Maria and the Brake Light: A Tale of Maternal Fortitude in the Mexican Border Lands

…in which the author recounts a tale of uncommon valor taking place in a shopping mall parking lot, and ponders the good fortune that has befallen him as if by destiny, all in another aside from living Brazilishly.

In Pearl S. Buck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel on pre-revolutionary China, The Good Earth, the farmer Wang Lung weds one crisp spring morn. His woman, O-Lan, ends up posing an apt companion. This point is made in the narrative after O-Lan bears Wang Lung his first man child; still heavy with the sweat and pain of her labor, she returns immediately to the rice fields and begins threshing anew at Wang Lung’s side. This humble farming bumpkin, startled by the force and commitment O-Lan evinces, muses that, indeed, fortune has blessed him with a partner distinct amongst her peers.

And so too have I ripened to cognizance that in Maria I shalt have a spouse of O-Lan’s merit firmly ensconced in my life. For today, she did something wholly singular and startling for someone who a week prior underwent the invasiveness of a C-section and is simultaneously recovering, adjusting to being a mother, and enduring the veritable slings and arrows of my bald and opinionated ass on a 24/7 basis now, the latter in itself sufficing to send any normal woman out of her own mind with the volatility of itty-bitty bottle rockets.

The day started off normal. Slated to visit the US Consulate for our daughter’s American birth certificate and passport, we made a pit-stop at the Rio Grande Mall. The parking lot was already reasonably full, thus we were forced to park the car a distance further than anticipated. Lamenting and glum about the mid-morning sun and the prospect of my still-healing wife and newborn daughter trudging through it en route to the mall entrance, I asked Maria if she would prefer that I drop her and Zuli off and find parking on my own. She insisted on staying with me, denying the comforts offered in solidarity with her man. ‘Twas a gesture appreciated genuinely. And then she spoke:

Maria: “I just remembered, papasote, one of the brake lights is out. I’m going to change it.”

Me: “You mean we need to find a mechanic later, mi honguita?”

Maria: “No, mi macho, I’ve got some extra bulbs in the trunk, and I’m going to change the light once we’re parked.”

Me: “But, mamacita, right here in the parking lot?”

Maria: “Si, padre de mi hija y mi amante ejemplar, it’s easier this way. You go ahead and take Zuli into the mall. I’ll meet you inside in about 20 minutes.”

And so Maria spent the next 20 minutes in the parking lot of the Rio Grande Mall, in 95 degree weather with zero shade on scalding tarmac, changing the brake light by herself. I will add that when I next saw her, Maria appear not to have perspired a single drop, the flesh of her forehead dry and with the slightest hint of rouge, her jet-black hair free of tussle and frizz. This is a feat besting, by orders of magnitude in my assessment, her insistence on making me a major-ass plate of nachos the eve before checking into the hospital for Zuli’s birth. Call me crazy, but I thought the period immediately before, and for a few weeks following, childbirth (especially when by C-section) ought to be a time of rest and recuperation. But Maria comes from hearty maternal stock, which aids in explaining the anomaly of her fortitude: on the morning of Zuli’s birth, Maria’s mom met us at the hospital at 5:30 AM after walking nearly 5k alone, from her house, in the wee hours of the Juarez morn.

Like Wang Lung, ‘twould be meet that I visit the local Buddhist temple and thrust a few sticks of incense before the statues of the earthen gods in praise of my favorable fortune. The Juarez equivalent of this gesture, of you may have surmised, is taking the family out for Burritos Crisostomo, an act of thanks and reciprocation I will do tomorrow. As I sit in bed typing this next to Maria, with my newborn daughter in her arms, I am awed at the dumb luck of Maria being in my life. When I wed her on Thursday, I will be hitching my wagon to an according-to-Hoyle one-in-a-million.

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