Photo: jchristopherrobinson

As soon as we walked into the disco, Mina met a Mexican boy-man named Angel. I got stuck hanging out with one of our language school classmates, Jimmy.

I was spending the summer studying Spanish in Cuernavaca and had taken a weekend jaunt to Acapulco with my new friends, staying at a cheap hotel with a rattling window air conditioner unit and a balcony with a view of a wall. We had gone out to a nightclub, where the expensive cover charge included free drinks for the ladies. Even though we were in our 30s, it felt something like summer camp with margaritas.

That night at the club, Jimmy told me, “I decided that while I was here, I’d go off my meds.” Then he told me he had just found out his girlfriend was cheating on him. “I’m really angry,” he said and clenched his big man fists together. I took another sip of Tecate, trying to think of something reassuring to say, something like “She’s not worth it anyway. There are other fish in the sea,” something cliché and encouraging. Something untrue.

The Mexican house music vibrated through the cage of my chest. The purple-lime-pink air smelled like Freon and tequila. A disco ball cast glittering stars across our faces. I told Jimmy I had to go find Mina, that I was worried about her. He grabbed me with his man hand, the gym-sculpted forearm bulging. “She’s fine,” he said through his teeth and took another swallow of rum. I wasn’t exactly afraid of Jimmy, even though looking back, I ought to have been. But I knew I needed to get out of there, with or without Mina, my new summer camp friend.

“I have to go the bathroom,” I lied. Jimmy still had his fingers gripped around my wrist. “Female trouble,” I said and pointed with my free hand to the general area of my uterus and made a circling motion as if I were trying to emulate an ultrasound. I mouthed the words, “down there,” implying the mysteries of the not-to-be-messed-with female woes. At that, Jimmy let go of my wrist. The blood returned to my hand, and I headed toward the restrooms. I looked around, hoping Jimmy didn’t see me, and I looked for the door, getting lost — the exits are obscured in Mexico discos the same way they are in casinos, discouraging patrons against leaving before dawn.

On the way out, I found Ashley, who was also staying in our shabby Acapulco hotel room.

“Let’s get out of here,” I said.

“The silver man comes out and dances at four,” Ashley said.

“What?”

“I don’t know. Someone just told me that at four, there’s a show.”

“I’m not staying for a show. I’m leaving,” I said, looking back toward where I’d left Jimmy.

“Where’s Mina?”

“I’m not sure.”

It was 3am and the groups of men, huddled around their bottles of rum and tequila, no longer tried to act like they weren’t staring at us, didn’t try to hide the fact that we may have not been their first pick, but we were better than nothing.

“She’ll be back before the bus,” I said. “If not, we’ll worry then.” We both felt relieved to have a plan, though I couldn’t help but worry before the designated worry hour.

“I’ll go with,” Ashley said. “I’m not sure I’ll make it another hour anyway.” We left the club — a line of “fabulous” people still waiting to get in wrapped around the building — and caught a cab, heading back down to our hotel through the rain. Ashley fell asleep next to me in the backseat, and the taxi driver asked me in Spanish if I believed in God.

“No se,” I answered. I don’t know.

“What?” he asked. He clutched the steering wheel with both hands and caught my eye in the rearview mirror. From his tone I could see that “I don’t know” hadn’t been the right answer.

“You have beautiful eyes,” he said, “a beautiful girl, but how could you not believe in God. What’s the meaning of that?”

“Oh, you are going to ask me about God?” I asked, messing up the verb tenses on purpose. “My Spanish wasn’t very good, and I misunderstand you. God? I love God. Of course I believe in God!”

“Your Spanish is sufficient,” he said, looking back at me in the rearview mirror.

I nudged Ashley awake. “We’re close to the hotel,” I said in Spanish, though I wasn’t sure if it was true. The moonless night glimmered wet. Falling rain flickered in the headlights — the city, a multicolored blur in the distance. Had we really come this far?

Finally the taxi pulled up to our dilapidated hotel, and I didn’t argue when the driver charged us double his original quote. I already knew he would say that his estimate had been per person or that it was more expensive in the rain. We walked through the courtyard, past the small green pool, and upstairs to our dingy room.

In the morning, I turned to look at the other double bed, figuring Mina had snuck into bed with Ashley. Without my glasses, I convinced myself she was there. I went back to sleep.

The alarm on my phone buzzed at 10am. The bus was leaving to go back to Cuernavaca in an hour. “Is Mina with you?” I asked.

“I thought she was in your bed.”

We both sat up. “She’ll be back before the bus,” I said. “If not, we’ll worry then.” We both felt relieved to have a plan, though I couldn’t help but worry before the designated worry hour. We packed Mina’s bag, along with ours, and brought it down to the hotel lobby. What else could we do? Calling the local police would just turn into a joke: We are looking for our drunk friend who was flirting with one of your super sexy young men. In a disco. And now she has gone missing. Can you help us?

I imagined the authorities laughing at us: Another drunk gringa. Another loose American girl.

We had no idea where Mina was, with whom she had left, aside from the young man — probably in his early 20s — who she had been sitting with, the man we knew only as Angel.

We showered and headed to the buffet, fruit rotting under the hum of the flies. Our bus pulled up outside, and I wondered if I should get on. Should I stay in Acapulco until I found her? I chastised myself for being a bad friend, leaving Mina in the bar. But she was a 30-year-old woman, I told myself. Grown-up enough to take care of herself. But still, I knew friends should look out for each other, especially at 3am in a Mexican disco.

We found Jimmy on the sidewalk, waiting to board the bus. His backpack was unzipped, and things fell out of it onto the sidewalk.

“Your bag’s unzipped,” I said.

“Thanks.” He reached for his stuff, then said, “Hey, did I get weird last night? I’m afraid I might have gotten weird.”

“You were fine.”

“I’m sorry if I got weird.” He stuffed his deodorant and toothpaste back into his backpack. “I turned around, and you were gone.”

“How was the dancing silver man?” Ashley asked.

“Where’s Mina?” Jimmy looked around.
“She never came home,” Ashley said and shrugged.

“I think I was passed out at a booth. I don’t remember it.” Then he turned to me and said,

“Really. I’m sorry if I got weird.”

“It’s okay, really. Sorry about your girlfriend.”

“I told you about that?”

“Uh-huh,” I nodded.

“What else did I tell you?” He shooed away a woman selling postcards and snorkel gear.

“Nothing much, really, don’t worry about it.”

This is where I wish I would have told him that he should continue taking whatever drugs were prescribed to him. Where I should have told him he deserved to be left in the bar. That I had a bruise on my wrist, and he had no right to act like such a brute. And yes, he was weird. But even in my 30s, I was still trying to look after men, still trying to console them. Poor baby! Still trying to reassure them when they were assholes. Don’t get me wrong — women act like assholes too, but rarely do they get consoled by men for their bad behavior.

“Where’s Mina?” Jimmy looked around.

“She never came home,” Ashley said and shrugged.

“What?” Jimmy started to clench his fists again, a flash of what I saw the night before, and I started to back away. Then he looked past us, seeming to let it go, and he shouted: “There she is! Why, look what the cat dragged in.”

I turned around, and there she was. And indeed, she looked just like something a cat or some other sort of animal-dragging animal dragged in. Her hair fell wet on her shoulders, her disco-going clothes rumpled. She smiled and whispered to me, “What a night!”

“I was really worried,” I said. “I didn’t know if I should leave or what.”

“I know. Sorry.” She was still smiling.

“Here’s your bag,” I said, handing it to her, and I boarded the bus. I chose the seat with the wheel bump hoping no one would sit next to me. I had had enough of my new summer camp friends.

But it didn’t work. Mina squeezed in next to me, excited to have someone to share her adventures with. She was still wearing her miniskirt and high-heeled sandals. “I’m not going home,” she said. “Stay in Mexico with me. We’ll get an apartment. It’ll be so fun.”

“Are you still drunk?” I asked.

“Suzanne, I’m serious.”

“So am I, Mina. I can’t. I have to go home.”

This is where I should mention that for both of us, home included husbands.

Mina ended up calling hers and telling him she wasn’t coming home — and she didn’t. After it was settled, Mina’s husband got to keep the cat and the dog, the house and the Range Rover. And Mina got her apartment in Mexico and a succession of Mexican lovers.

At the time, I thought she was crazy, but also something — a big something if I’m going to be honest — in me envied her. I have never been able to make a clean break in romantic relationships, to make a decision and stick to it. I have gone back and forth, over and over, making a terrible mess. I was in awe that she could spend one night in Acapulco, hours really, with a boy-man, and call it quits on her unhappy marriage. That she could be so sure of herself.

This should also be said: I too was in an unhappy marriage, and days before the Acapulco fiasco, I had written the following into my journal: I want to live alone in a flat with red tile floors, a ceiling fan, and flowers. I want to sit on my balcony, wearing a white linen dress and drink agua de limon.

Like Mina, I was looking for something but I couldn’t name it, and it certainly didn’t answer to Angel — all I had for my longing was an image of a woman in a white linen dress, a woman who wasn’t really me, but who was also me in the most profound sense of the word. I realized that what I wanted was the feeling I got from seeing that woman alone, but moving to Mexico with Mina wouldn’t give me that. I didn’t even want to fall for a beautiful Mexican man with liquid brown eyes who whispered Spanish into my ear while we made love. I wanted only for everything to have its place. I wanted to be able to make decisions. To say goodbye as easily as I’d said hello, maybe even go missing for a while. I wanted to look out, which really means looking in, from the balconies of the world.

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