I met the woman I refer to as my gorgeous ex-fiancee on a Friday afternoon in Mexico in 1978. We were both there for a few days with a group of doctors and nurses and translators doing volunteer medical work. She was a nurse, I was a translator. Over the next two days we spent a total of maybe eight hours together, talking, walking. Then Sunday about noon she flew back to the States, and I stayed in Mexico.
It was her birthday a few days ago, and yesterday, at the bottom of a box of old photos, I found the letters I wrote to her from that week I spent in Mexico after she left. I was 31 at the time. I hadn’t seen the letters in 39 years, and had no idea she’d kept them. I laughed when I read them. Here they are, spelling and punctuation unchanged.
Letter 1. Guaymas, Sunday Nite
Today, on the beach, your airplane flew by, and the sun flashed on the wings and the propeller. I waved; I have no way to tell you all that I felt at that instant.
Tonight I am sitting in a small room. The walls are of that curious Mexican pink color that shouts for my attention & argues with the yellow bedspread. The light over the bed worked intermittently ’til I took the plug apart and gentled it into working. A green pitcher contains water of unknown origin; a modern Japanese electric fan waits in the corner. I think of you.
I walked by the bay in Guaymas today. Two men stood on the corner, “Buenos dias”, and we talked of fish and fishing. One spoke of sharks & the price of shrimp; the other built boats & talked to me about wood & nails; the sun warmed us & eased us.
Further on, two musicians came by and we traded songs. They couldn’t stay, they were going to sing in a restaurant for tips, adios, que le vaya bien.
On the next corner I saw an old, most curious cello. The body had cracks repaired, the neck also. It had only 3 strings, evenly spaced on the neck, & as far as I could tell, was built to take only 3 strings. It was tuned in fourths, & had no apparent owner; only sat by the seawall with the wind to play it. The sea shimmered blue, & heat rose off the mountains on the far side of the bay. I thought of you.
Dinner struck me in a little taco stand across the street from the bay, where 2 men kidded each other (& me) about the relative length & diameter of their partes ocultos. “They’re rascals,” they owner told me on the side. I agreed.
Drifting on, I entered a pool hall, where old men with amazing eyes & fingers bounced balls together with that curiously pleasing click and the air smelled like tired cigarettes. Drifted again into a store, where to my joy they had paper & envelopes. The sun is down, to be continued tomorrow; the pink walls discuss matters with the blue ceiling; outside the ocean meditates, I hear it in my dreams.
Letter 2. Los Mochis, Monday Nite
Up medium early this morning, rolling around town. Took yesterday’s letter to the Post Office. “When will this get to California?”. “Don’t know. All I can tell you is that it will leave here sometime today. After that, ¿Quien sabe?”. Ah, Mexico. Quien sabe, indeed.
Then on to the docks, talking with the fishermen. Jerry wanted me to find out prices for sportfishing, so I played tourist for a while.
Then to the train station. The man there tried to short change me, but I laughed him out of it. “Ah well, I gotta try to screw the gringos” he told me. Later I went in to change a $20 bill, & we went through it again, same audience, only this time for fun, all roles played real broadly. We all laughed.
I rode in a kind of train I’d never been in before called an Autovia, a passenger car with its own motor. Seem strange, one car rolling across the desert all by itself.
In the seat across from me was one of our short friends, Telma by name, 1 year old, & her mamá. A jewel, big brown eyes. I played games with her;
1. You hand it to me & I hand it to you
2. Spider walk w/fingers
4. Don’t rip my notebook to shreds
5. Chase the pen
& many others. Thought of you.
Onward to Los Mochis. Arrived after dark, too late to get to Topalobampo, so, another hotel. The color scheme is better in this one, the clerk worse. Have watched a couple of Mexican TV shows, worse than the U.S. Turnitoff.
Oh, I forgot the best part. Walked this morning to the top of the hill in Guaymas, past the houses & crumbly shacks, pigpens & chicken houses, past the 10,000 flies on the piles of garbage, up & behind, kids asking “Who you looking for?” “Just walking”, and up, steeper rocks & mesquite bushes to the
Top & the breeze blew off the top of the pacific, Japan, Alaska, & down to me & I laughed & laughed in my heart, & the wind laughed too.
Letter 3. Topalobampo, Tuesday Afternoon
Sister of Warm Silence;
In front of me lies one arm of Topalobampo bay, with small boats passing by. The heron & the 5 pelicans on the far side, 75 feet away, appear to take no notice either of me or the boats. One pelican takes off & flies by me, a fish jumps. A gentle wind blows under an overcast sky.
I sit on a pile of rock where I chanced to come over the hill. Beside me reposes the spines of perhaps fifty manta rays, bleached, their telegraphs silenced, no news from the wings or the tail now. Another fish jumps, he (she) doesn’t know about me & the mantas. A goat bleats on the hill behind me. Another boat passes, I wave.
Came to Topalobampo, this morning, the early bus. I discovered that the shrimp boats go out for 2 weeks at a time, so that plan went away.
But, as I was walking down the road to the La Paz Ferry, I stopped to talk to some people working on a boat, & they invited me to ride with them tomorrow down to Mazatlán, a 20 hour run. Of course I agreed. The boat is solid; Volvo diesel, about 50′ overall. So I get my chance to go to sea after all. A seagull whistles, a small boat moves by, outbound.
A curious day. Today is my yearly fast day, a day when I fast in support of the hungry people of the world & in memory of those who died of hunger in the past year, 15 million, most of them children. Perfectly appropriate that I should be in Mexico this year. One of the men from the boat invited me to his house for lunch. “I can’t, I’m fasting” “Well, come anyway, have a drink of juice.” So I went with him & watched him & his wife & kids eat & smelled the food & had none. Interesting to be on the outside looking in. I’m hungry. So what? Another fish jumps, big ones chasing little ones.
A man comes by and tells me about going under the fence to work in Arizona & how cold it was & of how the government here makes its money from marijuana & a thousand other things. Now a bugle and drum band from the local school comes & practices by my ear. Crazy in Mexico. I am hungry. I am loco. I am sad.
Letter 4. Sea of Cortez, Wednesday, Late Afternoon
Lets see. Oh yes, the scene. I am leaning against the bulwarks of the boat watching the sun head for the horizon. T-shirt & jeans. The diesel is pounding & shaking, and through the hawse-hole to my left, I see the bow wave laughing & gurgling, it moves ahead, we catch up to it. 7 hours out, only the tips of the mountains show to the northwest. Otherwise, ocean, & 2 shrimp boats on the horizon.
And the story. Hmmm. Mailed yesterday’s letter, then went to look at the only hotel in town. Yeccch. Cucarachas & everything. So I went back to the boat, trailed by 4 kids, 8-10 or so, who had adopted me. I didn’t mention yesterday that this boat is owned by the Escuela Technica Pesquera, the Technical High School of Fishing. This is the boat that they study fishing on. So the captain told me to go sleep in the dormitory of the school, where the local gnats (very fierce) wouldn’t eat me alive.
So one of the kids took me over to the school, & one of the boys there was playing guitar in the dormitory, & we traded songs & had an instant giant audience of 12-14 year olds who sang along at any chance. Great fun. then onward to the ping pong table where I held my own, winning some, losing some, encouraging all till lights out.
At 5:00 a teacher comes in & awakens all us students. I said my good byes, & went & sat on the hill & meditated & watched the sunrise til 6:00 our scheduled departure time.
This being Mexico, we left at 9:30. We were accompanied, to my great joy, by 4 dolphins, who danced & dived under the bow. Pelicans came too, and forked-tail frigate birds soared high, never moving a wing, while gannets dived on every fish who swam too near the top. Sun everywhere.
The school is poor, so we had little food, but we stopped by a fishing boat on the way out of the bay & they gave us 2 buckets of shrimp & a dozen mackerel, & an hour’s talk about boats & the sea & the U.S. & my travels & fishing. “Come back soon” they told me. “I hope to.”
Now, sunset. I stood watch at the wheel from noon ’til two, & I’m off ’til 10 to midnite tonite. Another 2 hours in the morning, & we should be in Mazatlan about midafternoon.
I think of you often.
Letter 5. Mazatlan, Thursday Evening
Gentle Lady —
Night came, & I steered the night watch; then arose, sleepyeyed, to eat a plate of shrimp & rice, smell the morning air, & steer another 2 hours. The wind had risen to Force 4 & shifted slightly to the north, so it was blowing off of the land, smelling of trees & fresh water & many unknown things.
With the wind & sea directly with us we made good time. I napped till the captain called me to come & look , & there was Mazatlan, hotels, houses, beaches, rocks, laid out before us.
We rounded the corner & chugged upwind into the harbor & tied up alongside another boat. A man came out & said we couldn’t do that, but after an hour’s talk it some how happened that we could. The two kids from the school flipped to see who would stand the first watch. I said goodbye to the loser, & the other four of us stepped into the launch & were rowed to the beach. On to the sand, with that marvelous feeling of rebirth that I get when I touch the earth again.
We walked around the city for several hours, with the wind blowing & tugging at my hair, smelling of flowers & strange fruit.
We stopped & had tacos from a street vendor, rode on a bus, sailors on shore leave. Looked at the gringos walking the streets. We stopped at the kiosk in the main square, where a young mestiza with chinese eyes served cocacola & the juke box played American music. I want to be with you again, I wanted to dance down these crazy streets with you, past streetlights & astonished faces, to the eventual ocean, laughing and crying, dancing, moving slowly, dancing, with the moon silent & slow & the night as long as our lives. I hold you in my heart. I can say no more.
I flew back to the US a day or so later. The next afternoon I met up with her in the US. The day after that we got married, outside in the pouring rain, and have been together ever since. Thick or thin. Good times and bad. The crazy part?
We hadn’t spent 24 hours together when we tied the knot. Go figure.
From the box of old photos that contained the letters, here’s that good lady with our girlie, when we lived for three years by the lagoon on a remote coral atoll in the Solomon Islands.
And here she is a few years later when we lived on a houseboat in Fiji …
My profound thanks to her for taking the chance.
Onwards, ever onwards, happiest of birthdays, dear lady …