Ena had been in the country for a handful of weeks, staying with her cousin Pablo when she met Manny at a party hosted by Pablo in his painfully small studio apartment.
When Ena finally packed up to go, when she made the momentous decision to leave her young son Hector behind so that she could get away from Hector’s father and his greedy family, her worried mother slipped Pablo’s address and phone number into her sweaty palms. Pablo was the pride of the village. He had made it safely to America and once there, in the frigid cold of New York, he landed a job as a technician, evidence of divine intervention if you ask his family.
He and Ena were never really close growing up, but they were related and knew each other as children, which counted for a lot. Pablo was kind to Ena. He didn’t ask anything of her for three weeks or so while she lay on the couch, watched TV and cried.
In those long weeks and months following Hector’s birth, Ena kept weighing the question of staying or leaving. She looked for signs everywhere. If it rained before two it meant that she should go, but only if it stopped by three. She realized that the rules to determine her future were growing more byzantine by the day.
The crossing was fraught, tiring, tense. And then for long stretches it was boring, so boring that they each told the others their life story, which weighed Ena down. When Ena started showering regularly, Pablo knew she was over the hump. Sometimes it takes that long to adjust, especially in the winter. The unremitting cold, the feeling that this cold is attacking you and that it’s personal, is a common reaction. Pablo the perfect went through it too.
Week three is always the best time for a party of this nature. In Spanish it’s called “The Boat Pulls In” but it looses something in the translation. Pablo’s party for Ena wasn’t much of a party by any standards. He opened a few bags of chips, a jar or two of salsa and beer. The beer ran out early but someone brought some more. The music started in. The crowd swelled. People started dancing. Boys asked the girls. Girls asked girls. It was all a bit wild for Ena. She gravitated to the refrigerator, which was at a right angle to the small stove. She could feel that familiar balloon of sadness swelling up inside her when the music stopped. Just. Like. That. The crowd groaned. And then thirsty, everyone headed to the refrigerator. Ena was in the way, slowing down the handing out of the beer bottles fire brigade style. She twirled and bounced from one set of friendly hands to the next as she tried to get out of the way. Everyone was touching her but in a friendly way. It felt like she was being blessed. The last in line was Manny.
Manny leaned down and whispered in her ear something that made her smile. He offered her his beer. His bottle was cold, sweaty. She took a long pull.
That moment seemed to stretch sideways. That’s the way Ena remembers it.