I took some time off from writing this weekend, so I could go home to Lake Arthur and spend time with my parents, Maria and Eduardo. As usual, it was filled with a lot of great laughter, dad’s slightly, exaggerated storytelling, loud conversations around the dinner table, the reliving of old memories (which seem to never get old) and creating new one’s.
A friend of mine lost her grandmother last week, quite tragically actually, and so for the last few days, I have spent a lot of my time reflecting on my own life, the life of my parents and the great unknown. The great unknown. It seems morbid to think this way, the thought of the end. But to be quite frank, thinking about the end, whatever that may be, has always been a part of my life, for as long as I can remember.
Early on in my childhood, and dealing with my own anxiety, even the simplest of things like, the day turning into evening and then into night, always lead to an unsettling feeling of uncertainty. I can’t really explain it, other than I felt like each night was a reminder that the end was near and I’d freak out. I’d also freak my family out. Fortunately for myself and everyone around me, I would eventually grow out of it and live a pretty independent, anxiety-free life. But it wasn’t that simple.
Which brings me to the smell of old coffee.
Friday afternoon, as I was getting ready to leave my office, I decided to clean up around my desk, which included tossing away an old cup of coffee. As I was pouring out this two-day old, super black, over-caffeinated substance into the tiny sink of my work kitchen, the smell of coffee reminded me of the countless evenings I spent with my mom, as she fulfilled her three hour obligation of cleaning the offices at Yates Petroleum in Artesia, New Mexico.
Mom must have started working at Yates around 1989, a little over a decade after her long battle with serious anxiety (and the appearance of the Jesus tortilla) and right around the time my own anxiety was just kicking in. At eight years old, I not only spent a lot of time ditching school (as I have mentioned in previous posts), but I also spent a lot of time putting mom at risk of losing the only job she had come to appreciate.
You see, my mom took me to Yates with her, each and every day for a very long time. At one point, she was even told that she couldn’t take me with her to work or face unemployment. But she didn’t stop. Instead, we managed to sneak me into the Yates building and we became really good at it. Somehow, even the ladies that my mom cleaned offices with (at least in the team she was working with) became our allies. They didn’t seem to mind my presence and in fact, I kept them rather entertained during those last twenty minutes we spent in the break room before we clocked out.
Take that, mayordoma!
So what does the coffee smell have to do with all of this, you ask? Well, that’s what the offices smelled like, each and every day. As my mom cleaned the building for three straight hours a night, I sat in the big board room of this Yates building, pretending to be the most powerful woman in the world. Despite my anxiety at the time, I somehow managed to day-dream incredible scenarios of being at the helm of this great power. In front of me at the table was a USA Today, 42 ounce Coca-Cola, and several imaginary co-conspirators.
The ritual would go like this. Mom and I would get into our 1983 Ford Futura and leave Lake Arthur at 4:30PM, arriving in Artesia around 4:43PM. That’s right. It takes exactly 13 minutes to get to and from (Unless you’re speeding, which is less time, but you’d be stupid to do so because it NEVER fails. There are ALWAYS cops on the Old Dexter Hwy. Even to this day. Trust me.)
As soon as we arrived to Artesia, my mom would stop at Town & Country, at the corner of 1st Street and Main St, she would pull out some change that she had saved and I would get out of the car, walk inside the store, grab me the day’s USA Today and a 48 ounce fountain drink. We would leave the Town & Country and proceed in the direction of Yates Petroleum. As we approached the main building, I would duck onto the floorboard with my drink and paper in hand, until my mom reported to her “mayordoma.” We would then drive to the next block, park in the back of the building my mom was assigned to, and enter through the back door. From there, I would go straight to this board room and sit there. For three hours. Religiously.
But then there were the days that I wouldn’t sit in the board room for three hours. When I wasn’t reading the paper and/or saving the world from those imaginary co-conspirators seated with me around the board room table, I was roaming the halls. Looking in and out of offices, I would witness stack of unruly paper stacks, old, noisy clunky computers left powered on, and lights flashing on office phones from calls coming in from who knows who. After countless laps inside this building a turn into a hallway, was the sound of the vacuum cleaner, a sign that we were just about ready to go.
Mom and our compañeras were about to call it a day.
Twenty six years later and the smell of old bitter coffee, reminds me of those days. It’s old bitter coffee that reminds me of that unpleasant anxiety I felt at such a young age and the ugly feeling in the pit of my stomach as our old gold clock, hanging on our dining room wall, approached 4:30PM. What would mom’s last minute decision be? Would I be forced to stay with relatives? Would mom risk her job by bringing along The Tortilla Kid?
If you know “la señora de la tortilla” well enough, then you know what happened next.
My mom is a saint, with or without the Jesus tortilla.