In Search of the Star

Christmas Eve we were returning from posole and tamales at my in-laws’ home, carne adovada and plática at our friends’ annual open house, and hot chocolate and luminarias in Old Town. One block north of our street, Henry slowed the car to flashing lights, an ambulance, police cars, a news van parked just beyond the police perimeter. When we reached home, our 8-year-old neighbor called out to P and ran across the street, a ritual she performs anytime both girls are home and awake.

“Thank you for my present. I’ll bring yours tomorrow.”

“You don’t have to do that, honey,” I said. “We just wanted to get you a little something.” I wanted her to talk about the watercolor paints and paper I’d wrapped and sent across the street with P earlier in the day. I wanted her to talk about her baby niece or getting her tooth pulled the week before, anything but the blue-red-blue-red lights behind her house. She is the eyes and ears of Atrisco, an inquisitive girl living in a family compound of older sisters, grandparents, mom, and visiting aunties who don’t always filter their conversations.

“They found a girl,” she said.

I remember my own 8- and 10- and 16-year-old self, growing up in a place where the police blotter was read on the local radio station, where the crimes were property damage or driving on an expired license. Our small town seemed impervious to murder, to robbery, to the shootings and stabbings reported on KOAT Channel 7. I thought Albuquerque was the most dangerous place in the world. Back in Deming the brown kids were shaped by the harsh tongue (and hand) of Sister Rosalie. In a town with one high school and one stoplight, everybody knows everybody else. If nothing else, fear of God and vergüenza kept us from mortal sin against our maker and our neighbors.

“That’s really horrible,” I said, standing next to P at our open gate, Henry and K already inside the house. “The police are still there. We don’t really know what happened yet.” It was Christmas Eve, Baby Jesus swaddled in the nativity manger, the white lights of our tree blinking through our living room window. P and I walked the girl back across the street, wishing her mom and grandma a Merry Christmas, not mentioning the red and blue glow still in view.

P and K changed into pjs while I set up the couch bed (as the kids call it) and Henry searched for news of the crime online. Police are investigating a homicide in southwest Albuquerque. A woman was found covered in blood. Blunt trauma. Puncture wounds. None of us mentioned the body again that night. Henry fell asleep next to the kids. I stuffed stockings and finished wrapping gifts, tasks made easier by living with children who’ve never really been into Santa Claus.

I thought of pre-school, my Christmas show at the Gingerbread House. I wore a red leotard and tights and a band of white tulle around my waist. I sat on Santa’s lap; he gave me the Cootie Bug game. I remembered Grandma Rosie’s tinsel tree on the bookshelf in her living room, her gas fireplace with the fake log that never blackened or diminished in size. I remembered all those Christmas Eves I scanned the night sky in search of the star that led the Magi and shepherds to baby Jesus. I thought of the family that found the body. I thought of the body, the woman, imagining her final moments. I thought of women’s bodies. In Juárez. On the mesa.

It was Christmas Eve.

Her name was Idali Reyes. She was 26. Two men were arrested and charged with murder, kidnapping, conspiracy, and tampering with evidence. One drove. The other stabbed her. One said she accused him of owing her money. They dumped her body on the street, then burned their clothes. Police are looking for a third suspect.

I am thinking of children, what they know and what they don’t, what they say and what they keep to themselves. I am thinking of stories, those invented and those we only wish were make-believe. I am thinking of Bill Cosby, all the women. I believe them. I am thinking of my 8th grade art teacher. He coached my 7th grade basketball team and, like many coaches, insisted we dress up on days we had out of town games. I told him I didn’t like wearing skirts in the cold. He said, “Wear your wooly bra.” He never touched me, never hurt me. I was never alone with him. I was in college when he was arrested, convicted, and sent to prison for child molestation. I hope the children he harmed told someone. I hope they were believed. And even if they didn’t tell or they weren’t believed, I hope they know it wasn’t their fault. I hope they are healing, that the light in them feels stronger than the darkness. I hope they are well.

Healing, light, to be well. This is my wish for the 8-year-old across the street, for P and K, for our neighbors one block north, for those who have been harmed, for those doing the harming. For all of us.

 

 

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Published in: on January 13, 2015 at 7:51 am  Comments (12)  
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12 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I thought of you & your family when I read about the found woman. I was sorry — for her, her family & yours.

  2. Oh dear Michele, these are such beautiful, sad, rich, painful paragraphs. I hope your writing is going well for Containers-this could certainly be part of it.

    And I hope you will take this as a compliment, it is powerful.

    • Thank you for the insight, Deborah. I hadn’t thought of this as part of Containers, but yes, it would fit so well.
      You were present in the writing, thinking of the prayer you offer each year for the women of Juarez.

  3. thank you is all the words my tears can come up with. thank you

    • Thank you, Adriann. I shed many tears in the writing.

  4. Oh, oh, so powerful, so poignant, so delicate. Thank you for sharing and seeing and speaking. Eleison, eleison…

    • Thank you for accompanying, friend. Always.

  5. Michelle, thank you. Your words are powerful and filled with healing.
    Tina

    • Thank you, Tina. Our stories, expressed through words and image, are powerful tools in healing our hearts and our communities.

  6. May the light always be stronger than the darkness. Beautiful words of light, Michelle.


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