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.”

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