One Year―One Lie―Forever More in Generoso, MX
It was a lie and your mother knew it but she didn’t stop him. She tried to take herself out of the equation with a bottle of tequila instead, but her liver was too strong for the poison.
It was only for a year. That’s what he said as he scouted retired ice cream trucks and delivery vans. It was only for a year, but none of those would do―they simply were not large enough, or fit enough, to make the long haul. “It’s only for a year,” he said, when he pulled up in an old yellow school bus. He promised, over and over, while pulling out row after row of green vinyl bench seats. “You won’t even have time to miss your friends.”
A year is a long time when you’re six. A year might as well be a decade.
But you don’t sell most of what you own at weekly garage sales if you’ll only be gone for a year. You don’t watch your mother sort through decades of personal belongings, stowing years of keepsakes and mementos inside a yellow school bus. You don’t hear her talking about how she packed the handmade velvet dress she’s saving for your future daughter onto that same bus. Not if you’re coming back. Not if it will only be a year.
For a year, you rent a storage unit. For a year, you get a neighbor to watch your house―you don’t sell it. But the realtor came and staked her claim with a brand new sign in the front yard right next to your favorite climbing tree anyway. For a year, you pack up the family station wagon and lease a furnished apartment―you don’t drive a giant yellow bus with the word “school” blacked out, stuffed with couches and tables, a washer and dryer, what’s left of your earthly possessions, across the Mexican border.
You might sound a little bitter right now, but you’re not. You don’t resent your father for never wanting to come back. You don’t resent him for his lies, or your mother for going along with them. Because . . . because, in a way, it was the greatest time of your life. Even now, grown as you are, with children of your own, it is still a big part of who you are. Maybe you even find yourself wishing you could give them the same experience. Not the deceit or enabling, but the life experience of a world beyond their coddled American existence.
Maybe you’ve done everything you can not to spoil them, to explain what most of the world is like, but you know that is nothing like seeing it with their own two eyes. Smelling it. Touching it. Living it. They don’t know what it’s like to shit in an outhouse. A real one―not some pansy ass Honey Bucket―but a hole dug in the ground, already half full with human waste, and stinking so bad that they have to hold their breath in the hundred and ten degree weather. Your daughter, she’s not much bigger than you were the first time your parents took you to the colonias―the first time you teetered on the edge of that seat made of plywood, scared to death of falling in, your mother holding you by your pits. Your son, he’s already five years older than you were the last time you sat so confidently, your butt finally big enough to cover most of the hole and assuage your fear of drowning in a soup of pee and poop. But the way he is already so entrenched in this artificial lifestyle you know he’d hold it to the point of infection, or at least get bitten by a rattlesnake while pissing in the tumbleweeds, before he’d open that wooden door with the moon cut out.
Your kids, neither of them have ever seen a man dying slow at home, his family doing their best to keep him comfortable despite his broken bones and his body slowly turning septic. They’ve never watched hands laid and miracles prayed for, a thin veil over the ulterior motives of a white American lead Evangelical movement proselytizing its way through this Catholic nation by way of womanizing missionaries. They’ve never seen the settlements built in desperate poverty―the colonias hidden in the mountains―hundreds of one room shacks made of spare plywood and cardboard, many home to three, sometimes four generations.
But neither have they seen what it is like to truly give it away.
Your kids, they’ve never stared generosity in its beaming, sun worn face. They’ve never been given the shirt off of a stranger’s back. They’ve never been the guest of honor sitting on a floor made of packed dirt and bottle caps, a bowl of fresh, homemade menudo in their lap. They couldn’t even fathom what a feat this caldo is, accomplished without running water or electricity, let alone a refrigerator. Maybe, even as an adult, you have a hard time understanding why a mother of six would use her one day off travelling to the city, hauling back fresh ingredients packed in ice, only to wash those ingredients with water she had to carry from the communal pila and cook over a camp stove, all just to feed you and your family a hot meal. Your family that lived in a comfortable three bedroom cement house on a paved road with indoor plumbing and a personal pila as a backup for when the city supply ran dry.
You could call it culture shock―when those in the most need are the first to give. But you’d have to admit that it is only now that the shock is settling in. Settling in between you and your offspring. Of course, it’s not their fault. Your son, your daughter, they’re also products of the society they’ve been brought up in; one where all of the forces around them are destined to be stronger than the lessons of your childhood. What they need, you know, are lessons of their own. So you take out a map and start to ponder. Where could you take them, where could they see what life is really about―just for a year? Just one year. Or maybe two. But you know better. You know that given the choice, you might not come back either.
One Year—One Lie—Forever More in Generoso, MX first appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Dirty Chai Magazine.