The only way to get there is by a long, winding, dusty road with alternating views of desolation and natural beauty. The highway itself is ordinary. Just asphalt, painted lines, and the odd green sign for mileage. At night the paint glows and the shadows loom. During the day the sun glares and long stretches of highway end in shimmering mirages. There’s always that sense of water at the end of the line. Either night or day the landscape is blurred with the speed of the drive.
Once you cross the border things look very different. Most buildings are odd structures of cold concrete and exposed rebar. The ones that are complete are small and brightly painted mismatches of color. They must have been painted long ago. The paint is chipped and spotted. Every storefront boasts the same wares; mostly knickknacks and cheap tequila. Tequila you should never drink unless you are dying of thirst in the middle of this unending desert. Even then, the smell alone might kill you first.
After the initial shock of the city there are long stretches of road covered in blowing dust. The sand is fine and blows freely across the road. Sometimes you can’t see the way because of the dust. Signs are few and far between but they promise big dreams and better prospects. About two miles out of the border town there is a small shrine. The arched doorway sits low to the ground and is covered in images of the Virgin Mary. A large dented cross sits crooked, perched atop the structure. A brass gate crudely hangs from the entrance. The building is small and short. I think you’d have to crawl low and duck your head to be inside. As I pass by I remember the government warning not to stop and pray at these places along the road. People are shot and killed there. Tourists are not welcome.
After what seems like a long time looking at the desert, billboards start to pop up along the landscape. Beautiful beaches with shimmering silver water and equally beautiful women in barely there bikinis grace their ads. Condos. Hotels. Resorts. Opulence. Drama. Anything you can imagine wanting on a vacation. I start to get excited and I roll down the windows. I can almost taste the salt in the air already. I know it can’t be long.
There’s a small hill to climb before entering the city. After its crest you see the bustling activity of Puerto Penasco. The city looks like an upgraded version of the border town. There are brightly colored buildings advertising food and drink, and even more brightly colored buildings advertise girls. The streets are lined with Mexican wares; pots, fountains, furniture, clothing, and of course, jewelry. I love this little city that seems to grow every time I arrive. The outskirts are closer and closer to the border each visit. I know when I arrive here that the comfort of the water is only minutes away.
Home for me is not at the resorts. I have been a guest there a few times, but here is something inauthentic and detached about them. The high-rise buildings seem to cut into the landscape and make a mockery of the world below. My place is camping in a trailer on the beach with just a place to lay my head in the heat of the day and the dark of the night.
My first views of the ocean always take my breath away. I have to stop and breathe the briny air and just take in the expanse of water before me. I love the way that the sunlight forms searchlights into the waves and sparkles like a million diamonds across the horizon. I get lost in the sway of the blue in front of me, and I love the feeling of being so small next to something so immense. When I was young the ocean scared me. It is so powerful and all-encompassing. Now I revel in the enormity of it.
His life must have been very much like this trip is for me. The long stretches of isolation like the long stretches of littered highway. This was his last memory. This was the last place he went to before he took his life. I often wonder if he was looking for a sign on that last trip. What did he see in his final impressions of this city? Did he know that life is really like the long trip into town? He must have known somewhere in his heart that life ends with the shimmering splendor of the water.
We’ve been traveling to Rocky Point, Mexico for thirty years as a family. Since he was born it equaled eighteen years of vacations in this ever-changing city. He grew up watching the buildings grow and the trailer parks dwindle. We were inseparable, and he is in the forefront of my every memory of those trips. He is my unresolved issue. My brother is my life’s loss. As I travel once again to this place that I love I see it through his eyes. I see it as his last resort, and I wonder how you say goodbye to all of those memories.
I start at the beginning. As he crossed the border into this place did he already know how the trip would end? Had he already made up his mind by the time he passed the shrine on the side of the road? Would he have changed his mind if he wasn’t afraid to stop and pray there? He would have stopped to straighten the crooked cross if he wasn’t afraid to stop. Instead he drove by and watched the sand blow across the pitted highway.
His journey ended like my memory. For this I am sure. After all of the desolation and isolation and nothingness he must have seen a glimmering of hope in the small city. The inhabitation must have given him pause to think about his decision. I am sure that he stopped by a small taco stand and ate. He washed the food down with a cold Corona. He tried to wash away the pain. In the end he never saw the ocean as I see it now, but what he saw took his breath away as well. He too felt so small next to something so big, and like I had as a child, it scared him. He did not revel in the enormity of it.
As I sit and watch the diamonds dancing on the water I am sure that he is in a similar place. After all of the drama there is peace. Where he is now takes his breath away, and he has all of the tacos and beer that he could ever want. There is beauty beyond what he has ever seen in this world. When I turn my eyes to the beauty of the ocean I can put away the sadness. Even without him I am whole in the presence of the water.