My Adjustment Disorder – a move from Mexico to England
It only takes the scrape of a wheel against a cement curb or the sight and smell of roadworks, dust and tar and eviscerated road sounds coming from underneath my car to send me back. Or the swirl of a bright skirt in a gust of wind, the peppery scent of marigolds and a taste like formic acid on my fingers after pruning dahlias. It is not about a dramatic jog of the memory or a cinematic image in my minds eye even though Mexico itself is dramatic- a bright dahlia of a land in Frida Kahlo red, orange or the hot yellow of the sun.
I am a British woman who spent years of her childhood living in northern Mexico and has been left yearning for something that is intensely hard to define ever since she returned to England. My first day back at school here, in the company of a little group of English girls asked to look after me. “What are they?” I asked, puzzled by the rows of pastel coloured octagonal tables stored upended in corners then set up in the corridors and school hall: “Why are they putting them there?” The puzzlement was written larger upon their faces, confusion, a trace of suspicion as I continued to ask them, louder, more frustrated. In Spanish and without realising. “Que son esos?”
In the seventies it was less usual in rural England to hear anything other than the mother tongue. The glottal stops and cockney spoken by children newly moved into the ‘overspill’ estates from East London were as exotic as it got. I was forever marked. Especially when I stamped my foot in frustration. Even worse, accustomed to being the ‘school pet’ in Mexico, I used to simply march out of any lesson I grew bored with, seeking out the company of older girls and allowing them to plait and play with my white blond ringlets. In England, this was frowned upon and my hair was no longer special anyway. I got into trouble for my impulsiveness.
Odd eating times, meals taken in silence and no more merenda. I couldn’t last all afternoon without my customary bread or slice of tres leches cake and coffee – this was mostly milk with a dash of coffee from the housekeepers tall clay jug and one pass of the cinnamon grater over my cup.
The walk home from school along cold windy tarmac roads lined with houses full of strangers. No greetings from doors left open as I passed. Closed doors replaced gaily billowing strips of plastic to keep flies out or rugs hung from cast iron rods balanced across the tops of entry ways. No music and chatter. No storekeepers offering us candy in the shape of tall witches hats or a piece of watermelon speckled with chile.
Once home, games were organised, time with friends structured, everything polite, so correct and planned. No running in the desert chasing tumbleweed and throwing it at each other, screeching at the prickle of thorns. No building of funeral pyres from twigs and scrub, hands impregnated with the scent of the creosote bush because we dealt practically with the frequent deaths of the small creatures that lived there. If nature did not dispose of the bodies we did so after praying for the repose of their bird and gopher souls, a familiar everyday childish catholicism that I missed in England. I was used to living among creatures whose lives intersected with ours- chipmunks scrooching under the door to conduct a daily search for crumbs, snakes storing up heat from the sun on the wide cement yard and Horned Lizards weeping bloodied tears from grave and unblinking amber eyes as they took our measure- flight or fight? I was unused to domesticated cats and dogs and rabbits living in the family home. To me, dogs belonged to a street or guarding a yard populated by chickens, a calf and cow for milk, some rabbits maybe. Animals had a use beyond company. I had never seen a dog on a lead. I often saw them dead in the road, bellies a bloated time bomb in the heat.
We flew away, back to England, followed months later by shipping crates packed with the clay jugs and goblets, the onyx chess set, the serapes that had kept us warm of a desert evening and the tortilla press. I unpacked the pictures and postcards decorated with pressed velvet figures of the saints and donkeys and road runners given to me by little friends and inscribed “Remember me, come back to see us”. Other paintings- prints of the Edward Hopper landscapes of Saltillo have been lost in transit- somebody else will gaze upon his adobe rooftops, shadows creeping down chile red walls and alleys and the purple shadowed mountains. We still have the ornate sofas with painted gold legs, the onyx table with golden lion feet and an incomplete set of glasses hand blown in Guadalajara, missing the one which I crushed in the night in a fit of temper, slitting open my thumb. The scar remains and occasionally it peels to reveal new pink skin underneath. My fiesta dresses with their crinkly underskirts, pink hearted yellow flowered cotton, a row of covered buttons fastening me in from nape of neck to my butt have become the dressing up clothes of my own daughter. My embroidered bookmark, a gift from the nuns when I managed to sit still for a whole lesson and not swing my legs from a bench too high for them to reach the floor has kept my place in thousands of books since.
When I am homesick for a land that is neither my land of birth or giver of my nationality I pour myself a drink in the last remaining clay goblet. I smell its earthiness and nibble on its rim, finding the place where I have worn it away, exposing pure clay. I turn my face to the weak golden light of a late summer evening, close my eyes and think of that place, where night comes instantly, blotting out the gold.
Thanks y gracias to Nicola for sharing her fascinating cuento con nosotros.
You can find out more about Nicola’s life in East Anglia through her blog The Miller’s Tale, and by following her on Twitter: @NicMillersTale
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