How Long Have You Been In Mexico?

By: Christina J. Johns

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Once, at the tail end of a sweltering dusty, Sunday afternoon in 1985, I found myself in the offices of the Associated Press in Mexico City, waiting for a clear line to wire a newspaper article to my editor.

A British journalist, forty-five-ish, disheveled, looking very much like he'd seen the bottom of too many glasses, the butts of too many cigarettes and the coming of way too many dawns, was doing the same thing.

We had both melted into chairs and slumped down. We had our feet propped up on opposite ends of somebody's desk.

"How long have you been in Mexico?" I asked, less out of interests than in an attempt to fight off the oppressive, throat-choking, pollution-induced slumber that was weighs down on you in the afternoon in Mexico City.

"Ten years." He answered. "Ten, miserable, hot, frustrating years. Most of them doing something like this - sitting in an office with no air conditioning waiting three hours to do something that anywhere else in the world would take five minutes."

"You like Mexico then." I said, wryly.

"I loathe it." He answered. "From it's humid, wet, rain-forested soul rotting South to its parched, sun-blazed, lizard frying, cartel-infested desert north. In short, every damned inch of it."

"So what are you doing here?"

He looked at me for the first time and smiled - a surprising smile - a playful smile, generous and warm. "A woman, of course. I fell madly, blindly, crazily in love with a woman and she was in Mexico."

I had already decided that this guy was not the kind who was going home to a wife and kiddies at night. So the next question was inevitable.

"What happened to the women?"

He smiled again - a smile that I could have come close to becoming fond of.

"She deserted me." He said. "Six weeks after I got here. Ran, not walked, but ran out on me with a bloody war correspondent."

"That was nine and a half years ago?"

"Since then, I just haven't had the bloody energy to leave."

I leaned my head back and closed my eyes and laughed - a deep, appreciative laugh that comes from recognizing so much of yourself in someone else.

I loved the notion of this then thirty-five year old, established journalist throwing caution, good sense, and probably the advice of everyone he knew to the wind, and dashing off to Mexico on the basis of nothing but what must have been a torrid and passionate love affair.

I loved the fact that he had done it, and I loved the fact that he had stayed.

I loved it, of course, because it was so much the way I had spent most of my adult life. Not that I usually admitted it as candidly or as charmingly as he had.

At the time, I had seldom allowed anybody or anything to stand between me and a promising adventure or a dangerous love affair.

One of my ex-husbands once said that I was the only person he knew who would drop everything and leave for six weeks in Mexico on two days notice. I was never sure whether, coming from him, this was a compliment.

When he divorced me, he sent me a note which contained one line - a quote from a novel by Graham Greene: She threw herself at life like a suicide on the pavement.

I DID NOT mistake THAT for a compliment.

But every life has its price.

As old age closes like a cat circling in on a wounded bird, the secure and safe and conventional long for the excitement and danger and abandon they never experienced. The wild and unconventional and reckless yearn after safety and comfort and peace.

As the French writer Collette once said: I've never seen a wild thing feel sorry for itself.

Perhaps the tragedy of human beings is that they can never be truly wild.


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