Friday, January 9, 2015


Had I known what my future held, I might have stayed with my Grandma in Valdeflores. But futures are a dim light in a four year olds mind. Warmth, love, and a mom to tuck you in at night are what you need. I wanted no less, and after the trauma, despair, and death I had faced, I wanted nothing more than to sink into my mom's lap. The bus carried us away, driving us into the city of Oaxaca and into uncertain days.

We arrived in that city in southern Mexico with nothing but the clothes on our backs. Alone, we straggled off the bus and stopped to look around. We were together, but struggling to know which way to turn. I'm sure the most pressing thing for my mom was to find a place for us to live. I don't remember the ins and outs of how we found a room to lay our head, but I do remember that it was concrete and held absolutely nothing. It was emptier than a wind-swept desert, but also a place we could lie down and sleep. A blissful dreamlessness cleared our minds, if only for a time, of all the tragedy that had befallen us.

The days drifted together and I felt a sense of normalcy. Oaxaca is a beautiful city full of the sights and sounds that are Mexico. The mercados are full of lush produce, and the sellers are all indigenous to the area. The lilting sound of many different dialects blended together to form a heady mix pleasant to the ears. There are more Indian languages in Mexico than you can count. Avocados were piled high, with mangoes and mysterious tropical fruits as their neighbors. Deep brown-skinned women patted out clayudas (huge blue corn tortillas) to fill with frijoles and queso. I was with my mom and brother, and in my childish mind, it was all I needed.

My step dad 2014

One afternoon mom took us out for malteadas (malts). She struggled to find small amounts of work and it was hard for a woman alone. When she did get money, she tried to treat us. I was happy, sitting at the small wooden table in the market sipping on my malt. I can still see the man coming up behind my mom and scaring her. She took one look at him and a puzzling look crossed her face. Chucho and I looked at each other. We didn't know the man, but my mom did. We started walking down the street, my mom and him talking. I knew right away I didn't like him. I tried to walk beside my mom, but he pushed me away and told me to walk with my brother. I trudged behind them, fuming inside. Secrets are tied up tight in Mexico. It's nearly impossible to get people to talk about things better left hidden in the past. Within weeks we had moved in with this man, this man who simply appeared and had captured my mom's attention and took her away from me. What I didn't know, and what took me many months to find out, was that my mom knew this man from her small village. He wasn't just anyone either. He was my older brother Chucho's father – and he hated me.

Fairness is not always served in Mexico. Although much has changed, sometimes men have the upper hand. My mom had become pregnant with my brother by this man, whose name was Rutilio. When he found out she was pregnant, he left her. She was alone and with child when my dad Maximo came along -- who loved her as she was. Now, that whole family was lost to her – and I was the only one left from it. My dad, my sister, and my brother were all dead. Even though my stepfather had left my mom when she was pregnant, I was a pariah in his eyes. It was inconceivable to him that she had found someone else, married, and had kids. My mind works over this now and wonders if the anger to come was because I existed. Because my mom had dared to love someone else, no matter that he had left her. We never spoke of my dad again.

As adults, we wonder what children hear. I can tell you that I heard a lot. Mysterious noises would come from the kitchen. Arguing, and sometimes screaming drifted through the door. My stepfather became more hateful as time passed. He had a job when he found us, but had lost it. He began drinking with a vengeance. He wasn't your typical alcoholic. When he drank, he drank to forget anything other than that his mescal existed. Mescal is like moonshine here. There were times we had to go find him in the mornings, laying facedown in the gutter curled in a ball. His bottle of mescal, lay dirty and empty beside him. We would drag him home, never once regaining any semblance of consciousness. When he sobered up is when he became like a mad dog. He would grab my ear with his fingernails, and knock me on the head with his big knuckles until I felt faint. With each successive day, events escalated. I hated him with all my heart. Maybe because I was close to five years old now, he held back. These episodes I remember faintly, it was the violence that occurred when I was a bit older that will never leave me. 

The state of Oaxaca is several states away from where we lived.

When I was six, we moved from Oaxaca to San Juan, Teotihuacan in the state of Mexico. Close to Los Piramides de Teotihuacan, we moved into a small white adobe block house. I call it the white house. It sat in the middle of a pasture, and we moved here so my stepfather could tend a flock of 300 sheep. We settled in, but uneasily, always wary of my stepfather. We moved here right in time for Chucho and I to start school. It was to be my first year in school, and I was not interested in going. We got up that morning, and my mom packed us tortas of bolillos, frijoles, and queso. That is, a crusty bread roll with beans and cheese. We waved goodbye to my mom and took off down the wooded trail that led to town that followed a small river. As we got closer to the school the path divided. Chucho headed for the school and had already made some friends, but I yelled to him that I wasn't going to go. He told me I had better follow him, but I told him no, I don't want to go to school. He just shook his head and kept walking. My headstrong ways have never left me. I took my six-year-old self and walked it into town. I meandered around for awhile, reveling in this bit of freedom from the heartache at home. Your mind becomes tense and fragile when you're always watching out for what you say and do. A blow can come from the tiniest of things. I saw a bus parked in the town square, and decided to climb on and sing for some change. My stepdad had forced us to sell gum and shine shoes when we lived in Oaxaca, so I knew all about hustling a crowd for money. I started singing in the aisles of the bus, and soon had a nice handful of change. What I hadn't realized was that the bus had been moving. The scenery flashed by and soon the bus stopped – in Mexico City. I didn't know then that I was only 45 minutes from home, but I wasn't scared. I hopped off the bus and decided to explore. I somehow found myself at the zoo, and made a day of wandering around checking out the animals. I tried out the paddle boats too, and was having a splendid day all around. I knew it was getting late, and didn't want to get home too late. Bad things would happen if I was late. As I was walking, I came to the train station. I knew we had traveled on the train when we moved to San Juan, so I figured the train would take me home. There was a station in my town. I snuck on the train, and wedged myself underneath a seat. It soon chugged its way out of the station, and I was lulled to sleep with the swaying motion. 

Oaxaca City

I woke up with a start, and crawled out to look out the window. It was already the next day, I had slept through the night, but the train had never stopped. I spent the rest of the day hiding from the conductor, because I had no ticket. This train stopped at little villages, and I saw vendors with food steaming outside the window. My stomach lurched with hunger, but I figured if I got off I would never get home. I quickly dashed off and bought café con leche and sweet bread. I still had change from my singing the day before. The train chugged on, while verdant green hills turned into a lush canopy of semi-tropical jungle. Why wasn't I arriving back home? Fear crept into my mouth, and I could taste it. We finally stopped and pulled in with a whoosh and a clang of the bell at a station. "Everyone off," yelled the conductor. I jumped out of the door and ran onto the platform. I stood and looked around. Nothing was recognizable to me, and my heart did a flip. Shivering, I realized I didn't know where home was. Little did I know that the train had taken me three states away. I was six years old and lost in a big city. I would remain lost, living on the streets for the next three years.