If you’d like to read more, here are a few selected stories and essays:
When Héctor, Jesús, Esteban, and Marco sign up to man the new drug traffic enforcement truck, they don’t know quite what they’re getting into. They do know that they’ll be using new high-tech X-rays to see through automobiles and that sometimes even the most inconspicuous vehicle—an ice-cream truck, a van loaded with furniture, a car full of women headed to the airport—might just have drugs on the inside.
After a series of narc runs, they start to experience some strange and inexplicable…changes. The experts swoop in and determine that a radiation leak is to blame. But by then it’s too late—along with acquiring new physical and psychic mutations, they’ve become embroiled in a dangerous game of politics between narcos and cops, North and South America, a dictator and the disappeared.
My friends and I were rewrapping our racquet handles with matching purple cushioned grips, the boys tossing tennis balls back and forth. When Yaiza arrived, throwing open the clubhouse door so hard that she nearly took it off its hinges, we flinched, took her in, and turned away.
Once, there was a husband and wife made of string. During their first years of marriage, he always picked at her threads. He ran his fingertips along her soft pointelle. He wanted to find and trace the knot of her heart and hold it in his hands.
“Stop it,” she said those first years, laughing. “That tickles.”
But as the years passed…
Your parents believed in infant swimming lessons, in pool water that cushioned you like a womb, smooth with clarity. Once a week, they held you underwater to see bubbles released from your nose, then brought you up to air, your arms and feet kicking like again you were born. Months later, you can swim like a little frog. They graduate you from the class with fanfare and baby-safe balloons.
Two years later, you remember none of it. Your parents throw a party, everyone grilling or swimming or running in the backyard. It is easy to forget you. When you fall in the pool, no one notices. In dreams you still have now, you remember drowning like this: You walk on the bottom of the pool, adults’ legs kicking in the blue in a slow ballet, mica ground into the walls glittering and pockmarked. It’s like walking on the skin of the moon. The world hovers in a deep silence. The steps, shining aquamarine with tile, waver in front of you. A net on a long pole plunges into the water, extends towards you, lifts you towards the surface. You are smiling.
I pressed my face to the car window to see Jackson’s hometown, the place we’d spent all our money moving to after graduation, the place we would be stuck in. It was June, the month of green. Willows everywhere wept over houses and cars and one little girl riding her bicycle. Wind from the lake fanned over waving cornfields, and when the road got close to the waterfront, the lake shone brightly over the town. Instead of sand, the shore was made of smooth stones, both large and small. Townspeople were standing at the shore—some with arms outstretched, staring into the waves, and others kneeling around with palms open, as if to catch something falling from the sky.
“That,” said Jackson, “is our lake of sorrow.”
Jackson often flashed the pockmark scar on his arm, but I didn’t know what sorrow was behind it. He said he was too young to remember. The scars and the stones—they happened to nearly everyone in the town.
When the townspeople encountered their first great grief—not something small like a broken leg or a bickering between friends, but real grief, the kind that brought you to your knees—the first time they felt that, their stone of sorrow would form. Sometimes it happened when they were still children: a father who left, a great divorce, a twin who died. Sometimes it happened when they were teens. A few were lucky enough to escape it until they were older, or had somehow steeled themselves against it.
But whenever they felt that sorrow, that’s when the rock started forming—in their fists, in their praying palms, in their throats. At first it was as small as a grain of sand they couldn’t wash away, irritating. Then it would roll into a pebble over a matter of minutes or years. Sometimes it only grew as big as a skipping stone, sometimes as big as a boulder. Everyone’s sorrow took its own course and speed, and no amount of forced catharsis or letting go could make the rock go away when you wanted. In its own time the stone would dislodge, but only when it could fall on the shore of the lake. You could see the townspeople at the shore every dawn and sunset, orange light on their faces, hoping their rocks would dislodge, would lie down with their comrades of sorrow, generations of them along the waterline.
I was one of millions of college graduates trying to pay off student loans and credit card debt on minimum wage. I worked in a hair salon as a receptionist from nine to five, and at a veterinary emergency hospital on nights and weekends. I had a boyfriend, but he kept wanting to take my clothes off in the few hours I could sleep. At the vet hospital, I ran around yanking the cats out of their carriers by the scruff of the neck, weighing the dogs, calling for triage, sorting through mountains of paperwork. Sometimes you turned around and a dog hacked up an organ, or a cat came in on the Fourth of July with a firecracker through its head, or a police dog was being rushed in from a gang shooting, or a ferret had escaped its cage and vomited green all over the hospital.
I was so angry–at myself, at the clients. Angry at the salt of the earth, the farmers who brought in their pot-bellied pigs, the welfare poor’s shaking hands as they handed over their animals. These were most of the people we saw at the emergency vet. People with money, with time, they shuttled their animals to their regular vets as soon as they sensed something amiss. Everyone else tried to wait it out, only brought us the animals when they were near death. I started telling the hysterical owners clutching their dying pets, It will be okay. But after a few months and enough dogs and cats dying, my own life like molecules that would not bind, like the electricity of a heart that fades and will not restart, I knew it would not be okay.
Then I started to say, We’ll try everything we can.
But that was even worse, because everything we could try cost money that less and less people seemed to have, and we had all seen where trying had gotten us.
In 1979, our father took us on a ski trip. It was the last in a series of my father’s ideas over the years to put the family back together, to show my mother he wasn’t wrong to bring us to this new country. The trips were disasters, all of them.
Earlier that year, my father took us to the zoo on the day kids get in free, but it was also the day Gentle the Gorilla ate his trainer’s finger and escaped. We drove to the Everglades but couldn’t afford the tour, and the rickety boat my father borrowed from a Mexican man peddling oranges sank into the swamp. Luckily, it was shallow enough to wade back. He took us to Satellite Beach, but a red tide thousands of dead fish onto shore, and all of us had to plug our noses from the rot.