El Rancho Del Rey is a bright light that shines through the dust. Just off the highway in the middle of a growing neighborhood on the outskirts of the city of Monterrey, the white walls provide a safe haven from dangers that lurk outside. About fifteen boys stay in the residence each school year. They’re given a safe place to run around and be kids; three square meals a day and an opportunity to pursue education. Since its start in the 1950s, the home has given thousands of boys an opportunity for success.
Infinite possibilities are borne on the wings of time as it ticks past. Unmade decisions; unrealized choices; unsaid words; they are all carried forward on the momentum of the present. Time is impregnated with excitement, adventure, sadness, pain, anger and every other possible human emotion; however, despite the importance of time, most seconds simply pass by unnoticed and disregarded, almost as if they didn’t carry any significance at all.
A bitter cold midnight wind rips through my jacket and squeezes my heart. Snow crunches under thin shoes; branches weigh heavy with frozen tears.
Through my cold haze flashing lights snap into the darkness, bathing the night in angry color. In front of me, a slumbering form is covered with a sheet. I see a stretcher beside it, unused. Backlit smoke drifts up from the idling ambulance. Men raise an emergency spotlight. Cars slow down to gaze in horror. Color blinks; extremities shiver.
The same year I graduate from eighth grade, 1967, my dad accrues thirty days of vacation from the General Electric Company. He proposes a cross-country road trip pulling an Apache pop-up trailer. My parents plan all year for this month of visiting every relative, long lost friend, and national park from Niagara Falls to Disneyland.
In the dark of winter, I fall asleep to the nick, nick, nick of my mom’s sewing machine in the guest room on the other side of my bedroom wall. She stiches drawstring cases for each of our sleeping bags. Mine is pink calico with turquoise flowers. My brother’s, a Navajo print on a maroon background. My dad’s, nautical strips in yellow, navy and red. My mom’s, the same strip in red, white and blue. She makes herself a mumu in a psychedelic pattern for the baking Southwest. For me she fashions summer blouses, shorts, and my first two- piece bathing suit with padding in the cups.
I hurriedly pack up my camera and tripod, and turn toward the woods to flee for shelter. Suddenly, two figures emerge from out of the gathering dusk. One is slouching heavily against a tree; the other is to his left, hands in pockets and face obscured by night – he takes a step forward. Behind me, is a two hundred foot drop: in front an unknown menace; I prepare for the worst.
My daughter coaches me beforehand on how to hug and air kiss on both cheeks, but her dainty future mother-in-law gives me a bear hug and pets my hair. I’ve learned to communicate by cheating with words I know in Spanish, easily recognized by speakers of Italian. We make small talk over spaghetti and clams, and whole sea bass that my son-in-law carefully bones. We finish with cherries, Nonna’s favorite, and sweet tiramisu made by his dad.
Travel: a temporary cure to a hereditary existence. I travel, for brief respite from my pain; but, like scratching an itch, the longing becomes stronger after the respite. There is nothing quite the same, as an open road ahead of the car; there is nothing better than trees rushing by the window; or waking up to a new city.