(Written February 2, 2023)
Ah, Michigan State and all of my Alternative Spring Break (ASB) memories in Mexico. Some of my best ASB memories involve W.M., and one in particular, November Rain by Guns N’ Roses. It takes me back to nothing less than the most romantic evening of my life.
I met him at the airport as we headed to Merida, Mexico for a week of working hard doing volunteer work and playing even harder. I was listening to Here Comes the Sun, ready to relax in the Yucatecan sun in the middle of a busy, crazy spring semester, and here was this guy – our site leader for the week – chatting me up. He flashed me this great smile and asked me what I was listening to at the moment. We bonded over George Harrison.
It didn’t take us long to become friends. By the end of our first day of volunteer work, we were hanging out eating pizza and drinking Mexican beer, getting lost in deep, meaningful conversations. I had lost my grandfather almost exactly a year before – at age 20, the first real loss of someone so close to me – and I was happy to find someone who understood. That was the thing – W.M. and I should have had everything in common.
A year ahead of me, he studied marketing and Spanish to my supply chain management and Spanish. No wonder we had found one another. Later, the only time I actually met up with him on campus in East Lansing – or the United States for that matter, and for lunch no less – he told me all about his semester in Quito, Ecuador. I don’t remember if I had already decided on a semester in Ecuador, but after hearing about W.M.’s experiences there, it was a forgone conclusion.
I’d love to say that this story is a college romance that ended well, but that simply wasn’t the case. Instead, it is a story of friendship spanning years, countries, cultures, and continents that didn’t end so well. It is also a story of unrequited love on my part. I fell. Hard.
The thing is that I was never going to change my plans for anyone, muchless a man who hadn’t shown the least bit interest in anything more than friendship. We left it as friends and that was it. We were both driven with much to do. That is, until Spain.
Fast forward nearly two years, and I was in the middle of my semester abroad in Caceres, Spain. I’d resigned to myself that W.M., unfortunately, wanted to remain friends, nothing more. Then I received the email. The week before Valentine’s Day, I receive an email from him stating that he had landed an internship in Madrid – an easy train ride away – did I want to meet up? Did I!
In the end, we spent a fun weekend in Madrid hanging out. He booked me a hostel near wherever he was living. We spent Saturday hanging out, eventually ending up at the Hard Rock Cafe and a beautiful park nearby. We talked for hours. Too good to be true, right? Right. When he walked me back to the hostel and didn’t even so much as kiss me goodnight, I wept.
In 2004, I returned to Mexico and ASB as a site leader myself. Now a senior, I juggled interviewing for full-time positions in Texas with classwork along with all of my extracurricular responsibilities, including ASB. As a result, I had to fly into Mexico City on my own and take a bus to Puebla to meet up with the rest of the group. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but W.M. got ahold of me once again. Would I like to meet up for dinner in Puebla one evening? He happened to be working in Mexico City at the time.
Beyond confused, I, of course, said yes. I had no idea what to expect. Why would this man take a bus at least two hours each way just to spend the evening with me? He knew no one else in the group and the plan was just for the two of us to meet up. We were friends, but seriously, what else was going on here?
I met him in the zocalo, or town square, and we quickly found an outdoor table at a local restaurant. In my mind, the only thing better than Mexican food is authentic Mexican food. The cuisine in Puebla tops them all. Pollo en salsa mole anyone?
After watching the sunset over an incredible authentic Mexican dinner, a little red wine, and the ever present great conversation, W.M. and I somehow found our way into the Mexican equivalent of a dive bar. Now, I am not much of a drinker, but I love the atmosphere in dive bars from time to time. This one happened to be perfect.
I never really did see any sign advertising the place, but I could not have had more fun. W.M. and I ended up holding court with a group of Mexican young men roughly our age. We, two gringos who spoke Spanish who happened to end up in this cool unadvertised bar, stood out. In fact, they thought we were married. So, in this ambiance, we all start singing along to November Rain – very poorly. It is still among the most romantic nights of my life – and he never even so much as kissed me. Yet, there was at least enough chemistry between us for people to think we were married.
That was the last time I ever saw W.M. In 2008, I looked him up on Facebook, and unfortunately, it ended up in a political argument that ended our friendship. I still have no idea how he could have attended the same business school as me, and yet not understand the impact government can have on business, good or bad – small business in particular. Time had not treated him well. In fact, Diego Rivera comes to mind. I recently watched Frida and it all came flooding back, much to my amusement. The passion between Frida and Diego gets me every time.
Over the years, I’ve tried and tried to capture our friendship in writing, and I’ve never been able to do it well. I once even brought an effort for critique, and the reaction of the men in my writing group still cracks me up. Every last man in our group believed him to be gay. All I have to say is this: If he is indeed gay, he didn’t know it himself at the time. The last I knew, he had a Mexican girlfriend and lived in California.
I can’t help but think of him every time I watch Casablanca, particularly the line “We’ll always have Paris.” Indeed. We’ll always have Merida, Madrid, and Puebla.