The Authenticity Experiment, the unexpected angels edition. I hate the idea of angels. Really. Those damn cherubs painted by Raphael that hung in every 1980s house, regardless of whether the owner had been to Dresden (where the angels were relocated in 1754) to see them in person. But the thing is, I think that angels—or, rather, guides, as I like to think of them—exist. I’ve seen evidence time and again in my life—turn here, talk to this person, hand this woman your book, call this person now, tell that girl you love her. So, well. Judge me. It’s new age-y or whatever. But I believe unseen forces are out there helping us. Helping me. Just like at the beginning of this month, on the second night I was in Todos Santos, BCS, Mexico.
In keeping with my Baja adventures (Read Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear for more Baja stories) and my apparent perimenopausal directional impairment, I got lost coming home from the beach. The sun had set twenty minutes earlier and dark came on faster than I expected. I started off in the direction I thought led to the Airbnb where I was staying. I wore board shorts and Crocs. I did not have a cellphone or a headlamp. And I was completely turned around. The road I should have headed down looked like a private driveway—narrow, massively eroded and a fence post at the entrance that said, “Vecino Vigilante.” If I’d looked more closely, I’d have seen the terracotta red house I’d admired on my walk out, but I’ll be honest, at this point, panic rose in my throat and rather than to stop and think, I took off walking in the wrong direction. I paced back and forth, up and down dirt roads—everything except the one main road in and out of Todos Santos are dirt—knowing they were wrong, heading back to the beachhead each time to retrace my path and see if I could find the correct route to put me on the road home.
I should tell you that there are not really street names in Todos Santos. I mean, there are signs— sometimes—at the beginning of the streets, but once they curve, there’s no real way to tell what street you are on and most of the houses do not have addresses. The final directions to my Airbnb said, “Go two blocks, if there were blocks, and look for a metal gate next to a mango tree. Park here.” So, in addition to being lost in the dark, without a cellphone, I didn’t really know the address or street name of the place I was staying.
So many things are weird about this. When I traveled with my ex-wife I had rules about going out at night and how many left or right turns you could take—especially in walled cities—and Todos Santos is, in essence a walled city, all the houses set back behind big gates and adobe walls. But I had just set off for the beach, not exactly in my body or my right mind. Not even remotely hypervigilant and it did not occur to me that I might not find my way back. (The Country Music Singing Femme thinks that I have become less hypervigilant as I’ve transformed the traumas of my childhood. I think she’s probably right, but, I’m thinking maybe retaining some of that vigilance really might make sense.)
So there I was in the dark, striding as much as one can stride in blue Crocs. Finally, I passed a person I thought was a white man (because there was no way I trusted my Spanish in this situation). It was dark enough that I couldn’t see his features, but he was taller than most Mexicans, so it was a good guess he had some Northern European in him, and when he said hello I knew him to be from the United States. We headed in opposite directions. But then I realized he was heading towards the main road into Todos. I turned around and walked quickly—but not too quickly—to follow him. He altered his pace to match mine and I wondered if he thought I was going to rob him and I wondered if he would attack me. I came up on his right. I said—without a trace of irony—Hey, I’m Kate and I’m looking for Serendipity B and B. I knew my own Airbnb was right across from this place. So if I got there, I could get home, as it were.
He told me his name and where the B and B was situated. I doubted him. I was incredibly disoriented. Had I remembered my directional impairment in Europe and that every turn I thought we should make was exactly 180 degrees wrong, and not doubted the man, believed that the direction he pointed was correct, I would have gotten home. Instead, I fell into step with him and said I’d walk to the main road and back track my way from there.
He said, “That road’s dangerous, especially at night. People drive really fast.”
I allowed as how I’d be careful. I didn’t tell him I’d cover myself in a metaphorical fog, stay well off the edge of the road, and keep my head down.
Finally he said, “And, banditos. I just can’t let you walk it. I’ll take you to my house, get the car keys and drive you back.”
I didn’t know if this was a good idea. But he turned left, off the road, and suddenly here I was, walking in the pitch dark, across the desert with a man whose face I couldn’t see. His energy felt okay to me but, really, how could I be certain? Then he held his hand out to take mine and help me down a big drop and I relaxed a little. A serial killer isn’t usually chivalrous. Usually.
I stood in the dark next to his SUV and waited as he went into his even darker house to grab his car keys. He opened my door for me and in the light of the cab I saw his grey hair and beard. That’s how dark the road had been. I couldn’t even see his silver beard. You’re a grandpa, I thought, and relaxed a little more.
“I’m going to take you the way you should have walked and show you where you missed your turn, show you some landmarks.”
I decided if things got crazy, if I had to, if this man wasn’t as he seemed, I could spend the night on the beach. I had a half a liter of water and a wool hoodie. That would get me through the night if I needed to bail out of his car.
He turned down the road that said “Vecino vigilante.”
“See the geometric shape of this house? Mark it in your mind,” he said. “See this red house on the left? That’s your other landmark.”
We drove another 250 feet and there was Serendipity B and B. He turned the SUV to the right so the headlights shone on the sign.
“What’s that say?”
“Serendipity.” I finally exhaled and smiled. I put my left hand on his clammy right forearm. “Walter, will you please let me fix you a drink when you finally get me home?”
He shook his head. Then there we were at my white rental car parked under the mango tree right in front of my Airbnb.
“Walter, you are a serious guardian angel, please let me fix you a drink as a thank you?”
“Nah,” he said. “That’s just what we do in the Baja.”
As an afterthought I told him I’d just finished writing the acknowledgements to my second book and so wasn’t totally in my right mind on my walk to the beach.
“What kind of writing do you do?”
“Nonfiction. Essays mostly. I’m pretty sure you’re gonna show up as a savior in one,” I said.
He turned off the car and said, “Just one drink.”
The story could end there. That’s magic enough, but the it gets even stranger. Walter’s second wife grew up in San Diego. Her best friend lives in Portland, Oregon. Weird. But then Walter went on to say that the friend runs a “concierge medical practice.”
I said, “Cynthia Ferrier?”
He laughed and said something I didn’t quite catch, but which I took to mean, Holy shite, small world. And then said, “Yes, Cynthia. Do you know her?”
I said, not directly and explained that Cynthia Ferrier was my ex-wife’s first PCP. If you’d asked me her name a day earlier, I couldn’t have told you. That’s the tricky thing about memory and angels. They’re there when you need them most.