Editor’s note: This is a creative piece. The views in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of the 14 East editorial staff.
I’m awoken in my bedroom by the downstairs speaker blast of my stepdad playing “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” at four in the morning. I cheer my mother up with her favorite songs about sunshine as we get in the car and pull into the streetlight pre-dawn freeway. She wipes her nose to the sounds of Stevie Wonder bathing his baby on “Isn’t She Lovely.” Soon, she’s overpowering my voice as we sing “Secreto De Amor”, my tequila jukebox song. We’re lit white by phone screens and dashboard controls, all free people for a moment. She eats apple slices and drinks too much water.
The Brown kid with the cheek-mole serves me breakfast. They blast classical in the McDonald’s bathroom. We drive past a rusting taco truck. The beanie man from Zimbabwe hands my stepdad his parking garage ticket. We eat our Sausage McMuffins in the car as we watch the beanie man talk to more paisas in SUVs. “La Migra!” My stepdad laughs as a cop car sirens by.
Second floor, cement ceiling, we sit amongst the Brown and nervous and watch twin blonde newscasters gesture at national weather. Her two pale lawyers shuffle Manila folders, look at us three and say, “hola, hola… hi, how are you?” to me, and I want to say, “Speak to me how you speak to her.” They say I must stay in the waiting room. I hold my piss in, so as not to be missing when “K8” is called, and they stand to enter the courtroom. “K16.” “K18.” Miss Manila assures that the order of the cases is random, but I worry we’ll be sitting here for another twenty seven years, checking e-mails and dreaming of los cantos de un cenzontle. Then it’s called. We stand. I hug my stepfather, my mother marches without looking back, and I’m proud. I hum “Isn’t She Lovely,” and remember my mother’s downturned walk towards the building, how she stared blank like a wise baby about to start its life.
With the pregnant Chinese women, African husbands, Chilean sisters and Swedish strollers, I feel as though this is America, nowhere else but this wide waiting room — legs shaking, eyes shifting, all fearing possible arrest for speaking some foreign — we do not know how powerful we are, so resonant in our hearts this harmony of a thousand tongues. It’s loud now, it’s packed in here, laughter, tears, security guards’ eyes are shiftier, I cannot see my mother, but I hear our language, and every time that door opens, I turn with eyes like 27-year-old incandescent bubbles, ready to pop and rain into Mexican plane ticket reality. My hands drum on the plastic seats the crescendo of “Isn’t She Lovely.”
The lawyers walk out, then my stepdad, then my mom, all hard-faced. I join them, in the middle of their conversation of paper technicalities, but I hear “cuatro meses mas.” Four more months. We’ll get a letter in the mail. We are quiet, back to bumping into strangers as we walk off the escalators, back to bright grey skies revealing nothing, to suspicious Brown men in hoodies outside the building, to teeth chattering by the car while stepdad gets the valet. Mother’s voice cracks, shoved into the back of a filing cabinet again — “four more months.” Stepdad honks into four-way intersection traffic. The road clears, we advance, then brake into a six-way traffic jam. Back to colorful diner menus at the Hollywood Grill, where James Dean and Jane Russell on the wall laugh at our questions responded to with questions, infants waddle with ketchup on their shirts, my aunties pour sugar into coffee, chilaquiles and cheeseburgers, and laugh at nothing except seeing the dark of our faces and hearing the song of our language.
Header image by Natalie Wade, 14 East