Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made:
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
— William Shakespeare, The Tempest
“Thank you,” says Miguel Loupe, leaning close over his acoustic guitar, eyes welling. “This is really revealing for me…” He pauses, takes a deep drag off his Marlboro, ashes, holds in his emotion, and finishes the thought exhaling smoke from his nostrils, “you know, as a dad.” Mike Todd, age 22 and Miguel’s only child, sits on the other side of the table, smiling halfheartedly at his dad’s happiness but seeming uncomfortable with the whole scene. It is almost the end of Mike’s visit, his first to see his dad in Mexico in 10 years, and Miguel wants to celebrate. A group of visiting surfers and locals assembled for shrimp primavera prepared by Miguel’s new friend Bruno, a lanky surfer from Italy.
The food is finished, empty Mexican beer bottles are stacked like big brown party favors amid the ashtrays of smoldering cigarettes on the plastic tables. Overhead, a flickering light bulb keeps the darkness at bay. Miguel, who used to be called Michael before relocating to Mexico permanently from the U.S. in the early 90s, finds his pick and begins strumming The Beatles’ “Blackbird” for the first time in eight years. The first time since Mike’s mom Vivienne left for good. The melody intensifies and he wails in vulnerability, suntanned and shirtless with his leathery skin stretched like hide across spindling sinews. Every note in his raspy Texan twang nears the point of collision as though he were accelerating, throttle depressed firmly, along a perilous road. Miguel clenches his bloodshot eyes and sings at Mike, the accomplished professional surfer who has come back here to the cradle of Mexico after a long decade of absence. This is the country where Miguel delivered Mike from his mother’s womb and gave him his first breath, unwinding his umbilical from his neck and smacking him into consciousness. It is home to the villages that welcomed their nomadic family and Miguel’s hand-to-mouth way of life; home to the nearby long left point where Mike honed his speedy and powerful goofyfoot surfing. “Ol’ Mexico, man,” as Miguel calls it, where Vivienne ran from and returned to and ran from again. The place where everyone close to Miguel eventually fled, but where he stays and surfs and plays his guitar. As his dad sings, Mike swallows hard on the lingering resentment he has for this man who has been absent for most of his life. But his stomach betrays him and after the party deteriorates, Mike goes to bed only to wake up a few hours later, doubled over in pain. He walks outside, gets down on all fours and violently ejects the contents of his stomach into the dirty Mexican sand, heaving under the blanket of stars in the stillness of night.
Mike piles in the back of a pick-up with a local fisherman named Mario and a wily tattooed Brazilian everyone calls “Brazil.” They’re on the way to watch Brazil, the best player on the local soccer team, in a match. The truck stops and honks for Miguel at his place. He lives in a cement room with thatched roofing perched on the second story of an unfinished house. The room is sparse and well manicured, as if he has prepared to pack it all up to flee at a moment’s notice. The only unwieldy items are his surfboards and his repaired guitar, the one he attempted to obliterate in a frenzy one wild night but only half smashed and later fixed with surfboard resin.