When I was sixteen a cop sat me down and asked me what a decent young man like me was doing out past curfew with a bunch of hooligans. I looked at him silently, but I thought to myself “Your rules stopped having meaning a long time ago.”
He didn’t understand. Why would he, I was just starting to understand it myself. There were rules and regulations in this place that had to be enforced. No exceptions.
My mother drove me home that night, lecturing me on the way as mothers are obligated to. Although her English was improving, she still struggled to convey what she wanted to say; her words were too sharp, too rough. When we arrived I was greeted by my father’s old armchair. The void of his presence sat heavy on its tattered cushion. My mother still refused to get rid of it, even though no one would dare use it. She used to tell me how proud my father was to have it. It was the first piece of furniture that he had bought with the money he made here in the States. The first thing he felt any sense of ownership of.
She told me a lot of things he said. It was a necessity, as his English was poorer than my mother’s. He only knew enough to get him to another part of town that spoke Spanish. He’d work any job he could find, but you could tell by the constant flicker in his eyes that he his mind was sharper than that of any laborer. My mother would constantly become frustrated when trying to translate the words of my father’s lectures. She didn’t know the English equivalents for them. I suspect that at times what he said was beyond her in the first place.
He’d been a doctor in his home country. He was nearly done with his degree when my grandfather had fallen ill. My grandfather had also been a doctor, but he spent more effort looking after the people in his village than himself. My father urged him to take care of himself, but my grandfather always insisted that it was God’s will that he look after the poor people of the village. My father came back home when my grandfather finally became too sick to work. He did his best, but my grandfather was too old and too worn to recover. That year my father dropped out of school to take care of those in the village who needed him. He’d intended to go back eventually, but he’d just become a father, and with talk of revolution in the air, he’d decided that his home was not the place to raise a son.
He’d escaped to the States, but as far as anybody here was concerned, he was undocumented, unschooled, and not fit for more than crude labor. My mother told me that he was hot-tempered in those days, increasingly frustrated with the loops he’d have to jump. He must have given up by the time I was old enough to remember him: he’d also been cool and resolved with me, even when my mother wasn’t. Sometimes, however, I’d see that fire ignite in his eyes. He’d come home with a bottle of fine liquor when he could afford it, and often indulge a bit too much. Then he would ramble on about all the exciting things he’d learned from a cassette he’d borrowed from the library, or a scientific journal he’d found from the few websites that offered them in Spanish. He would speak in feverish Spanish, almost forgetting I was there. Then he’d suddenly come back from his clouds of thought and attempt to explain it to me in his broken English, which was when my mother would finally whisk me off to bed. I’d glance down at him as my mother dragged me up the stairs, and he’d give me a smile, the liquor in him causing him to betray a bit of sadness in the corners of his mouth.
I thought of that smile as I head up to bed that night. The air around his armchair became cold and heavy without it. The night, I was kept up by the memory of when they took him away.
There was a car accident on Belmont Avenue that night. He was getting a car ride from a friend, they were out late, celebrating the job they had completed. A drunk hit their vehicle on the driver’s side. My father dragged his friend out of the car, but he was already dead. He turned his attention to the only other person alive, the driver of the other vehicle. He managed to splint the man’s legs and fashion rudimentary bandages from his own jacket and t-shirt.
The police arrived half an hour later, and hung around the hospital while everyone was recovering. We had no health insurance so there wasn’t much the doctors there could do. My father managed to treat his own wounds regardless.
When the police questioned the two, the driver of the other car remembered nothing, and my father didn’t have the English skills to explain what happened. At the time there were no Spanish speaking cops in the precinct, and my father had no one to call; we had no phone line at the time. He was given an unenthusiastic lawyer to help work out the legal papers, but they soon found out that my father had no documents of any form. It took a month for them to work out all the bureaucratic crap, but in the end, despite some small efforts and petitions from the neighborhood, it was finally decided that my father would have to leave the country. My mother would stay, simply because I was a citizen, and somebody had to take care of me. Some of my neighbors later told me that they didn’t even know where he was from, so they simply dumped him into Mexico.
On his final night here, my weeping mother escorting him to the door, where he was lead away by two stone-faced policemen. He smiled the same sad smile he used to give me before bed.
I woke up in the middle of the night with those words ringing in my ears. I snuck downstairs and to my surprise found my mother, sitting in my father’s armrest. She was holding a letter from my father she received a few years ago. It simply read: “I’ll be home soon.”