The time to relax is when you don't have time for it.
-- Sydney J. Harris
When we first met, David thought my neurosis was "cute." He toyed with my anxiety-induced OCD as if it were a frisky kitten, soft and harmless, especially adorable when it stumbled and hissed. But it wasn't a kitten -- it was a tiger cub. And like the great cat, my idiosyncrasies that were once darling have become dangerous. I realized things had gotten out of control the morning I nearly bit off David's head because he had forgotten that his car was parked behind mine and robbed me of three precious minutes as he ran to fetch his keys. When I arrived at the gym, 17 minutes early instead of my usual 20, I was stunned to find that the world did not implode. David reacted with exasperation when I shared this epiphany with him: "You always do this. We're early for everything! The moment you decide 'it's time to go,' it's as if the core of a nuclear reactor were melting down in our kitchen and it's absolutely critical that we flee the building NOW. Three minutes is not life or death!" A small part of me admitted that he had a point.
David confided his fear that my obsessive controlling issues were going to devour our relationship. "It's like you're always stressed out," he said. "I just want to see you enjoy yourself, you know, be a little carefree." I nodded silently while a voice in my head shouted, Ha! Impossible! Despite my lack of faith, I recognized that it's no fun to be around a neurotic stress case like me, and that if I didn't work to adjust my behavior, I would eventually find myself miserable and alone.
I was scouring the Learning Annex for self-help programs promoting stress-relieving techniques when the phone rang. This time, my deus ex machina came in the form of Josue, calling to invite me, David, and our friend Ollie on a road trip to the vineyards of Valle de Guadalupe, about 20 minutes northeast of Ensenada. The trip would begin early in the morning and end late at night. But I had so many things I needed to get done! There was no way I could sacrifice an entire day of errand running and tax preparing for something as inefficient and unproductive as pleasure . I was about to decline, but then, in a flash of inspiration, changed my mind -- there couldn't be a better way to learn how to relax than to take a trip to the local wine country with Mexican friends. With no less than a lifetime of solitary confinement at stake, I asked Josue to tell me what time he wanted to leave.
Despite Ollie and David's groans of protest, I rang Josue's doorbell ten minutes early. Riding bitch was my punishment for rushing them out the door; I squeezed between the boys in the backseat of Josue's SUV while Rosa rode shotgun with her pup, Chucho, on her lap. We were going to have breakfast in Rosarito and then continue to the vineyards, where we'd be meeting up with Hugo and Alejandro (brothers and friends of Josue's) at Casa de Piedra and Parallelo, their respective wineries. I took comfort in the knowledge that there was a plan. Having a plan always comforts me.
When Josue parked in front of his art studio downtown to drop off a few of his paintings, I bit my lip. To prove to myself that it didn't matter how much time had passed since we left, I turned off my cell phone and placed it in the most hard-to-get-to compartment of my giant red travel purse. We have nowhere to be and nothing to do , I told myself. So chill the fuck out and go with the flow . Another voice was quick to point out that it might be wise to investigate exactly where the flow was going, but I silenced this voice (and others that were itching to replace it) by repeating, We have nowhere to be and nothing to do.
When I acknowledged that the "we" to which I was referring represented the voices in my head and not my companions in the car, I thought it best to try not to think at all for a while, and focused my attention on the lyrics of one of the songs Ollie had included on the compilation CD he put together for our Mexican day-trip. Beck was sing-saying, "See the vegetable man in the vegetable van with a horn that's honking like a mariachi band." It was perfectly distracting.
Breakfast was at Tijuana Junior, a casual little restaurant by the sea in Rosarito. I devoured my enchilado de camarones , after which my tongue combusted spontaneously. Like an overheated puppy, I lapped up horchata in an attempt to soothe the raging hellfire while Rosa explained that in Mexico, "enchilado" is not just a red sauce, it's chili paste. My deceptively safe-looking shrimp was not so innocent after all.
The great thing about pain , I thought, as my mouth finally found relief, is that it really keeps you in the moment . For 30 minutes, during which I hyperventilated and nearly drowned myself with sweetened rice milk, thoughts of where we were going next and what time we should get there never entered my mind. For those 30 minutes, I was free .
When we arrived at the small vineyard known as Tres Mujeres (Three Women), I felt every muscle in my body begin to unravel. The scene before me looked like the Tuscany pictured in the books I often peruse. A young woman appeared from behind a modest cottage; her shiny chestnut hair was tousled, and she wore a soiled apron tied over a peasant-style dress. She led us into a small, musty-smelling brick cave and let us taste from four open bottles. She explained, in Spanish, that she was not one of the "three women," but a friend who had offered to watch the place for the day. She had been at the rear of the house working on her ceramic sculptures before she was interrupted by our arrival.
Two dogs walked among the trunks of squat olive trees. A large white cat stretched and lolled in the dust. Dozens of chickens surrounded by a wire fence pecked at the ground. A warm, steady breeze carrying the scent of cultivated soil rose up over the sprawling hills and made the wooden and metal chimes hanging from the trellis above us click and tinkle. Time seemed like an old crush, once an all-consuming obsession, but now a faceless memory as I stared into the eyes of my true love.
With a bottle of wine in hand -- the metallic ink "label" handwritten in flowing script directly on the glass -- we bid the woman farewell and climbed back into the car. As I leaned into my seat, my main man to my left and my best buddy to my right, I finally understood that it didn't matter what time we arrived at our next stop. I was already at my destination, the place I'd needed so desperately to be. Watching the road ahead, I silently promised that the next time I catch myself standing by my front door, tense with urgency and feeling compelled to sigh loudly at David (my passive-aggressive signal for "Hurry up!"), I will instead take a deep breath, close my eyes, and remember this afternoon -- the breeze on my skin, the smell of the air, and that glorious knowledge that, at least for one day, I had nowhere to be and nothing to do.