It took a few weeks of living in Mexico to realize how scared I’ve been. It’s probably residual trauma left from being mugged the first 5 minutes I arrived the LAST time I was in Mexico, which resulted in a broken leg (and the addition of 15 unwelcome pounds), but I think it’s more than that.
Years of being scared. Years of pushing aside my Self in exchange for what I thought was safety. Years of walking on eggshells, always guarding against saying or doing the wrong thing. Years of hypervigilance, of learning to memorize everything and everyone in my surroundings and do whatever it took to ensure my safety.
A few nights after I moved into the AirBnb I rented for this month, I saw something dark and prickly-looking on the closet floor next to my suitcases. Turned out it was a scorpion, a big one (3 inches). I hadn’t seen a scorpion in over 30 years, and never one that big. I slept with the lights on until the housekeeper came and smashed it with a spatula and then took it outside. People have advised me to check my shoes before I put my feet in them, and to check the bed before I get in it.
When I first got to Mexico I walked a lot. I had appointments to see several rentals and I had promised myself for months that when I lived here I’d be walking, not taking Ubers everywhere. Even though Ubers are inexpensive here (about $3.00 a trip), they would add up and besides I can use the exercise and want to feel a part of my community, so walking it is.
Walking was scary, though. Instead of carrying a purse that could easily be grabbed by some guy on a motorcycle like the last time I was here, I shove my coin purse with some bills and a credit card into my pocket along with my phone, and then shove my hand into the pocket to conceal the fact that there is anything in my pocket.
Every time someone passes me on the narrow sidewalks I wonder: will they grab my arm and take my phone? can they tell I have money in my pocket? is it better to have my hand in my pocket or does that draw more attention to the pocket?
I think now that the only person who pays any attention to my pocket is me.
Soon I’m going to move into a longterm rental. I’m surprised how many aspects of this move still cause me anxiety. I’m worried, for instance, about the lack of storage and that I’ll have to buy furniture to keep my clothes and things in. Where will I get the furniture, and how, during this quarantine? I’m worried I’ll be living too far from the center of town. I’m worried that it might be noisy with barking dogs nearby. I’m worried that the other people in the compound (there are 5 residences in it; some casitas like mine and some are more like apartments or lofts) won’t like me. I’m worried that the bed won’t be comfortable. I’m worried about how and where to buy cleaning tools to clean it with before I move in. Those are just a fraction of my worries about this.
Plus, I live in a different country now. Not only do I speak less of the language than a toddler, but there are customs and cultural aspects here I have yet to learn. I’ve dipped myself into a huge vat of newness. Right at the same time I let go of something that was 9-years familiar.
Add to all my personal fears and traumas from years of past fears the general collective fear that now grips the world re Coronavirus.
That’s a lot of tygers to contend with.
[Speaking of tygers, I’m going to adopt two kittens as soon as they are old enough to come home with me. I have worries about that as well.]
Here I go. I’ll be okay.
** I wrote this thinking that “Here There Be Tygers” was in usage on old maps for when the mapmakers came to an untraveled place, and marked it as dangerous, assuming it was rife with ferocious wild animals and other fearsome things. When I went to verify that I was correct about the phrase before publishing, I had a huge “d’oh!” moment when I read that “Here There Be Tygers” is the title of a Ray Bradbury short story, which I read many times when I was growing up (it’s also the title of a Stephen King novel but I wouldn’t have known that). I still think the metaphor is apt.