Marie’s eyes drifted into the horizon, the pink and glowing orange rays before twilight. Her cherry lips bearing the smile of joy and enjoying her thoughts as she gazed towards me. Staying quietly, allowing me to contemplate and assimilate what we had just share. I just sat and said nothing, leaning back on the leather seats of her Mercedes as she drove down the hill on El Indio Highway.
Then all off sudden screeching along the Indio Highway in its back and the airbags already deflating, and smoke was rising from the dashboard. Windshield glass shattered everywhere. Struggling to take off the seatbelt that had already tugged into my skin. I pulled myself up. My muscles and joints and organs felt like they been crumbled and smashed. Then sirens… help… I fainted. The next day, when I woke up in the hospital my hands trembled, and my heart was racing wildly. Dr. Garza carefully explained what had happened to Marie. I was angry and at the same time not believing what had just happened.
Reminiscing on some old memories as I walked to Piedras Negras, Mexico from Eagle Pass, Texas. The International Bridge stretches from Eagle Pass to Mexico. Over the Rio Grande River. Every week I would make a trip walking over this bridge to Piedras Negras to purchase some groceries, corn tortillas freshly made, sometimes I would get a haircut, and then buy corn on the cob with chili.
Today, I looked down from the bridge pressing my face on the chain linked fence and remembering Marie. The Kickapoo Indian girl who was more than a friend living under the bridge in the early ’60s in a wickiup hut made of bamboo. Sometimes, the Rio Grande River would overflow during rainy season washing down dozens of shelters including her home. You could see from above the bridge all types of debris of buildings, the carcass of dead cows, sticks and milk jugs flowing in the rapid currents of the Rio Grande River during these floods.
When I was nine years old, I loved riding my bicycle down a rough, twisted path full of potholes to the village of the Kickapoo tribe. Feeling afraid of her family and of the unknown, I would conquer those feelings and made my way down to see her. Marie, the American name she was known by in school. I remember her braiding strings and making crucifixes for me to wear. She was my girlfriend whom I loved dearly. During the school lunch hour, Marie and I would walk to the end of the playground and sit with our backs against the chain link fence. Feeling the breezy wild winds of Eagle Pass in our faces. We shared our lunch, I always had the same typical meal: flour tortilla tacos with potatoes and scrambled eggs or potatoes and beans, and she had dried beef jerky.
After five decades, I decided to look for a long-lost friend. After searching for Marie on Facebook, I decided to visit Eagle Pass, Texas. My hometown is about seventeen-hundred miles from Fresno California. As I made up my way up the age-old steep stairs of the Will C. Miller Memorial Library in Eagle Pass, I wonder what I would say if I see her again. Then all a sudden I felt a rush of blood to my head. Pushing the heavy door open of the library: a beautiful young lady asked,
“Can I help you, sir.” She greeted me with a smile, and I knew there, and then it was going to be a good day.
Yes, “I am trying to locate a friend that I lost contact fifty-three years ago, I do not know if she attended high school in Eagle Pass.”
The Librarian smiling, said, “you can check the reference materials: school yearbooks, databases, microfiche, or other archives, but they are not permitted to leave the premises.”
After looking through the junior yearbook and finding only some small pictures that resemble her but was not sure, I decided to check out the senior catalog. Anxiety and nervousness were beginning to emerge, my hands were getting clammy and perspiration dripping on to the pages I read. Finally, I filled out another form and requested the 1962 yearbook. The librarian walks away and brings a hefty dirty book. Again, I inspected page by page looking for her with no success.
Driving back from the library I decided to take the old cursing street named Main Street. Made a quick stop at the H.E.B. Market, the market had been reconstructed but still in the same location I visited forty years ago, I walked down the produce section and recognized the produce clerk from the 1962-yearbook. He was trimming and stacking head lettuce methodically on the wet rack. Trying not to make it visible I glanced at his red name badge. His name was Juan, but I was embarrassed to ask him questions.
He smiled, “finding everything ok sir.”
Yes, “thank you.”
He eyeballs me as if he had recognized who I was. I continue walking, and for some reason or other, I turned back. At the same time, he was walking towards me.
“El Gato” yes.
Our nicknames, me “El Gato” because of my green eyes. Juan La Tortuga, super slow in everything he did.
We embraced with a tight hug padding on each other’s back. Like everything is ok my friend. Immediately, the connection was made between us. Tears and smiles of happiness illuminated our lives.
Customer. “Excuse me, sir, where is the Bumble Bee Tuna located?”
Juan responded, “Follow me, and I will show you where the tuna is located.”
While Juan walked away, I wondered if he remembered my name. A price checked was called over the store intercom.
“I need a price check on Okra, register #4 please!”
With so many disruptions I was unable to visit Juan at work. Juan and I met after work for a short visit. He asked all the questions, and I responded. Profoundly respecting our friendship and welcoming it with joy. The experience of intimacy was deeply cherished after forty-five years. Juan shared his new promotion as a produce department head and how much more he was going to make. Not much about his family just that he had children in elementary. Therefore, I assume that he had been divorced and remarried.
“Life in Eagle Pass has changed since you lived here, Raul” stated Juan. “The Kickapoo Indians were given rights to build a Casino named Lucky Casino several years ago, Lucky is on top of the Old Seven Hills on El Indio Highway just as you pass the dangerous crossing intersections where many people have lost their lives.”
“What became of the Kickapoo families leaving under the bridge?”
“They tried to maintain the tradition, but everyone was relocated.”
“Do you remember Marie?
“Yes, she is a member of the board of directors and currently chief of operation at the Casino. Close to your old place.”
“That is just five minutes from where I was raised.”
“Ok, Juan is time to go let’s try to meet the following week again.”
“No problem Raul, you have my phone number drop me a text.”
It was the second Saturday of December in freezing temperatures when I decided to visit the Casino. Everything looked so familiar, as I drove down the Indio Highway. Not many changes since I left Eagle Pass. When I passed the old Adobe home where I was born and raised, I parked across the street. Some changes had been done to the landscape, but the sizeable fat, tall telephone pole that my friends and I climbed was still there next to the corner of the front lot.
Heading towards the Casino, I almost got hit on the crossing intersection. I was not paying attention to the road. Instead, I was overtaken by the beautiful two-story homes built close to the Casino. As soon as I drove into the parking lot, I knew that the California casinos were not to the caliper of the Kickapoo Lucky Casino. Everything was marble and walking on the red carpet felt like walking on marshmallows on the beach. Just as you entered the casino to the right six humongous pictures of the tribal leaders of the Kickapoo Lucky Casino were hanging. One magnetized my attention. A photo of Harriet Buffalo. A beautiful lady, with almond looking eyes and high cheekbones that resembled Marie. After many attempts, I was finally able to see Harriet. Just as I walked in, she welcomes me with professionalism.
“How can I help sir?”
“Is ok if I call you Marie.” She stared at me with an inquiring mind.
“Excuse me, could you repeat that.”
“Yes, I brought tacos to exchange for jerky.”
“She shrieked with excitement towards me. “
“Is you Raul! oh my God.”
For a moment, it was total silence as we hugged and held each other tight.
So, “Marie from now on you want to be called Harriet.”
No, “Raul I will always be your Marie.”
Marie and I decided to have dinner at the Casa De Oro inside the Casino.
The waiter walks over to take our order.
“Ms. Harriet what would you like to order.”
Oh! “Bring me the usual.
Sir, “What would you like to order.”
“Two tacos with beans and rice is ok.”
Marie and I continue conversing about the good old times and remembering the 60’s.
Meantime, under the table, my leg was nervously twitching. At the same time, I wonder what was the usual that Marie order. The steaming hot food is placed on our table. Surprisingly, Marie’s plate consisted of potatoes and eggs accompanied with flour tortillas. She reached over and squeezed my hands tightly.
“You know Raul, is been years of hope and prayers that this day would come.”
“I know we have to depart, but only for tonight and tomorrow at dusk, I will take you to see my house.”
Almost three weeks have gone by, I don’t feel like eating or even taking a bath. If I had just stayed in California. A traffic collision had changed everything. Just as things were getting better everything is now a memory. Instead of bringing a bouquet of flowers to a special friend I am calling to order flowers for a resting place. Waiting for the dialing on my phone screen, and I don’t know what to say.
“Flowers in a Basket, can I help you?”
“I like a bunch of flowers.”
“Oh! A bouquet of flowers.”
“What is the occasion, Sir?”
“A loved one has passed.”
Standing in front of her grave site I placed the flowers. My Friend Marie, I am so sorry I was not able to help you. Sitting on the ground pressing my palms to the new green mat of grass and taking a deep breath of air. As I stood up, I felt the presence of someone else. It was my friend, Juan.
“I am so sorry, he cramped and cried.”
“She was ejected from the car upon impact.”
“My friend bent down and placed a bouquet of flowers on her grave.”
“It was me who hit her car on the crossing intersection, after delivering a load of produce to the casino.”
He had no idea that I was also in the car that day. I understand Juan, it was an accident. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a braided crucifix she had given me that night. Placing it on her resting place.