Rite of Passage

I don’t know that this qualifies as a travel adventure per se, but I was in another country when it happened, so I’m going with it.


It was the eve of my 19th birthday and my crazy, crimped-haired friend, Shana, decided we must celebrate in Mexico. Tijuana to be exact. Now, we’d been to Tijuana before, many times actually. There was the night I’d puked in the bar bathroom after being thrown in a tilting barber’s chair and had tequila poured down my throat and the other time I puked in the nightclub bathroom after riding the mechanical bull and had tequila poured down my throat, and of course, that evening I hung upside down from a dance hall roof rafter and had tequila poured down my throat.


So I was no stranger to Tijuana.


I suppose this night was no different, but I guess I thought I wanted a less crazy birthday celebration. Still, I’d dressed in acid wash and Prestige blue eyeliner and in the end, decided that really shouldn’t go to waste.


It’s just that Tijuana — its Avenida Revolucion of neon nightlife, flashing signs and squawking street vendors, wasn’t really me. But I’d recently moved to SoCal from Chicago and thought this is what I should do in my new life, because Mexico is what the cool San Diego teenagers did.


So 19th birthday eve. Me and Shana and Tijuana.


It started out OK. I recall another tilting barber’s chair, the big thing in Tijuana bars, where a bartender blows a whistle, pushes you in the chair and quite literally pours a bottle of tequila in your mouth until you cry “uncle.” I pled for mercy right off and after spotting the look in my eye, Shana heaved me out of the chair and straight to the bathroom for my routine Tijuana puke.


Right after, I was ready to go home. But just before we headed for the door, Shana met up with a bad news TJ guy named Ramon, who she thought was the hot bomb of manly flesh.


I knew he was trouble.


I tugged at her arm and begged for my bed, but she was young and in lust and suddenly I was along for the ride.


Next thing I know, Ramon’s friend, Raffa, shows up and we are going somewhere to “party.” I still have a difficult time being assertive, but I was real bad at 19, and so didn’t put up an argument although the whole thing felt wrong. So I find myself in a car with Raffa, while we followed Shana and Ramon to our next destination, down dusty alleys, circling dark roundabouts, past the dog racing stadium, and into the No-Tell Motel.


I promise you I’m not exaggerating when I say that we actually drove up to a booth in the motel parking lot and paid, like a sex McDonald’s. I didn’t want Shana to think I was lame, so I didn’t say anything, but I wondered if she wondered about me. Here I was, in another country with a guy I’d just met, pulling into a pay-by-the-hour motel.


We each went to our rooms, Shana laughing and me trying to be cool and act like it was no big deal, and then I’m in a motel room with Raffa. Mirror on the ceiling, smoked glass, bidet, the whole nine. I didn’t even know where Shana was at that point.


I pled exhaustion and lay on the bed fully clothed and pretended to sleep, as if this whole thing were normal, and that Raffa and I were just waiting in this murky room for Shana to come get me any second. For many long, long minute-hours, I managed to resist Raffa’s advances, how I don’t know, but as I lay there, with eyes fake closed, the bed began to shake. And shake. And rattle. And roll.


In other words, Raffa was getting it on with himself. Next to me. While I lay there.


He’d been angry a few minutes earlier, because I wasn’t willing to touch him in any way, no thanks, no how, so I guess he took matters into his own hands.


I jumped up and ran to the bathroom and locked the door. After all, I didn’t know this guy, did I? And for that matter, where the hell was I anyway? And how was I getting home? I recall resting my forehead on the bathroom door as I heard him fiddle with the doorknob, and looking at my watch, realizing it was my birthday.


Sinkingest feeling in the whole world.


I spent a lot of hours in that bathroom and some time later, opened the door to find Raffa gone. I think. Maybe he was there, and I blocked it out. Either way, I left the room and began to walk aimlessly down the outside walkways. Somehow, I really and truly don’t know how, Shana happened to open her motel room door at the moment I walked past. If she hadn’t, I’d never have found her.


She didn’t even say goodbye to Ramon, who still slept a few feet away and we left.

I for one, did not look back.


Pretty much until right now.


Shana is still a dear friend, a much mellower friend, who would do anything for me. We were young and stupid and I often think about how lucky we are to be alive.


14 Responses to “Rite of Passage”

  1. I was frightened for you even though I know it turns out okay.

    I have a lot of crazy TJ stories, but yours takes the cake.

  2. Really? There was a bidet in the TJ hourly motel?

    Deb, I love you. You are so brilliant and real and fuck-all awesome.

  3. stoneskin says:

    That is a pretty scary story really.

    Phew! Glad you survived the ordeal unscathed.

  4. Holy Cow! I think I may have done the same thing if I’d grown up on the West Coast!
    My post’s up (partially, anyway):


  5. Chris says:

    I thought the same thing as Cheri, a bidet in the motel? You’re brave. Then, and now. xo

  6. g says:

    Yow. Scarey! Now when my 21 year old says he wants to go to Tijuana, I’m saying “no!”

  7. Diane says:

    Yikes. I was scared… really scared, even though I figured it had to turn out OK, ’cause, after all, here you are. But Yikes.

    I had a couple of nights from which I shouldn’t have escaped alive (or unscathed, anyway)… but this one beats those stories.

  8. Mama Mary says:

    OMG – scary, unsettling and way too close to home for me. Had quite a similar experience in Puerto Vallarta with my BFF when we were 18. All ended up okay thankfully, but scary as hell. I thought I was going to lock my daughters up until they are 18 but after reading this, maybe I’ll wait til they’re 25.

  9. Lucky indeed! If I was your mom . . . oh I don’t even want to tell you what I’d do. That is just so damn scary!!! I’ve been to Tijuana, so I know how it is down there. I’m glad you lived to tell us about it.

  10. sounds like a similar experience i had in TJ when i was 16. those were crazy days and we are better people to have experienced those days, gotten past them and become the well-adjusted (cough) citizens that we are today.

    chicle, anyone?

  11. Blognut says:

    Oh, the stories of our younger years!

    I’m glad that didn’t turn out badly for you. I had visions of you being kidnapped and sold into slavery or something. That was a little scary.

  12. Da Goddess says:

    Ah yes. I didn’t have to go to TJ for that sort of fun. I found it right here in San Diego.

    And I had a friend like Shana, except she never really grew up. Actually, I hear she did, but it all came a little too late for me.

    Glad you made it through relatively unmolested, Deb.

    Oh, and by the way, even though I grew up here in San Diego and got in plenty of trouble, I NEVER went to TJ. Hard to believe, huh?

  13. Jamie says:

    Sigh… Wow. Whoa. And Wowza.

    If I didn’t know the ending to this story, I might have cried. I might have cried a little anyway, for you. Scary-ass shit woman!

    Happy you both made it back to this side of the border.

    (P.S. I recently saw the movie, “Taken,” so I am extra freaked out in this genre.) Forgive my open jaw…

  14. Kate says:

    Wow; and wow again…..
    It’s scary to think about what we’ve done at those ages; it’s so true that the body is mature but the mind lags behind…until we’re well into our twenties; some would say even longer (or maybe never in some folks). Glad your story had a good ending. The guy you were with could have been such a loser; glad he was content with getting it on with himself!! OMG.

    16 to 26…that decade is the scariest EVER. My kids are in that window right now.

    All we can do is PRAY because they won’t listen.

    Great story.

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