All this wedding activity stirred me up for a love story. I went back and pulled up a story I pieced together a few years ago from the fragment pieces of information that my apa and ama had shared through the years. One day as I was feeling muy romantica I asked my father “How did you meet my Ama?” He dropped this into my brain and heart:
“En la Fiesta del Señor, le ofrecí una flor ye ella la acepto, y alli empezo” I melted with anxious desire to know more. When you offered that flower, who was she with? What’s La Fiesta Del Señor? What was she wearing? Y muchas mas preguntas, details that a girl needs to have. This story is grounded in facts but does have plenty of embellishments to tie it all in. I can only imagine the hardship they experienced trying to make ends meet and the pain my ama suffered when dad came to America leaving her and the baby. I filled in the gaps to write their story.
Maria ran inside breathless and Angel came zooming in behind her, bending down she lifted him up, Ugh! He was getting so big, nuzzling him, while she looked over at her husband’s picture on the small table she whispered “He’s coming home baby, Apa viene a casa.” She missed him so much, but Angel wasn’t affected by her news, he didn’t know the man in the picture. It was another reality that pointed to their “separate lives” marriage. She studied his handsome face and lean body, standing tall in his Levi Strauss jeans and cowboy hat, looking tan Americano. It seemed like an eternity since he had left, worrying that he wouldn’t come back. She had spent too many days angry with her husband for leaving, but today, despite her fears, and his obvious change, she embraced the yearning she felt for him and allowed herself to remember how wonderful his full lips felt on her. She hugged her toddler tight, and whispered “you’re going to love your Apa” trying to stop the memory of the day he had left.
“No llores”. He hated her tears.
“Chuy, We talked about this. I need to feed my family and I need money to do that. I must go. En el otro lado, I’ll make lots of money and then come home quickly, before you know it!”
“Por favor no te vayas. Think of your hijo” Maria clung to him, hoping that duty to his son would keep him home with her.
“I’m not leaving you like that! Comprendeme, I need to go? My mother will help you with the baby” He pulled her close.
“You don’t have to leave Manuel, I will work”
He stiffened at her words and pulled her away from him.
“You work too hard, too long, too much. Look at you, you’re pale, you’re too thin, and the dark circles under your eyes accuse me. What kind of a man am I to allow this?
“Oh, I see.” She hugged herself trying to hide her unattractiveness from him.
“I should have left a long time ago, then I would already be back with plenty of dólares to sustain us. I’ll send money, I promise you will not have to work so hard.”
“No Manuel, don’t leave. I promise to take better care of myself. You’ll have better eyes for me, please don’t leave. I don’t care if everyone else is living like this. I hate seeing families separate! Wives are forgotten while husbands go off to chase dolares and who knows what else!”
“I’ll return quickly, te lo prometo” He reached for her but she turned and ran to the bathroom. His promise of a quick return pierced her while she vomited her breakfast and crumbled to the floor, holding her abdomen. Their family was growing and he was leaving. Receiving a letter meant his prolonged stay, yet not receiving a letter provoked such worry in her. What if he got ill? What if he decided not to come home?
I hope you and Angel are well. I am now situated in a small room in Mexicali, Baja California, tomorrow I will look for more work on the other side, the gringos are always looking for strong help so it has been easy to get work and make money. There is plenty of work, I’ll be able to make a lot of money. Hace mucho calor! The heat is almost unbearable, pero me aguanto! knowing that you and Angel need me I will endure this inferno. The money I’ve sent should cover all the household expenses for a while. Como esta mi hijo? Tell him that I love him, saludos a tu familia.
Que Dios te bendiga, te lo desea
At first she had been too angry to tell him about the pregnancy. After the morning sickness had passed, she was well and so was their son. Life didn’t change much for Angel, he had quickly adopted her oldest brother; Chino as his dad and life was peachy for him. Gracias a Dios that she had him to fill her days. The baby safely grew in her womb and she yearned for her husband. She reminded herself often “He said he would come back” Maybe, telling him about the second baby would prompt him to return quickly and be with her when her time came. She wrote him a letter hoping it would arrive quickly, there wasn’t much time.
Her heart was broken when she went into labor, she received a letter and more money to sustain them comfortably, but no mention of the baby. Alone she welcomed their second son and called him Arturo.
Eventually a letter did reach him in the Sierra Nevada mountains. His patron needed a sheep herder and he needed to keep working. A numbingly cold and lonely job, just him, the horse, Kazam the dog and the sheep in the cold outdoors. The patron had brought supplies and mail, he was ready for news from home. A letter from his wife and mother, good news he hoped. Que?! “Manuel estoy embarazada” Maria wrote that she was pregnant, But his mother had said in her letter “El niño y Chuy are just fine but come as soon as you’re able” Un hijo?!
“Apa, Apa” Angel clapped his chubby hands “Tío, mi apa!” Angels enthusiasm brought her back, “No, baby, your uncle is not your daddy. Your daddy is coming back from El Norte very soon, maybe today you’ll meet him again” she pressed on her breast as they filled with milk, “He’s coming back! And you and your baby brother will have apa home!” Angel laughed as she twirled him around, “Our family will be together again, everyone will see that we were not abandoned. She stopped abruptly in front of her broken mirror “Wow! I’ve changed so much too”
She put her son down and touched her head, so much of her hair had fallen out during her pregnancy. Her body was still flabby from her labor and delivery. her skin pale from lack of sleep, she wondered what Manuel would think of her now. She pulled on her face, peering into the mirror piece “ aayy! que fea estoy. Ugly!” She accused the image just as Arturo wailed for his lunch, her hands flew to her breast, she winced at how hard they got if she waited too long to nurse the baby. She hesitated, looking again into her broken mirror, if Manuel walked in right now, he would notice her full rounded breast, maybe that wasn’t so bad. Beauty would have to wait again, her boys were hungry. The baby wailed demanding to be nursed and Angel pulled on her skirt, asking for a taco, he too was hungry. Manuel was coming soon and she had to do something about herself, she said to the mirror piece ”I’ll be back and maybe you’ll help me see the areas I can work on.” She ran to get a tortilla for Angel and then picked up her screaming baby. While the baby gurgled at her breast she sighed ready to end this separation and the anxiety it produced.
She remembered her mother in-laws inability to understand her. It didn’t matter that young wives and their babies were being abandoned at epidemic proportions, while young husbands imagined streets paved with dolares. Did Manuels mother think her anxieties were unfounded? Dona Rosario was confident that her son would be loyal to his family and return as soon as he was able. It was Marias job to care for the boys and make a nice home for them with his money. She hated when Maria wasted money, and the mirror had been a waste.
“Why do you need a mirror Maria? You need to be wise with the money my son sends you.” “Pero, Doña Rosario, how am I supposed to keep myself beautiful for your son if I can’t see what I look like? “No buts Maria, don’t waste money, you need to worry more about Angel and the baby that will be here soon” “No señora I need it so that if Manuel returns I will have maintained myself” She was careful all the way home, then Angel raced out to meet her and when the mirror slipped to the ground it broke in two pieces, with no time to regret it, she swooped her toddler up and took him inside so she could pick up her mirrors.
She looked into the mirror as she burped her baby, “Doña Rosario was right, Manuel is coming home and you, Mirror Mirror you really didn’t help, but you certainly taunted me every time you pointed out how unraveled I’ve been. She adjusted her dress and planted a kiss on Arturo’s cheek.
She got busy with the meager meal, glad that soon they would eat more than frijoles, she was tired of beans. She poured the last of the lard into the hot pan and waited for it to get hot then poured the beans into it. They sizzled then splattered, spitting on to her cheek, “Owww!” she hissed and turned to her mirror piece and it seemed to laugh at her with her red blotchy cheek. She sighed and was glad when her toddler took the plate of beans with such gusto, as if she had served him a steaming hot bowl of pozole, the hominy chicken soup was his favorite. She smiled and hoped that there would be enough tortillas to satisfy her growing boy. She knew Manuel had not left her to chase a dream, but to take care of them. When Manuel came they had too much business to attend to, her appearance shouldn’t matter now, but again she glanced in the mirror piece “Oh no! Now I’ll have a scar! She should get rid of that accusing glass! Tears of anxiety squeezed from her eyes as much as she was determined not to cry over such vanities. Worry marked her face as Angel ran to her and asked “Mama? Coco?” And reached up for her. “Si, Angel, just a little owie” she hugged him as a tear rolled down her face, Manuel was coming home, he promised.
Manuel walked in, quietly watching his wife and son. Angel looked up and snapped “NO! Swinging at the stranger as he clung to his mother. “Amor, que te pasa?” Maria looked up wondering what was wrong as her son’s anxiety accelerated “No, no!” Maria swung around and there stood her beautiful husband, he looked like a dark American under his cowboy hat, his blue jeans and boots. She shrunk back anxious, noticing the American in him and his presence reminded her that she was quite undone. While Angel swung to protect his mother from the stranger she slowly took in how good he looked. Manuel reached for the screaming toddler, murmuring his name. “Angel, Mi hijo” Angel screamed in terror “Amaaa!” Maria smiled, “Ya mi amor, ya. There There” She said between tears, “Es tu papa” Manuel quickly closed the gap and embraced them both. There in his arms Maria let the tears of relief roll down her cheeks, slumping her shoulders, she allowed Manuel to take care of his family.