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One of the items on my “pro” list for moving to San Jose is, “We can come back.”

Neruda said, “Those who return never left.” It is, as my husband used to say, insistently, each of the many times we said goodbye during our ulta-long-distance courtship, “hasta luego,” not “adios.” Never adios.

Our son says to me, “Mamita, I love you so much, como el sol.” I love you so much, like the sun. Every evening for months now, we’ve had to discuss: the sun goes away, but it always comes back. We need the dark so we can rest, so we can see the stars, and the moon reminds us that the sun is still there. Often, we discuss: Mamá has to go to work, and you can be with your friends, and with papito, but mamá always comes back, she’ll always come back for you.

Now we also say: I love you like our chicks. I love you like the trees. I love you like the mountains. I love you like the flowers. I love you like our house, like the worms in the compost, like the ants, like the stars. I love you like this place, this scrap of the world that is our home and that we’re going to have to leave.

The other day I was driving home from work, and saw in a field, illuminated by a blade of sunlight sliding between the hills, a white horse with a white egret perched on its back. For that instant they looked eternal, like a single animal preserved in amber light. I kept driving. The egret flew away and night fell.

I knew that living here — between two tiny towns, in one of the poorest states in Mexcio — would mean enduring a certain amount of complication and financial insecurity. But it’s too much. When we moved here, to our little rural house, we hoped to — as cheesy as this sounds — live off the land to a certain extent, and while it’s true that we’re self-sufficient in eggs and limes and herbs, and we eat an occasional chicken, these are things that make us feel good but don’t significantly help our bottom line. We have to work our asses off in the city to make not- enough money, and we end up living neither the rural life nor the urban life, but an exhausting, unwieldy, and unsatisfying hybrid.

If we want to really be here — here in the smallest sense, not here in Mexico or here in Oaxaca, but here in Paraje el Pocito, on this dirt road, on this piece of land — we have to leave. We need, as cold as it sounds, money to invest in this life. And the only place in the US it makes sense for us to go is San Jose, California, where my family is, where most of my friends still are. Because, to be fair, if our financial difficulties are pushing us, love is also pulling us. It can be easy to forget that, when we’re trying to invent a week’s worth of meals on thirty pesos, but I have to remember: we’re going, too, for my parents, for my brother, and all the other people we’ve been loving from afar for far too long. And for Sasha the Dog, who is not much longer for this world. Sasha, who always has been exactly, perfectly, completely wherever she is.

Surely I can manage to live up to the example set by my dog.

I’ve never liked San Jose, though I suppose it’s technically my hometown. Still, the other day, I meant to write in my journal, “The entire time I lived in San Jose, the only thing I wanted was to leave.”

Instead I wrote the truth: “The only thing I wanted was to live.”

Yes: we can go there, and just live. Land as temporarily, but as completely, as an egret on the back of a white horse. Be there as simply (if less furrily) as Sasha the Dog. I’ll go to the Zen Center, Ibis will go to ESL classes, we’ll both go to work. We’ll go running together. Isaias will go to the library, and the park, and preschool, spend time with his American family, make friends.

And when it’s time to leave, we’ll come back home, and keep trying to make it work. Because we love this place like the sun that sifts through the hills in the evening, illuminating adobe walls and carrizo, fields of corn and kids playing soccer in the dust, baby chicks peeping after their mamá. We’re here right now. We’ll always be back here.



About The Author

Teresa Ponikvar

Teresa Ponikvar is a former Matador editor, a current reluctant English teacher, and a future mini-farmer. She lives in rural Oaxaca, Mexico, with her husband, young son, and assorted animals and arthropods. She blogs here.

  • Carlo Alcos

    Love this Teresa. “We have to work our asses off in the city to make not- enough money, and we end up living neither the rural life nor the urban life, but an exhausting, unwieldy, and unsatisfying hybrid.” – Seems like such a hard truth to face up to and admit, and then do something about.

  • Heather Hess

    wonderful story – oh so close to my heart!

  • Sara McElmurry

    Teresa, I’ve just stumbled across your writing about Oaxaca only to find out that you’re leaving Oaxaca. I’d love to connect with you at some point…I lived in Huajuapan de León for almost two years before making the heart-wrenching to return to Chicago with my Oaxacan then-boyfriend, now-husband. We miss Oaxaca every day. Would love to compare notes with you. In the meantime, I thank you for your writing (your descriptions of the region are spot-on, brought back so many memories) and wish you and your family all the best as you transition to live en El Norte. ¡Que te vaya bien!

    • Delia Rico

      Oh my! Sara, I don’t know your friend, but she sure brough incredible memories of my beautiful small town. My parents’ house. The dog, the chicks, the cows…you name it. Oh how I long to go back and live there. Hopefully some day.

    • Sara McElmurry

      Weird. I posted this comment on an external site, didn’t realize this had posted to my FB. Oh well…the writing was great. Abrazos, Delia!

    • Delia Rico

      Cuidate Sara.

    • Delia Rico

      Cuidate Sara.

    • Teresa Ponikvar

      Hi Sara, Thanks so much! I just now saw your comment. Yes, I’d LOVE to talk to you about the transition from Oaxaca to the US–I will shoot you a message soon.

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