Tuesday, October 9, 2018

A Mennonite “rom-geschwien”

Continued from Mennonites and Vampires

When I woke up the next morning, I was confused about where I was, because I felt like a different person. But when everything that had happened the night before came back to me, I recognized that I was feeling light because I had been carrying a heavy rock with  Aaron Newdorf’s name on it my whole life, and now it was gone. I had very little experience with such a feeling. The only thing I could compare it to was the feeling I experienced when I learned that I wasn’t a “hard learner” by receiving the “fastest learner award” in Canada.

As hard as it had been, I felt free and accomplished knowing that I had done the right thing accepting Aaron Newdorf’s apology. It would have been nice if I could have shared it with someone at the time, but I had figured out a way as I had with many other situations when I desperately needed affirmation, reassurance and a hug. I closed my eyes and pictured George wrapping his arms around me, hugging me and telling me, “You did the right thing, Anna. I am so proud of you.”

I hugged the blanket and thought, “Because of you, I am going to be okay. Thank you, George,” and when my little sister sat down beside me and said, “Ekj sen nich George, ekj sen Marijke.” I realized that I had said it out loud. But before I was able to explain myself, mom yelled, “It’s time to get up—we have a long day ahead of us!”

She sounded mad; I knew that it was because of my actions in the past few days, and just like that my feelings of accomplishment dropped back to feeling that I was nothing but a disappointment. And that’s how that particular laundry day began.

We all sat around the table and ate breakfast. No words were exchanged; the only sounds around the table were those of the clinking utensils. I kept a close eye on my brothers. As soon as they bowed their heads to say their end-of-meal prayer, I bowed my head, and my prayer was, “Please do not allow an opportunity to be alone with Mom today.” I got up and followed my brothers outside. I helped them pull water from the well and carry it over to the mea grupen to heat it for washing the whites.

My brother John went and drove the pickup that he was working on closer to the house and put on the radio. My heart sank to the ground when he turned the dial to the La Tremenda Santiago radio station, and we heard breaking news about a shooting that had happened in Nuevo Ideal the night before. I couldn't understand everything, but enough to know that there were a few confirmed deaths, many wounded, that it was related to a man named El Chapo and something about drug wars that had been going on for quite some time.

It turned out that everyone in the entire Durango colony was familiar with the name El Chapo except me. The names that were familiar to me were El Guero and Aaron, and that’s when I woke up, and all the strange behavior that had happened the night before came back to me.

The news scared me to death. I didn’t know what to do or say. It was a very long day indeed. The hours passed slower than they ever had before. We worked our way through the piles of laundry, and I found myself alone with Mom in the kitchen while preparing lunch. She let me have it about going to El Guero’s New Year’s Eve party.

I was in so much trouble at that point. My mixed feeling and guilt were eating me alive, and I regretted my decision to sneak around like I had. I felt that I had been very selfish, and I wanted nothing more than for things to be right between Mom and me. I was ready, and needed to hear what she had to say about it.

As I stood at the stove with my head hanging down, stirring the noodles, Mom let me have it. “Soan rom geschwien aus dot Heljeowent to Niejoa haft passiet sol dot hea nich nach imol passieren! (That kind of “pigging around” that happened on New Year’s Eve is not to happen here again!)” she said. It was understood that it was directed at me, not my brothers.

Dot wuat uke nich! (It won't!)” I answered, never making eye contact with her as I continued stirring the noodles.

As the day went on and the colony gossip grew at a rapid rate, I found myself caught in the middle of two worlds. When word went around that Aaron Neudorf was missing, I stood back and observed how the whole community was concerned only about Aaron’s safe return to his family. That was when I saw how others might see us, because in this situation I was “the other” looking in, as I watched and heard the language that shaped the stories in the community. That’s when I saw a clear picture of how and who we were. It became undeniably clear to me that no other person involved in this was worth our thoughts and prayers.   

I considered myself “the other” because I was worried about El Guero. It didn’t matter what the news said, or that I didn’t know or understand much of what was said on the news about him. To me, he was a good person, and I needed him to be alive and well just as the entire Mennonite community needed Aaron to be alive and well. I didn’t see any difference there.

As “the other” looking in, I asked myself the question so many people had asked me, “Who are these people?” followed by, “And who the heck are you, Anna?” A dark cloud followed me around for a very long time after that, especially after Aaron Newdorf came home a couple of days later and the incident wasn’t spoken about again, because that was the only ending the community seemed cared about.

As the days faded to dusk time and again, people in the colony moved on. I struggled with not knowing whether El Guero was alive, just as I would have had it been my friend George, Josh, or any other person I had known. That’s when I recognized that I needed to leave, and I began mentally preparing myself for the twenty-four-hour road trip to Texas with my Uncle Jake and cousin Izaak. I went through my stack of pleated dresses and gave one to each of my younger sisters, explaining to Mom that they were too small, and that I could make myself more in Canada. Mom agreed with me, and she had stopped trying to talk me into staying in the colony. She didn’t tell me why, but I know it was because she knew that she had lost me, and that she couldn’t have me living there if she couldn’t convince me to behave in the way she saw fit. I concluded in my mind that if I was far away, then at least she wouldn’t have to witness my sinful behavior. I accepted the fact that if I was going to be “rom geschwieng met mexa (pigging around with Mexicans),” I had no business living in the colony.

After I’d successfully gotten rid of a bunch of my Mennonite dresses, Mom, my sisters and I sat at the kitchen table during faspa and discussed how the dresses had changed since I had left, but only in the color choices. As I was disagreeing with my little sister about what color looked best on her, Izaak walked in, looking more frazzled than normal, and asked to speak with me. My first thought was, “Oh no! He's going to tell me that El Guero is dead.” Or “Are you ready, because we are leaving at five a.m. sharp tomorrow morning,” because I had no idea when exactly we were leaving. I just knew to be ready, and that it could happen any day at that point. Instead, he said, “I need you to come to Potes with me; we need to take care of some things before our trip back to Texas.”

I turned to Mom. She nodded her head, gesturing that it was okay with her, and out the door I went, leaving my half-eaten banana cream pie behind. The thought crossed my mind that I should have just brought my half-eaten pie with me, because the last time I left before finishing what I was eating, it had haunted me for years after. I thought to myself, “You can handle this now, you are stronger now, you can leave a piece of pie behind and not be traumatized by it for years to come. Or can I?”

As Izaak sped through the colony, leaving it behind in a cloud of dust, I asked, “Okay Izaak, what is going on?”

“A few of us are having a little Dia de Los Reyes celebration by sharing a Rosca de Reyes before we leave, and there is someone there who wants you to cut the Rosca.”

My heart began pounding out of my chest as the thought hit me that it could be El Guero.

When we got to a house in the outskirts of Nuevo Ideal, there were a couple of armed men guarding the entrance. When we went inside, I recognized many people that I had met at El Guero’s ranch, but El Guero was nowhere to be seen. El Guero’s cousin Paula greeted me at the door and walked me to the bar, where the bartender had already mixed my favorite drink, the Vampiro, and handed it to me. I was uptight and uneasy until the salty, tangy sweet taste hit my palate, and the red liquid washed all of it away, leaving me with a feeling of ease and weightlessness. I drank the whole thing in one shot; it reminded me of a time I had once watched a calf drink an entire bucket of vaudikj (whey) without stopping to take a breath. When I put the cup down, the bartender handed me another one, winked at me and asked, “Long day?”

“YES!” I shouted, and then regretted it immediately after. I thought to myself, “Okay, I have no idea how to act or behave right now.” I held my breath and desperately searched for a familiar face. Then I saw Paula walking toward a table with a large cake that looked like an oval-shaped ring, which I assumed was the cake called Rosca that I was supposed to cut. Sure enough, she gestured to me to come closer. So I took my drink and walked toward her, with everyone gathered around the table.  Paula handed me a knife and explained to me that the Rosca had a little plastic doll in it, and whoever got the piece of cake with the doll in it had to throw a party and serve Rosca the next year.

“Okay,” I said and scanned the crowd to figure out how many pieces I needed to cut so that everyone would get a piece. I was just about to slice into the cake when Paula said, “But wait! Before you cut it, we’re waiting for one more person.” I looked up and saw El Guero walking toward me. He didn’t have a scratch on him. He was as calm, tall, confident and perfectly groomed as I remembered him. I wasn’t sure if I could trust my ability to control my emotions if I were to make eye contact with him, so I just stared at his shiny shoes as he walked toward me.  

With the knife in my hand, I began shaking as he greeted me with a soft, warm kiss on each of my cheeks, and took the knife from my hand. My emotions became a monster, eager to burst out of me and wreak havoc, but in this case, my years of experience hiding them was beneficial. It helped me tame the monster for the time being.

El Guero said some things in Spanish, handed me back the knife and asked if I would cut the Rosca.

“Okay,” I answered, took the knife and began cutting the cake with my shaking hand. El Guero took the pieces that I cut, placed them on plates, and handed them to the guests. He served me a piece before he took one for himself.

He said a few things again before everyone began eating the cake. I just waited until I saw others take a bite and did the same. As I watched the others, including El Guero, eating, I remember comparing the Rosca to the banana cream pie I had eaten shortly before and thinking, “This cake doesn’t have room in my stomach with this monster still in it! It’s really dry, and it doesn't taste that good. I don’t get what all the fuss is about.”  I was tempted to give up and put my half-eaten piece down, but then my George-influenced mind said, “Just eat the f#cking cake, Anna!” I forced down each bite, and then I bit into something hard. I took it out of my mouth, and sure enough, I had the piece of cake with the doll in it. Paula shouted something out loudly, and everyone put their plates down and clapped for me. I smiled, but all I could think was, “I just want to hug El Guero and cry!” Click here to continue reading my story.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Mennonites and Vampires

Continued from While in Mexico

I quickly sat up and listened carefully, thinking that I could be wrong. But I heard right. It was Aaron Newdorf. He was drinking, socializing and appeared to be having a great time. That bothered me a lot, especially because as long as I’d be hearing him, I wouldn't have any peace. I thought, “How can I stop being afraid of him?” and talked myself out of freaking out. But that was hard work.

I continued stargazing with my little sister. Every time I heard footsteps near us, I panicked. I finished my drink and kept an eye on Izaak, and I thought, “I can really use another drink, and the minute he goes to mix himself one, I’m going to get myself another one too.”

When Izaak finally went back to his car, I told Maria that I would be right back, and snuck my way to Izaak’s car. “Hey, can I have another one of those?” I asked.

“Hey! Yeah, sure. Ahhh what’s going on? You look worried.”

“I am, but the drink will help.”

I wasn’t sure if I should tell Izaak about Aaron, because they had been friends for a long time. So I just talked about the car he left me in Canada.

“Thanks for letting me use your car. It has helped me out a lot.”

“I’m glad, and you're welcome.”

“But I can’t tell you what shape it will be in when you need it back. My brothers would be disappointed in me if they knew that I have never even opened the hood of your car, or even had an oil change or anything.”

“Its, okay, Anna. I don’t care if you drive that car into the ground. I am making pretty good money working in Texas; I will just buy another one if I ever come back to Canada.”


“But yeah, you should go and have an oil change done on it soon.”

“Sounds good. I will do that.”

“Okay, enough about my old car. Why do you look so stressed?”

“I have had a long day and I really just want to go inside and go to bed, but I can't until my parents’ company leaves.”

“Okay, is that all? Because I think there’s more to it, and you know that you can tell me, whatever it is.”

“Ahhh, well, actually you're right. There is a lot more to it.”

“Tell me. What is it?”

“It’s more like who, and it’s Aaron Newdorf. What is he doing here anyway?”

“I knew it! He just showed up. He thinks we are friends just because we go way back and he's got no other friends left.”

“But I thought he had a girlfriend in Potes.”

“He did, but I think she was a smart one and realized what an asshole Aaron actually is and dumped him.”

“Oh shit! Good for her. Bad for me.”

“I don’t know how he manages to make enemies wherever he goes.”

“I do,” I replied.

“I kinda feel sorry for him. Most men our age are married by now. It doesn’t leave him with a lot of friends to hang out with here in the colony. Especially when the holidays are over, and most of us leave.”

“Yeah, that’s true, and it sounds painfully familiar.”

“Doesn’t it?”

“Are you still planning on going back to Texas with Uncle Jake and me?” I asked.

“Yes, and I can't wait. I’ve had a great time, but I’m ready to get out of here.”

“Okay, great. I’m glad you're coming,” I replied.

“Me too. It'll be fun. I can't wait to take you out and show you around Texas.”

“I wish we could leave now,” I said.

“Soon enough, Anna,” Izaak said, and laughed as he handed me the drink.

“I wonder why Aaron doesn’t go to the states or Canada,” I asked.

“Actually, Anna, he can’t cross the border.”


“I don’t know if everything I have heard is true, but I might as well tell you what I do know for sure. Aaron has gotten into a lot of trouble lately, mostly because of the people that he has gotten involved with. I didn't know if you know, but there are these groups of people.”

“You mean the narcos?” I interrupted.


“Okay so when he told me that I was surrounded by a bunch of narcos at El Guero’s party, he was right?”


“I thought he was just trying to scare me. I also thought that narcos weren't real. I thought that they were only in movies and telenovelas.”

“Oh no, Anna, they are real.”

My heart began to skip beats as our conversation continued and everything began to make sense.

“Okay, so is Aaron involved with El Guero’s people?”

“No, it’s a different group. The way I understand is that this group and El Guero’s group are enemies.”


“The only reason El Guero’s men let Aaron through the gates of El Guero’s ranch last night was because he is also one of us.”

“One of us as a Dietsch?”

“Yeah, that and I think El Guero likes to keep an eye on Aaron in case he gives out any hints on the whereabouts of  El Guero’s enemies.”

“Oh shit!”


“It sounds like a movie.”

“Yeah, but unfortunately for Aaron, it has become very real. I have a feeling that he is going to get himself in so deep that one day he won't be able to bullshit his way out.”

“I should have been talking to you a long time ago.”

“Well, I’m glad you did tonight. When I saw you at El Guero’s party, I wanted to talk to you about this, but I didn’t want you to think that I was telling you what to do or who to be friends with. You have enough people doing that already.”

“Yeah, and thank you!”

“You’re welcome.”

“What about El Guero?”

“What about him?”

“Ahhh, do you know him well?”



“I know that he likes you, he likes you a lot, and that he would never purposely hurt you. I’m no one to tell you what to do, but given the business he’s in, being around him does put you at risk every time. I don’t know all the details, but there is a lot of bad blood between the people that Aaron is involved with and El Guero.”

As I listened to Izaak, things began to make a lot more sense. I began to feel a cold shiver going up my spine, and I thought I was better off not knowing what Izaak had just shared with me.

“So that’s why El Guero has that many men with guns around him all the time, in case those guys show up?” I asked.

“Something like that,” and our conversation got interrupted by Maria calling me to come back to the blanket.

“Okay, I gotta go. Thanks, Izaak, I’ll talk to you later.”

“Sure, anytime.”

I went back to join Maria on the blanket until my parents’ company left and mom called Maria and my younger brother in.

After Maria left, I sat there alone and sipped away at my drink. I took a deep breath and lay down and exhaled with a sigh, gazing up at the sparkling, star-filled silver night sky. I felt the tequila massaging its way through my body as I became one with my vampiro.

I briefly closed my eyes, and thought I was having a nightmare when I heard Aaron’s voice say, “I hope you are thinking about me.”

“I jumped to a seated position and said, “NO!”

Aaron sat down beside me anyway, “I really need to talk to you. This might be my last chance.”

“Do you even know what the word NO means? I think you have YES and NO mixed up!!! No means, don’t sit down.”

“I’m sorry, Anna.”

“Go away. I don’t want to talk to you!”

When I heard him say “I’m sorry” for the second time, I said, “WHAT?” as I jumped up to a standing position.

Aaron stood up. “I’m sorry. I have no excuses. I am an asshole,” he said. He got down on his knees in front of me, placed his hands on my shoes and kept saying, “I’m sorry.”

“REALLY?” I asked, as I backed away and hoped that no one was looking in our direction.

“YES, Anna. I’m sorry, I’m sorry for everything!”

“Okay, okay, just get up!” I said, and sat back down on the blanket.

Aaron sat down facing me, covered his face with his hands, and said, “Look, Anna, I don’t expect you to forgive me just like that, but I just want you to know that I really am sorry for the way I have treated you. I realize that now, and I see how the people you are drawn to treat you.”

“Okay,” I answered.

I was in disbelief. I didn’t know if I believed that he was for real or if he was trying to manipulate me.

“I don’t even know what to say.”

“You don’t have to say anything. I don’t deserve your forgiveness. I just wanted you to know that I am truly sorry.”

After sitting there for a moment and processing it all, I began to believe that he was being sincere. I thought, “Maybe if I accept his apology I can finally put that stupid mason jar to rest. It's too big and bulky for any purse.”

Looking at him sitting there like that, I began to feel sorry for him. I didn’t want to, but I talked myself into accepting his apology.

I looked at him again and thought, “Look at this oma schetat. He seems dead inside. Say something, Anna!”

Looking at him and remembering all the horror he put me through, my whole body shivered with disgust.

“Maybe you should hit me!” he said.

“Oh, believe me, I want too!”

“Anna, I don't want to leave here tonight until I have convinced you that I really am sorry. I wish that I could go back in time and start over, but I can’t.”

Dietschjat I hate you!”

“I know, and that’s what’s killing me.”

“But I don’t want to hate you anymore.”

“Okay, then let me show you how sorry I am and let me give you a hug.”

“Are you serious?”


“Wow, you have some nerve!”

“I will leave right after. I promise.”

My heart was pounding. I really wanted to hit him, but in spite of my shaking body and feeling like throwing up, I got up and accepted his request. He got up and looked at me for a moment before putting his arms around me, barely touching me at first. I stood there like an ice sculpture. When he pulled me closer, hugging me tight, I noticed that he was crying.

“Thank you,” he said, and dropped his head down as he walked away.

He left me standing there speechless and shaking, as I watched him walk away into the darkness, off of Uncle Jake’s property, wondering what the heck had just happened. And why the sudden change in Aaron’s behavior. The whole experience left me with an unfamiliar and odd feeling.

I snuck my way past the crowd of men still standing around the bonfire and walked across the property to my parents’ house. It was quiet in the house.  I assumed that everyone was sleeping.

I tippy-toed inside, took my mason jar and snuck back outside. I walked to the back of the property to my dad’s pile of old tractor parts and smashed the mason jar against a rusty old rim.

On my way back to the house I thought, “I’m going to have to clean that up tomorrow before dad sees the shattered glass.”

I lay down in my bed, focusing on the smell and the twinkling flame of the burning kerosene oil lamp.  As my day faded away, I wondered if I could really put Aaron Neudorf behind me for good. Click here to continue reading my story.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

While in Mexico

Continued from Torn Mennonite

After a moment of awkward silence, El Guero asked, “Do you like tacos?”

“Yes, I love tacos.”

Excelente!” he said as he pulled over and continued, “How about we send Valentin, to get us some tacos and then go to La Magdalena to eat them? We don’t have to drive far. It’s just behind Patos here. Have you ever been to La Magdalena?

“Okay, yeah, I have been there before. It’s a beautiful place.”

“Great!” he said as he turned to Valentin and spoke to him in Spanish.

I couldn’t understand much of the conversation; they spoke so fast I didn’t have a chance to process it. Valentin got out of the pickup and walked across the road to a taco stand. While Valentin was ordering tacos, El Guero seemed uneasy and constantly kept an eye on our surroundings.

He acted exactly like I felt on the inside, extremely worried that someone from the colony might see me sitting in El Guero’s pickup.

I felt the relief that washed away El Guero’s apprehension when Valentin climbed back into the pickup with the tacos. As soon as Valentin closed the door, El Guero stepped on the gas, leaving Patos behind in a cloud of dust.

A couple of minutes later we were parked at the dried-up river at La Magdalena. Valentin got out first, and looked around before opening the door for me. He walked to the back of the pickup, where he briefly spoke to El Guero before opening the tailgate of the pickup. He grabbed a couple of beers from a cooler and handed them to El Guero.

We left Valentin behind at the pickup and walked past an abandoned house that was ruined by Mexico’s harsh weather. I followed El Guero to a tree in the middle of the dried-up river that had big rocks under it. El Guero turned to me and asked, “How about this table?” while he pointed to a smooth rock with a flat surface.

“I want that table. It's perfect,” I replied.

He placed the bag of food and the beers in the center of the rock.  “Have a seat,” he said, as he sat down cross-legged on the rock facing me. I climbed on the rock and struggled to get in a comfortable position in my pleated dress.

He sat and patiently waited until I had positioned myself, covered my legs and stopped squirming. He looked at me, smiled, and asked, “Listo? (Ready?)”

“I think so.”

El Guero opened a beer and handed it to me, and then opened one for himself. He held up his beer and said, “Salud… a una comida sin interrupciones con la Guerita más valiente y hermosa que jamás haya conocido. (To an undisturbed meal with the bravest, most beautiful Guerita I have ever met.)”

“Okay,” I replied as he tapped my beer, making a clinking sound that echoed through the dried-up riverbed. We both took a sip of beer. I just watched him as he put down his beer, took the food out of the plastic bag and unwrapped the tinfoil from the square foam plate holding the tacos. He handed me the first plate he unwrapped.

“Thank you,” I said and took the opportunity to quickly sneak in my mealtime prayer quietly in my head while he unwrapped his plate, placed all the little containers of salsa in front of me and placed a plastic spoon into each of them. By the time he placed the napkins down, I had repeated my prayer seven times. I figured it couldn’t hurt, because I had a feeling that any joy I was experiencing was going to come back and haunt me later. When I looked over at Valentin and saw him standing there so wide legged, with a pistol hanging down from his belt, I thought, “Maybe I should have said a few more prayers.”

“Is he waiting for someone?” I asked El Guero.

“No, not really, he's just watching over us.”

“Okay, but why?”

“Well, some people aren't happy that I am here in Patos. Just try to ignore him.”


“I will tell you more about that another time. Remember when you told me how you wish that you could disappear and then come back as Isabell Lopez?”


“Well, this is kind of the same: today I want to forget who I have become, what I do, and just be an average dude who’s lucky enough to be able to enjoy a meal with a beautiful menona.

I just smiled and stared at him as he began eating, admiring his neat and clean eating technique. I didn’t hear a single schlirps or schmaks coming from El Guero, while I was very self-conscious about eating in front of him. The harder I tried to eat a taco and keep it from getting sloppy and all over my dress, the messier it got.

Finally, I just gave up and enjoyed the tacos. After I had used up all my napkins, El Guero smiled and kept handing me the ones he didn’t need.

El Guero’s masculinity became overwhelmingly attractive. I was happy to be a woman in his presence; I forgot all about wishing that I was a man earlier that day.

While El Guero gathered our garbage, I drank the last sip of my beer. I turned around to face the mountains and repositioned myself. El Guero jumped off the rock, tied up the bag of garbage, put it aside and sat down right beside me. My heart began pounding out of my chest. After processing the fact that he was just sitting beside me, I leaned my head on his shoulder and said, “Thank you for the tacos; they were so good.”

“You're welcome!” he replied, putting his arm around me and gently rubbing it up and down.

And just like that, my anxiety returned. I instantly froze. I didn’t dare move or turn my head to look at him. I put all my energy into not acting like an ice sculpture as we sat there in silence, watching the few clouds in the sky change from white to pink and then to orange as the sun slid behind the mountains of Nuevo Ideal.

It was anything but silent in my head as my thoughts repeated, “Don’t freak out! I shouldn’t be here, just breathe, dietschjat he smells good! Just be here, look at those clouds! Breathe, Anna! Breathe!” The whole time, we were sitting on that rock.

When I gave up on shutting down my thoughts, I said, “I should get going. My parents should be home by now, and my uncle probably needs his truck back. And I was supposed to bring him a six-pack. What time does the beer store close?”

El Guero took a deep breath that sounded like a disappointing sigh when he exhaled. I knew it was because, by letting those stupid words out of my mouth,  I had ruined a perfect moment that we would never get back.

On top of all the anxiety I carried around about being alone with a man from my past experiences, I had taken on some of the anxiety that people had around the beer store's hours of operation in Canada.

“Oh Anna, the beer store doesn't close, especially not when I am the customer,” he replied and turned to face me. He placed his hands on either side of my face, rubbing my cheeks with his thumbs and said, “Anna, I recognize that you must be experiencing this very differently than I am. So thank you for this.”

I just took a deep breath, and this time kept my thoughts to myself, allowing the sound of his voice to linger in the air as long as possible.

When thing got quiet again, I thought, “My expectations are always bad, and I always let them ruin things.”

“Alright Anna, let's get you home,” he said as he gently squeezed me against him before jumping off the rock. He stepped back and held out his hand for me to hold onto, helping me jump off the rock. He picked up our beer bottles, tossed them into the garbage bag, and walked me back to his pickup. Valentin was still standing as he had been when we left him there. As El Guero tossed the bag of garbage onto the back of the pickup, Valentin opened the door for me, and off we went, back to Patos.

El Guero drove around the back of Nuevo Ideal to the beer store where I had parked Uncle Jake’s pickup. The men were still standing around the pickup, just as they did when we left. They all backed away, giving us space to park and get out. One of the men came to my side to open the door for me, while another opened the door for El Guero.

El Guero spoke briefly to the man who had opened the door for him, and that’s when the look on his face changed. It looked like he had just received bad news that he wasn’t prepared for. El Guero quickly raised his arm, snapped his fingers, pointed to the back of the pickup, and shouted something in Spanish. He walked me around to Uncle Jake’s truck, and by the time he closed the door for me, one of the men had brought a six-pack of Tecate for me to bring to Uncle Jake.
“You should go now, before it gets too dark. Drive safe, and I hope to see you again before you go back to Canada.”

“Okay, thanks,” I replied, as I backed out and drove off, back to the colony.

It all happened so fast. While driving back to the colony, I couldn’t help but wonder what was going on. It seemed as though El Guero and all the men were eager to get me out of there as quickly as possible. But I was more nervous about facing my family than about any reasons I could think of why El Guero and his men couldn’t get me out of Nuevo Ideal fast enough. But when I pulled up to Uncle Jake’s property, all was well in the colony. My parents had company, my little brothers were chasing the last few chickens into the coop with their friends, Uncle Jake had made a bonfire and was barbequing steaks. I was relieved to see my brothers and my cousin Izaak standing in the crowd of men around the fire. I didn’t see Uncle Jake’s Mexa megal friend anywhere in the crowd.

I walked up to Uncle Jake and handed him his keys and the six-pack.

“Thank you, Anna.”

“You’re welcome, and thanks for letting me borrow your truck.”

Dot es gonz got. (It’s all good.)”

I went and joined Izaak and my brothers by the bonfire. They were all drinking, and having a great time. When Izaak saw me, his face lit up; he opened his arms and received me with a warm and welcoming hug.

“How are you? I haven't seen you much.”

“I’m okay. Trying to make the best out of this trip and enjoy myself as much as I can, which isn’t easy, you know.”

“Aw, it’s pretty easy for me. I am having the best time.”

“Yeah, I’m so jealous of you. It's so much easier for you because you are a man.”

“I know, prima, that’s true,” he replied, while giving me a sympathetic hug and walked me to his car. He mixed me a strong vampiro. Izaak had decided that I needed a strong drink and just handed it to me.

My sister Maria interrupted our conversation to invite me to come and join her on the blanket that she had carefully placed on the ground near the bonfire. I took my drink and followed her. I lay down beside her, exhaled a sigh of relief, looked up at the sparkling, star-filled night sky and thought, “Wow, incredible!”

Everyone was busy visiting. During a quiet moment, I heard a haunting and familiar laugh echoing through the crowd. And just like that, all my anxiety returned, times a thousand. I thought, “NOOOOO! This would have been the perfect ending to this New Year’s day, but NO, not in your stupid life, Anna!” Click here to continue reading my story.

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.


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?”


“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.” Click here to continue reading my story.

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