The Prescription Form: A Bus Ticket to Monterrey

bordersmile

Nuevo Laredo Border, 1994

Let’s say you are cold and heartbroken.  Let’s say your ears hurt from listening for truck wheels cracking on the gravel driveway, and for the sing of your screen door being lifted back.  Do they hurt, in other words, from listening for sounds that don’t come?  Let’s say it’s the same old heartbroken story, old as time, and only yours.  Let’s say one minute you’re lying together, just your edges overlapping.  Your hair and T-shirts are damp from the river,  and in the screaming chorus of crickets and locusts your voices fade to whispers.  Then:  silence.  Absence.  A stack of letters on the windowsill; their handwriting softening you like a smile.  Let’s move winter’s icy air into the haunted room, through the holes in the screens.  Let’s acknowledge that you have given up altogether:  on eating, on caring, on being with anyone who is not someone, which would be everyone.

Here is what you do.  The first thing is, take the belongings you have—they might not be many at this point, since Who Cares—and jam them into a pack that grips your shoulders and rides down the length of your spine, like a piggy-backing toddler would.  Then pick up the phone—and maybe your hand will be so frozen you’ll have to manually fold your fingers around the receiver with your other hand—and start calling people.  Initially you should apologize for disappearing.  Refrain from mentioning  your heart, which would create a silence packed with fear and embarrassment.  Listen patiently awhile before asking:  Will you drive me to the Mexican border?  And again:  Will you drop me at the border?  You should always have a friend who says yes.  Give her your rocks-with-eyes collection and hand her chocolate digestive biscuits as she drives.  Notice as you coast forward the day will get brighter and more crowded, until it turns into an outright carnival:  the border.  When you tell your friend goodbye it might feel like acrobats are hand-springing and tightrope-walking and unicycling all around you.  Even if you’ve stopped touching people, grip her tightly and stay in the hug.  Because you can’t know when the next one will come.

It doesn’t much matter where your ticket is to, or if your tongue can do the aerobics required to pronounce it.  Choose a third class bus, if possible—a rickety one with scarred seats and windows, with seat-backs low enough to show the human shapes above them.  A bus in which the driver, despite having a colourful collage of Mary and Jesus and the Virgen de Guadalupe tacked above the dash, will drive as though he means to kill you.   That gulp you take on the flying corner, that pounding in your chest on the jolted brakes:  that means you want to live.  Behind you a chicken will peck at empty air.  A few seats ahead, a family will spread an entire three course meal across their laps.   Some of the saddest eyes you meet with yours will shift magically into laughing eyes.  Take these eyes for your teachers.  A baby will fill a diaper; A tray of cut roses will pass under your nose.  How long until the medicine kicks in, and you know with certainty that you aren’t on this bus to get anywhere?  This bus…it was the place where you were headed.  To cement this notion, a man in a pressed blue shirt wearing a guitar will board the bus and step into the aisle.  And what surprise you will feel then, what relief, for you had no idea sorrow could be sung so loudly. So proudly.  Even the people in torn shirts and broken shoes will lean over to drop coins into his can.  Go ahead; you do it too.  Mi Corazon!  The singer will belt out.  Mi Corazon!  And even though a señorita is involved, it will be clear—you will hear it right there in his voice—that what he really loves is his own heart.

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