Todays weather was getting to me, the Storm
Clouds of Doom magnifying a malaise that seemed to materialize instantly with the drop in
air pressure, when Gina called.
I was a little upset that required reading for a
womens literature class Im taking is Beloved, which Ive already read
four times, twice for courses Ive taken. Yes, thank you Oprah and thank you Toni for
making the book ubiquitous, but enough already! Did they have to assign it the semester
the movies going to come out when most us, already past discussing the deep, rich
themes of it over two years ago, will have to rehash it all for people who cant get
through the (admittedly) dense, perfect text and instead opt for the popcorn-assisted
I holed myself in my dorm after that class, closing the
blinds to a dark afternoon and listening to Mazzy Star. Pathetic, I know, but Mazzy makes
you feel good because shes so down. In fact, I think shes the long-lost 8th
dwarf of Snow White fame: Mopey.
"Hola, Heather," Gina said, sounding bright in
spite of the citys gray blanket of sky and drizzle.
"Hey, Gina. Can you meet? What are you doing
"I thought I was working tonight, but they cut back
some of my hours without telling me," she said. Gina works at a sandwich shop not far
from Texadelphia. This is, shed told me last night, her fourth job in six months,
after unsuccessful stints at Book People ("I kept wanting to read books and poetry
instead of helping customers.") and Austin Java Co. ("Too laid back. I felt out
of place because I didnt have an eyebrow ring.")
"So what are you gonna do?" I asked.
"Im taking you somewhere," she said.
"Can you go?"
Gina picked me up in front of the dorm as I stood alone,
my plain black umbrella shielding me from the light rain. She drives a sporty red Mazda,
maybe six or seven years old. (I know car models and years the way my dad, the very
traditional Mr. Yi, knows the Backstreet Boys.)
I climbed in and Gina drove, occasionally changing radio
stations: here there was Celine Dion, switched over to an R&B singer I wasnt
familiar with, over to "The Way" by local pretty boys Fastball, then something
in Spanish I didnt recognize on an AM station.
We didnt talk. Gina drove, with a small smile on her
face, navigating the slowing traffic as 5 p.m. cars blocked our way. We went south of
campus, then east to I-35. Then we were on the east side of town, passing taquerias,
bakeries and pawn shops Its a side of town I dont see much of.
Near Cesar Chavez, Gina parked us outside a small house. A
plain mailbox said "Sanchez." The house might once have been canary yellow, but
time and Texas sun had faded it to the color of a dying sunflower. On the porch, plants of
all varieties, some thriving despite the extremes of a scorched-earth summer, and then a
heavy storm coming.
Gina opened a screen door and knocked on the door. A dog
inside barked. A few seconds later, a woman, late 50s, heavy set, long strands of gray and
black hair pulled back in a ponytail, answered. The woman said, "Gina, mijita!"
and hugged her.
She ushered us in and the two spoke in rapid-fire Spanish.
The conversational Spanish courses Ive taken are a memory, and I couldnt
follow much. But they were happy to see each other, and Gina was reverential, almost shy,
in the womans presence.
Gina introduced me and the woman surprised me with a hug.
Luisa, the woman, smelled like cinnamon and something sharper, maybe ginger. She wore lots
of breads, necklaces, silver rings and wore a long traditional dress Id never seen
worn outside a cultural fair. The woman retreated to another room after shed seated
us on a comfy couch with cushions of all sizes.
I looked around. The home was cluttered, but comforting.
Everywhere, shelves with knickknacks, photos of children and families, clay sculptures of
human bodies, dishes made of bright colored glass, brought life to the room. Near a window
with a thick fabric of curtain, two large stained-glass hangings with brass frames
one a sun, the other a moon, hung. I imaged in sunlight, they could fill the room with
The woman returned with an oversized jewelry case. She
opened it, revealing bracelets, necklaces, rings and earrings. Most of the bracelets were
woven or made of fabric. A few silver pieces showed rough edges. I guessed the woman had
made the jewelry herself.
Some of it was beautiful Among the silver and thread, some
pieces were made with stones of amethyst, onyx or amber.
Gina looked through them for a while, finally settling on
a small rope bracelet with black beads woven in. Gina offered Luisa $10 which the woman
made a show of refusing. Gina put up an argument, and ended up laying the bill inside the
jewelry box. The woman smiled, rolled her eyes, and said, "Pos, bueno."
Gina said something to her in Spanish, in a serious tone I
hadnt heard before, even when shed been pontificating about this project the
night before. Luisa nodded solemnly, got up, and motioned Gina to a small dining room
table laid out with doilies and candles.
The woman hunted in her kitchen, returning with a jumbo
box of wooden matches. She lit two candles between them, sat, and began speaking.
The two women, perhaps thirty years separating their ages,
prayed together. The woman spoke soothingly, her eyes closed. She spoke for three or four
minutes while I sat, transfixed, across the room.
When it was over, Gina repeated, "Amen." A hand
of hers that had been engaged in prayer reached up, wiping tears from her eyes. Luisa took
her other hand and held it for a moment. Luisa said, "Ahora habla tu mama."
Gina nodded, smiling now. Luisa looked at Gina warmly,
then gave me a a maternal smile as well. I felt warm, despite the coldness the day had
instilled in me.
We left very soon after that. Luisa hugged us both and
watched us as we left, waving from the porch, even as the rain seemed to begin again.
Gina drove us back on slick streets. I asked about her
mother as something awful played on the car stereo.
"She was really sick last month. Shes fine now,
but I was really worried about her and that hasnt gone away," Gina said.
"Im only a few hours away, but what if something bad happens? Im here,
not there. I get worried sometimes, especially when the weathers like this,"
she said, pointing past the drivers side window.
We reached the dorm and she dropped me off, back to my
sterile dorm and my Mazzy Star. When I reached my dorm, I took Mazzy out of the CD player
and put on a radio station. It was noise and static and commercials and crap, but it was a
live voice coming from Out There Right Now instead of something recorded two years ago in
a cold studio.
Gina drove back in her red car through a gray day,
protected, I imagine, by Luisas prayer.