A Letter To My Mistress

My Love,

You’re probably surprised to get this letter from me after all these years. Communicating with you has always been a chore due to your aversion to technology (a characteristic I still find profoundly endearing) but I’m hopeful you may someday find this blog and know how I feel.

I’ve been thinking about you lately and I miss you.

Yes, I know I visited you twice since we were together but it just wasn’t the same. The first time it was I who had changed (I was more relaxed), but the second time you seemed different. Could it have been because my wife was with me? That shouldn’t have made a difference. But even under those circumstances it was better to see you than not.

And I enjoy seeing you. I’ll never forget the first time I saw you, it was early in the morning and the sky was covered in pink. You were breathtaking. The words I knew couldn’t communicate what I felt. You know I struggled with that for a while.

My favorite time of day with you, however, was always dusk. The ground still damp from the afternoon’s rain, the air was colored orange for a brief moment as the day’s light was bidding us farewell. It was those brief flashes that helped me forgive you for what you had done to me. And what you did has changed me forever, thankfully for the good.

The other day I smelled something that reminded me of you… oh how I miss your smell. They say the sense of smell is the most powerful provocateur of nostalgia. I believe it. Here in New York I’ll often catch a scent that transports me to an exact street corner with you. I sniff again and it’s gone. But I savor those inhales and readily anticipate future ones.

And you know I hated your cooking at first. Hated it. I only ate it to be polite. But I soon realized the genius in its simplicity. I began to appreciate the subtle flavors and the labor that went into its preparation. Now I can’t get enough. I’m constantly searching for restaurants that cook the same way you do and have come up empty. You had the magic touch, your tender hands made the food but your heart made it delicious.

Our time together was difficult. Gloriously difficult. It was glorious. When we were together I told myself that in the future I’d forget all the bad stuff… and ya know what? I was right. Now I think the bad stuff was good stuff. It was the best time of my life. But since then I’ve had better. Even before we began, we knew we would eventually end and in the end I was happy to move on. Dating at BYU was fun. Marriage is even better. And challenging. And beautiful. Life is truly better now.

But I want to see you again. And again. And again for the rest of my life. I plan to build a house with you and visit often. I want my children to know you. You will always occupy the warmest corner of my heart.

I love you Guatemala.

With all my most tender feelings,
Rusty (Elder) Clifton

28 comments for “A Letter To My Mistress

  1. Kaimi Wenger
    February 28, 2006 at 2:24 pm

    Uh oh, Rust-man — I think you and I have history with the same woman.

    She’s a great one, though. You’re right, she’s quirky, and she certainly takes getting used to. She’s got a temper at times, and I have serious doubts about her musical taste. Her cooking is an acquired taste, as well – but there are moments that I sure miss those beans and eggs with picamas, that hot mug of corn coffee with sweet bread after a chilly evening.

    And man, we had some great memories together. I still remember days of looking on a mountaintop with her, as the fog lifted, and just being floored by her beauty. Days of walking mountain trails and cobblestone roads with her, crossing boisterous markets or silent streams, and just being amazed by everything I saw. I came of age in those days, and I still get nostalgic thinking about her.

    I haven’t seen her for more than ten years now, man. Perhaps some day I’ll see her again. That would sure be nice.

  2. Don
    February 28, 2006 at 2:32 pm

    Great post Rusty, and I know it’s true. I have similar feelings for the lady of my life, which you got to visit with me and know of my love. England – I love thee too!

  3. February 28, 2006 at 2:42 pm

    Somehow, Utah just doesn’t evoke the same romanticism for me as illustrated in Rusty’s post.

  4. gst
    February 28, 2006 at 2:53 pm

    [Deleted at reasonable suggestion of the author.]

  5. Mark B.
    February 28, 2006 at 3:58 pm

    Too late, gst. It’s fixed in print for al time!

  6. February 28, 2006 at 4:10 pm

    ¡Yo soy puro Chapín!

    My current job has allowed me the opportunity to work amongst the Hispanic people of Omaha. The other day I stopped by a little Hispanic grocery store and treated myself to a couple Pinguinos and an Orange Crush. Ahhhh, the memories. Now, if I could just find one of those shoe-shine kids…

  7. annegb
    February 28, 2006 at 4:13 pm

    Lovely post, Rusty. I know a missionary who served there who would appreciate this, I’d like to share it.

    gst, I wish I had at least 24 hours to reconsider my posts before they are posted. :)

  8. annegb
    February 28, 2006 at 4:16 pm

    How come smiles don’t print? They would be so much nicer than that red x.

    I’m going to definitely share this with my son in law. He loved his mission (in the Philippines) and talks about it like you do.

  9. Edje
    February 28, 2006 at 4:23 pm

    Great post! Thanks for sending me back.

    Brasil is, in many ways, such a part of me that I can no longer distinguish between her as my “former mistress” and the current me. Like Catherine Earnshaw says: “…I AM Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being. So don’t talk of our separation again: it is impracticable…” (E Bronte, Wuthering HeightsCh. 9, paragraph 86).

    It is a (divine) accident of history that I became aware that I was myself there, but that becoming and the location are now (seemingly) inseparably connected. I remember that I thought and felt differently before the mission, but I don’t remember how. The cliche is right: in many ways I never came home–that is, the child who went out did not come home. (For this moment of remembering and saudades, let’s gloss over the desperate inadequacy of the young adult that did meander back.)

    On the other hand, I did come home physically, and it’s the physical memories that ambush me most often: the smell of open, rotting sewage; a taste of guava; exuberantly colored flowers; palm trees on green hills at a distance; hunger; exhaustion; these transport me far away in space and time, and mostly–strangely?–without the pain I read in my journal but mostly don’t remember.

    But oh… for one more kiss of saucy tropical air–energetic, gentle–on my sweaty skin, at dusk, in that world of reckless green…

    Once again, great post. Muito obrigado.

  10. s p bailey
    February 28, 2006 at 5:40 pm

    There is a moment in the great Brazilian film, Central Station,* in which one of the main characters sadly declares “Eu tenho saudades de tudo.” Roughly translated: “I miss everything.” But for the non-portuguese speaker, the word “saudades” cannot be adequately translated into English–it is not merely missing something or feeling nostaligic. It is like “missing” or “nostalgia,” but bigger, deeper, more sweet and painful. In the context of the movie, this statement marks Dora’s transformation: her heart is softened, she appreciates the goodness in her life, and she longs for everything that has left her. Watching the movie, I sympathised with her general sense of saudades, but more particularly I sensed my love and loss of that place. When it comes to Brasil and my mission, “eu tenho saudades de tudo.”

    * Central Station is a great film apart from my personal mission nostaligia. But it does get to me, set as it is in both in urban and rural (nordeste sertao, to be precise) locales that look exactly like places I toiled and loved and had to leave.

  11. Tatiana
    February 28, 2006 at 7:58 pm

    I’m also in love with Guatemala. I spent only a week there in 1991. It’s paradisical. Floating on my back in the chilly waters of Lake Atitlan, I looked up at the mountains and volcanoes all around, and at the foliage, the blossoms spilling all over, and at the sky and I realized that it was the most breathtakingly beautiful place I had ever seen.

    Ecuador was also glorious. I want to go back there again and again. But Guatemala was so personal and special. The welcome from everyone, when they found out I was a visitor! Crammed in a bus between Guatemala City and Antigua with no room even to breathe and certainly no way to sit down, when they found out I was a visitor, suddenly an upturned bucket appeared by the driver’s elbow and I was invited to sit. I got the most gorgeous views of the mountains and the precipices toward which we were hurtling so near for the whole of the trip! What a gift! The Guatamalan people are wonderful! I love them all!

    Seeing again the grief of a society divided by racism (as ours was in my youth in the U.S.) was difficult for me, and seeing the poverty, the children begging in the streets, the villages where people have no electricity, no running water, insufficient nutrition (particularly iron and protein) for normal brain development of the children, was hard. There is so much to grieve over there, and so much for which to be joyful. Even the poorest there have the spectacular weather and landcape, the stunningly beautiful hand-woven textiles. I wish for so much for my beloved Guatemala. I want it to be safe, happy, and prosperous, and to be there always, like a jewel in the necklace of the planet, pristine and unspoiled.

  12. Jeremiah J.
    February 28, 2006 at 8:54 pm

    These words are very fine. The mistress is a perfect type–I sometimes embarrass myself when talking about how much I love Rio de Janeiro. Is 22 months not enough time to notice flaws? Indeed, you have none. A vida nao tem graca sem voce. Sometimes life seems like a long half-successful attempt to compensate.

  13. jjohnsen
    February 28, 2006 at 10:01 pm

    Sometimes i feel like somethings wrong with me, I don’t have any of these feelings about Australia. I often go months without thinking about it, and rarely do I miss food, smells, or sounds from the region I served. Sure I’d love to grab a bag of mussels and chip or chicken and chips at lunch, but not enoughb to call it a mistress.

  14. Edje
    March 1, 2006 at 12:06 am

    s p bailey and Jeremiah J.: pois eh.

    jjohnsen–“Sometimes i feel like somethings wrong with me”: I occasionally have a similar thought. I served the first five months in the US but, like you describe, I hardly ever think about it. The food, language, and landscape were different enough to be an issue but the memories lack the overwhelming evocative power of their brasilian counterparts. On the other hand, I probably live in my brasilian past too much and haven’t utilized the intervening eight years to full effect. I had figured that (my eventual) marriage would change things a bit but this post is making me think otherwise.

  15. DKL
    March 1, 2006 at 12:58 am

    As you know Rusty, Guatemala grows some great coffees. Most notable is the one grown in the Antigua region, which (in your standard dark roast) has a strong earthy scent, a medium body, nutty overtones, a well balanced and crisp acidity, and a velvety texture (mouthfeel) with a lingering dry finish. Hearing you talk about Guatemala brings back memories.

  16. dsilversmith
    March 1, 2006 at 1:01 am

    Rusty, Kaimi, I think I have fallen for a sister of your mistress, You now understand how I feel about Korea, The food was strange, the writing was strange, and to the people I was strange, but I was accepted, loved, and respected by the people there. 20 years have not dimed the memorys. Some times I buy Kimche just to relive a tast of it. Perchance it is not the the land or the food I miss, but the spirit of the people.

  17. Rusty
    March 1, 2006 at 1:13 am

    Dude, I agree with everything you say. Last time I went down I brought back a couple dozen bottles of Picamas. I love that stuff, both the red and the green.

    It’s a good thing you had your comment deleted, otherwise I might have to make some kind of reference to Stalin.

    Thank you. You’re very kind.

    Edje, sp bailey,
    Thanks for your thoughts. I imagine Brazil is very similar to Guat, in fact I imagine I’d like to visit there in the near future.

    Your words couldn’t be truer. Those tight bus rides are all that I thought was bad and now think is good :) I appreciate and agree with your last sentence.

    Jeremiah J,
    Thank you. You just need to go back.

    Coffee shmoffee. Did you ever have café de trigo (wheat coffee) or burnt tortilla coffee or MorCaf (Mormon Coffee)? Now those were an acquired taste. That with a little pan dulce… mmmmmmm…

  18. Kaimi Wenger
    March 1, 2006 at 1:48 am

    Dad (16),

    Do your memories of Korea include a certain fifteen year old boy rashly taking an ill-advised, large bite of very spicy kimchi, and then managing to squeak out “mul, ju-say-o” as his face grew red and his eyes welled up? Because that particular event plays a pretty large role in my own memories of Korea. Couldn’t say just why . . .

  19. March 1, 2006 at 6:54 am

    Morcafe, panes dulces, tamales … jocotes. Remember jocotes? You are waiting for one of those mini-buses to pick you up and buy a bag of those to devour … trying to keep the juice from getting on your clothes.

    Amen and amen to this post … though I haven’t been back since the mission.

  20. Rusty
    March 1, 2006 at 8:48 am

    I’m sorry to inform you but jocote is the most disgusting fruit ever. Pure vomit. But hey, to each his own :) And Dan, you need to go back, it’s fabulous.

  21. Chris Williams
    March 1, 2006 at 10:22 am

    Nice post, Rusty.

    I’ll never forget a few years ago when I saw the movie, “Kolya.” It was as if I had been transported to my mission in Czechoslovakia for two hours. I wept with the memories of how much I loved that time in my life and the place and people I shared my life with.

  22. Daniel
    March 1, 2006 at 12:16 pm

    I served in El Salvador and can relate to all of your memories. Thanks for sharing. I went back about a year and a half ago after almost an 7 year absence and, to my wife’s chagrin, identify those four days as the most emotion filled of my life. I think this is probably because I not only found myself there, I also found my God there. I imagine that it is similar to the encomium of the land of Mormon in the Book of Mormon. Anyway, thanks for sharing. Now if only I could find a good anona fruit in the States. Jocotes have nothing on a good anona.

  23. March 2, 2006 at 6:13 am

    There’s another fruit I enjoyed in Guatemala that I really haven’t had anywhere else … it took awhile for me to recall its name. I believe it’s a sapote but there are a variety of types of this fruit. I believe the kind I liked so much was the mamey sapote. Here’s a link:


    I really need to find out if I can get this fruit here in NYC. I’d like to try it again.

  24. Daniel
    March 2, 2006 at 8:18 am

    Oh, man. I’ve got to agree with you on the mamey. Purportedly, El Salvador’s dominant, in-country soda pop is made from mameys, Kolashanpan. Although, I much preferred the firm, slightly orange-fleshed mamey to the regular sapote, which has a softer flesh and is less tasty, though sweeter. The best mamey I tried, which was not considered a sapote at all by the people I talked to, had a consistency almost like a peach that isn’t soft. I couldn’t get enough of it, but unfortunately, only had the chance to try ONE on the mish. I was told that they are very rare.

  25. March 2, 2006 at 9:45 am

    Daniel, the comparison I used to make (for the consistency, texture) of the mamey sapote was an avocado — but a firm peach might be a better comparison. I think I was reminded of the avocado also because it had a large pit in the center. The thing is, even in Guatemala I think I only had this fruit once or twice and it has been so many years since that I’m not even sure I know what I am talking about anymore. I think also that in Guatemala they only called it “sapote” … I only picked up the word “mamey” from google searching — since it appears there are varieties of this fruit.

    I just remember that when I had the fruit I thought it was so tasty and I liked the color of it as well (color on the inside — not the outside). I couldn’t believe that it wasn’t more known and popular in the United States. But when I talked to some people in Guatemala about it, they told me that the tree for this fruit takes a very long time to grow and produce fruit. I think they said 10 years or something like that.

    This morning, shortly after writing my previous comment, I happened to be down by the corner fresh vegetable/fruit market. I asked the nice lady there about it and she shook her head — hadn’t heard of it. But she said her brother would be picking up produce at a market in the Bronx and she would have him ask if they have it.

  26. Boris Max
    March 2, 2006 at 12:39 pm

    Fascinating post and comments. I think when you are an American and you serve stateside you don’t actually miss anything you discover on your mission because you don’t actually leave it so much as go to a different part of it. This probably makes it difficult to eroticize the experience (mistress? Serving in an obscure red state or three is more like kissing your sister). My mission gave me a taste for old-school funk and collard greens, things I have been able to indulge in for many years now….

  27. Bret
    March 3, 2006 at 3:25 pm

    Well written post, Russ. Though my letter would read “to the whore who made me into a man”

    Honestly, “I love L.A.” as the song goes but only for the reasons of having served there (i.e. the people and experiences, etc.). I miss the contrasting sunsets on PV and ghetto birds of Compton and Inglewood and all that came with it, but like the first time, it requires me to pay a price to see her! Though the first time, that price included costs that taught me such life long lessons as to truly mature and grow like no other time in my life.

  28. cj douglass
    March 4, 2006 at 6:57 pm

    I pity most of you, really. God has performed a miracle in my heart that most of you will never understand or believe. I fell in love with southern Utah.

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