I see the girls—I always see them—the ones in shorts and sport sandals, carrying woven bags stuffed with water bottle, journal, camera. I was one of them. And there’s one—there’s always one—in the company of a local boy. I know they’ve just met, because of the way she watches his lips when he talks, and nods even when I can see in her eyebrows that she hasn’t understood. Because she’s so obviously exhilarated. Because I can see her pride when she orders an esquite in Spanish. I was her.
There were two local boys. One became my husband. One was a bad guy. I look at this girl, and wonder what’s beginning for her. I wonder what she would give to be on the inside, to be wearing a flouncy skirt and beribboned braids, to be Nena to her husband, and Mamita to her child, and Doña Somebody to her neighbors. I wonder what I would’ve given. I wonder if I gave it.
As we’re heading back to the car, we run into Rosy, on her way to the late shift at the pharmacy. She double-takes at my outfit and cries “Qué guapa! Qué guapa!” as we hug and kiss quickly. An older woman I don’t know stops me to ask what time the dance festival will be held the next day, and I tell her. Being on the inside feels good, but not as transcendent as I imagined it would when I was that girl. Less transcendent, in a way, than being on the outside, and longing.
And the things I never imagined: running up a perfectly, boringly, familiar street, long skirts swishing, holding my husband’s hand, chasing after our son, and suddenly catching a whiff of the Mexico Smell, whatever it is, or was when I first defined it: Fabuloso cleanser and tacos and exhaust and old buildings and boiled corn. And instead of exhilarating, it’s comforting: it reminds me that I was onto something, when I was that girl.