Dispatch 22 (Nov. 24, 1998)
Gina and I were both busy the next couple of days with
pre-holiday test studying and work, so I wasnt able to thank her for her good deed that night on Fourth Street.
Ginas actions had grown in my mind, snowballing
until my young Latina friend was becoming Rambo, Lara Croft and Sigourney Weaver rolled into one college
Yes, its easy to act with courage when you have a
weapon, but Ginas actions had provoked in me a little bit of hero worship. It was
hero worship, however, that spoke less of Ginas guts and more about my own regrets
about past moments of hesitation and inaction.
On Tuesday, I treated Gina to China Inn, a little
restaurant off the North side of campus. Over egg drop soup, I thanked Gina, who only
smiled and downplayed what shed done.
"I was scared, but I didnt think anything bad
would happen," Gina said, between spoonfuls. "They just wanted some money. They
probably moved the barricade so that it would happen to somebody, and they could go help
push cars for money."
That theory hadnt occurred to me, and I was
surprised and dismayed by my own naiveté.
We talked about it a little more, both still a little
weirded out by the event it was as if wed shared a dream and neither of us
could remember anymore what was real and what was imagined. That it had only happened a
few nights before made it even stranger. That street and the men whod approached us
seemed light years away from China Inn. Another planet from some other dreamscape.
By the time out entrees arrived (lemon chicken, sweet and
sour chicken), Ginas enthusiasm for conversation was tapering off. It was the middle
of the afternoon and outside the sun had settled in and brought back temperatures I
hadnt expected to see again until after a short winter. When wed arrived, she
seemed to enjoy the sunlight, but inside, her mood had darkened. She didnt bring up
her mother, but I knew it was on her mind and whatever we talked about was merely a
distraction from the topic that was most important to her.
"What are you doing for Thanksgiving?" Gina
asked. "Are you going home?"
"I was going to," I said, "but my
cars not really in good shape for a trip like that and I cant afford to get it
"Youre not going home?" Gina asked,
sounding incredulous. "Wont your mom be upset?"
"She already knows," I said. "Shes
not happy, but shes not really angry or anything. She understands. Plus, Im
going home for Christmas, so its not such a big deal."
"But its only a few hours away. Cant you
take a bus or a cheap flight?"
"I need to save my money for Christmas
shopping," I said. "Besides, Thanksgivings not a huge deal in our family.
We dont have a lot of family stateside, so its usually just us. We eat turkey
like everybody else and a lot of side dishes, then my dad watches football and we all kind
of hang around and see if a conversation springs up. Its really not too big a
"My mother would have a breakdown if I didnt
come home for Thanksgiving," Gina said. "She puts so much work into it. All the
cooking and preparation. Shed probably come here and cook at the co-op if she
thought I wasnt coming down to visit."
"So are you gonna help her cook?" I asked.
Gina looked like she was about to say something, then she
froze. Her hands, folded together in front of her plate, were shaking. Her eyes looked
through me. I realized what I said just a moment after it was out of my mouth, but it was
enough time to stun Gina.
"Shes not cooking his year," Gina said
finally. "My grandmother and I
I guess well do it."
"Gina, Im sorry if I " I began.
"No, Heather, its not your fault. I dont
know whats going to happen either. Its all strange and scary. I dont
know what to do."
"When do you leave?" I asked.
"Tomorrow, around noon."
"Ill come back early Sunday, I guess, if
shes doing okay."
"I hope she is okay," I said. And meant it.
"Thanks, Heather. So what are you doing here
I blanked out, unsure. This was the first year I
wasnt going home, and it hadnt really seemed like such a loss until this
moment. I had friends who were staying in Austin, making their own little "friends
instead of family" celebrations on tiny apartment ovens. But I hadnt made firm
"Ill go buy a frozen turkey pot pie and eat it
alone with some instant mashed potatoes," I said. "And whatever I dont eat
Ill give to the poor."
Gina laughed. "The food at the shelters will be
better than that," she said.
"Yeah, well, maybe Ill go volunteer."
"Why dont you come with me?"
I looked to see if she was serious or just being polite.
Nothing in her eyes, which had lately carried more sadness that light, betrayed her
"Oh, Gina, I dont know. Your mom isnt
well and I dont want to be in the way, you know."
"Youre still writing," Gina said.
"And this is something very important thats happening in my life."
"Gina, I wasnt thinking about that. I mean, you
dont want me writing about your mother, do you?"
"My mother is the most important person in my
life," Gina said. "Whatever good things you see in me come mostly from
I thought about it, trying to keep my mind from writing
prose for something that hasnt even happened yet. I was flashing through images of
her cancer-stricken mother, Gina by her bedside, imparting wisdom. I was afraid of
cheapening that of fumbling it with my outsiders fish-eye lens.
But if Gina was willing to trust me with her life, to
bring me into it full center when it was in crisis, I didnt think I could turn her
down. She was trusting me with her leap of faith, and I felt I at least owed it to her and
to myself to take the same leap. I needed to trust myself.
"Youre sure its okay," I said.
"All right, Ill go. Tomorrow afternoon we
"Tomorrow," Gina said.
We finished our meals without many more words uttered.
When we left the restaurant, the sun was still bright as students crossed streets or
navigated through traffic. Everyone was moving a little faster than usual, trying to
finish this or that before leaving own to see their families, or to welcome them here.
Gina and I parted on a promise that tomorrow, I would see
for myself where and who she came from.