Eleven long weeks ago…
… it was hot in central Mexico. I sat in an unfamiliar car, waiting for another to arrive.
A tear slowly rolled down my sweaty cheek. It was born out of deep frustration and helplessness. I wiped it away as I stared out of the windshield at my former boss. He was chatting casually with some colleagues on the sidewalk of a residential neighborhood. Occasional breezes kicked up dust and litter.
I was trying not to be angry and stressed, but the man who would drive me to the airport was more than an hour late, and there was no indication that he would arrive anytime soon. I was getting nervous about missing my flight.
Oh Mexico, I thought. Always on its own schedule.
Knowing that international flights do not operate on Mexico-time, I unrolled the window.
Oigen, para llegar en tiempo, tengo que irme ahorita. ¡El avión no va a esperarme! ¿Donde esta el conductor?
Hey! To get there on time, I have to go now. The airplane will not wait for me! Where is the driver?
Ahora viene, no te preocupes.
He’s coming, don’t worry.
They resumed their conversation, unconcerned. I sent a frustrated text message to my friend to calm my nerves, then took another pill for the pain.
I drummed my fingernails on my cast. Click click click.
I was not ready for this.
Normally, Peace Corps Volunteers take their time to say goodbye. They painstakingly choose which items they will cram into their suitcase. They plan going-away parties and check experiences off of their bucket-lists. They gaze at the view one last time.
It was different for me; I only had 24 hours notice that I was leaving. To add insult to injury, I was not able to walk. Being medically evacuated was a bit like having the rug pulled up from under my feet. Suddenly I was whisked off to a completely different life, far away from everything in my world. I had no idea if I would ever return.
It was only after I cleared customs at Mexico City’s airport that I could relax. I took a deep breath and assessed my situation. I was in a wheelchair, alone. I needed to go to the bathroom, but it was too difficult to wheel down the hall. I quickly wiped away another tear. This is not how it is supposed to happen.
Fifteen minutes later, another wheelchair rolled up and braked next to me. It was an older woman, and she was in rough shape. Her son was with her.
He told me that he lives in Nevada with all of his siblings. This was his first trip back to Mexico in ten years. He came back because his mother had recently suffered a stroke. She was the only remaining family member in Mexico.
He held her hand and interrupted our conversation regularly to assure her that she would be ok. A tear ran down her paralyzed cheek.
We were both taken away from Mexico that day. I guess my situation was not so bad.
But still. I was not able to say goodbye on my own terms. I left a bedroom full of possessions, a grant-funded project with growing momentum, and countless friendships and plans behind.
Breaking the news to my amigos on social media seemed so inadequate.
When I found out that I would not return as a volunteer, the logical decision for me was to return for a short vacation.
Mexico taught me many things: one is that saying goodbye is just as much for the person who is leaving as it is for the people who are staying.
Now that my health is slowly returning, it is time for my despidida, my going-away party. Tomorrow I will fly back to Mexico; I know that it will feel less like “goodbye” and much more like adiós.
Jose Alfredo Jimenez – El Ultimo Trago
Tomate esta botella conmigo, y en el ultimo trago nos vamos
Drink this bottle with me, and after the last sip we will go
Esta noche no voy a rogarte, esta noche te vas de deveras
Tonight I will not beg you, tonight you are really leaving
que dificil tener que dejarte
How difficult is is to let you go