Roberto couldn't hear her anymore.
|TIGHT CORNERS: In rehab, Ana Garcia Serrano learned to maneuver her wheelchair through the narrow doors of her home.|
It had called to him when he was at work, sweetly reminding him to keep warm in the cool morning hours. It whispered to him in the evenings, beckoning him home when he was tempted to have a drink with the boys. And it teased him on their few outings alone, recalling their days as carefree sweethearts.
Now, there was only silence.
Gone were the hovering nurses, sterile gloves and ominous machinery that once separated them. But in their place was an invisible wall that neither husband nor wife could seem to scale.
Ana isolated herself in a world of personal demons. Roberto retreated into his memories.
He remembered when they met 10 years ago. He was 28. She was 20. It was at a wedding reception in Guanajuato. He had spotted her right away. She danced better than any girl there, her body so fluid and quick it was like a ray of light.
He asked her to dance. She just looked at him with her wide, dark eyes. He worried she'd say no.
Slim, tan, with curly black hair, Roberto didn't think he was much to look at. His face was round, with a pug nose, and his teeth were slightly crooked.
But Ana had smiled and said yes. And he grinned, not caring about his teeth.
They married five months later. Ana quickly became pregnant with Fidel. Roberto worked double shifts as a mechanic and night watchman, but they were barely getting by.
Roberto's sister called from Anaheim. He and Ana could stay with them until they found work and a place of their own.
They packed up their few belongings and headed north.
And now here they were. Living in three rooms that couldn't be called a home. He with his shoulder hurt and no job. Their sons more serious than little boys should be. And Ana, his Ana of music and light, telling him she should never have come out of the hospital alive.
He blinked back the tears. He wouldn't cry. If he started, he didn't know if he could stop. Sometimes, he would bump into a friend and while they talked, he could forget for a moment all that waited for him at the house.
But then he'd walk into the bedroom and Ana would stare at him with reproachful eyes. And he knew what she was thinking: Had he been with a woman?
It was a throwback to the early days of their marriage when Roberto would carelessly dawdle on the way home, choosing a beer with his friends over helping Ana feed, bathe and put the kids to bed. Hurt and tired from a long day, Ana would accuse him of seeing other women.
Roberto was stung. A farm boy forced to abandon school early to help support his younger siblings, he'd always cared for those he loved. So he'd lashed at Ana with harsh words of his own.
Foolish times, Roberto thought now. Moments spent in anger over mythical crimes. But they were young and in love, and had loved as passionately as they argued, soothing the hurt in ways that could still make him smile.
They rarely argued now. The pain and frustration were buried too deep to be released so casually. But the hurt was still there. And the accusations hovered, unexpressed.
It didn't help that Roberto found it awkward to touch Ana. When she had trouble strapping on her prosthetic leg, she'd turn to him for help. But he would fumble with the straps and give it to Fidel and Daniel instead.
The boys didn't feel awkward. They handled the hollow leg with ease. Not like him. He was scared he'd hurt her.
He missed her legs. In solitude, Roberto could admit that. He missed the way she used to swing one over him at night. And the way he used to put his head on her lap at the end of a long day.
Sometimes, the pain and sadness ate at him like a worm in his soul. He'd jump on his bike and ride away. He always came back, of course. But when he did, Ana would glare at him. His relatives would criticize him. And he wanted to scream with the helplessness of it all.
Roberto knew it was better to leave when he felt so angry.
The last time he'd stayed, he flung open the closet door, pulled out all of Ana's skirts and dresses -- the ones she used to wear dancing -- and dumped them in a garbage bin. It just hurt so much to look at them.
He wanted to yell at her, too, sometimes: There is no one but you. Dios mio! How could there be? I work from sunup to sundown. I take care of the boys. I take care of you. I never rest and I worry all the time. I almost lost you. And now you're so far away I can't reach you.
Roberto wanted to say all those things. But he didn't. Because she never said the words. So he didn't either. He'd start dinner and she'd roll out in her wheelchair. After a while, seeing him there, seeing that he wasn't going anywhere, she'd start to relax. And he could breathe again.
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