Mental Health, Travel

The Mad People

I’d been depressed for weeks, slumping in and out of a reality that was forced upon me, that I didn’t want to face. So when I woke up one morning and decided I was going to take a trip to Mexico City, I thought maybe the depression was coming to an end. I had enough life force in me to make a decision; to participate again. I bought a ticket that same day for a week later and called my friend Micho to tell him I was coming and could I crash with him?

I met Micho in Washington DC several years ago and we’d become fast friends—who occasionally slept in the same bed and made out. He called me a Persian princess and always marveled at the shape of my eyes; I called him Micho, a nickname his grandmother had given him, which was short for “mi chorizo,” my little sausage. I hadn’t seen him in 4 years and was curious as to how our affection for each other would manifest during this trip. I was the fattest I’d been in years and looked fairly downtrodden—depression has a way of morphing not only your brain but your body. I would look in the mirror and wonder who that porker with the heavy bags under her eyes was because it surely wasn’t me. I was embarrassed to see Micho in this state, but I felt exhilarated to be in a new city. It felt like it would be the catalyst to turning my life around.

I arrived in Mexico City one week later. As the plane descended, I saw Mexico City, Distrito Federal, DF, sprawled out in front of me, a cluster of tall buildings in the center surrounded by colorful, dusty structures spreading out as far as I could see. The city was aglow, the sun filtering through the light clouds; a not unpleasant haze seemed to cover the city. A warmth bloomed inside of me; a stark contrast to the frigid, gloomy Chicago winter I’d run away from. I like it here, I thought before we even touched down on the tarmac.

I took a cab to Micho’s apartment in the Roma neighborhood and his doorman let me into his apartment; he was still at work, even though it was 7 pm. When are you coming, I texted him. He responded that his assistant Carlos was coming to collect me and spend time with me until he could get away, around 9. I spotted a bottle of tequila on the kitchen table. No shot glasses, so I found a mug and poured myself a healthy dose. When in Roma, I thought, and smiled, which surprised me. I downed the tequila and poured another and waited for the knock on the door.

Carlos looked young but I immediately liked him. He was warm and Micho had told him I was a writer, so he was excited to talk to me about books and practice his English, which was very good. I wonder if I can make out with him, I thought, then shook the thought out of my head. Was this going to be that kind of trip? No. I was here for a reason, for mental intervention, for a jolt outside of myself that would bring me back to life. We headed out to see the city.

Roma was hip, that wasn’t hard to see. It reminded me of the hipster neighborhoods in Chicago, with trendy bars and tattooed patrons, bookstores and pricey restaurants. Carlos and I walked swiftly to a bar he liked, where we ordered beers and mezcal, which came with a side of lemon slices dusted with cayenne pepper. I took a shot of the liquor and it coursed from my throat to my belly and then out to my extremities. What is this, I thought, that can wake me up in one ounce? Drink up, said Carlos, so I did. And then we went off to La Reforma, one of the main arteries that ran through Mexico City.

If you get into trouble, go here, said Carlitos, the diminutive and the vibration of the R rolling off my tongue as though we’d been friends forever. He pointed to a large building slightly up on a hill. The American Embassy. But I do need help, something inside me screamed. I smiled and said, ok. We continued to walk and finally found ourselves in front of El Angel, the angel statue overlooking La Reforma. Carlitos gave me a brief history, as he would do many times over the next few days. How do you know so much, I would end up asking him two days later. He would shrug it off, but it still blew me away. Where am I, I thought, as I looked at El Angel and felt the 65 degree air against my bare skin. Why am I here?

What is there to say about my Micho? He finally met up with us late in the night and the night grew ever later as we partied and collected more and more friends. It was all a blur and by sunrise he was somewhat of a mess, even more than I was. He was fiending, for what? For booze, for drugs, for girls. I felt a kinship to him, because I was fiending too, though for something entirely different, something opposite of what he seemed to want. But he was not happy, I could tell. Except when he was talking about his new hobby of mountain climbing. He’d travel to the nearby ranges outside of DF and climb these peaks and scrape up his hands and arms and legs and I could tell he felt at peace as he stood atop a summit. But those moments were rare, and he was spending his days drinking and partying. It was his 38th birthday and we spent almost my whole time there celebrating. At times it was fun, but much of the time I felt hollow and it seemed he did too.

He was seeing a girl named Michelle, an American. And she brought her menagerie of fairy friends with her to Micho’s party at a bar where I swear I spent most of my time while I was in Mexico. After a few drinks, I left, went back to his apartment and went to bed. This is no life for me anymore, I thought, as I fell asleep. Hours later, the door swung open and Micho pounced on me. “Get up!” he yelled, and I, concerned with how this silly American girl was being perceived, obliged. I put on shorts and went out into the dining room to see a gaggle of people from the bar, all glassy eyed. It was 4 am. Michelle was bouncing around the room in a long red skirt and crop top shirt. She wore a fedora and I hated her.

And I swear it wasn’t because I was jealous; I can tell you why: In some ways, she was like me, the girl who used to flit around parties asking people if they wanted their palms read, the girl who would talk too loudly, and pretend she couldn’t bother to follow societal niceties, the girl who tried too hard at not trying. But hadn’t I successfully grown out of that girl, through medication and years of struggle and therapy? Why was this distortion in the mirror bothering me so much? It’s because she has her gold talons sunk into Micho, I told myself. And you love him and don’t want to see him hurt. But I knew it was more than that. She was a more enchanting version of who I’d been. She almost had me convinced, and I knew that was better than I’d done when I had tried the same act. I’d failed, but she’s succeeding, I thought.

Kiss, said Micho, and pointed to her and his friend Alejo. They did. He ran his hand along the side of her breast, and I felt sick to my stomach. And then I felt like a stupid, boorish American prude. Where’s my tarot card, I yelled, forcing myself to give in to her, to the night. Their kiss was broken, and Michelle jumped to attention, excited to still have the spotlight on her. She handed me a card. The King of Pentacles. Upright. That’s a good one, she said. I’m just the Fool, she said, proudly. I immediately looked both up on my phone. King of Pentacles: Security, control, power, discipline, abundance. Maybe my card was more of a fortune, I thought. What would be from here on out. I have discipline, I have control and power. But I had none of those things. I felt the exact opposite of the King of Pentacles. And her, The Fool:  Beginnings, innocence, spontaneity, a free spirit. Of course. Of course she thought she was all those things. Of course she shouted her card’s identity from the rooftops, she said it as though she were embarrassed, sheepish about such a silly card, all the while pleased she pulled it. I am all those things, I bet she said to herself. I embody innocence and spontaneity. She probably went through the deck seeking that card.

I was broken from my hateful thoughts by Micho: should we? he asked, looking at me then at Michelle, then gesturing to himself. No. I said. No no no. It was all wrong. She was all wrong. Luckily Alejo’s voice changed into something low and mesmerizing. He was reciting poetry, in Spanish, and while the Americans couldn’t understand it, we felt the energy in the room shift. One of the fairy girls started crying. Oh Lord, I thought. Please. Please send me back to a time where I would have felt something as deeply as she did. Even if it was pretend, give me the energy to pretend I cared enough about anything.

Micho kept telling the talkers to shut up. He was really transfixed by Alejo and the poetry. Alejo was wasted but his voice was clear. I shut my eyes and listened, and picked up a few words here and there: amor, noche, libre. I was so tired. But I somehow felt the poetry stirring something in me. Or maybe it was just the fact that it was quiet for the first time in 48 hours. When the recitation was over, the party started back up, and Micho promised Michelle and her girls they could borrow his car the next day to go on some spiritual pilgrimage to some small town east of the city. The next day, he said he was fucking crazy for ever agreeing to that, and of course rescinded his offer.

I think by 7 am everyone had left or fallen asleep. I awoke the next day to do some sightseeing with Carlos and his girlfriend. Micho promised he would meet up with us around 2, but he needed to rest after the crazy few nights we’d had. Carlos took me to see the castle Chapultepec, he took me to the university my father had studied at, the Museum of Anthropology. The hours went on and still no word from Micho, and I began to worry. I tried new foods: ground up crickets, ate guacamole, donkey meat, tamarind sweets. This is Mexico City, I thought. But so had been the previous nights.

But where was my Micho? I had come not only to explore a new place, but to rekindle a friendship, and he was nowhere. And I felt unmoored.

We finally headed back to his place because I had begun to worry. Who knew what was in his system, his lithe, small body perhaps finally giving out under all the sleepless nights and mezcal shots. I slammed my fists on his door, asked his doorman if he’d seen him, slammed some more. Finally he opened up. And I was relieved and furious. I’d come all this way to see him and he’d slept the day away. “Mi amor, forgive me, you know how I am, I’m sorry, but I needed to sleep, I just couldn’t move, Tarita, please.” I’d heard this all before. But I loved him. And that was that.

The next day, we drove to his office in the Ministry of Finance where he planned to work for a few hours while I walked around the Zocalo. I wandered the streets and tried to go into churches and museums, many of which were closed because it was a Monday. Finally he called me and we had lunch together overlooking some old native ruins and talking about our lives. I drank a mojito. It was the first time the entire trip we’d been alone—just the two of us. “Move down here,” he said. “Maybe,” I responded. “I love you, Tarita.” I nodded. “Let’s get married,” he said.

“Ok,” I said. “Micho, let’s get married.”

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