time I was in Mexico I was 19. I lived in Oaxaca for a month. I didn’t want to go, but I forced myself. It was wrong that I wanted to go to Europe instead of Central America, I convinced myself. Europe represented something new, something different, levity, a different version of myself - one that could forget.
Mexico represented home. I’d spent all my childhood carefully curating an elaborate escape from home. Ambition was the best story I could come up with. All the trophies, the business suits at 15, the obsession with reading about colleges, the refusal to allow my parents to buy me a Nintendo. I was “precocious.” I was frantic. I was singularly obsessed with getting away. I couldn’t even understand it at the time.
Everything was happening as it ought to have. I had friendships. I had crushes. I laughed and cried. I was made fun of for being fat. I had best friends. I ate lunches. I felt hunger. I recited speeches. I told jokes. I wore leggings. It was all happening, but it was also make believe. This was just what had to happen until I could start my real life.
I step outside. It’s 2 in the morning. I can smell the ocean for the first time in months. Salt frilled with grainy blue pungency.
I walk to the beach, and the waves are high. I normally feel a twinge of embarrassment for the surfers who frequent Ocean Beach, who paddle meekly through 1-foot waves as if through sheer, undeterred determination they could make the waves rise higher. Or maybe they like the 1-foot waves. Maybe they prefer them. I see these high waves and think, “these are real waves, the kind real surfers must like.”
It’s foggy. Like old San Francisco, a curmudgeon I’ve convinced I share some intimacy with. “I know the old you, the real you. You’re not pretty, and I like you just like that,” I think.
I stick my hand into the fog, and my feet sink deep into the sand. I am big, and I sink further into the sand than I used to.
I walk to the edge of the beach, and the fog gets thicker, scarier. I can’t see in front of me, but I can hear the ocean. I climb up the side of the cliff, into the forest. Land’s End. I used to sit here and eat picnics on the cliff. My feet dangling off the edge, with a block of cheese in my hand with my crazy friend Rachel who staged her own kidnapping in high school. She’s the first person who ever encouraged me to skip school. We’d go to Jack in the Box and have milk shakes. We’d leave giggling messages for each other on the school’s absence hotline. Sometimes we’d go to her house and talk to men on the internet, while she ate nacho cheese flavored Doritos. “How can you eat? This is too exciting. I’m nauseous,” I told her.
She laughed at me, the way a grown up laughs at a child.
When she went missing she was on the news. I was embarrassed when they described her “5’5’’, black hair, dark brown eyes, heavy set.” Heavy set. Almost as if that description made the whole thing less serious. Like it wasn’t happening.Our fatness was a secret we shared.
Then she came back.
I called her. “Tell me everything. Did you have sex?”
She was thrilled to tell me what had happened, the wanted and unwanted parts melted together. My parents were upset, and so were other people at school. She had run away with a grown man, an old man she’d met on the internet. They made it sound so typical, like this is exactly what a fat girl would do. And I felt guilty for having shared the delight I knew she felt in the experience. I felt embarrassed for her and for myself.
I called her again, telling her I was wrong for having condoned what was clearly sexual predation. Telling her she was a victim, but also somehow telling her that enjoying the experience made her wrong. She told me she preferred the older conversations, the ones where I asked if she had done anal.
I’m in the fog, and I feel someone take my hand. I know this hand. It’s small. It’s my grandmother’s. And then my other hand is taken by my mother.
They’re my children, just like always.
They’re telling me their life stories. My mother is telling me she’s sorry. She hands me toys made of that same putrid fog, toys for a toddler that she thinks are for me, toys that let me know she’s not so much sorry that I am lonely because she left me, but more that she’s sorry she isn’t the 21 year old who had the power to leave anymore. My grandmother tells me about the time that her mother died when she was 9. She tells me each time as if it was the first time. She tells the whole story and then she stops, and takes a deep breath – a look of momentary amnesia - and then she tells the exact story again.
“Everything fell apart then. I was never myself again. I died there. I am a ghost, just as you had always suspected.” But the words become part of the fog too, until I’m not sure what she’s said and what I’ve thought. Just like always.
I lie on the wet ground. They ask me to get up. “Get up. Get up. Please.”
“I’m tired,” I tell them. “I’ve listened to your stories and I want to sleep a little. I promise to wake up again and we can go for a walk.”
“What if you wake up and you forget who you are? What if you wake up and you’re different than before?”
“I’ll never change. I’ll stay here always.”