Working on 48-hours since their lives turned upside down, Stephanie lay in bed most of the morning with a throbbing migraine. After the girls left for school, and she managed to nap for an hour, she set out to clean the kitchen. She scrubbed the pots and pans, loaded the dishwasher and wiped the counters. As she scrubbed, she noticed rust around the edge of the kitchen sink and went to the garage to dig for a spray or solution that would remove rust.
In the bright, neat garage, Chuck’s tools rested on a shelving unit against the back wall by the kitchen with hammers, saws and screwdrivers of all different sizes hanging from hooks at eye level. The two shelves below the hammers and screwdrivers held two drills. On a table nearby sat a band saw along with some type of sanding machine, a box full of drill bits, saw blades and cutting tools.
Below the shelves, all his bins of nails, screws, washers and bolts tucked neatly away at waist-level. Labels below the handle to each cubby and drawer had markings to indicate sizes such as 1/2-inch, 1/4-inch and 1/8-inch.
The shelf above the hammers, saws and screwdrivers had numerous bottles of chemicals such as WD40, cans of paint and lacquer, a bottle of bleach and several varieties of cleaning products. She strained to read the labels, finding a plastic milk crate to stand on.
The sound of her home phone ringing in the kitchen interrupted her thoughts and she ran back into the house to answer it.
“Yes, hello,” she said. “Hi mom.”
Stephanie’s 63-year-old mother, Glynis Banks, called from a golf course north of the city. She said she had only a few minutes before her tee-time, but wanted to check to see how the girls were doing.
“They’re fine, mom” Stephanie said. “As fine as could be expected. They miss him and they’re confused.”
“As well they should be,” said Glynis. “I’m sure it was a shock to them.”
“It was, mom,” Stephanie replied. “We’re all just focusing on trying to get him back. That’s all we’re thinking about now.”
“Yes, yes,” Glynis said. “Of course.”
Both women paused.
“What is it mom?” Stephanie asked.
“It’s just…” Glynis stopped to choose her words. “Well, how are you going to get him back here?”
“We’re looking into all our options.”
“Your legal options?”
“What other options are there?” Stephanie asked, switching the phone to her other ear. “Illegal options?”
“Oh no,” Glynis said with a breathy expulsion of air from her lungs that Stephanie could only describe as a ‘huff’. “Don’t you get caught up in any of this illegal immigration business. And you keep those girls safe from all of this as well.”
“Mom, we’re just trying to help Chuck the best we can,” Stephanie said.
“Listen, I feel bad for him and I wish him the best,” Glynis continued. “But I’m more worried about you and the girls and the toll this will take on them. Chuck made his bed and now he has to lie in it.”
“I know mom, we’re just trying to…”
“Unfortunately, he’s dragged you and the girls into this mess with him,” she said. “What was he thinking?”
“He was brought here as a baby,” Stephanie said. “He didn’t know…”
“He was brought here illegally,” Glynis interrupted. “That’s on his parents. But then he stayed here illegally. Honey, that’s on him.”
“I know mom. I wrestle with those thoughts too.”
“He broke the law,” Glynis said. “He was here, using roads and schools paid for by American citizens.”
“We paid plenty of taxes.”
“These immigrants, they come in and they take jobs from good, hard-working Americans.”
“Mom, seriously?” Stephanie cut in. “You’re going to give me grief now about your stance on immigration?”
“It’s not a stance, honey” said Glynis. “I know he’s your husband and you’re trying to be supportive, but we have laws here. And, Chuck broke those laws. That’s a fact, not a stance.”
“Mom, that’s my husband you’re talking about,” Stephanie said in a tone she also would describe as a ‘huff’. “That’s the father of my…”
“I know, I know,” Glynis said. “It’s tough because I know how much the girls love him. But there are consequences for what he did. If we don’t adhere to the law because someone is a husband or a father…”
“Mom, I can’t have this…”
“You know I’m right,” Glynis snapped. “If this were not your husband…”
“Well, he is,” Stephanie raised her voice to meet her mother’s heightened tone. “And I’m not having this conversation with you. Not now, and maybe not ever.”
The line remained silent for a minute. Glynis took a deep breath and spoke.
“Daddy and I decided,” she said. “We’re going to pay your legal bills.”
“Mom, no,” Stephanie said. “I’ll figure it out.”
“We contacted Mr. Beckman’s office,” Glynis continued. “It’s all set already. All you have to do is authorize it.”
“Mom, no, I don’t want you to have to,” Stephanie started, though knowing she had no alternative.
“It’s already done, honey,” Glynis said, more softly, better resembling the sweet mother and grandmother she usually played. “Just call the office and let them know, ok?”
“Thank you, mom,” Stephanie said, exhaling a huge weight from her back and shoulders as her migraine faded further into the depths of her skull.
“No problem,” said Glynis, putting on her most cheerful grandmotherly tone. “Now, you tell those girls of yours that I’m going to have them over the ranch next weekend for three days of great food, relaxation and some pampering at the spa at Canyon Lake.”
Emily Domo sat at a table behind the book racks in the school library scouring the internet for news of an unknown American found lost, injured or even dead in a Mexican border town.
“Emily Dominguez,” she whispered to herself. “Emily Domo. Emily Marie Dominguez…”
She flipped through government websites describing the deportation process. She researched governing laws and regulations around immigration and reversing an existing ruling. Lost in her search, the sky darkened. Lights in the back office flipped and the library staff paused, regarding her with sympathy and sadness.
“Emily, honey,” the head librarian called to her. “The late bus leaves in five minutes. We’re closing the library. You should hurry to catch the bus.”
Emily ignored her and clicked a page that displayed activist organizations that might be able to help her father.
“Emily,” the librarian said, more sternly as she walked toward the table with her keys jingling in her hand. “I know you’re going through a tough situation, but it’s time to go home.”
“Just a minute,” she said as she scrolled her mouse.
“Your family really needs you right now,” the librarian said, trying to gently coax her from her activity. “I don’t want you to miss the…”
Emily shrieked, startling the librarian in mid-sentence.
“Oh my God,” she said, tears forming in her two soft brown eyes. “Oh my God. Oh my God.”
“What is it?” the librarian asked, moving swiftly to Emily’s side.
“Oh my God,” Emily repeated, tears bursting out. “Miss Singer. Oh my God. Once you’re deported through Expedited Action, you can’t come back for an average of ten years.”
At that, Emily wept uncontrollably and the librarian took her head into her chest to console her.
“Ten years,” Emily wailed as her salty tears darkened the librarian’s polyester and cotton blouse.
“I’m sure your lawyers are doing everything they possibly can,” Miss Singer said, fighting through her own possibility of shedding a tear along with the student that rocked unconsolably in her arms.
“No,” Emily said, her breathing growing belabored on the edge of hyperventilation. “It says the ten years can’t be appealed. I’ll be almost 25 by then. He won’t see me go to prom. He won’t see me graduate, go to college or even get married. He won’t even remember what I look like.”
Chuck awoke in a dark, dank space, surrounded by grey, drab cement walls, only eight or ten feet apart. He lay on a short, metal cot with his feet draped over the end and nearly numb from the thin crossbar that gouged the back of his calves. Black Iron bars separated him from a small office where an official of some sort sat at a desk browsing the internet. The bluish light from the screen illuminated the otherwise pitch-black room. The telltale over-acted moaning sound of internet porn echoed across Chuck’s cell and jolted him to full consciousness.
Chuck strained to move. His body lay stiff and pained in every muscle and joint. As he rolled from his back to his side, he groaned. The echo in his cell caught the attention of the man in at the desk. Quickly, the porn video minimized to the bottom of the window and a second guard entered the room.
Dressed in jackets that read “Policía” across the upper right pocket, they both walked to the edge of the cell and spoke to him in rapid-fire Spanish. The gibberish sounded like machine gun bullets to Chuck’s ringing ears.
A third policía said something quietly in Spanish to the other guards before turning to Chuck and addressing him in heavily accented English.
“You break the bench in the park?” he asked or stated. “That bench cost mucho dinero; many dollars, Señor.”
Chuck struggled to sit. His right arm hung limp at his side. He had to pull himself upward with his left hand.
“You got ten thousand pesos Señor?”
Chuck squinted as the light flooded his eyes and gave his pounding head an even more painful headache.
“Señor,” the Policía repeated. “You owe us ten thousand pesos. Or you no go home tonight.”
Chuck raised his left hand in front of his face to shield the light. As he did, his shoulder popped and ached and he felt his back muscles stiffen along either side of his spine.
“Estúpido,” the Policía raised his voice. “You know what we do with a borracho vandal who breaks our stuff here? We make them pay.”
“Borracho?” Chuck muttered. “I have no money, Sir.”
He stopped and warbled in Spanish.
“No dinero, Señor.”
At that, the Policía laughed. He smacked one of the other officers in the chest and they all chortled.
“We have ways of dealing with a borracho – a drunk – el bandito like you,” he smiled, turning to his co-workers. “Coger el camion.”
He sneered at Chuck. With the turn of an old-fashioned metal key, he opened the cage and let in the two rotund, burly officers. They each hoisted him quickly to his feet with their strong hairy arms under each shoulder.
“No dinero?” he said. “We have our ways of dealing with perezoso; deadbeats.”
At the word “perezoso”, the officers laughed and dragged Chuck out of his cell, across the office and out the front door of the station. They dropped him roughly on the cobblestone street, kicking him in the gut and spitting on him.
Stephanie hung up the house phone checking the status of her pizza for dinner. As if in a queue, her cell phone emitted a pleasant ringtone that sounded like birds chirping on a spring morning. Attorney Beckman sat at the Domo family kitchen table surrounded by piles of paper and a thin silver laptop. Stephanie pleasantly replied to Miss Singer over the phone that she’s doing fine and thanked her for her supportive sentiment. But soon after, she grew quiet and tense as the librarian explained how she had come across Emily at the library computer after the late bus had left for the day.
Upstairs, a door slammed. The stairs creaked. Two thin, athletic legs ambled down the beige carpeted staircase, striding three steps before the hem of her leather miniskirt came into view. Ashley’s eye-catching outfit temporarily distracted Stephanie from her call with Miss Singer. She excused herself, glanced furtively at Rupert and placed her hand over the microphone of her cell.
“Where are you going?” she asked, incredulously.
“Out mom,” Ashley answered, reaching the bottom step to reveal her full outfit of black boots over black tights, a short black leather miniskirt and an oversized grey and blue flannel shirt covering a plain white t-shirt.
“Out where?” she asked, suddenly aware that Miss Singer was still waiting on the line.
“Out, out,” Ashley replied, grabbing a denim jacket from the closet and jingling the keys in her pocket.
“Hold on, just a second,” Stephanie spoke into the phone. “No, I can have one of my girls pick her up.”
“Not me,” Ashley quipped as she made her way to the front door. “I’m staying over Ursula’s house tonight.”
“I don’t think so,” Stephanie said, while simultaneously holding a finger up to Rupert to let him know she still wanted him to stay put and then responding to Miss Singer over the phone. “That’s sweet of you to offer, but I can arrange to have her picked up.”
“I can’t sit around here, cooped up all night,” Ashley complained. “I have to get out of this house and do something other than feel sorry for myself all day and night.”
Rupert closed his laptop and nervously straightened his papers.
“Can you get your sister at the school?” Stephanie asked.
“No,” Ashley replied, with a hint of teenage angst in her voice. “Ursula’s picking me up in like two minutes.”
“Fine,” Stephanie relented. “I’ll get your sister to do it.”
“She’s asleep,” said Ashley.
“It’s only 5:30.”
“She’s been asleep since she finished her homework, like an hour ago.”
“Hold on, Miss Singer,” Stephanie responded to the voice on the other end of the line.
“Really,” Rupert interjected, now standing. “I can come back…”
“No, please,” Stephanie said to Rupert before turning to her daughter. “I need you to…”
At that, the doorbell rang. Ashley opened the door expecting her friend Ursula. But, instead, a tall, gangly twenty-year-old glimmered by the yellowy light of their front porch lamp.
“Pizza delivery for Domeo?” he said with an intonation that sounded more like a question.
“Yes, hold on please,” Stephanie replied to something Miss Singer said over the phone as Ashley slipped past the delivery boy and ran across the lawn to the front seat of her friend’s waiting vehicle.
“Well,” Stephanie said into her phone as she turned to the stairs and fumbled for her purse. “I am kind of in a bind.”
Rupert casually walked to the front door, paid and tipped the pizza boy and took possession of the pizza and salad that she had ordered.
“Thank you,” Stephanie whispered, again with her hand over the receiver before turning back to answer Miss Singer’s questions about getting Emily back home. “I’m so sorry, but I am kind of tied up right now. If it’s not too much trouble, it sure would be a big help if you didn’t mind dropping her off.”
Miss Singer drove a small six-year-old Honda Civic. She held the door open for Emily and maneuvered into the driver’s seat to start the car. She adjusted the radio to a pop station and turned down the volume from her usual level.
Emily remained quiet throughout the ride, whimpering like a caged, wounded animal. Miss Singer regarded her as a mouse, small in the passenger seat, hunched with her face buried in her hands.
“I can’t imagine what you’re going through,” she said in a fruitless attempt to spark conversation and possibly offer encouragement. “I’m sure the authorities are doing everything they possibly can.”
The librarian trailed off realizing how little she knew of the immigration process and any legal ramifications around her father’s predicament.
Emily clutched her knees and rocked slightly in her seat.
“If you like, I’d be happy to help you with your research,” she said, noting a tiny smile poke through Emily’s pout. “I’d like to learn more about the subject and I admire your efforts to educate yourself. Would you like to work together?”
Emily didn’t immediately react. But, after a few seconds, she turned toward Miss Singer and slowly nodded her head up and down.
The car phone rang. The name Ed Ylbitzski appeared on the radio console.
“My boyfriend,” Miss Singer said, sheepishly. “Hi Ed. I’m in the car with one of my students.”
“Oh,” Ed said hesitantly.
“She needed a ride,” Miss Singer quickly explained. “Can I call you back?”
“Uh, sure,” he replied before hanging up. At that, his name disappeared from the console.
Emily looked up from her knees and out the front window at the passing streetlights.
“How long have you been going out with him?” she asked in a barely audible voice.
“Only a couple months,” Miss Singer answered. She thought about elaborating, but decided to hold off and wait to see if Emily voluntarily engaged with her.
Emily looked out the passenger side window, quietly for a moment.
“Is he nice?” she asked.
“Yes,” Miss Singer replied, smiling softly. “Yes, he’s a very nice guy.”
“What does he do?”
“He’s a writer,” she replied. “He works for the San Antonio Express-News.”
“Do you think you will get married to him?”
“Oh, I, uh, don’t know about that,” she blushed. “He was married before and said he isn’t really sure that he wants to get married again. His career is his priority right now. So…”
“Why wouldn’t he want to get married to you?” Emily asked, perking in her seat. “You’re so pretty, and so nice.”
“Well, thank you,” she smiled. “I don’t know about that. But I appreciate it.”
Miss Singer’s Honda pulled into the Domo driveway, next to attorney Beckman’s Mercedes. Emily thanked the librarian and exited the car into the dark of the early evening. Miss Singer moved the gear shaft to park and followed her student across the lawn to the house.
Emily entered the front door, crossed the foyer and went straight to the bathroom. She could hear her mother interacting with Miss Singer halfway out of the house onto the porch.
“Thank you so much,” she could hear the muffled voices through the bathroom door. “This is Rupert… attorney… Jennifer Singer… librarian.”
As Emily looked into the bathroom mirror, the rage she felt in the library returned to her face. Her cheeks flushed and her stomach fluttered. In a single motion, she burst into the foyer and inserted herself into the conversation.
“Is it true?” Emily demanded. “Is Daddy really stuck in Mexico for ten years?”
Miss Singer looked at Stephanie and lightly touched her hand, which rest on the brass doorknob.
“I’m going to get going,” she said. “Very nice to meet you Mr. Beckman. Good luck with, uh, with everything, uh, that you’re doing.”
“Is it true?” Emily continued. “Do we even know where Daddy is right now?”
Stephanie’s eyes flared and she momentarily froze. Rupert paused, looking at Stephanie’s dazed expression. Miss Singer subtly turned back to her car.
“Is it true?” Emily persisted, louder. “Is Daddy really banned from coming home for ten years?”
As Stephanie closed the front door to the house, Rupert leaned forward and addressed Emily’s query.
“We’re doing everything we can to make sure that doesn’t happen,” he said.
“But, it’s true, isn’t it?” Emily started crying again. “Ten years. Ten fucking years.”
Stephanie flinched at her 14-year-old daughter’s rare profanity and opened her mouth to speak, but couldn’t formulate any words. Rupert glanced her way and again spoke for her.
“We’re going to fight this,” he said. “There are always options, loopholes, creative ways to …”
“But it can’t be appealed,” Emily interrupted. “I read it on the INS web site. You can’t even argue it in court.”
Rupert hesitated. He gave Stephanie a moment to collect herself and then responded to Emily when Stephanie continued to fumble for a response. Emily continued before Rupert could offer any further words.
“Once the arbitrator at the detention facility makes a decision, it’s final,” she railed. “How can that even be right? How can one guy just make that ruling to send someone away from their family like that? And, it can’t even be appealed?”
“We can’t take it to court, that’s true,” Rupert said, calmly but firmly. “We’re going to argue the entire proceeding was handled inappropriately and try to win a second hearing so that we can attend and state our case.”
The two sweaty Policía dragged Chuck violently across the cobblestone parking lot of the small stucco police station and hoisted him onto their shoulders. He could feel his center of gravity move from standing upright to an elevated position parallel to the ground. His feet left the cobblestone effortlessly like a small child lifted by a parent, and he lost control of his appendages as one officer clutched one arm, the other grabbed the other and the third held both legs off the ground.
After counting “uno-dos-tres”, they heaved him through the air onto the flatbed of a pick-up truck. His sore elbow landed first, bouncing awkwardly against the metal, followed by his head and then shoulder. His back rolled over a couple shovels and arched unnaturally in pain.
One officer hopped into the back of the truck with him, while the other two slammed the lift gate closed, jostling Chuck’s twisted ankle.
They drove through the town, past the circular square where the van dropped him off the other day. The lights in the city faded into the background as they bounded along a windy dirt road. Chuck watched the stars brighten in the sky as they reached the outskirts of town. The bouncing and swaying of the vehicle wrenched his back. His head crashed against the hard-corrugated floor of the flatbed as they rumbled over potholes and the unevenness of the terrain.
“Ash, Brit, Em…” he moaned to himself.
The air grew heavy and dark as the lights of the city gave way to the dead moonlight and the million stars that peered down at him.
They turned onto a paved road, marked as Ruta 2 and sped off to the left, away from the rundown center of Reynosa. After five or six miles, Chuck guessed about ten minutes, they pulled off the road into a dirt embankment.
Chuck tried to hoist himself away, but had little strength in his legs and none in his arms. He clutched the handle of a shovel, but the officers wrested it from his grip. The three thugs lifted him effortlessly from the back of the truck and tossed him face down into the dirt. For a few seconds, Chuck’s field of vision went to blue and yellow dots and he felt like he could black out.
The wheels of the truck kicked up sand and gravel, spinning and squealing in the dark as the five-ton vehicle skid past his face before returning to the paved road and revving back toward Reynosa. He could hear them laughing as the sound of the engine faded with the distance.
“Buenas noches,” one of the faint voices called out to him from a quarter-mile away. “Vete Reynosa, estúpido Americano.”