Of my earliest memories — of being with my mother and father in an Aspen Grove near the border of Colorado and Wyoming. Down a gully from the cabin, built by my family in the ’70s, is a source. It is summer and the sky is blue. In the early morning, light spills dappled leaf-shadows through pleached layers of branches and trunks. A small creek flows thruin the forest floor. We sit against one of the bigger Aspens in the grove, looking up at birds coming in and out of their homes, which are holes in the upper reaches of the trees. The scent of sweet dewy grass breezes. We inhale. I am small — but two or three years old. Held against each of my parents’ breasts, at different times throughout the morning, I hear unique pulses. As stream currents braid the nearby creek song, my heart learns to beat with the continuity my parents share. With the rise and fall of each restful breath, my breathing learns to relax and forget. I remember, or awake to memory, as if present. A wind pours over pines, down the hill into the grove, rattling the leaves. The wind rises up the face of a cliff and out across the bluff of a little mountain. White-breasted Nuthatches and Downy Woodpeckers punctuate the morning with lateral motions of flight. Clasping the bark with their claws, they shift up and down the trunks, seeking out bugs for food, pecking holes in the bark. A pair of Chickadees braid each other’s flight-paths with branches, spreading their wings — ever briefly — to slow their flight and grasp a twig. Their communication streams. They drop from their perches, spreading their wings to rise and fall, flit as the sun glints barbules of their outspread feathers. Just as quickly as they arrive, they’re gone. And, as the sun rises more fully above, the leaves grow warm and still. The breezes cease. Together, we amble up the dell — lightened — toward our cabin.
Nearly a decade and a half after meeting my birth-mother, I pulled my truck off of the highway into a truckstop in Wyoming, just north of the Colorado border. I was there to meet my birth-father, nearly a decade and a half after having met Mary. She’d long told me she’d find him if I asked. So, one day I called her. Within a couple of weeks, she’d contacted me with his information. I called him and we set a time and place to meet. Living in central Maine at the time, I took a flight back to Colorado. Coincidentally, the visit coincided with my mother’s birthday — early November — and so, I cast a stone at two birds, but instead of hitting one or the other, the stone bloomed into a dove. I put the car into park, then picked up my phone and called my birth-father, Antonio.
“Rico?” he said.
“Hi, Antonio?” I replied.
“So am I.”
I stepped out of my truck and walked toward his. The door swung open and I saw, for the first time in my life, the other half of my physical creation. His eyes were much like mine and he smiled, crow’s feet deepening as they do when I smile. There was an ineffable feeling of connection — we embraced. He invited me to sit with him in his truck to talk.
“You came from Mexico when you were sixteen?” I asked, as I’d been told long ago.
“We walked several days. We came across the border. A plane would fly overhead at night and we’d hide in the grass until it flew past. We’d run as far as we could as fast as we could until it passed and then we’d lie down in the grass and hide when it flew by again. At that time, immigration rode horses. We’d hear someone get taken and we’d go off the other direction,” he said. “It was fun.” He laughed and his laugh was followed by an introspective quiet.
He continued on, “We made it to Texas — it must’ve been a few months. And then, immigration came. I was a cowboy back then and we got away from them. My brother and I left through Carlsbad. The only thing I remember was how hungry we were. We had no water. Once we arrived at a windmill and our friend climbed it, turning the turbines to get the well to pump. After each of us took a drink, we just passed out for hours. Later, we were right along a mountain and there was a little river and we went to get a drink and there were hundreds of fish in the river. I’d never seen so many fish at once. I said to my brother, ‘We need to come back fishing here one day.’ After that, we had a guy come take us up to Fort Collins. And we stayed there for a while. Then, I moved to Timnath. Do you know where that is?”
“Yeah,” I replied, “When?”
“It was in ’76, I think,” he replied. “’76, ’77. Fort Collins was a little town. It was where I learned to drive.”
“So, why’d you come up from Mexico?” I asked, exploring as far back as I could in his mind.
“It was a better life. It was real tough over there. You’d work all the time and it was just enough to survive. There were jobs but they didn’t pay enough,” he said.
“We did a lot of farming — my family — but when you got done, it was just enough to make a living. So, we did a lot of hunting —”
“For what?” I asked.
“Over there, there were no laws, so you could hunt any time of the year. We had to hunt to have meat because it was too expensive.”
“It’s better for you anyway, right, the meat from the land?”
“All our medicine came from the land,” he said, “When I was growing up, when we’d get sick, my mom would gather herbs. I told my kids all this stuff. You need it. You never know when something’s going to happen. You might be surviving.’”
Do you have a house in the country?” I asked.
“I’ve always lived in the country,” he replied.
“So, you were working in Fort Collins?” I asked.
“Yeah, I was working in the feedlot over there — they didn’t want to hire me — I was too young. I was sixteen and the man who was the owner said, ‘You should go to school.’ And, I should have. I never went to school one day in this country — not a single day,” he said with regret.
“Do you wish you had?” I asked.
“Yeah. Everything I’ve learned I’ve learned from talking to people. I’ve always wanted to do better. I didn’t want to be on the bottom all of the time but it’s tough, you know?”
“Yeah,” I replied.
Through our conversation, I learned that what he had learned, or evolved, to know probably because of cultural and linguistic communication difficulties, was a strong, intuitive sense that passed through eye contact and gesture. He seemed, at times, able to sense — uncannily — my feelings and thoughts.
He continued, “I’ve been managing farms for the past twenty years but it’s been tough. It’s so much. You have to keep up with the numbers. It’s a lot harder for me than for someone who went to college. Right now, I manage some farms and I have a few dozen employees. There’s a lot of money involved.”
“So you were in Fort Collins?” I asked. He was interested in talking about the present, while I wanted to dwell, for a time at least, in an origin that was emerging, blooming.
“We were in Fort Collins,” he continued, “and there were three farms. In the summertime, they used to take us — all of the workers — to different places. And one year, they took me to a farm. I had learned a little English by then. And Mary’s dad — he used to have a dairy farm. He used to walk by and talk with me. And, one day he said, ‘If you ever want a job, let me know because a lot of the guys that work for me don’t know English.’ So, one day I decided to go and work for him, and I stayed there.”
“You stayed a while?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’d do the feed. He had four or five hundred cows — not very big. I worked there and that’s where I met Mary. I was kinda wild…” He trailed off, seemingly beholding some eminent, yet empty feeling within himself.
“How do you mean?” I asked.
“I used to drink too much. I drank more than I should have. And towards the end — when things happened — I had a car accident — I rolled a pickup. It was my fault. I was drinking. Nobody got hurt though, but I left to Mexico.”
“After the accident?” I asked.
Yeah,” he replied.
“So, did you know that she was pregnant with me?” I asked.
“She wasn’t pregnant when I went to Mexico. I came back through California, and then off to Chicago. I didn’t want to come back because I didn’t have papers. In the car accident, I hit another vehicle. The people in the other car didn’t get hurt, but I was scared I was gonna get in trouble so I took off for a while and came back a couple of months later. Mary and I saw each other then. That’s when she got pregnant with you. And one day, something happened between us,” he said solemnly.
“Did you know she was pregnant?” I asked.
“Yeah, she told me, but like I said — when it happened —”
“It must have been hard to hear,” I interjected.
“I was excited, but the problem was —” he looked fully in my eyes, “Her parents never would have accepted me. There was no way. She even wanted to go with me to Mexico. I went to Fort Collins before you were conceived to get a plane and she was there — Mary was there.” he said.
“Wait,” I interjected, “she went to Mexico with you?”
“She wanted to but she didn’t. It’s tough. It was tough. That was before she was pregnant. She would have gotten into trouble — we all would have gotten into big trouble,” he said.
“She got pregnant after I came back from Chicago,” Antonio continued, “I was working and after she got pregnant, someone called immigration and they deported me. And, then I came back and everything happened. I came back and the Sherriff told me that they put you up for adoption. He told me that there would be a court hearing in Fort Collins. I never got in contact with Mary. I didn’t know where she was.”
“After she was pregnant, someone called immigration on you?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “They came and picked me up and I didn’t know why. They came in a car and picked me up — they knew my name and everything. The man whose farm I was workin’ on tried to bribe immigration but they wouldn’t take it. When he said goodbye, he gave me a hundred dollar bill. They took us to Denver and immigration took the money and put us into big cages — outdoor pens. They held us there until enough people were picked up to fill a bus. One of the guards walked by and asked, ‘Are you hungry?’ and we said ‘Yes.’ So, he threw a handful of candy at us. Then, they sent me back to Mexico,” he said.
“Then what?” I asked.
“They took us to Denver, then El Paso, then Mexico,” he replied, “We came back with a Coyote soon after.”
“But you couldn’t find Mary?” I asked.
“No, I didn’t know where she was. I was working on another farm.” he replied. “She just stopped talking to me.”
“Who called immigration on you?” I asked.
“I didn’t know who it was,” he replied. “They came and picked me up. But, I came back and that’s when the Sherriff told me about you.”
“How did you get back?” I asked.
“I came on a train — sealed in a boxcar like freight. We were in there for hours. Lying against the sidewall, with the movement, rubbed a bald spot on my head.”
“Did you know she was pregnant then?”
“I knew. That’s when they told me they put you up for adoption. So, when the Sherriff told me, I went to Fort Collins and got a lawyer. He told me, ‘Those people have been raising him since he was little.’” There was a long pause and then he added, “I was going to try to adopt you.”
“How old was I?” I asked.
“You must have been a year old already and I went to the lawyer and he said, ‘We’re gonna have real problems because his parents have been raising him for this long and you don’t have papers. We can try but I don’t know what’s gonna happen.’”
“So you tried?” I asked.
“I never — nothing happened — the lawyer told me there was no way we were going to be able to win because I was illegally in this country. He said, ‘Someone called immigration on you once — I don’t know who it was — but they can do it again.’”
The story — the one I had expected but never fully felt — nearly overtook me. His labor was welcomed in America but not his humanity. And when his humanity surged lovely, commensurate to our own, the law was bent against him — held above his head in perpetual threat. (to be continued…)