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Confusion

September 29, 2002
  • Chapter 1
Chapter 1

CONFUSION
Enrique is bewildered. Who will take care of him now that his mother is gone? For two years, he is entrusted to his father, Luis, from whom his mother had been separated for three years.

Enrique clings to his daddy, who dotes on him. A bricklayer, his father takes Enrique to work and lets him help mix mortar. They live with Enrique's grandmother. His father shares a bed with him and brings him apples and clothes. Every month, Enrique misses his mother less, but he does not forget her.

"When is she coming for me?" he says.

Lourdes crosses into the United States in one of the largest immigrant waves in the country's history. She enters through a rat-infested Tijuana sewage tunnel and makes her way to Los Angeles. She moves in with a Beverly Hills couple to take care of their 3-year-old daughter. Every morning as the couple leave for work, the little girl cries for her mother. Lourdes feeds her breakfast and thinks of Enrique and Belky. "I'm giving this girl food," she says to herself, "instead of feeding my own children." After seven months, she cannot take it. She quits and moves to a friend's place in Long Beach.

Boxes arrive in Tegucigalpa bearing clothes, shoes, toy cars, a Robocop doll, a television. Lourdes writes: Do they like the things she is sending? She tells Enrique to behave, to study hard. She has hopes for him: graduation from high school, a white-collar job, maybe as an engineer. She says she loves him.

She will be home soon, his grandmother says.

But his mother does not come. Her disappearance is incomprehensible. Enrique's bewilderment turns to confusion and then to adolescent anger.

When Enrique is 7, his father brings home a woman. To her, Enrique is an economic burden. One morning, she spills hot cocoa and burns him. His father throws her out. But their separation is brief. Enrique's father bathes, dresses, splashes on cologne and follows her. Enrique tags along and begs to stay with him. But his father tells him to go back to his grandmother.

His father begins a new family. Enrique sees him rarely, usually by chance. "He doesn't love me," he tells Belky. "I don't have a dad."

For Belky, their mother's disappearance is just as distressing. She lives with Aunt Rosa Amalia, one of her mother's sisters. On Mother's Day, Belky struggles through a celebration at school. That night she cries quietly, alone in her room. Then she scolds herself. She should thank her mother for leaving; without the money she sends for books and uniforms, Belky could not even attend school. She commiserates with a friend whose mother has also left. They console each other. They know a girl whose mother died of a heart attack. At least, they say, ours are alive.

But Rosa Amalia thinks the separation has caused deep emotional problems. To her, it seems that Belky struggles with an unavoidable question: How can I be worth something if my mother left me?


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