My Struggle With Mexico

Posted September 11 ’10

Mexico is pretty much the only thing I think about these days.  In my last novel, Point Dume, I had a character named Felix Duarte who came across the border to grow marijuana in the hills of Malibu for a Mexican drug cartel.  Felix did not live to see the end of that book and frankly his death broke my heart.  It also broke the heart of his girlfriend Violeta, his mother, sisters and brothers, and all of his friends.  They never found out about the fire that killed him.  He was used and discarded by an organization that does not value human life.  His loved ones didn’t even know where Felix was when he died.  He left home one morning and disappeared from their lives forever.  The story of Felix’s life and death is a very common one.  Mexico is in a state of complete chaos and the reality of day-to-day life for the average person is hard to comprehend.

My new book starts off with Felix’s girlfriend Violeta trying to get on with her life.  She struggles with the reality of the drug wars that plague every town, the corruption, the poverty and the atrocious place that women hold in the Mexican culture.  She is a powerful woman without a voice.  She is angry and driven and heart sick over the loss of the man she loved.  And so she decides to go look for him.

I’m not sure I have the intelligence or skill to write Violeta’s story.  I sit here on the other side of the border in my comfortable chair and my expensive reading glasses, working on my state-of-the-art computer trying to imagine the hell that she goes through every day.  One of the ways I try to get inside her head is by viewing the various “Border Blogs” that report cartel activity in Mexico.  I follow five different blogs, both in Spanish and English.  Most of the posts are anonymous and they do an excellent job of keeping up with crime—hour by hour.   On a daily basis I look at decapitated bodies hanging from bridges, dismembered torsos, pools of blood, mutilated faces.  Men, women and children.  It’s all there, if you’re interested in looking.  But be careful, you will never be the same.  I look at these images that are the reality of Violeta’s life then I jump in and try to guide her through another day.

Depression is a fairly common element in most writers’ lives.  I think it goes along with the territory and finding a balance between work and life is one of the primary challenges we all face.  I was losing my balance with Violeta.  I felt myself slipping into her dark world and I wasn’t having much success pulling myself back out at the end of each workday.  Then one morning I turned on my computer and came across yet another cartel story.  This one had exceptionally good photos.  Two men had been killed the night before.  Who knows what their crimes were, it could have been anything.  Their heads were cut off and placed on a grassy strip in front of a children’s museum.  In the photo you can see dinosaurs in the background.  The arms and legs are hacked off the body and the hands are separated from the forearms.  There is a poster board sign left on the sidewalk, the lettering done in Marks-A-Lot, sloppy and childlike.  The corners of the sign are held in place by the severed hands.   The translation reads:

“This happened for being a rat and the other for assaulting a taxi. This will happen to all who wish to follow this path. Attentive: El Nuevo Cartel de la Sierra!”

I finished reading the article, turned off my computer and left the office.  I drove home and went surfing.  I have been hiking and swimming and surfing everyday.  I’m going backpacking next week up in the Sierras by myself and I’m not coming home until I’ve built myself a sturdy shield of beauty.  I don’t know when I’ll go back to work.  I am not strong enough right now.  I don’t have the distance or perspective to understand what it is I’m trying to say.   I need to go out and refuel.  Once I have my armor in place I will sit back down and continue Violeta’s story but right now I’m no good to anyone.  I gotta get out of here.  I wish I could take Violeta with me.