El Fin – The End

Chapter 1: Canta y No Llores (Once Upon a Time in Mexico)

Chapter 2: Becoming β€œTeacher”

Chapter 3: Knowledge of the Heart (Making Tortillas with the Flower Princess)

And Chapter 4: DΓ­a de Muertos and the Purple Puppy


When you last saw me, I was frolicking with my new puppy in a rural paradise. But then, a most mundane thing happened: the money ran out.

I’d moved to Mexico with a few thousand dollars to my name, which supplemented the $400/semester I made teaching. Yes: only four hundred dollars for four months of work. When my savings hit zero, I became completely dependent on my partner.

Julio was in graduate school, but he always had side projects researching, guiding tours, or – at the end – illustrating a guidebook of local birds. This was one of his life’s dreams: to have his exquisite artwork printed and shared among his birdwatching brethren. When I say this project came at the end, though, it’s because it came too late to stop the chain reaction that changed everything.

After spending half a year in Xico’s idyll, we realized something had to give. There just wasn’t enough money to rent the country cottage and also finance my long commute to work. Upon doing the math, it became blindingly clear that teaching wasn’t even paying for the gas I used to get to town. It was easy to give up my job, given how enamored I was of life among the coffee bushes and banana trees. I planned to investigate a lead I’d found for work as a translator, and life forged on.

I’ll make the most unpleasant part of this story brief: I interviewed for that position, was given a mountain of files to translate, and did so over the course of a few months. They kept saying the first check was coming, but I never got paid. There was nothing to be done – I was working illegally. At the same time, the print date on Julio’s book was moved back, along with his check for the finished project. Facing sudden poverty, we moved in a panic from our cherished home to the cheapest unit available in a new housing project called Miradores, which translates literally to “Viewpoints.” The view from the bedroom window, however, was of a trash-littered street, a stone wall, and a cluster of unkempt weeds.

We continued to love and live well, for a time. I hung art until the inside of the tiny house was a gallery of rainbows, and daydreamed over sketches of the improvements to come. I thought longingly of the day when magenta bougainvillea would tumble over the slats of my own personal white picket fence. And I was good at surviving on those dreams… for a while.

In the end, it wasn’t money trouble that sent me from Mexico. Yes, I hated having to borrow change from Julio’s mother so we could have a once-a-month movie date, but in between we cooked, played guitar, and walked Adi in endless loops while we talked. I was content as long as Julio was there. But when he wasn’t, Miradores became a ghost town. It was such a new community that many buildings were still unfinished and sat empty and indecent, with no doors or window panes. The main road from the highway wasn’t finished either, and we didn’t get visitors anymore.

During the week, Julio attended classes. His school was so far away that he was always gone until dinner. Since my university had hired back their original English teacher, I floated aimlessly around the deserted streets like a white ghost with a fuzzy dog companion. Adi and I played listless games of fetch until my shoulder grew sore from repetition.

I began a daily habit of eating lunch at the informal restaurant in the neighborhood. It was run on the patio of an elderly woman’s house, and most days I waited until the construction workers cleared out, then sat with a book and ate in silence. The comida corrida – several simple courses at a fixed price – was so cheap that I could justify it. Even though I couldn’t interest the shy young waitresses in conversation, the meal let me escape the monotony of my house.

After a few weeks in which I ate soup and rice, fish and beef, gelatin and cookies, the matron herself came out of the kitchen to greet me. Mija, she said softly, No te ofendes, pero te ves tan triste que me das ganas de llorar.

Sweetheart, don’t be offended, but you look so sad that you make me want to cry.

And there it was. When a perfect stranger could see my emptiness, it was time for change. Julio had his dream of graduate school, and he was chained to it for at least two more years. Meanwhile I was just waiting, unable to find work and wasting time with distractions that had grown less than halfhearted. I needed my own dreams, not just of a person or a place, but of a future for myself.

I called my mother. I cried my heart out, and felt her desperate sympathy from a thousand miles away: “Come home Jenn. You can always come home.” I told Julio I needed more, that I planned to go to school again myself, in Carolina del Norte. We spent many sleepless nights together, achingly full of bittersweet sentiments, knowing something beautiful was coming to an end. I packed my things. I said my goodbyes. I told my friends this absence wouldn’t last forever, but I really had no idea.

Eventually, the day of my departure came. It was arbitrary – there was nothing specific I was heading to, just as there was nothing I was running from. I simply had to start moving again. Julio held me, hard, and whispered, No te vayas – “Don’t go,” – over and over. He was so exquisite, my second-generation poet/musician/anarchist, and I loved him so damn much.

As I disentangled myself from his arms and loaded Adi into the car, my heart shattered into a million sparking pieces. I sprinkled those reflective bits of myself like fairy tale crumbs along the roadsides as I drove endless hours back to my parent’s house. In my fog of tears, I thought I might someday follow those crumbs back to Julio, or at least to Mexico. But it’s been over five years now, and I never, ever have.


84 responses to “El Fin – The End

    • Yes! Yes, there does! Looking back, it was absolutely the right decision. The next few months were some of the hardest of my life – I think of them as the crying-myself-to-sleep period – but then I found a full-time job I loved, I lived alone for the first time ever and thoroughly enjoyed it, and I eventually met my now-husband, who is an even deeper love. Life is good.

    • I like this comment very much. Yes, I’m so glad I got to be there. And, since I now believe I had to leave to find my path, I’m glad the universe put so many signs in my way to help me figure it out.

  1. Beautiful, as always sister wife. Your way with words – your story telling is poetry and song.
    One question – is he still single? hahahahaha

  2. The way you describe the way you felt when you were leaving Mexico is really similar to the way I felt when we left Korea. There was that feeling that the goodbyes were not final and that we’d be able to find our way back there. Do you think it’s a coping technique, that our brain doesn’t want our heart to know that the end is really coming?

    • Thank you, Trent. This one felt right. And yes, I’ve learned that about myself – I have to keep moving, in some form, or I get hella restless hella fast!

  3. What a beautifully written story, if not heartbreakingly sad. Perhaps this is the moment when you transitioned into full “adult”-ness?

    The statement of the elderly cafe owner was deeply profound – yet also so simple. Perhaps that’s how you knew it was the Truth.

    • Maybe… what does that even mean? It was certainly the most adult decision I’d ever made so far, but I still have trouble feeling like a grown up most days, and suspect I always will! Do you ever congratulate yourself for getting your oil changed, or for brushing your teeth, because it’s so grown up? …or is that just me? πŸ™‚

      But yes, I am so glad that lady was put in my path, and spoke up. I’m sure she never knew that I’d change my life based on her words, but they were that important.

      • I totally give myself credit for all things “adult” big and small – everything from paying my bills on time to folding (and putting away!) the laundry to not allowing our household to get into huge credit card/mortgage debt. Life can be hard; when I make good decisions within it, they (and me) are absolutely praise-worthy! πŸ™‚

  4. There is such beautiful sorrow in the way you have written this. Your words gentle, wistful. full of longing. It would have been so easy to stay and simply be part of someone else’s dream. Instead you found the strength to move forward and follow your own dreams. I am surprised Julio never followed the sparkling crumbs to find you!

    • You give the best comments. πŸ™‚ You know, I think it took me so long to write about this because I didn’t have enough distance yet – it had to stop making my chest hurt before I could put it in words! And that was why Julio never tried to follow me – I didn’t let him, because I had to get some distance. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that if I saw him again, I’d go right back to Mexico. I actually had to ask him to stop calling, because just hearing his voice would wreck me for hours. Love, man… powerful stuff.

      • Such sadness for both of you. Yet I see later in the comments that both you and Julio found new romance, new love and new lives. Ah yes the raw power of love! I do remember that power – so now I look back and wonder if only I had chosen otherwise! Yet at the time love said “this is wise!”
        Instead it turns out I am simply another one of love’s common fools πŸ™‚

  5. Nothing I can say here that hasn’t already been said, but this was beautifully written. It’s amazing how, looking back on things, we have such a clear picture of why we were meant to leave. I’m sure so many great things have happened to you in the five years you’ve left, things that wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t. We can look back with a smile on things that once drove us to tears.

    • You are so right. The next job I got was because of my time abroad, and I only met my husband because I moved in with my sister after crash-landing with no money back in NC. If I hadn’t been unemployed and staying with her, my path and J’s would never have crossed. This is why, when things are at their shittiest, I try to remember that there’s probably some greater purpose I just can’t see yet. Not like the hand of the divine or anything… but just life doing it’s thing, taking me where I need to go.

    • I know. Trust me, I know. But… I’ve since learned from mutual friends that he’s now extremely happily married to a lovely fellow scientist, and they travel between the U.S., Puerto Rico, and the Middle East. It seems like he’s made a rich, full life for himself. πŸ™‚

  6. O Jennie. I loved it. I felt your heartache in every word and it reminded me of a time in my life when I too was in a foreign country (yours!), making the decision to leave it, to head home to my parents, for what? So I could be reborn…

    • Where were you in the U.S.? I would love to hear more about my home country from a foreigner’s point of view. I have to admit, going away and then coming back made me appreciate that there is magic in the U.S. – buckets of it – which in high school I would have thought was laughable.

      Now I’m really curious to know more, and see what form your phoenix rising took on…

      • I totally agree..your country is filled with magic. I loved it! My little feet found themselves in Lexington, Kentucky!!! Where I worked on a stud farm, immersing myself in mares and foals and yearlings. I loved it. I worked with lots of Mexicans and with Americans. I danced on a stage with a drag queen, almost got tossed into a salvation army hall, was chatted up by two lovely truckers in a dodgy motel as well as working at the top class yearling sales in Lexington…In all I spent a year and half there, spent a week in Chicago and a few different weekends in New York. I also travelled to Canada to Montreal to the F1 grand prix. I loved all things southern although I spent the first month responding to whistles, my managers thick drawl completely foreign to me and my Irish accent foreign to him! My first visit occurred at the tender age of 19, where I spent the summer of my second year in college (I studied a degree in Equine Science) and I became addicted to Max and Ermas strawberry milkshakes, TGI Fridays potato skins and all things Hersheys. I then returned to college in Ireland for a semester and returned to an icier KY in January just before turning 20. My degree required I work a 9 month placement and so fifteen of my class of twenty headed to KY. Where I was almost taught to drive. Having been subjected to six months or more of lessons I bombed the driving test in an automatic car. I hit a parked car. ran a red light and almost knocked down a pedestrian. My instructor got a serious telling off.. oops. I went to a baseball game, ate a large pretzel, I also enjoyed your hospital facilities, fracturing my thumb while there. I was also banned from driving around the stud farm, when I took out part of a fence. not knowing to break when going round a bend. In my defence. here in Ireland we don’t start learning to drive until 18 and I was a late developer! Returning to college for my final year I was asked back to work on a full time basis to the stud farm and it was an easy option. The pay was good, better than here in Ireland plus it was a safety net, returning to something I knew. Only this time. there was a change in employees, dynamics etc and I didn’t sign the contract, heading home in December, having arrived out there in the July. It was then I spent my week in Chicago and started to be reborn. I met a wonderful couple from south Dakota. spent a night out with them, and met an eclectic mix of characters in the hostel I was staying in. Then came by BAM moment. Two things happened. I was returning home to my parents house, no job. no plan when the cabbie taking me to the airport told me a wonderful story about how he was a qualified engineer but was finding it difficult to work in his area, instead of being beaten he decided to become a cabbie. support his family and had every faith this was simply a step backwards to move forwards. I remember almost hugging the man. it was exactly what I needed to be told at that exact moment and I also remember tipping him at a rate of 50%.. he deserved it! Then in the airport. I met an Irish couple, both elderly, and the woman was seated in a wheelchair crying. I don’t know why but I suddenly got the urge to go to the bathroom and get her some tissue paper. Doing so opened up the saddest conversation I have ever endured. She was suffering from terminal cancer. Her son was married in Chicago and against her doctors wishes had made the trip to say her goodbyes to her son. Because he was not in the country legitimately he would not be at her funeral. My heart broke and I vowed to NEVER feel sorry for myself again and also vowed to live my life. Returning home it didn’t happen overnight, there were a lot of steps over the next few years but the most important was my moving to Galway, here on the west coast. meeting my now husband and changing my career completely, returning to college part time. Had I never left the states an been so downbeat about my last few months there, who knows how brave I would have been to change things up.. its the journey that counts… long winded.. sorry… someday I hope to return to the US.. the place where I started to become me!

        • That is one of the most delightful, twisting stories full of wonder that I have ever heard! I think it takes a very special kind of person to work well with horses – I am not sure I am one of them. I did spend a day with some colleagues in “horse therapy” once – there might be a blog post in that. But I am so, so glad to know all this about you! And I also feel like taxi drivers are legendary in their ability to say exactly what you need to hear when you get in their cab. Sounds like that brave woman, though, was why you needed to meet most of all.

          • Taxi drivers deserve a special medal for sure! As for the lady I met, I still think about her and what is most strange, is she was living in the West of Ireland, while at the time, I was heading to my parents in the south, having no idea the west was where Id eventually settle! Horses are such wonderful beings, they too, like cabbies, deserve medals at times! LOL

  7. Yikes. That was beautiful. No pressure or anything, but it’s going to be hard to top this series. Thank you for digging deep and writing it.

    People think that money is power. For some, it’s material comforts. Expensive shoes and the like. Here in New York, it’s prestige. It’s all that, I suppose, but do you know what money really is? It’s FREEDOM.

    • You’re not wrong! I will miss how easily these have poured out. But! I’ve already decided to do one-offs in the future – there are so many more Mexico tangents to go on, like the one about the tree it takes 35 people to hug, or the Waterfall of Death, or the time I was made an offer of five “fine” horses for my hand in marriage.

      …that thing you said about freedom? That’s absolute truth. It’s the freedom to build the life you want, instead of accepting a life you’re forced to make the best of. It’s good to have experience with a little bit of both, but the freedom is so much more enjoyable.

  8. It takes great courage to be true to yourself, to your heart, your tears, soul and your dreams. Thank you very much, again, for sharing this story, I will not forget it. I would most certanly share it as well, in whichever way you would like me to, and in the way that is most dearest to my heart – by telling it to other people over tea.

    • I so wish I could have tea with you. What kind do you like best, my dear? I’ll include you in my next imaginary tea party, which always involve scones and Devonshire cream! πŸ™‚

  9. Oh I am so glad you mentioned in the comments that you eventually found a job you love and the man you married cause my heart was on the floor at the end of El Fin.
    You know, I lived for a month in a place in Oaxaca that looked almost exactly like that photo…. but the guy’s name was Juan, not Julio πŸ™‚

  10. “I floated aimlessly around the deserted streets like a white ghost with a fuzzy dog companion.”

    Love that sentence. I married a Dutch roadie who was always working, and in that first year without a job, I resorted to some strange activities. I once spent over two hours trying to untangle one string of icicle Christmas lights!! It was insane how knotted up they were – something had to be done.

    I really enjoyed reading this little series of stories. It felt like I was there, which is what I love in reading – and you write beautifully.

    • Oh, thank you for that icicle vignette. You get it. Amazing what we’ll do to just fill the days. And thank you, always, for reading. I’m so glad this story was good for you. I plan on sharing a few more, sporadically, in the future. We can all use little doses of sunlight and adventure every now and then!

  11. I knew the last chapter was going to be somewhat sad, but I’ve been looking forward to it. I’m glad you wrote these down, it’s been a really great read.

    • How’d you get so smart?! (I guess I did sprinkle some clues about what was coming, huh…) Thanks for seeing them through to the end, Mike! It makes me grin to know these stories finally reached an audience.

  12. WOW! Just wow. This was heartbreaking and honest. What a story. I do hope you get to go back for your 30th this year to Mexico. I think it will be a great experience for you. xx

    • Me, too! I want to go to a new place, though, so J and I can discover it together. And I’m feeling the call to enjoy a little sand gravity… y’know, when the beach just pulls you down onto it and you only get up to refresh your drink?

  13. I do so love a love story. I think we all get one good bone-crushing heartbreak in our lives and I sort of love that your heart was broken by circumstance and a desire for more and not by a person. I Have those sweet, smiling tears. Good stuff, friend.

    • I do, too, in all their incarnations! One of my favorite books to recommend is Shutterbabe: Adventures in love and War. The author writes about how every love affair is like a novel – some you never really get into, some you adore but only read one blissful time, and some you come back to year after year for comfort.

      P.S. I’m a sadist. I’m glad I made you cry. I’m sure you’ll return the favor sooner or later! πŸ˜‰

  14. Jennie, I know you’re happy now; you’ve said it clearly before… but I wish I’d stopped with the lavender puppy. This just broke my heart, for so many reasons. I left someone special in Australia… and if I’d known when I got on that plane, that 30 (THIRTY!) years later, I’d still be thinking about that decision… I know I couldn’t have done it. There is so much beauty in this series of short stories… or this long one, broken up, but this last installment just pulled me in and broke my heart with yours. Wow! Such an incredibly beautiful experience and story! xo

    • Oh, Dawn. I’m sorry if my story made you revisit something painful. Honestly, I will always think about Julio, but there’s so much more pleasure than pain in the memory, now. He gave me so many sun-soaked days that I never would have had without him. As for your Australian love… have you ever talked about it here? When you think about it, is it just regret that rises up, or other emotions, too?

  15. Hardly a new sentiment on this thread, but this was so beautifully written. Saying goodbye is never easy, and always sad. Although I didn’t leave a love behind in my home country, parting with those you love is heartbreaking.

    • Where are you from, Nadia? And why did you leave? I know those are impossible questions to answer fully in a comment section… but these days, I’m very interested in how people arrived where they are. It seems it’s almost never where they expected to end up.

      • I was born in South Africa, and set sail about two years ago to Oz. My hubby and I wanted to live elsewhere for as long as we’ve been together – explore a different country, culture and opportunities. And the awful crime rate – at least 20 of my loved ones have been victims of crime, mostly life-threatening – was another motivating factor. I never expected to end up in Australia, but I’m glad we did. We’re aiming for residency and citizenship. Thereafter, who knows…

        • That is so exciting. I’m sorry to hear about the crime motivating you to leave, and the impact on your family. But, silver lining… I’m very glad you love your chosen home. I also want J and I to live abroad at some point in our lives. I’m hoping that, after grad school, I can find a job that’s entirely based on telecommuting. I’d love for us to be able to work from another country, especially if we have kids and can show them a second culture really early on.

    • When I read this, all I could think of was the regularity of a heartbeat. And then I thought that it is kind of the periodic emotional squeezes of life which keep us alive. Look, you inspire amateur philosophy!

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