September 20, 1985
Life had more meaning after I had seen so many people lose their own lives in the blink of an eye. I remembered what I had watched in tv the day before. It was unbelievable. After seeing so many houses fall apart in seconds in one of the most famous cities of Mexico I wondered about how my life once had been so glorious and the different moments I had enjoyed throughout my lifetime. I had to continue my life and go to the United States. My husband walked me all the way to the bridge. We crossed an old bridge that had stood for many years before us. It united two cities that were continually trying to stay together. The people that lived in both cities were always connected. They even had a celebration for the union they had. Today, it was no different because we shared the same sadness.
There was a time in which I realized that nothing was going to change anymore. That with time all the occurring events either made by humans or nature only wounded up hurting lives, but I should live my last days on this Earth feeling grateful that I still had the love of my life by my side. But in an unexpected moment it hit me that life was not stationary to everyone else. I remember in those days that my husband not only dropped me off in front of the bridge, he would walk me all the way to the place where I paid 25 cents to cross the bridge. It had changed so much over time. This same day there was a silence that surrounded all of us.
I remember the long line waiting to cross the bridge. The officer was talking with a young lady. I knew the officer. I had seen him before. His name was Rodriguez. He seemed tired and probably was going to be out in a couple of minutes. Officers started to be slower and more careful once their time was almost over. Usually at 8 am officers will change and those who came in fresh after a long night of sleep From afar I noticed this young lady with a huge backpack. Perhaps it was because of the time, but she looked reckless and distracted walking. She tried her very best to smile to the officer as she rapidly left the building.
While I was crossing the bridge I realized that even though this young lady had ran, the bus had left her behind. It seemed like she had somewhere important to go to. She then walked slowly and she was barely able to breathe. She seemed tired, and disappointed as she realized that she had to wait almost 30 minutes for the next bus, then she sat beside me. I don’t understand why she did not walk this way to school. I knew that the bridge was really far from Brownsville’s downtown, but she was young and had the energy to walk long distances. Not like me, an old lady who could barely walk the bridge with some help.
The first time I saw her, we were in a small bus stop, one of those crowded places with no place to sit. There were different people waiting. I used to see Lupita, who crossed every day to bring her child to the elementary school that was near the bus station. Her kid was really spoiled and would scream at his mom whenever he did get what he wanted. I did not understand how his mother let him behave in that way. I also saw Alvaro, who used to work at the bank near the city counseling. He kept looking at his watch making sure he would be at work on time. He would dress nicely everyday and carried a lunch bag by his side. Somehow the young lady in a hurry was no different from everyone else in that bus stop. She was living a life divided by two countries who separated hopes and dreams for a better future. Her behavior changed as soon as she crossed the border. She seemed more confident in a way that I had seen before. People felt in a way more safe as they crossed the bridge.
The young lady turned around and looked at me while she said, “The line was quite long, right?”
“Yes, it was quite long,” I responded, trying my best to be polite.
At first, I thought she needed money. There were two taxis that overcharged their rides to students or workers who had missed the bus. I thought that the girl was being friendly because she wanted to share a taxi to pay a little less.
“I just hope the next bus comes back in less than 30 minutes”, she told me. I could tell she was trying to make a little small talk.
She probably thought that I would ask her why, but I did not. I just smiled at her. And then out of nowhere, she told me:
“I am Elizabeth, by the way,” and tried to shake my hand.
I kept thinking, Why would someone at her age try to make friends with someone like me? My grandsons were the only young people who I had a connection, and most of the time they were listening to music or going out with their friends. They didn't want to spend time with an old lady like me.
I tried to give my best smile to that stranger and told her, “I am Martha. Nice to meet you.”
“ Nice to meet you Martha. I haven’t seen you in the bridge at these hours.”
“No I usually don’t come at this time. There is too much sun. But this is the only time that my grandson could pick me up.”
“I understand. I would like to have a ride once in a while.”
I smiled at her and it felt like we had at least something in common. After that, the conversation started to flow easier. Elizabeth was an American citizen, but it was her first year studying in the United States. She seemed like she was struggling, but she was too proud to say it. I think it was normal. People usually don’t want to share their problems. Elizabeth had told me about her mother whose story was similar to mine: an American citizen, but one who never spoke or understood English. She did not need to because she lived in Mexico with her Mexican husband. My husband was an American citizen, but I never had the need to speak English with him. He learned Spanish just to be able to speak with me. Elizabeth's father was a Mexican citizen, which made it difficult for her family to come and live here.
Elizabeth was a small young lady, who was always running to class. When I first saw her, I thought Elizabeth was like every girl her age. With time many customs changed and nowadays girls ran from their house to the car of any young man as soon as they honked outside of their door. There is so much I do not understand about young people. They start living together without getting married. That was almost prohibited when I was younger. My husband and I were different from the young people from this time. We got married while we were young. We did not waited to be in our 30s to live our life together. Nowadays, many believe that you need to live your life before you get married but when I was young you started to live your life as soon as you got married. When I met Elizabeth, I realized that not everyone of her age was like that. She was still living a life divided by two countries who separated hopes and dreams for a better future, but her behavior changed as soon as she crossed the border. She seemed more confident in a way that I had seen before. People felt in a way more save as they crossed the bridge.
March 15, 1987
I used to see her once in a while when my grandson had to work during the afternoon. There was one time in which we actually offered her a ride, but she was really shy and did not want to accept it. I thought that it would be a great moment to make my grandson meet her. I actually thought they would work as a couple. He was almost 7 years older than her. But I think that would work anyway. That was almost the age difference between me and my husband Richard.
Usually while I waited for my grandson we would speak
“Where are you from, Martha?” Elizabeth asked me once.
“Well, dear, I am from the Valley,” I told her.
“But from where exactly? From Brownsville? Or McAllen? Where?”
“I was born in Brownsville and I got married very young, just like anyone at my time. My husband and I moved several times. We lived in the United States for a while because my husband worked for Armour & Company. It was far away from the city. When the United States got involved in World War II, I forced Richard to quit his job and move with the children and me to Mexico. The important thing was always being together. It didn't matter where we were but that we would be together.”
“You really lived in Matamoros? Where exactly?” she asked me, with the excitement of finding an old relative.
“Well, one of my uncles lived there and let us stay at his ranch for a while. My husband worked as a butcher and learned more about animals. We returned to Brownsville after the Cold War and he had to find a new job. Sadly, Armour & Co. had to close after the war. Richard found new ways to provide for our family.”
“And why did you come back to Matamoros? I always see you crossing from there. Do you live there?” She asked me with concern.
“When we grew older, we moved to Mexico once again to have cheaper medical assistance. We had to go to rehabilitation therapy almost every day, and our grandson was not able to take us to Mexico daily.”
“Why do you come to Brownsville? Are you here shopping?”
“My mother lives here in Brownsville. She never left this place, she was too scared about the wars in the world. I have to visit her at least once a week in the Nurse Home where she is staying.”
“I see. I am happy that you still have your mother with you.”
“Yes, it is nice,” I told her. But what she did not know was that my mother used to forget that I was her child and believed that I was Tana, her old friend who had died almost five years ago. She even believed that my father was still alive. The most uncomfortable thing was that she talked about my father as if he was waiting for her. I would never tell any of this to Elizabeth, though. She was so young and naive to believe that having my mom was a blessing.
February 18, 1990
February 18, 1990
I saw the young girl once again. She was still very thin. She appreciated people with experiences like me. She listened to everything I said with the attention that I never received from my grandsons. I listened to her in the same way.
“How are you, Elizabeth?” I asked.
“Well, I am really good. I graduated last December. I have already started working in one of the high schools in the local district,” she explained.
I told her, “I am so happy for you, my dear, you see that every effort has its own reward.” It was hard to imagine that this was the same young girl who had struggled to take the required test to get into college.
February 20, 1990
I remember Elizabeth told me that she had passed the math test on the first try. It was understood that math in Mexico was advanced. Elizabeth was never able to pass any writing or reading tests. It was not that her comprehension was not at the level of college requirements, but it was the fact that her understanding of a new language was incomplete. I felt sorry for her in those times. I even asked my grandson Joe if this was a hard test. He told me that a lot of students from Mexico struggle, but they succeed with time. I had faith in her.
When I saw her once again, her personality seemed completely different too. She explained to me that she had taken as many courses as she could take. In her first semester, they barely let her take algebra with the test that she had passed. She had tried her best to pass any remedial courses that were available for her. Elizabeth never realized that she lost almost 2 years of her education taking remedial classes that simply told her how to write a proper sentence. She knew how to write a proper sentence, but the poor knowledge of this new language made her look incompetent. With time, she took several classes that taught her the basic structure of grammar. She had continued her education taking classes for her major. In the end, she chose biology because everything else seemed too hard. She got her associates degree and focused on passing classes that represented everything that she did not understand about this country.
When Elizabeth transferred to a university, she realized that classes were way more expensive. Also, teachers made subjects harder than it seemed they needed to be. People were only running around from class to class. She started to feel too old because she had spent four complete years in college for a single and simple degree that took 2 years for the rest. Her friends who had been with her in high school were graduating already and she was in the middle of her career. With time her own values of education changed. In Mexico, if someone was too old it was almost impossible to come back to college. Those who did not enter college during the first 2 years after graduating from high school ended up never getting a bachelor’s degree. However, in the United States, everyone was able to come to school, like my friend Gina, a lady from rehabilitation, who was taking classes on campus. Classes were during the whole day and she could create a schedule that helped her needs. However, Elizabeth still felt old. She was not part of the young group that came for the first time to the university. Neither was she from the group who had come back to study after their retirement or looking for a better possibility. She felt stuck in the United States’ educational system that still seemed too hard to understand.
Regardless of all her troubles, Elizabeth worked her hardest to succeed. She could pass all her classes and she was working on her master. I was proud of her, and I hoped her grandmother was as proud of her as I was feeling now.
February 18, 1992
I woke up like any other day. There was just an empty silence in my house. I was now a single woman living alone. Since Richard had left me I simply didn't felt like cooking. It was depressing to cook just for myself. I would then take a taxi to the bridge and cross it slowly. My grandson would usually offer to come all the way to Matamoros to pick me up. But I felt like it would be good to move on my own while I still can. I crossed the bridge slowly with my walker. I talked with the officer and then would seat in the bus stop waiting for my grandson to pick me up. Sometimes I looked around with hope waiting to see if she was around. And sometimes she was there.
“Where is Richard? I have not seen him in a while,” Elizabeth asked me.
“Well, my dear, he is no longer with us. He had been struggling with his diabetes. He was fine one day and the next he struggled to get up from the bed. He started to lose his sight and hearing. I took care of him for a while, but I had to make a decision.”
I stopped immediately after I had said that, trying my best not to cry in front of her. I could see that her face had changed. She was indeed sad about the news. After a little while, I tried my best to continue talking.
“The doctor had advised me to give him something to make him sleep. My daughters and sons did not want to make the decision for me because I was still his wife. I decided to say goodbye to him and give him one last dream.”
“I am so sorry, Martha. I am truly sorry.” Elizabeth got closer to me and hugged me. It was not a sympathy hug, like everyone else had given me at the funeral, but an actual hug between two people who felt the same sadness and could unite our hearts. Every night, I talked to Richard in my dreams, and I would talk to him about her that night.
I told Elizabeth about my last moments with my husband.
“Before he closed his eyes, I told him, you have enlightened every one of my days and I would be forever grateful. You made me believe in love. I could dream every night because I was sure that you were at my side protecting me. My life was nothing more than extraordinary because you were here in this world at the same time I was here. Thank you. I will always love you.”
When I turned around, I realized that she was crying with me. I had not been able to share that moment with anyone from my family. I described how he closed his eyes, and I knew he was dreaming about the day we met. I explained to her about the events as if there had been a couple of months ago, but it was in fact 3 years from the time I saw his eyes closing.
“Do you think I can visit his grave?” Elizabeth asked me. “I would like to give my respects to him because I was not at the funeral.”
“Of course my dear, I know he will be delighted.”
June 20, 1995
I still wonder if she ever visits him. I once found a couple of roses in front of his grave, but I was not sure if they were from her or a past lover he had had; I prefer to believe they came from the strange girl who had crossed our path several years ago. As I am lying in my bed now, I have a hard time remembering every person I have met, but I will always remember Elizabeth.
As an old lady, I usually have accidents. I was walking in my room in the nursing home and I passed out after I stood up on my own. I do not remember the details, but I do remember opening my eyes in the room of the hospital. They told me that my body was incredibly tired and I needed to rest more. I do not understand what type of expectations they had for a 90-year-old lady. They wanted to make me stay in the hospital until I died, but I refused. My grandson Joe came to visit and to talk to my doctor -- a new doctor. As she entered my room, I realized that it was the young girl from the bridge. Elizabeth looked taller, but I knew it was her even with the uniform. She had become a doctor. A smile appeared on her face as soon as she saw me. She was as glad as I was. She explained to my grandson all the problems that my body had and the options to finish my life in the short term. I would be able to eat whatever I wanted. No one would have the privilege to tell me what to eat. I would be able to stay at home and spend my last moments in my bed that still had the smell of my Richard. However, if my body struggled to send me to Heaven, they would provide the resources to let me go in a dream. I was glad that my dear Elizabeth could take care of me. I could stay calm and I closed my eyes, trying to remember the first time I saw Richard’s eyes.