Dispatch 24 (Nov. 26-28 part 2)
Gina and her father took Ginas mother down past
the girls rooms and into the master bedroom. Ginas father kicked the door
closed behind them. Sandra and I waited outside and after a few minutes, Gina emerged. She
looked badly shaken as she walked past us, not looking at either of us.
I waited, watching as Gina walked toward the living room,
then returned a few seconds later with a glass of water shed retrieved from the
She disappeared back into the room and a few minutes after
"Is she okay?" I whispered, unsure if her mother
"I dont know," Gina said. "Shes
awake, but weak. Shes on medication, so shes really groggy.
We walked back to the living room where outside we could
see that the night had overtaken the backyard. From this vantage, I couldnt see any
neighboring houses nearby light was scarce.
Gina spoke, directing her words to Sandra, who sat slumped
on a recliner. "Dad says the surgery went okay but they wont know how well
shes going to do until they see her again. Shes still sick, but maybe
shell be better," Gina said.
"Will she be able to walk and move around and
stuff?" Sandra asked.
"Yes, but she might still be weak. She just needs to
stay in bed for a whlie."
"Does she have to go back to the hospital?" I
"Next week for an exam if shes okay between now
and then," Gina said.
"Is Daddy okay?" Sandra asked, her high-pitched
voice sounding tiny.
"Not really," Gina said. "We need to help
We waited for a while for Ginas father, Miguel, to
come back from the bedroom. When he didnt come out for a half hour, Gina went into
the kitchen and started preparing a dinner. I wondered if anyone would be able to eat, but
it didnt matter. Sandra and I helped and it kept us busy.
We set the table and eventually, Ginas father joined
us. His face was drawn and he looked tired and defeated.
Gina introduced me and he smiled warmly as he sat down in
front of a plate of arroz con pollo.
"Gina says you are a writer," he said in a
heavier, deeper accent then Ginas, but with the same melodic quality.
"Thats what I want to do," I said.
"If I can make a living at it."
"Ginas mother wrote poemas and estorias when
she was younger. She would tell stories to all the kids in her neighborhood in Chiapas.
Where are you from, Heather?"
"My parents used to live in Houston, but my dad took
a job in California and theyve been there for a few years. I only lived in
California for two years in high school, then I came to UT
"How often do you see them?" Miguel asked.
"Maybe two or three times a year," I said.
"Christmas, summer and I guess part of Spring Break depending on my plans."
"Its hard even with Gina just a few hours a
way," he said, poking distractedly at his rice platter. "She cant always
be here when we need her."
"Im here now," Gina said suddenly. "I
would have come earlier if I didnt have tests."
"Y la otra," Miguel continued, poking his fork
toward Sandra. "She wants to go to school out of Texas. Well see her two or
three times a year and then, ba! Ya se va, se casa and our grandkids will be across the
"Dad," Sandra said, whining. "I dont
even know where I want to go yet."
"Gina could have gone to school here at Pan Am, but
she had to go to Austin," he said. "Now we never see her."
Gina didnt say anything, but the way she held her
head down and watched her food as if checking it for movement meant she was hurt or angry.
The rest of dinner was idle chatter as Miguel asked about
my family and about Austin. No, Id never been this far south. No, Id never
seen Mexico. Yes, I though the University of Texas Pan Am was a fine college.
The doorbell rang as we were putting up the dinner plates
and a small woman with jet black hair and dark wrinkled skin was at the door when Gina
answered it. She smiled, her eyes crinkling with delight.
"Mija!" she exclaimed and hugged Gina tightly.
"Esta es tu amiga?" she asked, pointing to me.
"Se llama Heather," Gina said. "Es de la
"Hello, Heather," she said, her pronunciation
deliberate and languid. "My name is Mari. Im her grandmother."
Gina led Mari to the room where her mother was sleeping.
After a few minutes the two of them came back to the living room where Ginas father
and Sandra were watching television.
Mari sat next to Ginas father and slapped her hand
on his thigh. "Está muy mala, Miguel. Que van a ser mañana?"
"Para comer?" Miguel asked.
"Si para comer. No saben?"
I caught enough to figure out she was asking what everyone
was going to eat for Thanksgiving. Ginas father was telling her he didnt know.
"Te preparo algo," Mari said. "Como a las
Mari kissed Gina, Miguel and Sandra on the cheek, holding
their faces in her hands, chin and head between them, as she got ready to leave. She
hugged me and said, "It was good to meet you, Heather. Tomorrow, I cook for
* * *
Gina and her dad went outside for a while and talked
while he smoked a cigarette. Sandra and I sat in front of the console television, but my
eyes kept straying through the picture windows at them as Gina held her arms folded over
her chest and her father puffed absently, speaking, then looking off into the dark green
of the yard that seemed to end in nothingness.
Gina said something and her father extended the cigarette.
Gina took a drag from it and handed it back. Her father said something and they were
laughing together. I felt a little sad at that, wondering how much laughter there might be
in this home and, depending on the health of Ginas mother, how much thered be
in the weeks to come.
They came back when the cigarette had burned to its end.
Miguel walked past us to the bedroom. Gina plopped down between us on the couch and put
her head on my shoulder.
"Im sleepy, Heather," she said.
"Im gonna go to sleep."
She dragged herself up, stomp-stomping toward the bedroom
we were to share. I looked to Sandra, who was making an art and science out of ignoring
me, and followed Gina.
I fell asleep that night amid a quiet that was the
opposite of peaceful an unsettled restlessness that came with expectancy. When life
throws you a curveball, when you dont know which way the wind will blow, when you
build a home made out of straw of your heard and dont know what will knock it down
these were the expectancies that followed Gina and her family into slumber as I
pulled the covers to my chest in the twin-sized bed.
* * *
When I woke, Ginas bed was empty and the door was
open. I heard the clanging and chatter of unmistakable ethnic cooking the early
preparation, the gossip, the laughter that, under different linguistic circumstances,
might be a close mirror of a Yi holiday cooking session. I woke up stretching my limbs to
wakefulness and smiling.
I took a shower and got dressed and as soon as I hit the
kitchen, Gina spotted me and grabbed her purse. "Come with me, Heather," Gina
said. "Were gonna get some things at H.E.B."
Gina and I drove and before wed even left the
driveway, Gina told me it wouldnt be our only stop. "I wanted to show you a
little bit of Harlingen. You didnt get to see
much of it on our way in."
"Whats there to see?" I asked.
"Honestly? Not a lot," Gina said, and laughed.
"We have a mall and a bowling alley and
not a lot else."
"Is that why you left?" I asked, unwilling to
imagine a Gina who couldnt turn heads at Miguels or find a scenic spot to
share her latest observations and secrets.
"No," Gina said. "If you were to take all
the pueblitos in the Valley and add them up, youd have a pretty good-sized
town," Gina said. "Its like San Antonio, but without all the big buildings
or the Alamo or downtown."
"Gina, what the hell are you talking about?" I
asked. "It doesnt sound anything like San Antonio."
Gina laughed. "The attitude. Like how people act.
Theres crime, but people are a lot more respectful and nicer than a lot of
"Really?" I asked, skeptical as punk rocker at a
John Tesh autograph party.
"Austins great, but dont you get tired of
how pretentious it is?"
"Pretentious?" I asked. "You mean Fourth
Street and all the yuppie martini bars?"
"It goes was beyond that," Gina said. "Just
the attitude in general. The whole granola, hippie vibe. It was cool, but now everybody
things just because they live in Austin, they fall into that category. That theyre
hip and environmental and cool just because they live there."
"How are you any different?" I asked.
"I didnt say I was," Gina said. "But
people think living somewhere entitled you to be perceived a certain way. And it has
nothing to do with how they really live their life."
"Interesting," I said. "How do you want to
"Im my own person. That would be a good
start," Gina said.
We passed by a mall that Gina said was one of two large
ones in the area, but looking at it I was unimpressed. After the Galleria in Dallas,
Rivercenter mall in San Antonio and even some of the malls in Austin like Highland and
Barton Creek, this one was none-too-impressive. Plus, Im of the opinion that malls
are dying a quick death, replaced by factory outlets, shopping online (yay, Amazon!) and increasingly large multi-purpose stores like
Best Buy and the ever-expanding behemoth that is
Wal-Mart. Im not saying its a good thing. I just think people are tired of
finding parking in these multi-mile lots and are even more tired of dealing with all the
walking and store-to-store effort that goes into visiting a mall. The rat-in-the-maze
thing has got to stop and I for one say its about time.
Then the more I thought about this, piloting my train of
thought in the car as we drove past the mall in silence, the more it sounded like an Andy
Rooney rant. The end of the mall era? What the hell was I thinking?
Gina showed me the high school where she said she first
learned of sex, where she made enemies more often than she made friends and where she
first discovered that adults could be terrible, even to the children they were supposed to
nurture and teach.
We stopped at a wide, flat park, parking next to a small
beat-up white Volkswagen Beetle. On one of two swings nearby, a young man was sitting, his
long hair waving in a cool breeze.
Gina cut the engine and ran out before I knew what was
happening. She ran to him as he stood and they were kissing, their hands searching each
others backs with abandon as I walked meekly toward them.
Gina broke their kiss, but not the embrace and turned
toward me. "Se llama Heather. Viene conmigo de Austin."
The picture of the two of them was one that I could have
published and sold in empty picture frames. It wasnt that he was remarkable
physically he had a long, lean body that, holding any other face might seem boyish.
But his face and his long hair made him look aboriginal he had deep-set eyes the
color of moonless night. His eyebrows were thick and angular and his skin was brown and
flawless, reflecting even the dim light of the day. He was wearing plain jeans and a short
black T-shirt that accented his long back and graceful neck.
Here was a beautiful man and the proof was that the
aesthetics of him could eclipse Gina.
"Soy Juan," he said, his voice husky but
fragile, as if the instrument of his words was seldom used.
"Hi," I said, hearing shyness in my voice and
annoying myself by it. Juan took my hand and kissed it. It was a dumb, dorky thing to do,
under most modern circumstances. But I didnt mind. Not a bit.
"Heather, Im gonna talk to Juan for a
minute," Gina said. "Can you stay here?"
"Sure," I said.
Gina and Juan walked further down the park, arm in arm.
Gina shot me a look as the walked. She saw me and caught my eye as I was watching
Juans rear. Ginas faced scrunched and it was an expression I couldnt
recognize because Id never seen it on Ginas face before.
When they were a few hundred yards away, I figured it out.
Ginas face had twisted with jealousy.