Guitars and Bicycles
Mexico City killed me. They had to take my body back home so I could live.
I love Humanity. I really do; everything I have ever known, ever learned, ever created, is in the service of society, for the betterment of you, me, and us. But boy I hate people.
Since I was a little child, my Social skills are really Social disabilities. Since I was a little child, I turned to music. I became so good at music because it meant I had to listen to something other than someone’s voice.
At 6 I pee’d my pants the moment a couple of kids started talking to me. I was not nervous, I was terrified. Have you ever felt actual physical pain from stuff as simple as facing your classmates one day after another? I was brought up in a crowded home anyway, why would I want to deal with the presence of 40 other children?
But I had a bicycle and a guitar. I had them at 7. I had a bike and a guitar at 15. I had a bike and a guitar at 22. They’re different guitars and bikes, of course — clumsy people don’t keep the same things for too long.
College was awful because it was crowded. It was stressful because it was crowded. I paid my tuition by playing in bars and pubs, every night of the week. Those were crowded too. But I had a guitar. And the stage is maybe the one place in the world where I was happy, where I felt full.
I gave that up shortly after. Adult life was calling me. Mexico City, the ultimate sea of people, was calling me. I was in love. The kind of Love that makes you get up on your ass and do what you must.
My mother called me every week. I left the house and had her drowning in tears, but moms never give up on you. They support you even when they think you’re wrong. Especially when they know you’re wrong.
My little brother has schizophrenia. Mom and I had revolved our entire lives in taking good care of him, in being there, unconditionally. Leaving home for College, choosing a major that did not correspond with my family’s wishes, not talking to my Dad at all, they were all felt as betrayals. And there I was again, only eight months after returning home, leaving for good.
Mexico City is the best place to live when you have a bicycle.
It is also the worst place to live without a guitar.
Since I was an adult now, leading a household, making a living, I got a real job. I had a commute. A commute that involves meeting thousands upon thousands of people the minute you go out on the street. It is the terrifying jungle people from the rest of the country warn you about, and then some.
But I had a bike.
I could navigate that hostile, chilling landscape, making the best of it. The streets are alive; there are wonderful sights to behold, until I arrived at work. And there is nothing worse — even worse than congested streets — than a crowded office.
I don’t belong in offices, just as I didn’t really belong in classrooms. The pay was great, but at what cost?
The PR/Advertising world is the bastion of the Neoliberal mindset. It’s always brands over humans, events over issues, engagement over substance. It solves nothing, and it makes class divides worse. It’s dirtier than politics. I felt like a traitor, helping maintain the Death Star.
And they don’t care about you. Not one bit. Their whole shtick is to perpetuate the idea that money is good and you are shit if you don’t have enough of it. Even within’ the office. If you come from rural Veracruz, from an ethnically mixed background and you didn’t go to the right school, you’re shit. You’re shit no matter how much money you make them.
And crowds. Lots and lots and lots of crowds.
Bills had to be paid though. And you’re shit if you don’t, of course.
I had a bike and I could deal with the daily grind, until it became too daily and too much of a grind. And look, it always does. Post-financial-crisis life will always run that course where the job is just too much to handle, they’ll take more hours from you, and the pay will not suffice. That’s why they tell you to be a good teammate, to wear the company colors.
So it went from 40 hours a week, to 52, to 61.
I missed my guitar.
Playing music is where I’m at my best, where I’m at my most. The stage is where crowds are good. But I left all of that back home. I had to leave even if it could kill me.
And one day it did.
I got the usual call. Clients wanted arbitrary changes. On Sunday. On Sunday I have to face the crowds. I took a long shower, took my towel and then… Well, I don’t know. I just don’t.
I woke up on a Thursday, in a hospital bed, in my home town. No recollection on how I got there.
But the first thing I saw was my Mom. Once again, she was in tears. She said I was dead for a while.
I had a stroke, all because of extreme stress. I was then hit with the realization that I couldn’t speak that well either; stumbling with easy words, stuttering, dragging my tongue. I couldn’t move my right hand the way I used to. Hell, the entire right side of my body wasn’t responding.
Doctor said I needed months of therapy just to recover my ability to move.
But I was back home. And I had a guitar again.
So playing music was also part of my therapy. It took me 211 days to recover, but during that time, I met a couple of bands and got the chance to play some gigs. I had lost 40% of the skills I used to have in my College days, but I was still good enough to make this a job again. It’s still an ordeal to face a crowd, but I belong on a stage. I belong on a stage I can get to with my bike.
Moms never give up on you. Moms know you, they know when you’re wrong and it almost kills you. But they always take you back. They take you back so you can live.
About the Essayist:
M. de la Rosa is an editor, translator, curator, radio producer, poet and film programmer from Mexico. They run the Poetry Spotlight series on UK-based zine GOD IS IN THE TV, and their work as a music and film critic has appeared on Passion of the Weiss, Noisey, Film Inquiry, The Young Folks, and The Singles Jukebox. You can find them on Twitter @AFHELVEGUM