Home is where the peanut butter is… or where the queso is…. or wherever the hell I left the apple core!

2 Jun
looking out over juquila

looking out over juquila

I read somewhere once that when you are bilingual enough, you actually become “nilingue,” an invented word meaning you don’t speak anything because you’re so back-and-forth and mixed-up between the two. That’s a little how I feel about home now- that no place is really home now, because part of me constantly is missing other parts of me. It’s like someone took an apple-slicer to my heart and it can never be made whole again. Which isn’t all bad (don’t tell me to be positive, Conan, just keep reading!), but it can be painful and confusing to say the least.
Like now. It’s official. I’m going home. Kinda sorta. I’m going to one of my homes. To my hometown, anyway. To live for a very short time, or to visit for a very long time. I’m going with my kid but not with my partner. For three months! I’m ecstatic and anxious and guilty and joyful, among other things.
I’m incredibly excited to see my family, of course. My parents will get to spend some time with their littlest grandbaby, and with me. Lucia and I will finally see family members we haven’t seen since she was a few weeks old.
I’m stoked to see my friends, especially after all these months of more or less zero social engagements. There’s lots of catching up and reconnecting to be done; for instance, my best friend has twins that I have yet to meet. I’m dreaming about riding my old bicycle. I’m even vaguely excited about driving a car again. I’m dying to see the new pedestrian bridge, to look out over my river, to show Lucia my favorite parks and places to walk. I’m pleased she’ll be using a car seat and she’ll be overjoyed to ride in a shopping cart again.
I can’t wait to peruse the dozens and dozens of cheeses in Valu Market (here there are only two kinds of cheese). I’m longing for a farmer’s market and all its “obscure” vegetables like eggplant or winter squash (here you can buy local, but with much less variety in veggies). My belly does cartwheels just thinking about the Ethiopian restaurant, or the avocado milkshake at Vietnam Kitchen, or the pesto pizza and beer cheese from Richo’s. And speaking of Richo’s and their astounding selection of beer, there are only 3 types of beer in my town, and I haven’t had a beer with my best friend in two years now, thanks to one or the other of us being pregnant or out of town. And I’m drooling over the mere idea of ginger and bourbon at The Back Door.
I mostly haven’t let myself think about these things, or lots of other things, for many months now. Even as I write about it, my excitement is tinged with bitterness and anger about leaving my partner behind. Part of me feels like I’m betraying the solidarity we established in moving to Mexico together when my country kicked him out. He doesn’t feel like that, but I do. I hate that our daughter won’t see her Papi for a quarter of a year, when she’s only been alive a year herself. I hate that I won’t see him for so long. I hate that I will have to go visit some of his friends, without him. I hate that we can’t share the joy that I’m going to feel for reconnecting with my town and my “people,” which is also his, after 10 years living there.
I’m going to miss some things about here, too. For those of you who have listened to me complain and be miserable and cry and giggle hysterically about being here, thank you for listening. But now that I’ve spent 10 months adapting and trying to appreciate everything I could possibly appreciate, I’ve gotten kind of comfortable here. I mean, Lucia and I say hi to people on our errands now. We chat with the folks at our favorite produce stand. There are many people I can smile warmly at and have pleasant small talk with. I know where to go for most things I need, even though there are no street names, even though people tell you how to get somewhere based on the name of the person who lives or has a business nearby. There are folks I play volleyball with (when it’s not raining) on the occasions I can get out of the house without Lucia. Our next door neighbor started a bar with two pool tables, so Conan and I have a quick and easy date spot. It’s gone from miserable to pleasantly comfortable, finally, finally. Now that I’m leaving for a while.
Is this town the best place on earth for me? No. I’m still dying to move to Puerto Escondido, and to visit Louisville. But finally I’m comfortable enough that I’m going to be in culture shock when I get back “home”. I’m going to miss the random horses and donkeys and chickens and (unleashed) dogs walking down the street. I’ll miss the smell of just-made handmade tortillas brought to my doorstep, the taste of café de olla with cinnamon. I’ll miss the lady that sells the best toasted pumpkin seeds. I’ll miss how every corner fruit and veggie stand has cilantro and epazote. I’ll miss the all the medicinal and edible herbs and flowers that are everywhere, in people’s makeshift potted gardens, or growing up amongst the weeds. I’ll miss being able to walk to all my errands. I’ll miss seeing all the women with baskets on their heads selling bread and other goodies. I’ll miss other, harder-to-define sights and sounds and feelings.
I’m going to be in withdrawal from the lovely folks in my family circle here, too. Conan and I have gotten closer in many ways since we moved here, seeing new sides of each other, learning how to have a decent fight with each other, having to depend more on each other. He has become an excellent father for Lucia and a perfectly imperfect partner for me. He will be the biggest part of my case of Mexico withdrawal, although luckily not the only part.
While I might not have a social life here, the good company in my household, and their support and laughter makes up for a lot. We live with several people, including his cousins Liliana and Noe. Plus Conan’s Aunt Meya stops in once or twice a day, and Arturo, Lucia’s Abuelo (grandfather) is here for a few days a month when he’s not working. All of these people adore Lucia and help a lot in taking care of her. They also make up most of my social support and fun. Even Aunt Meya’s coming by to “scold” us for something or the other on her way to run an errand has become a fun family joke. Fourteen year old Noe’s rapport with Conan, who constantly makes fun of him in a sweet, teasing way, is a guaranteed giggle for everyone pretty much daily. Liliana is a staple in my life, with her fantastically shameless pot belly (“Let your body take whatever form it wants!” is her now famous motto that we all use when we want to convince someone to eat more or to eat something “bad for you”). She’s got a knack for uncontrollable laughter that can be contagious for all of us.
And of course there’s Paulina, my baby’s Abuela (grandmother), who I think is the person who gave Lucia her love of dancing. Paulina, with her feminism that feels like a breath of fresh air in a burning jungle around here, is always nice to be around. We have a blast laughing about her extremist tactics for saving money, too. “Mejor dame el efectivo- Just give me the cash instead,” is one of her famous lines now- telling us she wants cash instead of a Christmas present, so she can save instead of us spending. Her other famous line is, “Esta guardado- it’s stored away” which is what happens when she finally does spend some money to buy something. Like when we first got here and Conan invested in some new frying pans because the ones she had were scraped-up, banged-up cancer-causing beasts. He brings home the new ones and she scolds him for buying them when she’s got 3 brand new ones. “Well where are they?” Conan asks. “They’re stored away,” she says, which is what she’ll repeat about a billion other things. She’s got clothes and shoes that people have given her that she’s had for years and never worn because she’s saving it for a special occasion. You can imagine how much we poke fun at her for all this. And all this family here pokes fun back at me, and takes care of me, and nourishes me. And I’m really going to miss them.
I am an expert at missing people, at getting attached to and nostalgic for people and places and food. I’ve lived and travelled in what seems like a boatload of places now, leaving pieces of my heart here and there, taking away what generous souls give to me- salsa recipes and Cork (southern Irish) slang and a thirst for terere, Paraguay-style yerba mate, for example, not to mention some outrageous stories. My life is much richer and more colorful thanks to some wonderful people and places, and truly it is a great privilege to miss them.
My past experience also means I’ve done this tricky readjustment thing several times now, so it’s about time I shaped up and quit being so torn up about it. Yes, this time is unique and different in some ways, but at the end of the day, no matter where I am, I am leaving behind people that I love. No matter where I am, it’s only partially “home.” This means that I have an exceptional opportunity to enjoy the best things from these multiple worlds. I hope it also means that Lucia will transition between her worlds with more grace and flexibility than what I have, that she’ll teach and inspire me to be better. So be patient with me, dear friends and family. I’ll be trying to enjoy what I’ve got and where I am while the moment lasts, to let go of the melancholy and appreciate that I am lucky enough to have multiple homes, to know so many fabulous people in multiple places. If the price for all of it is having a heart cut up into apple slices, then smear on some peanut butter and pass the queso, and I’ll enjoy it both ways.

abuelo and emmanueal, lucia's neighbor/big brother

Abuelo Arturo with Lucia and Emmanuel, a neighbor and Lucia’s adopted big brother

with abuela and aunt meya on our roof

Lucia with Abuela Paulina and her aunt Tia Meya (behind Lucia) on the roof top

new arrivals, conan and lucia with paulina

New arrivals Conan and Lucia with Paulina

paw-paw's visit to mexico

Paw-Paw’s visit to Mexico (Puerto Escondido)

leaving the US as a family


Our new family leaving the US, on the plane (Lucia’s head is all you can see of her)



4 Responses to “Home is where the peanut butter is… or where the queso is…. or wherever the hell I left the apple core!”

  1. jolltzzz June 6, 2013 at 2:14 pm #

    While I can relate to many of these feelings, the stories are very different. I have parts of my heart in Thailand and Indonesia and I fully remember how torn I felt while I was in Thailand and Jim was in the states. Yet, I’m sure your feelings are much more complicated given that you have a child together and since your choices have been limited by this country’s treatment of your partner. Jim and I were able to choose freely which should be the position that we all find ourselves in. Obviously, I know that you made a choice in solidarity to move. But you know what I mean. It is so unjust that Conan can’t visit with you and the babe. I’m sorry that your family has to be physically separated, but I’m glad Lucia will get to experience some of the sights and sounds from your childhood.

    • exiletomexico June 7, 2013 at 9:37 am #

      Yeah, it’s definitely more complicated with a kid involved.We were apart for a month at the beginning of our relationship, while I was travelling in Mexico, and it was tolerable- although even then I missed him a ton. But I think missing people is pretty universal….. I’m hoping some day things with immigration will be saner, but I’m not holding my breath!

  2. Sara Ubelhart June 10, 2013 at 7:56 pm #

    i love this piece, it made me miss louisville so much that i cried. i want iris, my little one, to one day know and love our hometown as much we do. i hope that you have a great visit and that lucia and you get to spend some quality time with all the lovely and amazing people back home. hug all those babies for me!

    • exiletomexico June 10, 2013 at 9:39 pm #

      Oh, girl, I’d love to meet your Iris! I will definitely hug all the babies for you. Miss you, too! Take care!

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