MISSING IN ACTION

His hands looked massive holding her petite face, yet at that moment it was her gaze that kept him standing tall and strong…

Antonio had never been what you’d consider a nice guy, he looked like everything but. He had a rugged look, broad shoulders, firm gaze and a handshake that let you know he could break you in half if he felt like it. Even with that, he was soft-spoken and had a way of patting me on the shoulder and messing my hair up that was as gentle as a warm meal after a long cold hard day. He was peace for my mother… that man made her feel safe even with all his pandemonium.

Antonio did marry my mother, he didn’t get on one knee, he bought her a ring, put her arm around her while she sat on the sofa reading and asked her to marry him and let him take care of her. She said yes right away and he made sure he did just that… every day of his life and sometime after he took care of her… and me.

Antonio loved my mother, he was a good provider and he had the ability to make her face light up each time he walked in through the door and an immense fear took over her eyes every time the door closed behind him. He wasn’t my real father of course, I never my real father but I’m ok with that, we had Antonio. I was old enough to know he hadn’t always been a part of our lives and grateful enough to figure out that he had been there when she had no one else. I don’t recall when my grandmother moved back to Cali, Colombia… back to her small neighborhood Floralia. It was small and as you can imagine, super crowded. It smelled like sewer and brown sugar fritters. I visited twice a year up until I was around 16, then grandma told us it was safer that we no longer flew over there and let her come visit us once a year on my birthday or Christmas. Grandma would do just that, once a year she’d come and stay for a week. During that time Antonio was either here or wasn’t. He’d either stay the entire week or be gone the entire time. Mom always told Grandma he worked a lot. I’m not saying it’s a lie but I sort of figured Antonio didn’t exactly have a set schedule to follow.

We lived in Texas, in a small town by the name of Beeville, located in Bee County; where there are more cemeteries than playgrounds. Mom worked at one of the three state prisons located in Bee County.  I believe this is where she met Antonio, no he wasn’t an inmate or an offender, as my mother still refers to them. Antonio only worked there for a few months, mom put up with it for 5 years until she was able to get her teaching certification and got a teaching job there in Beeville at the Elementary School. The Trojans … that was our mascot. Antonio got my mom to quit and stay home until she finished her online certification after she was assaulted by an offender. He didn’t rape her, he might have, had she not put up a fight and almost bitten his ear off. He did beat her up pretty bad by the time the picket noticed her struggling in the janitor’s closet. Mom stayed home due to the injuries for about 3 months, then her worker’s comp didn’t come through or they gave her the run around due to it being a mutual fight. I’ve always been big for my age, Antonio looked like you’d break your teeth if you ran into his chest. The man was a standing bull. My mother is a flat 5 foot tall, petite woman not an ounce over 120 pounds. I don’t know what her assailant looked like but I know she fought hard for her life and had it been a lazy picket officer she might have never come home that night.

I wasn’t allowed to ask what Antonio did for a living, I doubt mom ever did either. We had an idea, not in agreement because we never sat to talk about it but on the last day, we both knew. Every other day or for 2 days once a week he’d leave for the entire day or until late the next night. He’d say he was going to Mexico, they’d talk on the phone or text for the three hours and a half drive until he reached one of the 4 or 5 US/MEXICO borders that are located along Brownsville and Hidalgo, Texas. Then he’d return, looking like he hadn’t eaten or slept in those two days. Oily hair, dark circles under his eyes and the fire in his eyes burned a little brighter than when he left. Like an angry pit bull that got pulled off a dog fight too soon. Perhaps it was anxiety to finally be home and hold her again. I used to fantasize that my dad, Antonio, was in a fight club. I pictured him, a total bad ass, fighting in an underground club surrounded by a noisy crowd and corrupt politicians watching from above. Eventually I figured it had to be bigger than that and perhaps not as unsanitary. He did love my mother, I knew that. I also knew he was violent but never towards us. In fact I can’t remember ever hearing him curse. He never smoked or drank an ounce of alcohol, he never spanked me and he liked to cook for us.

– let him have all the meat he wants, it’s not gonna constipate him that’s nonsense, it’s gonna make him get big and strong, men are supposed to be big…

He’d tell my mother as he evened out my serving of vegetables and meat. He had no idea how to be a father but he did a damn good job at it.

One time a drunk tried to pull my mom around at the yearly town Easter event that the community college holds. I was about 8 years old when I saw Antonio drag the guy by the neck towards the wooded area behind the running track of the college after the dumbass tried to pull her towards him and then spanked her butt when she pulled away. I didn’t see the guys face on the news that night, nor did I see missing posters anywhere. About a week or so later someone reported the smell behind the bushes behind the baseball field; the college stray cats and coyotes had already chewed most of his face and torso off. No one suspected who did it, the police didn’t come asking questions. Beeville in Bee County was just too small to care about another drunk who might have been a potential pedophile.

Antonio played soccer with me ever once in a while but mostly he thought me to defend myself and stand strong and breathe through the pain of a punch. I eventually joined a boxing gym… well the boxing gym in beautiful Beeville, Texas. I still managed to get my ass kicked over a girl in middle school. Antonio wasn’t happy, he wasn’t mad either… he seemed sad. Mom cleaned up my face that night and gave me some strong Ibuprofen. Antonio came and shuffled my hair as I sat on the recliner watching TV that night… awkward silence as he stood behind me with his hands on his hips and looked up at the ceiling searching for words. I saw his reflection on the TV as a commercial for a device to help old people put their socks on played.

– Son… my only regret right now… the thing that just .. it just ticks me off that it was another dam kid your age and size and I can’t put my hands on him like I want to

-…..umm…thanks Tony
that was all my pubescent dumbass was able to stutter out

He was a beast, tamed by my mother. I was 19 the last time I saw him. Mom still looked radiant at 46. Antonio was about 5 years younger than her but still seemed older than her.  She was still teaching at the elementary school. He hugged us both separately before he left that morning.  He held her last for a bit longer than usual, kissed her forehead and then held her face petite face in his massive hands. No I love yous… nothing, because they both knew, she knew and he was just lucky to have her.
He kissed her again and whispered I’ll come back as he closed his eyes and pressed his lips to her forehead one last time as she wrapped her arms around his waist.
That was the last time.
It was I think two days later when a stranger in dark jeans, a black military like cap and a brown jacket showed up to our house. He handed her his jacket and a yellow envelope full of money. He shook my hand firmly with a hand full of callous and dirty fingernails. He squeezed my mom’s shoulder and left his number in case we ever ran into any troubles. I had never seen him before… she might have, or not. I’m not sure, but with his visit we both knew Antonio was gone from our lives forever. I started to ask her what happened and then I saw her face, red as tears poured down to her cheeks and she held her breath. I wrapped my arms around her and Antonio’s jacket with its faint scent of blood and gun powder. She let out a gasp and loud sobs, I squeezed her to me and immediately a river of sadness overtook me. He was gone.
Later that night I began to search his jacket’s pockets not sure what I was looking for. Inside the chest pocket I found a single fading picture of mom and me. We’re kneeling under the peach tree, I must have been 4 years old, shirtless, my red shorts and sandals, the chili bowl hair cut. A chocolate ice cream cone dripping down my bare stomach and the mess on my face. Mom is kneeling next to me, one arm around me and my eyes are fixed on the cone. Her black hair is shoulder length, wavy and loose, tucked behind her ears showing her entire face, no make up, just her. She’s barefoot in white shorts and a pink muscle shirt. She has that million dollar smile like when someone would say something funny and she wrinkled her nose and showed her perfect white teeth between her pink lips. My sweet mom and her million dollar smile, the one Antonio always said was the prettiest smile ever. The back of the picture doesn’t say anything, no year, no date. There’s a faint bloody thumbprint and other yellow stains, as if he pulled it out many times before… perhaps this was the last thing he saw. I took the picture and tucked it under my sock drawer face down, it hurt to think that he carried this with him every time he went away.
Mom never remarried, a year later I joined the Marines as a human resources specialist. Mom continued teaching. My contract took me to Missouri where she came to visit for a few days during her summer and Christmas breaks. I got into a bar fight once there with a civilian who was a bouncer or a bartender at one of the many bars surrounding the base. I got my ass whooped again of course. We were about the same size but I hadn’t been in a fight since middle school. The guy ended up stabbed and robbed behind an alley about a month later when I was given fire guard duty at the BOQ’s and couldn’t join my friends for beers and titties.
I guess they just wanted to rob him and he must have put up a fight
I said when I first heard the news as I scrolled down my phone and deleted the phone call to a cell phone in Mexico two weeks ago.

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Addiction vs. love

Which one of the two is stronger?

Some people swear that love is the strongest feeling there is, it can make you hate, lose fear, fight people you swear you’d protect or stand by regardless… specially that parent love that comes from mother to child. I swore when my daughter was born I would protect her against anyone and anything.

I wasn’t always a junkie, I was a nurse three years ago. It started with the caffeine pills to keep up with work: the divorce, my daughter Jessica and the lover I eventually met while out with friends downtown, hitting the clubs we were almost too old for. He was the drummer for this alternative rock band at a 21+ club. I wasn’t all that into the music, or even all that into him, the beard and messy hair aren’t really my thing but he smelled nice… and I was lonely as fuck. The sex wasn’t that great, even for the first night it was still pretty average. He  was pretty decent guy, he got my number that night while I was at the bar doing shots with my three, way hotter than me, friends. After that we met up for a few breakfast dates, coffee and running every once in a while. It wasn’t until about a month later I finally gave in at his apartment. Actually it was a cool January evening when I dropped off some soup to help his cold. My Jessica was at her grandma’s. It was the first sex after almost four years of abstinence and I felt I owed it to myself. I knew I wasn’t the only one because there were times I called and his phone was off, he never answered his phone when he was with me and he would stare at other girls when we were together… no shame, he just would and I would act like I didn’t notice. I wasn’t looking for a serious relationship even though I wanted one. I just knew that after my husband left I wasn’t worth it anymore. I had nothing left to give but some pretty odd sense of humor and average cooking. It also didn’t help my self esteem that my husband left me for an older woman, 13 years older to be exact. I was 27 and she had just turned 40. I know I should have been laughing at him somewhere, but how fucked up did I have to be for him to go to someone like that. It happened and the day he left he was gone for good, no visits, no child support, no casual sex with the ex just for shits and giggles… nothing, not a damn thing. Never a call on my Jessica’s birthday, no Christmas present or checking up on either one of us. He just left and took half my joy with him. I stopped hating him after Jessica turned 2. I finally wrapped my head around the fact that he got bored of trying at something he probably never wanted.

Roberto… his name was Roberto, he was Dominican, his skin was soft and his lips were always a bit dry. We tried cocaine the first night after I had a really hectic shift at the ER. He said it would help me relax and if not we could just have some bomb ass sex … it was pretty bomb. I woke up the next day around 6 in the morning naked on his bed with him collapsed on top of me. His mouth was slightly open and there was a small trail of saliva from his mouth to my chest. I had a hard time moving from under him, he was a bit tall and stocky. I checked myself in his bathroom mirror, I looked like hell. Hickeys, bruises, messy hair, worn down eyeliner and mascara, even a few bite marks on my left breast and my hip. That was the first of many nights, I started leaving my Jessica more and more at her grandmother’s house even when I didn’t work nights. I slept and ate less. I took on more over time hours, volunteered to come in and then called in at the last hour saying my daughter or my mother were sick… all to go have some hours with Roberto. I don’t remember how much time after that I tried heroin. We weren’t alone that night and this time when I woke up I knew Roberto hadn’t been the only one I had sex with. I had vague memories of one of his camaradas (the dealer) bending me over on the sofa but I was too high to even move. I stopped seeing him after that. I quit Roberto but I didn’t quit the drugs.

It wasn’t hard after that you know… getting high, having sex just because I could and not even because it felt good. I’m 39 now and I can honestly say I have never had an orgasm. It has never been dreamy, I never missed it, even with my ex-husband. I was always good at pretending, at moaning and screaming and making him feel like a hung horse. My mother caught on to the use, Child Protective Services never came knocking on my door because by some miracle I was able to maintain my job and made sure she was at grandma’s before I went and did anything. Until my mother became tired of seeing me worn out and always leaving her doorstep with scruffy men that sometimes were missing teeth. She gave me an ultimatum, she was always strict so she kept her promise and sold her house, moved away and refused to watch Jessica anymore. She still sent her cards, called her at least once a week until she became too old to want to listen to her grandmother telling her to behave. I let her go out, I let her stay up late, miss school but always with a decent excuse. I loved her to death but I couldn’t get my shit together for her anymore. Perhaps I never did and I was just good at pretending everything was going well. She was an ok kid, she didn’t get into fights at school and didn’t have a boyfriend, she just hung out with the wrong crowd. Even then, she still came home every night and always still kissed and hugged me before she went anywhere. She checked in with me and never ignored my calls when she was out with her friends. I guess we were doing ok, until I met Wesley… I don’t even know his last name.

He actually tried a little harder than the other ones, that should have been a red flag for me but it wasn’t. I thought it was great, someone who shared my addiction, he was a disabled veteran so he couldn’t work but his disability check was enough to help with groceries and maintain our bad habits. I moved from the hospital to a nursing home. Eventually it became too loud in the ER and I didn’t mind dealing with the vomit and diarrhea from the old people there. I had lost my ability to be disgusted because I was already disgusted at my own existence every time I went home with a new man. Wesley insisted on meeting my daughter, he did after three months and eventually he moved in.

He broke us on Easter day, Jessica had just turned 11, she looked a little older for her age. She didn’t get that from me, my boobs missed high school and my hips weren’t pronounced until after I gave birth to her. Her face is cute too, she has dimples, thick chestnut eyebrows and heave eyelashes. Her face is angelic even under all that dark make up she wears now. I adore her but I depend on heroin just to be able to numb the way I love her and how much I hate myself for hurting her.

We had a cook out at the town park, the one that has the huge lake on it with all the trees where people camp out and take their RV’s to. Of course we were getting high in the car. Jessica didn’t invite any friends, it was just the three of us and she had started calling Wesley ‘dad’… per his request. He bought her one of those Pandora bracelets in pink… her favorite color, I took her out to get her first manicure. It was special because we had him in the family and she was so mature now that she just got used to pretending we weren’t getting high in the living room when she was in her bedroom snapchatting friends. It got dark, I took a hit of heroin and laid in the bed of the truck with Wesley for a bit. We didn’t mess around… this was a nice park and there was a random cop driving around. I don’t know how long we were there for that I realized Jessica had gone for a walk and hadn’t been back yet. He said he’d go find her, I got off the truck and started picking up. He took the truck to drive around looking for her, the park was at least 5 miles in diameter. I stayed there, light up a cigarette until the mosquitoes were too much. I searched my back pocket for my phone… shit, I left it in the cup holder of the truck. I started walking around, first towards the restroom, then around the lake… I couldn’t find them or see the truck. People were already either leaving or retrieving inside their RV’s or tents. I started to panic, I don’t know what I thought… maybe a snake bit her, maybe he forgot where were… honestly nothing made sense and I just needed to find her now! I started knocking on the RV’S doors asking if anyone had seen them. Most looked at me in disgust… on my off days I rarely bothered to cover the trails of needles on my arms with long sleeve shirts.

I ran into a cop and described the truck… poorly, and my Jessica. Nothing, no reports of accidents or injuries. It was about an hour until someone requested a welfare check to the apartment… maybe they got tired of looking for me and made it home. They said no one was home. They drove me to the station to file a report.. I’m not sure for what, I didn’t know the license plate to the truck and Jessica wasn’t missing. I didn’t think he’d kidnap her but they talked about perhaps he had enemies… our drug use and then they started talking among themselves and throwing looks of disgust and pity in my direction. No tears came, I just had a hard time breathing and sitting still, I needed a hit just to be able to breathe now. The police station was about 3 miles from home… I got off the chair, pretended to go to the restroom and walked out. I don’t know why I felt the need to pretend, I thought I was in trouble but I wasn’t sure for what.

I made it home, something seemed strange. Not everything but some things were out of order. I walked to our bedroom calling both their names, the closet doors were opened wide and his clothes were gone. I checked the bathroom… his contact stuff was gone but his toothbrush was there. That’s when I saw her walk up behind me. There was blood at the crotch of her pants. Her hair was messy and she had a bite mark to her cheek…a big one.
-Mum
-….baby?
I felt a cold shiver and then I couldn’t breathe, it was as though someone had punched me in the stomach really fucking hard. I held her and she pressed herself to me gritting her teeth and sobbing hard. I asked for her phone but she didn’t have it. We walked together to the neighbor’s apartment holding each other as I held on to the walls for support. My legs had turned to Jell-O, we knocked on the first neighbor’s door… no one was home. I knocked on at least 3 doors until someone opened, the old widowed man at the end of the hall. I asked to borrow his phone and he said yes after what seemed like forever minutes. He seemed tired, I didn’t even know what time it was. He took one look at Jessica and offered us to come in, we did. He helped me give the police the address. They told me not to let her shower, then they called Child Protective Services. I asked Jessica if she wanted me to call grandma… she said no. She had no one else that could comfort her but me and I already knew I wouldn’t be able to handle it.

They didn’t take her away and they couldn’t find him. I was with him for about 6 months and didn’t know a damn thing about him. He was a veteran… he didn’t leave any mail behind. I didn’t know what company he served with or where he deployed when the U.S. Marshalls contacted me. He just disappeared and took my Jessica with him. In her place he left another one of me, broken and empty. She didn’t rebel or hate me… she began to comfort me, doing drugs with me and staying in. Eventually I lost my job at the nursing home too. An old man that got a heart attack while I was bathing him and I couldn’t give any straight answers so when the investigation happened I walked out on my own.
I love Jessica more than anything, but I hate how much I love her because if I didn’t love her as much as I did then I’d be able to pull her out of this shit hole. I would have been able to toss out all the needles and stopped looking for dealers to help me cope with the piece of shit that I am. I would have stopped her when I was dazed on the sofa with needle poking between my fingers. I would have slapped her hard across the face and sent her to her room but I knew she was in pain.

He had found her near the lake, smiling and happy at her first birthday celebration in three years. He told her to get in the truck and then he drove her home. He told her I was already at home because I felt sick and she didn’t suspect anything. He raped 3 times until he finally decided to leave. She said he kissed her before he left, he grabbed her breast and when she smacked his hand away he bit her on the cheek and grabbed her crotch one more time. Then he grabbed her by the hair and threw her on her bed. She thought he was going to do it again when he unbuckled his pants but this time she finally cried and told him “please no”.

-That’s when he went to your room and took all his stuff, I stayed on the bed looking up at the ceiling fan until I heard the door close. It was a while until I head it open again, I thought it was him so I went under the bed silently. Then I heard you calling my name.

She said this to the cops, she said to the CPS lady and she said to her grandma in the living room of our apartment while I sat there listening, numb every single time.
Because I knew she was hurting I let her sit with me, I couldn’t stop her. She just put the needle between her fingers like she had just seen me. I heard a small “ow” … a sweet whisper and then she laid and put her head down on the sofa. Her eyes remained open and I didn’t close them even after I heard the ambulance coming down the street. I knew she died… this was the most I could do for her. This was all I could do to help her stop hurting, I didn’t deserve her, since the day she was born  she was too good for me.

They called it child endangerment. You know what my punishment is? I get to be a weekender at the county jail for the next 3 years. For the next 3 years I get to give up my freedom for 48 hours in exchange for the life of my Jessica.