I came to my computer to write something special about the holiday, but I think every day is a day for thanks. Why limit it to one?
I am in awe of what life brings. I’m speaking in general of the good things/interesting things/fantastic things. I know that we all get our share of loss, sadness, heartbreak, and illness, but there is so much to be thankful for.
Right now my heart and head are full of Artwalk 2014. This
Thoughts on Thanksgiving
was my first time to participate fully. I was signing books last year, but an ice storm froze out the event before it really got going, so I didn’t get a feel for the busyness or the excitement of it. Many people who had planned to attend didn’t get to, and the ones who made it to Alpine were staying inside because of the cold and slick ice.
Sunsets, Speeding, and George Strait
Yesterday I passed a Highway Patrol cruiser stopped on the side of Highway 118. The lights were flashing and it appeared the patrolman had pulled over a vehicle for something; I didn’t stop to ask him. Seeing that brought back an experience I had a year ago.
I was returning to Alpine from a book signing in Midland. On Highway 67 between Ft. Stockton and Alpine, I was grooving on the mountains because how would I not? My truck was set on cruise control at the speed limit of 75 MPH. As I came into town I was still going that speed. That was the problem.
But picture this: the sun was setting and making a big show of burning down the western sky. The fiery blaze made Twin Peaks look like a painting by a master. Soft colors turned everything beautiful. The scene was so perfect it could have come from deep in my imagination. My heart was filled with joy to be back in the land of many mountains and few people.
On the radio George Strait was singing an old hit tune, “Oceanfront Property.” Memories flooded through me. When my son Manuel was around thirteen years old, he brought home a cassette tape. He’d traded a kid at school a Los Tigres del Norte tape for one by George Strait. I thought he must really like the guy because Manuel was usually all about Los Tigres. He followed me around the house saying he was sure I’d like this singer. I had never heard of George Strait and I was busy, but I stopped to listen because I loved that boy. All it took was one song and I agreed that George had something.
My son died in 2010, but sometimes I feel that he’s with me still and this was one of those times. As I flew past the Highway Patrol vehicle, I was doing 75 in a 55 MPH zone. He flipped on his lights and turned around. I knew I was in trouble, but it was hard to care because of my blissful state.
The young patrolman came up to the passenger side and I put the window down. I think he was surprised to see that I was not a young speed demon but an old one. He greeted me in a respectful manner and I returned the greeting. Then he asked if I knew I was going twenty miles per hour over the limit.
“It occurred to me as you passed,” I said, barely coming out of the daze and only because he was forcing me to.
“Ma’am, are you in a hurry for a particular reason?”
“I’m not in a hurry but if I tell you the truth, you’ll laugh.”
“Please tell me,” he responded, “I never hear the truth from anybody.”
I know he wasn’t expecting this: I told him I’d been in Midland for a few days, and I was so happy to be home at last and “did you see that sky?” and there are no tall buildings or traffic here, thank goodness, and the mountains are wonderful and they add something to life that is indescribable. And while I was watching the sunset George Strait began singing an old song and for a few minutes I was back in 1986 with my young children, laughing and cutting up.
I figured he’d throw the book at me for being so unaware while driving—and speeding on top of that. He smiled!
I thought, “He thinks I’m crazy.”
The officer checked my tag, inspection sticker, insurance, and all the things he was supposed to check. He went back to his vehicle to run my license. When he returned, he leaned into the truck and passed me my papers. Next came the ticket I had to sign but he said, “I’m only giving you a warning this time because you told me truth.” He looked up at the mountains and then back at me. “I get lost in the scenery too sometimes.”
I signed the warning and thanked him for understanding, but I really wanted to hug him.
“I hope you have a nice evening,” he said with a tip of his hat.
I sat there on the side of the road marveling at that exchange. It seems that state troopers appreciate the scenery too, or one of them does. Thinking back on it, I believe there was a little bit of Deputy Ricos in that young man.
Breaking Promises to Myself
I promised myself I would stay away from controversy in my public writing. Yeah. Anyone who knows me knew that wouldn’t last.
Let’s consider marriage equality: yours, mine, and “theirs.” Opt out now if you need to.
When I was a young woman in high school, I saw this chilling quote that has never left my head. It’s attributed to German pastor Martin Niemoller. The “they” he refers to are the Nazis.
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”
So let it be said that I’m here and I’m speaking out and I’ll never quit. When they come for opinionated old women, perhaps someone will speak out for me.
There is a huge controversy in our country and around the world about same sex couples being allowed to marry. I simply don’t get it. If you’re against equality in marriage, then please answer this question: how will it hurt you? If you love your spouse, then how will someone else loving their spouse hurt your marriage?
If you say, “It makes me uncomfortable,” then that is just too bad. Get out of your comfort zone! That’s where all the really good stuff is anyway.
Please, please don’t tell me it’s because you’re a Christian. This is a pat answer that has no real meaning. It means you haven’t thought it through. You’re jumping on a bandwagon because your Aunt Bessie thinks it’s wrong or the confused and opinionated pastor at your church thinks it’s wrong. If your preacher says Christ spoke against homosexuals, then you need a new church.
Personally, I gave up on organized religion some time ago, but I would defend to the death your right to believe whatever you want. Because I was raised by religious parents, I’ve read the Bible more than once. It’s full of don’t do this or that—a person loses track. And the “don’t dos” change to reflect the times. Then we come to the New Testament, where there is a clear and ever-present DO. Do what? LOVE.
What did Christ say about homosexuality? Nothing. Nada. Not one word. Christ said we should love one another as we love ourselves. He didn’t say, “except for gay people or black people or people different from us.” He said love was the answer to everything, the only thing that matters. Why is that so hard to understand? Don’t come at me with hate and say you’re a Christian. I don’t buy it and something smells.
So what if it makes you uncomfortable for a man to be in love with a man or a woman to be in love with a woman? Get over it! Nobody is suggesting that you have to marry someone of the same sex.
In a world so full of hatred I think we should put a much higher value on love—all love. If you think your love is more valid than someone else’s, then you’re missing the point about love.
When I was a kid my mom used to take me to have my hair cut by a handsome man who went to our church. I have no idea how I knew this, but one day I realized that he was in love with a man who came to see him while he was working on my hair. They didn’t touch or say anything of real importance, but I knew it. On the way home I asked my mother about it and she said, “You’re right, Beth. They’re in love.”
“Will they get married?”
“They can’t get married,” my mom said.
“The law prevents them from marrying. Only a man and a woman can get married.”
“That’s not fair!”
I knew it as a little kid. Things are changing slowly—way too slowly to suit me or anyone who’s waiting to be able to marry the person they love. Some people waited all their lives and died without ever having that privilege.
It would make me proud if our country embraced love between adults no matter whether it’s Bob and Sue or Bob and Bill or Sue and Betty. It would be the best thing for our hearts to choose love. Christ said it over two thousand years ago and gurus before and after him have said it. Every one of them advised us to choose love, yet we continue to get it wrong.
If love by itself doesn’t convince you, then think about this Martin Luther King, Jr. quote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
What if they were coming for you?
Rafting with the Boss
It was 1985 and I’d been working in the office of Big Bend River Tours for three or four weeks. The owner of the company breezed in one morning and said, “Beth, you need different clothes. We’re going on the river.”
I didn’t wait around for him to change his mind.
Twenty minutes later we were at the Lajitas Crossing loading rafts. The Rio was high, even for pre-drought years, because it had been raining. Sunlight caused bouncing diamonds on the muddy water racing past us, the cliffs were shiny clean from recent rains, and excitement was in the air.
Wayne and I were part of a trip with three or four rafts, but we stayed far enough behind to speak privately. He wanted to talk to me about the value of the wilderness adventures we were selling, but he was preaching to the choir. The healing, restorative power of the wild was what had kept me in the Big Bend area in the first place. I had long before bonded with the mountains, the desert, the river, and the long-distance vistas, but I let him preach on because of the light in his eyes.
Before that day, Wayne was only the boss, the guy we rolled our eyes at behind his back. He could be fun and funny, but we also knew him to yell and be short-tempered. By the end of that trip, he had my respect. Having respect for someone gives us patience with them. In times to come he would rant or blow up in my face, but before I responded with anger, I would think of the part of him who was my river guide through one magical day.
Wayne was hell on wheels when it came to protecting pristine places. He believed, as I do, that we need them in order to survive. He held me captive with his extensive knowledge of the Big Bend area, the Rio Grande, the canyons, and the lore. He brought tears to my eyes more than once by the passionate way he phrased his thoughts.
We laughed and had fun. We stopped to pick up trash from the bank or to admire a bird, or we floated along in silence, breathing in the grandeur.
“Rivers,” Wayne said, “have the power to wash the grunge of everyday life from the soul of man.” After all these years, that may only be a paraphrase, but you get the drift.
When we stopped with the rest of the group for a short hike to the ruins of an old Spanish fort, Wayne’s enthusiasm was contagious. I could never tell if I was hearing the whole truth from any guide, including him, but it didn’t matter. They love to embellish the facts, and how would I fault anyone for that?
Lunch was served but I was too excited to eat. We’d barely shoved off the bank before we rounded a bend and headed dead-on for a gigantic rock wall. The fast current was going to slam us into it. Being splattered against a wall was never mentioned in the brochure! Wayne explained how he avoided that calamity but I couldn’t hear him. My heart was pounding in my ears.
We glided into Santa Elena Canyon and all talking stopped. I’ve never been in a place more holy than that one. Our group went from rowdy levity to absolute silence in one second flat. I’ve never seen the spell of the entrance fail to work. Coming into the great canyon simply touches you where you live and you feel something beyond what words can describe.
Sometimes when I struggle, I think of the astounding work of art that is Santa Elena and I remember that the Rio Grande didn’t carve that beauty in a day, or even in a year. It didn’t do it by being in a hurry and rushing to get it done; it did it by persevering. In nature, there’s a lesson everywhere you look.
When we stopped to scout the rapid called The Rockslide, there were no rocks, only terrifying current and mammoth waves. I didn’t want to go. Where is a helicopter when you need one? Wayne talked me into making the run in the same way the river carved the canyon—with patience. He pointed out that it was all right to be afraid, but I shouldn’t let that stop me. That’s been a recurring lesson in my life, one I’m still getting.
I climbed back into the raft with a pounding heart. As we headed into the turbulence, I told Wayne to keep in mind that I had a baby at home who still needed me. He grinned. “You’re going to love this.”
He was right. I loved it and wanted do it again and again. Part of that was because of the adrenaline rush, the sheer fun of it, but part of it was the feeling of having conquered my fear. There is so much power in that.
The remainder of the ride was the stuff of memories, too. It comes to me now in a rush: the strip of perfect blue above our heads, the echoing trill of the canyon wren, the amplified caw of a raven, the lapping of water against the bank, the wet-desert smell of the river, laughter, the creak of oars, splashing, feeling the wonder, gazing up at the 1500-foot walls until my neck hurt and then gazing up some more.
The end came too soon. We rounded a bend; the canyon opened up, and ahead was the rest of world.
Writing Away the Real World
On one hand, I feel blessed to have a wide assortment of friends on various social media and also in “real life.” I’m talking about people from other countries, different educational backgrounds, differing religious beliefs, and vastly different—as in all over the place—political opinions.
On the other hand, I wonder about some of my friends.
I enjoy hearing other peoples’ unique take on the things that are of concern to me, but I’m beginning to despair. And some of my friends appear to be schizophrenic, posting one thing one day and something that is directly opposite a day later. I try to be open-minded, but I don’t think you can stand on both sides of an important issue.
A recent Facebook post caused a stabbing sensation to my heart. It was a meme that blames everything wrong in America on immigrants and the poor. Wow. So many things wrong in one easy meme. My gut response was to rip that man to shreds.
I like to think I can express myself in a clear manner and without violence, so I formulated a response based on facts. I went back to the meme again. Had he really posted that? Had I misunderstood? Maybe it was a joke? I went back to writing my rebuttal and then I looked at it again. It was killing me that others were agreeing with him. Not one person suggested he take a breath and think about the utter stupidity of his post and the hurt this kind of narrow, non-fact-based thinking causes.
You know the way we run our tongue over a sore tooth to see if it still hurts? I kept going back to that post the same way and yes, it was still painful as hell.
What I wrote was thoughtful and fact-filled. I knew I was right. I knew it! Then I remembered something my mother used to say: “Beth, do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?” It’s aggravating to quote her. She was the “old” woman I thought would never get it. Then I grew up and her intelligence astounded me. Even more aggravating is that she’s been gone 40 years and I still hear her.
In the interest of my happiness as well as my friend’s, I set aside my snarky, brilliantly-constructed rebuttal to his misleading and hateful meme. I opened up a file on my computer entitled “Beth’s Writing.” I took a deep breath and clicked on a novel that’s under construction. Within minutes, I disappeared into the pages and pages of words.
How do you keep it together, my friends? If you don’t write worlds of your own making, how do you do it? You must be stronger, smarter, and more courageous than I am. I wimp out and go to my own universe when this one becomes too much.
Years ago, I saw a television production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella.” Julie Andrews, the star, sang a song that I felt in my core, even though I was a small child. “In my own little corner, in my own little chair, I can be whatever I want to be.” If I had a theme song, that would be it.
In my little corner, I orchestrate everything. Nobody lives unless I want them to. And everyone does as I say. I’m fully aware that in real life bad people sometimes don’t get caught or if caught, they don’t get what’s coming to them. Sometimes good people don’t get what they deserve, either.
In my personal experience, real life is too real. People die who shouldn’t and people live who have no right. Good people get sick while bad ones are healthy. Our children die, even babies die—and sometimes horribly. I have to quit making this list before I jump back into the pages of a novel.
Sometimes I need to go away to a place where I can run and dance and fight for justice. I can kick ass, take a kayak on the river, watch shadows play on Cimarron Mountain, or fly to Chihuahua with a handsome man.
My favorite escape is into the beauty and grandeur that is West Texas. Instead of focusing on the insanity and horror of what we insist on calling the real world, I fly away. And anyhow, what is more real than the timeless scenery of Big Bend National Park? It was here millions of years before humans came and will be here long after we’re gone.
I can’t change the minds of people who want to reduce our country’s complicated problems to misleading memes. Spewing facts at them doesn’t work. Being angry doesn’t work. So I come at it another way, by telling stories. Maybe the most I accomplish is to take them away for a little while, but what is wrong with that? I want people to have hope. Isn’t that what this world needs more than anything?
Rafting in a Hurricane
A man with a raft rental business opened a door through which I never returned. He asked me to do a shuttle. It took a moment to get my head around the fact that he was going to pay me to drive his vehicle from Lajitas, through the eye-popping scenery of Big Bend National Park, to the take-out point of Santa Elena Canyon. I didn’t see how a job could be any better than that.
While standing at the mouth of the magnificent canyon, it occurred to me that I should rent a raft and see the length of it. If the drunk and disorderly guys I was picking up could do it, how difficult could it be?
Raft Rental Man suggested I try Colorado Canyon first, since I had no river experience worth counting. I pitched the idea to two friends who worked with me in Lajitas and had followed me into trouble before. They went for it.
It was a stunning early-summer day when we started, bright sun and not a cloud in the sky. We entered Colorado Canyon with a raft full of excitement, lunch, water, sodas, and a bottle of wine. We were not stupid and had no intention of getting drunk. That was the only lesson we didn’t have to learn that day.
Lesson Number One: the “weatherman” knows nothing and is not to be trusted. Just because the day starts in a glorious show of everything that is perfect about weather doesn’t mean it will stay that way. Anything can happen between the start and close of any given day in Texas.
Lesson Number Two: Keep your shoes on.
Lesson Number Three: No two river trips are alike.
Lesson Number Four: Nothing in the Big Bend is as it seems—not distances, not weather, not anything.
Colorado Canyon is not stunning in the way of Santa Elena Canyon but is worth seeing in its own right. The walls are a deep reddish-brown; hence the Spanish name “colorado.” A few wildflowers still bloomed, and we marveled at the cacti hanging off the rough rock walls. We floated along, laughing and enjoying another day in paradise, and we suspected nothing.
As we exited the canyon we saw a hazy, cloudy “thing” coming upriver. Nina yelled, “Oh no! Get to shore! Get to shore!” She was raised in Big Bend Country and understood. Lee and I only went along with her because of the panic in her voice. The sky was still a perfect blue above us.
As we scrambled to shore the air got cold. We were barefoot in bathing suits. We got the raft situated on the bank and Nina started to explain, but a hurricane-force wind hit us. It knocked us down. The heavy raft with a cooler full of ice flew away and out of sight. With it went our long-sleeved shirts, all our gear, and our shoes.
“Lie flat, lie flat!” Nina screamed, but I was already face-down in a narrow arroyo that was beginning to trickle with muddy water. I knew I should move but that wasn’t happening. I clung to the wet ground and hoped to live to tell about it.
Lee yelled my name and I answered but after that, all we could hear was the screaming of the wind. I was from Florida and I’d never been through a hurricane like that. But I’d never weathered one outdoors, either—or on the ground, in a bathing suit, with stinging hail pounding down. After the hail came torrential rain. And then, as though removed by magic, the storm yanked the screeching wind upriver and they disappeared.
We stood and looked around in the wary way of survivors, located each other, hugged, and marveled at being alive. Accept for the eerie calm, the scattered debris, a missing raft, and my battered friends, the whole thing could’ve been imagined.
We were fortunate that Panther Canyon (a huge arroyo) was not running. We’d been lying at the place where it empties into the Rio Grande. The danger of being there hadn’t occurred to us because of the terror of the storm.
We had to walk out barefoot. It was a long and painful Lesson Two. When we finally arrived at Highway 170 no traffic was moving. We had no choice but to trudge up Big Hill with cut, scratched, bleeding feet. We must have looked like refugees by the time the highway maintenance crew stopped for us at the top of the mountain. By then the sun was shining. Everything about the scene spread before us belied what had happened at the mouth of Colorado Canyon.
I was sure Raft Rental Man would not believe our wild tale, but he smiled and shrugged as though it was no big deal. We said we’d pay for the raft, but he said, “Aw, it’ll turn up.” And it did, a week later, far from where we’d last seen it. The ice chest, clothes, and shoes were never located.
Since then I’ve had more river adventures than I can count, but I’ve never forgotten the Colorado Canyon Hurricane. And I always wore my shoes.
Knocking Out a Wall, Part Two
My final Avalanche column ran a few Thursdays ago and on the same day, my ex came to Alpine. When I opened the door, I gaped. It took a few seconds before I could speak. How long do you think he’ll be able to pull off timing like that?
He invited me to lunch and of course I accepted. I broke the news that he could relax; there wouldn’t be any more columns about him. The look of disappointment on his face almost made me laugh.
His response: “Good. Now you’ll stop calling me a liar in public.”
Then he said, “I told you that people don’t want to hear those stories.”
Al contrario, Cowboy. It seems they do.
I tried to work a few more stories out of him, but he’s wise to me now. So I have to go with what I know. And I was there for this one.
What we didn’t know at the time was that the Border Patrolman who had taken such a dislike to us was a vindictive man and he was the boss. Before I continue, I want to say that this is about only one man, not the Border Patrol in general.
The cowboy had been picked up on numerous occasions and was returned to the border each time. He’d worked at the fluorspar mine in the Christmas Mountains, on Terlingua Ranch, and in Odessa, Midland, and Lajitas. He said he’d never been mistreated once by any Border Patrolman and he never feared them. My point is that in any profession there can be one who gives the whole bunch a bad rep.
I could tell you the man’s name, but it doesn’t matter. He’s long gone from the job and also the planet. Suffice it to say that the night of the murder, which was later determined to be an accidental shooting, he let personal hatred supersede his professional duties.
Lajitas was similar to a large plantation during the days of slavery. In the Big House, some inhabitants were “less than” others. The workers, no matter our background or color, were in it together. We were tight. At the Big House they professed, “But we love our Mexicans.” Read, we love our cheap labor.
Border Patrol raids were common, but back then it was like a big game. A few green-uniformed men would show up in town. Radios, walkie-talkies, and telephones would hum with the news. La Chota!
The Border Patrol only came because they were supposed to and they sometimes took men away if they were slow enough to get caught. Or if the officers managed to surprise them. On raid days we hid people in all the nooks and crannies of the resort while the outside workers ran for the hills. I said it was like a big game, but I didn’t say everyone enjoyed it.
Four times they came in succession and it became evident they were after my cowboy. They asked about him at the Big House and they chased him. He escaped into the mountains or to the Rio, and he was fast. This became a rock in the boot because the boss was telling them to get That Mexican.
The manager of Lajitas called me in to say that this problem with the Border Patrol was disrupting the work schedule. I asked what I was supposed to do about it. Did he expect me to tell him not to run? No. He was one of the best workers. What, then? He didn’t know.
The Border Patrol figured it out pronto. The next day they returned with the boss and he caught my cowboy himself. He yelled to stop or he’d shoot him. That was a tactic they hadn’t used on him before and it worked.
I was at home and received this call from the front desk: “They have him in front of the hotel.” Nobody had to tell me who had nabbed who. I ran as though they were chasing me.
They had put him in back of a Suburban that was barred. There were a few other stricken-faced guys with him. It was a sight that tore at my heart. I was about to start sobbing, but he gave a tiny grin and shrugged. He believed he’d be back in a few days. I knew it would not be that simple.
What followed was a long, drawn-out mess. He was prosecuted because he’d run away and in doing that, he had “endangered” an officer of the Law. The game had reached a new level and the opponent held all the pieces.
I was forced to hire an immigration attorney. He said if I intended to marry the man, and I did, I had gone about it backwards. He explained that you’re supposed to get a “Sweetheart Visa” first. Great. Everywhere but within the law, falling in love comes first. The bottom line, law-wise, was that he should have stayed in Mexico until we were married. I didn’t bother to point out that if he’d stayed there I would never have met him.
The cowboy was jailed in Alpine, then Pecos, and was later moved to a big holding facility in El Paso. He was formally deported and then came back on a provisional visa. Doing it the wrong way cost us plenty. They slammed door after door.
The great news is that love won. We made it through the wall.
* * *
We saw our Border Patrol nemesis a year or so later when we were eating in the Badlands Restaurant in Lajitas. My husband was holding our tiny newborn daughter and the sun was shining brightly on both of them.
The Bad Man came in with two other men and they all glared at us.
My wise cowboy said, “Don’t look at him, Honey. He’s too small and sad to be part of our world.”
That was true; I knew it was, but I was not so forgiving. I said, “I wish I could hurt him.”
“You already did.”
Knocking Out a Wall, Part One
My mama used to say that when a door slams it only seems like a big deal because it’s a shock. And it’s noisy. A door is only one way to get in or out of a room, she pointed out. “There are other doors, and don’t forget windows. When all else fails, knock out a wall.” She raised me to be a determined person. Possibly, she overdid it a little.
Here I am, Mom, bursting in through a brand new door.
After I announced that I’d no longer be writing a column for the Alpine Avalanche, I received a lot of comments. Some of them made me laugh and some were so touching they made me cry. I want to mention these three: “How will we know what happens next with your liar?” “If you’re finished with that cowboy, could I have him?” and (paraphrasing) “Good for you, Beth. Would you like to write for The Planet?”
Yes. Thank you. I would very much like to.
I will tell you more about The Cowboy Liar, since you asked. As far as being finished with him…I don’t know what to say. Like any long story, there is much that remains to be seen.
In 1982 I was working at Lajitas-on-the-Rio-Grande, as it was called then. I started as a desk clerk and moved to bartending at the Badlands Saloon. Eventually I became the assistant restaurant manager, but that was never half as interesting as the saloon.
To say it was fertile ground for a writer would be as understated as saying we have “nice” sunsets in Big Bend Country. Characters and scenes abounded, but the only thing I wrote during that time was a journal, if you don’t count the index cards of words and phrases in Spanish. You see, I had met a man who spoke no English and I burned to know what he was about.
The first time I danced with him, I made this journal entry: You are in big trouble. Get out while you still can.
But of course, I never listened.
On the first night we spent together, a shotgun blast pierced the silence of the tiny resort town. It never occurred to either of us that anything could be wrong anywhere. We barely noted it.
Two hours later someone banged on the door of my apartment. I opened it to find a friend, but behind him were lawmen in various uniforms. First in line were two green-garbed and serious-faced Border Patrolmen. I knew what that meant and it caused my heart to pound.
“Is he here?” John asked. How did he know? How could anyone have known? Could I have been any more naïve? Not likely.
When I admitted that he was, they asked me to bring him. I had never once thought about the fact that my cowboy was undocumented—what did that even mean? It meant nothing to me. He was a man. Even though I could barely communicate with him, I already knew he was a good man. He stood out from the crowd of others as if the sun was always shining on him.
The longest walk of my life was into my bedroom that night. I think coming out of it was the longest walk he ever made. He knew the way it would be. It was a first in a series of tough lessons for me. I witnessed blind prejudice and racial hatred in my own home—in my face. After all these years, I’ve never forgotten how that felt. And I was only an observer; it was aimed at him.
The short version of the shooting incident is that two men had entered the saloon with the Mexican man now in my apartment. All of them were construction workers in Lajitas, so they knew each other. The other two arrived drunk; the handsome cowboy had come to flirt with me and had not been drinking. The other men left the bar without being served because I knew better. My cowboy stayed and walked me home.
He was rudely interrogated, called a liar, and accused of murder. I believe my presence was the only thing that stopped them from beating a confession out of him. He’d been with me the entire time, so I explained that.
One of the lawmen said the most awful thing, “You can be his alibi or you can keep your reputation.” The message was clear: an Anglo woman with a Mexican man would not be tolerated in his territory.
I maintained my composure with a will of steel, but I wanted to hurt him.
They acted as though they didn’t believe either one of us, but they finally left us alone. As they were leaving, the awful man took one more run at me. “All the doors open to you now are gonna slam shut in your face.”
Fine. Slam the doors. I’ll knock out a wall.
My thoughts and ramblings will soon appear in The Alpine Daily Planet! It's available online at their website and will also be posted on Facebook. As usual, I will post it on my FB pages and on my blog.
I feel great about working with two people like Mike and Cindy Perry. I'm more and more excited about my future! "When one door closes..."
One Column at a Time
This is my 61st column in the Alpine Avalanche. Over a year ago when Sam Richardson, then-editor, asked me to write something for him to publish I thought he was taking a big chance. I didn’t think I could say anything in such a small space. What would I write? Write about living on the border, he said. Write about life in West Texas. Write about Mexico. Write about being married to someone from another culture.
I thought it would be a miracle if I wrote ten columns. When I expressed my fear of failure to a friend, she wisely said, “Just write one column at a time.”
My first attempt was “My Love Affair with the Rio Grande.” Since then, I’ve been all over the place. I wrote of working in Lajitas in the eighties, my great love of Big Bend National Park, what brought me to West Texas, and why I stayed. My readers now know some things I’ve never told before. I even wrote about drinking Pearl Tea with my grandma and I commented on conversations I’d overheard, both good and bad. One time I wrote a piece about having nothing, not one idea, for a column. I’ve written about misspeaking Spanish, travelling in Mexico, and even being lost in Chihuahua. I’ve shared what I’ve seen: the good, the outstanding, and the not so great.
I’ve been astounded by the response from readers. Not one person has ever said anything negative to me. People may think it, but they never verbalize it. Thank you for that.
I’ve been asked time and again if I’m “that” Beth Garcia. I wish I’d kept a tally of every time someone said, “I always read your column.” Your comments have made me laugh and made me cry. A few weeks ago a woman approached me and asked if she could touch me. I think she meant she wanted to give me a hug, but for a few seconds I felt like a rock star. And yes, of course I hugged her. Who doesn’t love to be hugged?
When I think of bowing out, I remember that I haven’t mentioned my great big Mexican wedding that didn’t happen or the hundreds of river trips I’ve taken. I haven’t told you about the hilarious words of wisdom imparted by my mother-in-law before she died or the time I went to Chihuahua with a gay man and barely escaped going to jail. I never mentioned my trip to Mazatlan or the harrowing bus trip that got me there. Oh, and I really meant to tell you about Garcia’s Misguided Tours to Guadalajara. Maybe another time.
The other day I accused a friend of making something up. Yeah, she wasn’t about to take that kind of disrespect from me. Her expression was priceless. I do love to make things up. But you know that.
For several months now, I’ve been feeling the need to focus my attention on the various novels I’m writing. What I’m trying to get to here is good-bye for now. I’m not good at good-bye so I will say instead, thank you. Thank you for sharing your time with me every week. Happy Trails, my friends.
The Diamond-Beaked Rockpecker
It started as a starry-eyed love for the Rio Grande and the jaw-dropping scenery that surrounds it. Before I knew it, I was buying a river rafting outfit.
Having a company that exists to help people have fun has got to be the best type of business. The behind-the-scenes work is daunting, though. When customers return raving about their trip, that’s not an accident. Every single thing you do is aimed at that result.
I assumed I would get to do a lot of “free” river trips, right? Wrong. I worked hard, but one bright morning a young trainee stood in front of the desk in our office. I wished her well because I knew she was going on her final “check out” run through the Rockslide rapid in Santa Elena Canyon. That meant she’d be alone in a raft. Senior guides would be with her, but not in her boat.
I should mention here that this was back in the day when the Rio carried plenty of water. We didn’t know how fortunate we were.
The new guide was tiny and beautiful. I remember her name well, but let’s call her Anne. She said, “They don’t think I’ll make it.” “They” being other river guides: big, strong men.
“That’s ridiculous,” I said, “of course you can do it.”
“Why don’t you come with me? Please. It’ll be fun—just take a day off.”
What I’d meant as a pep talk turned into a case of putting my money where my mouth was. I had to go. In retrospect, I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.
As we glided along, my worries evaporated. I don’t think it’s possible to listen to the steady gurgle of the Rio Grande and feel stressed. Water slapping gently against oars has a lulling effect. We passed turtles sunning themselves on rocks or sticks along the bank. Wildflowers nodded their heads in the occasional breeze. The weather was perfect, not hot or cold. It was a show-off day in Big Bend. As if that wasn’t enough, we rounded a bend and a steep slope on the Mexican side was solid purple with bluebonnets. There were so many the smell was cloying.
“Wow,” Anne exclaimed. “Aren’t you glad you came with me?”
At that moment I couldn’t imagine how anything could ever be more important than spending the day on the Rio Grande.
Anne did fine, as I expected. We talked about various things, including the ways in which women were underestimated by men. Mostly, we laughed. It was hard to care about anything serious on a day like that one.
I don’t remember whether the Diamond-Beaked tale came before or after the Rockslide. It must have come after because Anne was relaxed. She had showed everybody how a tiny woman runs a rapid like a boss.
Then, of course, the lying started. River guides are full of knowledge about the area, but they’re equally full of fun. It’s hard to separate facts and fiction when their mouths start moving.
Santa Elena Canyon has one surprise after another. I’ve been through it forty times or more and it’s never the same; you never see all of it. I commented on a pocked wall on our right, the Mexican side of the canyon.
A straight-faced Anne said, “Those pockets are caused by a rare bird that drills into the wall to make a nest.”
My river guide radar went up.
“It’s sad,” she continued, “because people kill them for their valuable beaks. They’re not protected in Mexico.”
She paused a moment before coming in for the kill. “They’re called the Diamond-Beaked Rockpecker.”
“I know you think I’m pulling your leg, but I’m not. I can’t believe you haven’t heard of it before.”
Why was I surprised that Anne would lie? She was a river guide!
“I wouldn’t lie to you,” the liar insisted.
How many times had I heard that?
When we arrived at the takeout, the company’s star birder was our shuttle driver. How perfect; I’d fix my clever little guide.
“Anne has been telling me about the Diamond-Beaked Rockpeckers,” I said, thinking he’d set her straight pronto.
“Did you see one?” He acted excited.
“Of course I didn’t see one. They don’t exist.”
“It’s a shame you didn’t get to see one.” His expression was sad. “They won’t be around long if people keep killing them for their diamond beaks.”
What was the use? They’re all a bunch of liars.
My Next Thirty Years
As I write this, it’s nearing my birthday. By the time you read it, my big day will have passed. Every year, the day has more significance for me. You see, I’m not “supposed” to be here. I can’t explain why I am, but I’m grateful. The odds have been against me for a long time.
Almost thirty years ago, a team of serious-faced doctors stood by my hospital bed. I almost laughed when I saw them. Those faces! I wanted to ask, “Who died?” but I was glad I didn’t because what followed was not funny.
My lung surgeon cleared his throat and stepped an inch closer to the bed. “The biopsy confirmed it, Beth. You have Lymphangioleiomyomatosis.”
I stared him. Say what?
Lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM for short) is an extremely rare lung disease. No one could tell me why I had it or how to get rid of it. Back then there were no known treatments. There are still no known cures. They think the disease is hormonally triggered, somehow linked to estrogen. It’s primarily a woman’s disease. Because so few people had it (and only women) there had been no major research. In 1995, the mother of a LAM victim formed and funded a foundation to begin studying the disease.
Long story short, I was sent home without hope or help after being told I had about six months to live. Let me clarify that. The field of medicine gave me no hope or help, but I had all the hope anyone could ever need waiting for me at home: a six-month-old daughter and an eleven-year-old nephew who had wormed his way into my heart. I also had a husband I adored. They needed me to come home and be present. And present, I was.
The day I was released from the hospital I saw everything in a new way. It was as though my eyes and heart wanted to soak it all in, in case this would be my only chance.
So there I sat in the parking lot of Odessa Medical Center Hospital with whatever was left of my life ahead of me. And suddenly, it shone.
My husband looked at me with tears in his eyes and held out his hand. When it enclosed mine, that hand was stronger, tougher, and larger than I remembered. “Are you going to be all right?” he asked.
I looked right into his eyes and I said, “Yes.” And I believed it.
“What did the doctors say?”
I couldn’t tell him. What did they know anyway? Nothing, it seemed. The disease was as mysterious to them as it was to me. I couldn’t make myself repeat their dire prediction, so I made up my own answer to his question. “They said I need a lot of love and I’ll be fine.”
“In that case, I’ve got this.”
I knew he did.
The trip home was more delicious than you can imagine. In some ways it was like being alive for the first time. It was the last day of January and cold, but the sun was warm coming through the window. After thirty days in the hospital, it was too bright. Instead of blinding me, it made me see things more clearly: the wide array of colors in our world, the astounding beauty in everyday things. The soft, black curl of my husband’s hair was a marvel. Life was too good to let it go without a fight. That became my mantra.
By the time we began to see the shimmering mountains in the south of Brewster County, a negative prediction had turned into a challenge in my head. I have always loved a challenge.
Many years ago, Jimmy Buffett expressed my feelings in a song, “I’d rather die while I’m living than live while I’m dead.” I began racking up a long list of things I wasn’t supposed to do with lungs that don’t work the way they should. Who cares? They’re working in their own way or I wouldn’t be here.
Against doctors’ advice and common sense, I took a job managing a river rafting company. Then I bought it. Work? Bring it! My life at Big Bend River Tours was the most frustrating, fantastic, impossible, joy-filled, nature-filled, life-filled thing I could have chosen to do. I also put my heart and soul into raising my children and loving my husband. Children and love are the best medicines on the planet.
Sometimes when walking a short distance with a friend I become scarily short of breath. My friend will ask with concern, “Are you all right?”
Oh yes. I am. What will my next thirty years bring?
My Rant: Bullying in 2014
Sometimes I see or hear something I’d rather not. It serves me right for being nosy. At the post office one day, I heard one of the “wish I hadn’t” conversations between two old guys.
One commented to the other, “I don’t get today’s kids.” My antennae shot up.
“They’s all spoilt,” his buddy claimed.
“They whine and complain about being bullied. When we was kids, you took it like a man and got even.”
I took issue with that. I was a kid more or less when they were and I recall both boys and girls running home crying to mamma. Those men weren’t talking to me, so I sifted through my mail and tried to stay quiet.
“Boys are all sissies nowadays,” one of them thought.
The other man grunted in agreement.
Here’s what I couldn’t say then. Get real. Bullying is a different creature now than it was when those old men and I were children. It has, over the years, become a vicious thing I know I could never endure. I cringe at the thought of any child or adult having to withstand such hateful treatment.
Even twenty years ago when my daughter was in elementary school, bullying had already morphed from what my mom would’ve called “teasing.” My little girl didn’t like dresses and she liked to wear her hair short. Her independent ways were not acceptable to one of her mean-spirited classmates. She shoved my daughter around, hit her, and called her ugly slurs that ten- year-olds shouldn’t know.
When I complained to the school superintendent, my complaints fell on deaf ears. “She needs to stand up for herself,” was her sad opinion. No. When you’re ten, and you’re being hit and pushed by a bully, you need an adult to stand up for you. Children need adults to be examples of good behavior.
I told my daughter she should shove that abusive child’s face into the wall, but my kindhearted kid just stared at me with a blank look. So I’ve not always been the best example of a fine human being. I admit it, but I learned valuable lessons from a little girl with love and patience in her heart. Looking back though, I still believe someone in authority should’ve had a talk with the bully. There should have been consequences to acting hateful and to physical assault. If the adults in charge won’t correct a child’s bad behavior, how will he or she learn anything?
Now we have children killing themselves to escape the cruelty in their lives. With the popularity of social media and cell phones, bullying has reached new intensity. A child can be bullied in front of the whole world and there is no safe place. In other words, it’s not just at school anymore.
Shame on adults. We’ve taught our children this behavior by attacking people different from us and by not standing up when we see others being attacked. If you need proof of the intolerance of grown-ups, post a controversial statement on Facebook. Instead of rational discourse, you’re more likely to get name-calling and hateful rhetoric. I’ve taken down my posts when the fighting between respondents got too ugly to bear. I have friends with differing opinions and from all walks of life, all education levels, and all nationalities. I have dear friends who will never read what I write because they can’t. But they’re brilliant human beings with their own ideas on everything. Just like you and me. Would you scream “stupid” at them? If you would, then you and I couldn’t be friends in real life.
Robin Williams recently took his own life as a result of depression. This tragedy rocked me to my core. Who doesn’t know who he is? He shared his amazing talents with us for forty years. He hadn’t been dead two hours when the bullying started. He’s been called a coward and other offensive things. Why are people so quick to judge? Do those harsh tongue-waggers know anything about clinical depression? All I could think was “shut up!” The man brought joy to us for forty years. Unless you were living in his head, then just shut up.
What has happened to us? We used to have respect for each other and we listened to each other’s ideas. As I grew up, listening to adults discuss issues helped me to form my own opinions about subjects of importance. Now we don’t want to listen to what others think and we respond in hurtful ways. Our kids are doing it and we wonder why. Way to go, Adults of America.
By the way, Old Post Office Men, boys are not sissies. Girls are not sissies. They’re human beings and they have feelings. We all do.
Why I'm Not Going to Quit
For this entire week, I worked on one scene from a novel I'm writing (read sweating, bleeding, screaming). I tinkered with the dialog until I thought it was perfect. I exchanged the verbs I used for different verbs that are more action-packed or descriptive. Where possible I used better nouns so I could delete adjectives. I slashed adverbs and even killed the little side tangents I’m so fond of taking. I added this and took out that until I felt it was exactly the way I wanted it. I was riding high when I went to bed last night.
I got up early this morning and read what I have so far. Something was off. Was the premise bad? Was it a flaw in the characters? Was this novel a terrible idea to begin with? After the third read-through, the cold truth smacked me in the face. That scene, as brilliantly written as it is, isn't going to work. I mean not at all. Not in this story. That’s what the problem has been the whole time. So something I spent a week on is useless and I still don’t have an Avalanche column.
Sometimes I want to quit. I worked hard all my life and I’m retired, so why am I working so hard now? This morning at 4:30 I was asking myself that question. Do you know how dark and alone it is at 4:30? A writer can get into a lot of trouble at 4:30 in the morning.
Of course I can quit whenever I want to; I know that. I’m not being held captive somewhere with only a laptop for diversion. The problem is I can’t quit. Writing is hard and it makes me crazy. I was going to say “a little crazy,” but why not tell it like it is? The point is that I’m driven. I’ve tried to quit and I can’t. I love to write about make-believe things or true things or almost anything.
Over the last nine years I have read everything I could buy, borrow, or check out on the subject I love. Not only do I crave doing it, I want to be good at it. There are thousands of books about the craft. Among other things, the authors of these volumes say to read everything you can get your hands on from the classics to popular fiction, to poetry—everything—and to keep writing. I can do that. But some advice is confusing.
One famous writer, Stephen King says, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs. When editing, strike every one of them.” Really? He uses them. Mark Twain is quoted as saying something similar to King, but he also uses them. What kind of advice is that? It smacks of “do as I say, not as I do.” Not fair.
Another writer advises to delete adjectives and use stronger nouns. I get that, but how would you say “the blond boy with brown eyes” or the “green house” without using adjectives? “The boy with eyes” and “The house” won’t get it. No wonder I’m crazy.
Hemingway says, “Write drunk. Edit sober.” How not helpful is that? It must have worked for him, but if I got drunk I’d blow off writing and anything else that seemed like work.
The best advice I’ve received by reading what the gurus say about writing is this: Write. Don’t give up. Keep trying. Here are two examples: “My top three pieces of writing advice? Stop whining and write. Stop (fooling) around and write. Stop making excuses and write.” ~Nora Roberts
Dr. Seuss said, “You can get help from teachers, but you are going to have to learn a lot by yourself, sitting alone in a room.”
Thank you, but I figured that out for myself.
John Steinbeck was a fantastic writer, so I looked up what he had to say about writing. Typical Steinbeck, he nails it: “If there is magic in story writing, and I’m convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another.”
I do not feel better.
My Swing to the South
Sometimes I’m at a loss for words. Yes; it surprises me too. I rarely have trouble drawing from the well of words in my…mind? heart? soul? Where do the words come from? I don’t know, so when I go to the well and bring up nothing but an empty bucket, I feel panicked. What if I never write again? What if it’s over for me?
“What if?” Those powerful little words drive the imagination of writers, researchers, scientists, explorers, deep thinkers. What if we could put a man on the moon? What if I could paint that? What if polio could be eradicated by a vaccine? What if nobody had wondered these things?
A couple of weeks ago I escaped to the southern end of Brewster County to answer a question burning my brain: what if a trip to where my writing life started would refill the well? In an earlier column, I spoke of swinging as a metaphor for being carefree, doing nothing, enjoying life. I set out to do that.
If you’ve ever driven down the main road of Terlingua Ranch, you know that when you begin, the Chisos Mountains are on the right side. You see them as you come down Highway 118. The Christmas Mountains stand in front of them but don’t block the view until you get close. By the time you turn left into the ranch, the Christmas Mountains dominate the skyline. But you know the Chisos are still there, right? They are, but…
The road winds and twists so subtly that by the time you near the Ranch Headquarters it’s a surprise to see the Chisos standing on the left-hand side of the view. The mountainous terrain opens up for seconds and—ta-da! We now present the Chisos! On the wrong side of the road. How can that be? Oh, it’s been explained to me a thousand times, but it’s a phenomenon that never fails to delight. I’m like a little kid who knows who Santa Claus is but still gets swept up by the enchantment of Christmas morning.
I know the surprise is coming but as I draw closer, I can hardly wait for it. A powerful feeling of awe comes over me because, you see, they are not just on the wrong side of the road, they are close. Because of the ever-changing position of the sun, the clouds, atmospheric conditions, and their own magic, they are always different. Every. Single. Time.
To test my theory, I turned my truck around to go back a few miles and drive by them again. I got distracted by an empty spot of land where there is a superb view of the Corazones. I parked and studied the ultra-rugged nature of them for five full minutes, challenging myself to describe those two natural wonders without using the words awe-inspiring, towering, rough, wild, rugged, jagged, twisted, rocky, tortured...you get the drift. I failed. All of those words fit and yet no words do them justice.
My friend was expecting me so I soldiered on, back to my Chisos Mountains experiment. Do I need to say that by the second time, ten minutes later, everything had changed? Clouds had come in from the south and were sagging over the Basin. Croton Peak had crept closer to the ranch. It was spotlighted for seconds and then the light moved on to a smaller mountain whose name I don’t know. I think of it as Beautiful Little Mountain. The entire Big Bend area of southwest Texas is full of them.
My friend and her wildly excited dogs welcomed me warmly. Her cats remained aloof and greeted me in their own time on their terms, except for the aptly-named Love Kitty. She had announcements to make about my arrival but she seemed positive overall. Maybe that was because I’d brought Emmylou, the singing kitty, back home.
I breathed in the peace that dominates my friend’s world and soaked up the scenery that always stirs my soul. I wrote and wrote and wrote. Every morning, from a comfortable bed, I watched dawn come to Big Bend National Park. Sometimes it would sneak in on quiet feet; other times it blasted in, showing off and splashing colors around. Every time it was beautiful.
I spent a full week mountain-gawking, thunderstorm-watching, laughing and talking, being quiet, porch-sitting, writing, and sleeping well. Like the little kitty Emmylou, I had come home.
My daughter turns thirty today, July 31, and she’s having a bit of a meltdown. I find this humorous because one day she’ll realize how young she still was when she thought thirty was old, but I understand her angst. Many adults go through this at various ages. Our society dictates a bunch of “shoulds.” I wish I could get her to give them up. If I’ve learned anything in the much longer time I’ve been here (much longer as compared to her) it’s that nobody can tell you what is right for you. Nobody.
For the first thirty years of my life, I chased the American Dream (the things you should want). I was the most driven young woman you’d ever want to know. But you might not have wanted to know me. I was “successful” and miserable. I realized that having a new car, a gorgeous house with a swimming pool, nice clothes, the latest in everything, was not the way to happiness or even close. I appalled almost everyone who knew me by selling everything and going west. I’ve told that story before so I won’t tell it here.
My decision to drop out of the fast lane was exactly the right decision for me. I don’t advocate it for everyone or try to force it on anyone. My point is that I listened to my heart and followed it. I would hope everyone reading this would do the same, but especially my daughter, Margarita.
Today we were texting and, since I’m her mother, I was bugging her. I wanted to know why she was reluctant to go all-out in celebration of her 30th birthday. The answer was that she feels she “hasn’t done anything.” Really, Margarita? Please allow me to remind you.
Before you turned thirty you did many amazing things: you survived a horrendous school situation; you were instrumental in helping me open a club for the youth of Terlingua and you devoted countless hours of your time to working with kids who needed you; you opened a successful store on a shoestring budget and with nothing but faith in yourself and your partner; you taught yourself graphic design and created t-shirts and four book covers for your mother’s novels. How many moms can brag about that? You bought a house. You changed your mind about living in Terlingua so you sold it and bought a truck and travel trailer and took off to live a dream. Hello?
In spite of what you think, you’re young. You’re living with the love of your life. How many people can say that? You’re living a life you chose. Not everyone can say that, either. You decided to travel the U.S. to see its beauty and to have adventures, meet new people, and see what else is “out there.” You live on a gigantic lake in pristine woods in California. When you get tired of there, you can go anywhere. Let your heart and your imagination rule. Stop comparing yourself to others!
You are a woman of substance, of conscience, of heart. You’re smart and talented. Don’t make me come over there!
When you were eight or nine years old, you were popping in and out of my bedroom, where I was listening to various self-improvement tapes. You left for a while but came back and asked, “What is this about?”
I replied that I was trying to be a better person, a more competent boss, a better mom, a better everything.
I wish I could take you back all those years and show you your face. You were exasperated. “Mom!” you cried with your hands outstretched, palms up. “How in the world can you be any better than you are?”
It’s funny the things we learn from our children. No, I did not stop trying to better myself, but I gave myself credit for being an amazing woman you adored. I decided to love myself and accept that there would always be room for improvement. And there always is. That day was a turning point in my life, brought to me by an innocent child with an unconditional love for her mom.
Thank you, Margarita and Happy Birthday! Now I’m turning your words on you. How in the world can you be any more successful than you are?
Going Cold Turkey
Going Cold Turkey
Recently I have been full of “blah,” even when it comes to writing. It’s hard to believe I’m tired of putting my thoughts into words, but maybe I need a break from it. I say this, and yet I’ve just planned a retreat in South Brewster County to do nothing but write for five days. The place I’m going doesn’t receive cell service and my friend has no Internet. I’ll be disengaged from outside stimuli and the things that suck up my time. I’m a social media addict who also enjoys texting and yapping on the phone, so this is the equivalent of going cold turkey. Maybe I’m just panicking because of that.
I’m the only person who says I have to write. Nobody else knows what I’m doing. I’ll be staying with a friend; she doesn’t care if I’m writing or not—except that she pushes to read the next novel. But she won’t try to beat it out of me.
Maybe I’ll just stare at the mountains, talk with her, and play with her animals. We’ll have an adventure—or at least fun—because we always do. Even when I’m not physically writing, I’m always writing in my head. More important is to refill the place out of which words come.
I’m packed and ready to go, but I need a column! It’s not as though I can write it when I get to Terlingua Ranch and send it to Alpine by carrier pigeon. So, this morning I made a “Walk for Inspiration” or more like a “Walk of Desperation” around my neighborhood.
I stopped to admire the persistent collection of wildflowers growing along a fence line by an empty field. I glanced up and a deer was bounding towards me—just one lone young doe. Dogs went crazy barking but they were fenced and I was relieved to see that nothing was chasing her.
She stopped at the edge of the vacant property and we regarded each other. I don’t know which of us was more startled. I hadn’t expected to see a deer and from her reaction, I don’t think my presence made her day. She skidded to a halt and her nose worked the cool morning air. I hoped I didn’t smell like a predator but more like a lover of wildlife, mountains, and desert air, whatever that aroma would be.
Our visitor never made direct eye contact with me but she was wary and watching. I didn’t move and after a while, she passed me on her way to wherever she was headed before I alarmed her.
I made a rash statement in an earlier column and I want to take it back. I accused my neighborhood of being dull. That’s not true, but I was panicked by having no idea what to write. I was blaming my neighborhood. Not fair.
There’s a swing set in a tiny playground at the apartments where I live. Sitting on a swing alone was a little blond-headed girl. We greeted each other and I asked her where the other kids were. She answered with a shrug.
I was going to move on, but she asked what I was doing. I told her I was walking for exercise and ideas.
“Ideas about what?”
“I need to write a column for the newspaper.”
“You write that paper?”
“No, only tiny piece of it.”
Her little face scrunched up in thought. She sighed with the effort. Then she looked up at me. “You could sit here and swing for a while.”
Leave it to a five-year-old.
I don’t need to worry about columns or where the next novel is coming from or how to finish the five I have in various stages of completion. I only need to swing for a while. That is why I’m heading south to the mountains that speak to my soul and the quiet that fills it. I’m going to go swing for a while.
"Your Cat is Bewitched"
“I want to talk to you about a cat,” my friend said. We were on the phone, she in Terlingua, me in Alpine. “She’s a sweet little thing, but because she’s small, a couple of my other cats are picking on her. I think Marble would be the perfect kitty for you.”
I should have stopped her right there.
Some of you reading this will know that I lost “the perfect kitty” for me a year and a half ago. I wrote a column about him entitled, “A Tribute to Bubs.” He was a gigantic cat with a sweet disposition. When he spoke, it was with a teeny voice—laughable since it came from such a large guy.
When my friend suggested another kitty, I balked. What if Bubs comes home? I still want him to.
I live alone and spend a lot of time writing, so having another creature here was a pleasure. Bubs was great company. He was a muse in his gentle way, and he reminded me every day how to live in the moment. It was reckless, I know, but I decided to give Marble a chance. According to my friend, she needed a safe home and I needed her.
I don’t see how something that started out with such good intentions could go so wrong. I renamed Marble “Emmylou,” after the singer, Emmylou Harris. I’ve been a fan of hers for years and her name came to mind. I claimed it was because Marble “sang” so much, but I was being kind. She screeches. Where Bubs was huge and quiet, Emmylou is half his size with a Godzilla voice.
She gives an ongoing play-by-play on everything and nothing measures up. When I go into the kitchen, and I mean every time I go in, she races to get there first. She yells at the top of her lungs. I have no idea what she wants. She has food and water. I’ve offered her bits of human food but she turns up her nose and continues to bawl. Her irritating voice constantly berates me. I’ve haven’t done anything but show kindness to her. She seldom shuts up. She makes it difficult to write or talk on the phone or even to think of my name.
I haven’t been in the bathroom alone for weeks, even in the middle of the night. She can be sound asleep when I get up, but she follows within seconds. I hear the thunk as she drops from the bed to the floor. I feel persecuted. Emmylou is a stalker. She gripes at high volume and rubs herself against my legs so fiercely it’s both heartwarming and aggravating. I remind her that if she’s trying to say she adores me, words of love are spoken in a soft voice, not bellowed. She’s deaf to my advice and I soon will be.
By the way, I misnamed my cat. I’m sure her namesake doesn’t awaken her loved ones in the middle of the night to screech Even Cowgirls Get the Blues into their sleep-deprived faces.
My cat loves to lecture my ex-husband, which is humorous. He sits down and she begins. It’s as though she’s channeling the angry father of a teenage girl. The other day he said, with a dead-serious expression, “Esta embrujada tu gata.” (Your cat is bewitched.) That would explain some things.
When I was preparing to go to Austin for a few days, I planned to take Emmylou back to my friend so she wouldn’t be left alone. On the morning we were leaving for Terlingua, an animal control officer came to my door asking if I had seen an injured cat. Neighbors reported hearing one. Are you kidding me? I open the windows at night to let in the fresh breezes, and it was my wailing cat they heard! As if to prove it, Emmylou let loose a loud rendition of a bluesy number. The officer laughed, but it wasn’t funny—not when you live with it. I insisted he meet my mouthy cat so he would know she wasn’t injured or being tortured by a sick freak. If anyone is being tortured in my house, it’s me.
The place is quiet without my furry little crooner. I write and can sleep through the night. The neighbors look at me funny, so they probably think I killed her, but I haven’t, not yet.
Emmylou is returning soon for her second show. Is it awful to hope your friend’s truck breaks down? If it doesn’t, I’ve prepared a Want-Ad. Needed: kindhearted deaf person to care for a serenading cat.
When selling river trips, it was common to be asked about our neighbors, The Mexicans. Typical questions: “What about the Mexicans?” “Will we see Mexicans?” “Are they dangerous?” “Are there bandidos?” “I’m bringing my family; is it safe?” It was laughable since people were calling from cities far more dangerous than anywhere in the Big Bend area. They pictured it as wild and lawless, but to those of us living there, it was heaven. And it was home.
We gave free geography lessons in addition to prices and trip itineraries. Many callers didn’t understand that if you’re on a river that serves as a border between two countries, the “other” country will be adjacent to said river. Hello, people? Get out your maps! I grew up on the east coast, but even as a little kid I knew the Rio Grande separated “us” and “them.” It would take living by the river to understand the ways in it which it draws us together much more than it separates us. But I digress.
During the early days of owning Big Bend River Tours, my husband was busy running Restaurante Garcia in Paso Lajitas, Mexico. Except for driving an occasional shuttle, he didn’t have much to do with BBRT. In spite of this, he knew all the guides and they knew him. This was because his restaurant served authentic Chihuahuan Mexican food, prepared when you ordered, and served hot and mouth-watering.
One morning a group came to sign in for their half-day river adventure. In those days of higher water, the trip went from Grassy Banks to Lajitas. We stopped along the way to serve a snack and did it right. It always surprised and delighted people. I think they expected us to hand out packets of peanuts or cheese crackers. Instead, we set up a camp table with a tablecloth and served various cheeses, fruit, crackers, cookies, chips, and dips. Customers loved it.
This group was more concerned about seeing Mexicans than most. It frustrated these visitors that we had no control of our neighbors or the wildlife and couldn’t promise they would see either. Nor could we swear how either would act if we did see them.
“We normally see ducks and birds—” I began.
“What about Mexicans?”
I headed into my spiel about one side of the Rio being the U.S. and the other side being Mexico. It was possible to see a Mexican, I explained.
“What do they do if they see us?”
“They usually wave.”
“Do you ever have trouble?”
How do you explain to a man from Houston or Louisiana or any other faraway place that these “foreigners” are peaceable country folks? They’re our friends and neighbors. Sometimes we marry them.
Eventually the group got onto the river. I’ve forgotten which guides went, but there were two or three. When the trip returned, the customers were ecstatic. They’d had a blast. They met a Mexican man! And he had a horse! The kids got to sit in the saddle! The entire party was ridin’ high.
After the customers left, the guides told me quite a story. They had the snack set up on the Mexican side, after much cajoling and assuring the timid bunch that they stopped there all time and never saw anyone. Their customers had just served their plates when they heard hoof beats. In the distance, a man on a horse was galloping towards them calling, “Hah, Gringo! Aye, Gringo!”
The customers panicked. Women and children peeked out from behind the men. The guides explained that they tried to stay cool and keep everyone calm, but this stranger kept on coming and calling out “Gringo!” He wore a cowboy-style Mexican sombrero and looked one hundred percent mexicano, no mistaking it. The horrifying thing was that a bandana was tied over his mouth and nose, bandido style.
The cowboy came to the edge of their lunch camp. He yanked off the bandana, shook out the dust, and jammed it into the pocket of his jeans. He jumped off the horse with a “Ya, Gringo!” and strode towards them with spurs jangling. A woman screamed and people began scrambling into the rafts. The cowboy held out his hands in frustration, asking the guides in Spanish why they didn’t recognize him. It was my husband.
They had a relieved laugh and he accepted a cold drink and was introduced to everybody. He charmed them in his quiet way and with his big brown eyes and totally broken English.
“Why did you keep yelling “gringo?” someone asked. “It scared us.”
“Oh, Gringo—he my horse.”
On Saturday my ex-husband came to Alpine to buy carpet and other things for his house in Terlingua. It blows my mind that he has such an interest in getting his home “just right,” but I refrain from being snarky. Why he took no interest during our marriage I have no idea, and there is no point in asking. He’s changed since then and so have I. I don’t want to be bitter; I’d rather be happy.
It should be no surprise by now that I accepted his invitation to go to lunch. On the ride he spoke in an animated way about his plans for his house. He wants it to have in—surprise—a cowboy theme.
I looked over at him. “My cowboy,” I said with much more affection than is prudent for an ex-wife. Tears came to my eyes and I had to mentally push them back. For all the years I’ve known him, some of the things I most admired were his cowboy skills: riding, roping, lassoing; all of that is second nature. His mother told me he learned to ride a horse before he could walk and I never doubted it. When he rides, horse and cowboy are one.
At lunch he asked, “Are you still lying about me in the paper?”
“I sometimes write about you, but it’s never lies. I might as well tell you now that my next novel is dedicated to you.”
He looked horrified. “Why? What have you done? What did you say?”
For the first time, I felt sorry for him in terms of my writing. It must be scary to have an opinionated ex-wife who writes. The waitress scurried over during this exchange; I think she sensed that all was not well. That was true, but there was nothing she could bring to make it better.
“I didn’t say the novel was about you,” I clarified. “I said I dedicated it to you. There’s a difference.” I went on in an attempt to explain.
A month ago, I’d told him my new publisher wanted to have the entire Deputy Ricos series translated into Spanish. At the time he was happy for me, but it hadn’t hit him what that meant. He gets it now.
“You know,” he said, “when it comes out in Spanish, I’ll know the truth.”
“You know the truth now. I’d never write bad things about you.”
“Except for saying I’m a liar.”
“Why did you dedicate a whole book to me?”
“I tell some of your stories about being an undocumented immigrant.”
He looked horrified. “People don’t want to hear those old stories.”
“I disagree. They do want to hear them and they need to hear them. I want to tell them because they put a human face on a Mexican immigrant.”
“This is a bad time in this country. Immigrants are as welcome as two-headed demons. It reminds me of the old days when we were not even as valuable as cattle.”
“That is the story I felt compelled to tell.”
He grimaced. “I don’t think people will like that book.”
“I hope you’re wrong, but even if you’re correct, I had to write it. And I think people will read it and enjoy it. It’s about a lot of things, not just immigration. That’s only part of the story.”
He shrugged. “Well, it’s your decision.”
“When you read it you’ll understand. My Deputy Ricos novels are about more than just one thing at a time.” Except in the case of bloody shirts.
Years ago, when I heard the first of the experiences my new husband ventured to tell, I was horrified. He was a man I adored and respected. He was, and still is, the hardest-working man I know. At the time I wondered what is wrong with people that we can’t see the humanness in each other. Why can’t we look past skin colors, countries of birth, and the other superficial things that separate us from each other? Why do we erect barriers to love that do us so much damage? I still wonder these things. I still have the same questions. As a society, we appear to be going backwards instead of forwards.
“I have to write about the things that are important to me,” I said. “It’s the only way I can do it.”
He nodded in understanding, but he had a valid question. “What if people stop reading what you write?”
“That won’t stop me from writing.”
The look in his eyes was soft in spite of his next words. “You are the hardest-headed woman I ever knew.”
I can argue with a lot of things, but that’s not one of them.
Lies With Lunch
My ex-husband, a man I adore even though we gave up trying to live together, made a surprise trip to Alpine from Terlingua and invited me to lunch. Of course I accepted.
The waitress took our drink order and disappeared. Without warning, he slapped a recent newspaper onto the table in front of me.
“Did you say in print that I’m a liar?”
“Well…” It was the column about La Llorona.
“Probably a million people have read this by now.”
“I don’t think the Alpine Avalanche reaches a million people.” But wouldn’t that be great?
He gave me a dark look.
“It’s only a story,” I said.
“It makes me look bad. It’s slander.”
“No; it isn’t that at all. It’s about that time you tried to scare me with La Llorona—” His expression stopped my explanation. If you’re a gringo and think you have a grasp of the Spanish language, you should try explaining to an angry Mexican man how calling him a liar is not slander. Yeah. I’ll wait.
“I know this wasn’t the first time you called me a liar in print.”
Who is the big-mouthed troublemaker in Terlingua translating my columns to him? I tried to find out but it was no dice. I’m offering a reward.
“I was having fun at your expense,” I admitted, “but anybody who reads what I write about you knows it’s without malice. They’re just stories. All I’m doing is telling a tale.”
He was not impressed.
“It’s not like you haven’t had a few laughs at my expense,” I added.
He tried to say that wasn’t true but I knew better, and he knew I knew. His wide-eyed innocent look didn’t fly. Instead of admitting guilt, he crammed a salsa-loaded chip into his mouth.
As with a thousand arguments before, this one dissipated like early-morning fog. We began to talk about our daughter, our favorite subject. As I listened to him enthuse about a possible trip to visit her in California, another story came to mind. When I look at him there are millions.
Back in the eighties, Lajitas used to host unforgettable dances. The favorites were referred to as “Mexican dances.” People came from all over the region and the town would be booked full. A band from Ojinaga or San Carlos would arrive and “let the festivities begin!”
Our daughter, whose name is Margarita, was a few weeks old when we decided to take her to a dance. We seldom missed one and had seen other couples there with their babies. She had already been introduced to the wonders of dancing by one of the all-time greats, her second cousin, Kiko Garcia. During an in-out trip to the Lajitas Trading Post, he jumped up from a bench, yelled, “Mi primita!” and grabbed my three-day-old baby and danced her around the porch. I swear I think she smiled.
We dressed to the nines and headed to the dance. As we walked past the side of the pavilion towards its entrance, the music began. It was loud enough to rattle teeth in Cuidad Chihuahua. The sudden blast startled our child and she wailed. Her dad handed her to me, but trying to comfort her was useless. She was so distressed we didn’t have the heart to stay.
We returned home, agonized about it, and decided to leave Margarita with a neighbor who constantly begged to keep her. It was the first time we’d left her with anyone other than her grandmother, but we knew she’d be in loving hands. And we’d only be a yell away.
It was difficult to leave our baby, but we needed time together and we wanted to dance. We made it through two before Margarita’s dad said, “Do you think she’s all right?”
“I can’t stand this.”
He grabbed my hand. “Let’s go.”
Our daughter was sleeping the peaceful sleep of tiny babies, but we swept her out of there as if the place was burning down. We put her to bed at home and then we danced.
When we parted after lunch, my ex hugged me and whispered, “Please stop calling me a liar.”
“I will when you quit lying.”
He laughed and started to walk away but came back. “Did I ever tell you about the time I came face-to-face with the Ghost of Paso Lajitas?”
June 24th, 2014
On June 22, I participated in an event at Malvern’s Books in Austin, TX. Winners of the Texas Association of Authors awards for various genres were invited to read from their works. My first novel, “One Bloody Shirt at a Time” won first place for Best Crime Fiction of 2014.
It was a great experience. I was able to meet and listen to other Texas authors and that was fun.
My longtime friend (and loyal Deputy Ricos fan), Keith Godwin of San Antonio, attended and helped in various ways with her trademark great humor. I was surprised and honored to be visited by other readers of my books as well. Many thanks to Alexa Walker for coming and to Rosa and Curtis Toews. The biggest surprise of all was to see my friends Julie and Tim McKenna! They came all the way from Terlingua (an 8-hour drive). They brought Julie’s mother, Fran Conrad, who is also a Deputy Ricos fan. The presence of your smiling faces made the event more pleasant and less terrifying. Thank you.
I could not have done anything without my great friend Lynda Douglas. She helped with everything from loading books into my truck to being my navigational officer in that crazy Austin traffic. She made the trip less long and much more fun than it would’ve been without her. Thank you, Lynda.
Heartfelt thanks to Alan Bourgeois of the Texas Association of Authors for his hard work on behalf of Texas authors and to my loyal and loving readers who enrich my life every day.
A Tale of Two Publishers
Scrolling through Facebook, but I did a double-take on this: “One’s best success comes after their greatest disappointments.” The quote was attributed to Henry Ward Beecher, and I had just proved it true.
Towards the end of last year, I made a wrong turn onto a path that was a rough and bumpy uphill trail to the edge of a steep cliff. And it was dark. And slick with ice. Since I was driving, so there was nobody else to blame. I was even warned! A small voice whispered not to do it, but I didn’t listen. Every time I ignore that voice a tough lesson follows.
It didn’t take long to realize I had put my books into the hands of an unethical publisher. They held my novel, “The Reluctant Cowboy,” hostage for several months. She (the boss of the outfit) stole money from me on the pretext of sending books. She held my royalties and still has them. I’ll never see them unless she has an attack of conscience. When I complained, she threatened to publish the third Deputy Ricos tale, even though I had already withdrawn it from her so-called publishing house.
There are times you have to stand up and fight. This woman had to be beaten back with a gigantic metaphorical stick. It was a terrible time for me. Fighting is not my style, but I will defend myself. I got through several awful months by writing, continuing to believe in myself, and with the help of my family, friends, readers, and readers who have become friends. I also made therapeutic trips to South Brewster County and into the Davis Mountains.
I tried to stay positive, but everything made me cry: people being nice, people being jerks, my daughter calling, my daughter not calling, watching the sun set in the West, having no sunset to watch, thinking about the past, and thinking about the future. I was slipping off the cliff.
People who have never met me in person offered to help in any way they could, including sending me money to pursue a lawsuit. I was stunned by the outpouring of support and passionate feelings, and so grateful. It felt as though I had an army backing me. In a manner of speaking, I did and still do. The Beatles had it right: “I get by with a little help from my friends.”
Once I was released by the pretend publisher, good things started happening so quickly it was like magic. I republished “The Reluctant Cowboy” and sales took off as though they had never been interrupted. I released “Darker than Black” and boom!
I won an award from the Texas Association of Authors for “One Bloody Shirt at a Time.” Who would have thought? Sales increased for all my novels. A dear friend hosted a well-attended book signing for me in the Terlingua Ghost Town where I sold novels and watched the Chisos Mountains: bliss.
I was invited to be the featured author at a fundraiser for the Alpine Public Library and I was even interviewed on Marfa Public Radio. I was invited to participate in a book signing on June 22nd at a bookstore in Austin and to woman the Texas Association of Authors’ table at the Texas Book Fair in October to talk about and sell my novels.
That’s incredible, right? Here’s the best thing. Three weeks ago I was signed by a longtime, respected Texas publisher who will help, not hinder me. They’ll work with me to further my writing career, not try to cripple me. Writer + a real publisher = great things coming! I couldn’t be more happy and excited for the future.
Above my writing desk, I have these words pinned to a bulletin board: “I am seeking. I am striving. I am in it with all my heart.” The quote is by Vincent Van Gogh, and he expressed in an eloquent way how I feel about writing. When we’re in anything with our whole hearts, we’re bound to make mistakes. Van Gogh made plenty, but have you seen his legacy?
My Name in Lights
Last Friday evening I was honored to participate in a fundraiser for the Alpine Public Library. When I was first invited, I had no clue I would be the only author there. When I realized it, my heart went into my throat. Why would anyone pay to spend an evening in “intimate conversation” with Elizabeth A. Garcia? What would she say? Never mind; maybe no one would buy a ticket. But that would be terrible, wouldn’t it? There was no way to win this.
It was like that when I published “One Bloody Shirt at a Time.” A part of me pushed me to do it at the same time that another part told me not to. I’ve always tried to do things in spite of fear. The story was/is important to me. I needed to tell it and wanted to publish it even if rotten tomatoes were thrown at me. We have to be who we are in the short time we have here; otherwise, what is the point?
When I entered the large room at the library and saw all those chairs, I wanted to bolt. But up on the front wall was a giant-sized poster of the cover of “One Bloody Shirt at a Time.” No way was I going anywhere. I was as filled with pride as if I’d seen my name in lights!
As I walked to the podium my legs trembled. I thought about my mother and how proud she would be that I was speaking at a library about my own books. She read to me early-on and encouraged me to read before I ever went to school. Mom took me to the library and helped me learn how to find and check out books. When I was a kid, the library was the only place she let me go whenever I wanted.
“This is for you, Mom,” I thought as I took a breath and turned around.
When I saw the faces looking at me, I knew I was among friends. Paige, our librarian, gave the most thoughtful introduction I will ever receive. She took my own words about writing off my blog and knocked me over the head with them. When I heard them read by her, I was so touched I nearly started to cry. She had done her homework. But of course she had; she’s a librarian, one of the heroes on the frontlines in the fight to keep our society educated and questioning—reading, in other words.
I read for a short time from the book that was represented on the wall next to me. When I asked for comments and questions, they were wonderful. Someone asked if I’d done a lot of research into law enforcement practices before writing the story. My reply was yes, I had done some, but not enough. I got some things wrong. Writing is like life. You do your best with what you have and learn as you go, and always, always, try to do better.
Towards the end of the questions, I received this one: Are you planning to write a sequel to “The Reluctant Cowboy?” Wow. We had only been talking about the Deputy Ricos series, so the question took me aback. “The Reluctant Cowboy” is the best thing I ever wrote, but that is only my opinion. Some see it as “controversial material.” Maybe it is, but it shouldn’t be. Love is love is love, and love is all that matters. I will go to my grave believing that and writing about it.
I tell stories from my heart. Nothing I’ve ever written contains more of my heart than my coming-of-age love story about The Cowboy. Someone read it and liked it enough to ask about a sequel. I was speechless for a second. “Say something,” I prodded myself, but the question made me want to jump in the air and scream “Woo-hoo!”
Yes, I’m writing the rest of that story. Thank you for asking. I never planned to tell more about Jed, but the characters won’t let me rest. It’s not over, the same way the tales about Deputy Ricos are not over until she says so.
My final thought for this column is about our public library. Every single person in this community who believes in an intelligent, educated future for the human race should support it. Paige and her staff should be reading to little kids and figuring out what books to buy and doing whatever they do to make our library one of the top-rated libraries in the whole state of Texas. They shouldn’t have the extra work and stress of making fundraisers, but this writer is so thankful they did.
Late Night Lies
I mentioned before that I married a storyteller. In addition to tall tales and outright lies, he loved to scare me and would go to great lengths. Late one night we were crossing the Rio Grande when the truck stalled. Muddy water raced past the headlights, sweeping all hope downstream.
My husband removed his expensive boots. We had been to a wedding dance in Mexico and were wearing our finest clothes. He wriggled out of his pants and crawled through the window to check out the problem.
His exit left me alone to stare out into the night. The only sound was the gurgling of the river and the creaking noise made by the truck as the insistent current pushed against it.
“Honey,” I yelled, “do you think the Rio could move the truck?”
“Why do you think I’m standing upstream?” he called from under the hood. Then he slogged to the window. “I’d come find you, Mi Amor,” he assured me, but he was laughing.
I was not comforted.
He went back to work on the motor, but within a few moments he yelped. There was panicky splashing and grunting, and then he catapulted through the driver’s side window.
“Something touched me,” he gasped, his dark eyes huge.
“It was probably a fish.”
“It was a hand! We can’t stay here.” He shivered. “She’ll come for us.”
“Stop it.” I didn’t ask who would come for us because I didn’t want to know.
My husband shifted in the seat to face me, his eyes still wide. “She haunts the river, you know.”
I knew what was coming and didn’t want to hear a creepy tale about the Rio Grande while we were stuck in the middle of it on a night when the darkness was as thick as mud.
Before I could stop him the liar launched into the story of La Llorona, the most famous of the Mexican ghost stories. Long tale short, Maria Gonzales fell in love with a young nobleman and they married, but the marriage soon turned sour. She loved her husband, but he flirted with other women, especially the young ladies from the wealthy side of town. This hurt Maria’s pride.
After the birth of two children, Maria’s husband became even more distant.
Sometimes he wouldn’t come home until morning. When he did, he brought small gifts for the children, but he ignored Maria. He wouldn’t even look at her.
The end came the day Maria spied her husband riding with a beautiful woman in a fancy wagon. As she watched, her children ran to meet them. He gave them a big smile and pieces of candy, but he never looked at her once.
Jealous rage boiled up in Maria. When her husband and his companion rode away, she took her children to the river. In a moment of insane anger and jealousy, she threw them from the cliff. As soon as she did it, she realized what she had done and fell to her knees moaning and wailing. Then one dark night, Maria threw herself into the river where she had murdered her niños.
A few days later, La Llorona appeared at the spot where Maria had drowned her children. On dark and silent nights, a voice carries on the wind. A voice choked with tears, crying out, “Mis niños, mis niños!”
With the passage of time, Maria forgot what her children looked like so she began calling to all children. Whenever she finds a child alone in the dark near the water, she grabs it.
“La Llorona still cries for her children,” he finished, “coming in the dark, seeking what is forever lost to her.”
“That’s such a sad story,” I said.
“Nah, nah, nah.” He shook his head, disgusted with me. “You’re not supposed to be sad. You’re supposed to be afraid.”
“It sounds like a story people tell their children to keep them away from the river at night.”
He rolled his eyes. “I’m disappointed, Mi Amor. I went to a lot of trouble to scare you.”
“Why? Being stuck in the river in the dark of night is plenty scary.”
“Well,” he sighed, “I guess that’s something.”
Then he winked at me and started the truck.
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