Continued from A Mennonite basket case
The next day was the last holiday. My parents had nothing planned for the day, so mom suggested we take the horse and buggy and go have a picnic in the mountains behind the colony. Everyone loved that idea except my older brothers. They had other plans.
At that point, the horse and buggy had become somewhat of a lazy Sunday type of transportation.
My sisters decided to come along and spend the day with me instead of hanging out with their youth group again. We all pitched in, packed a lunch, and faspa for the picnic, and off we went on a two-hour buggy ride through the colony to the mountains.
The sun shone brightly on my face, and it made my eyes water as we passed the fence where I had fought off Aaron Newdorf with a mason jar many times. My heart began pounding inside my chest, and it got worse as we passed the Neudorf farm. Finally, I got brave enough and asked my sister, “Sara, do you know if Aaron Neudorf moved away?”
My heart sank when she answered, “He went to work in Chihuahua, but he came back for the holidays. He just doesn't stay in the colony much anymore. He mostly hangs out with Mexa. We see him come home once in a while.”
I tried to act neutral so she wouldn’t notice my growing anxiety when I asked, “Where does he go when he goes with the Mexa?”
“Potes (Nuevo Ideal) mostly, I think.”
“Oh yeah, I almost forgot to tell you, Aaron’s sister Agnes told me to say hi to you. She said that she would love to see you.”
“Okay, really, she wants to see me?”
“Did she get baptized yet?”
“No, not yet, she was going to, but then all the ministers left, and there was no baptism this year. Anyone who wants to get baptized in the new year will have to go to La Honda, Zacatecas.”
“Wow, yeah that’s going to be interesting how that will work.”
“Does she have a boyfriend?”
“Yes, but you don’t know him. He's from a colony far past Potes.”
When we finally arrived at the mountains, it was lunch time. My sister spread a blanket out on the ground, while mom and I got the food out. We sat down in a circle, and when we all bowed our heads to say our mealtime prayer, aside from the echoing caw sounds of the crows soaring above us, it was quiet. It felt like we were the only people on the planet.
The breathtaking view of the landscape and the crows gliding around in circles in the clear blue sky made it hard for me to continue to worry about having to face Aaron Neudorf at some point.
After packing up the leftover food, my sisters and I wandered around exploring the area. As I looked up at the gliding crows, I asked my sister, “Do you think anyone has ever climbed to the top of that mountain?”
“Our brothers have, but I'm not sure if they climbed all the way to the top, though.”
“Do you think we could climb all the way to the top?” I asked.
“Ahhh, I think we could, but it would be dangerous, there could be snakes, scorpions, tarantulas, and… ah, more snakes.”
“I would love to climb all the way to the top, wouldn't you?” I asked.
“Ah, yeah, but…”
“Let's ask mom and see what she says,” I suggested.
I presented the idea to mom, and she said, “Okay, but only you, Sara, Agatha, and Jacob. The rest of the kids have to stay here with me. Just be careful--there could be snakes.”
“Okay, yes, we’ll be careful,” I answered, and off we went, climbing the mountain.
There were some steep areas that were difficult to climb. As we climbed further up, there were shrubs, bushes, and cactuses with extremely sharp thorns that were hard to climb past, especially in a dress.
When we finally reached the top, I turned around to look at the view. It was the most beautiful view I had ever seen. You could see the entire colony from up there. All those windmills looking back at me suddenly didn’t feel so intimidating anymore. They looked so tiny and insignificant from up there. Looking down at the horse in front of the buggy, the horse looked like an ant. I felt amazingly powerful up there. I thought, “Finally, I have done it. I have gone where no man has gone before.”
“Look, there’s a hole on the side of the mountain over there,” shouted Jacob. “Let's go see it,” he said as he began climbing the side of the mountain.
Sara, Agatha and I followed him. As we got closer to the whole, the view got even better. You could see Lake Santiaguillo from up there. It was breathtaking.
Upon approaching the cave, I was disappointed to discover that others had climbed that mountain before us. The evidence spoke for itself. There were a couple of beer bottles lying around a fire pit. Inside, in the middle of the cave, was a big rock that served as a table. Around the big rock were smaller rocks that had been used as chairs to sit on.
As my siblings went exploring the cave, I stood there alone with my thoughts, looking down at the view from the cave, admiring the crows gliding so close above me, breathing in that fresh air, and feeling the warmth of the Mexican sun on my back. Words couldn’t explain the feeling. It was like I was having an out-of-body experience. I was standing on top of a mountain in the country where I was born, surrounded by my family, my colony, my childhood memories, and, of course, memories of Aaron. But up there, I didn’t feel trapped by any of that. I felt free. Free like the crows I admired soaring so effortlessly in the sky, superior to all the windmills that had haunted me for so long. It was like the crows were telling me that my Fula was as free as they were and that it was okay for me to let go. That’s when I knew that feeling that my new friend, Javier the cowboy, was trying to explain to me, about being reunited with your soul. I didn’t have the vocabulary to process that in my thoughts, but I felt it deep in my bones. And that’s when I knew that I could never say goodbye to Mexico forever, because that would mean that I, too, would be separated from my soul, as Javier described. I suddenly got the shivers and felt very cold.
I went to join my siblings in the cave and said, “This would be an awesome place to camp, don’t you think?”
“You mean, stay for the night and sleep here?” asked Agatha.
“Ah… but there are snakes, scorpions, and tarantulas out here.”
“I haven't seen any. Have you?”
“No, but they would probably sneak up on you at night when you are sleeping.”
I envisioned waking up to a snake crawling on me, and that was the end of that idea. “Okay, let's make our way back down,” I suggested.
The way down was much faster and easier. When we got back down, dad had made a fire to heat water for coffee. We all sat quietly in the shade under a bush and had faspa before heading back to the colony.
It was the best day I had ever experienced in Mexico. In Canada, faspa had become a story I told someone who asked me about life in the colony. I hadn't realized how much I had missed it until that day, and I was able to figure out some more important things as I combined my experiences growing up with what I had learned while in Canada. I decided that for me, faspa was not about a cup of instant coffee, sugar cubes, tweeback, and pastries. It was about the people you shared it with, even if you didn’t see eye to eye on things with them. It was about just being able to set aside those difference and be still in each others’ presence while enjoying faspa.
On that long, quiet buggy ride back to the colony, with my new-found hope for life in Mexico, I imagined how I could combine more of my two worlds. I imagined how I could place my imaginary boyfriend George into the colony setting. I began imagining life in the colony during faspa with George by my side. My thoughts became very loud as I allowed them to go way too far. I thought, “If George would get a haircut, I could put a long sleeve plaid shirt on him, button it all the way up to hide his tattoos, and tuck it into his jeans, and if I could keep him from getting frustrated, it could work.”
I knew better than even to think up such an idea. Setting aside imagining my family's reactions to him as my partner, I envisioned it anyway, and this is how it went. We were all sitting in a circle having faspa at the mountains we were just at. My new favorite place in the world. I imagined it so beautifully: George would be smiling, enjoying a tweeback, and every time I looked at him he would wink at me, sending shivers down my spine as always. But suddenly in my imagination, things took a turn toward reality. George got up, ripped the plaid shirt open, buttons flying everywhere, landing in our instant coffees, on top of our pastries. He pulled his arms out of the sleeves, revealing all his tattoos, bunched the shirt up into a ball, threw it into the fire and said, “F#ck this shit! It’s way too f#cking hot to be dressed like this.” He walked toward his Harley, hopped on, turned to me and said, “Let's get the f#ck out of here, and go explore this beautiful country.”
I was sitting there frozen and torn between him and my family.
“Well, are you coming, babe?” asked George.
I just couldn’t resist. I dropped my coffee, hopped onto the back of his motorcycle, wrapping my arms around his bare waist, and we took off, leaving my family in the dust.
I was so deep in my head, imagining, that I didn’t even realize I was smiling ear to ear.
“Woarum kiks du so shaftich? (Why are you smiling so much?)” asked Sara.
“Oh nush, (oh nothing.) I just had a really good day with you guys. Thanks for climbing the mountain with me.”
“Jo, me gink dot uk sea scheen. (Yeah, I also had a really good time.)”
“Are you sure that it isn't because of who is in that truck coming toward us?” asked Sara.
“Ah… who is that?”
“That truck that is coming toward us, that’s Aaron Neudorf,” she answered.
My surreal imagination and happy thoughts vanished into the dust trail behind us as I processed the words I heard Sara speak.
When the truck came closer, I tried to pretend that I didn’t see him, and acted as if I couldn’t care less. But the closer the truck came the less control I had over my pounding heart.
When I caught a glimpse of Aaron’s face, it didn’t even look like him. He had aged about ten years since I had run into him at the club in Canada.
He was wearing a baseball cap and had his left elbow sticking out of the window. When the buggy slowly made its way past him, I noticed that the shirt he was wearing was very similar to the one that I had just imagined George in. He looked right at me as he passed us and waved. Seeing him that close made me want to jump out of my skin. I thought, “When we get back to the house, I will have to put a mason jar in my purse again.”
When we got back to my parents’ house, I helped unload the buggy. When I carried leftover food into the cuma, I grabbed a mason jar and put it into my purse. I suddenly felt incredibly weak. I couldn’t figure out if it were exhaustion from climbing the mountain or the Aaron Neudorf mason jar ordeal. I took a few deep breaths, drank a cup of cold well water and accompanied my siblings as they went to feed the animals. Again, when we were feeding the pigs, I thought about Aaron Neudorf. I couldn't get the image of him out of my mind. Especially after seeing him wearing a similar shirt that I had imagined on George. Incredible guilt washed over me, and I scolded myself, “Anna, how could you betray your friend George like that?” I told myself never to dress George in a plaid shirt again, not even in my imagination.