I’m sitting here in my little thatched-roof bungalow in Belize, looking out the window at the rain and mysteriously named jungle plants, waiting for my husband to wake up. The locals are saying the rainy season started early this year, the result of global warming and an angry Mother Earth. I’m starting to get paranoid about the world ending in 2012. I’ve been hanging out in the center of the ancient Mayan civilization after all, and they’re the ones who started the rumor. All signs point to a day of reckoning.
Our tour guides proudly tell us they are the descendants of the Maya. They have led us over pyramids and through caves, taught us the medicinal uses of this tree and that shrub, taught us how to bark like Howler Monkeys. They have introduced us to the skeleton of a woman exactly my age, a human sacrifice hundreds of years old, brought half a mile into the earth through a maze of stalagmites and stalactites, over rocks and through narrow crevices. She must have waded through the same underground river, felt the same cold limestone walls as she navigated through the dark. Or were her hands tied behind her back? Did she speak as she was led to her death? Did she beg to be set free? Or did she believe it was an honor to be a gift to the gods?
I’m dreaming of moving here now. All it took was a couple of days in the jungle and standing inside the earth with my headlamp turned off. Most people find it unbearable, but something about the humid heat feels like home to me, like I belong here, like my skin is meant to be this sticky. I can feel my body slimming and my skin clearing up. My hair is thick and my eyes are sparkling. My perpetually upset stomach has been calm since we got here. I wake up with the sunrise now, eager to start the day.
In my fantasy, I am not in this hotel bungalow but in my own jungle home. I have a little vegetable and herb garden outside my kitchen. Beyond that are fruit trees—banana, mango, pineapple, papaya. Chickens roam the yard and share their eggs with me. This is where I will find my breakfast. I will brew a pot of local coffee. Maybe my neighbor will have a cow or goat and they will trade me milk for some of my vegetables. I will have a desk in the open air beside my garden, shaded by a pergola covered with flowering vines. The birds will sing their symphony and I will write you mine.
This is my happily-ever-after. Brian is here, building this or fixing that, perhaps planning his next documentary, maybe making bio-fuel for the local green tour guides. Peanut will be napping in the shade or chasing tropical squirrels or sticking her nose in a termite nest (which, by the way, taste exactly like carrots). We will build an extra bungalow just for our friends and family when they visit. We will have a giant table under the stars where we will feed the people we love all the food that we grow and find.
Somehow writing about broken teens in urban America doesn’t quite feel right here. I’ve been writing about decay for a long time, about life stolen at its peak and twisted into something unnatural. I’ve been telling the stories of what happens in a different kind of jungle, one that takes life instead of giving it, one made out of concrete and chains instead of soil and vines.
Survival can mean many different things.
I feel like I barely know anything yet.
It’s raining and we’re supposed to go scuba diving today. The weather won’t matter when we’re under water. I will put on my man-made breathing suit so I can pretend I’m a fish for a very expensive forty minutes. I will breathe the artificial air and I will try not to touch anything. I will surface and the sky will still be wet.