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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Mi Tiempo Con Don Juanito y Doña Maria


I love that you get cold when it's 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you're looking at me like I'm nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it's not because I'm lonely, and it's not because it's New Year's Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.

As my time here in Kansas City is coming to an end, I have been thinking about how I've spent this first year after undergrad. Last September, I packed my bags and headed to the border. Together for Hope and Road Trip Project are non-profits that sent me and a few others to the border. I found myself in Eagle Pass, TX, a small town of 22,000 people, where, coincidently my parents were both born and raised.

I had spent many a summer break in that town. However, just like college, discovering something on your own, without the crutch of my parents and family, is different. Not that you could describe Eagle Pass as "exciting" or anything. There was a "dance club" in the town, that just so happened to double as a bistro/restaurant during the day (and often during the night). As a border town, there was a lot of gossip of drug lords and los Zetas cartel (neither of which I encountered).

I met and worked with, what should have been high-ranking politicians, including the sketch commissioner (recently divorced), FEMA officials, HOPE K board members, and the Mexican Consulate. I say what should have been, only because in a town like Eagle Pass, county commissioner just didn't seem so prestigious to me. EP ran on its own time and in its own way. Days were long and the first few days felt like weeks.

There is a story that always comes back to me when I think of the Texas valley. This happened when I was making my way to Orlando, FL for my best friend's wedding.

I boarded a white 15 passenger dodge van. It was old, rickety and hol[e]y.

I had to ride this old, rickety van to San Antonio. In a regular car it takes 2.5 hours to get to San Antonio from my small little town of Eagle Pass, however, my trip took a total of four hours.

It smelled like gas (awesome), had holes (on the exterior and interior), and I'm certain was going to end up abandoned on the side of the highway one day (or the central object of a horror film).

I was the youngest of the 10 passengers, so I offered to sit in the awkward middle back seat that required me to climb over the other seats to get to. I went to put on my seat belt, and it broke. Literally, it fell off the top connector unto my lap. Safety first (I know).

At the border checkpoint, everyone got through smoothly, except me (of course). I was asked a zillion questions, and my face was studied intently. "Why are you here? What business do you have? You're from Missouri?? Why do you live in Eagle Pass if you have a Missouri ID?" Damn that Missouri ID.

After that the older gentleman sitting next to me attempted a conversation. His accent was thick and muffled by his salt and pepper mustache that looked like a fury caterpillar on his upper lip (making his Spanish difficult for me to hear). He gave up after four or five of my lo sientos (I'm sorry).

I took a quick 30 minute nap and woke up for the rest stop in Batesville. Where is Batesville, you ask? I have no idea. I had never heard of it nor do I remember driving through it any other time. Actually, I only knew we were in Batesville was because of the sign "The Batesville Restaurant and Gas Station". It was the ONLY building on that road for 30 minutes.

There was an elderly man and woman sitting in front of me who I found very interesting. It was so fascinating how they somehow managed to argue the entire way. They argued about a television show, the color of their living room, their car, his shirt, the mayor, what they wanted for dinner, if diet soda was really better than regular--they argued about it all. She kept calling him a "burro" and when it got quiet; he turned to me and said "I don't know why I keep her around. She's just so rude to me." I giggled and then she said "because...el me quiere" (he loves me). "Oh, I forgot" he said. They smiled and were calm the final minutes of the ride.

They ended up getting off at the airport with me. They were arguing about him not letting her help with the luggage (he has a bad back you know). Well, after security and everything they ended up at a gate next to mine. They were headed home to California, where they were originally from, to see family. Since I had helped them translating and with the computer stuff they asked me if I'd like to sit with them and make sure they got on the right plane. Doña Maria had never flown, was nervous, and Don Juanito had flown only once before.  They had finally given in to the fact that they were too old to make the trip by car, and his daughter said "Papi, you are going to fly, that's it" and apparently she meant it.

While we were waiting, I asked them how long they had been married. They laughed and looked at each other then they looked at me. I wasn't sure why they laughed and was a little embarrassed that maybe I asked the question wrong. My Spanish, although improved was still rough. She said "...it's a story but we're not married. We've been living and traveling together for over 20 years, but we're not together, at least not like that."

They noticed my puzzled look and proceeded to tell me their story.

Juanito y Maria had met when they were 14/or 15 and in high school. He had asked her out to have a coke, but she apologized and told him she wasn't allowed to date. Don said Doña isn't much of a rule breaker. Instead he asked her parents if it would be alright if they could be friends. Maria was the smartest girl in school and she had an opinion on everything, which most girls didn't. Juanito loved that they disagreed on everything and that she pretended to hate him. Juanito was sarcastic and that annoyed Doña. Don promised her father it would never be anything more than friendship and that he would be a man of his word. That didn't mean much to Don Oscar who never really liked Juanito much, regardless. Don Oscar warmed up to the idea only after Juanito started dating the neighbor girl and after a year, Juanita and Maria had become the best of friends.

Neither of them could imagine it any other way.

Throughout high school and college, Juanito was quite the ladies man and Maria had a few boyfriends here and there but never anything serious. They went to school together to become teachers. In their final year they both started dating seriously respectively a Carlos y Irene.

Doña was married at 22, soon after graduation and Juanito stopped talking to her for a while because he despised everything about Carlos. In fact, after the wedding they didn't speak until she had miscarried her first child a few years later. Juanito was at her house the very same night he heard the news. He knew that she was in pain. He said "I knew she was going to need me to be there for her and she knew I was always going to be."

Juanito said Carlos "was pompous and treated her like, like a child. It's not that he didn't respect her; he just didn't appreciate her mind and preferred her not to work. I never understood that or what she saw in him. She's quite a beauty. Guys should have been fighting over her, not her settling por ellll (for him)." Maria understood Juanito disliking him, but never really understood him being angry with her over it.

Doña said her husband was a handsome, well-to-do man, and she said "I really did love him". She thought with time they would be in love with each other. He adored her and offered all the security a respectable woman would want. The fact that she had trouble having children started to weigh on her and she tried as hard as she could to make him happy. She thought having their son would solve the marital problems they were having.

She said, "Well I guess I was wrong because in the end he still cheated on me with a pretty young girl and left me, solita". I moved home with my parents, but after a year I couldn't take it anymore. So I moved to New York, where Juanito lived.

Juanito, married at 33. He finally found a pretty, young girl that was the best at just making him laugh. He tried hard to be serious, but around Irene, he couldn't be. They were happy, had a daughter and everything was going so well. Irene got cancer and died and Juanito was left to raise a teenage daughter, Olivia.

Don y Doña leaned on each other. They had been blessed in the midst of chaos. They knew they would never be alone. After their kids had grown-up and moved away, they were alone (together). They've spent this phase of their lives travelling and enjoying all the God had intended. They lived all over the US and had settled in little ol’ EP about 5 years ago.

And that was it. They said good-bye, boarded their plane and left, California bound. If I ever return to EP, I would love to look them up, but I don’t even know their last names.

The loves they had had didn't last, but in a way they still found a type of true love. This assures me that men and women can be friends, close ones at that. Yes, perhaps this could be an exception to that 'When Harry Met Sally" rule, but I believe in it nonetheless.

I always wished I had taken a picture of Don y Doña, but it doesn't really matter. I know that I'll never forget them.

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