I’m writing again, I say. It’s not very good, but that’s not the point.
Immediately after, I realize that it sounds like I’m seeking praise. If my friend Trisha notices, she’s too polite to say. What I mean to say is that I’m practicing. That it’s like a muscle, in need of tending and care. That with each effort, I’ll get better.
We’re talking about what we want to be when we grow up, although I think that the moment may have passed for me. With my recent birthday, I can no longer say I’m in my early anything. I’m a full fledged adult. Even still, most of the time I feel like an impostor. After a hard won negotiation, I often have to fight the urge to tell my adversary Do you see what I just did? How much I got you to concede? If you held out a little longer, I would have caved. I want the affirmation of a job well done.
We play the game of the hypothetical. If we didn’t have to work, what would we do. My answer comes quickly. I’d be a travel writer. I’ve put in the miles—more than 30,000 last year alone. I tell her about the pieces, still unformed, that have been occupying my thoughts. What I don’t say is that they’re really about me. I can’t quite bring myself to articulate that I want to be an essayist, plain and simple. It feels too self indulgent, and while I frequently espouse the idea that it’s not the subject matter that makes something worth reading, it’s the writing, I can’t shake the feeling that my life simply isn’t that interesting. Most of the time, it’s the impossibly long plane journey rather than the stop at the end.
Instead, I stay quiet, and we keep walking along the coastline of the Riviera Maya. The water grazes our feet, covering it with seaweed. The strands are a dull brown, almost the color of rust. They tangle around our ankles, slowing our pace. Trisha picks one up, holds it to the light, then rinses it off. When we return to New York, she’ll cast it in bronze, refashioning it into something beautiful. Maybe a bracelet or a crown. Something that will bring someone pleasure as they behold it. I marvel at how she can find inspiration where all I see is detritus.
We stop for a minute so that I can try to remove some of the seaweed covering me. I rub my foot against my ankle only to discover that there are small spikes hidden in its fractals. I end up throwing it back into the ocean.
The sky and sea are impossibly blue. I read somewhere that Eskimos have fifty words for snow, all filled with nuance. When I used to flip through J. Crew catalogs, I’d take umbrage at the names of all of the fabric hues. How many ways do you really need to say that a shirt is blue? I see them all now. Cerulean, aquamarine, azure. The water almost lapis where it is shaded. The depths unknown.
I practice speaking in Spanish. I have a goal in mind. I want to able to communicate better than my friend Ben when we’re in Spain later this summer. We’ve traveled the world together, Ben and I. In each county, I’ve felt my Americaness as he slips into another language as easily as slipping into another pair of shoes.
My Spanish comes haltingly, my vocabulary lacking. The first word that I can recall, ir, is the first one I was taught. Soon, the conjugations come back:
soy I am
eres you are
es he is
somos we are
son they are
Only I can’t remember any of the words that should follow.
The days pass languidly.
On the first night, we ask our taxi driver where he eats. He takes us to a local place with a line down the block. Out front a man stands in front of a giant spit holding an enormous spiced mixture of pork crowned with pieces of pineapple, their juices dripping down into the meat, helping to tenderize it. Periodically he fans the flames of the fire. The embers spread out into the air, their heat distorting it and making everything appear dreamlike. When an order comes in, his movements are deft. In one seamless motion, he pockets the meat then shaves a piece of pineapple and flicks it into the air. It lands in the shell. We watch mesmerized. Do you think he ever drops one? One of my friends asks. We wait twenty minutes for our food. In all of that time, he doesn’t.
When we get back to our villa, we feast. Even lukewarm, the tacos are delicious. Crunchy and caramelized where the meat has been charred, chopped onion and cilantro providing the perfect fresh counterpoint. There’s no question that we’ll go back.
We make plans for the weekend, deciding that we’ll bike around the resort. I mention my fear of biking around cars, underplaying it as much as possible. I leave out the part about how, when I was in New Orleans, a friend of mine had to look up streetcar routes so that we could travel across the city because I was too nervous. Instead, I joke that the only biking I do these days is indoors, with the bikes bolted to the floor.
I bike anyway, trailing behind my friends. My start is a rough one. I take a curve too fast and, in a panic, throw my feet on the ground to avoid a collision with a tree. I continue. With each pedal stroke, I gain confidence. We make it to the beach and decide the water is a little too cold for a swim. I stick my feet in to convince myself that this is the right move. It is, but it’s nice to rest my legs and enjoy the sun.
A day into our trip, I finally remember a perfectly structured sentence: Se lo agradezco mucho.
It seems fitting.