Murder-suicide Victims had Troubled Past
by Jessica Helen Lopez
It was her. My mother told me this much over the phone. It was the same girl who I had fought in high school at the burger drive-thru, her murder ink-splashed all over the front page of the local paper. She was not the only girl I had raised my fists against, but she was the most memorable one. She had been a high school drop out, a single teen mother to a small son. A son, whom I had never met or even laid eyes upon.
Years later, in her thirties, she still lived and was slain in the small border town of our shared upbringing by the hands of her ex-husband, the father of her children. I found out through my timid investigation, that the slain woman’s sister still resided in our small hometown.
Our small hometown of dirt and desert, flattening heat and oppressive sun. Our small hometown that I fled upon my high school graduation, and for some that became a life-long shackle, either through generational poverty, pregnancy or marriage, perhaps even drug addiction which runs rampant there. Our small hometown, of no rivers and too many ranchers, squatting like a dog taking a shit right near the border.
I cowered at the thought of calling the sister and offering my condolences. What would I say? “I am so sorry that you and your sister bullied me in high school. I am so sorry that I felt inclined to gut punch her over and over just how my dad had taught me. I am so sorry that your sister’s husband poured gasoline all over her and her little boy. I am so. Sorry.” The word sorry was too small and meek of a sound to be uttered from my mouth. It was a puny word, not fit for the occasion.
In the essay How to Tame a Wild Tongue, Gloria Anzaldua writes, “Chicana feminists often skirt around each other with suspicion and hesitation. For the longest time I couldn’t figure it out. Then it dawned on me. To be close to another Chicana is like looking into the mirror. We are afraid of what we’ll see there. Pena. Shame. Low estimation of self.” Though the two hermanas that I brawled with, including myself, did not consider ourselves as feminists, not even burgeoning ones as I later became, we did view ourselves as low women on totem pole. We were all sinveruenzas, women without shame; yet, also brimming with an unnamed and alien embarrassment somehow akin to the notion that we were female.
A force larger than ourselves drove us to tear at each other’s skin and hair and clothing. We were the blood spectacle of a very clichéd tableau. It was a violent act in a very public arena. Passersby gawked, young men hooted and hollered. I imagined the glory I would surely receive from friends and family members that I was a true “scrapper,” a person to be acknowledged amongst the gente. I would fight two giants and still stand to tell the tale. And when we were eventually ripped apart by employees at the burger joint, a dark squalor of three womanly bodies tearing at each other’s hair, still we hurled sharp and nasty words across the parking lot like boomerangs. I say like boomerangs because these hateful words only served to bounce right back at ourselves. We might as well have been fighting our own reflections, fighting our own blood sister.
If the word is truly a woman, than the word I choose is forgiveness, and in order to see, to truly see, I must peel back my sleepy eyelids and peer without fear at myself and at others, without the pain of judgment. The word is also sadness. Those girls I fought, they and I shared a bond of sadness, though we would never have admitted such a thing at the time. We were more alike than we knew or wanted to know.
These hands, my hands that hit and scratch and pulled blood from the skin, are the same hands that creates my poetry. Long and winding cathartic release of words and words, allowing the vented steam of direct and indirect sustained abuse to blow up and away into the free air. Like a candlewick enflamed. Like incense wafting.
These hands that have bathed the squirmy infant body of my daughter, repotted the limbs of Aloe Vera, embraced other women in the spirit of community have also struck out in anger, dismantled and destroyed.
I tell my buddy this story. I tell him over coffee and steaming red-chile posole with practically a whole lemon squeezed into the bowl, just the way I like. He’s having a side of sizzling chicharones and sneakily slipping the cloud-like tortilla from my plate. We are sitting in the famed greasy spoon diner, Barela’s Coffee Shop, in one of the oldest and revitalized Albuquerque neighborhoods. We are awaiting the arrival of a teacher who has requested we teach spoken word poetry at her school just down the road.
He asks what I have been working on these days. I give him the winding story about my project, about how the idea to write this very essay came to me right before I fell asleep, that I wrote most of it in an in-between stage of waking life and dream world. He is a good listener, my friend and gentle-hearted poet.
I tell him, “And I never knew her other than to raise my fist against her.” And then I’m crying.
Unexpectedly, believe me. Crying into my bowl of posole in front of all those lunch-goers at the Barelas Coffee Shop on a Wednesday afternoon. Like I said, he is a good listener and allows me to cry. I tell him how unsure I am of where this essay is heading, that I don’t know how to end it.
“Some things can’t be forseen. Your essay will figure itself out when you do.” And then he eats my tortilla. I nod and briskly swipe at my tears. Maybe he’s right and maybe writers aren’t so full of shit after all.