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Tijuana mi amor: intimate scenes of city love

It was in Zona Norte that the woman rolled down the hill like a log

Turn your back on the city, and look the other direction. You know that barren stretch of ground that runs west from the bridge. - Image by David Diaz
Turn your back on the city, and look the other direction. You know that barren stretch of ground that runs west from the bridge.

You may speak a handful of languages. For a time, each one will possess you. Stay with you forever. On your deathbed, you may moan or cry out in several. People at your side will ask in vain for others to translate. You will carry these words at all times with you until the very last moment.

However proficient you have been with its verbs, genders, and tenses, a language knows you even more intimately. It has held your lips, teeth, palate, and tongue to its root. It has breathed with you from your throat; deserted you in anger, left you sputtering, mute; embarrassed you before those you have sought to impress; returned fluidly in romance to lasso and draw a disgruntled lover back from the doorway to sit again at the edge of the bed.

Your mouth is your most facile instrument for sin. With it, through it, you send others to Hell, betray them, disclose their confidences. You promise, falsely, to spend the rest of your life with someone. Language is its partner in crime. Those sounds are part of you the way your hands are part of you. Those sounds have transubstantiated and are part of your brain. You will try but will never escape them.

You sit in a restaurant in another part of the world, arguing with the waiter about what sits on your plate. Across the room, another discussion is taking place in a language you have learned in a place thousands of miles from your miserable dinner. You hear one word — that’s all it takes. A verb. The infinitive — dejar. To leave.

To the waiter’s disdain, he listens to a strange transformation. At first your interjections are replaced by ones foreign to him. The nouns follow. Perhaps you are speaking a dialect? Your patois turns to pidgin. Syntax is scrambled. Finally, the waiter can no longer understand and returns to the kitchen. For you, the bad food is forgotten. You sit — infused with longing and love.


You are a small boy crossing a bridge with your parents. Voices come up from the ground below. You think of “The Three Billy Goats Gruff.”

Mother: My God, look at all those children down there. What are they saying?

Father: They want us to throw down money.

Mother: Those shacks are just made of cardboard. I’d hate to think of what’d happen if it’d rain.

You: Lemme see. Lemme see.

Mother: It’s nothing but a bunch of poor Mexican kids. Poor little guys.

You: Lemme see. Lemme see.

He lifted you into the smell of his aftershave. Over the guardrail, the wind blew the smell of burning paper. Small yellow fires. Dark children the size of dolls skipped around a thousand feet down. Copper hands waved at the bridge.

Father: Seen enough?

No. Never.

Downtown shopkeepers crack long black whips on the sidewalk. Paper parrots. The smell of new boots. Frying food. Loudmouthed sailors. Puppets with guitars and sombreros. Incredible puppets wearing hats, red shoes, holding guitars. They have mustaches.

Father: Wait’ll we get to Victor’s shop, he might give you one for free.

Father: Hey, amigo! iQue pasa? This is mi esposa and my hijo.

Mother: Don’t go wandering off. We’re leaving in just a minute. Stay here. I don’t want you falling down on the sidewalk and getting an infection.

The back of the car is dark.

The puppet’s strings are black and tangle with alarming ease, especially when the guitar is played.

Victor’s son runs to greet you and babbles away a mile a minute.

You: What’s he saying?

Mother: It’s Spanish.

He grabs you and takes you to the back porch where he crushes olives one by one on a wooden stump with a wooden mallet. He feeds you the olives.

Victor comes to visit your father at your house with two friends and a big box of beer. One guy has a real guitar, and the other is real fat. They all drink and smoke. The fat guy tears off a piece of the box and sets out to teach you to count in Spanish. By the time you get to five, he keeps getting up to go to the bathroom. Ten rolls by, and he’s drunk. At fifteen you’re a little confused, so he draws a small crown next to 15 and says, “See, quince. Think of a king. King-say.” See and say ...

Each story is a discrete memory. You see a time and a place, and for a while it was everything you knew. Irrevocably. Beyond measure. Zona Norte hasn’t changed. It is still the wild side. Desperate; sure of itself. Dark-skinned guys from the interior still come here for one last sinful evening before crossing to the other side. They are short and dark, more Indian than anything. You can be sure that they know more about living than you ever will. And they know, already, what is hope.

One of Patricio’s nieces got married. He took you to the party. The daughter of one of the twelve children in his family was marrying a young man from a family of ten children. Patricio’s parents had sixty-four grandchildren. At the huge party, children were one of life’s irreducible substances: Water. Flour. Salt. Children.

Everywhere, everyone’s. They were fed first. Each adult grabbed a few. Fed them. Wiped their mouths. Picked them up when they fell. Kissed them when they cried. Patricio could not remember the names of his many nieces and nephews.

His father grabs you and gives you a beer. His leg has been amputated to the knee, and he and his wife live in Durango. The children, all the children send them money. After years of planting cotton, exacting what he could from the earth, the ground began to pull him down to itself. His shoulders sagged. His stooped hobble brought him even closer to the ground that will someday suck him in for good. Until then he’s having a fine time at his granddaughter’s wedding. He was once a bracero. He remembers a few words in English. Sugar. Work. Eggs. Water.

Could it have been any better?

Would it be any easier for you if you could come back at night to the empty fruit market in the middle of August when the air was absolutely still? At night the street is still gummy with juice. Your shoes stick in it. The smell is warm as your tongue in your mouth. You kissed someone who ate a mango. The juice remained on the lips and the back of the tongue. It is the same — the way the air of the market on that night goes into your lungs.

Could it have been any better?

The next day — these visits always begin and end with a bus ride. Swinging back on the high arc of road that drops to where you walk to the border. The truth is you fell in love once in your life when you were young. It will always be that way. If you were damned lucky, you fell in love with a place, not a person. That bus ride was being in love. The sensation of being high up. You saw the pavement through the holes in the bus’s floor. A couple of filthy street kids sang hoarsely, loudly above the grinding gears and bellowing muffler. The feeling of being very high. Clean leaving.

Patricio’s sister goes out and buys paper plates of small soft tacos — grilled something, pinto beans, onions, cilantro, hot sauce. The five of you sit in the sweltering room, tucking away the tacos, sipping, blowing on mugs of steamy, milky coffee; the sweat runs down your back.

The air is redolent of onions. The bare light bulb overhead is relentless. Dogs are fighting in the canyon. Maria-Guadalupe curls up on the bed, forehead shiny, with one of her stuffed toys. Maria Jesus does same. Hortencia turns out the light, she says, to make it cooler. You run a meaty paper napkin over your face, the back of your neck. Patricio settles on the floor. You on the small couch.

Voices from the next apartment coo through the thin wall.

All of you listen in the gloom. Transfixed.

Corazon. Sweetheart.

Mi cielito lindo. My beautiful little sky.

Mi amor. My love....

Carino.

Papacito.

Te amo.

Te quiero.

Te necesito.

Como te amo.

Como te amo.

Papi.

Querido.

Como te adoro.

Besame.

Que bueno te estas.

Mi rey.

Eres muy lindo.

Precioso.

Stomachs heavy. No one can move. The air in the room is damp, warm, close as human breath. The girls’ hearts are, you are sure, aching. Yours is aching. Maria Jesus has her stuffed dog in a strangle hold.

One of the girls from the bed: “In the morning, she’ll cry. She always does. She makes him eggs, scrambled eggs. She comes over sometimes and borrows eggs. He eats them and she cries. Around ten or eleven. She starts. Don’t leave. Don’t leave. It’s terrible.”

You walk behind the couple up the rocky incline one morning on the way to the bus that goes downtown. He is not going to marry her. It is certain. There is someone else, has been someone else for a very long time. She must have known this or is so helplessly in love that his telling her he is going to marry this other woman is the same as telling her Mexico will disappear tomorrow. She doesn’t flinch.

“So, I’m going to lose you forever?”

“So it seems.”

Years later you see her at the Christmas Carnival in front of the cathedral downtown. She sees this man she loves. He’s buying boiled corn for a little boy he has sitting on his shoulders. As she did the morning you followed them up the hill to the bus, she sees that she has lost him forever and backs away. Into the crowd. She leaves. Nothing could be sadder than her face.

Go back to the bridge. What do you see? You see a city. A place you thought was yours. You see streets. There on a street is a corner where you stood and said good-bye to a friend who wore a red shirt. He turned a corner. Down that street walked a girl who you had overheard in the dark, through a thin wall, proclaim her love to a man who married another woman. She walked down the street. Watch her walk down the street. Descartes' fly across the ceiling. You create the city again.

Give a dollar to the old man who stands near the cathedral with his cage of canaries. The canaries jump, pull your fortune from a red box, kiss a baby doll, put a hat on the baby doll, take it off, ring a small bell. Give twenty to the mariachis. Plead. It still takes fifteen minutes for them to play Poeta y Campesino. Buy an armload of tuberoses. The smell still makes you sick. Go to the park. Watch two young guys after a girl, Mamacita, eres como un mango. You are like a mango.

Soft. Sweet. Sit on an iron bench. Go to stores. Ask after people who’ve long since gone to el otro lado — the other side — America. Go to the church. Watch people dip their fingers in candle wax, trace crosses across panes of glass on boxes that house blackened saints staring down at the prayers and wax flowers. It’s Our Town. You’ve come back from the dead to pester the specifics, to goad them into looking you in the eye. To milk the present for the past. You will come up dry.

You loved someone. The person died. The body no longer attracted you. You can’t pound the soul back into the body. It left. Went all directions at once. What remained wasn’t the person after all. In its departure, the soul took with it whatever it was that bound you to the body. Go to the bar. Have a drink. Listen to the juke box. “Tu que fuistes feliz a mi lado, nunca... nada... te falto ...Me gustaria... saber ...el motivo... por que... nuestra amor... termino. ’ ’

In the back of your car, Marcos sat next to some pusher he has found in San Ysidro. Something familiar perhaps from his New York street-kid past to make the transition easier — something old, something new. The pusher’s name is “Florida.” And the tattoo on her wrist would seem to bear that out. Marcos is deleriously drunk. Maria, the bride to be, sits beside you up front. Maria and Marcos are to be married at the small stucco wedding chapel on San Ysidro Boulevard. Maria will get a green card. The two of them plan to politicize Hispanics in Los Angeles.

The story is as old as human misery: the two of them will fall in love. In Los Angeles, the revolution will be forgotten. Marcos will go to computer school and then to Algeria, where he will make a small fortune teaching programming. They will buy a house in West Los Angeles. They will buy beads and chant. “They sing all the time now. They chant. Chant. All the goddamn time,” Sara reports years after the wedding at which she stood as a kind of maid of honor. Outside Marcos leaned against the chapel and told you about how his father and uncle stood on the roof of a Harlem tenement with his pet rabbit. His father and uncle played stickball with the rabbit. Used the rabbit as a ball. He loved his mother all the more for it. He adored her. She always wanted him to get married, and now here he was getting married, but to someone he didn’t love. His mother was dead. Good thing. She’d never know.

Marcos lived for months at the Hotel San Francisco, on Calle Primera, just across from La Funeraria San Martin. His small room was littered with Argentine novels and Communist literature from all of Latin America. The hotel was clean, cheap. Walk down the hall, doors open behind you, and guests observe your passage down the hall. Some silent terrible secret. You spend many nights at this hotel when too drunk to drive home. In your own small green room, you will listen to the cathedral nearby ringing each hour.

Doors open and close all night. At dawn you will fall asleep.

Turn your back on the city, and look the other direction. You know that the barren stretch of ground that runs west from the bridge, the same ground that delineates the two sovereign states, is littered with hundreds of plastic combs. Piles of them. Others scattered in the dirt.

Others woven in chain-link fences. Thousands of them.

Border patrol made the guys they caught dump them. In prison the combs can be defanged and honed on the floor into deadly spikes.

An old guy there emptied his pockets and refused to surrender a match box. Inside the box was a pair of crow’s feet. Grey. Knotted like roots.

There were twins who were artists. Ismael and Moisds. They were Communists, and both sketched and painted scenes from Dante’s Inferno. The one you buy and frame is a brown ink drawing of an orgiastic throng. Bodies twisted impossibly by lust, they have knotted themselves together. Muscles, limbs, tongues distended, they become the roots of trees. “But don’t you see,” one of the twins’ artist friends tells you, “the reason he has them turning into trees is because he can’t draw hands and feet. The faces are fine, but look. See.

They have no hands and feet.”

You have these things that you call a place.

You order them In your mind.

Ismael disappears for several weeks. He reappears one night with his left arm in a cast. He had tried to cross the border. He had used all of his savings to pay a coyote to lead him across. On the other side, somewhere near Dulzura, he and ten others were packed into the back of van that crashed. His arm, his drawing arm was crushed. He wandered along the road for hours until he was picked up by an American named Raymond. Raymond took him home and held him hostage. Raymond had locks on all the phones. Double-locks on all the doors. The windows were locked shut. Raymond spoke no Spanish and never made clear what it was he wanted from Ismael. Ismael screamed, finally, one night so loudly — his arm was throbbing so horribly — that Raymond took him to a clinic. Ismael’s arm was rebroken and set. Raymond paid the bill and left Ismael there at the clinic. A nurse lent him money to get home.

It doesn’t happen often, but fog does come in as far as Zona Norte. The night Marcos walked with you to his room at the Hotel San Francisco across the street from the La Funeraria San Martin, the fog was dense, and everyone you passed was wrapped against it. Shouting came from in front of the notorious bar El Noa Noa next door to Cafe Nijinski. Marcos ran toward the fracas through the fog.

A six-and-a-half-foot-tall transvestite wearing a mammoth black fright wig is trying to interpose himself between a pair of battling street kids. They turn on the huge man. It’s a long way down from six and a half feet in high heels, but the transvestite bends all the way down and picks up a couple of empty beer bottles and cracks them against the sidewalk, wielding the jagged necks at the boys. “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” blares in the bar. The boys scatter into the fog before the police come.

You have these things that you call a place. You order them in your mind. The obvious. Skulls made of sugar. The Day of the Dead. The black orchids a vendor sold at Reno’s Bar. The woman who stood near the lobby of the Hotel Palacio Aztec wearing a shop-worn wedding dress. A wrinkled wedding dress, frayed at the hems, white threads dragging the ground. She held a fresh bouquet in her hands and stood. Wore a modest little veil. Waited. Paced a little.

Who would leave a bride waiting like that? Poor woman, you thought. Week after week, Friday and Saturday nights she stood there. A car stopped. She got in, tucked the dress around herself, and settled on the seat. It took years to understand what was going on.

You have these things that you call a place. You order them in your mind. You wander. You think that you will always come back to these things. Stare in the mirror. The hair on your arms has grown coarse. You have hair on your shoulders and back. Stiff grey hairs poke through the brown on your head. You have squinted and frowned so often, the flesh on your face is dismay’s blueprint.

You see that a city has changed. There is a sensation in your chest. You had two hearts. One of them faltered. Your younger heart is dying. It’s not a world you like.

It’s pink stucco. Not turquoise or yellow. Not fire-engine red. But salmon pink. Money does change everything. It gushed up from Mexico City. The crisis — la crisis — sent the wealth scurrying from its epicenter, brought money to the border the way ripples gather at a pool’s edge. You hear it in the new cafes. Chilangos, Mexico City’s former residents, sit and yap about money. They stick out, ominous and taletelling, like the new grey hair on your head.

Patricio who, a moment ago, shaved in the kitchen at a plastic bucket filled with water he heated in a kettle on the kerosene stove, his sister ironed a shirt for him, he scraped the mud from his boots and polished them. A big date. All of this a second ago.

Now stood, married to that date, on a cement porch of an apartment across the wide canyon and road, opposite his old home. The hills beyond the canyon are fine bright green. New green.

The two of you watch his wife walk up the hill with his son. The kid looks just like him. His daughter sleeps in the next room. There’s a refrigerator and stove. TV. Bathroom. Shower. The little guy is so sweet, looks so much like Patricio, it hurts. Your second heart stumbles in your chest.

Patricio is wrinkly around the eyes, has a belly that is waiting, patiently, to make a break for it — cascade over his belt, send the belly button — ombligo — earthward. He needs more money. He tells you this on the porch while he nudges a white dog with the toe of his boot. He plans to move to Los Angeles. His wife has a brother there who owns a butcher shop. His sisters? They’ve all married. Maria Jesus has married and divorced the same man twice. He doesn’t know who lives in his old place.

Crawl back onto the small couch there. It’s early in the morning. It rained hard all night. You went to wake up Patricio on his cot in the kitchen while his sisters dressed. He’d painted the place bright blue, put brilliant orange, yellow-flowered wallpaper on the thin wall that separated his apartment from the one next door. The neighbors, the ill-fated lovers, put up shelves on their side of that wall, nailed straight through it. You helped him hammer the jagged points flat as he swore at the neighbors loudly enough so that they could hear him through the thin wall. Outside, the river gushed through the canyon. The mud waited to suck in his sisters’ shoes. The rain will never be surer. Your feet will never be steadier than they were on the rocks across the filthy water that morning.

It was in Zona Norte, near the corner of Artlculo 123 and Constitution, that the woman rolled down the hill like a log.

She had been hit by a drunken American couple. There were no street lights that evening. You heard the solid thump and then saw her come rolling down the hill. She wore tight yellow pants. Her face was smeared with dirt. You yell for someone to call an ambulance. She grabs you by the hand. Horribly lost in it all. She grabbed you by the hand. She’s scared. The American couple stand and debate whether or not they should make a run for it before the police arrive. It really didn’t matter. A wormy line of blood crawled out of the woman’s mouth. You hope that she has bit her tongue. She’s got you by the hand, starts mumbling, wants to know what’s happened. You’re worried about the police. Other cars dropping down the muddy incline. The crowd. Such a free and tangible situation. A siren. The two American drunks. The grip she has on your hand. She won’t ever let go. "No me dejes. No me dejes." Don’t leave me. Don’t leave me.

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Turn your back on the city, and look the other direction. You know that barren stretch of ground that runs west from the bridge. - Image by David Diaz
Turn your back on the city, and look the other direction. You know that barren stretch of ground that runs west from the bridge.

You may speak a handful of languages. For a time, each one will possess you. Stay with you forever. On your deathbed, you may moan or cry out in several. People at your side will ask in vain for others to translate. You will carry these words at all times with you until the very last moment.

However proficient you have been with its verbs, genders, and tenses, a language knows you even more intimately. It has held your lips, teeth, palate, and tongue to its root. It has breathed with you from your throat; deserted you in anger, left you sputtering, mute; embarrassed you before those you have sought to impress; returned fluidly in romance to lasso and draw a disgruntled lover back from the doorway to sit again at the edge of the bed.

Your mouth is your most facile instrument for sin. With it, through it, you send others to Hell, betray them, disclose their confidences. You promise, falsely, to spend the rest of your life with someone. Language is its partner in crime. Those sounds are part of you the way your hands are part of you. Those sounds have transubstantiated and are part of your brain. You will try but will never escape them.

You sit in a restaurant in another part of the world, arguing with the waiter about what sits on your plate. Across the room, another discussion is taking place in a language you have learned in a place thousands of miles from your miserable dinner. You hear one word — that’s all it takes. A verb. The infinitive — dejar. To leave.

To the waiter’s disdain, he listens to a strange transformation. At first your interjections are replaced by ones foreign to him. The nouns follow. Perhaps you are speaking a dialect? Your patois turns to pidgin. Syntax is scrambled. Finally, the waiter can no longer understand and returns to the kitchen. For you, the bad food is forgotten. You sit — infused with longing and love.


You are a small boy crossing a bridge with your parents. Voices come up from the ground below. You think of “The Three Billy Goats Gruff.”

Mother: My God, look at all those children down there. What are they saying?

Father: They want us to throw down money.

Mother: Those shacks are just made of cardboard. I’d hate to think of what’d happen if it’d rain.

You: Lemme see. Lemme see.

Mother: It’s nothing but a bunch of poor Mexican kids. Poor little guys.

You: Lemme see. Lemme see.

He lifted you into the smell of his aftershave. Over the guardrail, the wind blew the smell of burning paper. Small yellow fires. Dark children the size of dolls skipped around a thousand feet down. Copper hands waved at the bridge.

Father: Seen enough?

No. Never.

Downtown shopkeepers crack long black whips on the sidewalk. Paper parrots. The smell of new boots. Frying food. Loudmouthed sailors. Puppets with guitars and sombreros. Incredible puppets wearing hats, red shoes, holding guitars. They have mustaches.

Father: Wait’ll we get to Victor’s shop, he might give you one for free.

Father: Hey, amigo! iQue pasa? This is mi esposa and my hijo.

Mother: Don’t go wandering off. We’re leaving in just a minute. Stay here. I don’t want you falling down on the sidewalk and getting an infection.

The back of the car is dark.

The puppet’s strings are black and tangle with alarming ease, especially when the guitar is played.

Victor’s son runs to greet you and babbles away a mile a minute.

You: What’s he saying?

Mother: It’s Spanish.

He grabs you and takes you to the back porch where he crushes olives one by one on a wooden stump with a wooden mallet. He feeds you the olives.

Victor comes to visit your father at your house with two friends and a big box of beer. One guy has a real guitar, and the other is real fat. They all drink and smoke. The fat guy tears off a piece of the box and sets out to teach you to count in Spanish. By the time you get to five, he keeps getting up to go to the bathroom. Ten rolls by, and he’s drunk. At fifteen you’re a little confused, so he draws a small crown next to 15 and says, “See, quince. Think of a king. King-say.” See and say ...

Each story is a discrete memory. You see a time and a place, and for a while it was everything you knew. Irrevocably. Beyond measure. Zona Norte hasn’t changed. It is still the wild side. Desperate; sure of itself. Dark-skinned guys from the interior still come here for one last sinful evening before crossing to the other side. They are short and dark, more Indian than anything. You can be sure that they know more about living than you ever will. And they know, already, what is hope.

One of Patricio’s nieces got married. He took you to the party. The daughter of one of the twelve children in his family was marrying a young man from a family of ten children. Patricio’s parents had sixty-four grandchildren. At the huge party, children were one of life’s irreducible substances: Water. Flour. Salt. Children.

Everywhere, everyone’s. They were fed first. Each adult grabbed a few. Fed them. Wiped their mouths. Picked them up when they fell. Kissed them when they cried. Patricio could not remember the names of his many nieces and nephews.

His father grabs you and gives you a beer. His leg has been amputated to the knee, and he and his wife live in Durango. The children, all the children send them money. After years of planting cotton, exacting what he could from the earth, the ground began to pull him down to itself. His shoulders sagged. His stooped hobble brought him even closer to the ground that will someday suck him in for good. Until then he’s having a fine time at his granddaughter’s wedding. He was once a bracero. He remembers a few words in English. Sugar. Work. Eggs. Water.

Could it have been any better?

Would it be any easier for you if you could come back at night to the empty fruit market in the middle of August when the air was absolutely still? At night the street is still gummy with juice. Your shoes stick in it. The smell is warm as your tongue in your mouth. You kissed someone who ate a mango. The juice remained on the lips and the back of the tongue. It is the same — the way the air of the market on that night goes into your lungs.

Could it have been any better?

The next day — these visits always begin and end with a bus ride. Swinging back on the high arc of road that drops to where you walk to the border. The truth is you fell in love once in your life when you were young. It will always be that way. If you were damned lucky, you fell in love with a place, not a person. That bus ride was being in love. The sensation of being high up. You saw the pavement through the holes in the bus’s floor. A couple of filthy street kids sang hoarsely, loudly above the grinding gears and bellowing muffler. The feeling of being very high. Clean leaving.

Patricio’s sister goes out and buys paper plates of small soft tacos — grilled something, pinto beans, onions, cilantro, hot sauce. The five of you sit in the sweltering room, tucking away the tacos, sipping, blowing on mugs of steamy, milky coffee; the sweat runs down your back.

The air is redolent of onions. The bare light bulb overhead is relentless. Dogs are fighting in the canyon. Maria-Guadalupe curls up on the bed, forehead shiny, with one of her stuffed toys. Maria Jesus does same. Hortencia turns out the light, she says, to make it cooler. You run a meaty paper napkin over your face, the back of your neck. Patricio settles on the floor. You on the small couch.

Voices from the next apartment coo through the thin wall.

All of you listen in the gloom. Transfixed.

Corazon. Sweetheart.

Mi cielito lindo. My beautiful little sky.

Mi amor. My love....

Carino.

Papacito.

Te amo.

Te quiero.

Te necesito.

Como te amo.

Como te amo.

Papi.

Querido.

Como te adoro.

Besame.

Que bueno te estas.

Mi rey.

Eres muy lindo.

Precioso.

Stomachs heavy. No one can move. The air in the room is damp, warm, close as human breath. The girls’ hearts are, you are sure, aching. Yours is aching. Maria Jesus has her stuffed dog in a strangle hold.

One of the girls from the bed: “In the morning, she’ll cry. She always does. She makes him eggs, scrambled eggs. She comes over sometimes and borrows eggs. He eats them and she cries. Around ten or eleven. She starts. Don’t leave. Don’t leave. It’s terrible.”

You walk behind the couple up the rocky incline one morning on the way to the bus that goes downtown. He is not going to marry her. It is certain. There is someone else, has been someone else for a very long time. She must have known this or is so helplessly in love that his telling her he is going to marry this other woman is the same as telling her Mexico will disappear tomorrow. She doesn’t flinch.

“So, I’m going to lose you forever?”

“So it seems.”

Years later you see her at the Christmas Carnival in front of the cathedral downtown. She sees this man she loves. He’s buying boiled corn for a little boy he has sitting on his shoulders. As she did the morning you followed them up the hill to the bus, she sees that she has lost him forever and backs away. Into the crowd. She leaves. Nothing could be sadder than her face.

Go back to the bridge. What do you see? You see a city. A place you thought was yours. You see streets. There on a street is a corner where you stood and said good-bye to a friend who wore a red shirt. He turned a corner. Down that street walked a girl who you had overheard in the dark, through a thin wall, proclaim her love to a man who married another woman. She walked down the street. Watch her walk down the street. Descartes' fly across the ceiling. You create the city again.

Give a dollar to the old man who stands near the cathedral with his cage of canaries. The canaries jump, pull your fortune from a red box, kiss a baby doll, put a hat on the baby doll, take it off, ring a small bell. Give twenty to the mariachis. Plead. It still takes fifteen minutes for them to play Poeta y Campesino. Buy an armload of tuberoses. The smell still makes you sick. Go to the park. Watch two young guys after a girl, Mamacita, eres como un mango. You are like a mango.

Soft. Sweet. Sit on an iron bench. Go to stores. Ask after people who’ve long since gone to el otro lado — the other side — America. Go to the church. Watch people dip their fingers in candle wax, trace crosses across panes of glass on boxes that house blackened saints staring down at the prayers and wax flowers. It’s Our Town. You’ve come back from the dead to pester the specifics, to goad them into looking you in the eye. To milk the present for the past. You will come up dry.

You loved someone. The person died. The body no longer attracted you. You can’t pound the soul back into the body. It left. Went all directions at once. What remained wasn’t the person after all. In its departure, the soul took with it whatever it was that bound you to the body. Go to the bar. Have a drink. Listen to the juke box. “Tu que fuistes feliz a mi lado, nunca... nada... te falto ...Me gustaria... saber ...el motivo... por que... nuestra amor... termino. ’ ’

In the back of your car, Marcos sat next to some pusher he has found in San Ysidro. Something familiar perhaps from his New York street-kid past to make the transition easier — something old, something new. The pusher’s name is “Florida.” And the tattoo on her wrist would seem to bear that out. Marcos is deleriously drunk. Maria, the bride to be, sits beside you up front. Maria and Marcos are to be married at the small stucco wedding chapel on San Ysidro Boulevard. Maria will get a green card. The two of them plan to politicize Hispanics in Los Angeles.

The story is as old as human misery: the two of them will fall in love. In Los Angeles, the revolution will be forgotten. Marcos will go to computer school and then to Algeria, where he will make a small fortune teaching programming. They will buy a house in West Los Angeles. They will buy beads and chant. “They sing all the time now. They chant. Chant. All the goddamn time,” Sara reports years after the wedding at which she stood as a kind of maid of honor. Outside Marcos leaned against the chapel and told you about how his father and uncle stood on the roof of a Harlem tenement with his pet rabbit. His father and uncle played stickball with the rabbit. Used the rabbit as a ball. He loved his mother all the more for it. He adored her. She always wanted him to get married, and now here he was getting married, but to someone he didn’t love. His mother was dead. Good thing. She’d never know.

Marcos lived for months at the Hotel San Francisco, on Calle Primera, just across from La Funeraria San Martin. His small room was littered with Argentine novels and Communist literature from all of Latin America. The hotel was clean, cheap. Walk down the hall, doors open behind you, and guests observe your passage down the hall. Some silent terrible secret. You spend many nights at this hotel when too drunk to drive home. In your own small green room, you will listen to the cathedral nearby ringing each hour.

Doors open and close all night. At dawn you will fall asleep.

Turn your back on the city, and look the other direction. You know that the barren stretch of ground that runs west from the bridge, the same ground that delineates the two sovereign states, is littered with hundreds of plastic combs. Piles of them. Others scattered in the dirt.

Others woven in chain-link fences. Thousands of them.

Border patrol made the guys they caught dump them. In prison the combs can be defanged and honed on the floor into deadly spikes.

An old guy there emptied his pockets and refused to surrender a match box. Inside the box was a pair of crow’s feet. Grey. Knotted like roots.

There were twins who were artists. Ismael and Moisds. They were Communists, and both sketched and painted scenes from Dante’s Inferno. The one you buy and frame is a brown ink drawing of an orgiastic throng. Bodies twisted impossibly by lust, they have knotted themselves together. Muscles, limbs, tongues distended, they become the roots of trees. “But don’t you see,” one of the twins’ artist friends tells you, “the reason he has them turning into trees is because he can’t draw hands and feet. The faces are fine, but look. See.

They have no hands and feet.”

You have these things that you call a place.

You order them In your mind.

Ismael disappears for several weeks. He reappears one night with his left arm in a cast. He had tried to cross the border. He had used all of his savings to pay a coyote to lead him across. On the other side, somewhere near Dulzura, he and ten others were packed into the back of van that crashed. His arm, his drawing arm was crushed. He wandered along the road for hours until he was picked up by an American named Raymond. Raymond took him home and held him hostage. Raymond had locks on all the phones. Double-locks on all the doors. The windows were locked shut. Raymond spoke no Spanish and never made clear what it was he wanted from Ismael. Ismael screamed, finally, one night so loudly — his arm was throbbing so horribly — that Raymond took him to a clinic. Ismael’s arm was rebroken and set. Raymond paid the bill and left Ismael there at the clinic. A nurse lent him money to get home.

It doesn’t happen often, but fog does come in as far as Zona Norte. The night Marcos walked with you to his room at the Hotel San Francisco across the street from the La Funeraria San Martin, the fog was dense, and everyone you passed was wrapped against it. Shouting came from in front of the notorious bar El Noa Noa next door to Cafe Nijinski. Marcos ran toward the fracas through the fog.

A six-and-a-half-foot-tall transvestite wearing a mammoth black fright wig is trying to interpose himself between a pair of battling street kids. They turn on the huge man. It’s a long way down from six and a half feet in high heels, but the transvestite bends all the way down and picks up a couple of empty beer bottles and cracks them against the sidewalk, wielding the jagged necks at the boys. “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” blares in the bar. The boys scatter into the fog before the police come.

You have these things that you call a place. You order them in your mind. The obvious. Skulls made of sugar. The Day of the Dead. The black orchids a vendor sold at Reno’s Bar. The woman who stood near the lobby of the Hotel Palacio Aztec wearing a shop-worn wedding dress. A wrinkled wedding dress, frayed at the hems, white threads dragging the ground. She held a fresh bouquet in her hands and stood. Wore a modest little veil. Waited. Paced a little.

Who would leave a bride waiting like that? Poor woman, you thought. Week after week, Friday and Saturday nights she stood there. A car stopped. She got in, tucked the dress around herself, and settled on the seat. It took years to understand what was going on.

You have these things that you call a place. You order them in your mind. You wander. You think that you will always come back to these things. Stare in the mirror. The hair on your arms has grown coarse. You have hair on your shoulders and back. Stiff grey hairs poke through the brown on your head. You have squinted and frowned so often, the flesh on your face is dismay’s blueprint.

You see that a city has changed. There is a sensation in your chest. You had two hearts. One of them faltered. Your younger heart is dying. It’s not a world you like.

It’s pink stucco. Not turquoise or yellow. Not fire-engine red. But salmon pink. Money does change everything. It gushed up from Mexico City. The crisis — la crisis — sent the wealth scurrying from its epicenter, brought money to the border the way ripples gather at a pool’s edge. You hear it in the new cafes. Chilangos, Mexico City’s former residents, sit and yap about money. They stick out, ominous and taletelling, like the new grey hair on your head.

Patricio who, a moment ago, shaved in the kitchen at a plastic bucket filled with water he heated in a kettle on the kerosene stove, his sister ironed a shirt for him, he scraped the mud from his boots and polished them. A big date. All of this a second ago.

Now stood, married to that date, on a cement porch of an apartment across the wide canyon and road, opposite his old home. The hills beyond the canyon are fine bright green. New green.

The two of you watch his wife walk up the hill with his son. The kid looks just like him. His daughter sleeps in the next room. There’s a refrigerator and stove. TV. Bathroom. Shower. The little guy is so sweet, looks so much like Patricio, it hurts. Your second heart stumbles in your chest.

Patricio is wrinkly around the eyes, has a belly that is waiting, patiently, to make a break for it — cascade over his belt, send the belly button — ombligo — earthward. He needs more money. He tells you this on the porch while he nudges a white dog with the toe of his boot. He plans to move to Los Angeles. His wife has a brother there who owns a butcher shop. His sisters? They’ve all married. Maria Jesus has married and divorced the same man twice. He doesn’t know who lives in his old place.

Crawl back onto the small couch there. It’s early in the morning. It rained hard all night. You went to wake up Patricio on his cot in the kitchen while his sisters dressed. He’d painted the place bright blue, put brilliant orange, yellow-flowered wallpaper on the thin wall that separated his apartment from the one next door. The neighbors, the ill-fated lovers, put up shelves on their side of that wall, nailed straight through it. You helped him hammer the jagged points flat as he swore at the neighbors loudly enough so that they could hear him through the thin wall. Outside, the river gushed through the canyon. The mud waited to suck in his sisters’ shoes. The rain will never be surer. Your feet will never be steadier than they were on the rocks across the filthy water that morning.

It was in Zona Norte, near the corner of Artlculo 123 and Constitution, that the woman rolled down the hill like a log.

She had been hit by a drunken American couple. There were no street lights that evening. You heard the solid thump and then saw her come rolling down the hill. She wore tight yellow pants. Her face was smeared with dirt. You yell for someone to call an ambulance. She grabs you by the hand. Horribly lost in it all. She grabbed you by the hand. She’s scared. The American couple stand and debate whether or not they should make a run for it before the police arrive. It really didn’t matter. A wormy line of blood crawled out of the woman’s mouth. You hope that she has bit her tongue. She’s got you by the hand, starts mumbling, wants to know what’s happened. You’re worried about the police. Other cars dropping down the muddy incline. The crowd. Such a free and tangible situation. A siren. The two American drunks. The grip she has on your hand. She won’t ever let go. "No me dejes. No me dejes." Don’t leave me. Don’t leave me.

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