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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.

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Comments

bajajulio Nov. 23, 2010 @ 7:43 p.m.

Great Story. I live in TJ. Will look up "La Roca" and see what I can donate. TJ & Mexico has much to offer. Do visit. Crime and violence is also widely prevelent in the USA as well as MX. This should not keep you from living your dreams.

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monaghan Nov. 26, 2010 @ 10:56 a.m.

Siobhan is quite the writer.

Every other sentence carries the possibility of a hideous occurrence that never materializes and repressed dark feelings. We're not sure if the guy with tattoos on his face is a member of the Salva Trucha or if the family actually got lice. The message for Bajajulio is about "living your dreams." For me, well, it's open-ended, but it feels as ominous as it does larky.

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David Dodd Nov. 26, 2010 @ 12:31 p.m.

Craig's List, Tijuana, Singles Party, and "In-Love"...

All you need to add is lice and transgendered prostitutes. And of course, two days in jail for a traffic infraction. Because what Tijuana story doesn't include two days in jail and a $1,000 dollar fine? I must be the luckiest man on Earth, and certainly the luckiest person in Mexico. In almost two decades here, I've never had lice, have gotten out of several infractions with a twenty-dollar bill tucked neatly underneath my identification, managed to raise three children without having to rely on a Craig's List Singles Party, and have been lucky enough to have never been accosted by wiener-gifted chicks in short skirts.

And my advice, take it or leave it, is to avoid people with tattoos on their faces, I can't recall anything good coming from anyone that didn't have the good sense to politely decline the invitation to permanently write on a portion of their skin that cannot be easily covered up during a job interview. But you know, that's just me. Everyone else's mileage may vary.

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Fulano de Tal Nov. 28, 2010 @ 2:11 p.m.

What is the point of telling us your personal experiences, as if what happened to you is somehow representative of the entire population of visitors to Tijuana?

If you took 5 bullets out of a 6-shot revolver, spun the cylinder, pointed it at your head, pulled the trigger and the gun did not fire, would you believe you are justified in telling everyone that playing Russian Roulette is perfectly safe?

Are you trying to deny that Eunice did not spend 2 days in jail for what is a simple moving violation, even in Mexico? Are you trying to deny that Conrad's car is not in the hands of some Mexican cop?

You admit to bribing Mexican police with $20 bills, which is a felony in Mexico. Why don't you also admit that you do not speak for everyone else?

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SurfPuppy619 Jan. 15, 2011 @ 7:46 a.m.

and have been lucky enough to have never been accosted by wiener-gifted chicks in short skirts.

refriedgringo = +1

VERY FUNNY!

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SurfPuppy619 Jan. 15, 2011 @ 7:44 a.m.

Siobhan is quite the writer.

============ She sure is!

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nan shartel Nov. 26, 2010 @ 6:46 p.m.

i perceive this as satire...and ur trying out ur script for an "in poor taste" Saturday Night Live skit

next week u can put up a sweet and sour rants when some other unloved family member falls in love with a Muslim

and discuss how much fun it is to be fully enveloped and sweating in a 100% Egyptian cotton burka in 100+ degree summers and learning to make falafels with ones eyes peering thru a cloth cage

u will of course quickly learn Farsi...and find the beauty in poems by Rumi reading them in the original Persian

if this isn't a "tongue in cheek" piece shame on u

JMO

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Silvergate1 Nov. 28, 2010 @ 1:55 p.m.

Great story about Tijuana that the average person never knows about. OK, you mention that Eunice is still married. Where is her husband and how does he fit into this scene? Keep up the great work!

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artful1 Dec. 1, 2010 @ 1:43 p.m.

Siobhan, Excellent writing,honest,touching,human.Your style totally engaged me and the people I turned the article on to, several being Mexican nationals...and in response to a few above comments that felt that you were slamming Mexico, go back and read the story, perhaps you have missed something (like your heart? brain?) because I so get the car being taken away scenario, it happens all the time down here, you just can't let nationals drive your car with U.S.plates. Also "got" the lice thing and had to chuckle as I and my children have had the same experience of passing that hat around with smiling giggling children. I loved the story. It should be a movie. Best wishes and more power to You, Conrad, Eunice and your families. From a gringa who lives in Baja

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Kathryneileen Dec. 3, 2010 @ 7:37 p.m.

I loved how the author's attitude towards this man changed and became much more compassionate and understanding. Who could blame him for living in TJ? May he find the love he needs.

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SurfPuppy619 Jan. 14, 2011 @ 8:48 a.m.

Twenty years later, he is an alcoholic and drug user, they have a passle of kids, and they have to live with his mother because he doesn't work.

20%+ of CA is unemployed or under employed.

Employment is not entirely in the control of the one who is looking for work. Drug problems won't help.

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SurfPuppy619 Jan. 15, 2011 @ 7:50 a.m.

The point is, Eunice may one day see Conrad as the rest of us do--when she gets her head out of the clouds.

Except the writer also had your view>> in the begining. As the story unfolded she changed her view and really came to admire Conrad.

I was expecting this to turn out really bad at the end, like Eunice played Conrad like a cheap fiddle, but that was not the case...... in any event it was interesting-gave a multi dimiensional look to the people which I did enjoy.

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