I’ve always been more given to wandering than the itinerary. It seems to me the muse is in the meander. My first journey outside the protective womb of the deep south was to a dozing cane field of a town in southeast Mexico, Cosamaloapan.
I traveled overland in a wheezing International Scout with a Cuban. He was vague about his origin but I knew enough to figure out that he didn’t wash up on south beach in some fragile inner-tube raft. He carried himself like one whose family once held land, in a sort of noble resignation…one of those pathos kind of folk—cartoon exterior, prone-to-brooding, troubled.
We met some locals—rough, calloused ranch hands in starched jeans and pearl button cowboy shirts and crisp hats. We ended up sharing tacos in a grimy local cantina. The town sheriff slouched at the bar, harassing a plump young girl. He was a caricature lawman…open-shirt, hairy-chest, pot-belly, drunk.
Halfway through the tacos, he staggered over to where we sat and slammed a weathered pistol down on our table. The gun spun a lazy circle and stopped, its cannon barrel staring into my sinking soul. His bourbon scent wafted over us. I avoided eye contact. The ranch hands shuffled, timid and embarrassed. He asked me if I wanted to buy a Mexican trinket. I stared meekly at my taco.
I understood, in that time stricken moment, that I was powerless. I didn’t stand and swap insults with him. I didn’t move. I was a peasant, like the rest of the men around the table. I didn’t seethe in anger or proudly resist my emasculation. I focused on my plate and hoped I would survive.
Time stands still in moments of powerlessness—that proverbial stare into the abyss. I discovered in that eternal moment that I was not arrogant or proud or brave or witty, but neither was I a coward. I was a survivor—nothing more, nothing less. I would do what ever it took to live another day.
I thought of my two-year-old son back home. I thought I would like to see him. I thought I would like to live.
Carey Richard is the author of The Poppy Field Diary available on Kindle or paperback.