Letting Go and Strange Tequila

By Leah Mueller

Letting Go

I was four when

my mother told me

that my best friend Alison

was moving to Hawaii

with her family.

She had a sister named Beth

and an exotic mom

who played bongo drums.

They would live on the beach,

and swim in the ocean

all year round,

instead of three months

in Lake Michigan, and they

had no immediate plans

to return to Chicago.

My mother explained

that Hawaii was a long way

from Chicago, and visiting

would be impossible,

perhaps we could go someday,

but it wasn't very likely.

I nodded with understanding,

and we went to their apartment

to say goodbye.

My friend Alison was

excited to be moving,

she hugged me and screamed

and jumped up and down.

She was a great friend

because both of us would

always want to play “house”

and we had this routine

where she would say,

“I want to be the mommy!”

and I would say in reply,

“But I want to be the mommy!”

and then we'd both shriek,

“Let's BOTH be mommies!”

and we'd get down to it.

After visiting Alison

for the last time,

I went home and

didn't feel much of anything.

The next morning

I got up and said,

“Let's go to Alison's house”

and my mom

shook her head,

told me we couldn't,

because Alison was

too far away.

It took me a while

to get it, but when I did,

I got sick with

such a high fever

that blood started pouring

from my left ear,

and the doctor recommended

that I be hospitalized.

Lacking money for the hospital,

my mother took me aside

and said she

knew why I was sick;

my friend was gone,

but getting sick

wouldn't bring her back.

This made sense,

and eventually I got better,

but I've never done well

with transitions.

Strange Tequila

At the border crossing

from Mexico to the US, I stood

with my filthy backpack

in front of a customs guard.

He scrutinized my face

without expression, and said,

“Will you please take that off

and place it on the table

in front of me?” Instead of terror,

I felt a Yoda-like calm, though

I knew my two tequila bottles

filled with psilocybin honey

would soon emerge into the harsh

desert light, clutched inside

the guard’s imperious grasp.

He extracted the first bottle

from the damp underbelly

of my dirty underwear

and squinted at the grainy bits

of mushroom heads and stems

floating in viscous soup.

“This is strange tequila,” he said.

“Yes,” I agreed. “It was a gift.”

Technically, that was true.

A man had given me the bottles

at a Palenque campground, because

he liked my energy. I left before I

had the chance to prove him wrong.

My energy was like a two-year-old

child’s crayon drawing. Yet now, stoic

and self-assured. The border guard

shoved the bottle back inside my pack

and pulled out my cannabis pipe.

“I suppose this is also a gift,” he said,

but his voice was gentle, inquisitive.

“I hope you haven’t used it.”

“Of course not,” I said. “I just

like the way it looks.” He nodded,

thrust the pipe into my pack,

and smiled. “You can go now.”

I hoisted the load across my shoulders,

gave him a jovial wave, and strolled

into the country of my birth.

A pockmarked sign above read,

“Welcome to Texas.” So many miles

to go until Wisconsin. Good thing

I still had my strange tequila.

Leah Mueller's latest chapbook, "Land of Eternal Thirst" (Dumpster Fire Press) was released in 2021. Her work appears in Rattle, Midway Journal, Citron Review, The Spectacle, Outlook Springs, Atticus Review, Your Impossible Voice, and elsewhere. Visit her website at www.leahmueller.org.