Doña Trujillo: There’s a place in the desert outside of Hatch8:37 PM
by Albino Carrillo
There’s a place in the desert outside of Hatch, New Mexico that you knew about. Wild mallow, sagebrush, lots of cottonwood and pecan growing along the irrigation ditches. We’d been there when we were both younger. I probably didn’t even talk to you then. Seriously. Your mom had become estranged from the rest of us. I don’t know why. Then one day we told her that Ruby Martinez had died in fire—a terrible way to go, out in her mobile home while Mosca was away getting some feed for the goats. Some said he done it: after all, 12 years before he had set up an ingenious method of killing her with a booby-trapped door, some wire and a shotgun. He was stupid enough to try it out and ended up losing a lot of his gut. Blood everywhere. She thought he was trying to kill himself. Can you believe it? They sent him up to Santa Fe. Five years for nothing. When he tried to pretend he was insane, they got a hold of some letters he’d written to his brother.
I wanted to take you out here to see the land your grandfather used to farm. He couldn’t get it right: every year the field would flood, and we’d be left with rotten melons or drowned alfalfa. When the well he dug went dry, he started fixing people’s toilets and sinks, sometimes he’d dig a well for someone. That’s why there’s all the plumbing in the barn now. He was the only one the neighbor could count on. There were always the pecan trees and the pigs and goats to get by. By the time John was born, we’d lived in two different double-wides: dad finally found a spot that didn’t flood. We even had a patch of lawn on the shady side under some old hickory trees. The bugs were always a problem: their numbers would swell in August with the heat and the vapor rising from the fields cut into the dry, yellow New Mexican desert.
I didn’t know if you’d make it out here. Your mom told me that you and your new girlfriend were driving from Phoenix to get away from the heat. I know there’s a road that cuts out from Deming through the wild llano: there was a town halfway between here and Deming … just a bar actually, and a couple gas pumps. Since the Union Pacific line ran right along that highway, you could stop to see the long trainloads of cotton, pecans, and cattle streaming toward from the border, their hungry crews sometimes stopping the 120-car train with five engines humming like giant bugs right by the road so they could eat a burrito and have a Budweiser before continuing to Radium Springs then north to Albuquerque. You and me are like brothers and sisters separated in that old way: you know, your dad was one of 7 kids in his family growing up on that melon farm in Las Cruces. I’m so glad you made it out here. We can smoke a joint in the arroyo here, under the bridge. When you and John were kids, you’d go out there to shoot bottles and bats and even crows who hung out in the telephone wires overhead.
Well, my mom asked me to tell you that they think John was high and drunk when he got into it with the cops. It went like this: you know, he’d been driving between here and Silver for that job. Working for the mine is a big deal, you know? It beats fuckin’ doing nothing here in Hatch—yeah, um there’s the Orquiz warehouse and the highway department picking up dead dogs and towing cars from the interstate—working at the mine at least provided pay, and a change of scenery.
You’ve gotta know, right away, that the accident itself was crushing … He didn’t have a chance. Your dad got us the names of some good attorneys in Silver and in Cruces.
John had been stopped before, for DUI, holding, and even got roughed up in the juzgao a couple times. It’s just so hard to think he’s gone. When he’d drive down to Tucson to see me, he seemed like he’d grown up and he was ready to live. “Hey, I know you,” he’d say, like I was his sister, and not his mom. There was something in the way he said it that I knew he was angry and incomplete, mostly because of me. What kind of life did he have in Hatch? What I remember most is that long drive through nothing between cities: erosion, sandstorms, maybe one thunderstorm in the summer boiling over Elephant Butte, drenching the valley in one violent amethyst passage from heaven.
The last time you came out here your mother was still alive and actually talked to us. I’d been living in South Dakota with John’s dad. Remember, ese? We came down to see you guys when you were only ten or eleven. Your dad was working in Gallup and your mom wouldn’t talk to me because I had given John up to my mom the way my mom had given up your mom to Nicanora. But there wasn’t any indifference on my part—see, I loved John and wanted him to be safe in Hatch. That’s why I brought you out here. His grave sits alone in the yellow dust day after day. You can see the Deming Mountains from there, and when the sky is really clear, you can see the whole Mesilla Valley folding out along the Rio Grande.
What I wanted to tell you was about the darkness I found in my heart after John died. His life never allowed me to see it. That was the joy of life. But since I didn’t have much to do with him as a kid, that darkness grew and grew in me. And in him. I knew this when he started drinking and drugging. I knew this when he’d fight with dad and when he’d come back with loaded guns—you know I love my dad and can’t accept what your mom says. But John hated him. Even when they were out in the field at the end of the day shutting off the irrigation pumps, even when they were sitting in the kitchen eating the fresh tortillas and beans my mom had cooked. They say John hated the world and that he was a petty criminal, a drunk, a pothead kid from the fields who was just following through on the path hewn by some guys just like him … His friend Rich had been in and out of jail just like him, and they’d known each other since fifth grade. So it all added up to shit, mijo: the fast pick-up trucks, the beer, the long highway drives for no good reason other than to get wasted and go fast on some farm road. Maybe it was the speed, the acceleration, that freed him up from who he was and who he couldn’t be. I can see him now flooring the old Ford 150 on the interstate, unaware of the darkness around him, slowly becoming tuned to the darkness inside that beat the hell out of him when he slept, when he dreamt.