Wednesday, August 19, 2009


A local female school district police officer has been kidnapped by her estranged boyfriend. There's currently a stand-off and S.W.A.T. negotiation happening outside an abandoned home. It seems, thank God, that Officer Hilsman is still alive.  This story chilled me as soon as I heard it at 5AM this morning, and it continues to gnaw at me as I sit here in my nice insulated office in downtown Houston.  She's a mom - has a 7 year old who witnessed the abduction and a 13 month old.  And it just infuriates me that she's in this position.  That all she was doing was trying to drop off her kids at her mom's before heading in to work, and now she's at the mercy of a deranged loser who somehow believes he's got the right formula here.  

Where do these men come from and how to do they find the best women?  What gives them the right to take someone from their lives?  Where is the giant hand that I wish would come down and smash this pitiful excuse for a man into dust?  

There's a young girl in my office who recently dated a young man she thought was of the decent sort.  After a month or two he had a violent moment - one that showed his true colors.  That was the end for her. There was no hesitation - no searching the heart for the right decision.  She made it about self-preservation and moved on. That's what it seems like Officer Hilsman was trying to do, and then this monster set her agenda for the day.  It's stories like these that convince women in bad relationships to stay where they are.  It's a horrid catch 22. 

She's a cop.  I hope this story ends with the use of deadly force and that she's the one behind the trigger.  God forgive me, but I do. 

Praying for you, Officer Rachel Hilsman.  

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Life Starts Now

So, I've got two cousins starting at a university next week. How many is that now?  Nearing 10 who have graduated from college in my family, and I can tell you I never imagined such a thing.  There are families who have humble beginnings, and there are families for whom survival was an enormous struggle.  We fell into both categories, I think.  Life after my grandfather's death was the struggle, and I know many of us can easily recall the tough times that befell us.  But we always seem more likely to talk about the fun times we managed to create within those periods of turmoil.  

My memories . . . 

Summer days at home with Sandra, Sarah, and Lonnie.  Mike and I being sent to Pace Grocery on our bikes to buy Jolly Rancher sticks and Kool-Aid packets for everyone with the chingos of change in our pockets.  

Playing Crazy 8's by candlelight when Sylvia, Jenn, and Johnny lived with us.  The candlelight was NOT for ambiance . . . 

Hearing the knock at the door and then Rey and Rick Amador's voices, "Michaelllllll, Michellllllle . . ."  Rushing to get dressed so we could go sit in the back of Rey's dad's baby blue truck and make our plans for the day.  And so we could hear Rey tell us about everything we said, "I knew before you . . . "

Sitting outside at night.  All of us sprawled at my grandmother's feet on the sidewalk still warm from the day's sun.  Talking about nothing and everything and watching the cars go by.  

Egging Campos Revival.  Enough said. 

Eating G.W. Junior's on special nights at our big table with Sarah and Sandra and Lonnie. 

Waiting for Preston Gilbo the Third to show up at our house.  He was my first true love.  He just didn't know it.  

Racing in Henry's car . . . going so fast that I became furious and slammed my raspa into the ground when we finally made it home.  Of course, they all laughed at me.  

Going to Pace to watch Sandra play volleyball.  Sitting in the bleachers and playing cash register with the silver bolts in the bleachers.  Seeing a high school girl show Cleo a condom and wondering if it was an inflatable raft . . . 

Sitting in the back seat of Lonnie's blue car with Michael the day Sandra decided to go joy-riding in it while he played basketball at Russell.  Smiling the entire time.  Especially when she decided to tempt fate and drive PAST Russell to see if he noticed us.  He did.  

Watching Cleo read the telephone book while she sang, painfully off-key, "You Needed Me." 

Late at night, a party at our house, Sandra sitting on the washing machine and singing drunkenly, "What's the glory of living? Doesn't anybody ever stay together anymore?" 

Prom.  Seeing my gorgeous aunts in their princess dresses get whisked away to the ball. 

Saturday morning MANDATORY CLEANING BOOT CAMP run by Sandra.  Mike and I polishing Mom's crystal knick-knacks in VERY bad moods.  Sandra kicking Sara's door to get her to wake up and help. Never worked.  

Getting my hair brushed by Lonnie when he stayed home with Dad.  He was so gentle, so positive, so loving.  So bad at it.  

Watching Sara get ready to cheer at football games. The way she applied blue eyeshadow was an art. 

Sitting outside with Sandra while she talked to Farmer, who'd shown up at the crack of dawn from the mental hospital down the street for a cup of coffee.  Listening to him tell us over and over how he cracked his skull while chasing a squirrel on the roof. 

My first day of school.  Lonnie and Sarah and Sandra drove me on their way to school in Lonnie's blue car.  Sandra walked me to my classroom, and there I met Iris Aguilar.  We locked hands almost instantly.  

We've been lucky.  For even though God saw fit to give us our share of trials, he also saw fit to equip us with our legendary senses of humor.  And he made sure we knew how to love. 

These kids starting school, they won't know the tough times we knew.  There is no more Pace Grocery.  The house on Washington street not ours anymore.  G.W. Junior's closed long ago. Lonnie's blue car is probably rusted junk in some old yard.  But they should know their own senses of humor come from our rich history - from our determination to laugh no matter how much we wanted to cry.  They should know that watching them excel is the purest form of joy for us.  And for me especially - the oldest of the cousins.  The one who held and rocked and and fed and changed a good number of them and who loves them with a very special love. 

And they should know that no matter how much they grow or how far they go, we will always, always, always be here . . .  to make fun of them.  

“What greater thing is there for human souls than to feel that they are joined for life - to be with each other in silent unspeakable memories.” 
-George Eliot

Friday, August 7, 2009


She had, she conceded, big armpits.  She pretended to be ashamed of them in his presence, but the truth was, she loved them and often spent hours sitting on a pile of dirty laundry in the basement, looking in at them.  They were the essence of concavity, and she marveled at their supreme bowl-ness.  When she sunk in her chest and held her head from behind, they became canyons.  As much as she loved them,  she mourned their existence.  Their very position was unfortunate because she would have loved to serve things in them.  Cherries, perhaps.  Or sugar.  

He Sat Six Seats Behind Me

I am sorry for your loss, 

And I feel stricken, too.
Jodie wasn't a friend of mine, 
But he's someone that I knew. 

He's someone that I saw today.
We worked in class together. 
He sat six seats behind me, and 
I thought he would forever. 

We argued more than we ever talked
But those arguments were fun. 
He seemed so independent - 
My classmate and your son. 

His eyes I do remember. 
His voice rings loud and clear
You never had to see him 
To know that he was near. 

We'll remember Jodie, 
He'll be with us everyday.
He still sits six seats behind me,
And his memory will stay. 

If words could help your grief subside
Then a thousand words to you.
But for now, a comfort is your pain shared, 
We'll miss Jodie, too. 

M. Cantu


There was always a good reason to get out of bed,  Alma's mother told her repeatedly as a child.  This morning, as she yawned hugely and slipped her husband's hand off her ample hip, a new box of cereal was her motivation to leave the snug cocoon of her bed.  The room was all shadows,  the sun succumbing to laziness on this sleepy August morning.  Her eyes were open wide, as if stretching them to such a capacity would overcome the darkness.  As it commonly did, the edge of her dresser grumped her in the soft flesh of one thigh, and she had to suck in air quickly to keep from cursing.  She deliberately did not brush her teeth this day, the wee minutes of the morning too precious to spare on such trivial routine.  The boys were still asleep, so she had the liberty of pittering about in her t-shirt and panties.  

At the sink now, she reached across it and eased up the reluctant window.  She heard the night crickets and smiled; the unusual breeze that grazed her face a cool kiss.  Glancing down,  she saw that she had left a stick of her charcoal near the dish soap; now it made a gritty, black trail to the drain.  Maybe she should give up the sketch she started last week.  She mulled this over as she swiped the sink clean with a sponge.  She caught the deviant jiggle of the flesh on her arm.  Better yet, why not give up the diet that wasn't working? 

Alma liked Lucky Charms more than the boys did.  It made them laugh to come home and find her in the backyard, daydreaming about a deck and delicately balancing her oversized purple bowl on one palm.  On her good days, she'd be air-sketching with her spoon.  On her not-so-good days, the strong, steady crunches and quiet spoon told them to lay low.  She hadn't yet figured out their cereal mood indicator method yet.  She just thought they were good kids.  

Her purple bowl ready, she wondered again why they ever stopped putting prizes in the cereal boxes.  Cracker Jack still did.  Her children and children all over the country missed out on a great Saturday morning ritual - eating through a box of Frosted Flakes just to find the toy hidden within,  wrapped in thin plastic and covered with the fine, powdered crumbs of cereal at the bottom of the box.  She hummed softly, pushing a strand of unruly brown hair behind one ear. The crickets had reached their finale and now only a few renegade chirpers delivered delinquent encores.  It was going to be hot, she knew, as she pushed open the back screen door with one toe and emerged into the morning,  her mouth happy and full,  her chin divided by a thin stream of sweet milk.  

Living Room

He passed out in mid-drink at eight o'clock.  His left hand hit the end table, and the warm beer he had been nursing fell and leaked yellow onto the carpet below.  The couch he sat on smelled of old urine and grease.  There was no one else home to fret over the carpet or the couch - a tour of the house would reveal four gutted rooms.  No one came to wake him for a late supper.  No one cleaned the cans of beer and food out of the kitchen sink.  No one eased off his tired boots or smoothed his wild hair.  

The room was getting dark, and Richard was alone.  A handful of early stars gazed mournfully at him through a window.  He didn't snore in his hard sleep.  Something seemed to catch in his throat and he almost purred.  No one one shushed him. 
The box fan rustled a pile of newspapers near him.  With a grease pencil he had circled want ads - nurse technician, live-in nanny, cook. The numbers would never be called.  There was no phone.  He would walk to the neighborhood store in the morning, but he wouldn't remember to take the month-old ads with him. 
Completely dark now, the room awakes to the sound of Richard stretching.  He is stiff.  His hand aches and he doesn't know why.  It is four in the morning, but he is not aware of time, that it has come and gone.  He knows he is thirsty.  He knows the seat of his cheap, wrinkled slacks are wet with sweat.  He knows he is broke.