I arrive at Las Villas, Rosemary’s assisted living apartment. After weeks of convalescing from a cracked pelvis, my friend is still lying in bed beneath a pale blue sheet. It’s nearly eleven o’clock. I kiss her on the cheek, “How are you today?”
She throws off the covers and grins, fully dressed in a bright yellow skirt and Mexican blouse. “Surprise! I’m ready for adventure.”
I am so happy, I start laughing.
“Can we take a taxi to the plaza?” she asks me. I am thinking this very thing. Between the two of us we get her seated in her wheelchair, feet flat on the pedals, and we are out the door.
The taxi arrives. The helpful driver settles Rosemary into the front seat, folds the chair, and puts it into the trunk.
Our spirits are high! We are headed for a restaurant. The view of the surrounding green mountains is enough to draw us to its well known hearty breakfasts.
In Mexico, each village has a downtown plaza with a gazebo. And nearby stands a Catholic church. Our plaza boasts a Cultural Center as well, showcasing the work of talented local artists.
A ramp leading from the parróquia2 makes for a grand entrance: the taxi driver has pointed Rosemary toward the restaurant patio, and I push her smoothly to a table beneath the shade of a rubber tree.
Huevos rancheros3 appeal to both of us. Rosemary orders her usual: a Negro Modelo, the dark version of our local beer. I opt for orange juice.
“I am SO glad to be out among the living! I love my beautiful room, but outdoors is where my heart lives.” She takes a swig of her Negro Modelo. “Ahh.”
We eat slowly and talk about the friends who have visited Rosemary during the several weeks she’s been bedridden.
“George showed up. You know, the photographer. He was taking pictures all around my room. Remember, I had Jesús, the muralist, paint a frieze just below the boveda4 ceiling. I laughed the whole time George was shooting. I kept thinking he was going to sneak a shot of my underpants!”
This remark is so Rosemary. She must have been delighted.
The time comes for her to visit el baño, and as need arises, so does the solution: Rosemary will never make it up the wide steps of the restaurant’s interior, but there is a public baño in the Cultural Center right next to us. It has only one small step down.
When I approach the señora who takes your three-peso use-of-the-baño fee, a señor sitting next to her, visiting casually in the way of Mexican friends, offers his services. He tips Rosemary back in her wheelchair, rolls her down the step, and deposits her at the doorway to the women’s room.
The señora hands me a neatly folded portion of toilet paper and I give her three pesos. When we re-emerge, the man repeats the maneuver in reverse, and in no time we are back at our table. Life in Mexico is full of ayuda: Help. Assistance.
I sit relaxing at the comfortable table, digesting my breakfast. I am looking forward to the evening’s poetry reading when Rosemary hits me with a proposition: “You know, I think you could push me home. It’s all downhill. There are sidewalks.”
“There are rock streets, Rosemary.” I have no idea of the wisdom in this statement.
“Let’s try. It’ll be fun.”
“And so it begins,” as a narrator would say in a somber voice-over. Back we go to the ramp of the parroquia, our point of entry to the plaza.
“Señor!” Rosemary calls out loudly, in a cheerful voice. “Can you help us?”
Sure enough, a smiling man ferries her across the street and up the curb to the opposite sidewalk. We glide easily around the corner of the local bank and we are now on Colón, the main street of the village. Colónhas been upgraded with real estate offices and shops displaying beautiful, traditionally Mexican clothing for women. But the rock street is the same as all the others. The curb is at least eight inches high to prevent flooding in the rainy season.
Here the true nature of the impending journey is revealed to me. Colónslopes downhill. To someone on foot, this would be barely discernable. Pushing a wheelchair, the slope is like a bobsled launch. My hands start to sweat. I might lose her to the pull of the lago5, waiting for us at the far end of three long blocks.
Rosemary begins to giggle. “I laugh when I’m afraid,” she announces.
“She’s probably enjoying this,” I mutter, as I wipe my hands on my shirt. I am afraid she will fly out of this chair that’s already in motion. I place my right arm around her chest, lean into the wheelchair, and steer with my free hand.
We reach the first intersection, a sea of uneven rocks. It becomes clear just exactly how bad an idea this is.
“Señor!” sings out Rosemary.
“Favor de ayudarme6,” I chime in, in fledgling Spanish. This time, a significantly older and more frail gentleman responds. As he tries to balance the weight of both Rosemary and the chair, he practically falls sideways into the street.
“Señor! Are you all right?” This from Rosemary.
Impatient drivers are waiting to pass us by. A wise woman in a big truck calls to me. “Turn her around or she’s going to fall out!” Advice from heaven.
I turn Rosemary around and begin to back down Colón. Yes, it’s still downhill, but the angle is not as steep. Yes, the rocks are flatter here, more like cobblestones. But I am tugging, looking over my shoulder, tugging more. Each pull requires upper body strength I do not possess.
A much younger man appears, eager to help without being asked. “I will accompany you down the street.” He takes one handle of the wheelchair and motions me to take the other. Coordination now becomes essential.
“Stay where the rocks are flat!” I plead.
We progress downhill to the final cross street and I begin to relax.
“This is where I must leave you,” he announces.
Before us looms the distance to Las Villas. Once again I am navigating on my own.
“Another episode of ‘Rosemary the Valiant’!” Rosemary giggles.
I am thinking: “Patricia the Culpable. Patricia the Gullible.”
We roll into a sunken area and we are stuck again. A tired-looking gardener nevertheless comes over to provide ayuda. He rolls Rosemary onto the smooth sidewalk.
This is it. I am sweating like a wrestler. We make it to the gates of Las Villas and I say, “I’m going to get one of the employees.”
We have made it inside. The kitchen is cool. The floor is smooth. We enter Rosemary’s room and I drop into the chair beneath the ceiling fan, jerking its string onto high.
My God! I was terrified of losing her. Afraid she would be re-injured. I don’t think I can cope with Rosemary’s sense of adventure. Why didn’t I insist on a taxi, like a sane person?
Rosemary is smiling. She takes charge and calls me a taxi. I look up at the beautifully painted frieze. The Huichol7 gods must be laughing their heads off.
1 The Garden.
2 Street adjacent to the church.
3 Mexican style eggs.
4 A curved, brick Mexican style ceiling.
6 Please help me.
7 A Mexican pre-hispanic tribe.
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