The Rainy Season in Guatemala
My Bicycle Crash
On June 14, 2001, the blood clots burst and Amy died on an operating table. Before anybody could tell me that she was in the hospital, I rode my bicycle down my mountain. I left my emergency beeper at home, thinking Id ride the bus back up later that afternoon.
Halfway to the city, I ran over a scrawny puppy. He dashed off screaming into the bushes and I wobbled around a steep curve. The dirt road was a minefield of rainy-season potholes. My tire caught a rut, and I flipped over the handlebars and skidded across the gravel. The crash tore a hole ten-stitches wide in my face.
I stumbled into the first house I saw, trailing gobs of blood behind me. An old lady was working in the yard, and she helped me tape a bloody rag on my face. I rode the rest of the way down the mountain in a shaky daze. At the hospital, a doctor sewed up my face. Doped up on painkillers, I drooled all over his rubber gloves. I spent the rest of the weekend in a hotel, swallowing pain pills.
On Monday, I found out that Amy died and that I had missed her funeral. By nighttime, I was drunk and spending a fortune on phone calls home at a tourist cafe. I called Amys mother, and rambled into the telephone. I sent her a letter two weeks ago. Did she read my letter? I begged her to answer me.
A Picture of Me Dancing
Ven, ven al gran show de talentos, I shouted, a full month later, into a rusty P.A. system. Theres something tremendous about hearing your words beamed through a scratchy microphone and booming over a mountain; your voice lingers and feels tangible.
We had built a plywood-plank and cinderblock stage in my neighbors lofty garage. We pumped recorded mariachi music through the amplifier to attract more people to the party. The rainy season rain held off for the whole night. Just before I opened the show, a red and white striped chicken bus rumbled outside.
In one of the happiest moments of my life, I watched more than 50 parents, grandparents, kids and a whole mariachi band spill out of the bus like circus clowns the youth group from Buena Vista had come back. They knocked off the recorded music and pounded out the real thing on their tubby instruments. People danced and sang along, and the crowd swelled to 300 by the time I opened the show.
The youth group did the rest, performing all the skits they had planned. Veronica sang a country duet with her husband, the 17-year-old girl wailed out the love song. By the time I left, she would have her first baby. Marcella dressed up like a ditzy farm-girl, skipping around the stage. She left for high school on a scholarship that Christmas.
Towards the end, the Buena Vista leader stuck a cowboy hat on my head and dragged me onstage. Dance, he ordered, Dance and well dance with you.
The band struck up that lilting mariachi beat, and I hopped from one foot to the other, following the beats in my invented gringo dance. Each time I landed, the wood planks banged out the beat beneath me; Freddy and his friends laughed and bobbed beside me, our footsteps booming even louder. I laughed and laughed, I was dancing fast enough to fly.
Somebody took a picture of me dancing, and I still keep it on my wall. I see a younger me: Im high-stepping like a Vegas showgirl in dirty jeans and a cowboy hat; for one pristine moment Im lost in my crazy march-step, I danced so fast that both my feet hovered in mid-air; for one moment, I left the ground and I floated, close to Amy as Ill ever be . . .