If he only knew the torture that awaited him…

Shrimp, exorcism and salvation. How an Innocent Trip to Mexico Turned into a Life-Changing Nightmare.

I knew the danger-averting rule of travel in rural Mexico, but in my eagerness to impress some fellow travelers, I did it anyway: I sunk my teeth into the giant, juicy shrimp.

“OMG. This is delicious!” I proclaimed.

Having the intestinal fortitude of Woody Allen, I became violently ill from whatever evil organism lurked within the water used to clean that shrimp. Hours later, the Great Orifice Blowout of 2001 kicked off. The pain was so intense, I swear a tiny, Mayan grandma was spreading my butt cheeks and spraying my asshole with an aerosol can of jalapeño juice.

“Ha ha! That’s what you get for ignoring the shellfish rule, estúpido!”

OH. MY. GOD. I was suspended in a hammock over a concrete slab, trapped in a thatched hut, baking day and night with a fever unparalleled to any other in my life.

As I lie helpless, sweltering and shivering with the spirit of Montezuma burrowing through my body, I began to hallucinate. My visions involved neither apparitions of Quezacotl nor my shape-shifting into a giant iguana. They were of relationships. Relationships mired in darkness — of women who I had loved and spent years or months with, consumed in petty arguments, disappointments, or infidelity (mostly me) — and a few with whom I had merely spent a night entangled.

It was unfortunate that none of these visions, which moved wildly through my brain and onto the ceiling of my deathbed, were of the act itself. Nope. Painted across that canopy were bitter ghosts. And those ghosts wanted to know why I’d murdered all those relationships.

One woman in particular, the woman I had broken up with four months earlier, appeared during my exorcism.

Image: Wikimedia

The Ghost in My Spleen

She was a good person. Generous. Funky. H-O-T. Unfortunately, our connection was limited to sex. Really, really good sex, but sex nonetheless. As much as I tried to convince myself that we could have a more meaningful connection — or should I say, as much as my little friend tried — it was impossible. We disagreed on everything from politics to bedroom decor.

Speaking of bedroom décor, imagine waking up to this staring at you after a night of steamy lovemaking:

Image: HGTV

The last time I saw her was the week prior to my Mexican adventure.

Feeling guilty about the way I had ended things (abruptly and via email), I hand-delivered a letter in hopes of earning a more mature, friendly closure and, to keep it 100, make out one final time.

She was so moved by my poetic opus that she invited me to soak in her hot tub…naked.

The following morning she and I stood in her doorway. No Woman, No Cry by Bob Marley played softly on her kitchen radio.

“I know this is the last…the last time I will see you,” she said, tears flooding her eyes. “And that’s okay. Just know this: I really love you.”

As much as I was compelled to return the sentiment, I didn’t want to lie anymore. The feeling wasn’t mutual. I simply nodded, turned, and started towards my car with a simple “Good-bye.”

“Bye,” she said, as she slowly pushed her door shut and watched me walk away. No woman, no cry-aye, Marley crooned. No woman, no cry.

Now, inside the bamboo hut-turned mausoleum, there she was again, floating next to my hammock. She wanted to understand why I had crushed her heart.

I wish I could remember what I confessed in my semi-conscious state.

Did I admit that, from the time we first met, like many of the women I dated in my 30’s, my one and only goal was to sleep with her? Or that my primary goal with the final breakup letter was also to sleep with her? Or that all I ever cared about was sleeping with her and that yes, I was an unqualified asshole — a typical, male dickface who didn’t deserve to date her or anyone else until I was willing to be accountable, considerate and open about my intentions?

I knew, even in my seemingly permanent mind fog, I deserved every bit of the hell I was experiencing.

No, this is not a Pizza Hut

At some point, I was certain I was going to die.

I ran out of water. I couldn’t eat. Every single cell of my body was drained. I was so out of it, it never struck me to ask for help. The resort’s bar was close-by. All I had to do was climb down a 12-foot tall ladder. But I didn’t.

Hell, maybe I wanted to die.

During the year leading up to my trip, I was in an existential crisis. My panicked self-examination came on the heels of the acquisition of my agency, an influx of stock, the biggest salary I had ever earned, an exciting romance, and my very first home purchase. I realize all those things sound wonderful. And they were for about three months.

First to implode was the new romance. Then the stock market crashed. Dot-coms burst into flames left and right (ours included). To slow down the massive financial burn rate, the parent company that now owned my ass started chopping heads. Eight months later, my head was decapitated, too.

In retaliation (or more likely, fear), I ran away from everything: my house, my friendships, my community, my responsibilities. This two-week trip to the Yucatan peninsula was to plan a year-long overseas sabbatical. It wasn’t to purge the demons of my past. But there I was, twisting and turning in a hammock, suspended both from the earth and my life in a makeshift funeral pyre.

“Please, please,” I whispered deep in the night, my mouth as dry as paper. “Just-get-through-this.”

Everything went black.

Yup. It was that black.

Resurrected from the Bed

When I opened my eyes, my body was covered in beams of light. Had I died? Was this heaven? No, dummy. God wouldn’t let YOU into heaven. It was the sun—rays of light making their way through cracks in the palm-frond ceiling. I wasn’t dead. I’d fallen asleep and the fever had passed.

Though I was physically destroyed, I cautiously made my way down the ladder to the earth below. The sting of hot sand on my feet was a welcome pain. “Thank God,” I thought. “Thank God.”

The same couple who’d joined me for dinner (and had persuaded me into eating the deadly shrimp 36 hours before) appeared from their cabaña.

“Nice to see you, auGi!” They smiled. “Where have you been?”

Me in the near-death cabaña

“I was up there…fever,” I pointed to the shack above our heads. “Did you guys get sick?”

“No, no,” they said with thick, British accents. “We’ve been fine. Do you want some bread? It’s supposed to be good after a fever.”

I don’t know how they scored a loaf of soda bread in a tiny Mexican village. I didn’t care. I just smiled and happily gnawed away. Then I made my path to the beach-front bar and ordered a rum and fresh coconut concoction. It was the best drink of my life.

Right there, just a hundred feet from the azure blue waters of the Caribbean, beneath a shelter of palm trees, I sat by myself on a blanket and looked out to the sea. It was beautiful. Colors so alive, the sound of the waves so precious. Only hours before, those same waves pelted the shore and made my head ache. Now, they soothed my mind, and gave me pause.

Beachside at Tulum, Mexico

The fever that had nearly killed me had simultaneously absolved me.

I no longer felt guilty about the multitude of relationships I had ruined. I didn’t care that my own agency had given me the boot, or that my dreams of co-running a big, bold, highly-visible operation were dead. The house? It was just a house, right? All that stuff didn’t matter anymore. What mattered was nothing.

The fever wasn’t intended to end me. It was meant to liberate me from all of my former attachments. And now, thousands of miles from my past, I was ready for the next big thing.

I lifted a tiny, copper cup to my lips and took another sip of the coconut dream. As I did, I couldn’t believe the words that crackled through the speakers of the beachfront bar:

No woman, no cry-aye.
No, woman, no cry.

Talk about synchronicity.


If you liked this story, consider sharing it with a friend who’s going through a layoff, divorce, or difficult situation. And remember, if you’re a foreign traveler, don’t eat shrimp in Mexico.