Somewhere over the border of Arkansas and Tennessee, I was forced to slide on my cheap sunglasses, shut my window, and try my best to get into the fetal position whilst seated on a Boeing 747 headed toward JFK airport. The tequila from the night before was now boiling in my stomach and burning the back of my throat. It didn’t help that we were experiencing regular ‘pockets of turbulence’ that shook the entire cabin and everyone in it. People started to get nervous and spill their overpriced drinks as I was nodding off into the abyss.
Quite frankly, it was a small miracle that I had even made the flight considering I crawled out of bed and booked a Lyft to the airport only an hour and a half before. Thomas, my driver who was a friendly transplant from Atlanta, regarded me calmly through his purple-tinted glasses and confirmed my destination. I gave him a delirious smile to say yes, so he turned up the volume on Biggie and brought down his foot on the gas pedal.
I silently thanked him for understanding, as it was a regular case of the “I’m visiting from out-of-town” hangover. As you do when you visit Dallas, I spent an entire evening crawling up and down Deep Ellum with old friends. There’s something intoxicating about the industrial buildings, bad lighting, and that inescapable feeling that anything is possible. Anything could happen. This is Deep Ellum. ¡Esto es Tejas, cabrones!
Texas is where I hail from, but by that point, I had been living abroad for three years. Needless to say, I was craving my southern comforts like tequila, tacos, and the extensive, yet versatile use of the word ‘y’all’. Familiarity was something that I was in desperate need of after trekking through the states in the weeks leading up to my departure.
I’d stood on the beach in San Francisco, drank margaritas at a speakeasy in L.A., gotten stuck in traffic in Austin, and sat in doctor’s offices in Laredo. So many things had happened. Although, for some incredibly obtuse reason, the place I felt most at ease was on a terrace overlooking the Dallas skyline. While I didn’t grow up in Dallas, it always had a special allure for me. A love that’s compelling yet mysterious. It was a feeling I couldn’t place, so I chased it instead. Slamming down glass after glass, I watched my friends finish their margaritas.
“I’ll have another if you do.”
Enabling? Peer pressure? Nobody was judging. We all found ourselves in strange in-between states looking for something to excite the night, excite our lives. As the evening drew on we scored some herb off a mustachioed guy outside of 7-Eleven. Rolled up in a parking lot and went totally bonkers. Ten bucks and a smile were all it took for the night to become a movie montage.
Gas station. Parking lot. Street corner. Parking lot. Bar. Bar. Another bar. Friend’s car. Whataburger drive-thru. Friend’s house. Bed.
When my alarm went off I was still drunk. The trip to the airport seemed like something out of a sketch comedy. Really I should have been concerned, but it’s hard to be serious when your stomach is full of José Cuervo and french fries. I was due to be in New York City that afternoon. In any other airport, in any other city, in any other country in the world, I would not have made that flight. But, after all, this was Texas. Anything was possible.
Luck was my lady and so there I was unconscious, being tossed about by giant gusts of wind in a plane surging through the troposphere. My lips curled up into a sickly smile when I came to and heard the pilot reading off the weather report for New York City. I’d made it somehow, now I just needed to get to Brooklyn. Dios mío.
It was late August. The taxi I caught was upholstered in fake leather and smelled like decades of cigarette smoke. My black denim skirt was all crumpled up from several hours of squirming on the plane. My ass cheeks must have peeked out as I sat down because they instantly stuck to the hot seat like a raw egg in a hot frying pan.
Looking out the window at the miles of traffic along the highway, I reminded myself that I should be happy, even if my brain felt like it weighed a thousand pounds. Hungover, sweaty, and frying on a taxi seat or not, I was intact and headed toward New York City. It was the last leg of my summer vacation. My goal was to enjoy every second of it. Andale.
Driving through Brooklyn gave me instant déjà vu. It’d been nearly three years since I’d visited New York. Right before moving away, I came to stay with this same old friend from college. Stepping out of the taxi, I took in the quiet street. The heat wafted off the pavement and sizzled in the air. Summer in the city. I let myself into my friend’s house and lugged my suitcase up the familiar staircase, collapsing on the bed upon arrival. My forehead glistened with sweat, but I was elated to put the situation on pause and no longer be moving. There were so many things swirling around in my mind. I needed to relax and remain motionless for a moment…
My mind drifted back to Texas. Sitting in a waiting room. My family doctor’s concerned face. Taking samples. Unusual bleeding. Feeling faint. Laying in bed all day while my mother worried about me. FaceTiming my friends and trying to explain things without ugly crying. Reflecting on my mortality. Fears of dying.
I must have laid there for half an hour staring at a poster of Dolly Parton before I could pull myself together and remember that people were expecting me to show my face that night. Not hide under bed covers in Greenpoint. Despite how putrid I felt, I could not stay in bed all day. After all, I’d come here to see old friends and find respite in them despite what had happened in Texas. Como los viejo tiempos.
“Go,” I told myself, “drink tequila for your sorrows.”
Within minutes I was out the door, walking to the nearest subway stop and arranging to meet friends on the Upper East Side. We were in for a reunion tour; spending our first weekend together since graduating from university. Things were going to get wild and all in Blue Eye’s New York, New York. Could there have been a better place to heal the emotional damage that came with physical trauma?
The aforementioned trauma, however, was relatively new. A fresh wound, only two weeks old. After months of pain, confusion, and misdiagnoses, my family doctor told me that I had dysplasia in my cervix. A step or two before full-blown cervical cancer.
“It’s not cancer. Yet.” He was careful to say, looking steadily into my eyes.
They tried to burn the trouble away with cryosurgery. Cryo, like frozen, but not the kid’s movie. Most things that freeze eventually melt and ay, ay, ay, I was melting. In retrospect, a trip around the US wasn’t the ideal situation for the physical healing required in such a condition. Being on the road doesn’t exactly equal comfort or repose. Usually, it means peeing where you can manage, behind a mile marker or a bush, maybe an actual bathroom if you’re lucky. When bits of your cervix are falling out and bleeding constantly has become the norm, travel takes on a different tone.
Regardless of my tribulations, I’d made it to the end of my pre-planned journey. Not to mention, I was with old friends laughing, cracking inside jokes, and eating nachos. In a way, my trip made the diagnosis much better, and vice versa. If the problem had not been caught in time, if I’d neglected the pain and abnormalities, well in simple terms, I could have died. Although, it had been and I wouldn’t. Todo bien, amiga.
This meant throwing caution to the wind. It meant treating friends to another round, visiting that bizarre museum, and entering that illegal club. Everything was a go. My goal was to take it all in. I had to live as much as possible. The possibility of death was knocking on my door only a fortnight before. Life had to kick into high gear or else it didn’t mean anything.
Another movie montage ensued. Drinking, dro, and junk food from a nearby bodega at night. Get a bunch of Mexican kids together and you know there has to be food or fighting. Tu eliges, cabrona. A friend of ours threw a house party at his place in Bedstuy. I didn’t remember much except for taking a photo of my friend topless next to some fried chicken. In the morning, I woke up with only my underwear on next to my good friend. The room was pitch black and smelled of smoke. It seemed early, but it could have also been four o’clock in the afternoon. ¿Quién sabe?
“Wow, I’m so destroyed,” my voice croaked.
“Me too,” she replied.
“I’m glad I’m here.”
“Me too. Beach today?”
“Yeah,” I whispered.
She stumbled to her feet and pulled the bedroom door open to reveal the midday sun. Rockaway Beach was nothing in comparison to the beaches in Mexico or Spain, but I desperately needed the sun to purge me of my sins. The lot of us, or at least what was left of us, lay there sprawled out on top of one another. Everyone was hungover or stoned and completely out of it.
“I have to catch my flight in a few hours,” one friend groaned.
“Ayyyy, don’t go, por fiiii.” the rest of us pleaded.
“I don’t want to, but I have to,” she replied.
It was easy to accept because we all felt the same way. We all had somewhere else that was calling to us; pulling us apart from one another. After all, this weekend was simply a meeting of perpendicular lines. We had to continue on our way onto other planes, onto other parts of our lives. When my weekend in New York was over I flew back to Spain. In the airport, I drank buckets of coffee to stay awake, make it through la cruda, and not miss my flight.
Somewhere around coffee number three, I smiled. There I was, medicated and bleeding internally, traveling the US to reconnect with old friends. I drank too much, smoked too much, and indulged in every culinary desire. Haunting taco joints, ordering too many perogies in Polish delis, and devouring phở in restaurants whenever I could. I gave myself over to hedonism. My doctor would have been horrified. I could just hear him now. Mija, pero esto no puede ser.
He didn’t have to know. It was just a bender, but I was proud in some funny way. Joder, in less than thirty days I had seen, tasted, smelled, heard, and felt more things than I had in the past year of my life. Although I was exhausted, I was ecstatic. I still needed time, but I was healing. Por una parte, gracias a la tequila que bebí.
Ashuni Pérez was born in Arizona’s red rock country, grew up on the Texas-Mexico border, and now resides on Spain’s east coast. Her work has previously appeared in KALTBLUT Magazine, Pap Magazine, Neo2 Magazine, Harvard’s Palabritas, PYLOT Magazine, and Peach Fuzz Magazine among others.