Salinas, California and I am zooming past it in the front seat of a dusty '66 Impala convertible. With a cold beer wedged between overheated thighs, the can sweating icy drops against my legs, I allow myself to think of you for the first time in 600 miles. I blow past a random shack, complete with haggard old man barely rocking his chair on a sun-bleached porch. This is what I wanted: freedom.
In the rearview mirror I see the reflection of an aged woman staring back. Her face is weary, though thick sunglasses conceal the worst of it. Without makeup, in the harsh light of high noon, I look as though I've been to hell and back. Maybe I have. The few grey hairs that season my stubborn, red hair are hidden under an old scarf. Once pink--nearly white now--the delicate fabric flaps in the wind under passive protest. I'd found it in the glove box, searching for a map somewhere outside of San Miguel. I put it on as an afterthought.
Two weeks ago I was sipping margaritas with you. I remember those dance girls twirling around us, whirling with such chaotic precision that their faces blurred. La Rosita filled our ears like sweet sangria splashing in a glass. How you laughed when I told you the secrets of my past, whispering shamefully about all my indiscretions. The heat of the evening, the thick smell of peppers, the cool drinks making our heads spin in the music. I knew you'd accept me, deny me nothing. Twice your senior, I desperately sought your affection and approval. We could be happy like this, you and me. How you laughed.
The first time we shared more than a bed, I recall waking up early, my skin sticking to the sheets. I padded onto the balcony and took in the beauty of a Mexican dawn, the gradual sort of awakening that can only be had at such a lazy sunrise. Una Palabra was on the radio that morning as I gently brought you to wake, my breath sweet with honey and raisin. We made an easy love that morning, giggling and whispering affectionately. That's when you told me you had two months.
How naive of me to think that a beautiful young girl like you would be free and vacationing alone in Mexico just because.
Drain the can. And when it's gone, I reach for another from the mini-cooler on the passenger-side floor. If there's a cop out here I dare him to pull me over. My mind drifts to a Thelma & Louise-type ending. I finally find my Geena Davis and she's rotting from the inside out. I'd laugh but I'm too busy chugging, eyes peering over the top of the frosty can, scanning the southwestern landscape for something--anything. Her.
You said life is what we make of it. That two months of living in the here-and-now would be greater than a lifetime of laters. You told me you loved me. Was it the xenophilic rush of a city entirely foreign? The heady thrill of brushing against fate? I believed you. I still do.
Please don't leave me. Please--but you were gone. No two months. No month. Six wonderful todays. The last eighteen hours felt like madness, me wondering how you could fall so ill so quickly, you struggling just to lift your head. Please, God.
As quickly as it began, it ended. And there you were, the light stolen from your eyes. Your youthful body lost its glow before anything else. I told myself you weren't growing cold, that the change in color was from your soul floating upward. Bullshit, really. It's amazing what a grown woman will tell herself in a moment of weakness.
Anonymous policía covered you with a white sheet while I hunched over a shotglass like some impossibly worn gargoyle. My finger rimmed the glass, skating over tequila in soothing circles. I made the rotation, gripped the glass, and tossed it back. Slammed it down, poured some more, rimmed the glass. Again. An overweight cop eased onto the stool next to me. Took my name. Asked me a few mundane questions in spanglish. At the first available moment, I grabbed your keys and stumbled out the door. I didn't even bother to pack.