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Wait For Me

6th Mar 2022 in

Wait For Me

Part 1

The desert holds many things. It holds distance, silence, and heat. It can be violent, and it can be peaceful. Freedom and salvation have been found in the heart of the desert, as have physical and mental pain, traumatic thirst, and death.

It was July, and the sun beat down as the Chevrolet pounded deeper into the desert's heart. It was a day like any other, and nothing that existed in the desert placed any significance upon the date. A hawk circled in the sky, utterly uninterested in the car speeding down the asphalt road. A roadrunner stopped in the shade of a paloverde tree. The bird gazed down the highway, observing where the car had been. Clouds drifted across the sky. Everything else in the desert world had stopped in deference to the heat. Even the rattlesnake, el cascabel, had stopped hunting, preferring an afternoon spent in a handy burrow in the cool darkness beneath the burning sand.

In its stillness, the desert world was as solemn and quiet as a church. A church where veiled girls and grinning boys march in line toward the altar in hopes of saving their immortal souls. It was somber as a church where adults congregate to ease their guilt and possibly gain a share in the immortality spoken of in scripture.

We all seek salvation. Some find it in the simple acts of life like breathing, holding a baby, or hearing air between a bird’s feathers in flight. Others find it in self-punishment and self-denial, straining to find forgiveness for something that may...or may not have been done in sin or hatred. Something that may or may not be forgivable. If we search for salvation in the deserts of our souls, we might well find it; “Seek and ye shall find.” On the other hand, the vision of salvation we seek may just as easily elude us, and leave us raving mad from thirst. What is salvation and what is hallucination?

Where is the heart of the desert? If it has a heart at all, it is not a human heart, beating with love, compassion, and tenderness. More likely it is the vast heart of eternity that resides in the desert, in rhythm only with the holy trinity of agua, tierra, y sol - water, earth, and sun.

In the silent heat under the endless sky, the Chevy pounded deeper into the heart of the desert, and nothing and no one paid any attention.

Una Noche
One Night

José had worked hard to provide a living for his wife and family. Together he and Lucy had four children. Lucy had never imagined having four children, but her own circumstances had always seemed to be beyond her control. José had suffered the loss of a leg some years before, and now unable to work at harvesting corn and most of the other crops, he took whatever jobs he could perform. These usually turned out to be harvesting agave for use in making tequila, which entailed long periods exhuming and cutting one plant, or hauling water to people’s houses in the derelict, rusty truck owned by the town. Other, more profitable jobs included working with the plastic-wrapped bundles of white powder, coca, cocaine, that the people in el norte crawled out of the woodwork to buy. His job was to drive several of the bundles north to Nogales, which was over 400 miles away but the trip was lengthened in both time and miles by the requirement to remain on back roads to avoid la policía. It was a two-day round trip, but it netted him more than a month’s pay working in the agave fields.

One day, a bag fell from the truck and burst open when it hit the dirt road. José scooped up a few handfuls of the powder and put it away for later. When later came, he tried some powder and drank a lot of tequila, and then had some more of the coca. At first, he dreamed of wonderful times that might have been, but la coca wasn’t kind to José; Like so many other things in life, it only provided delusion, which the tequila reinforced.

When he entered his house that night, he felt a great loathing for Lucy as she smiled her welcome and called him to the table. All that had occurred to cause them to remain in Mexico, to give up their dream of a life in the north, sublimated in José’s chemically fueled mind, and suddenly Lucy was not only responsible for ruining their dream but also for ruining his life while she was at it. He limped into the kitchen, eyes ablaze with chemicals. He struck her for the first time in their marriage. In the red haze of his rage, he overturned the table and broke the dishes that held the dinner she had prepared.

His rage continued, and Jesùs, the youngest of the children, stood in the doorway of the kitchen watching the scene unfold with wide, white-rimmed eyes, fingers held numbly in his teeth. Soon, his oldest sister Paloma whisked him out of the house and into the soft summer night.

Esperame aqui, mijo!” she whispered to him, “Wait here for me, little guy!”

He did as his sister told him. He heard the rage of his father slowly subside. He heard the desert toads singing their summer songs. He heard the wind whisper through the branches of the cactus that stood guard above him, arms outstretched against the waning moon. He heard the sound of the small creek flowing past the house. He dreamed of a place far away. He awoke to Paloma gently shaking him as the first rays of the sun reached over the rounded hills.

José y Lucy
José and Lucy

Life had never been easy for José and Lucy. They had left their hometown of Tafetán in the southern state of Michoacán a decade earlier when José dreamed of work and life across the border in el norte. They had heard the stories of those who had made it. Those who made it to el norte always came back. They said they came back, not to gloat in their new wealth, but only to renew family ties and to see old friends.

They also heard the stories of those who had not succeeded. Theirs was always a sad story of mixed blessings, crossed fates, and the wages of sin. It was possible that offerings and prayers could be made to this saint or that, in hopes of ultimate salvation, but always the sin remained the cause of dashed dreams. How could it be otherwise? When these people lost their dreams, they were not expected to return to the villages of their youth. In a land already filled with tragedy and so many failed dreams, no one cared to listen to the stories of failed dreamers, and so they became exiles.

Late spring promised the coming of summer. José and Lucy were married in May. The entire village wished the two young lovers well. Everyone wanted the couple to go north. They told everyone that they had been planning to head north, and plans were being made to leave sometime in June, the date not settled in too much haste. They were given small gifts for their journey; small packages of food, small amounts of money. The storms of summer, white veils of clouds drawn along the flanks of towering volcanoes by an invisible god, began to appear above their village again. As she slept one night under the rumble of a distant storm, Lucy had her dream. An invisible God spoke directly from the storm and expressed his displeasure with them for turning their backs on him.

Lucy woke up sobbing. When she told José about her dream, he knew exactly what she meant. His mind raced back to that late March afternoon in front of the fire before they were married, alone in her parents’ house, the rest of the town enjoying the Easter festival. They would not be missed. The stove crackled and rumbled as flames licked out the door, echoing their desire. They had made love throughout the afternoon there on the warm dirt floor, beads of sweat trickling into the land of their birth. Later, when her period started, Lucy had felt relieved and grateful, happy that she was not pregnant. She thought now, after her dream, that their sin and those emotions of relief were the cause of the divine anger that had befallen them. She could not be sure, she only knew what her dream had told her: she and José had turned their backs on God.

She begged José to stay at least until they had made what reparations they could to the angry God. “Esperamos aqui, amor”, “Let’s wait here, my love”, she pleaded. She prayed and made offerings to various saints in the hope that she alone could repair things on a cosmic scale before their exodus. She pinned effigies of faces called milagros to the robe on the statue of la Virgen de Guadalupe behind the altar at the chapel near her home. Small figures made of a thin sheet of metal, milagros represent a variety of images such as animals and body parts like arms and legs. They are totems of a cause that a person is particularly praying for. Lucy hoped that the tiny faces might help persuade the deity that they had indeed not turned their backs on his mighty visage.

Despite Lucy’s pleas and prayers, José would not wait. They left Tafetán on June 24th, San Juan Day, named in honor of San Juan Bautista, Saint John the Baptist, the patron saint of water. On their way north, the weather was kind to them. As they crossed over the border into Jalisco and left their native state of Michoacàn for what may have been the last time, they turned to see the land that they came from, the land where they had been born, that had been drenched with the blood and sweat of their families for generations, and that they would now be forever “from.” José took a deep breath as he saw the green, steep mountains draped in gossamer storms. Lucy stared out over the valley and saw the small village where they had spent the previous night. Dogs and children ran in the dirt street far below. A river coursed down the valley back toward Tafetán. Only with this last thought did she begin to cry.

Their journey continued despite the sadness they both felt in leaving their birthplace, their home. Lush tropical growth slowly gave way to broader views of plains and further mountains. They stayed at farmhouses and ate what they were offered by their hosts, and whatever they could find along the way that was not too costly. Even these frugal habits ate into their meager bankroll, most of which had been given to them by relatives and friends from their hometown.

As they walked along the roadside or rode in the backs of trucks whose drivers offered rides to any and all, they were anonymous. To any observer, the couple could have been simply walking back to their home after a visit to the local marketplace. Only over several days’ observation would the course of their journey become apparent; they continued north, always north. By the time they reached the southern border of the state of Sonora, their savings were gone, except for the 2,000-peso note Lucy had tucked into her purse without José knowing, about $100.00 American. Being so close to the Promised Land, however, raised their hopes and made them brave.

San Ignacio Rio Muerto, Sonora, Mexico
Saint Ignacious River of Death, Sonora, Mexico

José found work in the milpas, or cornfields, in the agricultural settlement of San Ignacio Rio Muerto, a community that had sprung up in response to an upsurge of agriculture in the broad valley about 70 miles south of Guaymas. They saved almost every peso he earned. Lucy found a job in a tortilleria, and they saved almost everything she earned. They began making inquiries around town for a coyote to guide them across the border. Coyotes, in this case, are merchants who trade in human cargo; human smugglers. They will see an immigrant to the other side of la frontera, the border. For a price. Some coyotes are reliable. Others are not. There is no licensing board or bureau, or any other means of telling the good ones apart from the others. Fate steps in and plays its hand.

To their shock, they found the price the coyotes charged was between $1500.00 and 2,500 per person, American. Lucy calculated that with their present income, it would take more than three years to save six-thousand dollars if they didn’t spend anything at all. They were determined to make it across the border, however. They were within 300 miles of their goal, and so after traveling nearly the entire length of their country, almost 1000 miles, they decided to stay in San Ignacio Rio Muerto for as long as it took to save the money.

Agua, Tierra, y Sol
Water, Earth, and Sun

Several months later, a year after they had left Michoacán, José was walking to his job in the fields. It was early morning and the sun had still not risen above the horizon. Also, it was summer again. Summer in Sonora is the season of the monsoons. Huge, billowing cumulus clouds erupted from the west over el Golfo, the Gulf of California, and exploded violently over the town. Rain cascaded down and collected in the creeks that flowed into the Rio Yaqui, which made its way to the Gulf. The river was swollen from many days of violent thunderstorms. This morning, as José walked to work, the storms had built up early. Instead of drenching the surrounding hills, rain pounded hard onto the streets of San Ignacio, turning them into rivers of flowing mud, trash, dead animals, and ill-fated cars. As José left the house in the pre-dawn darkness, Lucy turned violently in her sleep. The dream of God speaking to her from within the storm clouds had returned, and He was still not happy.

José took a different route to work that morning, which kept him on the roads above the river. The rain was pounding down and the clouds above were black. Thunder rolled over the land and lightning shot through the clouds. Cars hissed by through the mud. José kept his head down to shed the water past his eyes. The muddy road slipped slowly backward under his vision.

An old pickup truck came fishtailing through the mud on tires that had long since worn smooth. As the driver tried to negotiate the corner, the truck slid uncontrollably to the left. He never saw José walking along, eyes focused on the ground. The truck was only doing about 15 miles an hour when it hit José, but the place where the chrome bumper had once been was now only a jagged, rusty shaft of metal. It sliced into José’s leg just above the back of the knee, driving deep, ripping muscle, tearing nerves, and shattering bone.

After the accident, a passing field worker recognized José. He tore a strip of dirty cloth from the t-shirt he was wearing and tied it as a tourniquet around the leg, then held José's hand until help arrived, being all he could do. José lay on the side of the road for a long time; the rain washed his blood into the ditch with the same indifference it washed mud and dirt and rocks from the mountains down into the valleys. An ambulance finally arrived, its single red light reflecting silently through the gray morning. Farmers and children on their way to school watched as the attendants bandaged his leg as best they could. No one could avoid noticing the unnatural way the leg sagged when they lifted him onto the stretcher. As the ambulance pulled away, the crowd dispersed to carry on their day under the storms of San Ignacio Rio Muerto.

Lucy sat suddenly bolt upright in bed, her eyes wide in terror. Her chest heaved and a heavy sweat drenched her hair and ran down her shoulders and between her breasts. Rain poured into the puddle in the roadside ditch, diluting José’s blood until there was no trace left; only the muddy water and the rain remained. She held her rosary tightly to her mouth and began to pray, the dream still vivid in her mind.

Esperame, mi amor,” she prayed. Later she went to the local chapel and pinned two more milagro faces to the gown of la Virgen de Guadalupe

Part 2

The sun glared yellow through the faded tint on the top edge of the windshield. The dust of Arizona sifted into the cracks of the dashboard. The open windows let in heat from outside in buffeting waves that blew empty cigarette packs and other bits of trash through the car. Occasionally a piece was sucked out through a window and was set adrift behind the speeding car. The radio blared music from ripped speakers.

Gauges on the dash told their own story. The fuel gauge dipped closer toward the red “E.” The temperature gauge moved in the opposite direction toward the red “H.” The battery gauge showed the alternator was not charging, and in support of this, the red battery light glowed dimly under the speedometer. The tachometer read almost 4000 revolutions per minute; its needle bounced with the dips in the road. A glance at the speedometer showed that needle was pegged at 80 miles per hour. A muffled, repetitive thumping noise drifted up from under the car, the universal joint, but was drowned by the music scratching from the ripped speakers.

The sun, the birds, snakes, plants, and sky have seen it a thousand times before; the rise of the sun, its arc to zenith, its descent to the horizon, and then the stars rise and repeat the motions on a dark background. Nothing changes, everything stays the same. A baby might cry, a grandmother might die, it’s all the same – nothing changes. The sun rises, it sets, the stars rotate, the hawk hunts, the rodents hide. Always, always the same.

El Final del Viaje
Journey’s End

José’s injury was made worse by the time he spent in the ditch. The water had been standing for almost a week and contained bacteria that had leached in from the soil and from the sewage that, for lack of infrastructure, ran freely along the roadsides. Infection spread and it was determined that his leg must be taken. Along with the limb, José’s and Lucy’s hopes and dreams were severed by deft strokes of a surgeon in the back room of a small office off a dirt road.

José and Lucy continued their lives in Sonora after the accident with the knowledge that their dream of crossing la frontera was now forever out of reach. They had failed in the pursuit of their dream and were now exiles in their own country.

Jesús el Pescadero
Jesús the Fisherman

The episode when José came home after drinking tequila and trying the coca had of course left an indelible scar on the family, but especially on their youngest child, Jesús. Under the cactus that night, as Jesús listened to his father’s rage and his mother’s moans, he thought of nothing other than escape, escape from the rage and terror of entrenched poverty. Escape from the eternal wheel of backbreaking labor with no hope of reward or release, save the occasional fiesta or solitary, drunken crawl through the darkened cantinas of Hermosillo, Caborca, or Nogales. Of course, at five years old, his thinking was not sophisticated enough to give voice to these thoughts. He knew only that he wanted to be somewhere, anywhere but near his parents’ rage and pain. He had his whole life to match words to the emotions that were branded into his soul that night.

Jesús’ childhood was unremarkable from his peers. He attended schools in the local area where he learned to read and write and fight, and how to scratch a living from the meager resources available. His formal education ended when he was ten years old.

Jesús had grown up with a boy named Cesar, whose family lived just uphill from José, Lucy, Jesús, and the rest of the Alvarez family. The two boys were like brothers, hermanos, and were inseparable. Cesar’s father, Gilberto, had been a fisherman for many years in Guaymas. He still had contacts, and just after Cesar’s 10th birthday, arrangements were made for the boy to begin work on the fishing boats there. Jesús cajoled his parents into allowing him to go along with Cesar. By the time he was 14 years old, Jesús was an experienced deckhand and had graduated to working on the best sportfishing boats of Guaymas.

Jesús enjoyed the fresh, clean air and the distance from which he was removed from the overwhelming sadness of his parents. He loved to watch the seagulls follow the boats out of port in hopes of catching a free meal of baitfish as the deckhands prepared the tourists’ fishing poles. He loved the rise and fall of the boats on the glassy swells of el mar de Cortez in the early morning; the sea looked like golden, undulating quicksilver and seemed to move more slowly, more dream-like, than in the thinning heat of the day. He loved the chubascos, summer monsoon storms generated over the warm waters that could easily capsize vessels piloted by unwary captains. He loved the first cry of “Hook up!” when the first yellowtail or dorado bit onto a tourist’s hook.

There were negatives, as well. The captains of the fishing boats were almost universally predisposed to their own hatred, grief and fits of rage while away from paying customers, and on more than one occasion Jesús paid the price of lying in bed too comfortably while an angry captain drank tequila in his cabin and dwelled on the inequities of his world. The hours were long and grueling. Often, he started work at 4:30 in the morning and was not finished until 10:00 at night. The next day he would wake and repeat the job over again. A day off meant a day without making money.

Shortly after his 19th birthday, around noon, when the tourists were well into their fourth and fifth beers, and sandwiches were being passed around during the noontime lull in fishing, Jesús was baiting a hook for the exceptionally beautiful young daughter of an American doctor from Tucson who was hosting his office staff and some colleagues on the fishing trip. Jesús was confidently hooking a sardine onto her line while she looked on. Their eyes met; hers were horrified, his were smiling.

Abruptly, there was a thud and the boat lurched sideways, tumbling two people overboard and knocking everyone else to the deck. There was a thundering hiss and a geyser-like spray of water ahead of the boat. The boat had hit a whale. The captain shouted for deckhands to throw floats to the swimming guests, while everyone scrambled to regain balance and composure. The whale slipped silently down into the depths of the Gulf, a wound on its broad, barnacled side that would heal over in time, leaving a large scar as the only memory of the encounter.

In the confusion, Jesús lay quietly on the deck, his hands held to his face. A small amount of blood rolled on the deck under his head as the boat pitched from side to side, settling slowly back into the rhythm of the swells. The girl bent over him, placing her hand on his shoulder. She rolled him gently toward her and saw the shank of the hook under the palm of his hand. Noticing this, one of the other deckhands came over, knelt beside Jesús, and pulled his hand away from his face. The hook had impaled itself into the orbit of his right eye. Wide-eyed, the girl backed away and ushered her father, the doctor, to Jesús’ side.

The hook had penetrated through the eye, and during the fall, had been pulled upward through the sclera into the cornea, where it crushed the iris and lens. The vitreous humor slowly leaked out through the jagged gash on the long boat ride back to shore, despite the best efforts of the doctor to treat the injury. Dr. Gilmour was a cardiologist, so emergency care of ocular injuries was not familiar territory. Little could be done to save the eye outside of the hospital anyway, so the doctor bandaged the injured eye and taped a plastic cup over it to stabilize the wound, and the captain called to shore to arrange emergency transportation.

Part 3

The sun, long past its zenith at midday, slid down in the west. The dashed yellow center line rose with the road into the hills in the distance. The centerline would be at the midpoint of the arc of the sun’s lower limb when it touched the horizon, the road aimed directly at the heart of the setting orb. Fingers flexed, grip tightened on the wheel. Another pull from the tequila bottle. Images of childhood pain, dashed dreams, broken promises, and hardship glint golden through the glass. In a blur of color, a cross adorned with flowers and balloons flashed by, a memoria or santuario, a roadside shrine. A shrine to the memory of a father or mother, son or daughter, taken from the world in a tangle of twisted metal and dripping fluids, broken shards of glass, and shattered dreams.

A fast signarse and señal de la cruz, a kiss of the thumb and sign of the cross, and another tilt of the tequila bottle in remembrance of whoever it was while squinting through his one good eye at the setting sun. The balloons, caught in the backdraft of the Chevy, pulled their tethers horizontal for an instant, rattled against each other, then slowly rose again to vertical, their happy, shiny orbs swayed only by the stray, hot desert breeze.

Jesús Salvó
Jesús Saved

Jesús spent a week in the hospital after the accident as the doctors tried to save his eye, but they were not successful. Doctor Gilmour was kind and felt a certain sense of responsibility for the accident because he had hired the vessel. He generously paid for Jesús’ stay in the hospital and for his care. He too was disappointed when the doctors were unable to save the eye. He sent Jesús a check for five thousand dollars, an apology, and an offer to be available as a friend if he should ever come to Tucson.

Jesús’ sister Paloma, who had taken him out of the house so many years ago when their father had finally succumbed to the pain and hopelessness, had already made it to el otro lado, the other side of the border. She had taken a job at a popular tourist restaurant in Guaymas three years earlier, and a contractor from Phoenix had fallen in love with her. They married, and she found herself in an affluent neighborhood in southern Phoenix.

With help from Paloma and her husband, and from Dr. Gilmour in Tucson, Jesús made it across the border legally. He didn’t have to endure the desert crossing on foot, brave the US Border Patrol, or hide from other authorities. He was able to find a construction job that paid well. Jesús and Paloma sent money to their parents, who still lived in San Ignacio Rio Muerto, every week. José and Lucy lived much more comfortably than they had before, and José no longer needed to drive coca to Nogales.

Often, Jesús and Paloma would visit San Ignacio, and bring back tales of their lives from across the border. They would visit and renew ties with their parents and brothers and sisters and visit old friends. José and Lucy were proud of them.


Jesús, like everyone, carried the burden of his memories with him wherever he went. His 25th birthday came on a Saturday, and since he no longer had to work every day, he got in his car, an old model Chevrolet, and drove south into the desert, toward Mexico and his memories.

Part 4

The sun touched the horizon, the centerline aimed at its heart. A red-tailed hawk soared over the desert. A rattlesnake emerged from a burrow, tongue flicking the hot air. The smell of heated rocks was all it found. The hawk’s swift shadow swept silently over the snake.

A car approached in the distance, tires hissing on the hot road. Suddenly, the distant sound changed pitch as the tires left the pavement and encountered the rocks and plants of the desert floor. A long series of thumps and crashes echoed through the air as the car twisted and rolled for hundreds of feet. An immense cloud of orange dust rose into the still air.

Pulses of energy from the violent wreck were sent through the desert floor. The snake stopped for a moment, hoping the vibrations meant an approaching meal. After a few seconds, the vibrations stopped. The snake sensed there was nothing approaching after all, and continued on its way.

The hawk observed the crash from above and continued circling in the cloudless sky. Nothing changes. The hawk hunts, the rodents hide. Always, always the same.

~ ~ ~ ~

Paloma finished tying the last balloon to the silver-painted cross, the name “Jesús” on the horizontal bar. The memoria, or santuario, was surrounded by pictures of his parents, José and Lucy, gifts of cigarette packs, and an unopened bottle of Tecate beer. A car hissed by on the road as Paloma performed a signarse and señal de la cruz, kissed her thumb, and reached to touch the cross.

“Esperame, mijo” she whispered, and closed her eyes, surrounded by the holy trinity of agua, tierra, y sol, in the silent heat under the endless sky.


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