On Oaxaca and finding the emotions

On Oaxaca and finding the emotions

Last week I bumped into two ladies in the aisle of a local market. They stopped to tell me they read me weekly in this space, and our laughter-filled conversation was soul-nourishing. I dropped off a copy of “TOÑO LIVES” to one of them that lives north of Mt. Hope, and her home was warm and inviting as she asked me questions and I answered. These little surprise meetups mean a lot to me.

Today I am sharing the third blog post I wrote in Oaxaca at my writer’s residency as the book was coming together. It does me good to remember how hard it was to push out those words, as well as reflect on when the book was released. Summer 2020 was not the best year to release a book, especially independently. But I believe there’s life in this story, so I press on.

“This place, so heavy and dense. It has enfolded me in its palm, and I lay here, gently, on the hot surface, sometimes gasping for air.

This week my word count has piled up and they are stacked neatly in my computer, waiting for the day they see the light. I have found them, and I spew them out as water comes out of a geyser, forceful and necessary. I’ve found while writing that some characters don’t have as much of a voice as I thought, and others are stronger. It’s a strange process, writing, and the tiny threads you think won’t mean much reveal so much more when pulled.

I enjoy pulling stray threads and seeing where they take me. I write each day, every morning into early afternoon, and see where the trail takes me. I jot down notes and talk with George frequently so I can be sure to have details correct. Technology lets us see each other’s face as we connect every morning and evening, love never losing itself over the thousands of miles.

I’ve said before that missing him is the key to me writing the bulk of this story. Many times, as I meandered in the zocalo or on side streets to find a piece of the story, I’ve felt alone. When we hustled into town for Dia de la Independencia (Independence Day), the rain pelted us. I became drenched, feeling an emotion akin to “where will I turn for comfort?” None was to be found, just walking and walking until I reached my destination. As independent as I am, I believe these feelings have been afforded me so I can sense some of the desperation yet happiness he found while being lost.

We traveled to the Ocotlan market, a town some 40 minutes south of Oaxaca, and spent the day there browsing the wares. It was the cleanest and most delightful market I’ve ever been to, with the lushest produce and flowers I’ve seen. The art and handcrafted wares were incredible, and I succumbed over and over to impulse buying. We also said goodbye to Allie, one of my fellow residents, who inspired me with her quest to find a part of her father here in Mexico, a place he was made to leave behind.

Most importantly, though, I found my way to the old train station, the one where George disembarked and found himself in a teeming city of people, the place where he, as a 6-year-old child, looked around and felt the emotions of loneliness and uncertainty. When I walked into this place, my eyes pricked with tears, and a feeling I couldn’t explain welled up in my throat. It was the most connected I’ve felt in my entire two weeks here, and I walked the length and width of the unused tracks and old train cars until I had my fill.

I ran my hands along the chippy paint and iron and was able to climb up on the train itself, rickety and rusty, and peered in, breathing the air around it. The air was different around this place, somehow sacred, and although George will laugh and tell me, “Babe, I’m here; I’m not lost anymore,” I know he downplays the emotions he feels.

A small boy was playing near the caboose, and he appeared to be around 6 years old. I approached him, with his mother sitting on a bench near the station, and asked him if I could take his picture. Embarrassed, he ducked his head but soon looked at me and nodded yes. I captured him looking at me in between the wheel, and the irony of it stung me. This place was a highlight, and I left filled with something I hadn’t felt before.

I have one week to go, and I’m working hard to write as many words as can find me. I reach out in each space and tuck it inside my brain, to pull out when it seems difficult to write. This story is hard, and I’m telling it harshly — we aren’t holding anything back. You will find it shocking, heart-rending and maybe see some hope in between the dark places. There’s always hope, isn’t there?”

Melissa Herrera is a columnist, published author and drinker of too many coffees based in Holmes County. You can find her book, “TOÑO LIVES,” at www.tinyurl.com/Tonolives or buy one from her in person (because all authors have boxes of their own novel). For inquiries or to purchase, email her at junkbabe68@gmail.com.

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