We part ways with our guardian angel of a friendGustavo, and trudge to the terminal. Four days rounding up kids in Chihuahua has taken its’ toll on us and we don’t have any energy to spare. We move towards the bus platform and through the “security” checkpoint (a guy in a white shirt, vest, and black pants, who is standing beside and an aging metal detector). The metal detector goes off each time one of our bags passes through the detector and so I tiredly reach for my backpack straps. The elderly guard gives me a puzzled look and then waves us to the platform.
About a month ago I gave up on waiting to be killed in Mexico. I’m a firm believer in not watching the news and of writing my own opinions on the places I’ve been, so, I’m not too frightened when I see 40 or 50 tired and hungry looking people turn and watch us as they sit on their bags or drink coke. I just assume that I look as tired and hungry as they do and start looking for the bus. The nice lady at the ticket counter said that we should get there 20 minutes early, and, a public transit veteran of Asia we were exactly 21 minutes early.
I hear the kids from the Trix commercials laugh in my head, “Silly, Benjamen! On time is for Asia!”
The 8:45 bus shows up at 9:02 sharp, and away we go.
The pale half-moon keeps me company as the bus rumbles its way south. The desert is a dark silhouette slowly being pulled by. An occasional mountain covers the stars on the horizon, but otherwise it’s a clear and quiet night. My wife is sleeping soundly to my right.
My mind fills with all of the fail that happened today. My poor little wife. I spent my teen years sharpening my tongue and using it as an instrument of destruction against my mom and stepdad and only now in the midst of marriage and stress does the magnitude of my poor choices come to light. My conditioned heart contains self-hatred, anger and fear: gifts I’ve given my wife.
Whatever small problems you have when you are dating, they will be magnified to an obscene degree in marriage. You think that you’ve forgotten that one time when your mom called you a “baby” in front of your friends on your 10th birthday party because Bradley Henderson broke your brand new helicopter? You haven’t. And what’s more, now you’re one word away from going atomic in the middle of a fight.
Me: “I’m sorry, I didn’t know it was a crime to do something nice for your wife. Don’t worry, I’ll think twice before making that mistake again!”
Stef: “Did I say that you couldn’t do something nice for me? Why are you acting like a baby?”
Eye twitch. Pause. You can hear the sound of the tea kettle as it gets “all steamed up” and then the explosion.
Thanks, Bradley. Thanks.
And that’s how it happens. Emotional land mines planted years prior get stepped on. Insecurities get triggered. Fears come to the surface. But, the miracle of marriage is that you get to work on it together. But, you can’t give up.
So here I am at 2 am watching the rise and fall of my wife’s little chest thinking about all the hate I spewed on her and just how she could still choose to love me.
The outlines of giant cactus and yucca give the smooth desert a texture in the moonlight. The bus rolls on.
The driver pulls the bus over for a quick pit stop. Some of the passengers open their eyes and pull back the curtains to see what is going on, but they weren’t awake when the driver decided to ditch the bus for the bathroom, so they can only sit and speculate.
I’ve slept for few hours, but I’m definitely jealous of my wife right now. How is she doing this? I mean, loading up three vans with 50 people (43 of which were children) and driving them four hours south to spend four days in Chihuahua might have had something to with it… but not much. She’s just a premium sleeper.
I look at my hand in the moonlight. The Juarez sun has made my arms darker than usual, but that’s not what catches my tired eyes. I see three scabs on my hand, each the size of a grain of rice. They make a smileless face right above my thumb. The last morning when I made breakfast for the little ones I had the flat-top too hot and when the rice hit the smoking oil some of it jumped back out onto my hand. It hurt so bad that I had to switch hands in order to finish cooking. Now I look at them and hope that they never go away.
I’m old enough to know that memories aren’t vaults that get locked away in airless perfection. There is no museum of past hurts and triumphs pristinely kept with paid nightly security to make sure that nothing is misplaced or altered. My mind is a muddy construction site where only one thing gets built at a time. When that memory is completed it is abandoned to build a new one. The memories all start new and in order, but the thief named Time works feverishly to dim sensations and blur faces. The memories are rows of broken down houses. A ghost town in the wasteland of my mind. Some precious things can be found there, but they are hidden and rarely ever seen. These precious things have either been overlooked or they are too strong to be destroyed by Time.
I look at the row of new memories made with laughter and love. I see the kid’s faces all perfectly done in new paint and my heart gets sad. I’ll soon forget most of their names, the smell of Juarez (sand and trash), the good morning smiles, the way they yelled my name (BEN-HAH-MEEEN!), the fear that filled my heart when I found a brown spider crawling by my bed. Everything will fade.
I look again at my wife, and pray that the wounds that I gave her today would heal completely and without a trace. I look at my rice scabs again and hope the opposite.
“The LORD will be our Mighty One. He will be like a wide river of protection that no enemy can cross, that no enemy ship can sail upon. The LORD is our judge, our lawgiver, and our king. He will care for us and save us. The enemies’ sails hang loose on broken masts with useless tackle. Their treasure will be divided by the people of God. Even the lame will take their share! The people of Israel will no longer say, ‘We are sick and helpless,’ for the LORD will forgive their sins.” Isaiah 33:21-24