"It’s Not My Story, but it is The Way it Was: Midnight and Mud"
As I walk through the mud, I wonder if I’ll even make it to the other side. I wonder, how did it get to this point? Me, midnight, two babies, scared. And I think back to just a few years ago, and him.
We were poor, but he was hard-working, a farmer, unafraid of labor. I hadn’t really considered getting married yet, but when I met him, I knew he was the right one. When our son was born we were so happy, so content, the family we’d always wanted to be. But we were still poor, and oppression in our country was rough. We were troubled with lack of work, lack of income, lost at not being able to take care of our family. He felt less a man, and I knew not how to help him. After hearing of dreams realized by others in the United States, we began to think of the opportunities there. But he was unwilling to take a young wife and baby who was not quite 1.
So, alone, he left for the trip to find work, new opportunities, a way to support his family. And I waited, unknowingly pregnant already with a 2nd son, trying to manage a child, living with my parents, who really couldn’t afford us either. I was lonely. And I waited, hinging on the brink of depression but unable to go to that dark place with a little one relying on me. Hoping, especially once I discovered I was pregnant, that I’d be with him long before this baby came.
But that didn’t happen. And I had a terrible delivery, with a wet nurse who didn’t think I’d survive, wondering who would get word to him, in the United States, if I didn’t. But I, we, survived. To live alone, still, without him.
Almost a year has passed since that day. The world I live in has gotten worse, the poverty and discrimination, tyranny really, is overwhelming, and I had to write to him that I wasn’t sure how long we’d survive. He’d hoped to have more time to really help us come over, but instead, now, we were to sell our personal belongings for the trip and come.
I am scared, but excited. I hope he won’t have changed too much, and I hope I haven’t either. I want my husband, my family, back. Luckily, my brother-in-law said he’d go with us since I have two children, babies really, one 11 months old now, who’s never even been seen by his father, and one 2.
When we arrive at the border, excited to go on, we’re stopped by guards and told it is closed. We cannot cross. It doesn’t matter that the other half of my heart is over there. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been alone, for 2 years now, just waiting for this moment in time. But time has stopped for me. I panic but cannot talk. We move back and sit a bit, trying not to think about what it means to return to nothing. Trying not to think about if I’ll ever see him again.
My brother-in-law understands my depression and finds a guard. Bribes him with all the money we have. A final attempt to get across this border that is, truly, only another portion of God’s land. But now it represents oppression. Dreams lost. The fear of a young woman. Me. But it works, and we’re told to get rid of everything we can’t easily carry. We’re told where to meet, at midnight. Me, my brother-in-law, and two little boys. Boys who should be fed and fast asleep long before that time.
The fear is overwhelming, but there are things to do. I get rid of everything but a few diapers, a change of clothes for the boys, a few personal mementos. I put them in a pillowcase. All my life is now diminished to a pillowcase. And two little people who rely on me. And a man I haven’t seen in 2 years. I never thought this would be my life.
Now, here I am, walking in the rain, across muddy swamps, trying to remember the Promised Land is ahead. Maybe. If we make it. You can’t imagine my fear when we met the guard at midnight. He only then realized how young the boys were, and he said, “You better keep that little one quiet. If he cries, I’ll have to fire my gun to warn the other guards someone is sneaking across. You know what that means?” I do. It means prison. If I’m lucky.
I don’t know what it means for the boys. I choose not to think of that as I pat my baby’s back and try to keep him quiet. We move on. We get to a fence. Barbed wire. We have to crawl under. The guard doesn’t help. He’s done, except to tell us to keep moving after we cross so we don’t get caught. The guard has his money, my money, all I’m worth in the world. Except to him. The one I’m slowly moving toward on this night. Midnight and mud. Toward morning. Toward light. Toward life.
You’ve heard stories like this, whatever your sympathies or political leanings are. But this one isn’t quite the same. It’s not from the Cervantes side of my family, like it might seem. It’s a story that began with a wedding in 1906 and a border crossing in 1911. A German border. And it’s the story of my great grandmother. Not Josefina Salazar, but Wilhelmina Busch, and Adolf Weis. The parents of another baby boy they named Waldo Weis, but who went to school in a little town in Oklahoma, where the teacher misheard him and listed him as Walter. The name stuck.
So, what does The Way It Was make me? It makes me the girl with two grandfathers named Walter. One with the last name Sheffield, English descent, born with the name. One with the last name Weis, German descent, who acquired the name when he entered school for the first time. It is the way it was. It is the reason I’m here, with you, and an obligation to a young woman named Wilhelmina to make the best life I can.