Saturday, May 10, 2014

This Love Is Not For Cowards

Some time ago I was as hungover as they come and 4 hours deep in the most boring class of my lifetime when I gave up understanding the instructor. I scrolled through my entire Facebook feed for the first time in ages, looked up countless recipes on Pinterest and double-clicked on a few too many #livingthedream pictures on Instagram before I finally decided to delve into the world of Twitter. Several of you had urged me to log on over the years and although I set up my account back in 2009, I couldn't get into it.

A couple hours later, I was hooked. And a couple hours after that I received one of my first "mentions." Robert Andrew Powell had tweeted that The Real Housewife of Ciudad Juárez was "finally on Twitter." I have to be honest when I say that I didn't know who he was. I'm clueless like that. After Googling his name I learned that he was a writer, more specifically a sports journalist, who had lived in Juárez for a couple of years while shadowing los beloved Indios.

After reading a handful of reviews for This Love Is Not For Cowards: Salvation and Soccer in Ciudad Juárez, I knew I had to read this book. I could see that this wouldn't be like the other things people have published about Juárez. This would be real.

When I finally got my hands on a copy, I was sucked in from the get-go. Before the 3rd page I had read what is by far the best explanation of Juárez culture that I could ever even imagine. By the second chapter I wanted to watch a soccer game, and it must be said that I am not a big fan of soccer. It is the golf of sports to me and is something I watch when I want to take a nap. After almost 4 years in Mexico and a significant time spent without cable TV, I've taken a lot of naps.

By the third chapter, I was convinced that I was destined to read this book and that it was going to change my life. You see, Marco Vidal was number 12. My big sister, a fantastic basketball player throughout high school and college, was also number 12. I quit doing drugs on January 12th 2006. It's a good number. Then I read that Los Indios used the number 12 to honor their fans (i.e. the 12th man on the field) and right after I googled "how many players are on the field per team in a soccer game?" I just about shit my pants with feliz. Maybe I was just 3 vodka cranberries deep, but it seemed obvious that this book was written for me. I'm selfish in my thinking like that.

In the months that followed I spent a ridiculous amount of time pouring over this book. I would read sections of it over and over. Taking my sweet time. I took it with me everywhere, and it became a permanent fixture on my dashboard as I would place it there after reading each morning and afternoon in the line. I took it with me to the bank when Ray had to request a new debit card. I read it on my lunch break at work. It accompanied me to the Seguro Popular several times when Ray was under the weather for his ailment of the week. Someone once called me saying they wanted to say hi and knew I was at the same dollar store as them. How did they know? Well they saw a car like mine outside and recognized the book on the dash so they knew it was me. I became a little obsessed and wasn't sure why.

I had never read something that resonated with me so profoundly. It was so... relevant. This book depicts my love and hate for Juárez so perfectly, it almost scares me. The sporadic poppies that Powell notices in the otherwise barren Chihuahuan Desert as he makes his way to Cuauhtemoc for a match? That pretty much says everything right there. He manages to capture my love for Juárez while still showing the grit and grime of the city that I may have neglected to share with you. I haven't done it intentionally, but in my quest for positivity, I may have left out some details about life in Juárez here and there, for my own sanity if nothing more.

I couldn't quite understand my obsession until I finished the book. Months after starting it. I am a slow reader who is easily distracted by wine and shiny objects, but this was ridiculous. Every time I would sit down to read, I was quickly inspired to write something. In fact, since I turned the first page, I wrote 48 blog drafts stemming from subjects that Powell discussed in This Love Is Not for Cowards. Forty eight. 

I got my first fine from the El Paso Public Library because I failed to return this book for far too long. And even when I did drop it in the return slot reluctantly, I still hadn't finished it.

Why? For the longest time, I couldn't figure it out. I see now that I didn't want to finish it. It had become a friend. It became someone who understood my journey, someone who actually got my struggle. Someone who knew what it was like to assimilate in this crazy city and everything that it entails. 

And then I met Robert. 

He came to town last year to work on a story about FX's, The Bridge. You know how I feel about that hot mess. You can read his piece about the show here

I told him my sad little story about not finishing his book. I probably sounded like a complete nut job but ni modo. As soon as I met him, I knew why I was obsessed with his work. I knew it the second I saw his faded macrame bracelet that read, "El Kartel." I knew it when I served him some pollo asado and a shot of pisto at my home on a weekday night and he said, "See, this is what I love about Mexico," as he moved his hands about in a grand gesture motioning at his surroundings.

That was when I knew the reason I loved this book. It wasn't about soccer or Los Indios or the drug war. This book is the diary of a man who moved to Juárez just a while before I did. This book is a love story between an American and Juárez. It is a love story with circumstances far different from my own, but so similar it's almost unbelievable. Each step of his story was relateable to me in a very special way.

I must say that the ending left me feeling a little crazy. Seeing reality in front of you in black and white can have that affect on a person. Robert is a man I deeply respect and relate to, yet at the same time that he decided to leave because the violence in Juárez became too overwhelming, I was packing up my trailer, border bound. His work left me questioning my judgement a bit, but reminded me why I fell in love with this city in the first place.

If you were ever curious about why so many people stayed in Juárez throughout the drug war, or why so many people love this city with ever fiber of their being despite it's obvious flaws, get your hands on a copy of this book. It's a compelling read that brought me solace during the confusing transition of hating and loving my life in this complex city.

And trust me, it's not about soccer.


  1. I do "get" what you say about life in Juárez, although I physically have been avoiding the city passing through the area (we cross at Santa Teresa to the west, so we can dog-leg around Juarez going further south to visit my wife's hometown). My Brother-In-Law and his sons love it too, and poke at the gritty underbelly in their own way. My first exposure oh-so-many years ago to Juárez was when one of the brothers got married.

    You see, my wife's nephews there have a "tradition" where they burst into the later reception with ski masks, impersonating kidnappers whom separate the wedding party, and seize the groom for "ransom" to those that are attending. Yeah, I thought it was a little too edgy too (the reaction of my wife when shocked by masked men entering the room was to quickly throw her purse underneath the table; I don't know when she lost those skills here).

    I think it was just a way to hustle a little bit more money for the newlywed couple, thankfully all the brothers have been married now, and they've lost the occasion to do the skit...

    I've also signed up for Twitter several months back, mostly just to grab my known moniker so no one can impersonate me there. Maybe there is more to it, I've just had a few boring are-you-there messages for them to try to convince me to go deeper. There is even a possibility that I might try this "blogging" too, although I am thinking of it more as a way to provide my tech outlet than the "therapy" it might develop into for me.

    Thank You for inspiring me...

    1. That is quite the edgy tradition! Not sure how I would handle that... Definitely give Twitter a chance. And if you decide to blog, let me know! I'd love to read it.

  2. Don't you love it when a book becomes part of you such as this one has apparently done for you. It is like an ongoing orgasm to find a book that seemingly was written "just for you". Although you are far away from me, we are close because of social networking and my respect for your humor, angst, grit and intelligent writing. Not to mention that you use bad words a lot. LOL. I will look for this for Kindle.

    1. I do love a good literary love affair... Let me know if you like it. And thanks Zoe, that (mutual!) respect means a lot coming from you.

  3. That was SUCH a good book, thank you for recommending it. The food sounds amazing, the people deep and hopeful and warm and generous, it makes me want to visit, and at the very least it helped me understand.

  4. Emily, it must be good if it inspired you so. As I have said before I think you write very well so a book recommendation from you I will take. Love to read so now I just need to find it;)

    1. Yes Layla, you will love it! Even though it's about Juarez, I think it has so much to add about life in any border town, Mexicali included. It's on Amazon at the links above :)