I try to avoid saying good-bye at all costs, holding onto the belief that a parting is only temporary and that a sweet reunion will happen in the future. I don’t believe in an after-life so death is the only time I say it. I don’t emotionally let go of relationships easily. I miss Molly who died last spring, even though we hadn’t been in touch for nearly twenty years. She owned the jungle property where I lived and worked and was the reason I had moved to Mexico. Our friendship turned out to be more a figment of my imagination than something real for me to hold onto, which makes me even sadder now that she’s gone. We ran out of time for understanding each other more fully in the future.
I remember the way my first-grade boyfriend smelled of grease and oil after working in his garage with his father after school. I still care about him, and all the men I once loved. They are still a part of me in some ways. As for my relationships with women, I had only close girlfriends growing up, a few select girls that I counted on, just as they counted on me. A few trusted friends were more than enough for me. I got no pleasure from more superficial friendships and never learned how to make them, though my circle of friends stretched across states with each of my moves. I liked truly knowing a person or a place and being known well and loved. I had no idea how terrible I would feel without friends when I lived in Mexico twenty years ago. Since returning from that year in the jungle, my personal definition of friendship has expanded and relaxed, including many more women whom I value but see less often. I trust the solid foundation I have built with those who matter deeply to me and know that our separate experiences will only add to each others’ worlds when we do come together again.
Boye Lafayette De Mente, the author of Mexican Cultural Words, the Complete Guide to Key Words that Express How Mexicans Think, Communicate and Behave says that there is an essential difference between the way North Americans and Mexicans think of the word “friend.” North Americans use it much more casually, referring to someone whom we may have just met, or someone who is a casual or business aquaintance. In the US, he says, friends can be easily discarded. In Mexico, on the other hand, the word “amigo” when used by a man (except when dealing with a foreigner) refers to a deep and inter-dependent relationship carefully nurturred over many years, one that is essential to his life. The Mexican male cannot do business, enjoy life, achieve any dream without friends who are as close as family. During the first years of the Spanish colonial era there was no body of law to protect or support the people. The only recourse was to depend on family and friends for one’s existence. Today, that reliance is integral to the Mexican way of life for men. Women typically give up their friends when they marry, replacing them with their husbands, children and other family members.
Jack and I will be leaving for Mexico one month from today. I will miss my friends, but I won’t lose them. I am not so philosophical about saying good-bye to my sons and their families. We have been so much a part of each other’s everyday lives. I expect it will feel more like a ripping away than a gentle parting. They will visit us when they can and we will come back to see them for a week in January. Medicare requires us to cross the border within six months of leaving the country. And I would not be able to stand being away from them any longer than that. North American, Mexican, however one characterizes it, family has been my life-blood. My sons say they like having a mother who likes an adventure, so here I go again with their blessings.