San Angelo, Texas
October 6, 1936
The day is flawless, obviously the product of fine thinking. The landscape is still bright green, the sun hangs low in the west, and the blackened branches of mesquite become darker while the shadow cast from the great pecan tree grows longer. Peaceful. Hordes of grasshoppers fiddle in the waving careless weeds, and they jump on my legs and cling to my skin whenever I walk along the path toward the main road. I cannot reach down quickly enough to shoo them away and when their sticky stabbing legs touch mine justabove the ankles, my heart skips a beat in surprise. The most innocent encounter can cast a pall over my mood, for my senses are too sharp today; I am too easily startled and quick to feel. Take a deep breath, Annarose. Laugh in surrender. Continue to walk in this place I once believed I would never see again.
One deep breath then, and another, as I open the envelope. My letter to Crisanto reads:
I am not so far away from you. This part of Texas, the place where I was raised, is much like Mexico in one way; it is alive with an unrestrained power. However, it is a dream to think that it would be easy for us to find each other again, to live together, raise our child, appreciate our lives. You do not realize that all doors would close on us here. The most significant part of this tale is that you and I are separated by something stronger than prejudice. I want to accuse you, why did you destroy the magic I found in that land of aliveness, Mexico? Yet I know the answer and it is much deeper than the question. You could not possibly have given me the experience of life I sought. No one could; though my intentions were innocent, the truth is I arranged for you to disappoint me. Yes, a child is involved. Annarose and Crisanto will have a child. I want to be fair to you. I cannot keep this from you any longer but you must not come for me. Crisanto, please believe me, I did not leave you because of your secret. I only feel the tenderest compassion for you.
I place the letter again in the envelope and take another step toward the mailbox on the main road. My movements are impatient and nervous. I must tell him why I left. So many intimate details have been withheld. He would not read the fear behind my words, and I cannot simply state the truth because I only faintly comprehend it myself. I have it all; I have fulfilled my dream. All that I desired is mine and it is too much and it is too little. My only hope is that, deep down, a question remains, and the answer to that question may lead to my own rebirth. The road stretches out before me but something invisible pulls me back and I stop. I must tell him, but another day. I will keep the letter.
I turn around and slip the envelope into my pocket because I now know where I wish to go. The walk to the Concho River will soothe my spirit. Grandma and Violet, seated in the gallery, watch me as I pass by the house. I wave to them. Grandma shakes her head in what I understand to be despair over (to her mind), my miserable circumstances. I gaze at the path before me. Everything will be all right. What can I do? Be kind to these people.
“Annarose, it will be dark soon. You want Violet to walk with you?”
The last thing I want is my sister joining me now. I have made at least one decision. I hope to enjoy my walk. I must remain serene.
“No, thank you, Grandma. I’m sure Violet has other things to do.”
I glance at Violet, who really does try to do the right thing. It is just that she has no idea what the right thing to do is. She shrugs her shoulders, folds her right leg over the left, then folds her right arm over the left and pulls the sides of her mouth into her cheeks as she looks me up and down. A slow, reluctant smile settles on her face. She only wants to protect me.
“Annarose, when are you going to settle down? Pearl’s coming over for supper at six and she’s bringing Essie. Don’t you go telling that girl a bunch of stories about Mexico. She’s about ready to run off with you.”
Turning to face Violet I bow my head to her. “I promise you. I will not lead Essie astray.”
A paradox exists within my relationship with my oldest sister, Pearl, and my niece, Essie. Although I feel kinship with them, I also feel removed from them. They are a part of my past. They are curious about me; they like to breathe in my mystique. Though Pearl will never admit it, she would love to be free to live life as she wishes, and her daughter is intent upon following in my footsteps.
Since it will probably cool down soon, I carry a finely woven yellow rebozo, a gift from Frida during my stay in Mexico. As I turn my back on my family and head toward the gate that leads to the river, I feel free to be myself again. When I am alone in the country now, I come close to finding that part of me I can call my own. Alone I can hold myself still, until the next disturbance. This is not what I envisioned as a child, walking this same road toward the river. That I would meet with the deepest disappointment. The feeling that my self has been riddled with holes, and the wind burns through me.
The gray wooden gate is fastened with a rusty chain that has been in use since my childhood. In the six months since my return home, I have often carefully sat on top of this gate and reflected upon my past and possibilities for my future. If I could just sit on this old gate and look down the road toward the river everything would become clear to me. The wood is reassuring and still strong after all these years. I lean into the gate as if to embrace it. Yes, everything is ever quite enough. Then the gate slips away from me and I push it aside and walk on.
I start down the rock-strewn dirt road toward the river, which winds to the left, then straightens out for about a quarter of a mile before heading east, toward the pasture where the sheep are kept. An ancient water well marks the spot where I leave the road and follow a dim trail to a hollow, whose edges slope gently down to the banks of the Concho. The branch of a leafy mesquite bush supports me as I slide downward and a hole in the earth, perhaps a shelter for rattlesnakes, provides a place to grip the ground if I dare to accept it. I place my hand into the hole and slip down the bank.
This is the bank upon which my friend Ismael and I walked when we were children. For a while, I simply watch the river flow past me. Then I feel something like a soft breath on the back of my neck. My body tenses; someone else is here. Ismael? Slowly, I turn my head and look behind me. I see no one. Nothing moves. The autumn sun casts a veiled yellow-orange light upon the land. Suddenly I feel as if I have stepped into a photograph. Hardly breathing I turn in a full circle and see that the river has become still too. Something caresses my face and arms and I think to myself, I have waited for so long. I try to breathe deeply but my heart is beating fast with excitement not fear and my breath catches in my throat.
A movement overhead and my arms rise instinctively as if to shield me as a raven flies yonder, signaling the landscape to awaken. A slight breeze teases me and I can almost hear the sigh of the river flowing as if it has given up on me and must now go on its way. I wipe a tear from my cheek. I feel as if I have no one. I am removed from everything around me. I kneel on the bank and find a smooth stone that is still warm from the sun, and I hold it against my face. I must find an answer to the mystery. I skip the stone across the water to let it know I am still here, waiting.
Crisanto would love this river and the countryside. He would fish in this river and cook the fish on the bank. He would swim naked and sleep under the stars. Before falling asleep, he would sit beside me and tell me stories about his childhood, stories I had heard before, yet could listen to forever. They would probably be about wild animals or haunting spirits and if I showed fear or disbelief he would mock me.
“Annarose, these things are real. How can you live in Mexico and not feel this part of life?”
The fact is that I have longed for and feared this part of life since my own childhood. As I close my eyes now and breathe the name of Crisanto, once again, a longing arises from a place deep within me. This hunger is familiar to me. One day long ago as I walked along the worn paths of the savanna I knew so well, I sensed this hunger, this desire emerge for the first time. I was not alone, someone walked beside me, something I could not see. This presence was real to me. I was attracted to it as one would be attracted to a landscape of fulfillment. What if all my dreams were meant to be realized, to be lived, I found myself thinking. As I walked down the familiar path, the presence made a promise to me. A bond existed between us, it whispered. We would merge and a previously unseen path would then open up to me. The path toward what? The presence would not tell me where the path would take us, only that my desire would be satisfied. I could not then truly imagine what mysterious nourishment was being offered to me. I wondered what would be asked of me in return. Then the presence beckoned and I stopped, heart in my throat, and said no. I could not accept the invitation though my soul, the part of me that loved mystery, begged me to go wherever it led me. Having first sensed this presence in the grassy landscape, as I grew up I felt its force in connection to various people and places, to my friend Ismael, then to Mexico and my lover Crisanto.
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