Ok. Strap your reading glasses on. After talking about my writing class I figured I should publish one of my writing exercises. Keep in mind I’m terrible at apostrophes (as is my sister apparently, according to an article published at her 40th birthday party… must be in the genes). I also have not proofread this completely so I do expect my mother to comment on my misuse of desert vs. dessert or where vs. wear at least once. However, it is about 7:15 and I have been at Panera mooching free internet for about 3 hours so I figure I better publish this and get home. I never wrote very much about the day we left Tetelilla. It was a very emotional day and was very hard for both of us. Here is what I’ve written so far about it…. I welcome any and all comments and feedback, even grammatical ones (if you must).
THE MORNING WE LEFT HOME
Mex and I awoke slowly that day. The warmth of morning hugged the fruit trees and seeped into our room, stroking our faces and arms, causing us to groan with the realization it will be yet another steamy day. With a loud whinny, the scrawny horse announced it was her time to be fed. She seemed to know the instant the sun broke above the horizon, and immediately begged to be led down the road to her feeding ground. I was never sure why she was so anxious because the dry, brittle grass of the field seemed as if it wouldn’t satisfy a pocket gopher, let alone a full-grown horse.
Mex reluctantly lifted himself out of bed, kissing me lazily on the nose. I grunted and rolled on my side, sounding like one of the twin pigs his sister was raising in the backyard pen. Something darted quickly down my arm. I sure hope that is sweat, I thought worriedly. Keeping my eyes closed a moment longer, I tried to remain calm. Slowly, I rose to check the mounds of mouse “food” Mex had put out three days before. His attempt to get rid of the unwelcome visitors. Sighing with relief, I realized some had disappeared. Wait. Was it actually moving? Squinting down at the blue tiles I saw the small, poisonous fuchsia pellets marching under the refrigerator. I looked on the other side and saw a little pile of our defense system surrounded by ants. Damn, we lost again, I muttered. I guess Mexican mice are smarter than Minnesotan ones and Mexican ants will eat anything.
Mex’s father had told him that mice had only been around town for the last few years. My theory on the situation was the large packs of dogs roaming the streets had created a complete scarcity of cats, causing the mice population to flourish. Thankfully, due to the meticulous cleaning of his sisters, there were never any mice in the kitchen. Chuy and I were so used to our pest-free American lives that, upon arrival, we did not think twice about bringing a pile of snacks into the room, including granola bars and mini bags of chips. However, after noticing holes in multiple granola bars and the corner of four bags of Harvest Cheddar Sunchips (a surprising mouse favorite over the Cheetos and Cheese Doritos) our error in judgment was discovered. The remaining time in Tetelilla was spent battling the rodents, realizing our repeated losses when we would daily find new mouse droppings on the bed which the food had previously sat on.
My casual attitude throughout this war surprised me, since I would not tolerate rodents, insects or any animal in my own home, placing traps or calling an exterminator at the first buzz heard or black pellet found. However, here in Mexico, in the heart of this impoverished country, the problems of drought, heat, and hunger, of poverty, unemployment, and lack of education seemed to drown out the sounds of those scurrying feet.
The metal gate clanked as horse and husband started their morning procession for the last time, snapping me out of my daze. Feeling slightly defeated and very annoyed by my ant discovery, I grabbed a towel, slipped on flip-flops and made my way across the yard to the shower. “Buenos días,” I said to Chuy’s father as I walked past. His teal plastic chair was already sitting on the uneven stones outside his bedroom door. “Sí,” he replied and chuckled, not so quietly. I know I didn’t pronounce that wrong, I thought. After three weeks, I no longer took his laughter personally though, knowing he spoke little and laughed a lot. Sitting in his chair with gray polyester pants and plaid snap-buttoned shirt, a white cowboy hat throwing shade on his wrinkled, warm brown face, I could not see his crippled hand and leg.
Giving him another smile, I continued down the dirt path towards the bathroom. I pushed the curtain aside and took a hurried shower, trying to conserve as much water as possible because I didn’t know how much was left in the tank today. It was only 7am and the water needed to last, through all the day’s functions: showers, dishes, hand washing, toilet flushing, and plant watering, until 1 in the afternoon. Like in any U.S. city, Tetelilla has a main city well that pumps the water from underground, pushing it through pipes that run under the city’s cement and gravel streets. The difference in Mexico is that each street only has water coming down the pipes for an hour every day. Each family is allowed one private pump to bring the water for all the day’s chores into large holding tanks and barrels hoping it would be enough for the next 24 hours. It never is.
When Mex was young, his family who lives on the north side of town, had the ability to pump more water throughout the day if it was needed and his family’s yard was full of fruit trees and flowers. However, people on the south side of town did not even have enough water for cooking, due to poor pumping systems and pipes. Since this process of water rationing was started in recent years, as an effort to provide water equality throughout town, most of the trees have shriveled in his dad’s yard. In fact, if a person in town has actually has healthy trees or a lot of green plants and flowering bushes, a neighbor will likely report them to the water authority who will inspect the yard, making sure the household is not using any extra water pumps.
Walking back to our cement house after my quick shower, I noticed my father-in-law was preparing to leave. Each day, he took a taxi to the neighboring town to sit in the plaza, people-watching with his friends. I was surprised when the first morning we woke up in Tetelilla, his father was already gone.
“Doesn’t he want to stay here and talk to you,” I had said, slightly indignant. After all, Mex had not been back here in over 13 years, wouldn’t his family want to spend every moment possible with him?
“That’s what he does,” Mex had said, not seeming to be bothered in the least. “He likes to talk to his friends.”
Hmph, I had thought, seeing my imagined scenes of this visit burst and pop like fireworks in my head.
”Felipe,” I whispered now. “Does your dad know we are leaving today?”
“I don’t know,” he said, taking out his shorts for the third time and refolding them, nervous about leaving.
“Maybe you should tell him,” I said. “He would want to know.”
Looking out the wrought iron window bars at his dad, I saw Mex’s eyes start to water. Blinking rapidly, he folded his shorts a final time, laid them in the suitcase, and zipped it closed. He crossed the dirt yard to his father and spoke to him. My stomach knotted, hoping his father would not leave, knowing that this time Mex would be saddened greatly. He did not leave. In fact, for the first time since our arrival he joined us in the kitchen for breakfast, though he sat against the wall and not at the table, listening and not eating. Only Mex’s oldest sister, Filogonia (Filo for short) was home today, since his youngest sister, Eli, had gone to work early this morning. We sat around the table in silence picking at our scrambled eggs mixed with green beans, folding and unfolding the warm corn tortillas, afraid any words would bring tears. I mixed a spoonful of instant NesCafe into my mug of hot water, sniffing the faint aroma of coffee.
“¿Quieres papaya?” Filo asked me. “No,” I said. “¿Sandia?” she insisted, pushing the watermelon towards me. Unsure how to explain that sadness had killed my hunger, I smiled and took a plate full of fruit. Abelina, Mex’s second oldest sister who lives a five minute walk across town, suddenly appeared and we were glad. She had come to say goodbye, but everyone pretended otherwise.
I listened to the rapid Spanish as I looked around the kitchen I would not see for awhile. Terracotta cooking pots of all sizes lined the wall and they glowed softly in the morning sun. The hot breeze was starting to gust through the glassless window openings cut in the cement block walls. After finishing my plate of fruit, I fingered the curvy, delicate edge of the small plate and stared at the pale pink flowers trying to decide what I should do next. Breathing in, I pushed back the white plastic chair, the scraping against the concrete floor making goosebumps rise on my arms. I left Mex talking to his sisters and father and went back to our room. Carefully, I finished copying the Thank you letters I had worked on for the past three days from my notebook onto cards. Years of being shy in Spanish class had left me with terrible speaking skills, but I could write almost perfectly and was hoping to express my deep gratitude and joy to his family in a way I hadn’t yet been able to say.
It was 9:30 when I finished and I went back to the kitchen. “We should go see Sofia,” I suggest quietly to Mex. “Where is she?” Mex asked his sisters in Spanish. “At her house making tortas for a party at the school,” they replied. Abelina decided to come with us and we went out onto the rough cement street and three houses down, entering his sister Sofia’s gated yard. She did not look up when we walked in to the kitchen. Understanding, and not eager to start the process of farewells either, we each took a station, Sofia cutting the perfect bread rolls, Abelina scooping the tinga – chicken with red chile and garlic, Mex slicing avocados, our niece Deysi putting on lettuce and tomato, me wrapping the finished sandwiches in tinfoil. Unfortunately, we finished quickly that way and paused not knowing what to do next.
Mex and I went in to the next room where our niece Gabi was changing her baby cousin’s diaper. Mex gave her a hug, saying we were leaving. I handed her the card I had written and felt my throat clench. I hugged her tight and left the room unable to speak. Mex and I stood in the hallway for a minute, sobbing from somewhere deep inside and clinging to each other tightly, trying to squeeze the pain from our bodies. Mex’s face reflected a deep despair I had not seen before and feelings of sorrow pierced my heart. With my arms around him I whispered in my broken voice that we would return soon. This time leaving was different. Whatever the outcome of that interview in Juarez, he would be back soon to see his sisters and his father. It would not be 13 years. Don’t be afraid sweetheart. We will come back together.
Breathing deeply, Mex and I returned to the kitchen red-eyed and sniffling, causing his two sisters to burst in to tears. After more long goodbyes, words of thanks and promises to return soon, we walked out of Sofia’s house and back to his dad’s. There the process of farewell was repeated with his dad and oldest sister. Filo clasped me to her chest repeating words of love and well wishes which I understood perfectly. Holding her tightly to me, I knew that my lack of language skills would never hinder my relationship with my husband’s family.
The feeling of love that surged as I put my arms around each sister told me our introduction had been successful. My heart ached at leaving them as much as it had when we left my own parents in El Paso, Texas. After six years together, constantly fearing the judgment of my husband’s family in Mexico, three short weeks had truly made me a part of them. Even through the language differences, they were able to see my deep love and respect for Mex and his culture. That was my test I realized. Not how rapidly I could answer questions or how well I could conjugate verbs. It did not matter that I was American. I wasn’t too pale or too plump, my hair wasn’t too thin nor my mannerisms offensive. My worries and insecurities were gone in that instant, pushed out of me by the warm embraces of my sister-in-law. Mi cuñada. All that mattered was my love for their younger brother and his love for me. Reluctantly I released Filo, handing her the card I had made. “Regrasamos muy pronto,” I said. We will return very soon. And I meant it.