Summer 1969 Los Angeles, CA – six weeks after his first child is born to his 16 year old wife, a 25 year old Mexican immigrant arrives home to discover a chaotic mess, so awful, it verges on filth.
He works hard, requesting overtime as often as possible, on a minimum-wage of less than $1.50/hr to support and care for his unplanned and unexpected little family. He wants to do right by his little girl, having come from a family of 15 living children and a hard-working, enterprising, if demandingly harsh father, he just wants to give her the life of provision and opportunity that is The American Dream.
He not only works as much as possible, he also fights to learn American English, this most difficult and contrary language. He studies as hard as he works. Gaining in comprehension much faster than in articulation, with a thick accent that will always be with him. More than ten years after leaving home, at 14 years old, this proud and earnest young man takes classes to improve his language skills, even as he strives to fulfill his paternal and spousal obligations.
Burning the candle at both ends, he melts in the middle. He is completely bewildered by the sudden changes in his life, and especially baffled with the changes in his young, intelligent, articulate, seemingly mature wife.
Why did she go from sharing all the housekeeping duties with him to not lifting a finger to do anything other than take care of the baby and herself? Would someone please explain why he was suddenly housing his mother-in-law and his 15 year old brother-in-law? No one explained why they suddenly moved in.
How is it possible he gets up and out the door before 6 a.m., most days spending 30-40 minutes on the bus going to work then again home to get his books to rush off to class – or some daily variation of that routine – and handle the errand running and grocery shopping, on foot while his wife sits around smoking and laughing with her mother, managing only to keep herself and their baby girl clean and clothed, while clutter and garbage spread across every available surface?
She’s so much smarter than this! She should know better! Pigs! He’s living with pigs! And it’s just too much for a man to put up with.
He loses his temper and says harsh words in his native language. Wifey loses her cool and approaches with a heavy ashtray aimed at his head. His six years of military self-defense training in the Mexican Army kick in and he grabs the wrist of the hand holding the ashtray, twisting the arm behind her, grabbing her other wrist, he wrenches it behind her, gripping so hard imprints of his fingers leave a distinctive bruise.
Quickly, he turns, using her as a shield as his mother-in-law launches her attack with a second, heavy ashtray. So blind with furious ire, she lands several blows before realizing it is her daughter she’s just beaten around the head and shoulders with the ashtray and not the Spic interloper who ruined her baby’s future to be anything other than nomadic, destitute, white-trash. As soon as she realizes what has happened she stops and he releases his battered and bruised wife.
Everything calm, for the moment, he goes to take a shower, only to be interrupted by the police telling him to gather his belongings and leave. He’d just negotiated a deal to get a car, because he had wanted to know that if anything happened to the baby, they weren’t solely dependent on the busses. He tosses his books, clothes, and what other few things he possesses in the car and goes to stay with an extended family member.
Over the next four months he is marginalized and ridiculed because of his accent and his difficulty translating his thoughts and articulating his words – his own attorney laughs along with everyone else in the courtroom when he takes the witness stand, unable to speak in an understandable way. He finds himself divorced, almost as suddenly as he’d become responsible for a family. Now he is on the hook for the complete cost of the divorce – all of her expenses included.
He soon discovers that his father’s visitation rights aren’t worth the paper they are printed on. He shows up for scheduled visitation only to be turned away because his daughter is sleeping, eating, or otherwise indisposed.
One day, he arrives only to discover the home completely abandoned; they had moved without saying a word. He finds them one or two more times over the next year or so, but they run away as soon as he shows up. Then they completely disappear.
Life moved on. Bills and debt had to be paid. Work and English classes continued to be his life. Then he met and married his second wife. Their first child, a little girl, so precious, reminded him of what he’d lost and of his failure to be a worthy father two and a half years earlier. He would get it right this time, this one would be raised well, receive a good education, and have a good life. So would her brother who would come along within another couple of years.
March 17, 2010 – somewhere on the Southern California Coast, he arrives home, after work and touches the play button on the answering machine, in response to the blinking red light.
“Hello, my name is Kina Diaz DeLeon. I’m looking for my father…”