It’s the mornings when the contrast is most clear. I wake up in Seattle to a deafening silence, longing to hear the roosters, palomas, barking dogs and the people in the street I heard every morning during my recent 10 days in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. I mutter in Spanish because the language refuses to leave my mouth. I wait for someone to show up at my doorway, call my name, but no, so I text a couple of friends only to receive the typical Seattle response — they won’t be available for several days or weeks. If I want contact, I’d best make an appointment.

I drive a few blocks, passing the homeless encampment that showed up three months ago not far from my house. I head to Eastlake, a trip that now takes an hour and 15 minutes because the West Seattle bridge has been closed nearly two years due to cracks found in its underside. As I drive down the freeway, I see the concrete embankments are entirely covered with graffiti now as opposed to a month ago when I could still spot unblemished patches. The highway and street signs are covered with graffiti, the storefronts are covered with graffiti, every building not occupied is trashed. The homeless encampments along the shoulders of the freeway are now so large that their garbage spills down onto the road itself, and I feel like I’ve landed in an apocalyptic version of the city I moved to as a young, impressionable modern dancer 42 years ago.

As people walk around syringes in the city parks and step around bodies on the downtown streets, what city council candidates wanted me to know in the literature they sent me this fall was which pronouns I must use to address them. In the midst of a rising crime rate, the candidates proclaimed the police force must be defunded so that virtually all who commit misdemeanors will not be arrested or prosecuted. Quotes from the leftist candidate for city of Seattle attorney referred to the police as “pigs.” I voted for a Republican for the second time in my life for that race, and she won. In the remaining races, I voted for the most middle-of-the-road candidates, and they won too. I’d like to believe that if the city could only be turned back over to the adults in the room, it might have a fighting chance, but I’m skeptical such a large degree of damage can be repaired.

Now back in the U.S., I avoid the news. The Biden administration and Biden himself soldier on with compassionate policies crafted to improve the lives of the American people, but all Americans know is what they are enraged about, an emotional state created and manipulated by oligarchs and wannabe dictators that stoke right-wing political movements, a cast of criminals ready to step into power again in 2022 and 2024. Americans feed daily on the toxic content of social media and addictive technology, and all this gorging and manipulation has produced a country I can no longer recognize.

 Of course, I know there’s severe poverty in Mexico and the government succumbs to the dictates of the cartels in charge, but even for those who have very little, family life and community is intact. Everyday life is lived in the streets, not inside people’s homes. You know the blocks near your house, and everyone travels them, Mexican and gringo alike, on foot. You greet each other, and there’s decency and civility in those greetings and short conversations, and the expatriates welcome newcomers with a warmth I’ve not felt since I lived in another part of Mexico long ago.

I remember an Emerald City once located here, but now I recall more so the butterflies and roasted chicken stands I relished in San Miguel. For now, I am a woman of two worlds, each with its frailties and strengths.

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