If You Don’t Have What You Like, You Like What You Have.
Words to live by…If you don’t have what you like, you like what you have. It’s actually something my mother would always say to me in her heavy Eastern European accent with a shrug and some sass.
I’ve been hanging out in an upscale town packed with well off expats. It’s beautiful. This city leaves you feeling like you’ve left Mexico. It’s also left me feeling like leaving my life. Maybe I’ve just been feeling extra worn by road life but I let San Miguel de Allende get the best of me this time.
The cobble stone streets are lined with perfectly vertical, impenetrable walls that push right up to sidewalks thinner than any person. Block after block, bright, tall, concrete slabs and stone create a solid grid. I feel a lot like a little mouse scouring for cheese in a maze of right angles. In the distance, hidden out of sight, the sound of the cathedral bell clangs, clangs, clangs. It’s nearly arresting as the sudden vibration moves through your every cell. My chin perks up, I catch the stunning contrast of the blue sky against the yellow, orange and pale green of my peripheral. Wow, it’s really beautiful. I exhale and continue walking. Have I woke up in Italy? It’s not the first time I’ve been wrong about where I am.
But no, a soft breeze carries the scent of fresh tortillas from across the way and the tight lanes open up to the busy central square full of trees trimmed to be round. Tourist are found gorging themselves on guacamole and tacos. Tables are littered with bottles of Victoria, Corona and fishbowl-shaped margaritas. You can hear the eloquent, melodic language from well to-do Mexicans and cracking voices sharp with American accents crowing slowly and too loudly as if their waiter probably doesn’t understand Spanish or have good hearing; pour fā-voar and mooch-o’s grassy-ass. They are visibly pleased with themselves, they’ve sucessully cultured. You can see their big, white teeth shine from underneath their big-brimmed straw hats, their neat, new, authentic Mexican purchase. There are other nationalities represented too, it’s just the Americans are often the loudest.
Behind every thick wall lies some sort of boutique this or that. Walls like armor house delicate linen clothes, cashmere cloaks and rare jewels. Meticulous art and tables draped in white cloth are decorated with pretty silver, filling spaces filled with nicely dressed people. The doorways smell of aftershave and herbed olive oil.
The rough and tumble of my backpacker persona starts to feel like I’m wearing a scarlet letter. I stand out. I catch my reflection in a window. My head drops to one side in assessment and reveals the choppy disaster I call a haircut that I had so proudly given myself on a balcony with no mirror just a week earlier. Now I’m feeling quite inadequate. I stood staring for a while. As I reached my hand to my head the hole in my leggings showed and I recalled the matching hole in the bottom of my boot. Tomorrow I will at least put on mascara, I declared. A mocking mannequin worth more than me stared back a smug smirk. I can tell she’s doubts it’ll help.
Day two. I shower before going out, even brush my bad hair and of course apply mascara. I smooth my hands splashed with cool water repeatedly against my nicest, least crumpled shirt while trying not to snag the small hole in the arm any further. I spend the rest of my time pretending I fit in. I smile politely, move gracefully, sit with perfect posture while sipping wine in the windows of cafes I can’t afford. All the while, I wish I did fit in and I hate myself for it.
I’m a proud backpacker. I wear invisible badges that I’ve acquired over the years that prove I can rough it, get by without money, language or plans all without a tinge of worry. It’s a skill and a confidence that is earned with experience. It’s empowering and liberating to know you can always figure something out, laugh in the face of fear, even welcome the challenges that most would run from.
But today, I want to be them. I want to walk in comfortable shoes. I want a new, big-brimmed hat. I want to go back to my nice, private hotel room with sheets worthy of mentioning the thread count. I want to be able to afford a haircut at a salon by a professional and complain about it later. They are the ones I’ve resisted, pushed away from, made a promise to myself not to be them, not to be “normal.”
Not often, but every once in while I want what I can’t have. Then I realize so do they, we all do at times. We’ve all sacrificed for the sake of something we’ve wanted. If we always think the grass is greener we will spend a lifetime hopping fences and never stop to plant our own unique gardens. If we never stop to grow our own, investing the effort, cultivating the patience, how can we ever appreciate and not just envy another’s? How can we live confidently enough to ask to borrow our neighbor’s seeds of wisdom and be able offer our own in return?
Day three. I’m seated in a festively decorated, airy courtyard restaurant. In my moment of clarity, I go back to pretending, letting that be enough for now. I look up and take a moment to consider the people around me. As my envy melts I start to see people’s truths. The smiles on the kids faces as a mom tries to take a group selfie. Dad chuckles with an infectious laugh as he just can’t wait and digs into to the abundance of food that has just shown up to the table. The kids follow his lead and mom can’t help but roll her eyes and join them. They are together, enjoying family, happy and embracing a break from whatever everyday life looks like for them. They look relaxed and I find myself genuinely happy for them. Across the room, a group of senior citizens pass hand sanitizer around the table and squint from behind their menus. I can hear them squawk random food words in Spanish, then laugh. I wonder how long they’ve dreamt of taking this trip. I’m happy they are here. I straighten my back, take in my surrounds with a big inhale of gratitude and take a slow drink from my afternoon beer. I take a moment to count all my millions of lucky stars that pour over from my heart, head and backpack. My gratitude for my life spans solar systems.
I don’t want to be them after all. I like what I have. Just a little, I want their vacation. I want my friends.
…and maybe just one night with Egyptian cotton sheets and fluffy towels.