No one questioned my decision to spend Christmas in Mexico. Alone. At least not to my face. I’m going to Mexico alone because there’s nowhere else for me to be. I said it like a warning, a flare I sent up that broadcasted that I was single, lost, and mad as hell. My younger sister was a newlywed and my older brother just had a baby. No way was I headed home as empty-handed old me.
Nope. I was headed to Cabo, pretending to be brazen, secular and flush with disposable income. In truth, I was terrified, praying my ass off, and completely unclear about my finances.
When I checked in to my hotel, I felt the first hint of regret that I’d given everything at home the finger and jetted off to Mexico like I was Jennifer Aniston. When I clicked the room card into my door, there was no Courtney Cox waiting for me. Instead, I looked under the bed for a rapist and in the closet for a gunman. I barricaded the balcony door and the entry way just in case someone planned to take advantage of this senorita.
There was a vague flicker of victory. It was Christmas Day, and I’d traveled to another country alone to lick my existential wounds and get a tan.
That first dinner alone in the grand dining hall was the nadir. Some little kid took the last of the fresh mango slices and the restaurant was closing early because of the holiday. My instinct was to take a seat against the wall at a two-top to be inconspicuous; not the Old Maid taking her front and center seat in medias res.
There were no seats along the wall; those were all occupied by amorous twosomes who were ringing in the birth of Christ with a lot of kissing. With tongue.
Fine. I set my plate down on a four-top between a large Jewish family from Winnetka and an extended family from Northern California. No one gave me a second look. My version of a Christmas miracle.
If I could get through the first night, I’d survive this “vacation”. Back in my room, I propped myself up on two pillows and searched for some escapist TV. CNN would have to do. I fell asleep with the TV on to keep me company, though all it did was remind me that there was no one there to turn it off for. At midnight, I got a glass of water, ate complimentary chocolates with one hand and grabbed the remote with the other.
Within minutes breaking coverage of a tsunami hitting southeast Asia interrupted a story about a “real Santa Claus” bringing hope to Detroit. The reports intensified as the death roll rose. By 3:00 AM there were thousands of deaths. By 6, it was tens of thousands. I stayed up all night watching the crawl update the rising death toll.
The next morning, stretched on a chair by the beach, I sat behind my sunglasses, shell-shocked from fatigue and the images of water erasing whole lives in an instant. It should have been easy to separate my “tragedy” from real tragedy, but it all blurred and swirled together beneath my skull like a mash-up of Kesha and Bob Dylan. It made no sense.
That night as I tucked myself into bed, I prayed for relief from the horror, both real and self-created. I found God’s mercy in an episode of Seinfeld en espanol that served as a lullaby before I fell into a dreamless sleep.