Some of You

Issue #139
Spring 2019

Some of you walked as though you were walking on coals of fire. Some of you as though in the field of arboles you remembered from when you were younger, when your fathers taught you how to pull the chilis from the stem, though there were no stems and you were on lookout for other things. Some of you were asleep when you crossed the quiet mountains and had no idea that the landscape could look so different from dusk until the time you could spot the sun again. Some parts were so much warmer than other parts, on the other side of the low rivers where the last sight of some of you was last seen.


Some of you left with your mothers and only your mothers; some of you with your fathers, or your older brother, while some of you left with your sisters, which made everyone who saw you pity you because your demise was inevitable—and those who saw you judged the men and women who raised you for letting you leave so young, but they judged you only for as long as it took to realize that the men and women who raised you were already with us and hadn’t made it as far as you did. Some of you crossed with all of your family, your cousins and your Tia Estelle, who was a widow, and your Abuela Yaya who was in the early stages of polio, and for you we prayed that perhaps things were getting better because traveling in numbers made it seem as though things wouldn’t be torn apart, as though getting across was as simple as a family vacation. Some of you left without telling anyone and had grown so defensive along the way that you became someone else. You drank dirty water from the murky rivers that snaked along the tracks and risked diarrhea for weeks because you wouldn’t accept anything from a stranger. Some of you had no choice when it came to the things you had to do; some of you had no choice but to imagine a role in a movie you were playing, because it was the only way to conjure a will strong enough to get you to the end, which was really just another beginning. Some of you wore the new coats that you packed, instead of saving them for when you arrived. At night, after all the running and dust that became like mud in your hair, when you needed your coats most to keep the cold from numbing your fingers, you put them on and never took them off. Your blue coats turned brown. Red coats turned maroon—while some of you had no coats at all. Some of you carried a single backpack, some of you carried two trash bags, round and bloated like the kind Santo Clos would carry when he would visit your villages. Some of you lost your shoes and were making the trek barefoot and ignored the blisters and scabs that had worn so calloused you stopped complaining about them. Some of you had only one shoe and kept hold of it by gripping your toes even though it was pointless to run that way.


Some of you, when there wasn’t a single cloud, would stare at the sky. As you kept looking up from under a tree or from the crowded van you were pushed into or, on the most tranquil of evenings, when you were on the tops of trains in a starfish position holding on to other starfish bodies because none of you knew when the train would swerve or slow down and you had to hold on to something, you looked up at the constellations that were made of holes in a sky that revealed the heaven above it. Some of you didn’t want to leave, you wanted to stay with your friends even though you knew it was only a matter of time before they would make the journey after you. Some of you ran away in order not to be killed, or robbed, or blackmailed. Some of you got on the 37 bus to Puerto San Miguel because you had an uncle there who’d let you work at the torta stand he owned by the port of the Blue Lagoon. Some of you were caught by officers along the way and were sent back to where you came from. Some of you found guns and bullets and shot at cars passing by, aiming at tires because you hoped you might distract the passengers so that you could get what you knew you wouldn’t by begging. You lived in a country without order and knew it was the only way to get a few pesos. Some of you went to confession about these things while some of you didn’t. Some of you piled your sins until you reached a height where you felt no one could touch you anymore—save for God. Some of you imagined a mountain that reached beyond the clouds, and beyond it was where everyone’s dreams were.


Some of you dreamed about leaving for months and were anxious to get out of town. You wrote letters and emails to the relatives who were on the other side and told them you’d get there by year’s end. You wrote letters to your fathers in California telling them that in two weeks’ time you’d give them the chilis they wanted from Tio Humberto’s house. You wrote letters full of descriptions of what you wanted in your bedrooms when you arrived, like the Spider-Man bedsheets, while others wanted the Corvette-shaped bed frame made popular from American movies like Mr. Mom. Some of you asked about school and whether or not you still had to go, while others asked whether or not there was a laboratory for the sciences and a library of literature and a big cafeteria for lunch, because even though these things were never offered to any of you from where you came from you wanted to make demands and prove that you, even if not a teenager yet, had expectations like your older brothers and sisters. Somewhere someone told you that an education is a possession you can be proud of.


Some of you asked the same question at the start of every page—Will you be there? When your relatives on the other side read them, if the letters reached that far, they sighed at the thought of when someone would have to tell you that your mother had gone missing. Some of you, less compassionate, wanted to make sure the new version of Xbox would be waiting for you in your rooms on the day you arrived. Some of you drew green lawns with red plastic slides in the backyards of houses you thought you’d live in, and then drew an arrow near the middle of an oak tree (which was so gringo, we thought) where you wrote mi propria Casa Blanca in large block letters. Some of you stopped writing. Some of you stopped talking to your brothers and sisters. And if your parents had already left you, your family tried to get you to look up when you walked so that no one could tell you’d grown weak, but the weight of your chins was like anchors bearing secrets no one could decipher.


Some of you had ideas of marrying white men with blue eyes because someone told you that’s how you’d get a large house with an SUV that could fit seven children. Some of you knew a little English, but not enough to approach someone at the gas station to ask for directions. Some of you memorized some of the application forms from the immigration offices that your relatives sent you so that you wouldn’t pause or take too long filling them out once you got there. Some of you thought it would be a long shot to even get that far, to a place in an office where you had to fill out documents, though no one told you that if you got there without permission and without following the rules, there wasn’t a document worth filling out that would make things better for you. Some of you couldn’t write, let alone read, but you told yourselves you’d stay close to someone who knew what he was doing and follow whatever he did. Some of you gave your money to the men you thought were good examples, someone who knew what he was doing, and some of you lost that money without getting what you paid for. Some of you insisted that the direction you were walking in wasn’t the right direction, and after arguing about it, which made everyone in the group hungry and angry, you split up. Within an hour no one could see the other half anymore because you’d gone separate ways. Some of you, when the heat wasn’t as thick and heavy as it was most of the time, would skip and kick the dirt making puffs of sand-colored clouds that other kids would run through. Some of you didn’t see the point in kicking up clouds from the ground, because some of you liked to see the floor without any illusions.


Some of you had nightmares about the stories you were being told, like the one about the girl who ate the house made of cake. Your Tio Jaime had told you that story, and you never forgot it, because after eating the roof and the walls made of cake that had doorknobs and windows made of icing, the girl died. When Tio Jaime left the following summer to where you thought was the other side, to the other ocean, he told you he was going to bring you seashells so big you would be able to use them as chests to keep things in. But a few months passed, then a year, and you asked your father where Tio Jaime was. He got upset when you bothered him, and it wasn’t until you were older that you found out Tio Jaime was robbed and killed off the road in the middle of a single afternoon.


Some of you didn’t want to leave, because you liked being your own little rebels, and since everyone talked of leaving, the only thing left to do was to say that you wanted to stay. Still, everyone said it was the best plan, to pack their bags and get the hell out of the mess they were living in. “It’s not so bad if we are careful,” your abuela whispered deep in the night when they thought you weren’t listening, when they thought you were sleeping. You couldn’t sleep if you knew they were talking in the other room. You leaned in close to the wall that was so thin between you and where they sat. “There’s nothing we can do,” your Papi said. “Unless I leave and then send for them.” Some of you loved where you came from so much that the idea of leaving was more terrifying than having to live a life so carefully. “They’ll get to us eventually,” your Papi said. “It’s not about being so careful, it’s about going where we don’t have to watch our backs anymore.” To this your abuela said nothing.


Some of you had the idea of leaving even before your parents considered it. You were ten, sometimes six, and tried to convince them that the best plan of action was to take the trip, to follow everyone who was leaving and arrive at that place where you could be happier. No? Because wasn’t that the point, you asked your Mami one day. Isn’t that the point? To be as happy as possible, for you and me and Ricardito and Papi? When she turned to look at you, she looked shocked and in love. You didn’t know if she was going to slap you or hug you. Then she started crying and held you and rocked you and said, How did you get to be so strong-minded? How did you get to be such a little man? How?


Some of you drew pictures of planes flying up to that other place. The planes were always blue with small yellow windows along the side with images of each family member in a window seat. You covered the walls in your house with these pictures. Your fathers took them down, but you drew them again, sometimes bigger, sometimes more detailed, until one day they got furious and told you to go wash cars so that you could bring home some money and get those crazy ideas out of your head. But some of those crazy ideas came from your fathers, and these crazy ideas were your people’s ideas, and what was juvenile and insane and dangerous to some of you was to some of us our only remaining hope.


Some of us wanted to stay. Some of us wanted you to stay as well, but we left so that we could find a better home for you. Some of us didn’t have a plan other than to get to the end, which was really just another beginning, to find a job we could keep so that we could save money and get you with us. We’d been told that it would cost a thousand dollars to get you back, others told us it would be as much as ten thousand, but it didn’t stop us from trying, because the options were slim or next to nothing. The only thing left for us to do was try. Some of us tried to find work cleaning houses, or washing dishes, or mowing lawns for people who could afford it; some of us worked in the fields of crops that were covered with people like us, some from the countries we came from, others from other places. We were all dark-skinned, if not by the way we were born, then by the burning heat of the sun that we worked under that made our skin as dark as leather. Some of us worked all day in those fields with our backs bent over. We had no names but were another number on the truck we boarded on the corner of Fernando Street and Sullivan where the ranch hands came to get us; and not always did we get a spot, not always did we get a chance to make the five dollars we did for working a full day in the field, pulling weeds from around the root or collecting lettuces that were ripe.


Some of us tried to make ourselves as ugly as possible so that we wouldn’t be desired, and for some, not bathing or cleaning our hands and feet sometimes helped in making us look no better than an animal off the street. For some, it didn’t matter, because we were used liked animals off the street. Sometimes the ranch hands would pull us aside and tell us we were working too slowly. If we didn’t work faster we wouldn’t be paid, and if we wanted to get paid, then we had to move more quickly. And even if we worked more quickly, they still pulled us aside and asked us to perform a favor. But these favors weren’t asked, they were taken. And sometimes it wasn’t the ranch hand but another man who had boarded the truck with us in the morning, who, at the end of the day, once the stars had started to dot the sky and we were on our way back to Sullivan and Fernando Street to be dropped off, stole our five dollars and, for some of us, much more.


Some of us, though, were lucky to find someone who would let us work inside, who let us enter her home after she’d taken her kids to school, to clean the laundry, the dishes, the floors and the toilets and the windows, which in the middle of summer was a blessing, since we didn’t have to work in the heat. Some of them didn’t want someone to clean so much as they wanted someone to talk to, and as we listened to the stories they told us, about what kind of furniture they wanted to buy instead of the furniture they had, or about the way they wanted the dishes organized on the shelves instead of the way we had them, or about the renovations they wanted to do for the new baby that was coming—“Pink!” a woman said because she knew it was going to be a girl—we couldn’t help but imagine having a house of our own with our own furniture and our own rooms to renovate so that it would be ready for you when you arrived. But if they caught us moving too slowly, they could see we were thinking these things and they were afraid we had our own imaginations, so they put us to work even more, until eventually, if we didn’t stop daydreaming about you and where you were and how you were doing at school, they would tell us to leave. Some of us worked under the table, which is what they liked to call it. We cleaned plates and spoons all day from breakfast until dinner at diners that were so grimy we would’ve preferred to clean the cabinets and floors, but the manager pointed at us and then to the sink full of dirty dishes and so that’s what we did.


If we didn’t find jobs in the field or in a house or in a diner, we had to find other ways to make money. Being women, we knew what was left for us to do. At first, the fear of selling ourselves was greater than how afraid we were when we came over, but because on the way over we were raped anyway, some of us didn’t see any difference now that we’d been spoiled. Some of us learned how to sell ourselves and pray at the same time so that when it was happening, we were protected by our imaginations. We told ourselves that it was worth it, that God was protecting us, and this way we could get the money we needed to get you back. But some of us didn’t get to choose. Some of us were taken without being paid. Some of us were taken even though we were carrying children. Some of us, after being taken by more than ten men, were left in the back of a building where it was dark, and it wasn’t until the next day when the sunlight struck the spot we were lying in that someone found us. Some of us never woke up to remember, until we got here where we could see you more clearly.


Some of us didn’t make it as far as the end or even the middle. When some of us couldn’t walk anymore because of the slits under our feet from the stones and branches and all the miles of running from the officers, or the bandits, or the gang members, we let the group we were a part of go on without us. When there wasn’t anything to drink or eat, the heat devoured us instead until all turned black and our breath slowly disappeared. Some of us, resting under a tree where we thought we could gain strength, were awoken when a group of boys found us and pulled our limbs apart. The faith we tried to wrap ourselves in could only protect us for so long, until it was torn and tattered and couldn’t cover us anymore.


Some of us fought back. Some of us fought back because we wanted to hold on to our breath and to that glimmer of home we could see past the mountain. We wouldn’t die in vain, we wouldn’t die without you, and we wouldn’t die knowing that hope was as pointless as trying to have God on our side. We weren’t afraid of weapons, guns, knives, or broken glass, or even of acid that some men kept in plastic bottles. And when we did have a weapon, even a screw or a piece of metal or a wooden stick, we used it. We struck at the heads of men who wanted to take us, we struck at the heads of other women who wanted to steal from us, and we struck at the heads of anyone who came near us thinking they could get the better of us. Sometimes we got away, sometimes we won, but most of the time the world turned upside down and the blood made it difficult to see, and the swelling was so tender, and the bruises were so sensitive; we couldn’t do anything but give in, then the blackness came soon before the breath was gone. Some of us grabbed shards of glass and cut our necks because we wanted to take our own lives, even if it meant leaving you forever. Or because we couldn’t face another day of fear. Some of us cut the word SIDA across our breasts so that no one would dare break us down by taking what wasn’t theirs. Some of us were fast, we could run faster than a hundred men, but without water we could only get so far until we collapsed.


But if we did get far enough to a room or street corner where there was a telephone, some of us called. “Are you still going to school?” It was always our second question because we wanted to be proud of you. We were proud of you already, but we wanted more for you. We called and told you stories about the lawns behind the houses, and about the trees you could build houses in, and about your bedrooms we were getting ready for you. All pink. Or all blue. Or all Spider-Man or Wonder Woman or whatever it is you wanted. And about the laboratory of sciences and the library of literature where you would study, because you would still have to study, because someone once told us that an education is a possession to be proud of. We told you how much we loved you, and how soon we would send for you, but that it would take time. It would take time to find the right person to bring you at the right price, because, “Cariño mio,” we said. “Happiness comes at a price.”


All of us wanted to stay longer than we did. All of us repent and regret some of the things we did but wouldn’t change how much we tried making things better for you, because you, cariño mios, were and will always be the reason we were alive to begin with. All of us have wished so many wishes that our wishes are the oceans that embrace you, and even still, we keep wishing. Some of us have asked if wishes and prayers are the same? “Then why are we here?” one of us asks. “It must be because we’re in the spot where wishes and prayers come together.”


None of us could make it as far as our imaginations, not as far as that house with the SUV in the driveway and with you in your bedrooms. None of us can call or write as much as we would like to. None of us can touch you save for those mornings when the mist covers the fields, or when the fog rests on the mountain; or when the wind passes out of nowhere and you see nothing move, nothing, not even a feather on the ground; or when you’re in the middle of a crowd and everyone is screaming to get on the train or pleading for mercy, and in all the cacophony, you hear a silence from somewhere you can’t point to but that you can feel; or when you get an idea, a sensation that seems to come from somewhere else, like two rockets crashing and exploding inside you, one of them from your heart and the other from the ground beneath your feet that rushes up through the snake of your spine and sparks a carnival of light in the sky of your mind. Then maybe, just maybe, we made it after all. Maybe we aren’t as far from you as we think.


But you will have to listen, you will have to listen hard. Some of you will have to listen harder than others because some of you are thick-headed, while others will hear us even before we utter a single word.


All of you, no matter where you are, either at the beginning or somewhere in the middle, will have to keep a lookout, not only for the men and women who look for your breath and money, not only for the train that passes only once in the middle of the night, but for us too. Because even if you can’t see us it doesn’t mean we’re not there. Some of you won’t have the strength to follow our wishes. You’ll have the strength to follow your own. Some of you will be little rebels. Some of you will be as fierce as black birds with red mohawks while some of you will be as indistinguishable as the things that go passing in the night. Some of you will have dreams all your own with your own imagination, with maps that draw the path toward wherever it is you want to go, and no one, not the wind nor the heat nor the men and all of the weapons, not even us, will be strong enough to keep you from it.