Thursday, February 4, 2016

Reflections of a Mennonite

Continued from Blurred Mennonite

I woke up to the pleasant smell of George and saw dark blondish hair peeking through the blanket next to me. I sat up, rubbed my eyes, and looked around to try and figure out where I was. I realized I was still wearing my skimpy dress and that I was wearing George’s jacket over my dress. 

I pulled my hair away from my face so I could see better and looked over at the pile of hair again. I quickly looked away and held my breath when I saw the hair moving. Then I felt the bed moving as a soft delicate voice said, “Hey, good morning, Anna.”

I took a deep breath, turned my head, looked again, and saw Christina sitting there. 

“Good morning, girls! Ready or not, I’m coming in with coffees,” shouted Christina's mom as she walked into the bedroom and put two coffees down on the bedside table. As I sat up, I felt so cold in my short dress I zipped up the jacket and pulled it down as far as it would go to cover my legs. After I drank a few sips of the coffee, it all started coming back to me.

Shortly after the countdown and all that hugging happened, Christina had started crying about how badly she wanted Richard back. She begged me to take her to her mom’s house and stay with her for the night. 

George and Sam offered to walk us to the house, and before we left George talked me into putting on his jacket.

“I will be okay, It’s just around the corner,” I said.

“I don’t give a shit how far it is, I don’t want you to get frostbite, Anna.”

“What about you?”

“Don’t worry about me, I have a sweater,” he answered as he helped me put his jacket on. He zipped it up all the way to the top. George and Sam walked us all the way to the door down a slippery, ice-covered sidewalk to the house. We said goodbye and Happy New Year again to the guys, took off our shoes, and stumbled to Christina’s old bedroom. I lay there feeling useless as I listened to Christina cry herself to sleep. 

That morning she didn’t look so sexy anymore. Her eyes were all red and swollen from crying the night before. She had black mascara smeared all over her eyes and face. We just sat there on the bed and giggled about how we looked and felt. Until her mom yelled, “Girls, come and eat! Breakfast is ready!”

We stumbled to the dining room and sat down at the table while her mom served us more coffee, pancakes, and bacon. She continued asking me about Mennonites and how they celebrate New Year’s in Mexico. 

As I ate, I explained to her: “We would spend New Year’s Eve cleaning, baking, and doing a few loads of laundry. It felt much like a Saturday and Monday at the same time. When all the chores were done we would go to town on the colony bus that passed through our colony twice a day. We often took the three o'clock bus to go to town and buy groceries. We never hugged people or said Happy New Year to anybody. We never stayed up past midnight like some people do here. We went to sleep at our regular bedtime but we often woke up around midnight because of all the echoing gunshot sounds we heard. The native Mexican people celebrated by shooting away the old year up into the sky.” 

“Oh dear, do you know if anyone has ever gotten shot during a celebration like that?” She asked.

“No, never.”

“Most people drink to celebrate the arrival of the New Year, that could be a dangerous combination. I would hope that people wouldn't get too drunk to remember which way is up,” she said. 

“I hadn’t thought about it like that, but yeah, that could be dangerous,” I answered.

“What about New Year’s day?” She asked.

“New Year’s day wasn't much different from an ordinary Sunday. Most people would go to church in the morning. Then in the afternoon, we would visit with family and sometimes go to a mountain called La Magdalena. It was not too far from the colony behind Nuevo Ideal. we would have barbecues or fish fries,” I answered.

“That sounds like fun, to be able to do that on New Year’s Day,” she replied.

I started feeling a bit better after I ate, had a few cups of strong coffee, and put my other clothes back on from the day before. Christina’s mom left with a friend. We stayed and just hung out at her house. We looked at fashion and Cosmopolitan magazines. Christina wanted to watch a movie so she asked me to pick one out of the pile.

I picked the newly released Romeo and Juliet movie, not knowing what that movie was about until we started watching it. I felt awful for picking that one when I realized that what it was all about. Watching that movie was a bad idea -- it brought her right back to the place I was trying to get her away from. 

I got up to turn the movie off and she said, “No Anna, It’s okay. We can watch it, I’ll be okay. I’m just going to lay down here while we watch it.” It didn’t take long and she was snoring again.

I tried to watch the movie but I had a hard time staying focused. I felt guilty about how I had dressed for the party. Especially after I thought more about what George had to say about showing too much skin to everyone. I felt so embarrassed just thinking about it. 

I sat there, having deep guilty thoughts by a big window, staring out at all the fresh white snow on the ground, as the movie ended. It was a clear, bright, sunny day. I felt warm from the sun shining on me. I hoped so bad that George wasn't too disappointed in me and he would still want to be my friend.

My disappointment turned into mixed, angry thoughts. I thought That’s it! I quit! This is way too hard. From now on I won't shave my legs anymore and I will just wear my pleated dresses and stay a hairy f#cking Mennonite! Girl, woman, or whatever the heck I am!   

The song I Would Die for You by Garbage started to play while the movie credits crawled across the TV screen. The words of the song triggered a thought: I wonder who my fula died for… And I began thinking about, missing, and longing for my family.

I thought especially about my dad while I was sitting there. I thought about how I’d felt after I drank wine at the party. I felt like a completely different person. I felt so much lighter and more comfortable when I was able to forget all my worries for a bit. 

I began to realize that we had no idea what heavy loads my father was carrying or how he felt, and that those may have been the same reasons for why he drank so much. I felt guilty, sad, and empathy for him all at the same time.  I got really scared at that moment when I realized how easily I could slip down that same drinking path he was on.

I remembered feeling like I was walking on eggshells most of the time while I was growing up. Whenever our dad came home, we were never sure how to feel about that. That was where my habit of holding my breath started. I often thought that if I sacrificed my breath, then everything would be okay. I wanted to be the one who did that for my family. 

We never knew what mood he would come home in: happy, angry, drunk, extremely sad, sober, or hungover from the day before. The one thing we were sure of was that he was very particular about loud noises, like doors slamming. He did have a funny sense of humor but the circumstances were almost never quite right for him to show that side of himself.

As I sat there in complete silence, staring out that big window, Christina rolled herself into a ball and turned over so she stopped snoring. I remembered a time when I experienced my dad’s sense of humor for the first time.  

One day my mom wasn't home when he came home. This was one of those times I wasn’t sure what mood he was in. I couldn't tell if he was drunk or not. He walked in, sat down on his rocking chair, looked down, and didn’t say a word. That was one of those times when I felt extremely awkward and thought of all the things I should say or do but just didn’t know what to do . . . so I held my breath.

It was close to dinnertime so I thought, Just start setting the table, Anna! I got up slowly, so I wouldn't make any noise, and tiptoed my way into the kuma (pantry) to get the tweeback. I picked up the lid of the big pot where we kept our tweeback, without really looking. As it turned out, the pot was empty and still attached to the lid as I lifted it. Before I could react, I realized what was happening. The empty pot slipped away from the lid and crashed to the floor. The noise was far worse than a slamming door -- it was by far the loudest noise I had ever made in that house. I just froze and held my breath again.

I cried and laughed at the same time as I remembered my dad’s reaction to the noise that day. I heard him laughing as he said, “Ekj wunda aus doa wäa enn de kumma es (I wonder if there is anyone in the pantry)?”

I took a deep breath and I let out a big sigh of relief, realizing he wasn't mad that I had made such a loud, unpleasant noise. I got tweeback from a different pot and continued to set the table while my dad sat there, lost in what looked to me like deep, regretful thoughts. When he snapped out of his reverie, he got up and said, “Ekj woa gon Sush sajen see sul dee kumm halpen (I will go tell Sara to come and help you).”

Those moments were rare, but they were the happy memories I held onto as much as I could. Especially during the many times when I felt overwhelmingly guilty for leaving and didn’t know what to do with myself.

I wanted to go home and call my family but Christina was still sleeping and I felt so bad for her. I couldn’t just leave there all by herself with all her pain. I was afraid that she might hang herself too if she woke up and discovered that she was all by herself and that no one cared enough to stay by her side. 

I talked myself into staying. I thought, Staying by her side is something I can do. Even though I had no words for her, she still wanted me to stay with her. I allowed myself to feel like I was actually helping her by doing just that. I realized that maybe that was the reason she kept wanting me to stay with her. Maybe she preferred no words to all to the sad, side-faced, How are you doing? questions and hugs she was getting everywhere else she went. 

I realized that every time she went out to try and get a break from everything it wasn't helping her. People weren't helping by dumping their feelings on her every time she came out. That was how I talked myself into staying and thinking that what I was doing was actually helping her. It was the only way I knew how to comfort myself at that moment as I began to drown in my own tears of sorrow. Click here to continue reading my story.

Image by Keith Smith

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