September 6, 2015. Melinda’s Birthday Celebration (three days after her 45th birthday)
I can taste the spice and the dark berries, maybe cassis. The wine is velvety and coats my throat with lusciousness. I open my eyes and toast to my friend Melinda who is seated next to me on the couch. She’s bald as a billiard ball but she’s painted on her eyebrows and done her make-up. In some ways, she looks far more beautiful than before cancer invaded her body.
“You have no idea what it’s like to not be in pain anymore,” Melinda clinks her glass to mine.
“Chemotherapy is working?” I ask.
“We’ll see what the doctor says. Hopefully it’s shrunk the bitch tumor,” Melinda replies. “But there’s no pain. And I’m on a break from those chemo cocktails. Wine is much better.” She takes another sip.
I smile. Hope warms my body. “Mmmm.” I sigh then take a long, languid breath. “What is that delicious smell?”
“I’ve made us carne asada,” Melinda takes another drink of her wine but keeps her eye on me.
I spring out of my seat to stand, and have to steady my wine glass with both hands. I lick the glass where the wine has spilled so it doesn’t drop onto Melinda’s light carpet. “All good,” I say with a broad smile. The woman is a Virgo and everything is always spotless and in its proper place, including the lines from the vacuum cleaner.
She laughs at my enthusiasm. Just last week she told me that she has a phrase, “What Would Jamie do?” that she asks herself to inspire spontaneity, passion and courage. Sometimes, it’s just leaving the house with dishes in the sink and other times it’s going out without a headscarf or even a bra to the corner market. It means the word to me that someone could admire the heart on my sleeve when so often I feel like a blathering, vulnerable ass without a filter.
“Let’s eat,” I head to the kitchen with Melinda at my heels.
Melinda has “pioneer woman” written in tiny freckles across the bridge of her nose, a combination, in both looks and tenacity, of Laura Ingalls and Stands With a Fist from Dances With Wolves. But her heart is as brown as my Mexican mama’s skin. Melinda peels back the lid on a large rectangular Tupperware and reveals layers of homemade tortilla chips. Then she lifts the lid off the crock pot and a whoosh of steam sends tantalizing scent of juicy carne asada seasoned with cumin, garlic, and of course Gebhard’s chili powder.
I pick up a chip, dip it straight into the crockpot, and scoop up a tablespoon-size of shredded meat, still dripping with sauce. The flavors explode in my mouth. My body tingles with hedonistic delight. Once upon a time, Melinda and I were vegetarians – more than 20 years. Not now. “You have to teach me this recipe,” I beg as I slather another chip with a white girl’s carne asada.
She pours us more wine, then insists on dignity and decorum. I grab more chips as Melinda carefully scoops the meat into warm flour tortillas and places the tacos on a plate. I roll my eyes. She grabs her crotch. We laugh until the tears mix in with the wine and the meat.
June 3, 2019. Reflections from my mountain home
Melinda and I drank four bottles of wine that night. In a haze of drunkenness, we took photos of our breasts pressed together and emailed them to our boyfriends. I used to have those photos on my phone but eventually had to delete them because they made me too sad. Melinda crossed to the Other Side on December 10, 2015. As I write this, I gaze at an altar for my best friend, adorned with a red tail hawk feather that once sat on her altar, a turquoise flower (that I wore to Dia de Los Muertos weeks before her Crossing) stuck inside the last bottle of wine, a pouch of dried herbs from a blessing at her Ceremony of Life, and a soap of the Deer Mother in honor of her spiritual name that I gave her, Listening Deer.
I made her carne asada last night and so I’m thinking of her. I usually dance when I add the spices, just like we did on our last hoorah before she left this world for another. And when I eat the meat dripping with spicy sauce, I think of my friend who accepted me completely, honored me with the name Dancing Butterfly Who Soars on the Wind, showed me sacred sisterhood, and taught me to love all the parts of myself as if my life depends on it, because it does.
Melinda’s Carne Asada Recipe
1 lb Round roast, marbled with fat
4 ounce can of El Pato tomato sauce (Melinda says it must be El Pato)
1 medium onion, chopped
Gebhard’s Chili Powder
Pour the tomato sauce into the bottom of the crockpot. Add the onions. Place the meat on top of the onions. Cover and cook on low for 4-6 hours. Tear apart the meat with knife and fork. Give a shake to the cumin, garlic powder, salt, pepper and chili powder. Do not pour out any of the melted fat as it will absorb into the meat and make it so yummy. Turn the crockpot to high for another hour. Occasionally, taste the meat and begin the dance of spices to appeal to your taste. The carne asada is ready when all the fat as been absorbed. Enjoy decadence. Be a hedonic. Love yourself as if your life depends on it.