Bow Down Bitches
On my girlfriend’s birthday, the day Beyoncé dropped a surprise album with her name in all CAPS, Drunk in Love and all of that, my girlfriend sat backwards on a tattoo chair while a woman in lipstick and bright white skin scrawled a green and magenta cactus on her collarbone. That day everyone in the tattoo shop shared stories about how many times they had already listened to BEYONCÉ. We hadn’t listened yet and felt both out-of-it/part-of-it, so I burned the songs to a CD. A week later I picked my girlfriend up from work right before dusk, the gray mountains back-lit by strawberry ice cream clouds. I pressed play as she walked across the parking lot to the car. She leaned in to kiss me with her work I.D. still on a lanyard around her neck, clunking into my chest. I breathed into the blond curls around her neck as Beyoncé told us that pretty hurts.
My girlfriend wanted to go to the ocean for her birthday. Lesbians love the ocean. I talked her into the desert beach town in Mexico a couple hours south of Tucson on the Sea of Cortez: Rocky Point or Puerto Peñasco. Right before we headed south, the federales shot up a tourist resort in Rocky Point killing 5 people including Sinaloa drug cartel kingpin, El Macho Prieto or “El MP.” Macho signifies hyper-masculinity. Prieto means dark or black. So Gonzalo Inzunza Inzunza was known, above all, as the black man. Tucson social media buzzed about whether it was safe or not safe in Rocky Point. About whether Rocky Point would now be like Juarez, run by the cartels with body parts in black plastic bags in the streets and what it would mean for tourism, for the half-built condos on Sandy Beach. In an online comment from Mexico, “Good. Now those rich college kids will know what real life is.” El MP’s body went missing after the gunfight.
We drove out of Tucson west on Ajo Way.
Ajo Way quickly morphed from dense city hotdog stands and the corrugated metal of raspado restaurants into a loose suburban sprawl, either side of the road lined with large signs: Tucson Estates, Spring Vista, Babbling Brook, endless x-axes of identical homes in the distance.
We listened to BEYONCÉ once, but not really. We yelled over Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s speech and “I woke up like this” with the windows down. My girlfriend talked to her mother on the phone. Her mother spoke about the trip to Mexico as if she might be going alone, asking, where will you stay? Do you have enough cash? My girlfriend responded each time with we, we, we. Should we listen again? I asked, popping the CD back in. She nodded. Her mother wanted to know if she’d be safe in Mexico. She rolled her eyes. Yes, we’ll be safe.
White lesbians whose parents try to pray away the gay love BEYONCÉ and it’s complicated. I wonder if Beyoncé knows or cares about her white lesbian fan club.
Some reports of the gunfight said helicopters arrived as people on the ground shot up into the sky. In a YouTube video the shots sounded like electronic beats. Duh-duh-da-da-da-duh. Rocky Point schools cancelled classes that day.
We planned to stop for dinner, but I hadn’t looked at the map and the road snaked through the Tohono O’odham reservation and national park lands. We passed through the O’odham Nation’s capital: Sells. Sells what? After long stretches of empty road, we came to a hospital. We came to a cluster of houses. We were hungry. We took a left after a casino and I started to worry about gas. We needed more. We drove through Why, Arizona. I took a photograph of the sign. Why not? We found reservation gas.
As we set back out I could hear duct tape flapping against the car’s wheel. My girlfriend ripped the bumper on our car when she ran into a fence. The plastic had a strange spiral hole in it. I fixed it with duct tape. Flap, flap, flap as we drove in darkness through the Organ Pipe National Monument. Organ pipe is a type of cactus, but I imagined thousands of church organs anyway, with their tall brass pyramids spread across the brown desert. I imagined short ladies with gray hair wildly playing the keys.
We were broke. No cash, but I charged two nights at the Casa Buena Vida in Las Conchas just south of downtown Rocky Point on my credit card.
At the border we hid our wine under t-shirts in the back seat and got our passports ready. The pink-faced border patrol agent stopped us on the American side. What’s your business in Mexico? Just going to Rocky Point for the weekend, I said. You two look like trouble, he joked and waved us through. Two smiling white faces. I rolled my eyes as we inched across the dividing line. On the other side an officer with a green hat peered in the open window and pushed us along. My girlfriend put our passports away, unused.
The road between the border and Rocky Point felt like a tunnel, like Space Mountain at Disney World, careening through blurry stars. No rest stops, just endless pavement.
In the photos, the five dead men lay supine with arms spread wide, machine guns just out of their grasps, their bellies exposed. One man’s blue shorts looked like swimming trunks. Had he just taken a dip?
It was late, past midnight when we arrived in town. We bumped through flooded ditches then out on a stretch of flat dark sand. We drove past a half-built hotel with no walls, rooms like empty shoeboxes and a plastic nightgown tarp. We approached a security gate. She looked at me. I don’t know, I said. I fumbled in Spanish. We are staying here. I don’t know the house number. Casa Buena Vida. The security guard smiled wide. No problem, miss. He gave us a guest pass for three days, no questions asked. We drove around the corner to a luxurious two-bedroom house. The white stucco fountain spewed water in twinkling evening lights. The waves crashed 30 feet away. We laughed and looked at each other. How did these two penniless dykes end up in a gated luxury palace by the ocean?
In the next house over several white American men blasted Bruce Springsteen. Their Ford truck dwarfed our car. We locked our door and closed the shades. You never know.
The next morning we stepped out on the December beach. No people for miles in either direction. Huge flocks of pelicans dove for fish. There must have been 1,000, maybe more. Millions? We sat watching their greasy brown feathers crash into the shallow froth then back up to the surface, for three hours. Their wide gullets open as they dove at 45 degrees, swooping up gallons of salt water and small fish. We watched the fish glug-glug down to their stomachs. Sometimes the pelicans passed in long clumps and lines, right above our heads.
We walked along the beach to downtown. The malecon is a raised section of rock wall with a jenga game of houses, restaurants and bars teetering over the surf. We looked at blankets for sale. The men yelled at us. Do you want to have a good time? Come to this bar! Cheap margaritas, ladies. You are sisters? At some point my girlfriend reached down and touched my hand. I told her no, not now.
Lesbians sometimes pass as sisters as friends as cousins. I have a deep, mostly irrational, fear of being machine gunned in my stomach for being gay. I imagine they will tell me to bow down, bitch. I imagine my body flat on my back and my belly out, my fingers curled in slightly, palm up.
As we drove out of town on the single-lane, sand-swept road to Choya Bay, I leaned over to turn up the song “Superpower,” a doo-wop duet featuring Frank Ocean: “When the palm of my two hands, hold each other / That feels different / From when your hands are in mine.” In the music video Beyoncé walks through an industrial wasteland looking guerilla fabulous, amassing a protest march behind her and black celebrities on either side: Pharell, Frank Ocean, Kelly Rowland, Michelle Williams, and Luke James. The group eventually faces a stand off with riot police, but the conflict ends at the climax. The video cuts with the two groups lined up chin to chin. We drove by Sandy Beach, which is in between, the part of Rocky Point where the Sonoran Desert meets the sea.
Condo sky-scrapers with red, pink, blue, purple stucco blocked out the sky with empty sand on either side. The condos all had high security gates. Half of them only partially constructed. El MP bled out here at the Bella Sirena. The beautiful mermaid.
We only had $9 cash left. We stopped for fish tacos on the side of the road. The waiter spoke to us about the shooting in hushed Spanglish. He said that never happens here. You should come back, he said, during Spring Break, during the summer, when it’s better. Nobody wants to visit now, he said. Come back during Spring Break and I will find you two pretty girls some boyfriends, he smiled. We laughed. No, thanks. He tried to charge us a higher price than what we agreed. Oh yes, he said, yes. $9 is correct.
Sometimes, other times, the good times, our waitress at a roadside restaurant is a butch dyke with her hair slicked back into a ponytail and high-tops. When we sit down in the diner in that small town she smiles at us with a kind of smile, that knowing kind of smile and we smile back. She brings us extra soda and hangs around over-filling our water. She asks us where we are from and brings our check to the counter for us. She is shy but interested. She tells us the bars to check out, which bands to go see. She asks us about our favorite song on the new Beyoncé album. We give her a big tip.
Jan Bindas-Tenney is a Tucson-based queer writer and organizer, trying hard to live the dyke desert dream in a pink adobe house with her girlfriend and dog. She is working on her MFA in nonfiction writing at the University of Arizona. For the past decade, Jan was a labor and community organizer, going on strike with the hospital food service workers, spending years getting lost trying to find the lunch ladies of New Jersey to form a union. Her essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Squalorly Journal, Cactus Heart Press, and the Brooklyn Film & Arts Festival.