A Space for Women of the World
Monday morning Jorge woke up cuddled into me and he was here in Denver at my apartment and he was mine; by Monday night he wasn’t.
I wanted to surprise him that evening at work with a double order of tempura soft shell crabs from Saigon, his favorite. We’d had our first real date at that dumpy little Vietnamese restaurant, and now the scents from the fish sauce mingling with the deep fried batter filled my Jeep and made me salivate as it had a year ago when I suggested we meet there. I drove up near Republic Plaza, my imagination placing him on the Starbucks patio in front of the massive concrete structure where he usually sat, sipping an Americano, but the patio was empty. I dialed but his voicemail answered before it could ring or before I could even sigh.
Es Jorge. Dejame una mensaje. It is Jorge. Please leave me a message.
He often liked translating himself into English, just so people understood that he was bilingual and didn’t judge him. He said that as soon as he got his papers, he’d leave hard labor behind and become an educational reform politician. He was so smart and talented that I knew he could do whatever he wanted.
I waited in the red zone near the Starbucks until a cop pulled up behind me. I took the green light before he had a chance to get out of his vehicle and hand me a citation. I dialed Jorge again, but his message answered once again. I assumed he’d taken the light rail home, to the house he shared with his grandmother and three nephews. Maybe he’d forgotten to charge his phone. Perhaps I had just missed him, or maybe he was getting out late. I cursed the traffic and the Denver Nuggets for congesting the downtown streets and keeping me from seeing him.
Thirteen months earlier we’d met at a bar. I’d been studying Spanish, preparing for a year of photography in Central America and I had just aced my final. I was celebrating solo at a bar in Capitol Hill, slugging down the last few gulps of a Grey Goose and Tonic. My ears picked up on his beautiful accent as he ordered a Corona. I turned, taking in his handsome looks and the strong scent of his cologne. He was a very stimulating piece of eye candy. He smiled at me as I placed my hand out.
“Hola, soy Jorge. ¿Hablas Español,?”
“Ay que suave, guero. ¿Y como te llamas?”
“Andrew o Andrés.”
“Andrew. Andrés. Either way, very nice name.” Jorge raised his beer.
After a couple minutes of conversation, I ordered two Patron shots and seconds later our shot glasses clinked. His voice sounded sweet and masculine like the hero love interest in a telenovela, but his charming accent and his gentle coal eyes stole the show and tempted me into serious flirtation. I kept ordering tequila, and we shot more than any two people without designated drivers should, but the connection felt genuine and special, like I needed to know Jorge as fast as I could. Rarely did a guy who seemed wonderful wander into my life, but I also knew it was too early to call him wonderful, and it was too early to be honest with him that I was enamored. It wasn’t, however, too early for lust.
Jorge’s face was perfect. His hair was wavy and black and the stubble-shadow across his jaw line must’ve grown across his swarthy face within the past two hours. As I spoke into his ear, trying to drown out the blaring bass, our cheeks touched. I felt the velvety skin of his high cheekbones, perfectly soft. And as I backed into my seat, my skin tingled from the slight burn of his worn sandpaper-like stubble.
“You wanna go home with me, Jorge?”
He moved his face toward my ear, but instead of answering he kissed where my cheek met my earlobe and grabbed his beer, downing it in seconds.
Both tipsy, we cabbed to my place. Clothing came off and I devoured each part of his body that he offered me. His saliva tasted of beer and tequila but his chapstick left only delicious peppermint essence smeared across my mouth. I’d never felt inclined to move so fast. A kiss had never forced me and allowed me to do everything I’d ever done intimately, with men I’d loved and those I hadn’t, in such an instant. My tongue felt the need to taste and explore every crevice of his sweating brown body. Sex had never punctured me in so many ways, leaving me exhausted, vulnerable and warm, a glowing sacrifice for Jorge to do with as he pleased. And he did, and I accepted it as I never had before.
Even as we sobered and ventured into cuddling, I wanted him to crawl inside of me each time my tongue made contact with his during a kiss. Spooned, our bodies fit. With his arm tucked into my armpit and across my chest, his lips and hot breath teased the peach fuzz on the back of my neck, my ears, my shoulders. When he tired and wanted to switch, Jorge would turn his body and I’d rotate, burrowing my arm underneath his pillow, pulling at his waist to contour the curves of his ass into my pelvis.
We spent that weekend having sex, trapped in my condo as if a blizzard had shut us in. We ordered delivery, skipping breakfast to reenergize our bodies and regenerate our libidos.
Jorge’s complicated life unfolded in bed the second night, as we lay facing each other. Our mingled sweat had dried and I stared into his eyes as he unloaded everything.
“My parents were murdered when I was six, by the cartel.”
He described watching his father being shot first, a shotgun blast to the chest.
“The gunman smiled at me as he pistol whipped my mother and put a bullet through her head.”
She fell near his father.
“I became a burro at eight, drug-running for the people who killed my parents because I was scared they‘d kill my abuela and sister.”
Transporting drugs was one of the few ways he, the eldest, could make money to feed his family.
“They liked using kids, especially boys, because boys are always running, always getting into mischief, so no one suspects.”
“I was too old so I sold myself. I didn’t want my little sister to get into danger.”
Jorge learned exactly how much vacationing American and European men would pay to worship and desecrate the body of a beautiful fifteen-year-old Mexican boy.
“Many were nice to me, but many just used me, threw money at me and left. Some promised to help me cross, but when they learned of my family, they left.”
They’d been trying to cross into Texas for so long.
“But it never worked.”
By foot, by train, by truck, each time they were caught, sent back.
“When I turned seventeen, I finally understood I needed to be alive for my family, so I finished school, worked construction for shopping malls, and went to college.” He became the first in his family to earn a university degree.
“I studied math and art history at la Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa. I wished my parents could’ve seen me.”
Finally, with the help of friends in El Paso, they made it.
“We got here. Finally, we could start over.”
I wanted to go back in time. Save him. Make everything right because he deserved it. Tears dripped onto my pillow as he recounted his past. Occasionally he’d press his thumb gently against my nostril, drying a tear.
“Don’t cry, guapo.” He’d smile at me. He had lived through hell and he was smiling at me as I cried. And here, in my bed, after only twenty-four hours, my heart wanted him for the rest of my life.
“They took my sister two months ago, so I take care of my abuela and my nephews, Pablo, Diego and Carlitos. I’m trying to bring her back, because I don’t want them to go to Mexico, too dangerous. But I have to hide too. My friend Diana is working on me though.”
Jorge swore he’d be a citizen in a year.
“I will vote for the first Latino President.”
He’d teach ESL to first generation kids.
“I will teach them how to do math, read, and be proud of our heritage. They need to know Frida Kahlo as well as Rocio Durcal.”
His students would be valedictorians, salutatorians, and graduate from college.
“I swear it.” He crossed his chest, then mine, and smiled.
Jorge was extraordinary. He was the type of guy Oprah dreamed of putting on her show as a poster boy to make her look like Humanitarian of the Year. Then he asked about me. After hearing his story, sharing mine didn’t feel right. But instead of remaining silent and shy, I spoke of my photography, my favorites from Indonesia and Costa Rica, my dreams of being in National Geographic, and my plans to capture Chiapas and Oaxaca in six months. I left out my trust fund, my rich parents, that my life had been set since the day I was born so I‘d never have to work.
“Will you show me the photographs in the morning?” Jorge asked pulling the comforter over him.
“Of course.” I closed my eyes, leaned in and kissed him.
“Where did you learn Spanish?” Jorge asked.
“Classes, books, trying to become fluent.”
“Your accent is mostly perfect.” Jorge giggled and scooted closer to me.
I pulled my head back, surprised. “Mostly? What’s wrong with it?”
He kissed me, laughed. “I’m kidding, Andrew. You’re Perfect.”
I smiled. “Where did you learn English?”
“In school, television, my parents.”
“Were they fluent? Did they travel to the United States?
Jorge shook his head. “Can we speak more tomorrow? I’m sleepy and very contento. I just want you to hold me.” He kissed my nose.
Something inside me shivered. It’d be ridiculous to say it was my emotions, my heart or my soul, but something quivered. Contentedness never made me cry. Happiness had never made me cry. Only sadness had made me cry, the sadness of movies and fiction and photography.
“Where do you work?” Jorge whispered. He closed his eyes sleepily. Perhaps the answer to the question didn’t matter because he was tired.
I sighed, rolled onto my back.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, waking up.
“No. I don’t work. My parents are…,” I exhaled.
“Relaje, Andrew.” He placed his hand around the back of my neck and pulled me, facing my body towards him again. Jorge maneuvered his lips into mine and kissed me. “No me importa, guapo. Who cares? Just put your arms around me, yes?”
The next morning he brushed his teeth, naked, with my toothbrush. The muscle ridges in his arms and back were like blush-brown sand dunes, undisturbed by people or nature. His butt was smooth and round like a freshly baked loaf of light pumpernickel. Jorge smiled at me in the mirror and laughed, noticing me checking him out. A gob of blue toothpaste foam dropped from his lips. My cheeks reddened, my mind dizzied and warmth engulfed me like I‘d stepped into a sauna.
At night he cleaned offices downtown. During the day he chopped and packaged cow parts at a meat packing plant in Aurora. The owner hired “illegals.” He said whites complained about no jobs, but the spics worked cheaper and harder, did anything, and took better direction. Daily, workers left with a small wad of cash and bovine stench saturating their skin and hair.Jorge earned $500 a week from working 70 hours between both jobs. A week and a half’s wages paid rent. Another week’s pay was wired back to Sinaloa. Then bills, groceries, abuelita’s medications and anything the kids needed. He stashed the leftover money in a secret box. He’d told only his youngest nephew, Carlitos, the best secret-keeper he’d ever known, and then me about it. He recounted the storyafter we’d been dating a few months. I remember that night vividly because it was the first night I told him that I loved him.
“Carlitos, tengo uno secreto para ti.”
“Shhhh! Secretos en inglés, Tio Jorge. ¡Abuelita tiene orejas como gato!”
“Okay,” he laughed. “If a guero in a blue truck comes to the door and asks for abuelita, and she cries, run to my room and underneath la Virgen is a secret key to a secret box in my top drawer, the one with my socks in it. Give them both to her so she will feel better. Okay?”
“Okay,” he paused, “but are you leaving like my mom?”
Jorge gnashed his teeth, not expecting such a question from a six-year old. Holding back tears, he managed a no.
Carlitos whispered, “Then why cry, Tio Jorge?”
Jorge’s eyes watered as he recounted the story. “If anything happens,” he exhaledand rubbed his eyes, “will you go speak to my grandmother?”
I wiped a stray tear he’d missed from his jaw. I shook my head. “Yes.”
“Thank you, guapo.”
I blinked and imagined him gone, disappeared. My heart stopped, then panicked into bursts like an alarm. “Stop working.”
“I don’t want your family to take care of my family.”
“Please, Jorge, I need you here.”
He smiled and combed his hand through my hair. “Relax, guapo.” And with a kiss he said, “Don’t worry, we‘ll be okay, Andrés.”
I believed him. Anyone would believe those black eyes, his handsome face. Talking to him, you’d believe anything, even if he said he knew the secret of life because those eyes said ‘Trust me,’ nothing he could say would ever be a lie. Jorge wouldn’t lie.
“Baila conmigo.” Jorge stood up and walked over to my stereo. He popped in a CD grabbed from the tower. He must’ve been eyeing it as we’d spoken.
Norah Jones’ loungey voice came over the speakers and Jorge turned and presented his hand to me.
“Please dance with me, Andrés.” He smirked and bowed lightly as if we were at a ball, albeit very underdressed. I smiled as I placed my palm into his and wrapped my arm over his shoulder. Jorge placed his head against my neck and I turned into him, kissing his warm forehead, kissing his hair, kissing the widow’s peak at the top of his forehead.
“I love you so much,” I whispered.
I felt him hold his breath and as he exhaled I felt dampness on my neck.
“Te amo mucho, guapo.” His embrace grew tighter as he cried quietly into my shoulder, our bodies swaying side to side with the sound of the piano.
Monday night when I couldn’t reach him, I drove home and had a lonely Vietnamese dinner while I watched the news. CNN called it “The largest INS sting in US history.” Immigration had first targeted the chain of meat packing plants notorious for hiring undocumented workers. Television clips from the Minnesota raid were currently airing. Then they showed Illinois and finally Colorado. I imagined Jorge’s face in the massive group. The news anchor described the Colorado ordeal in depth. Numbered plastic cuffs tightened around wrists. Confiscated cell phones, wallets, and keys placed into baggies with the same number written across it. Loaded into vans with possessions gripped between bound hands. Next stop Fort Carson. Stripped naked. Searched. Interviewed. No phone calls. No explanations. Two white buses departed from Colorado Springs Monday night. Two more would leave Tuesday, with the trickier passengers who may have had criminal records or claimed U.S. citizenship.
I dialed his phone. This wasn’t happening.
Es Jorge. Dejame una mensaje. It is Jorge. Please leave me a message.
I fell in and out of sleep until the next morning when CNN reported that of the two busses that left Fort Carson Monday night, one was delayed, a flat tire north of Las Cruces. The other arrived in Ciudad Juárez where the tires were shot out. Several armed masked guerillas boarded the bus and opened fire, murdering everyone, stealing their possessions in the marked baggies. ‘Traidores’ was spray painted over the windshield.
I dialed him again.
Es Jorge. Dejame una mensaje. It is Jorge. Please leave me a message.
My breath stopped. My skin felt separate from my flesh. Was this what had happened to him? Had he been on one of those buses? How could I find out? Could I even find out? We had no legal rights toward one another. I kept remembering his voice My breath stopped. My skin felt separate from my flesh. Was this what had happened to him? Had he been on one of those buses? How could I find out? Could I even find out? We had no legal rights toward one another. I kept remembering his voice and his words, “Don’t worry, we’ll be okay, Andrés,” as I watched CNN until Wednesday at dawn, hoping for pictures, explanations. I searched the internet fervently for answers. The phone lines were busy. Eventually, a lady answered.
“I’m looking for my friend Jorge Luis Valenzuela who may have been taken from the Aurora meat packing plant.”
“What’s your relation?”
“You must be directly related to the individual for me to release any information.”
“Excuse me? Why? Are you serious?”
“Sir, if you’re not related, I’m not allowed by law to release any information.”
“Miss, please don’t hang up. Jorge is my boyfriend.” I started crying, trying to be as kind and angerless as possible to this woman I was furious with. “I would’ve married him already, but as I’m sure you know, two guys can’t get married no matter how much they love each other.” I sniffled and scratched at my head, pulling at my hair.
“I just need to know if he is still alive. I know his life story that he’s from Sinaloa.” I heard nothing on the other line. I thought perhaps she’d hung up. “Are you still there?”
After a second she said, “Yes.”
“I know I’m asking you to break the law, but I’m begging you. He takes care of his three nephews and his grandmother and I need to tell her what happened to him. I need to know. Ma’am, I’ve never loved anyone in my whole life, so please just tell me.”
I heard some typing. “Sir, I have a Jorge Luis Valenzuela in my computer. Sin-uh-lo-uh. Deceased. I’m so sorry.”
I heard his voice inside my head. “We’ll be okay, Andrés.”
“Thank you.” I said, standing still and quietly in my living room, my eyes blurring everything around me into a bright shiny mass of colors from the computer screen and the TV. My breath held itself in and my heart thumped so murderously in my chest that I could feel it in my ears. I threw the phone against the wall, sat down on the floor and put my head in my hands. I wondered if Jorge had always known how it would end, how we would end.
The next morning I drove to the little two bedroom duplex on Tularosa Avenue in south Denver. During high school my friends and I had painted houses in this area as community service for National Honor Society. That had been the only time I’d traveled to the area those friends had referred to as the ghetto.
The houses on Jorge’s block were well taken care of, as if pride had played a part in their upkeep. I noticed a bush thick with fully bloomed deep blood-red roses sitting near the window. He had brought me one of these roses a few weeks back. A pecan tree stood in the middle of the yard of unit A, Jorge’s home. Most of the nuts had fallen over the black wrought iron gate into the bare dusty yard of unit B. Many of the pecans still had their green soft shell. Jorge’s home had a wall-painting of La Virgen de Guadalupe adjacent to the front door. A rickety TV tray table sat underneath La Virgen with a green vase filled with black-dried roses.
My mind dizzied as I knocked, not prepared for this responsibility. A little boy in a white undershirt and blue shorts answered. I imagined Jorge looked exactly like him as a child. He stared at me for a moment and then looked past me.
“Carlitos?” I asked, smiling, trying.
“Do you have a blue truck?” he asked me, trying to look behind me.
My heart broke. Jorge’s story came back to me in an instant and I wanted to say no. I didn’t want to tell this little kid that his uncle was gone. I didn’t want to hurt him before I even had a chance to meet him. And at that moment, without my wanting to think it, almost involuntarily, my mind thought, ‘I wish I’d never met Jorge because of this moment, because it hurts too much, because it’s so damn hard.’
“Yes, I do.”
Carlitos yelled, “¡Abuelita!” He took off into the house.
The floorboards creaked, a cane knocked against the wood and then slippers scuffed slowly against the floor as she hobbled to the door. On a television in thedistance with was a talk show or telenovela.
She looked at me for a brief moment. “¿Qué, joven?”
“Yo soy amigo de Jorge.”
“¿Jorge, donde es mi Jorge?”
“Señora Valenzuela, es muy dificil. La immigración…” I told her everything.
The sting. The busses. The shooting in Juárez. I told her about the phone call. I told her how I loved him. I said if she needed anything I could take care of it. I hugged her.
“No. No es mi Jorge. ¡Por favor no!” She wailed, her sign of the cross ending over her heart. She stared at the painting of La Virgen and began praying out loud, her lips moving faster than most can speak I’d never prayed in my life, because I hadn’t been brought up that way and as an adult had never felt called to. I knew nothing would change. I listened to her prayers, beautiful as poems, and folded my hands and bowed my head. Moments later, Carlitos reappeared, his arms full.
“Abuelita, un regalo de tio Jorge.”
She held out her arms and took the box from Carlos. “Pásale, hijo,” she said to me, opening the door and inviting me in.