Art by Liam Forsythe
Writing by Noel Vossen
My baby died while it was inside me. That word–it–is very important to me. It. I would play with it. I would stroke it. If I could swaddle it in the ratty blanket I found, I would. If I could make it latch onto my swollen teats, I would. If I could rock that word–it–back and forth in the beaten cradle that Nana had bought at the town Goodwill, I would.
But, I cannot do these things, because my baby died while it was inside me.
Though I couldn’t appreciate it then, Nana tried to comfort me as she forced the wheelchair over the ragged dirt road to our barrio on a gorgeous day, cacti standing upright on each side. The blanket covered my lap against the harsh sun. We had left the hospital on foot because Eddie had run off with the car back in May. It was 97 degrees, standard for the desert at the apogee of summer. I focused on the patterning of the cloth, the dopey sheep that looked like clouds on the stupid blue sky background.
“It was an accident, Eva,” Nana said. “No one blames you.”
She was right, of course. You fall and your baby dies and it’s an accident.
I was tired. My vagina was sore. “I just want to rest,” I said tartly.
She walked on through the dust.
The casita sat almost at the center of the barrio, and it was about the most dismal place on earth. Most people, in thinking of New Mexico, imagine the austere ski slopes of Taos or the quirkiness of Santa Fe or the bourgeois hot springs out in the beautiful deserts. But our barrio was squat. The casitas slumped self-consciously among little huddles of trailer homes, the siding of the faux adobes long faded to the same dull tan of the ground. It smelled terminally of microwaved tortillas and Tostitos salsa. Over the years, I’d heard people passing through call it a real Gringoland–a dirty white ghetto decorated with cigarette butts, sex offenders, and Dos Equis bottles.
Nana pushed the wheelchair over the hump of the door and into the house the three of us had shared. Now it was just us two. We passed the tiny sitting room, glass still glistening on the floor from when I fell onto the coffee table. There had been no time for her to come back and clean it up, so she guided me around the shards. We passed the open door of what would have been the baby’s room. The crib stood empty; the toys sat neatly on top of the polka dot dresser. She stepped over to it fast and shut the door. She helped me into the box of a tub for a short bath, blood on my thighs turning the water a pale pink. Her lips pressed together and she cleared her throat loudly. We didn’t speak at all as she stoically helped me wash. Her hands, rough and sun-spotted, were strong and deliberate, but she cleaned me gently and gave me a small, soft smile as she saw how my eyes drooped in exhaustion, so she put steady hands around my shoulder as I crawled into bed and slept.
Nana was a lovely woman, really–strong and hearty even though she had grown up in and out of foster homes, before coming to rest in the southwest. Life had been unkind to her. I didn’t know all of it, but my mother had sometimes spoken of bad homes and crushed hopes of being an artist. And now, here she was living the closing years of her life in a Shantyville. But, she was the kindest woman I knew–soft and spirited and not at all what you would expect of a person who’s life was as spiky as a cactus. Holding others in great esteem, she never flattered or lied; she said exactly what she felt. Her loveliness, I believe, was due in part to her hardships; there was a strength to her, a desert strength, that sustained her through anything. Nana was such a comfort to me in my childhood when I had fallen onto some prickly pear and gotten my first period and called disgusting at school, then later when my mother and father died in a freak plane crash, and a few months ago when Eddie took off for Phoenix, my belly still flat as I raged at the car disappearing into the desert.
“What’s the matter now, dearie, am I no fun?” she had said gently, that night he left, sitting on the edge of the bed and pressing her palm into mine. I hadn’t understood why Eddie didn’t want to stay with me, why he didn’t think we could do this. It was hard, of course, to have to live with your grandmother because you were so poor. I suppose Eddie wanted a different life.
Nana and I were together, as we had been for years. She had given me the prenatal vitamins and gone to the ultrasound with me. My parents left. Eddie did too. My baby. But, she was there with me.
I spent three days in bed. Nana stayed with me when I wanted her to and left when I didn’t. The second night, she made me sit up so she could comb through my hair, and we noticed blood on the sheets. What I had never known was that bleeding could continue after the fetus was technically gone. She changed the rust-wet sheets, cleaned me up, and started on my hair.
“I remember when you were little, you hated when I’d sit you down for this.” She worked through a particularly stubborn knot. “You would scream and scream while I worked through this rat nest.”
She was trying to make me laugh. I summoned a breathy chuckle near the front of my mouth but it came out straggled and cracked.
She stopped brushing and wrapped her arms around me. “It’s okay, sweetie.”
I cried then, Nana rocking me back and forth and squeezing me tight. When the tears slowed, she rolled me on my side to rub lavender oil into my shoulders.
“I don’t know what to do,” I whispered.
“Now that’s alright. We’ll figure it out together. I won’t leave you.”
In the morning, our dear neighbor came to offer her condolences. I had known Maria since I came to the barrio when I was fifteen, and she and Nana had been best friends for longer. After Eddie left for Phoenix, she had sat and called him Spanish curses with us and offered whatever help she could give, and had been giving me rides to my job in town ever since.
She put her hands on my cheeks. “Oh, my dear.” Her old voice was rough and tender. “You have so many years ahead of you, and they will be filled with childrens’ laughter.” And she leaned up and pressed her lips to my dry forehead. “Be strong now,” she whispered, “Brave. Like your ancestors. Like the arroyo that chooses to flourish in the most mean sun of the year. Like the roots that reach deep to find what water there may be.” Maria looked at me hard, but certainly with love, and said so forcefully it was more of a command: “We people of the desert can endure all.”
Later that day, others from the barrio came as well–people I knew, people I didn’t–bringing with them all kinds of food. John and Jean in the only real adobe around came with a rice and bean casserole; the Crenshaw widows brought a shepherd’s pie; so on. They were dishes that held well in the fridge for a long time. Poor people’s food. One of the pans had a note tacked to the top that said “Rest well, Evita.” I couldn’t figure out who had left it because it was unsigned. All of these things were among the most sweet in the world to me. These people, many of them strangers, put themselves forward with community and simple tenacity. Even before, when the barrio learned that I was pregnant, people had come and dropped off used baby clothes for me. In a desolate place, where many of us had little, they gave so much. In them, I saw what was in my Nana. I saw what Maria spoke of. I felt that these people were extending their worn, tanned hands to me in a way that said, I too know your pain.
We had always had money problems. Nana asked me when I thought I would go back to work eight days after we came home. I had a waitressing job at a diner in town, simple but took a lot of moving, a lot of energy. I told her I needed more time, and that I knew money was especially tight now that Eddie was gone and we only had her social security check, and that I was sorry. She said it was okay, but it wasn’t, for I saw the envelopes from the hospital.
We were accustomed to giving things up, to sacrificing what was dear to us just so we could survive, but this did little to diminish the shock when she asked me, ten days after we came home, when I would clean out the baby’s room. We had been sitting cross-legged on the living room floor, doing a puzzle. Flora and Fauna of New Mexico. I thought I had misheard her at first, but I looked up at her and her face stood solemn.
“There are lots of things in there that are in good condition. I think they could help us a lot.” She wanted to sell the furniture to help pay the hospital bills.
But, I didn’t want to do that, I couldn’t, which I felt would be obvious, and I told her as much.
“Look, honey. I know it’s hard,” she said as she stood up from the puzzle, joints popping, and prepared to walk down to the grocery store, “but something has to be done. I want some of the things packed up by the time I come back.”
I sat and looked at the puzzle. I didn’t finish it. I went to my room I had shared with Eddie and thought hard about it. We had been so happy, the two of us, a few months ago as we went giggling through the aisles at Goodwill. I loved the blanket with the sheep. Eddie picked out the worn crib–the cheapest one– some toys, and a little orange binky. It was all so expensive, and Nana’s lips pursed as we checked out, but she had said nothing. In the back of her and Eddie’s head, I suppose they were thinking and this is just the beginning. But I was so happy, and I put the room together with meticulous joy. Things didn’t match; the colors were off, but it was ours, and it was our baby’s.
So, I didn’t do it. I didn’t clean out the room. How in the world could I?
Nana was not happy when she came home. As I laid in the bed, the front door opened and I heard her footsteps in the small kitchen, cabinets being opened and closed. Then, she walked to the baby’s room and opened the door. It was silent for a few seconds, then I heard rapid steps toward my room.
“Eva, are you okay? Why didn’t you start packing?” she rushed out, voice confused and hard as if she couldn’t understand why on earth I had laid down and not done what she said.
“I don’t think I’m up for this.” Her face didn’t change. “I mean, it’s just really hard, you know?” I said, hoping for understanding.
“Yeah, I know. I know it’s hard, honey.” She came and sat on the bed with me, tone softening. “But you have to understand the situation we’re in. The bills are so much. You can’t work. And Eddie, that bastard–”
“I know, I know.” I looked up at the lines on her forehead and thought for a second. “I don’t think selling the baby stuff would help us that much, Nana. It just doesn’t seem like it’s a lot.”
She hardened “Well, you know what?” She said hotly. “It’ll be something. It’s not like there are many other options.” She rubbed her cheek. “And Eva, it will help you move on.”
I felt like I was going to cry. I had no grasp on how to make her really know what this was like for me. It should have been obvious, I thought. I mean, hadn’t she lost her baby too? Her daughter, but a few years ago? “I’ll go back to work.” I swallowed. “Really, it’s fine. I’m sorry. I know money is an issue. I can work. But I’m not doing that. I’m sorry. Do not ask me again.”
She looked at me blankly, and for a moment I was worried we were about to have a real row. Then she pushed a strand of hair behind my ear and said. “You’re like your mother, you know. Too stubborn.”
“Well, she was like you,” I countered.
She smiled at that, and I, relieved, smiled back.
And so, a day later, I started work again–twelve days after my baby died. Nana made us peanut butter sandwiches for lunch before Maria was set to pick me up. We ate quietly in an awkward sort of way, no doubt due to the discussion we had the night before. Searching for anything to talk about, I asked, “Have you ever been to Phoenix?”
“Hm,” She nodded with sticky bread in her mouth. “Back in my art days. I met your grandfather there.”
“Really? What was he like?” I knew nothing about him.
“A ne’er do well. But that summer, he was all I could see. We conceived your mother in Phoenix, you know .”
And we chuckled until we heard Maria’s car pull up. Nana kissed my cheek as I got up to go. “Thank you, sweetheart.”
It was strangely mild out for August, but my brow still sheened with sweat in Maria’s old VW, too old to have AC. She asked me how I was doing.
“No, you’re not,” she said, glancing over at me.
I looked out my window at the mountains in the distance.
“I’m worried for you, going back to work so soon after. . .well.”
I smiled. Maria expressed care so easily, with everyone she knew. “I’m fine, really. I need to get moving again.”
She took a hand off the wheel and put it on my damp neck, and asked again, more seriously this time, how I was doing.
I turned to her. “Nana wants me to get rid of the baby’s things. I don’t think she gets how I feel.”
She took a deep breath and considered this. “She does. I remember how sad she was when your mother died. She only put on a brave face for you.”
Maria and my grandmother went way back. I didn’t know her then, when the taxi first drove me into the barrio, but she was standing there with Nana when I got out, and since that time I had come to understand that they loved each other as sisters. Maria looked out west toward the mountains. “I was worried for her then, too. To shove everything down for your sake. It’s not the way.” She shook her head minutely in soft disapproval. “To be strong–and I mean really strong, not just wearing a thick mask–means you have to hold your feelings up and feel them. But your grandmother, well, I think she wanted to move on too fast. For you.”
“But why doesn’t she get why I can’t just remove my baby from my life?”
“Things are hard for her, too.”
They were, of course. Money was shorter than ever. “So you think she’s right?”
Maria rubbed tender fingers on my neck. “No. I think you both need to feel these feelings.”
She dropped me off at the door of the diner I waitressed at. Part of me was relieved to be back on my feet, to have something on my mind other than what had happened. My friends on the wait staff embraced me and were gentle in their words, and I appreciated it, but I mostly wanted to just plow on and forget it all.
Though money started to flow in again, it was scant. Not that I ever made much to begin with. I mean, people didn’t exactly flock to our dirty armpit of a town, but I liked to think it lightened our burdens a bit. At the very least, Nana didn’t mention the room again. So, two weeks passed, and the life of the daylight regressed into what it had been before. The nights, however, were so very difficult. Anxiety visited constantly. Dreams, too–at once both shadowy and vivid–things I would never forget: my side hitting the glass table, a bloody clot of gore in my underwear, the metal ceiling of an ambulance.
One night it got so bad that I slipped out of my bed and made my way down to Nana’s room. I hesitated at the foot of the bed for a moment but I saw no other course of action than to slip in with her. She startled awake and, in a daze, looked at me like I was a foreigner, but then she closed her eyes, whispered, “Oh, honey,” wrapped her arms around me, and pulled me close.
Waves of shame and grief washed over me, but I calmed down and eventually, I slept.
One searing day I pulled a double shift at work. It was slow in the evening, with patrons new and local languidly making their way in and out. Around seven, a woman came in pushing a stroller with a man close behind. He asked for a table with a high chair. They wore exquisite clothing–definitely not from here–but sweat soaked through them and they looked worn out. As I sat them, I asked if they were passing through.
“Well, we were going to,” the woman said in an offhand but chipper way. “We’re from Los Alamos. We’re going to visit family in Phoenix, but we had car troubles.”
“Geez,” I said sympathetically. The repair place was almost a mile away. “Did you walk here all the way from the auto shop?”
Her husband raised his eyebrows as if to say what does it look like, but she responded, “Sure did. We thought we’d wait here until it’s fixed. We’ll both take a coffee.”
I smiled and said I’d be right back with that. I got the feeling they were that type. Too good for us and our shitty town, and yeah, they probably were. I wondered if they judged me, with my dusty shoes, hand-me-down shirt, and sandy hair pulled back lazily. I imagined their house in Los Alamos–an indoor pool perhaps, a nanny for the kid. A vacation house in Florida or something. They had a good life, all the things I didn’t. They had a baby, and I was angry at the unfairness of it all, so I made a round before I brought them their coffee. When I came back, she had taken her baby out of the stroller and placed him in the seat, and around him she had wrapped a blanket.
A blue blanket with sheep on it.
I stared for a moment. “Where did you get that?” I asked, freshly hostile. “That blanket.”
The man, startled by my tone, said, “What’s it to you?”
“It’s mine, that’s what. Where did you get it?” There was no way, no way this couple just happened to come in with the exact same one.
The man looked quite offended then, but his wife put a hand on his arm, turned to me and said, “We got it at this quaint little second-hand store in town. We wanted to cover Andrew a bit, with the dust and all. So how can it be yours?”
She meant the place called Wanderer Wear. It was a haven for teenagers and uppity folk who came through. Basically, it was the middle-class Goodwill. I didn’t understand. My mind spun with confusion, but two thoughts poked through all the rest. The first was why was it at Wanderer Wear? Had I not left it in the room, folded neatly over the side of the crib? The second thought I said aloud.
“Can I have it? I’ll pay you what you bought it for and more.”
“What?” she baulked.
Some quiet desperation must have shown on my face, because, remarkably, she said yes. Her husband scoffed as she paused, considered, took the blanket from around the baby and handed it to me. I fished around for any tip money I had on me but she put a hand on my wrist and stopped me.
“Here, it’s okay.” She smiled.
I thought, it’s nothing to her. I’m nothing to her. I hated her putrid pity, but I took the blanket and went to the break room, pressed my face into it, and inhaled. It still smelled like rosemary with a hint of peach–my scent–all the proof I needed to tell me that it was mine. So, one question remained in me: how did it get there?
I called Maria on the diner’s common phone and told her I didn’t need a ride home that day. I walked back after my shift with the blanket around my shoulders against the dry desert air, following the line of the river that ran through the center of town, a tributary of the Rio Grande. It was abnormally high for the time; usually in August it dried up to a stinking mud hole. But since the temperatures had been low this summer, the water flowed cleanly and the banks were green with vegetation. I pretended I didn’t know the answer to my question, to why the blanket was not where I had left it. But as I made my way through the darkness, in between the barrios and the river toward our ugly casita, I knew. I knew how it had gotten there, and to confirm what I knew, I walked straight to the baby’s room and threw the door open.
Nothing. Nothing, except for the dresser Eddie had painted polka dots on, but we hadn’t bought that. The dresser had been there before. Everything else–the crib, the toys–they were gone. The cream walls laughed down at me. My throat pinched, my chest ached, my eyes pricked in what I wanted to believe was anger but that I knew ought to be more correctly labelled as hurt–a sodden, silent hurt. I must have made a noise because I heard Nana fumbling around in her room, cursing under her breath like she hit her knee on the bed post or something. She didn’t see me immediately as she came out and started for the kitchen, but when she noticed me standing in the doorway she stopped abruptly. She looked at me, at the empty room, back at me and the blanket still around my shoulders. Then, she took a deep breath and turned into the kitchen. I wasn’t sure if I should follow her; what was to be said? It was clear what she had done, taken the baby things to the shop while I was at work. Wanderer Wear paid for things if you dropped them off in well enough condition. Goodwill, where we had always gone, did not. I wondered, did she do it all in one day? Maybe when I pulled a longer shift. Which neighbor’s car had she borrowed? Maria’s? Someone who had left me food? Or, had she taken the things one at a time, so that maybe I wouldn’t notice? I hadn’t gone into the room at all in the days after we came home from the hospital; I had left the door pointedly closed, but having it there in the way it would have been, had my baby lived, comforted me. I needed it that way. And Nana sold it all.
I could hear her putting tea on the stove, the clink of two mugs being set on the counter, a sugar dish being taken out of the cupboard. I moved from the doorway and marched into the kitchen. She leaned with her forearms against the sink and her face in her hands, as if she was the one who was exhausted, who was hurt. Seeing her like that replaced my hurt with a sharp rage, a slippery desire to break something. It was the first time I had felt such toward her.
“What the fuck? Why–?” My voice cracked. She kept her back to me as she went to the stove and poured water over the tea bags. “Nana.”
She didn’t turn to face me.
“Why would you do that?”
“Oh, Eva. Don’t swear.”
“What, like you do?” I shouted. The nerve. “I said no. You had no right to do that.”
She turned to me abruptly and slammed a mug in front of me, “I didn’t? Who paid for it, Eva? Tell me.” She sat down. “I’ve had enough of this from you. I did what was best for both of us. I paid off a good deal of the hospital bill. How long were you going to leave that room there, just sitting there, not even going in? It’s madness. It wasn’t helping you. It wasn’t helping anyone.”
I stood numb, shocked silent. I had always thought that despite the circumstances of her life, Nana had aged well. Her hair, though white, retained the lively curls that my mother had had, and her wide eyes were as clear and youthful as mine. Pretty in an oldish sort of way. Now, however, all I could see were the pale blue bags under her eyes, thin skin stretched over frail bones, an old beauty spot by her brow that had faded into a witchy pock mark.
The room was silent. The only sound was the distant hum of cars on the highway. I spoke slowly, aware of every word I wanted to say. “How did you feel when mama died?”
Her lips pinched in the ugly way they did.
I wasn’t numb now. I was sharp and present. “How did you feel when your daughter died?” I said evenly. “Because I don’t remember how you were. I remember you being there for me. You held my hand, Nana, remember? But I don’t think I ever saw you break.”
Her chair scraped hard on the floor as she pushed it back. “Enough of this,” she said as she moved to go to her room. Seeing her in retreat made me nearly ache for her and her pain. I wanted to extend a peace offering. I stood.
“Nana,” I said, firm enough to have her stop. “I understand. I just lost my child, too.” She turned to face me. After a moment, she came over and stood right in front of me. I was almost afraid of her. “You don’t understand a thing, little girl,” she said, nasty in a way I had never heard. “She was alive for decades. I held my daughter in my arms after she was born. You can’t say the same.”
I swallowed hard, barely believing this had left her mouth. Her words–the sharpness–it was too much to stand. She went to her room. Tears slipped out. I pulled the blanket tighter around me and rubbed my face, letting the tea turn cold in the little kitchen.
The next day as Maria drove me to work I asked her, “Have you ever been to Phoenix?”
The sun from the east reflected on the long expanses of sand, nearly blinding us. “Bah, what’s the use? They aren’t real desert people there. I hear not one of them has ever fallen on a cactus and had their abuela pull spines out of their culo.”
We chuckled heartily together. “But really,” I said, “I’ve been thinking of heading up there.”
She looked over and smiled. “But what is for you there, child? So far away from home?”
“Well, I bet I could find a good job there. I’ve been a waitress for years now, and I’m sure they have better places than our diner.”
She nodded in an absent way but I could tell she didn’t really agree. We pulled onto the main street where the diner was.
“Eddie went there. At least I think.”
Her nod turned into one of understanding at that. “Oh Evita, the bastard could be long gone by now. Besides, what do you want with a man who left you all alone, pregnant?”
I considered this. He had left me when I needed him most; this was an unassailable fact. But it was likely that he left our situation more so than he left me. I had gotten pregnant young, and it wasn’t like either of us had a stellar income. Could I blame him for wanting to get away and build a good life?
“He deserves to know what happened to our baby.”
“You are too kind to him.”
“Maybe I should try to find him.”
“And if you can’t?”
I thought about it, a journey to a place I had never been, the pain I would feel if I couldn’t find him, of being completely alone. I thought about Nana. She is my family. The mother of my mother. Matriarch to my child that is gone.
Perhaps, I considered, I should think of somewhere else. Los Alamos? That couple had seemed so happy with their baby, and I wouldn’t have to leave the state.
“Los Alamos sounds nice, too. Maybe I could go there.” I didn’t tell her about what Nana had done. It was too hard for me to say, but as we entered town I turned to her and said, “I think I need to leave.”
Maria, quiet, pulled up to the curb and dropped me off. I noticed her frown as I waved goodbye to her from the entrance.
I brought food back that evening–steak and green chile gravy for Nana and basic quesadillas for me. The kitchen was silent as we opened the squeaky styrofoam boxes and settled into our chairs. I wanted to try one more time, to push for understanding, to know why–even if money was short–she had done what she did. But, I didn’t think I would survive more cutting words like the ones she had used last night, so instead I asked her if she’d enjoyed her time in Phoenix.
“No, not really. They’re snobs in Arizona.”
I asked her if she’d ever been to Los Alamos.
She paused with a piece of meat on her fork, thinking. “Yes, actually. There was an art exhibition there back in ‘72. I tried to get a few of my paintings in but the curators wouldn’t go for it. Said they were too ‘nude.’”
We chuckled at that. She’d been sort of a hippie. Believed in free love and bold artistic expression. That sort of thing. We slipped into a silence, not quite easy but not uncomfortable. I played around with a piece of tortilla on my plate. There was no beating around it. Looking down I said, “Do you think Eddie is still in Phoenix?”
I heard her sigh. “What does it matter?” She sounded tired, done with serious conversations.
“I’m going to go find him. He doesn’t even know about what happened.”
I looked up. She looked back at me, not moving. I could see her drag her tongue across her teeth, considering. “And how would you do that? How would you get there?”
“Well, I could–”
“And leave me here, alone?” Her voice climbed.
“Nana, it’s not like–”
She slammed her fork down and crossed her arms. “The ingratitude. I can’t believe you, Eva. God.”
I blanched. “Ingratitude?”
“Yes,” she shouted, so loud I startled. “Ingratitude. You think you can take and take and then leave me? I was here for you. I did everything for you. I love you.”
“I know, and I’m sorry, but I think it’s time to move on.”
Her mind seemed to be spiralling. She was looking around the room with closed fists on the table, but what I saw clearer than anything was the picturesque rage on her face. I saw, then, a crack. A fissure in her hardiness and resilience I had always admired.
“You’d have to be an idiot to think going back to him is moving on. He doesn’t need anything from you. I need you.”
I stood up. “Stop.”
Suddenly, she came around the table and kneeled in front of me like some pitiful maiden. She took my hands in hers and looked up at me with wild desperation. “Eva, my sweet girl. We only have each other. You need me, too.”
I was calm at that moment. “No, I don’t.”
She stood and met me, her face completely blank. We were the same height. I hardly saw her move. Her hand left its place in mine and swung forward, and I heard a crack that was almost comedic, like how it sounds when someone is slapped in the movies. My head jerked to the right, and I felt the bright sting across my cheek.
She punctuated her every word. “He doesn’t even want you.”
I placed a hand on my sore cheek. Even then, I was calm. I side-stepped around her and went to the baby’s room. I grabbed the blanket I loved. Cloudlike sheep on the blue sky of the cloth. Then I went into my room and grabbed the little purse with my tip money in it. Then I trooped out the front door, ignoring Nana’s questions and insults and screeching. I walked to Maria’s casita and knocked on the door. When she saw me, the pink palm mark on my face and purse in hand, she knew.
New Mexico cannot be known from its individual parts alone. The sandy dunes will tell you nothing of the snow-capped mountains; the mountains will not help you understand the shrub lands; the shrub lands do not paint a full picture of the cities, pueblos, and barrios like mine. As Maria drove down the highway toward Los Alamos, I thought of how dry it was, our southern homeland. But, I told myself, there were many lakes and streams and cacti that flourished in such a harsh reality. I hoped I would see more desert tenacity, wherever I went. It would be an oasis, an escape from my life marked by aridity.