We stop at a dollar store to get a soda to chase the Little Caesar’s before heading to Bible Study. When my husband returns, he points out two young boys all but invisible behind the palm tree between us. They are waiting to cross the street. At first, I am concerned turning cars will not see them. My husband is describing the handmade tattoos on the shorter one’s forearm. He doesn’t seem to be even 10 years old. Apparently, they’d come up a dollar short when they’d made it to the cashier. I guess either they had eight cents between them or else had selected items that incurred no tax because an Anglo customer, paid their bill and said, not ungently, “now, get out of here”.
While my husband lists nearby apartment complexes as their likely abode, I am casting about mentally for arguments to counter his guesses about where they live. With a rose-colored doggedness, I suggest that they live in a car in the parking lot. But it is their hair that settles the question for me, irrefutably. Their hair is far longer than any Mexican child I have ever seen. It sticks out at angles from their scalps without the assistance of gel. Four or more months’ of growth tells the entire story. Their parents have been deported.
I ask my husband if he would consider adopting them and what happens to children whose parents are deported while they are in school. They cannot be the only ones in such circumstances. He tells a story of a Texas room mate whose family could not pay the remainder of the $1800 it cost to cross the border and whose relative was handcuffed and bound at the ankles and brought to his door for the $500 balance – or else the relative would be taken back across the border and mistreated.
He tells another story of one dawn during which more than 1200 undocumented workers were rounded-up and repatriated just after the school buses picked up the children. As we wait to turn out of the parking lot and into traffic, the two boys appear at the far curb, eager to cross again. He suggests we give them the last two slices of pizza in the box. But how? I turn off the right turn signal and try to imagine a safe way to get their attention hedging my bet that our turn signal and their walk sign will not happen at the same time. They do.
I stall, playing for time, hoping that the motorists behind me can see children in the crosswalk. So far, I am winning the war against tears. What after all, can one say to a parent after taking in their children? Irrational, I know. After all, if the children were born here, do they even know where their parents might have gone back to that we might contact them, assure them their children are safe? Have their parents taught them what to do in the case of such an emergency the way my mother taught us what to do if separated on a train ride?
I suggest my husband place the box of pizza on the corner. He says it will look bad. I think, not as bad as children hit by a car on the same corner. As they pass in front of the car, I begin the turn and tell my husband to call to them and hold the box out the window. The taller one is reassuringly cautious. The shorter one with the hash marks on his forearm lets out a hoop of excitement and reaches for the box. Una cada uno, my husband shouts, “one for each of you”. Cuidate, I shout, “take care of yourself!”
I barely get the tears under control by the time we get to the door of the church. Game face on, I begin the approach when I see a familiar face. We embrace and I ask if she knows anyone in social services in the church. I ask, hypothetically, what happens to children whose parents are deported? At first, I don’t understand when she tells me their parents have a choice – to take them or to leave them on this side of the border where they will be placed into foster care until they are adopted or age out of the system. She sketches a heart-rending story of having to return children to parents who deliberately place their children in harm’s way to make money. She tells me that many of our church members have adopted children. Many of those who find themselves in the system, no matter what country, culture or condition they come from, are adopted by good families who are not “in it for the money”. She brushes away the tears that have reappeared on my cheeks.
If only we had written our phone number on the box of pizza. If only we had done something more than be shell-shocked by the reality that was not coming at us from the other end of a remote control.