Hoping for Juan

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Although I was only six when it happened, I still remember it very well. It was the first time that I had seen my mother cry. It was on August 19th, nine years ago. My father’s name is Mark John Anderson. My mother’s father, who is a first-generation American, decided (once he met my father) to grant him the name Juan. He never called my father Mark after that, always Juan.

My father did not look like a Juan, with his pale, dark-haired Italian heritage, and his daredevil, courageous smile. When I hear Juan, I think of Mexican taxicab drivers and the dry feel of the hot white sand, scorching the bottoms of your feet. I think of small markets and mariachi bands. I think of hot summer nights, complimented by the ocean spray and an ice-cream cone. My grandfather, on the other hand, looks like a Juan.

Because my mom is half Mexican, we started going there as a family to visit, on our vacation time. Travel agencies, as well as our family and friends, told us not to go there, because it was dangerous. They kept telling my parents about how there were risky drug wars going on, but my parents decided to throw caution to the wind, and go ahead. The first time we went was when I was four, and all I remember of that is the sand, and my father’s laugh, sprinkled across the beach like raindrops.

We went once a year after that, and when I was six, the day after we got there, my dad decided to go for a run across the beach. My mother smiled and told him that she would cut the cantaloupe so it would be ready for him (it was his favorite fruit). He, blowing a kiss, started jogging. My mother and I watched him fade into the distance from our outdoor patio.

After an hour, there was no word from him. My mother started to get worried. He always came back from his run in an hour. She soothed me, saying that he probably decided to make it longer because he was on a vacation. She then set herself to work, chopping the cantaloupe. We waited another hour, and we hadn’t seen him. There weren’t any new calls on my mother’s cell phone. She became worried, and I saw that and started crying. She once again calmed me, telling me that my father had probably stopped at a shop to get some food, because he was hungry. She continued slashing at the already-sliced cantaloupe pieces, until the juice spilled onto the floor. The over-ripe cantaloupe smell filled the air, and still she chopped, faster and faster, as if chopping would make him come back quickly. By the time she was done, it was nothing but some cantaloupe mush and green, chopped-up rinds.

Once three hours had passed, she truly showed her fear. She started calling different Mexican agencies, asking if an Italian-looking man who went by the name of Mark John Anderson. She even called the Federal Investigation Agency. She started speaking rapid-fire Spanish, desperately. The man on the other line replied, “Lo siento, pero tu esposo no esta aqui.” Then she started crying, and I started crying too, even though I didn’t understand. She hugged me tight, and whispered, “Your father’s not coming back, Charlie!”

We stayed at the condo for another week, while my mother fretted and called everyone. We stayed at the condo constantly, hoping he’d miraculously walk through the door. There was no word from anyone. Crying, she packed our suitcases. We went back to Columbus, Ohio, where we had been living before. She held herself fully responsible for his abduction by a drug gang, and didn't forget. She gave me his name, Mark John. I don’t remember much of him but the stories my mother tells, to preserve and pass on the memories of my father. I wonder who he was, what he would have thought of me, what had happened to him that day. Although his name is Mark Anderson, his name in our minds is always Juan.





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