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.