The Sea of Cortez, where to begin? At the beginning. I flew into Baja like a cold wind, drunk on exhaustion and high on the smell of sea salt. It took me 9 hours, 4 planes, two airlines, two cities in Texas, and the threat of being reported as a hostile passenger, to get there. I was not being hostile if you ask me. An American Airlines employee was standing at the gate in Little Rock, waiving his authoritarian mush around like the black flag of Satan. And this employee knows that I am going to miss my connecting flight to Mexico, but he doesn’t care, and he insists on checking my carry-on bag all the way to my destination because there is “no more room in the overhead compartments.”
I say, “It doesn’t make any sense Sir, my bag will get to Mexico, but I won’t, can you please check it only to Texas?” He refuses and says, “Your bag will be in Mexico waiting for you when you get there.” But when would I get there and what would be left of my luggage by the time that I did? What kind of robot is this American Airlines employee, I wondered? He needed a reboot. He needed to go home and start the day over from the other side of the bed. I get out my phone, ask for his name, and take a photo of him from every imaginable angle. He is large man with a birthmark on his forehead. He wears a size 11 shoe and his attitude smells like mold on a pile of hot fruit.
I’m still taking photos of him when I say, “Sir, if you check my bag all the way to Mexico, on a flight you know that I won’t make, I will stuff you inside of my bag so that you end up there too.” Then he says, “Miss Wyatt, I am going to report you as a hostile passenger. You can either get on this flight with your bag checked all the way to Mexico, or you can keep your bag and miss your flight. The choice is up to you.” I swear he stomped his right foot on the floor after he said it. Things can unravel so rapidly sometimes. Anyway, what choice did I really have, other than to check my bag and float onto the plane among a flood of my own crocodile tears?
I step on the plane with my crocodile’s snapping and I see empty spaces in all the bins before me. I tell the stewardess what happened. She looks at me like she is looking at an animal trapped in a zoo, with an adoration topped by pity. She points and says, “You go get your bag and put it in that overheard bin right there.” I turn around and pry my bag out of somebodies clenched hands and get on that flight with all my little luggage.
I hope that the American Airlines employee with the size 11 shoe is reading this. I hope whatever crawled up his crawl has crawled out. I hope that his future is bright and that he has the most beautiful life.
On the plane I sit next to a man who loves his job and he’s all smiles ‘cause he’s just been blowing stuff up in some undisclosed part of Arkansas where the military tests things. He’s an engineer. He engineers weapons. A part of his job is getting to fly all over tarnation and testing his weapons out on different targets to make sure that they fire just right. I think about how a weapon always destroys more than it’s intended target. I think about how the impacts of this man’s creations have the power to ripple wide and rip apart families and ruin minds and rust entire societies. Does this man think about this? I tell him that I know what it’s like to have a gun fired at you. That in the wrong hands’ bullets are tossed around like toys. That the person on the other end of the barrel, will never be the same, even if the bullet misses them. I tell him that I know all of this, because I learned it firsthand when I was a teenager and that I’ve never really been the same since. That it gave me a new kind of lust for life that some might call dangerous, while leaving some vital pieces of me frightened and frozen in mid-air.
I ask him if he thinks the cost of a countries’ freedom and protection, will always be another’s destruction? It’s a lot to chew on for both of us. This idea of pacifying entire nations and creating a weaponless world. I stare out the window and everything on earth looks miniature and the clouds are kings. The man reads the same page of a free airplane magazine again and again and again.
There are more planes, more cities, more people. Around sunset, I finally land in Cabos San Lucas, where Chef Alida is waiting for me with our rental car. The car is grey and forgettable and climbs hills as slowly as an overloaded mule. Alida and I immediately go to a restaurant near the coast where all the narcos hang out. To enter the restaurant, we have to have our temperature taken and step into a sanitizing shower to get sprayed clean.
I hear that the drug lords wear Polo shirts and talk their talk in whispers. Everyone in the restaurant has on a Polo shirt, except for us. I doubt any of them were anything, but we play make-believe anyway. We write a story in our minds for each one them. There is the accountant and his mistress, he wears retro coke-bottle glasses and she a tight dress which shows every flab of flub. Then there is the man behind all the meth, his eyes so clear that you know he’s too smart to touch the stuff himself. Then there is the Grandma, who looks innocent, but holds the reigns to all the poppy fields and gave birth to the biggest and baddest of them all. I wondered if any of the people in the restaurant carry weapons designed by the man I met on the plane.
I watch as handshakes shake. I eat guacamole. I drown in a margarita. I listen as a band plays soft music in the corner. The guitar strings sting my heart like scorpions, I can’t help but surrender to the power of them.
It’s late. I have just received a message that there is a problem with the 45 ft. Lagoon that I was going to skipper, so they have upgraded me to a 52 footer. We are driving towards La Paz. The roads have no light. All I can see is asphalt winding in front of us and black hills piled upon black sand with black cactuses stuck in between. Seven feet can make a big difference and I don’t know if I can handle it. I swallow. We Swerve. We arrive in La Paz. It’s 11 pm.
I lay down and I’m feeling a feeling that I know well, it is fear. Fear of sailing a 52 ft. sailboat. Why? Because there will be paying customers onboard and I’m responsible for their lives, like I have to make sure that they breathe another breath and don’t break any bones on account of some mistake that I make, and the weight of that is always immense. Fear. Because this area that I’m about to sail in the Sea of Cortez is so remote that phones don’t work, so if anything happens I have to fix it alone or find someone on the VHF who can help. Fear. Because the boat and the location that I am sailing it to, are both entirely unknown to me. Fear. Because, the truth is, I’m the biggest pansy that you know- rattled by any rumble.
As I go to sleep I ask myself a series of questions and answer them. Olivia, what is on the other side of a tornado? A rainbow! Olivia, what is on the other side of night? Day! Olivia, what is on the other side of your fear? FREEDOM!
Then the brave part of me reminds the coward in me that I will never know how fearless my fear is, unless I face it. And tomorrow, I will face it.
Sleep falls. Lights out. Adios.