Like the jagged mountains surrounding Tehuacán, Mexico City, and most other cities in the Mexican Altiplano, the emotional landscape has also been up, down, rocky, and unpredictable. I arrived Monday, the 14th, after managing a 13-hour drive from Monterrey. When I walked into the store where he works, Edgar was obviously overjoyed to see me. And for my part, I was overjoyed to see him. The pleasure was double as I had not expected to be able to make the journey in such a short time. But as I passed my planned stopping points early in the day — San Luis Potosí at 1:00 PM, Querétaro at 3:30 — Tehuacán by nightfall began to seem more and more possible. And indeed it was. I arrived around 8:00 PM, extremely happy to be a day early.
Edgar and I dined with some friends, then went back to his place. The progress was impressive. He had managed to repaint the living/dining room, put up curtains, make some progress in the garden, and also paint the bedroom. A new dining table and mirror graced the dining room, and the whole place had the air of someplace livable. The cockroach infestation that had so worried me was banished, much to my surprise and delight. I was impressed. When I left at the end of May, the place was still very much a work in progress, partially painted, dirty, and frankly, somewhat depressing. Now it was transformed. When we arrived, we sank into a deep embrace and cuddled until morning.
During the week, Edgar went to his job and I worked from here on my laptop. In the evenings I’d pick him up at work, and we’d take a stroll around the plaza. A couple of times we ate out, but I also cooked for him, introducing him to such novelties as capellini with lemon-wine-garlic sauce, fettuccine a la carbonara, and a variety of wines, and a “gringo margarita,” made with Cointreau and lime juice instead of margarita mix. We were very lovey-dovey, and the situation was seemingly idyllic.
Sure, there had always been big differences between us. The one that stuck in my mind was the age difference. Edgar is much younger than me, something that concerned me from the get-go. “Please don’t judge me by my age,” he begged me. “I’m an old soul; I have lots of older friends. I’d rather be with someone older than myself.” I agreed that it’d be unfair to judge him on his age alone, though the worry continued with me, unspoken. There was also the cultural difference. Not only was I a Gringo, but a big-city Gringo, a cosmopolitan, super-rational Gringo. Edgar grew up in a small town in Oaxaca state, and while he’s smart and savvy, that combined with his youth put some distance between us too. Perhaps more importantly, he has a very different world view, one based on ideas like Chinese astrology, feng shui, and other such things. While I’m not averse or hostile to such ideas, as I said, I’m pretty rational, fact-based, and scientific in my outlook. I enjoy things like astrology, feng shui, and the like for fun, but for me they can never be a governing factor. I will always take important decisions based on some kind of rational evaluation of the facts and circumstances; that’s just the way I am.
Friday we had a clash of world views. For me, it had been a somewhat stressful week of work in unfamiliar and still somewhat uncomfortable surroundings. There’s no air conditioning here and it can get uncomfortably warm in the afternoons, though not intolerably so. When I went to pick up Edgar from work, he said, “I have something to tell you.” He seemed very excited.
“What is it?” I asked, brimming with curiosity.
“I’ll tell you when we have dinner.”
We decided to eat at “La Lonja,” an oddly-named restaurant facing Tehuacán’s Parque Juarez, or its main plaza. Though “La Lonja” was named after a local sports writer, “lonja” in Spanish translates roughly to “spare tire,” the kind that can form around your middle if you’re not careful. Odd thing to name a restaurant, even if it is also the name of a beloved sports writer.
“So what’s the news?” I asked after we had settled in.
“They’re going to sell the store where I work. I want to buy it. It’ll be perfect and I can transform it into a spiritual center on top of what it is now.” The store where Edgar works is a one-of-a-kind store dedicated to spiritual renewal, and its main product lines include angel figurines, incense, crystals, self-help books, and the like. It’s a store that’d be right at home in Berkeley, CA, Melrose Blvd in LA, or somewhere in New York’s Village. Edgar was very excited by the prospect, and I have to confess that I was also excited for him, though I wondered how he’d pull off the purchase.
As it turns out, I know A LOT about investing in retailers, having spent most of my career working on exactly that question. So I started to talk to Edgar about the financial aspects of such a transaction. He’d have to know about the annual sales, the sales trend, the cost of goods, gross profit, fixed costs such as salary, rent, utilities, etc. All of this is basic to successfully buying a store and running it.
Unfortunately, looking at the transaction from a financial perspective horrified him. He assured me that his intuition said it’d work, and that he didn’t need to worry about all of that. Not surprisingly, I disagreed, saying that while a spiritual mission was a beautiful thing for such a store, there were certain financial “laws of physics” that he would not be able to afford to ignore. And at the very least, he should know what the various financial metrics meant, even if they were not determinative for him. The debate continued heatedly, and I got mad. I thought, “how could someone possibly consider buying a store without at least understanding the financial aspect?” For his part, I’m sure he thought that I was being a big, wet blanket to turn his dream into a compendium of financial statements, numerical analyses, and debt covenants.
And then the gulf of differences between us became stark.
“I’m not having fun here,” I said. “This is never going to work between us. We have too different of a worldview on top of all the other differences. And I can’t really see myself living forever in Tehuacán, and if you buy a business here, you can’t leave.” We finished the meal in silence. On the way back to his place, I told him I needed to leave. He sat silently, tears running down his face. I felt a combination of anger, disappointment, and like I was a miserable sod for raining on his parade. But I never would have forgiven myself either had I just let him go ahead without some input on the financial aspect of the deal.
When we got home, we embraced and collapsed onto the the floor sobbing and cried together for a good half hour. I apologized. He apologized. We agreed I’d at least spend the night and we’d see what happened the next day. We went to bed, exhausted from the week, physically and emotionally drained by our dispute.
Saturday, we had a long talk in the morning and basically kissed and made up. We felt renewed and revitalized. I loved him more than ever, and I think the feeling was mutual. He went off to his Tai Chi class, and I went out to shoot some pictures and to pick up stuff for dinner. We had agreed that I’d make us a romantic dinner and that we’d celebrate surviving our first “bronca,” or dispute.
The dinner was amazing. It was like we had never fought. Or that we had fought, but that it had made us realize how much we really loved each other. We felt renewed with hope for the future. We were even able to talk more rationally about the store.
Sunday we decided to go to the Balneario de San Lorenzo, a natural spring with several outdoor pools. We played and splashed in the water, and both felt relaxed and refreshed. After about an hour and a half, Edgar told me that the water had calmed him and put him in touch with his spirit and that he had something to tell me.
“We really should break up. You know I haven’t dated anyone in four years, and in my heart, I’m really a solitary person. I want to be at home, and I want to paint, meditate, write, garden and study. I feel like having a partner is a burden, and obligation. I really really love you, and you will always be special to me. But I just don’t think I’m ready, and I’m probably not cut out to be in a relationship.”
Oddly I took this very calmly. At some level it seemed abstract, like a discussion of someone else’s relationship. But it was the end. For good. And as the afternoon progressed, it sank in. We’d soon go our separate ways.
There’s still a lot of love between us. We agreed I’d stay here until today, due to various logistical concerns and that we’d remain boyfriends until I left. We still care deeply for each other, and we parted in tenderness and without rancor. But it’s a painful reminder that it takes more than mutual love to have a successful relationship.
So I will now leave Tehuacán with sadness in my heart. Even at this late date I am unsure of my plans. I may spend tonight in DF, and then move on to Guadalajara, which I’ve never seen. After that? I probably need to head home to Boston to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. I am tremendously fortunate to have the freedom I do, but it also comes with the heavy responsibility of not really being able to “coast.” Everything I do must be with intention because there’s no real flow to go with. And I need to come to terms with Mexico. Do I finally after years of considering it take the plunge and move here? Or do I recommit to Boston? One thing I have learned these past few years is this. It is very hard to live in two places at once because you’re constantly disappointing friends in either place, and constantly unsettled. So if nothing else a period of heightened introspection lies ahead. Wish me luck. Saludos.