‘Buried Ladies’ Chapter 8
It was sweltering hot wherever she was. Estella hoped they’d be in soon – whoever “they” were. She was so thirsty her tongue was stuck to the roof of her mouth and her body ached in places she’d never felt pain before. Plus, she really had to pee.
Her mind drifted back to her hurried trip to Mexico. Right after seeing the newspaper account of Arturo’s car accident she’d grabbed her passport and thrown a couple of things into a bag. She’d sent a text to Jamie and then taken a cab to the airport. After that it was a blank.
She’d fallen in love with Arturo at 14. OK, so maybe it wasn’t love, but she was impressed with his good looks and the masculine smell of him. He was much older and a powerful figure in the Gulf Cartel. Even though the cartel scared her, she couldn’t help being impressed with the man who ran the local trade. Plus, she hadn’t known about his illegal connections until after she’d fallen in love.
After the accident, her mother lived on painkillers as much for their pain relief as the way they blotted out all the horror in her life. The accident scared her once-beautiful face, the face that won beauty contests in her town. She was left with a wrecked face and internal scars that wouldn’t heal. And pain, relentless pain.
When doctors refused to write any more scripts, she turned to a local boy for painkillers on the black market. Ultimately, she could no longer pay the street prices for the daily elixir that made her pain manageable. Then, she got a visit from Arturo with a proposition – help smuggle drugs through family in the Rio Grande and he’d get her everything she needed. From the valley, his network moved cocaine, heroin, and pot up through the Midwest to the East coast. It was a sweet deal until Rabeca got caught handing off a shipment to his mules.
It all started with the accident.
Estella saw it in her nightmares sometimes. The car winding around the narrow road … the truck overloaded with machine parts for one of the maquiladora plants. There was the screech of brakes, the dust, and sound of metal on metal. That’s all she remembered until they came to get her out. Her legs were pinned by the front seat and the car was on fire. Her mother was screaming – blood curdling screams that came from her very core.
They didn’t let her see her mom for a few days, but when she did, it was terrifying. Her mother’s silky chestnut hair was all gone and her face was bandaged. She didn’t talk much. Her lips and tongue were badly burned and a few ribs were cracked. Rabeca stared out the window, not really looking at her only daughter, so lost in her own horror, she didn’t relate to anyone.
The boys came to visit. Their eyes were dull and showed the sadness in their hearts. The rabbi came, too. They told everyone to stay away from the hospital to let us heal. But mom never did. Sure, she got better and we both went home. But the wounds on her face left terrible scars and her once beautiful hair grew back grey and wiry. She didn’t leave the house. Estella was left to do all the cooking, shopping, and taking care of the house after school. The boys helped when they could, but they lived in the US and it was hard for them with jobs and their own young families.
Her father tried to help. He was kind and understanding, but he didn’t know how to help his wife recover her spirit. He worked longer and longer hours, dreading the time when he must return home to deal with this increasingly distant woman he’d married as a youth. He still broke the challah on Shabbat and said Shema when he put her to bed, but the life had gone out of him the same way it went out of her mother.
Estella didn’t blame him. He was crippled, too, just like Rabeca, although is wounds were internal. Rabeca had not only been his wife, she’d been his lover, his best friend. Now, he was alone. Just like Estella.
Her mother stopped doing everything; just sat around with a dull look on her face. Estella took care of the house until her dad got home. She didn’t mind the extra work. Her mother didn’t eat much and wasn’t particular about the housekeeping. She’d often wear the same old dress or t-shirt and jeans for weeks without washing them. Soon, everything she owned enveloped her like an old blanket as she lost more and more weights. Estella noticed the liquor bottles in the trash and wondered who brought them, Rabeca was housebound, by choice, and Estella never bought liquor. Estella thought maybe her mother ventured out for the bottles while she was at school.
Rabeca wondered around the house all night. Sometimes she’d hear her mother crying softly. Sometimes her mother’s screams woke her up at night. In the years before her father’s death, Estella started seeing dirty lanky boys coming to the house after she and her dad were in bed or they’d leave quickly when Estella got home from school. Sometimes, when she heard voices outside her room, she crept up and opened her door to make sure her mom was all right, but she couldn’t stop her mother. Neither could her father.
On mornings after these visits, her mother didn’t appear for breakfast before Estella left for school. But, the nighttime wanderings and screams became less frequent, so Estella was happy for whatever relief Rabeca got.
Her mom started making trips to the US and leaving her with Mrs. Huerta next door to look in on her until her dad got home from work. Rabeca would be gone a few days then appear again muttering something about doctors and medicine. Until, one time, she didn’t come back for a week. Both Estella and her father were frantic. They called friends and relatives. They called the police. No one knew anything. Eventually, Rabeca just showed up. She didn’t have an explanation and things went back to the way they had been since the accident.
Arturo stopped by during that week to ask about her. Estella had never seen him before, but he said he was Rabeca’s friend. He was like a Greek god; all bronzed with muscles rippling under his shirt and down his arms. His raven hair was tied just below his collar and his brown eyes followed her intently as she prepared his coffee. He smelled of expensive cologne, sunshine, and maleness. She fell in love.
A few days later, Arturo came back with her mom. They didn’t have much to say and Arturo left quickly. Estella asked her mom what happened, but she complained of a headache and went to her room. It was nearly a week before her mother emerged from that room while Estella was home, although she’d find cups in the sink or crumbs on the counter telling her Rabeca was still in there somewhere.
Arturo would come around sometimes to check on Estella, give her a little money, or take her to eat at one of the taqueritas nearby. She always dressed carefully, trying to look older, and brushed her hair until it cascaded in shimmering waves. Once, his hand brushed against hers as they reached for the same napkin and her cheeks stung with all the blood rushing in. That night, when he took her home, he kissed her gently on the forehead.
Soon, he was there nearly every day after she got home from school. The gentle kisses became more insistent and longer. But, she was only 15 and he stopped with the kisses and gently stroking her shoulders or giving her great big hugs that hurt her arms. She didn’t care. She was in love. Her dad didn’t approve, so Arturo made sure he was gone before her father got home from work.
Estella found out who Arturo really was when she saw his picture in the paper a few months later. American police suspected him of leading a faction of the Gulf Cartel that was accused of smuggling drugs into border towns. They were looking for him and Mexican police were helping.
That couldn’t be possible. Not her Arturo, her love. She called his cell, but it went to voicemail. Her texts weren’t answered. Arturo’s disappearance proved he was guilty of those horrendous crimes.
Ultimately, she met Jaime, fell in love for real this time, and they got married. Soon after the wedding, she got a call about her dad, who’d been her rock since the accident. He’d had a stroke after years of eating traditional Jewish food that was too fatty, with too few vegetables. She tried to find her mother; she needed to go to the hospital with Estella, but after 2 hours, she gave up. By the time she and Jaime got to the hospital, her father was gone. As tears ran down her face, she could hear him singing as he worked around the house or walked her and her brothers to services on Shabbat morning or Sunday school. That was all gone now. She blamed her mother. She should have been there to say goodbye. Instead, she was trying to track down a woman too far gone to even appreciate what was happening.
She and Jaime, now Jim, left for the US so he could go to college at UT, studying computer science. She went to a local school and got some medical training; enough that she could transcribe doctor’s notes.
She didn’t visit her mother often; her mother didn’t even know who she was most of the time. Estella paid Mrs. Huerta to keep an eye on her, make sure there was food in the house, and clean a little. Sometimes she’d go over to see her father’s grave in the small Jewish cemetery, leaving a stone on his headstone, but she couldn’t even find Rabeca sometimes.
Even though she hadn’t heard from Arturo for a long time and she couldn’t accept his lifestyle, she was horrified to see the burned out car in the newspaper. She felt like she needed closure on that chapter of her life. Plus, she hadn’t seen her mother in over a month. She figured she’d kill 2 birds with one stone – see her mother and attend Arturo’s funeral.
But, today something happened. Now she was here, wherever here was. None of that was going to happen.