It's true, too. The student was abducted in a Mexican border town and slaughtered by a voodoo religious sect. That's all they found -- his spinal cord. I always wondered what happened to the rest of him.
"Half the hookers here have bigger dicks than I do!" Lary happily shouted into his cell phone. The reception wasn't all that good, but I was surprised I could hear him at all. From my experience, everything stops working once you cross the border.
After all, Tijuana is my old stomping ground. I used to live with my mother in a trailer just two miles north of the Mexican border. Back then, the place wasn't quite the fake cowboy-Americanized, thinly veiled fantasyland it is today. It was rawer, you could still get a good margarita, and the threat of ending up in a Tijuana jail cell for not gladly succumbing to random extortion demands by the police was real.
We still went, though -- my mother and I. You could buy knock-off Mickey Mouse watches for five bucks and giant bottles of Kahlua for not much more. We used to return from excursions with our car packed with big paper flowers, tacky-ass plaster sculptures and ornate sombreros. Tijuana was a special kind of fantasy for us back then -- the Land of Cheap-Ass Trashy Crap.
"Whores are so cheap here!" Lary exalted happily. "Thirty bucks a half-hour! That's a dollar a minute. I'll be done in three, I'll give her a five and tell her to keep the change."
"Jesus God," I bitched. "Don't you be bringing no bionic Mexican crabs back to Atlanta ..."
But our connection faded. I have no idea if Lary went through with his fantasy of three-minute sex with a Mexican hooker, but I do know he came home safely two days later, which means he didn't end up with his spinal cord in a cauldron, thereby shooting my own fantasy to shit. Thankfully I have more, though, because I believe it's essential to maintain a fantasy of some kind throughout your life.
For example: My mother was a missile scientist with dreams of becoming a beautician. I kid you not. When I was little, she'd come home from a day devising weapons, pull together a tamale pie for us kids, then be off in time to catch cosmetology night classes at the local community college.
Then one night, my two sisters and I were goofing around with my mother and all her makeup in front of the bathroom mirror, laughing until suddenly she somberly exclaimed, "I'm so ugly."
Of course, my mother was not ugly. It must have been one of those intermittent moments people have as they lose their youth -- the sort of lapse in fantasy where we imagine we're as youthful as we've always felt, only to have that certainty shattered temporarily, perhaps when presented with three supple replicas of our youth laughing up at us in the bathroom mirror. Of course, my mother was not ugly, but she never took another cosmetology course.
My mother's next fantasy was that she would survive liver cancer, and she held onto it until one day in a Tijuana cancer clinic. The moment she lost it is a memory that still torments me.
The Mexican clinic was a place where, for $5,000 a day, Haiti-trained doctors administered a cancer treatment unapproved by the U.S. It was a last resort, this clinic. And when she arrived there, my mother was so close to death she looked about ready to be buried. Astoundingly, the treatment seemed effective at first, so much so that one day, my sister Kim and I rigged a wheelchair to take her outside.
But as I said, everything stops working once you cross the border. The simple excursion soon turned immensely problematic. For one, the sidewalk surrounding the clinic was really just a succession of jagged, un-level concrete slabs. For another, as I remember vividly, the outside of the clinic was literally walled with mirrors. Unforgiving mirrors.
We were facing the clinic, trying to maneuver over the cumbersome paving when I looked up to see my mother watching herself in the reflection of the building. Her deterioration had been rapid since she'd last seen herself. She was bald, and the definition of her skull showed sharply through her thin, blistered skin. Because of her failing liver, her flesh was a pronounced yellow. Deep wrinkles lined her lips like stitching on a baseball seam. Her eyes were sunken and incandescently jaundiced. And I was frozen, watching her watch herself.
Believe me, it's a tough thing to witness, that letting go -- when someone you love releases the very last thread to which they'd been clinging in hopes of pulling themselves through. The image continues to haunt me; not just my mother's face, but the entire reflection of us in the panel of mirrors. My sister and I, young and robust, caught once again in the same reflection as my mother, who was watching herself with a defeated lucidity. That was exactly the moment at which she lost her fantasy of surviving, and it's an almost unbearable memory.
Hollis Gillespie's commentaries can be heard on NPR's "All Things Considered." To hear the latest, go to Moodswing at atlanta.creativeloafing.com.
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