There have been two times in my life that I’ve been certain I was going to die. One was on an airplane, and I was having a graphic and realistic dream in which I was in an airplane and it was going to crash. It was to be a crash into the ocean, which was brownish and churning, and in the dream I accepted that we would plunge smoothly in, that there would be a whirlpool effect, and I would ever come up again. It was beatific, and yet I woke up having a legitimate nervous breakdown. The other time was in Westchester after a long night into morning of partying; I was certain that actual death would be preferble to the fear of death that had been accompanying my shaking body and whirring heart for hours at that point. All I wanted was eternal sleep as opposed to the piercing awareness of every physical sensation, and the terror of the wait.
Other than that, I’ve always been pretty cocky about my mortality. I never really thought: “I could die” when doing anything. One would never jump into a 1982 kidnapping van in the middle of the Sahara Desert with a bunch of Bedouins if that were one’s mentality. One wouldn’t drunk swim. One could even have a hard time driving, getting in buses, or walking around in general. Walking around with the fear of death is, while utterly rational, a big waste of time.
Since I’ve been in Mexico, however, I been living with an acute awareness of my own mortality. Against my will, really. In case you haven’t heard, Mexico is fucking dangerous. And not just in terms of diarrhea and bad drivers and metro mayhem, but actually dangerous. People are murdered and kidnappened every single day in a sick, twisted, illogical drug war that becomes more malignant and inhumane by the hour. If it’s not narcotraffic-related, it’s bad blood, honor killings, random robberies, or fatal bus accidents. Living here really makes one doubt the sanity of the human race and to truly accept the invalidity of religion. Statistically speaking, this is not a pleasant country.
As with everything else south of the border, the attitude towards the violence and the potential danger is illogical and weird. People in Mexico City say that you should not leave the city because it’s a minefield “out there”. People in other states say that entering the federal limits of the capital is paramount to putting yourself in the electric chair. People who don’t take the metro claim that you will get robbed down under while us straphangers say that the problems lie above ground, with drunk drivers and cars free to swerve as they please. They say not to go to the big markets because that’s where the theives are, but if I were a thief I’d hang out in upscale neighborhoods because that’s where the money’s at. When I talk to other foreigners living here, the consensus is the same: If we listened to a fractional fraction of what anyone said, we would not be here. Hell, if they listened to themselves, the whole country would be empty.
Mexico is all about stories and heritage. People never want to talk about the present, but they go on and on about relatives and legacies. Their last name, their great-grandfather, this or that legend who’s greatness they’re riding on generations later. Coming from New York and living a life where no one gives a shit who your parents are if you can’t work hard in the moment or look towards the future, this is frustrating and depressing. I have sat through countless meals listening to such and such a thing that happened to someone who’s since died in a year when I hadn’t yet been conceived. It’s annoying.
Similarly, the fear of everything is based on stories, second to fifth hand tales of things that have befallenother people in the past. Rarely has anyone seen anything themselvse, but they know about this friend of their cousin who took a taxi and then later got found in the frozen foods section on Comercial Mexicana chopped up and packaged as chicharron; they only recognized her by a birthmark that was visible through the wrinkled-looking skin and cellophane. No one has personally ever gotten robbed in the metro, no one has been murdered, no one has actually been in a rogue taxi. But apparently it’s all a death zone.
Clearly there have been civilian casualties as a result of the narcos. Wrong place at the wrong time. If you actually read the details of the stories and not the headlines, though, many fatalities are in some way related to the dealings and the problems. In terms of the rest of the problems, we’re talking about things that could happen anywhere. Has anyone NOT gotten robbed in the Paris metro? Is there no gang violence in Miami? Prom night ending on the BQE anyone? I don’t mean to be crass, simply realistic. Large cities are full of people and people suck.
I think that people are so terrified that they refuse to leave their little worlds; thus, they invent things, and they end up scaring the shit out of themselves. It’s almost a psychosis. And let me tell you, it’s contagious. I’m too broke to be safe, so I have to cross my fingers and pray that my Liz Salander instincts kick in should I ever get mugged or assaulted on the street. I walk home, a 4.8 kilometer trek that make every single night between 9 and 10:30. I am scared shitless the whole time. I imagine the headlines and wonder what picture they’ll use in the obituary. Nothing has ever happened; nothing has every almost happened. It’s actually ludicrous to be nervous at all, as I have absolutely no empirical evidence that anything should go wrong. But the negative vibe of a nation is fucking contagious.
I do wonder if some of this isn’t due to the fact that I haven’t been home in a while. Aside from a two-week stopover back home last Christmas, I’ve been in Mexico since August of 2010. My family and friends, though constantly on my mind, are fading off into the idealized past, and sometimes seem like nothing more than a blurry memory. do I even remember what a NY bus is like? My sense of normalcy is different. Sometimes I feel like the last person on earth from my old life. To the expatriate mind, I’m just the last one standing; do the people back home still exist? Yes. But not seeing them makes fatality seem closer; were I to die, they would have but a year-old memory of me. It would be super sad.
Additionally impacting my awareness of said mortality is the love factor. I won’t delve into the fact that I may have never truly been in love before; that’s another blog. I will say that when you’re actually in love and not simply following your clitoris around the city in a sick hunt for anything dangling, you are aware that the loss – either of yourself or your loved one – would be devastating, almost insurmountable. When I’m in the metro waiting for the train I realize how easy it would be for someone to shove me in front of the damn thing. In the bus I think how it could just as easily be mine that flips over and has 54 fatalities. The streets are windy and long, and I could drunkenly stumble into the wrong neighborhood and end up with a bum’s penis in my mouth. I am 66% upon waking up that it shall be my last day on earth.
One thing that really pisses me off is my reticence to go into allegedly dangerous neigborhoods. In New York such a thing would have never crossed my mind. I don’t care which ethnicity is currently claiming which neighborhood: If it’s in the city, I will go there. Granted, certain places I prefer to be with someone, but I there is a terror even in the nicest areas of this city that I never felt in New York: Not below bridges in Brooklyn, in the 110th shits of Harlem, in the Bronx walking to the train, in Yonkers, at the Seaport waiting for the J at 4am when I worked as an email list girl. If I were to adhere to my principles and ignore these harbingers of doom, I would be walking wherever I want, whenever I want. But how can you ignore 7 million people telling you that stepping outside your door is the equivalent to jumping off a goddamn building? I stay where the trees are green and the coffee costs more than my rent.
I took a cab one morning to my class in the Zocalo. My student, upon hearing this, was quite perturbed. “You should never take an cab on Reforma,” he said. “They could take you and sell you in Tepito.” Well! It took me about five minutes to realize, through the tears of laughter, that he was dead serious, that human slave trade and my potential involvement as a commodity was apparently quite upsetting to him. I sobered up and tried to rationalize: “I really don’t think that there is a large chance that I am going to be sold (and here I pinched my leg) in Tepito.” I’m not laughing about the impossibility of it, but rather that people here expect you to rearrange your life to accomodate every imagined horror that could befall you, live in the past because they’re terrified of taking chances; using the danger of the country is a valid excuse for a mediocre (though safe) existence.
Monday night around 10 pm it was pouring rain. I had a cigarette in my hand (ready to burn someone) and my keys arranged through my knuckles; the Molotov cocktail of uncertainty and cockiness that gets me home in the dark every night powered my steps and I sang Simon and Garfunkel at the top of my lungs. What rapist/murderer is going to bother walking the streets in a rainstorm? The loophole of all the danger is that if you’re in a financial situation where walking through a rainstorm at 10 pm is the only way you can get home, you are the winner. You are unrobbable. You are the dregs of society; you should start robbing people yourself. And so I sang, and I smoked, and in the middle of the danger I fucking frolicked. I refuse to jail myself, even if every single person here does it. It is a sick and sad situation, but if I become a slave I should prefer to have someone else forcing me to. I shan’t be the one to lock the cage.