Thursday, August 28, 2014

Driving Billie

It was hot.

Even with my black Ray Bans on I squinted against the sunlight as I walked to my red Civic.

"If I gave you gas money, would you give me ride home?" a voice asked to my right.

I turned just noticing a young girl with brown skin and beads of sweat clinging to her top lip.

"Where do you live?" I asked. Quick.

"Over by the Albertson's on Abbot," she paused. Her mouth stayed open ready to inhale my no.

I looked at her, she was only holding a gray binder, and nodded.

I pulled my head to left and said, "Come on."

She didn't hesitate and her steps fell into rhythm with mine as we walked to the car.

"It's so hot, you know? I'm from Vegas, but in the last few weeks I've gone from white to brown."

I clicked the car doors open.

"Don't mind the mess," I said grabbing wrinkled papers off the passenger seat.

"Oh, no worries," she said as she sat down, "I'm from Vegas. Land of fast food wrappers."

The car was hot and steamy. The closeness of this strange girl was suddenly very obvious, and I shifted the car into reverse quickly.

"It's so hot here, you know? I walked here earlier, and I just don't think I can make it back. So hot," she nodded with her whole body.

I turned to look at her but only saw my reflection in her silver plated aviators.

"Maybe you should try the bus?"

"In Vegas the buses fun every 15 minutes, you know? The whole city is 35 miles from end to end, like a perfect circle, and the buses run every 15 minutes day and night. Here? I beat the bus walkin' with my legs."

Led Zeppelin's Kashmir was muffled in the background by the blast of the car's air conditioner.

"Yeah, here you have to get used to a slower pace. I mean, Vegas is Vegas," I paused, "Why'd you move here?"

I switched lanes as she answered.

"I aged out of foster care. In Nevada the homes use foster care as a kind of charity to get money from the millionares. They'd like hold me up and say 'Oh, look at this poor girl. Give us money', but there's nothing to do in Vegas besides becoming a stripper, so I came here with my boyfriend."

"Is your boyfriend from here?"

"No, but his family is from Mexico, and he has family here, so we came."

I slowed to a stop as the light turned red.

"Foster care is crazy in Vegas, you know? The way I grew up is a crazy story though.  My mom put me there because she decided she wasn't ready to be a mom, but before then we lived in El Salvador for five years," she laughed.

"El Salvador?"

"Yeah, the mosquito's are crazy there. I mean, I think they're bad here, but man they eat you alive there. Salvadoreans are all lime and salt, so the mosquito's go crazy. When I was there with my mom she realized that there were beetles that liked to eat me too."

The blinker clicked in the background as I looked to me left and pulled the car forward.

"So, your mom is from El Salvador?"

"Yeah, and she's famous there. She walked here twice. When I'm there, they're like 'Your mom is legend. She walked twice and didn't die.' I never know what to say. I'm like, 'Yeah, well I'm from Vegas and I haven't done anything," she laughed again.

"So, the Albertson's on Abbot, right?" I shifted gears.

"Yeah, you can just drop me off there. You know, you're the first person I've been able to have a conversation with since I've been here. People just usually 'uhhu' and nod when I talk to them. I don't understand it. I mean, I'm asking about them and they just say, 'I don't know', how can you not know about yourself?"

I smiled and turned to look at her.

"Maybe it's because you're not from here?"

"Yeah maybe, but it's just nice to have a conversation."

"So, just here at the parking lot?" I pointed, my hand on the steering wheel.

"Yeah, I live in those red apartments right behind it, you know, just so you don't think I'm weird."

I pulled to a stop.

"Well it was nice to meet you..."

"Billie. Call me Billie."

"Nice to meet you, Billie."

She held her hand out, and I shook it. Her fingers cool against mine.

She shut the door against the heat,  and I watched as she crossed the parking lot toward red brick apartments before pulling away.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Because I Cry

The last few weeks have been emotional for me for many reasons. At any moment I find that I feel the burning pressure at the bottom of my lower lids that is accompanied by incessant blinking as I try to wash away the tears hovering just around the curve of my eye.

I once believed to be strong one had to swallow their tears. I didn't like to cry, even though tears seem to accompany most of my emotions. I'm sad. I cry. I'm angry. I cry. I'm happy. I cry. Perhaps because I didn't like them they enjoyed springing to the surface so readily.

But, in the last two weeks I've cried because I had a realistic bad dream which I couldn't seem to wake myself from. I cried for a friend driving to the gym because I didn't have any words to respond with that could make her feel better. I cried watching a movie because a father died, and I've never known a good father. I cried because I'm scared of what is coming in the next months.

And mostly, I've cried because I finished my book about my grandma, Ita. I hesitated finishing it, and I didn't know why. Although writing it was hard, and I had to deal with many emotions when I finished, I realized that the closeness I've felt by writing about her would be over. I'd captured all the major stories I could dig up, and now with it finished it seems as if she is dying all over again. Even as I type the tears hover, and I can't explain why.

When I cried in the kitchen last week he told me, "But she has a book. She'll live forever in a book. Imagine if she knew she was book? How happy would she be?"

I nodded knowing he was right. My Ita would be so happy to know she lived on in pages. That people would read her and discuss her. Ita, Licha, Alicia lives on in all the words and pages I scraped together.

Earlier this week a friend asked, "Why did you write this?", and I didn't have a ready answer.  I hesitated on what to say. My mind thought, "I wrote it for love. I wrote it for all the great things my Ita did for me. I wrote it to forget all the bad things I did, all the bad things Ita did. I wrote it because I miss her and sometimes I still feel guilty she died without us around. I wrote it because I had to do something with the weight I was carrying around. But mostly, I wrote it because I miss her and I didn't know how much I loved her until I lost her."

Instead I answered with something more composed. More scripted. The things you can say to a person in a coffee shop that keep the hovering tears in check.

So, for now I learn something else in this journey and because I cry I know that I am strong.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Riding Shotgun with Angie in Downtown El Paso

The beginning of a transcription of a conversation I had with my sister driving around downtown El Paso.


Y: Ita never lived this far did she?
A: No, she didn’t.
Y: I remember parking at that place right here… to go to Juarez [point at parking lot off of South El Paso Street]
A: Uh huh… to go to Juarez
Y: I haven’t been down here since I don’t even know when, man. [pause] This does look nicer though.
[car blinker clicks in the background]
A: Yeah, they’re cleaned it up quite a bit.
Y: Then when I was a kid.  So, when you would go with grandma would you go—well yeah, it was this bridge, right?
A: We’d go through both bridges.  But, most of the time we’d go through this one.
Y: Okay.
A: Which is uh, PDN. Paso del Norte.
Y: Isn’t this the Santa Fe Bridge, though? Or am I…? Oh, I used to park here and cross!
A: Mmm hmm. That girl walks funny, like she’s a washing machine [points at pedestrian].
[both laugh loudly]
A: Yeah, this is Santa Fe Bridge. It’s on Santa Fe Street. So, we’d walk over both of them, but back in the day, one of them and I don’t know which one, was only a one way. It might be this one.
Y: I think it’s the other one, no? ‘Cause that street is a one way.
A: Look at the Christmas trees!
Y: Man, that’s a lot of stuff.
A: I didn’t go back far enough did I?
Y: No, but I think it’s because the bridge gets in the way, though.
A: I think this is as far down as we can go.
Y: Where’s Silva’s?
A: Silva’s is like behind [points to the other side of International Bridge] on that side isn’t it?
Y:  “Chavela’s Restaurant”? [points at building]
A: Ay, Chavela’s. It says Ay! [both laugh]
Y: You know what’s funny is Daniel and I went to one of these stores here [points to store just before Santa Fe bridge], and they had a cute ring, and I asked the lady how much it was, and she asked me if in dollars or pesos. And I was like—but it’s—okay [shrugged]. I mean it makes sense, but it’s funny that when you get right here they ask you that. ‘Cause she would take pesos. And of course since I said dollars the ring was more expensive, so I told her never mind.
A: How much was it?
Y: I don’t know. It was like $30 for this little silver ring. She said, “Pero es plata Mexicana,” and I was like pfffff well you can keep your “Plata Mexicana”. Sell it to another Mexicana.
A: Or buy it over there [Juarez] for cheaper. That building wasn’t there, and that building definitely wasn’t there.
Y: No, but it was a smaller building that was a casa de cambio, right?
A: I think so, or it might have been Manifiesto’s.
Y: What’s that? What’s Manifiesto’s?
 A: That’s where they turn in their shit that they buy and they get the tax off.  And actually right here where it says “Available” [points] there was a little restaurant and one time that I went to Juarez partying with Ruben and his brother and his brother got pissed off and left us down there we walked across and waited for Mom to come pick us up there.
[both laugh]
A: All of this has changed so much though. Look at that building right there [points] that been gentrified. “La Esquina”.  Ayi por la esquina. [speaks in a high voice]
Y: Okay, we’re on El Paso Street, right?
A: Yeah, El Paso, and somewhere around here, um. Let’s see if they haven’t knocked it down are all the theaters I would go to would Ita. There was the Carpri Theater that, um, all they showed was Spanish movies, and then of course there was The Palace Theater which was a XXX, um—
Y: And grandma worked there, right?
A: She worked there as a ticket operator, and I would sit there. There was a little raised platform in the ticket booth and I would sit there on the floor and wait for her.
Y: So grandma didn’t at least let you watch the porn? [starts laughing]
A: No! [laughs loudly]But I could hear [imitates loud moaning]. I was like four years old and Mom would pick me up or whatever, and back then they had the cops that were on the foot patrol, and that’s how Ita knew all the cops. Like Cortinas and—which always cracked me up ‘cause of his last name—you know cortinas, curtains.
Y: Yeah.
A: Um, and she knew Lujan, which is funny cause it happens to be Gabe’s cousin (Angie’s husband).
Y: Oh, really?
A: Yeah, he was at my wedding. I was like “Hey!”—So, and then what she would do [Ita] is she had this guy that she would send back—El Colon is the other one.
Y: Where’s that?
A: Right here coming up on Third and El Paso. See where it says “Colon” now it says “Casa Asia”? That used to be a theater, and it was just Spanish movies.
Y: Did grandma work there too?
A: No.
Y: But you would go there.
A: Yeah we used to go there all the time. Now it’s a store. Anyway, when she worked at The Palace Theater she was really good buddies with the cops that were on foot patrol and she used to send somebody back when the Sergeant would come by and check up on them to make sure that they were patrolling and she would send somebody back to tell them, “Hey your Sergeant’s looking for you,” and they would exit out the back doors of the theater, and that’s how they became good friends—
Y: Friends, because grandma would—
A: Would hook them up or whatever. [keeps driving down El Paso Street] I wonder what was here. I can’t remember.
Y: I don’t really remember being on this street very much.
A: Really?
Y: [shakes head] I remember more the streets where The Who’s is. Was.

A: Oh yeah, because most of the time you were with her it was probably at night when Mom was working or whatever.