Guilt is an opinionated dream crusher with better stalking skills than a student loan bill collector. It caught me one January evening as I sat on the park bench in San Miguel de Allende. Smiling, I watched a mariachi band serenading a middle-aged couple groping for a second chance at love.
Violins glided underneath a canopy of the trilling trumpet. The song must have been familiar because the woman joined in with recognition and abandon. Swaying, she swung her arms and twirled in circles. Her lover captured the moment on his tiny mobile phone screen. When the last note of the song faded, the woman clasped her hands, threw back her head and smiled. The band moved on as if this kind of ordinary magic was commonplace. And maybe it was. Tourists from the United States reduced their understanding of Mexico to tacos and tequilas. But once they come here, once they experience the truth of Mexico—that realism is really a sort of magic—they return.
A voice slinked on the back of my neck and curved its way behind my ear. I recognized guilt’s slithering murmur. It pressed me against its cold heart and cooed:
‘You don’t deserve to be happy. You exchanged her life for yours. Remember when you told the doctors they could remove the machines? Remember when you placed your faith in science instead of God? Recuerdas mi amor?’
Great. Now my guilt was bilingual and spoke better Spanish than I did. Pulling my puffer vest tighter across my body, I shielded myself against the tremor of memory. Guilt snatched it back, however, and suddenly I was transported to a hospital room in New Jersey. I remembered my mother as she was then. Her once-famed beauty shrank and wrinkled into this other thing. It was now a vessel preparing for a new voyage, from one temporal plane to the next.
This excerpt is part of a travel memoir published in September 2016 in Panorama: The Journal of Intelligent Travel. Click here to read the essay in its entirety.