Mom always knows best. Mom always makes the decisions. When we got my test results, I knew whatever happened next was going to be Mom’s decision, no matter what I said I wanted.
Mom used to play music on Saturday mornings. She said it was so she could clean the house better, but I think it was because she wanted all of us, me and my two brothers, to wake up and help her. She had a giant stereo that used to belong to her mom, and she put the Christian station on the radio. All the songs were in Spanish. I don’t remember the words, but I remember the sound of her chanclas sweeping on the floor while she danced, broom in one hand and pala in the other.
Eventually, she’d come into my room, only mine, so I could help her. I’d ask her if I could at least choose the station. She’d say no.
He was tall. He had dark hair and facial hair growing around his mouth. He was older than me. I always saw him hanging out with some of my friend’s older brothers.
We met at a party. I liked the way he looked leaning against the side of his red Chevy Silverado.
There was a hot breeze that blew dirt through my hair, it wasn’t quite the time of year where the nights were cool. It smelled like gasoline and cigarettes.
I went to the party with Melissa and her boyfriend. The party was at someone’s ranch, in some secluded area with no light and the only sound was the one of us talking and someone was playing a little music from their car. I don’t remember what song it was.
“You should meet Pelos,” Melissa told me.
They called him Pelos because he had a funky haircut. It was short in the front and long in the back, the way you all are wearing them now. It wasn’t as cool back then.
He asked me if I wanted anything to drink. I told him I was fine for now, but he could get me something later. He told me he liked my dress. I told him I liked his truck.
He drove me home that night. He asked if he could have my number. He called me the next morning.
Mom asked me who he was and how I met him. I had had boyfriends before. I actually had a boyfriend at the time who I was planning on breaking up with anyway. But she was still always asking and always listening.
“Quien te hablo?” She asked me.
“A boy from the party.”
“What’s his name?”
“His last name?”
“Serna…” She thought for a second. “I know his dad. He’s friends with your father.”
Mom knew everyone. To be fair, everyone knew everyone. Zapata was a small town with one high school. My classmate’s parents were my parents’ classmates.
“Will we meet him?”
“I don’t know, Ma, I barely met him.”
“What about the other boyfriend you had?”
“What about him?”
“Is he still gonna be calling, too? Does he know about your new friend?”
“My new friend is none of his business.”
My new friend picked me up in his car all the time. We’d cruise. There wasn’t much else to do. Sometimes, he’d turn to me in the passenger seat and sing whatever song was on the radio. He liked cumbias and corridos. He always played my favorite ones when I was with him.
“Amor prohibido, murmuran por las calles,” he’d sing. “Amor prohibido, nos dice todo el mundo.” Selena was my favorite. He always wanted me to sing it with him, but I never wanted to.
When we’d eat together, he paid. My mom used to say that was the least he could do. My dad used to say it was the least I should expect. My favorite place to go was the drive-thru snack shop off the highway. I’d always get flamin’ hots with cheese and a pickle. He always got corn in the cup and a coke. I used to take some of his corn, and he’d get mad. I liked annoying him. His favorite place to take me was the McDonalds. I used to work there for a little bit, so he knew we could get the food for free once the person at the window saw me in the passenger seat.
He was in the academy to be a police officer. I was going to the community college in Laredo to do my basics. I drove the hour to Laredo every day.
I didn’t mind the drive. At the time it was just one long road, only one lane on each side. The monte went on for miles. One semester I had a class at 8 am. At first, I hated having to wake up so early, but eventually I fell in love with the way the sun made the dirt look blood orange and created dancing shadows on the mesquite trees.
We dated for a long time. I don’t remember why I liked him, but I know I must have.
When I was 20, I caught him with his ex-girlfriend.
I had come home from school. He asked me to go cruising, but I had homework. He told me he was going anyway. When I finished, I tried to go find him.
Usually if you look for someone who’s cruising, it only takes a few minutes to find them. There’s only one highway in Zapata and there aren’t so many streets besides that.
I found him quickly. I waved at him and he stopped. I got out of the car and walked up to his window. But before I got there, I could see someone’s ponytail through the windshield.
I opened his car door and pulled him out by the shoulder of his t-shirt. I yelled at him. I don’t even know what I said. When I turned around, she was standing there. I slapped her. I’m not sure what I did after that.
I broke up with him. But it didn’t take very long before we were back together.
I decided to go to university in Houston when I was 20. We had family over there on my dad’s side — all my family anywhere was on my dad’s side — that I could stay with. The school had a program where I could get a radiology certificate.
Mark and I were together still. He was working with the Sheriff’s office by then. The plan was that I would drive back to Zapata on weekends, or as often as possible. He didn’t usually drive to Houston for me.
I tried to go home often. I missed my mom while I was away. I missed Mark a little bit too.
Mark had come to pick me up while I was home. I started the certificate program in the Spring, so this must’ve been somewhere around March. It was warm.
The sun was different in Zapata. I stepped out the front door to be kissed by a thousand rays of light, a bead of sweat already forming above my top lip before I could even shut the door behind me. I remember closing the door — we never locked it — and turning around to see the awful decal he added on the gate of his truck while I was gone. It was two skinny white girls in bikinis standing in the middle of a race car stadium.
I asked him why he would get that. He said it looked cool. He said his friends told him it looked cool. I told him his friends were either stupid or they were lying to him.
When I would visit, we went on cruises. Sometimes he’d go to the house. He’d talk to my brothers a little bit. Mom would ask him a lot of questions.
“Your boyfriend doesn’t talk,” she would say after he’d left. “Él es mudo, o qué?”
“No, ma,” I’d respond. “I think that’s insensitive.”
“Que insensitive ni que mis patas, you need to tell him that if he’s going to be around here, he has to talk.”
I didn’t say anything.
“Maybe you should break up with him,” she said.
“I like him.”
“What do you like about him?”
I didn’t say anything.
In Houston, I met a guy- Perfecto. I don’t remember his real name, it might’ve been something like Jose, but everyone called him Perfecto. I don’t remember his last name either. I remember he was gorgeous; he had an accent that sounded like dipping sliced apples into smooth peanut butter.
We had the same friends, so we saw a lot of each other. We used to go to these clubs downtown that played the best music.
The first time we met was on my birthday. I had just turned 21. He bought me my first legal drink.
He was an amazing dancer. He held me so close to his body. He was a great lead. His hands were bigger than mine, and he used to give the slightest tug on my hand and pull on my waist to take me around. We danced all night, but I specifically remember the feeling in my stomach when Dame Un Beso from Selena played. I remember the way his skin felt on mine.
Our friends used to say we looked good together. I told him we could only be friends.
I was doing clinicals with a doctor named Anderson. We observed him performing X-Rays and scans. He always talked about the nice vacations he took his family on. He had two daughters and a son. He mentioned that his wife didn’t work but she was really into dancing. I used to be a dancer in high school. I used to dream of being a dancer forever.
I imagined he lived in a big house in the best part of Houston. I dreamed of living that life.
I got a call from Melissa one of the nights I was out with Perfecto and my other friends. Melissa told me she saw Mark out with another girl. They said she had pale skin and big hips. Back then, big hips weren’t so attractive.
I wish I could say I was surprised about what he had done. That night, I kissed Perfecto.
I called Mark the next morning and told him we were over.
Nothing much else is important after that. I don’t remember why I liked Mark. I only remember why I hate him now.
I told Mom about Mark. She told me that it was for the best. She didn’t seem surprised either.
Only a few weeks had passed before I got the test. I had all the symptoms. I was sick, I was irritable, I was tired.
I knew for sure when my period didn’t come.
I didn’t know how to tell my mom about that. I didn’t know what I’d tell Dr. Anderson. I didn’t know what I’d tell Mark, or if I should tell him at all.
I wanted to tell mom about my condition the next time I went home. But she seemed to know before I could even get a word out.
“You seem different,” she told me.
“I haven’t been gone that long.”
“And now you’ve gone and got yourself stuck back here again, haven’t you?”
“What do you mean?”
“No te hagas la miki,” she raised her voice. I was doing exactly what she accused me of: acting dumb.
“What are you talking about?”
“You’re pregnant!” she yelled. “Do you even know whose baby it is?”
“Ay, y luego con quien, ¡Lorena!” She was disappointed. “Have you told him?”
“No. I don’t want to.”
“You have to tell him, Lori. You’ll be married.”
“You’re having his baby. If you want to act like married people, you’ll have to be married.”
“What about school?”
“What about school? You can go back to LCC after you have the baby, like I did.”
“What about Houston?”
“I just told you, menza, you’re coming back home.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Well, what you want doesn’t really matter anymore does it?”
When I told Mark, his eyes seemed to pop out of his head. I don’t think he wanted to believe me at first. Maybe he thought I was lying, making it up to try to get him to stop cheating on me.
But then, he surprised me.
He asked me to come back home. He said we would get married. He said he’d be a great father to our baby.
He told me he wanted me to be his future.
I remember I didn’t say anything at first. I think that made him angry, but if it did, he didn’t say anything. We were sitting in my backyard. I remember the warm air brushing over my skin like a hug. I didn’t think about it then, but my mom was probably around the corner somewhere listening to us.
I wanted so badly to believe him. I told him I had to think about it. I told him I wasn’t sure I was ready to leave school.
But I already knew there was only one option ahead of me.
One of my professors told me not to go home. She told me I could finish my classes and just wait until after I had my baby to go back to my clinicals. She said there were lots of people who would be willing to make it work for me. I remember the way her eyes looked when she spoke to me — like she was sad for me. Maybe she thought I was sad for myself.
I always think about her now. It sounded so easy coming from her mouth. It seemed obvious — why wouldn’t I continue to pursue my career?
My mom was the opposite. Why wouldn’t I put everything on hold?
I did, put everything on hold. I moved back home. I said goodbye to Perfecto.
He might’ve been the love of my life, Perfecto. When I told him I was pregnant, he said it didn’t change anything about us. He said he couldn’t wait to meet my baby girl.
He asked if Mark would even be involved with the baby. I told him that he claims he would. He said that he’d do more than just say it. He said he didn’t want to lose the perfect girl right after having only just met her.
Before I left Houston, Perfecto and I went dancing one last time. I remember the way his chest rose and fell with his breath. His index finger drew circles on the back of my hand while he held it, sometimes I can still feel the pattern of his drawing there. I remember the purple lights at the club that night. I remember looking into his eyes one last time before I went home. They were brown, and warm, and different from other brown eyes in a way I couldn’t describe.
Still, I chose her father.
I still think about him now. Not a day goes by that I don’t wonder what might’ve been had I chosen differently.
Things were okay for a while once I went home. Mark would come over sometimes. He’d talk to my family. I talked to his family. Everyone was excited about the baby girl we were going to have.
I liked the name Kathleen. He preferred Katherine. We decided her nickname would be Kathy.
A few weeks before Kathy was supposed to be born, Mark asked Dad for his permission to marry me. Dad obviously said yes. He knew Mom wanted us to get married, and he’d never go against what Mom wanted.
Mark promised my parents to respect me. He promised to be kind to me. He promised to always be there for our daughter.
That night, I got a call from Melissa. They had seen Mark in the car with the same girl from before — the one with the big hips.
I told them to come get me so I could see for myself this time. They were outside my house in four minutes. We were behind his truck in twelve minutes.
This time, he didn’t stop when he noticed us. He kept driving. I could see the girl’s hands through the back windshield. Her hands were thick, illuminated by the green and red glow from the traffic lights. Selena’s Amor Prohibido played in the background.
“Amor prohibido, murmuran por las calles,” I could remember Mark’s voice when he sang it to me. “Amor prohibido, nos dice todo el mundo.”
I was sick.
I cried in the backseat of my friend’s car.
I felt my baby stir in my stomach.
My friends tried to calm me down. They tried to tell me that I had time to figure something out. They tried to tell me I could talk it out with him. Melissa said I should never talk to him again.
I went home.
I walked through the big brown door. Warm tears still fell down my cheeks. Kicked my chanclas off my feet. Into the hall. Past our tiny shelf that carried family photos. Mark was in one of them. Past our big living room. Felt the cold floor underneath my feet. Past the kitchen. All I saw was the white of our hallway walls.
I walked into our TV room. Dad sat in his recliner. Mom sat across from him on the long couch, bible on her lap.
She stood immediately when she noticed me, bible fell to the floor. Dad was right behind her. Mom’s arms came around me first, then Dad’s. I fell into their joint embrace.
I was more angry than I was sad. I wasn’t heartbroken. I didn’t love Mark anymore. But I had hoped he loved our baby enough to be faithful. I was angry for her.
This time, I was surprised.
When my baby came, my mom drove me to the hospital. I called Mark. I wanted to give him another chance to be there for us.
When I held her, her skin felt like my own. She was so warm, my sweet light. Her back was soft, her arms chubby, her cheeks round, her eyes small.
Her eyes were brown, and warm, and different from other brown eyes in a way I couldn’t describe. Her eyes were brown like sweet fire.
I called her Cheekis. I kissed her forehead.
Mom said I shouldn’t have called him.
He came. But he left the room every now and then and wouldn’t come back for a while. I bet she’d gone with him, the girl with the big hips. I bet she was right outside, waiting for the next time he’d sneak off. I knew then he didn’t respect my baby at all.
He wanted me to leave the hospital with him. He wanted me to go home with him.
“If I go with you, Mark, I’m not leaving,” I told him. “No me vas a tener allí de pendeja. If I go with you, that will be me and Kathy’s home. You won’t drive me back to my parent’s house. You won’t see the other whore anymore. If I go with you, Mark, I am staying for good.”
He said nothing.
I went home with my mom.
He was only involved in Kathy’s life for the first few years of her life, and barely. The other girl always came with him when he picked her up. He sent me secret emails, telling me he missed me, telling me he really wanted to be there for Kathy. He called me the day before his wedding to tell me he should’ve chosen me.
“Please, Lori, I miss you so much. You’re the one I should be getting married to.”
I remember he even cried on the phone, and for just a second, I almost believed him, until I remembered I shouldn’t.
But he never came back.
. . .
My mom and I were on our way to the beach. She was driving because she knew I hated driving after I got into that car crash when I was seventeen. Sometimes I still think about the lady in the white car in front of me. I hope she’s okay.
“Tell me about Perfecto again.”
“He was my friend in college. He was from Mexico, so he had a thick accent when he spoke, like peanut butter,” she started. “We used to go dancing. Kathy, he was a wonderful dancer. If you could marry anyone, make sure you marry someone who knows how to move, you’ll be much happier.”
“Do you think you loved him?”
“I don’t think I knew it at the time, but he might’ve been the love of my life.”
My birthday was last night. I just turned twenty-one. When my mom was twenty-one, she had to decide whether or not she should have a baby. Sometimes she says there wasn’t much of a decision to make, I’m not sure what she means by that.
“Tell me about your other boyfriends.” I love hearing her talk. Her voice is like honey, it’s smooth and it seems to linger in the air.
“Well, there was Jorge, never date a boy younger than you. Then there was the one after Jorge, I don’t remember his name now, but when I broke up with him, he came to the McDonald’s where I worked and threatened to kill himself. Oh my God, I remember he even sat in the road, I was so embarrassed.”
“Did he actually kill himself?”
“No, they never mean it when they say that, but years later he died of an overdose,” she said. “And then there was your dad.”
“Do you ever feel sad about him?”
“No, he was ugly,” she laughed. Her front teeth stick out further and her bottom teeth, in a good way, her mouth opens wide when she laughs. My mom is really pretty.
“Do you ever miss him?”
“No, but sometimes I wonder if he misses me. I’ve told you before, but he called me before his wedding. And he used to write me these long emails.”
“Do you remember what they said?”
“No, I’ll have to look for them when we go back home. He used to bother me all the time. But at the time I was with Robert, so I didn’t care about your dad anymore. Oh, and Robert, he had dark brown skin and big muscles on his arms. Maybe he was the love of my life.”
“Do you ever get sad that you didn’t get married?”
“Sometimes, but not really. I’ve always had you,” she said and reached over to hold my hand.
Sometimes, I get worried that I’ll never find anyone to marry either. I know my mom is happy, but I don’t think I could handle being alone for as long as she’s been. Sometimes she talks about how she’s been by herself for so long that she doesn’t think she could make room for another person. She’s not worried about being too independent, but just that someone else would be too dependent on her.
“You know Hector is friends with your dad.”
“Really?” Hector is her current fling. “Is that weird for you?”
“Not really. He said you have your dad’s eyes.”
“People always tell me I have my dad’s eyes.”
“No, your dad’s eyes are just brown, yours are brown like sweet fire.”
Biographical Note: Katherine Serna is a senior at the University of Rochester, where she majors in Creative Writing and Dance with a minor in Latin American Studies. She is originally from Laredo, Texas, a bordertown. Her other written work has been published in Abandon Journal and West Trade Review. She is currently finishing up her senior research project, which is focused on abortion and women’s autonomy. Using her artforms for activism and social justice is extremely important to Kathy, and as she approaches graduation she is looking to find a career that allows her to do exactly that.