I met her in the Zocalo in Oaxaca, Mexico. She was 24, so old. That’s how young I was. She had been to the Peace Corps in Liberia and learned things. Some she talked about and some she didn’t. The women in Liberia had taught her to walk along very tall, smooth as floating, with a stack of books or bag of groceries balanced on her head. I never saw anything fall off, though the ground we covered was seemingly always being built up or breaking down. The brick streets with their tower-high curbs dipped and broke in places. As if a giant snake had been trapped in them, rounding bricks with its frantic slither, crumbling others with tail snaps. The bus I took home from Spanish class passed a field of dust where boys played soccer, and they all knew—in their sprints for the ball—where to leap to miss the holes and chunks of concrete spiked with rebar. They floated like she did with books on her head. Except they were chasing after something they didn’t have, and she was holding onto what she did. My friend’s yellow hair had grown in shaggy—she had chopped it off to meet the heat of Liberia. But she was clearly and purely beautiful. Mens’ eyes stuck on her when we walked together, so I was free to study their features. Sometimes she wore a black bolero hat, which she told me she had bought so deep within the dark underbelly of a Mexican market that she hadn’t known if it was black or brown. Nothing balanced on the bolero. It seemed dark and heavy enough to topple her over. Imagine a dandelion strapped with a leather saddlebag. But also it suited her strength, adding width to her height, and when we moved through the Zocalo I sensed venders and children and piñatas and pigeons and balloons and fireworks and hungry-eyed men all rolling out and away from the rim of her bolero, as water from a rudder. Every afternoon my friend and I would part ways for mid-day comida at the tables where we stayed with local families. Even though I had just seen her I couldn’t recall her bright natural sheen there, in the dim and sealed house, with its fancy furniture and lace tablecloths and pillow ruffles. A mahogany grandfather clock ticked loudly on the wall, not so much marking the seconds as hitting each of them away. One afternoon we took the public bus marked Monte Alban, but it stopped a long way from the ruins. So we accepted a ride in the rusty bed of a speeding truck, with men in the front seat shouting rapid-fire at us through the glass. In one corner of the truck bed a machete was lying on some canvas bags. Our chopped-up bodies could have gone right into them. But the ruins rose brighter and more miraculous for having arrived to them at great risk. As ghost-towns went, this Zapotec one was classy. It had terraces and tombs and altars and even a ball-court. I forgot where in the world I was. Who in the world I was. Until I spotted my friend perched precariously, on a little block on the highest ruin. Probably where a ruler stood to address his people, in so many rising and falling tones. Can you call someone your anchor when she’s high above you? When she’s wobbling? Right before I had to go back home for high school we took another bus. This time over the mountains, to a tiny coastal village. We found a cheap room on a hillside near the happiest pantheón—cemetery—I’d ever seen. Its gravestones were painted for a party: pinks and blues and yellows. It looked down on the bay, and the boats tethered there—like the graves—appeared to be both clearly alone and hanging out together. The sun danced on that cemetery most of the day, and the birds in the trees above it sang more loudly. I wanted to live there. If I could do it without dying. Roosters woke us early, their desperate cheery calls strangling off as abruptly as they started. The room was so bleached, so full of light, that nothing in it or nearing its windows escaped without a shadow. I remember my friend humming, wringing out her laundry in the outdoor shower. There was a big iguana the color of sand who liked to stretch out along one top edge of that shower. When you got over realizing he was seeing you naked he was quite a peaceful presence. He seemed solid enough, still enough, to stop time completely. Down on the beach some local kids swam in their t-shirts with us, and mid-sentence they would turn and splash someone, or dive underwater into tippy hand-stands. Which bought me time to figure out what they’d said. Two fisherman friends started courting us. They took us round to an aunt’s restaurant, a cousin’s bar, a nephew’s diaper-changing. They took us to a friend’s cement rooftop where the stars seemed as close as chandeliers . When they took us to their secret spear-fishing spot, my fisherman waved the tiller of the boat easy, unthinking, like a limb. I wore a belt made of rocks and I tried to do as he said, to aim at a fish without making eye contact with it. My fisherman himself had eyes so dark I couldn’t see where their pupils turned to irises. The fishermen made us ceviche from the fish my friend had speared. It was so fresh we just opened our mouths, and in it leapt and finned its way down to our stomachs. I bet when I leave Mexico I won’t believe in magic anymore, my friend said. She was kneeling down folding the few things she had, stacking each one back into her backpack. The pink and red serape tied around her waist as a skirt was also her beach towel, but somehow it looked fresh and hung evenly, elegantly. I might remember believing in magic, she said. But that’s different. She was packing the way she seemed to do everything, with steady peaceful purpose. I started to shake the sand out of my hair, but its strands had turned to salty straw and didn’t move. It was yellow now, like hers. I stood very still in the doorway. I tried to be like that iguana. When I blinked I would never see her again.