Thursday, June 28, 2018

Torn Mennonite


Continued from The Dietsch and the Mexa

I already knew some of the answers to my questions, but I wanted to talk about it anyways to see if there was a sliver of hope that things might have changed.

“What if the Mexa looks Dietsch?” I asked.

“It's not about that; a Mexa is a Mexa, no matter what.”

“How about an Enjlenda (a Canadian) ?  They look almost exactly like us, and for all we know, they could be Dietsch.”

“No, Anna. The answer is still no.”

I wanted to cry as I felt my heart breaking into pieces—especially having met many non-Dietsch men who had proven to me that I didn’t have to fear them.  

The girls giggled a lot; I assumed that it was because I had made them uncomfortable asking them so many questions.

We noticed a dark-colored pickup slowly driving toward my parents' house.  I had a strong feeling that it was El Guero. When the pickup came driving towards us, and we couldn’t see who was driving because of the tinted windows, we got up and ran like the Jriese Diesta (Ogre of Darkness) was chasing us,  just as we were taught to do ever since I could remember.

It sure didn’t feel as natural to me as it had before I had left the colony. It didn’t feel like we were running away from danger to safety, as it had before, when we were in a situation like that. Now it had become quite the opposite for me.

Even though I couldn’t physically see Aaron Newdorf behind the barn where we hid, I sensed him everywhere. We peeked around the corner of the barn and watched the pickup turn around and leave. I felt like a bigger hypocrite than I had the night before at El Guero’s ranch, when I had had doubts about the choice I had made to go there.

My torn feelings got the better of me, and it became very real. We suddenly ran out of things to giggle about. When it got quiet and awkward, they suggested we go inside and have faspa. Not because it was special and we loved it—as I had realized while in Canada and missing it—but to sober up before the parents came home for besorj tiet (chore time).

While sitting at their table between those girls, things got serious for me. I had a hard time taming my emotions. As I took a bite of their perfectly shaped and delicious baked goods that I knew they had slaved over the day before, I reminded myself to enjoy every second of it. At that moment my entire life flashed before my eyes as I thought about the one single decision I had made that changed everything. My truth washed down with every sip of coffee I swallowed. It became clear to me that I would be living a double life forever, whether I lived in Canada or Mexico. I realized that it wasn’t the place I was in, it was me.

We cleared the table and went to their room. We looked at the few photos they had of us before I left. We sat down carefully on their perfectly made bed so that we wouldn’t mess up the floral bedspread, and reminisced about the time one of the girls in our youth group had brought a camera back from Canada—and how we made a pact to keep it a secret from our parents.

They asked me about my life in Canada, and if the rumors were true that I was going to stay in the colony.

“In a way, I wish I could stay here. There are many parts of this that I miss every day, but it would be very hard for me to come back to living like this.”

“Is it because of that schwwww… ahh, boyfriend, you have in Canada?”

“George? Oh, you girls have no idea,” I said in English. They both looked at me and asked, “Waut (what) ?”

Oh, nuscht (Oh, nothing) ,” I answered, pretending that I had not done that on purpose, and switching back to Dietsch.

“Sadly, George thinks he’s free as a bird, but little does he know that he’s all mine, you know,” I explained, and we awkwardly giggled again. They knew that I was being sarcastic and just going along with the rumors that they had heard about me. I didn’t even have the Dietsch vocabulary to explain George’s role in my life to them.

I remembered that George always told me that we couldn’t control what people thought about us, so I decided that I wouldn’t even try to defend myself against the rumors, and just leave it alone.

Shortly after their parents came home, the girls walked me back to the street, and when they said, “See you again,” I smiled and said, “Yes,” but I thought, “I really hope so.”

On my way home, I walked past the fence where I had gotten away from Aaron Neudorf the first time. I stopped and looked around to see if anyone might see me. When I didn’t see anyone, I sat down and leaned against the fence. I felt brave and vulnerable sitting there by myself without a mason jar. I wondered what exactly El Guero had told Aaron, and thought how nice it would be if I could actually leave that behind me for good.

Sitting there, I also remembered the many good times I had experienced there. That was the same fence where I had spent every Sunday with my friends, admiring the conference Mennonite youth while watching them play volleyball. I spent a lot of time wondering what was so bad about playing volleyball, and why we weren't allowed to play, which all seemed so silly, thinking about that after leaving the colony and coming back.

Spending time with the Beuckert girls awakened the idea of finding a way to weave the many pieces of my life together, because the string that threaded one experience to the next tied them all together, no matter how different they were. I didn’t want the string to break, but it seemed impossible.

I got up, gave my head a shake, wiped the dust off my pleats and started walking home. Along the way, I passed a group of young boys. They stared at me, giggled, and asked, “Has dien umpkje fabesilt (Did you lose your husband)?” meaning I was too old to be on their street on a Sunday afternoon. I had no business being there, now that it belonged to them, the next generation of “Aaron Neudorfs.” Their words hurt a lot, because I still thought that I had every right to be there. But I felt somewhat empowered at the same time; I had a strong feeling that one day I would meet them on the other side. Maybe it was the last of the mescal making its way through my system, or maybe it was the idea that I might be able to put Aaron Neudorf behind me for good, thanks to El Guero. I took a deep breath, held my head up high and kept walking like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. It was nerve-wracking, but I found it extremely therapeutic.

By the time I got home, I was gasping for air; it was so dry and hot. No one else was home yet. As I washed my face with cold water, I realized that I didn’t have many more days left in Mexico, and I wanted to make the most of the time I had there. I wanted to experience driving to Patos my myself again. I looked through the window and noticed Uncle Jake’s pickup was parked in front of his house, so I went to ask if I could borrow it to go for a drive.

“I'll be right there,” yelled Uncle Jake after I knocked on the door.

I heard a woman laughing, and when Uncle Jake opened the door, I saw a Mexamejal (a Mexican woman) sitting in his bed covering herself with a sheet, and it wasn’t because it was cold.

I thought, “Yep! And I am the schtruns!

I reminded myself again, “Anna, don’t hate him just because he's a man and you’re not!” And as I thought it, I realized that I had been reminding myself of that a lot during my time in Mexico. After a moment of awkwardness, I asked, “Can I borrow your truck to go to Patos?”

“Yeah, sure, if you bring me back a six-pack of Tecate,” he said, as he turned around, grabbed the keys, and handed them to me.

“Okay, yeah, I can do that.”

“Thanks, and take your time!” he yelled as I ran to the pickup.

“Okay.”

I drove a bit more confidently this time than I had the time before. And before I knew it, I had arrived in Patos, because all I had thought during the entire drive was, “I should have been born a man! Why? Why wasn’t I born a man?”

I drove around the Plaza a few times, parked, walked across the street, and bought myself an agua fresca.

While sitting in Uncle Jake’s pickup and enjoying the agua fresca, I noticed the same truck driving past that had been to the colony earlier.

I decided that I would go for a drive to Neustadt, the village where my grandparents had lived. As soon as I pulled out, I noticed the pickup following me. I got scared and fled. The pickup followed me through a few villages, but when the dust cloud behind me disappeared, so had the pickup. Luckily, it was chore time, and no one was on the streets in the villages that I went through.

By the time I had made it to Neustadt, my heartbeat had slowed down, and I slowly drove passed the homestead which used to belong to my grandparents. The windmill that had haunted my dreams was broken, but still standing. Looking at it this time, it didn’t seem as tall as it did the day Fula passed, or in my nightmares.

I shed a few tears remembering and missing Fula. When the silence in the village made me feel very alone, I decided that it was time to go back to Patos, buy uncle Jake’s beer, and head back to my village.

I parked in front of a beer store, and when I looked up as I was about to open the door, the pickup that had followed me was parked beside me. The window rolled down, and when I saw El Guero’s face looking right at me, my heart dropped to the ground. He gestured for me to roll down the window, so I did.

Hola chica (Hey girl).”

“Heyyyy!” I replied.

“¿Que pasó (What happened)? Is this how you treat your friends?” he asked as he pulled down and peeked over his sunglasses.

Gasping for air, I tried to come up with a good answer, but all that fell out of my mouth was, “Ha li dietschjat! That was you?”

“Yes.”

“Oh no!” I said, and covered my face with my hands.

He got out of the pickup, walked over, and leaned against the door of Uncle Jake’s pickup. He took off his sunglasses and said, “Okay, don’t do that, let me see your face.”

I slowly pulled my fingers apart, peeked through them and made eye contact.

“My feelings are hurt, and I'm willing to work it out, but I need to see your face when I'm talking to you.”

I slid my hands up and over my head as I said, “I’m sorry?” and held my breath.

“That’s a start, but you can make it up to me by accepting my invitation to come and have dinner with me.”

“Okay,” I hesitantly replied.

He opened the door and waited while I rolled up the window. “Is it safe to leave Uncle Jake’s pickup here?”

“Yes! These men will stay here and guard it,” he said. He turned around and made a hand gesture, and three men climbed out of his pickup.

My heart tried to escape my chest as I said, “Okay,” climbed into his brand new, shiny, clean pickup and discovered that there was still one man sitting in the back seat.

I watched El Guero talk to the men as I inhaled a breath of clean air that had a foreign scent to it. El Guero climbed in and said, “Anna, this is Valentin. He goes whereever I go.”

“Okay,” I said as I made eye contact with Valentin and waved to him, while El Guero backed out of the parking spot.

All I could do while reminding myself to breathe was stare at El Guero’s gold watch sliding up and down his wrist, and watch it hit his perfectly smooth and flawless hand every time he shifted gears.

I had no idea where we were going; my heart was pounding out of my chest when I remembered my friends, the Beuckert sisters, and that I was supposed to run away, not get into a truck and go with these men. It was hard work talking myself out of being afraid. But I reminded myself that I was with the same man who had saved me from Aaron Newdorf the night before. And the same man I had been able to talk to about things I had never talked about with anyone before. And I was eager to do it again, especially after the day I had had.

“So, how are you, Anna?” he asked as he drove.

“Ahhh, I’m not sure.”

“You want to tell me about it?”

“Well, I have experienced a lot over the last twenty-four hours. And um…”

“Okay Anna, I know that this may seem strangely foreign to you, but you can relax. We are just going out to eat. It’s a perfectly normal thing people do around here.”

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Dietsch and the Mexa


Continued from Moonlight misery

Near the end of the song, when fireworks began lighting up the sky above us, El Guero looked at his watch and said, “Okay, Anna it’s time for the countdown.”

He put his arm around my waist and walked me back to the crowd at the campfire, where I met up with Paula and Alexandra.

I stood back and watched as everyone counted down the seconds to the new year. Cheering, clinking glasses, and shouting of Feliz Año Nuevo echoed through the banging of the fireworks around the campfire.

I stayed behind with Paula and Alexandra while the men went to the back of the property with their guns to shoot away the old year.

I wanted to know why the men were shooting up in the air, but Paula and Alexandra were more interested in learning how to say Happy New Year in Low German. I practiced with them a few times and explained why ‘Freelich Niejoa’ sounded so unnatural. It just didn’t roll off the tongue like Happy New Year and Feliz Año Nuevo. I explained that it might be because we never said Happy New Year to each other in Low German. Other than the church service in the morning, New Year’s wasn’t that big of a deal in the colony.

We made our way back to the bar, where Paula mixed us drinks.

“Paula, why aren't there more women here?” I asked.

“The dance in Nuevo Ideal, that’s where all the women are tonight.”

“Okay,” I answered.

I took a sip of my drink, trying really hard to keep a smile on my face, but it was becoming difficult work, knowing how far away from the colony I was.

When the gunshot sounds stopped, the men came back to the bar for drinks. I went straight to my brother and said, “It's time to go home.”

“Okay, just let me go grab my jacket,” he replied.

As I said, “Okay, I’ll wait here,” I heard a familiar voice behind me. “Happy New Year,  Anna.”  It was my friend Javier.

“Hey! Happy New Year! Are you having a good time? It sounds like you missed a good dance in Nuevo Ideal,” I said.

“Yes, I am. I still plan on going to the dance. It’s going on all night; you wanna come?”

“No, sorry, I have to go home.”

“Okay, did you have a good time tonight?”

“Yes, well, most of the night. This is all kind of strange to me.”

“I bet it is,” he said as my brother came back.

“Ready?” my brother asked.

“What, you are leaving?” asked El Guero as he approached us.

“Yes, we have to head back to the colony,” explained my brother.

“Okay, but can I steal your sister for a bit before you go?” El Guero asked my brother.

Claro que si carnal.” (Yes, of course.)”

“Let’s go for a walk,” El Guero suggested.

We walked along the laneway toward the entrance gate.

“I’m sad that you are leaving, Anna.”

“Me too, but I have to get back to the colony. I can feel how worried my mom is right now.”

“Okay, yes, I understand. Could I see you again, maybe tomorrow, or I mean later today?”

“Maybe. Won't you be sleeping?” I asked, and we both laughed.

“Maybe a little. How about I come to Hamburgo?”

“I’m not sure if that’s a good idea. I don’t know what my family will be doing later today.”

“Okay, how about I drive by and see.”

“Okay.”

“Do your parents know that you are here?”

“Yes, but they think I'm just having dinner with Paula.”

Ay caramba!

“I know! By now they must be thinking that we are eating a whole cow,” I said, and he laughed.

Bueno pues (well then), let 's get you home,” he said.

We turned around and walked back to meet my brother at the pickup. El Guero opened the door, helped me up, and closed the door. He walked around to the driver’s side and spoke to my brother before we left.

On the way home, my brother turned up his favorite tunes by Ramon Ayala. I was glad, because I didn’t know what I wanted to talk to him about. I was happy just listening to music while looking out at the moonlit desert as he drove back to the colony.

My brother turned off the music when he turned onto the dirt road entering the colony, and turned off the headlights as he slowly drove onto our driveway. We carefully pushed the doors closed on the pickup, so we wouldn’t wake our parents.

My heart pounded out of my chest as we snuck in on our tippy toes. The kitchen was dimly lit by a twinkling oil lamp. Just as I thought we had successfully snuck in without notice, dad asked, “Wea kampt nu? (Who’s coming now?)”

John and I both instantly froze in our tracks. I held my breath until John answered, “Ekj and Onn.

Fuatz schlopen gon! (Go to sleep this instant!)” yelled Dad.

Nah jo we woaren (Okay, we will),” answered John.

The next morning I woke up to the smell of Pine Sol and my little sister playing with my hair. Everyone else was up, mom and dad had gone to church. Sara and Agatha were washing the floors and prepping for lunch.

I quickly got up; Maria helped me make the bed. I washed my face, combed my hair, and put it in a bun. My sisters stopped working and sat down beside me at the table while I had a coffee and a piece of banana cream pie for breakfast.

“What are the plans for today after lunch?” I asked.

“We are going to a far away lake with our aunts and uncles to have a fish fry. You should come too.” Explained Maria. “Can you swim?” she asked.

“No, I can’t swim. Can you?”

“No, but I want to learn,” she answered.

“Are you girls going with?” I asked Agatha and Sara.

“No, we are going to the mountains with our friends,” said Agatha.

“Okay, I think I will just stay home,” I said as mom walked in. I didn’t make eye contact with her. She went straight to her room and changed out of her church clothes. My sisters and I began setting the table for lunch.

I was relieved that Uncle Jake joined us for lunch. It was a good distraction. Dad didn’t say much, as usual. Mom was very disappointed; I could feel it. She just hadn't had an opportunity to tell me.

While cleaning up after lunch, mom offered that I could come to the lake if I wanted to, but I said, “No, I don’t mind having a quiet afternoon to myself.”

After everyone left, I went outside. I sat down on the buggy seat and embraced the warmth of the sun hugging my skin. It was a perfectly still, beautiful, clear,  sunny afternoon. I couldn’t stop thinking about the experience I had had the night before. I was exhausted. It felt like I had experienced a whole month of emotions all in one night. I was still processing it and not sure what to do with all of it or how to find my place in it.

I went back inside and lay down on my sister’s perfectly made bed. I tried hard to push everything else out of my mind and just focus on how much more attractive El Guero had gotten after spending all that time with him. But my thoughts just couldn’t leave me with that. I dozed off, and had an out-of-body experience similar to the one I had when I learned that I had to have a SIN card to open a bank account in Canada. And Aaron Newdorf was the man who was suffocating me.

I heard voices and footsteps. “It's El Guero! No, it’s Aaron! It’s El Guero! No, it’s Aaron!” My thoughts went back and forth, but I couldn’t move.

A loud knock at the door startled me enough to jolt me awake. I sat there thinking that it was all a dream, but then I heard another knock at the door. I slowly made my way to the door on my tippy toes, fearing that I would see Aaron Neudorf's face. But when I got closer to the door, I saw the Beuckert sisters standing there giggling.

I opened the door. They were so happy to see me.  “Anna, wot shofst? Wes guecht mat uns makoom up de goos supen? (Anna, what are you doing, don’t you want to come and join us on the street and drink?)

“Ahhh…Um… I would like to, but what will people think?” I asked.

“Nobody cares. We are the only two girls in Hamburg today; everyone else went to the mountains.”

“What? Why didn’t you go?”

“We are too old. We don’t fit in with the younger crowd.”

“But where are all your friends?”

“They all went to the mountains with their boyfriends.”

“Oh, okay, I get it, you know what? I will! Just let me change into my other dress.”

“Okay.”

While I changed into one of my pleated Sunday dresses that I had left behind, I thought, “If El Guero actually comes to the colony to visit me, he won't recognize me dressed like this,” followed by, “He's not going to come anyway.”

As we walked to that tree where we had made so many memories, I had to fight back the tears, as it felt like I had woken up from the longest dream. It felt like everything that I had lived was not real. At that moment, I happily drank the drink Helena had poured me. It was mescal mixed with coke, and it was about half and half. I instantly felt the warmth travel through my veins. It was a pleasant, numbing feeling. It helped ease the thought in the back of my mind that Aaron Neudorf could show up at any time. I was mentally preparing myself to face him again, knowing that he was probably triple pissed off at me. In the colony, I had no one by my side defending me against him. In Canada, I had a ‘schwenagel’ protecting me, and outside of the colony in Mexico, I had a ‘narco’ protecting me.

I wanted so badly to share that with those girls, but I couldn’t risk it. I thought that they might see it as me trying to poison their minds against the Mennonite way. I didn’t want to chance it, especially after thinking that I would never see them again when I left for Canada. I grew fonder of those girls by the minute; not only did they share their mescal with me, they also shared their sunflower seeds. It eased some of the guilt I felt for leaving them behind.

I smiled so much, knowing very well that I was lucky to have that experience with those girls one more time. I wondered what they would say, or if they would still speak to me if they knew where I had been the night before. I knew full well that it would be impossible to put my experience into Low German words.

Since they had been part of the ‘watermelon seed’ crises we experienced during our youth, I thought I would test the waters a little to see what might happen if I brought up another taboo subject. Even though we had matured in different areas since then, I thought if my ideas were too far out of the colony, I could still write it off as silly talk.

I felt my face turning beet red and my heart pounding out of my chest as I asked, “Since there aren't many men left in our colony that are our age, would you girls ever date a Mexa (a Mexican)?”

“Noooo!” they both answered.

“Why not?”

“Well, some of them look very nice and all, but what’s the point? We can’t marry a Mexa anyway.”

“Yeah, I know. But what if you just did?”

“Oh, Anna, don’t you know? We don’t mix!”

“Yeah, I know, but what would be so bad about mixing?”

“Aside from it being the biggest sin we could commit, we wouldn’t be able to live here in the darp (Mennonite village,) and we heard that when a Dietsch woman receives the seed of a Mexa, she pays for her sin during childbirth, and she could die. It happened to Dietsch woman while you were in Canada; she suffered the worst horror any woman has ever experienced during childbirth. She almost died,” they explained. Click here to continue reading my story.

photo credit to Plautdietsch Lowgerman


Thursday, April 19, 2018

Moonlight misery


Continued from Brave Mennonite

I froze and instantly felt sick to my stomach when I saw that it was Aaron Newdorf. He looked so much taller and stronger than the last time I had seen him. I turned around and went back upstairs, I found my way back to Paula’s room, ran to the bathroom and threw up. I rinsed my mouth, washed my face and stared at myself in the mirror again.

“What are you going to do Anna?” I asked myself.

“You can’t hide up here all night. Caramba Anna, you're so stupid, what were you thinking? You shouldn’t have come here. It's too late now, and you won't have a choice but to face him! This is not worth the trouble you will face when you get home. Deitschjat noch mol ent! I f#@*ing hate your life, Anna!” I thought out loud as the tears rolled down my cheeks.

I sat down on Paula’s bed and basked in my sorrow for a while. I took a few deep breaths, wiped the tears off my face and walked back into the hallway. I found my way back to the balcony where I had had a great time visiting with El Guero earlier. I walked over to the edge of the balcony and leaned against the steel railing. The moon shone bright, and the silver stars sparkled in the clear night sky.

“How is it possible to feel such misery in such a beautiful setting?” I thought.

The horses waved their tails, and their neighs echoed through the night sky. I imagined being a crow, and flying away. The horses’ neighs echoed my thoughts across the mountains to the last time I could remember that I felt guiltless happiness. It was a night just like this one, in Neustaedt, at my grandparents’ farm. It was before my fula had passed.

My father had gone on a mysterious trip for a couple of days. Mom dressed us all in our best clothes, and we all got to go on a city bus. The bus ride seemed very long because we got stared at so much. It might have been an unusual first for a Dietsch mom to take her children on a city bus by herself. The bus took us as far as the main highway went to Neustaedt, and we walked the rest of the way.

I remember it being a very long, dusty gravel road and that it was extremely hot that day. After walking what seemed like forever to me, we all sat down under a bush, ate tweebak and shared a Pepsi. When we finally arrived, fula, groosmama, and mom’s three youngest siblings still living at home happily greeted us with a handshake. To my surprise we ended up spending the night.

We didn’t get to visit often, but when we did, I followed fula everywhere he went. I had bee fascinated by him ever since I could remember. I always helped him with his chores. After supper, when all the chores were done, while mom and groosmama did the dishes, fula sat on his rocking chair outside and watched us play plinsa (hide and seek.) I went and hid under the windmill. I remember looking up at the moon that night and thinking that the windmill was so tall, if I climbed to the top of it, I should be able to touch the moon.

Now, standing up there on that balcony under the bright moonlight and sparkling stars, with the smell and sound of the horses, it felt like what had happened since the time with fula was just a dream. And at that moment I wished that it was. I wished that I could wake up at my grandparents’ farm the next morning as that little girl, and not have to face Aaron.

I could wish and dream all I wanted. Aaron still found me. My heart fell off the balcony when he suddenly appeared behind me.

So, hea faschtakts du de dan? (So this is where you've been hiding?)” he asked.  

Aaron went on and spoke to me in Low German.“You are so stupid, Anna! This explains why you are still going to school in Canada.”

When I turned around and looked at him, I put all my energy into hiding my facial expressions when my thoughts agreed with his words. I pretended that I wasn’t as afraid of him as I actually was after looking at him again. He seemed different, not just bigger and stronger, but his voice sounded so deep, strong, and masculine. He wasn’t a boy anymore, he was a full grown man. I began to seriously doubt my ability to fight him off one more time. I was beginning to think that I would stand a better chance against a mountain lion at that point.

“You thought by coming up here you would get away from me, but it’s perfect—up here we’re all alone, and no one will hear you screaming. You’re not so brave now without your schwenagel man by your side protecting you, are you?” he said as he took a few steps closer toward me.

Hearing Aaron talk about my dearest friend George in such a disgraceful manner, I just couldn’t stop the tears. It sounded worse because he said it in Low German.

“What is wrong with you, why can't you just leave me alone?” I asked.

“Whats wrong with me? No no no no! What’s wrong with you? Do you have any idea who these people are?”

I just stared at him.

“You are surrounded by a bunch of narcos! No one here is going to help you.Vondoag es dien toldach! (Today is your payday!) You are going to pay for what you did to my friends and me in Canada,” he explained, and took another step closer, to the point where I could see his bloodshot eyes. It looked like he was possessed by some dark force.

Just as I took a few steps back behind the patio table, I saw El Guero pulling back the patio curtain. “Here you are, Anna. I've been looking for you,” he said.

When he saw Aaron standing there and the frightened look on my face, he realized that something was wrong. He came closer to me and asked, “¿Que está pasando aqui? (What's going on here?) ¿Estás bien, Anna? (Are you okay, Anna?)”

“Yes, I’m okay now.”

El Guero stood there and observed us for a moment with a serious look on his face, his hands in his pockets. I held my breath, looked down and heard crickets for a good few minutes. I felt an unspoken communication happening between El Guero and Aaron as I lifted my head and quietly inhaled a breath of frightening air.

El Guero stared Aaron down as he made his way toward me and put his elbow out toward me again like he did before. This time I didn’t hesitate, I eagerly put my hand through and embraced his warmth as he pulled me close to him.

“Let's go downstairs,” said El Guero.

Just before exiting through the patio doors, I looked back at Aaron, and he flipped me his middle finger. I pretended that it didn’t affect me whatsoever. As El Guero walked me down the stairs again, I thought, “Okay, I am going to find my brother, and we're going home!”

The music got louder and louder the farther down the stairs we came.

“Have you seen my brother?” I asked.

“Yes, he’s outside. Let's go and join the party.”

He took me through a set of doors that led to the backyard, where people were eating, dancing, and sitting around a bonfire. El Guero lifted his right arm, snapped his fingers and just like that, a man stood before us.

“What would you like to drink, Anna?” asked El Guero.

“Ummm, you know the drink you made me the day I met you, the one with no alcohol,” I said as I scanned the crowd for my brother.

“Yes! I sure do,” answered El Guero as he turned to the man and ordered it for me.

I tried really hard just to move on and continue as if nothing had happened, but I was still shaking after my encounter with Aaron. El Guero got up and said, “Come let’s get you some food.”

Even though I wasn’t hungry, I followed him to the buffet. I put a few things in a plate. El Guero asked if he could serve me a bowl of menudo.

“No gracias, I’m not very hungry,” I explained.

El Guero noticed that I was having a hard time holding my plate because my hands were shaking too much.

“Here, let me get that for you,” he said, took my plate and carried it to the table for me.

El Guero picked up my shaking hand, looked into my eyes and said, “I will be right back.”

I quickly bowed my head, put my shaking hands together and said my mealtime prayer before he came back with his food. When I closed my eyes, I saw my mom’s disappointed face, and that’s when I experienced the deepest feelings of guilt I had ever felt. I felt like I was cheating George, Canada, my family, my entire community, and God. I thought, “If anything bad happens to me here tonight, I will deserve it for being a liar, a traitor, and idiot.”

I held my breath while looking for my brother, but when I couldn’t see him anywhere, I began to panic. I sat with my thoughts for a moment and went over what exactly had just happened—Aaron telling me that I was surrounded by a bunch of narcos. I knew that that could be true, but I concluded that Aaron was trying to ruin my night. And even if it was true, I wasn’t confused about who was the bad guy at that moment. I took a few deep breaths as George had taught me in Canada, and calmed myself down.

El Guero came back and sat down beside me again, “Are you okay, Anna?” he asked.

“I, I, can’t see my brother anywhere,” I answered in a shaking voice.

He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Look, he's right there,” and pointed him out to me. I saw him talking to my cowboy friend Javier, who looked back at me and waved.

I waved back at him and began to smile again.

“Okay,” I said, and took a relieved breath.

“Anna, I don’t know what’s going on with you and Aaron. It’s not my business, but it looks to me like whatever happened isn't good. If I didn’t know him, I wouldn’t be worried, but I do know him. I know him very well, so please don’t let that cabron ruin your night. I am sorry that I didn’t come looking for you sooner.”

“No, no it's okay. I will be okay,” I answered.

I thought to myself, “I've been through this so many times before. And this is the first time someone has asked me if I'm okay.”

I took a deep breath, turned to him and said, “Thank you!”

He just smiled and said, “If it makes you feel any better, I had my guys take him to the back to have a little chat with him. He won't be bothering you again.”

“Okay,” I said and thought to myself, “He's right, I'm not going to let that cabron ruin my only night out while I am in Mexico!”

“Okay, now let's eat. I’m hungry.”

With that conclusion, I thought, “Okay I'll stay a little while longer.”

I carefully observed El Guero as he ate. I reminded myself not to stare, but I couldn’t help it. I thought to myself, “He even eats differently; how can he eat soup without making schlurpsing sounds?” It took my mind off of Aaron, and I began to enjoy myself again.

“What time is it? I asked El Guero. He took a napkin, wiped his perfectly trimmed mustache, and cleaned his hands before he touched his shiny gold watch.

“It's eleven thirty-five and time for you to dance with me.”

“You do know that menonas can’t dance, right?”

I was carefully avoiding his eyes. He threw his napkin down onto his plate, turned to me and said, “Yes, I do! No te preocupes querida (Not to worry, my dear).  I will guide you.”

He put his hand under my chin pulled my face up, so I had to look at him. He rubbed my chin with his thumb and said, “Anna, this is not going to be about whether you can dance or not.”

“Okay,” I said, and one butterfly came back to life in my stomach as I pictured myself in his arms, pretending to dance.

He put his hand out to help me up and led me through the crowd to where it was a bit darker. He turned to face me, carefully placed his hand on my back, slid his hand down to my waist and tugged me right up close to him. When he pressed his cheek against mine and whispered in my ear, “Okay, Anna, just relax and follow my lead,” a few more butterflies began dancing their way back to life in my stomach.

A new song started, and he began gently and carefully moving me around as if I were made of glass and he didn't want to break me. He held me so close that I could feel his heartbeat through my shirt. My Low German thoughts started with all the “Anna, you shouldn’t be doing this!” nonsense, but I shut them down and forced my thoughts to just be in the moment, and embraced his comfort. Click here to continue reading my story.


Thursday, April 5, 2018

Brave Mennonite


Continued from Isabel Lopez

“Why did it have to have such a tragic ending? I don’t like it. ”

“Because that was as far as my imagination could go before it became real.”

“No Anna! No! How about, a Mexican man comes out of nowhere, swoops up Isabel just before the Lobo is about to eat her, shoots the Lobo and takes her to his place in the mountains.”

I looked at him as I hesitantly nodded my head imagining it. I knew that men didn’t watch telenovelas, especially men like El Guero, and that he was just going along to keep the conversation going. I sensed that he might be poking fun at me a bit. But the tequila acted as a soft, warm cushion that caught and cuddled my hurt feelings.

“Anna, it’s a telenovela, anything can happen,” he said, and we both laughed.

Evry time I took a sip of the tequila I got a bit braver. I loved nothing more than to talk about my telenovela nonsense, especially to a man like him. Even if he was poking fun at me, it was still a way to have a conversation that wasn’t about my lack of life experience. I worked hard to keep it going, thinking up my response to his ending. I decided to give him a chance to bail; if he hated listening to me enough, he would jump at the chance to get out of it. So I asked, “Aren’t your guests arriving?”

“If I would have known that you would actually come, I wouldn’t have invited all those people.”

“I almost didn’t.”

“I am so glad you did. And why don’t you write your telenovela? Dream it up as you would in your wildest imagination where anything can happen. Don’t let your reality ruin it.”

“I don’t think I am brave or smart enough,” I explained, and reminded myself not to tell him that I wasn't capable of writing something like that, because I had only graduated kindergarten a short while ago. I imagined rolling my eyes at myself.

“You came to my party,” he said as he smiled.

“Yeah, coming to your party might not have been brave, it might have been stupid.”

“NOOOO! Why do you say that?”

“I’m not sure, but it’s a feeling that I can't seem to shake.”

“I appreciate your honesty.”

“If anyone finds out that I was here tonight, I will be in so much trouble.”

“No, Anna, it's getting too real again. Can we go back to Isabel’s world where anything can happen?”

I inhaled a deep breath and sighed as I stared across the evening sky and said, “Okay, so who is this ‘Mexican man’ who swoops up Isabel and saves her from the Lobos, and why did he do that? If he's just going to swoop in and save her every time she's in trouble, she might as well just go back to the colony as Anna Wall and surrender to a life where men decide what she wants and needs, but she’ll never be happy and forever feel trapped.” 

Esteee (welll),” he said, and cleared his throat.

I just stared at him and waited.

“How about we worry about the Mexican’s name later. But Isabel is curious enough about him to stay at his place until she learns that she can trust him. And she accepts his invitation to travel the world with him. She’d get to see all his favorite places in Mexico. And in the end, she accepts that she is, in fact, Mexican and learns that she doesn't feel trapped and she’s happy and chooses to be with him,” he said as he leaned back in his chair and took a sip of his tequila.

“No!” I replied, and began voicing my thoughts as fast as I could.

“How about Isabel kills the Lobos with her bare hands, sneaks into the ‘nameless Mexican’s’ house in the mountains, steals his gun, his pickup, and takes off. The entire colony mourns Anna Wall’s death, but little do they know that she's out there living life on her terms as Isabel Lopez. The people in the colony hear stories of this woman who looks Dietsch, but she’s not, she’s Mexican. And that she did not only save herself from the vicious Lobos, she feeds them to the ‘Chupacabra’—the mysterious creature that has been appearing out of nowhere in the night and eating the colony’s chickens for years. She becomes their heroine. The ‘Chupacabra’ has become her pet and follows her around wherever she goes, which is the reason why the ‘Chupacabra’ has mysteriously disappeared. Then one day Isabel returns to the ‘nameless Mexican’s’ place and brings him a bottle of tequila to thank him for letting her get away with stealing his gun and his pickup… FIN….”

I inhaled a deep breath and took a sip of tequila. My heart attempted to pound through my chest as I waited for him to start laughing at me.

I looked over at El Guero.

He wasn’t leaning back in his chair anymore he was sitting up straight, elbows on the table, and listening, “No! No, you can’t do this to me. It was just getting interesting. Was the ‘nameless Mexican’ mad at her, or did he accept her gift?”

“You’ll have to wait until the next telenovela.”

Oh si (Oh yeah) and what is the next telenovela called?”

“Anna Wall returns from the dead.”

We both burst out laughing, “Ay caramba! I can't wait!” he replied.

He had no idea how much I enjoyed that. It made my butterflies so happy that they were trying to escape through my bellybutton. Immature or not, I could never dream out loud like that with anyone in my colony. I thought it was perfect and exactly what I needed after feeling lonely and isolated in the colony.

“Your guests are probably waiting for you downstairs,” I said.

El Guero looked at his shiny gold watch and said, “You’re right. It’s too bad, but we better go downstairs and meet some people?”

“Okay.”

He walked around the table and waited for me to get up. He pulled my chair out and put his elbow out toward me. I stood there like an idiot, not knowing what his gesture meant. He took my hand and pulled it through his elbow, and proceeded to walk me down the stairs.

All I could do was remind myself to breathe each time we took a step down the stairs. A couple of men were waiting for El Guero at the bottom of the stairs. He introduced me to them. They all shook my hand and said, “Mucho gusto.”

Paula came up to us and said, “My turn to steal Anna away. Come, I want to talk to you while I do my makeup,” and back upstairs I went with Paula. I followed her to a room where she had a walk-in closet full of clothes, and mirrors everywhere. I sat down on the bed and picked up a magazine that was lying on the table beside the bed. I flipped through it as she was doing her makeup.

“It’s nice you came, Anna,” said Paula in her heavy Spanish accent.

“Do you know how many people are coming?” I asked.

“No, but not too many, just some of El Guero’s colleagues and his good friends. He is very careful with who his friends are.”

“Okay, are you related to him?” I asked.

“Yes, el es mi primo. (He is my cousin.)” 

“Okay.”

“You want to try some of my makeup?”

“Sure,” I replied and met her at the mirror. I picked the lightest color of her lipstick and put some on.

“Here, you need some of this too,” she said as she handed me a mascara.

“Thanks.”

“Don’t be shy, put on whatever you like. I will change my clothes.”

“Okay, ahhh, I'm going to go to the washroom,” I said.

“You can use mine,” she said, as she pointed to a door in the room.

“There’s another bathroom in this place?” I thought as I went into the bathroom and locked the door behind me. I stared at myself in the mirror as I wondered if I had ever heard the word colleague before. Or was the tequila causing me forget the English I had learned in Canada? I took the opportunity to recognize how awkward I was feeling again. I had a little chat with myself. “What are you doing, Anna? You shouldn’t be here; you should go home.”

“Anna! Do you want to come with me to Patos?” Paula asked. “I have to go and pick up my friend,” she said as I came out of the bathroom.

“Okay,” I answered and thought, “I will go home after.”

“We will come right back here to eat after,” Paula explained.

We passed my brother on our way outside, Paula explained to him where we were going. I followed her through a couple of doors into a garage. She hopped into a shiny new black pickup. I walked around, climbed in, and off we went to Patos.

“So what were you and the chef making? It smelled really good in the kitchen.”

“We made menudo and frijoles charros. Do you like menudo?”

“Ummm, not really.”

“What about frijoles charros?”

“I have never tried frijoles charros.”

“Tonight is the chance for you to try.”

I smiled and said, “I probably won't stay that long.”

“But what do you mean? It’s a New Year’s party, Anna.  Everybody stays until the new year. That’s why it’s a New Year’s party. El Guero would not like that if you left his party early.”

“He probably won't even notice.”

“I think he will. He wants to dance with you yet.”

“Oh no! He knows that menonas can’t dance, right?”

Si pero a él no le importa. (Yes, but he doesn't care.)”

My anxiety grew so thick that I didn’t even have to explain it to Paula. She felt it. “No te preocupes (Do not worry), Anna. El Guero doesn't get embarrassed, and trust me, he will do all the work. All you can do is enjoy the ride,” she explained.

That didn’t help my anxiety much. Especially when Paula said, “Okay, Anna, we are going to park around the corner, and my friend is going to sneak out of her house to come with us.”

“Okay, why is she sneaking out of her house?”

Porque (because) her husband is a pinche cabrón (f#cking bastard) and he doesn't want her to come to the party.”

“Oh no,” I replied.

“We will wait here for her, okay?”

“Okay.”

As we sat in the pickup waiting for her friend to sneak out of her house, we watched all kinds of dressed up people going into a building across the street.

“What’s going on here?” I asked.

“A New Year’s dance. All the people that weren't invited to El Guero’s party are going there.”

“Oh, that must be the dance I got invited to,” I said, as a cowboy wearing a shirt with the Virgin Mary on the back of it walked across the street.

“Was the guy that invited you to the dance wearing a shirt like that?” asked Paula.

“No, at least not when he asked me. Why?”

“Anna, trust me, do not ever date a guy who wears shirts like those,” Paula explained in a serious tone.

“But why?” I asked, and we got interrupted by her friend, who jumped into the pickup and said, “Vamonos! Vamonos!”

Paula stepped on the gas, causing the tires to spin and leaving a cloud of dust behind us. Alejandra, ella es mi amiga Anna (She’s my friend Anna). Anna meet my friend  Alejandra.

Es un placer conocerte. (It's a pleasure to meet you.)”

Igualmente (likewise),” I replied.

As soon as we were done with the introductions, Alejandra turned to Paula and started ranting about her husband. She spoke so fast I didn’t stand a chance at understanding much of it.  But I got the gist of it by her tone and the swear words she used—she was very angry at her husband. Alejandra looked at me then at Paula and said, “Gracias por sacarme de allí (Thanks for getting me out of there),” with tears in her eyes.

I understood enough to know that Alejandra was worried about people noticing that she had been crying and that she wanted to fix her makeup before joining the party.

By the time we hit the back road behind Patos again, it was pitch black out. Paula seemed to know those back roads very well. She knew exactly when to slow down and when she could go full speed. By the time we reached the two armed men guarding the entrance gate at El Guero’s ranch, the full moon was peeking over the maintains. It looked like part of the mountains was on fire.

The armed men didn’t even stop us; they knew the pickup and just opened the gate to let us in. There were a lot more vehicles parked than there had been before we left. Paula drove the pickup back into the garage.

We snuck through a back door, through the kitchen, and upstairs back to Paula’s room. I sat on the bed and flipped through the magazine while Paula helped Alexandra with her makeup.

Music echoed through the entire place, people drinking and mingling. As we made our way back down the stairs, I stopped halfway down and scanned the crowd. All I saw was a room full of men, and when I spotted a familiar face, I knew that the bad feeling I had been having wasn’t a vicious mountain lion or the fact that El Guero had a gun. When he acknowledged that he had seen me, all the butterflies that had been dancing in my stomach on and off throughout the entire experience suddenly choked, tumbled down my legs and fell on my toes. Click here to continue reading my story.

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