Stay with Me, We'll Stay in Love: The Long-Awaited Story About This Photograph

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A peaceful morning on the beach in Mexico isn't always as perfect as it appears

Three-and-a-half years ago we crossed into Sonora, Mexico at the little border post at Sasabe, drove that long washboard madness known as the Altar-Sasabe corridor and I doubt we'll ever do that again. Not because of the washboard - rough and long, yes, and otherwise just fine. It was those guys wearing ski masks in August carrying machine guns that tipped the scales for me. "If they block the road," my gut insisted, "I'm going to ram them."

There were two of them. They had staged a silver Jeep Cherokee with bald tires, and probably hitting on just five cylinders, perpendicular to the road, and backed up onto the berm on the left side of the road. When we approached from a quarter-mile away I could visually make out the two figures, but not their masks, nor their guns.  But I knew. I knew.

Our truck kicked up a dust plume behind us because I was driving 45 miles-per-hour. My brother was in his Toyota behind us. I tried like hell to calculate my choices in my head and not say a word to my wife. The heart inside my chest drummed on my walls like it was trying to break out until I thought it was going to burst right through windshield. And then Brooke would know that I was worried about something. Of course I was worried. In addition to my wife in the truck, my seven-week-old furry-headed daughter chilled out in the rear-facing car seat with all the usual happy bugs and smiling suns and spinning flowers and chubby bears hanging from the handle. We were about to get robbed at gunpoint in Mexico.

We approached, within 50 yards now, and though I hoped reality would prove different, we could clearly see two figures wearing black ski masks pulled down over their faces. You don't think of ski masks as creepy until you see pairs of vacant white eyes focused on you and the long, black unmistakable shape of an assault weapon in their hands. One of the banditos stood on the opposite side of the Jeep from us next to the driver's door. The other stood dead-perpendicular to us with his feet shoulder-width apart at the passenger door like he was in charge. His black jeans bunched around his ankles just like any pimply pubescent's pants would. The two stood still, pointed their guns in the air and stared right at us.

I hadn't finished my calculation yet. Then one guy, presumably the driver, spoke to his buddy. I could tell only because they looked at each other, then turned back to me. I started to slow down.

"Wha...?" Brooke's face said it all.

"I know. I know. I know." I said.

The two men lowered their rifles and relaxed their stance. Such a small thing, but their motion disarmed me for a fraction of a second. I kept driving, but slowed to 25 mph just because I must have thought that was prudent. Their eyes through the masks stayed right on me, and mine stayed on them as we coasted past. They kind of shrugged, let their weapons dangle from their shoulders like they were as benign as rucksacks, and both lit up a cigarette.

I pressed down on the accelerator with everything I had and drove with sewing-machine leg all the way to the highway.


At a market in Caborca, we stopped for groceries and three local ladies had a different idea. This short, smiling old woman walked by us, sang something in Spanish for a second, leaned over, kissed Chloe's chunky little feet and laughed. Another lady with her teen-aged daughter stepped right in our path, beamed a smile, and held her arms out like, I'll hold that beautiful baby for a moment, thank you.  When it comes to children, the Mexican culture is wide open.  Not that children are hated in the U.S. (however, statistics say 13% of air travelers agree infants shouldn't be allowed to fly), but the Mexican culture is all about children.

At our pleasant far-off care-free camp on the beach, our only concerns should have been playing with a baby or tossing a frisbee or cooking a tasty meal. Iconic remote beaches in Mexico usually come with a fair breeze, happy birds, and the gentle lapping sounds of the sea on the sand with no people around. This time, though, we arrived at the beach still shaking off the feeling of oh-God-we're-going-to-get-robbed, with 200 day-trippers from elsewhere racing along the beach in their four-wheelers. It was 96 degrees with heavy humidity, and noisy like a circus. There was nothing redeeming about the scene. We attempted to set up camp, set up a couple of chairs, and undertake the serious work of chilling out as a cute, happy family. Chloe bawled the moment we stepped into the sand and she kept it up for hours. The poor thing bawled nonstop, likely picking up on our somber, uncool vibrations.  When a 7-week-old baby bawls, what are the options? Singing had lost it's magical touch with her. No amount of breastfeeding calmed her down. Brooke was frustrated, uncomfortably hot, in a foreign country with a baby who wouldn't stop crying. And me. The whole situation was spiraling.

I offered, over and over, to hold Chloe and do what I could to soothe her. But it only meant Brooke would be frustrated over there somewhere. Few mothers can move on to other tasks when they hear their first born wailing, and it's understandable. I couldn't make Chloe happy, I couldn't make Brooke happy. This trip was going super awesome.

The sun set, the heat lifted, and the sounds and scents of the Sea of Cortés worked its way into our heads after three hours. We cooked a dinner of rice and chicken burritos on the camp stove and buried our toes in the sand while we ate. Chloe rested on a blanket. I don't know what did it . . . yes I do. The Sea. And her mother. They did it.

I slept on the ground outside our tent that night to punish myself. Right in the sand, and I'm not lying to you. In the morning, with the lullaby of the sea caressing their dreams of happy bugs and smiling suns and spinning flowers and chubby bears, I watched the sun come up and watched my girls sleep until they awoke.


+3 / 0
# Jennifer 2011-03-29 18:44
Oh yes I remember those days and so does Rolf. Good work on surviving that one! You guys rock!
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# Mark 2011-03-30 23:28
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