Aaron’s middle brother and his fiancée Lauren come over for Christmas dinner. When pressed as to whether or not they will go to TJ to meet Eunice and the kids, Lauren looks at Conrad as if he is completely insane.
“That’s not happening, never, not even if you get married.”
Lauren’s parents are in town, visiting for the holidays from Manhattan. She makes me a martini with two fat olives on a toothpick.
“It’s what all the bluebloods drink,” Lauren tells me in a way to stress that I am not of that lineage.
Lauren hates Conrad. She won’t even allow her parents to meet him. “If they ever met him, they would insist Jesse and I call off our engagement.”
I wish she would lighten up.
When they leave, I tell Aaron that I will go to Mexico to meet his new family.
“Anything to make Lauren look bad,” he says.
He’s probably right. I am only going because I want to prove that I am not as uptight as she is.
“I hate how she treats your dad!” I tell him.
“You are just as terrible to him.”
“I am not.”
“A few hours ago, you told him you were going to kill him because he was drinking wine out of one of your crystal glasses. You asked him to drink out of a red plastic cup!”
“He’s clumsy! Those goblets aren’t cheap!”
I can be a little mean. There was a time in my life that I detested Conrad. I thought he was completely insane. I can remember having a full-on panic attack over the prospect of my family meeting him. But I have gotten over it.
Nearly eight months later, we cross the border.
We almost didn’t make it down to Mexico. On Thursday evening, Conrad frantically explained that Eunice had been incarcerated for the last two days. Her offense? Driving his car with U.S. plates to drop her children off at school. They wanted over $1000 to get her out. Conrad wasn’t about to play the role of the American idiot. He left her there for two days, until they agreed to accept $500. She shared a cell with five men. The fact that she is still speaking to him might be proof of their true love. Sadly, Conrad lost his shiny convertible to the federales.
When we arrive — we being my husband, his two younger brothers, the kids, and I — Eunice has only been out of the slammer for a total of three hours. Her children are following her everywhere she goes.
Eunice is pretty; she has a wide nose and nice smile. She is short and robust. She wears a beautiful floral dress that she made herself. Her hair is curled, and it rests just above her shoulders. She laughs constantly, and her gentle kindness eases everyone around her. I like her immediately. We go to a nearby park and watch the kids and Conrad play soccer. He chases them around the park; Eunice laughs so loud that it echoes. She adores him, I am convinced of that. Her children are just as enamored. I am happy that he appears to be so fully loved.
For lunch Eunice makes homemade empanadas with rice and beans. She teaches me how to fold the carne asada and pork delicately into the dough before placing them into the oil. Her English is much better than my Spanish. She has learned quickly and speaks with ease. While setting the table, Conrad asks, “Donde la spoons?”
She laughs, “Do you hear his Spanglish?”
Eunice has a factory in their garage. She is making aprons featuring the thickly eyebrowed artist Frida Kahlo, and others showing Día de los Muertos scenes, the November 1 holiday when deceased loved ones are prayed for and remembered. Tulle ruffles and cute bows adorn the aprons. An American woman pays Eunice $6 per apron. The woman sells them wholesale to vendors for $15–$20, who then sell them at places like Little Italy’s farmers’ market for around $40. Eunice has hired two chicas to help with the labor. She wants me to go into business with her. She wants to make the uniforms for my children’s school. I try to explain that we already have an online company to order from, but it is lost in translation, and she is now eagerly awaiting the outcome of my negotiations with the school board.
On Saturday afternoon, we pile into the car they are borrowing from the church (since a federale now has Conrad’s PT Cruiser). We head to La Roca Orphanage, where Conrad and Eunice often help out. It is Eunice’s son David’s fifth birthday. We are taking a large cake to the orphanage to celebrate. On the way we stop for a piñata. Across the street is a caged tiger hitched to a truck. He is pacing back and forth in his cage and looks menacing. I make the mistake of pointing the tiger out to the kids. Amelia is terrified. She clutches my leg. “Is it going to get out?” Her eyes are wide.
Behind the tiger is a small clown car with speakers blaring something about the circus in español.
“My mom doesn’t let us go to the circus because of the way they treat the animals,” my nine-year-old tells Alonso, Eunice’s eight-year-old. “Circuses are evil.”
The boy shrugs. No comprende.
La Roca Orphanage is located at the tip of a hill near Avenida Revolución. It is a gated house with a large secure lock. When Eunice rings the bell, a group of children rush outside onto the concrete patio. A woman with a jangle of keys opens the gate. We are ushered in. The children flock to Eunice. A small child, no older than two, hugs my leg. Inside it is sparse; the decorations remind me of my grandparents’ apartment in the Bronx, tidy and 1970s inspired. On a large couch four teenaged girls are talking amongst themselves. They peer up at us suspiciously.