A Sense of Place --for my brother, A. (b. 1960, d. 1960)

I never knew until 40 years later that my parents brought me home from the hospital as a baby to a god-forsaken dusty town in the middle of a desert. The ramshackle country house is still there, black and red paint still peeling, at the end of the long gravel road surrounded by a few mesquite bushes and some sad cactus. I never knew there was a giant mountain in the background. I must have seen it with my new blue eyes, but my father never framed it in the photo of my smiling brother cradling me in his arms. You could see the desert reflected in our clothes though; despite my mother's best efforts, our shirts were always torn and our pants perpetually dirty from crawling through the hinterlands. My brother told me about our great escape from the evil babysitter when he dragged me out of the house and down the long road to where we hid in the old grain silo. My encounter with the prickly pear left a moon white scar on my cheek. But there are some things the camera never captures. Like how my mother had come home from the hospital two years earlier without her baby. My brother, driving me down the long Arizona highway, with each passing yellow sign told me a little more about the past I had never known. "We're at the border now," he said, as a Border Patrol SUV bounced along a bumpy side road, lights flashing, chasing some coyote. He pointed out the barbed wire fence and told me how his friends and he had played a game called, "Wetback," crawling under the fence and back, over and over again. In our second home, the border was literally a stone's throw away from the small stucco house, now with the new white brick fence with the wrought iron flowers. This was the only home I remembered. My brother said that as a boy he used to lie in his bedroom and listen to the illegal aliens creeping across the yard in the middle of the night. Before I came along, my parents and brother had crossed the border many times without fear. But my mother was not immune to the unseen visitors which stole into her bloodstream and into the baby's bloodstream. That was the only thing my brother had ever feared in that first house with no fences beneath the shadow of the great blue mountain. He had never feared the coyotes, tarantulas, the ominous looking vinegaroons, skittering scorpions, flash floods, or Border Police. But when my father carried my mother's lifeless body into the hospital, my brother feared she would never come back. For the first time in my life, I saw the place where I was born and the first house where my parents brought me. And now I see in the photos that my brother is holding on to me as tightly as he can.

© EPG