A serialized novel and podcast by Andrew Leo Lovato
The following is Chapter 22 of a serialized novel and podcast. Start the story of Elvis Romero at the beginning, with Chapter One.
One Saturday night while I was doing my show, a pal of mine, Manny decided to impress a girl he had just met at a party by taking her over to meet his friend the disc jockey. He knocked on the door of the radio station and after a couple of minutes; I was able to get away from the control board to open up. I welcomed them hoping that their stay would be short as I had a number of technical tasks to finish before my shift was over.
Manny laughed and carried on trying hard to impress the intense, green-eyed beauty he introduced as Anita. He explained to me that they had just finished a long conversation about God and the Devil. Manny suggested that they visit his friend who often had interesting opinions about these sorts of things. Anita smiled and added that she didn’t often go to parties but she had determined that she needed to socialize more as she felt she was becoming a bit of a hermit, spending most of her time writing poetry. I nodded my head politely and spun another record on the turntable, “Summer Breeze” by Seals and Crofts.
As the record began to play, I commented that religious concepts tended to be very subjective depending on the believer’s ideas. I added that the record that was currently soaring across the airwaves was recorded by a duo that followed an eastern religion called Baha'i. The followers of this faith believed that all religions had grains of truth and this seemed to make a lot more sense than trying to explain everything from one perspective. Manny smiled appreciatively, knowing that I could always be counted on to add an interesting angle to things.
Anita’s eyes widened and she exclaimed enthusiastically,” That’s amazing that you would say that! Not many people know about the Baha’i faith. I’ve been a follower since I was 16-years-old.”
My interest in this stranger began to grow and Anita and I became absorbed in a discussion about the common thread that runs across religions. After a while, Manny came to the realization that he was becoming the odd man out. As my shift was coming to an end, he graciously rose and commented that he had to leave and if Anita was staying longer he wondered if I’d give her a ride home.
Rather than driving Anita home, we spent the entire night walking in the moonlight in the foothills of Santa Fe absorbed in conversation. I knew this was a special connection I was making but I wasn’t sure what kind of relationship it was.
Anita and I began to spend most of our free time together. For almost a year, we were platonic friends with no real desire for a romantic relationship. Romance in some ways just seemed like an unnecessary complication. However, over time our attraction for each other began to grow. One evening as we were taking another long walk, I impulsively turned and kissed Anita. At first she reacted with surprise but after a moment of hesitation, she embraced me.
Neither of us had too much experience with intimate relationships. We had been involved in adolescent boyfriend/girlfriend romances a few times but we had not gone much further than hand-holding and kissing in cars or at drive-in movies. We were more the exception than the rule. A fairly high percentage of Santa Fe teens were sexually active in high school and even junior high.
In my case, my head had always been so far in the clouds that focusing on a real relationship had been a secondary consideration. Anita had been so in love with God and nature that the realm of human relations had always seemed less important. In time however, we became a couple.
We were completely devoted to each other and never considered the possibility of being with anyone else. We were filled to the brim and we had no desire to seek anything more. We saw our union as inevitable and as natural as the sun rising over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
One of the reasons that Anita and I could spend most of our waking hours together without getting bored or irritable was that we gave each other plenty of space and psychological distance. Neither of us tried to change or dominate the other. We floated through the world together yet still apart, pursuing our own interests and activities. We did not always share the same opinions but we instinctively knew how to give and take and when to back off if necessary. It was much like a dance in which one partner stepped back as the other stepped forward.
We contentedly spent our days together unburdened by many responsibilities or cares. It seemed like the life we knew would go on forever. However, this was about to change.
One morning, Anita woke up feeling light-headed and slightly nauseated. She dismissed this feeling as the after-effect of a three day juice fast she had recently been on. However, the symptoms persisted throughout the day and the next morning she told her mother how she was feeling. Mrs. Armijo sighed knowingly and made an appointment for Anita at La Familia Clinic.
When Anita and her mother arrived, her mother spoke quietly with the nurse and the nurse asked Anita to step into the bathroom and provide her with a urine sample. After about a thirty minute wait, the doctor, a short, dark woman with wire-rimmed glasses appeared.
“Hola, Anita, how are you feeling?”
“Okay, I guess. I’ve been a little tired and run-down lately. I think I need to start eating better.”
The doctor smiled and said “I think that’s a very good idea because from now on you’ll be eating for two.”
Anita looked at her quizzically and the doctor continued, “Dear you’re pregnant. You are about four to six weeks along by now and we need to get to work and start doing the right things for you and your baby.”
Anita’s heart skipped when the doctor said “your baby.” She managed a slight smile, took a deep breath and thought to herself, “Wait till I tell Elvis!”
With a baby on the way, my mind was absorbed by new worries and concerns. I had never given a second thought to where I might be living next month or where my next meal was coming from. The world was full of possibilities and something always turned up. I took pride in landing on my feet. I admired the sadhus who roamed India with only an orange robe and a begging bowl and no other possessions to tie them down to the earthly realm. I romanticized the hobos that Woody Guthrie sang about who rode the railroad boxcars during the great depression. Not that I didn’t enjoy soft, clean sheets and green chili burritos; it was the idea of freedom that appealed to me. It seemed that if you didn’t own much, you didn’t have much to worry about and if no one had power over you, they couldn’t tell you what to do. What could be more valuable than being your own man?
I’d overheard some of my cousin’s complaining about their jobs. It seemed that they all had some type of paper-shuffling gig with the Feds. They had titles like Inventory Procurement Specialist GS-4 or Central Mail Clerk II. To me this was tantamount to a living death. They all seemed to follow the same basic life formula. Graduate from high school, get an entry-level job, buy a new car and a tract house, have a couple of kids and then grind away until retirement thirty years later. Maybe this worked for them, but I just couldn’t stomach this scenario for my own existence.
But suddenly, here I was facing the same basic questions. How was I going to provide for my imminent family? I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by the prospect.
When I lathered myself into a state of panic, it always brought me great comfort to be with Anita. She seemed so sure about our future together and she was constant in her unfailing faith in me.
I admired Anita’s almost complete lack of materialism. She had been raised in a small village north of Santa Fe named Peñasco. Her father made his living woodcarving santos. He also worked laying adobes whenever someone in the village needed help building a house or putting up an addition. Anita’s family never had much in the way of money but she could have cared less.
She was a true nature spirit, a back to the earth tree-hugger. She loved nothing more than being outdoors. She had a natural, unaffected beauty that I found irresistible. Anita never wore make-up and half the time she didn’t bother to comb her long, brown hair. Her sparkling eyes radiated a life force that attracted everyone she met. Women were as drawn to her as much as men. Her openness and warm spirit made everyone feel like they were her instant friend and they could trust her completely. People often told her their entire life stories the first time they met her. Even though she had this power over others, it didn’t interest her much. People were not her first priority.
Anita’s idea of a perfect day was to sit beside a stream in the mountains and draw flowers or write poetry. This suited me perfectly and I’d sit and play my guitar or lie daydreaming, staring into the blue sky. Sometimes we wouldn’t speak for hours, absorbed in our own inner worlds. Our silence was never awkward but a calm and blissful period of oneness.
When we did speak I always knew she would be perfectly honest with me. I could always count on Anita to keep me in check. I recall one lazy summer day when I was gazing at a busy ant hill covered with streams of large, red ants. I directed an arrogant tirade toward the toiling insects.
“Look at you, slaving your lives away and for what? These lousy mounds of dirt that will be washed away by the next rainstorm that breaks over the bank of the arroyo and leaves no trace of your endless labor. Come to think of it you’re not so different from us. We work and worry over our petty concerns and ambitions year after year and for what? Does it all add one more day to our lives? We fight great wars, build magnificent cities that become ruins, accumulate trunk loads of money that our heirs fight over and then squander. If we’re lucky we become footnotes in dusty history books that no one ever reads. I mean, what’s the point? “
Anita looked up at me with a bemused smile and replied:
“Elvis, the problem with you is that you think too much. Why don’t you just give it a rest already? Can’t you just sit in peace for a few moments and enjoy anything? Thinking about things is fine but do you have to analyze everything? It takes the spirit out of life. You’re always pulling up the plant to see how the roots are doing.”
These are the kind of things that Anita said to keep my head on straight.
We were married three months after the news of our future arrival. It was not exactly what you would call a shotgun wedding because we were very happy and excited. However, the timing of the wedding was certainly pushed forward for social and practical considerations. The wedding was a simple affair that took place at Anita’s parent’s house in Peñasco. We exchanged vows in an outdoor ceremony underneath two ancient cottonwood trees near a clear stream. Rudy squirmed uncomfortably in the rented tux he wore as my best man. Family and friends helped celebrate our union with a large spread of beans and green chili, tortillas, tamales, and guacamole. Some of the guests brought guitars, accordions, harmonicas and other musical instruments that filled the night with song. Everyone danced and laughed beside a roaring fire that kept the celebration going strong until early morning.
Father Dexter from the Peñasco Catholic Church performed the services and Anita and I exchanged plain, silver wedding bands that we had purchased from the Indian vendors under the portal of the Palace of the Governors. The rings only set us back fifteen dollars each but we cherished the way they gleamed on our fingers.
The next day, the reality of our new life together began to set in. We had to decide how we were going to navigate our future. At the top of our priority list was where we were going to set up house. We could not afford to buy a house in Santa Fe and renting seemed like such a waste of money. Between my limited income as a part-time disc jockey and the money that Anita could generate selling vegetables from her garden, it was not enough to make ends meet, especially with the added cost of Anita’s pre-natal visits.
Anita’s family was in a situation that was not uncommon in northern New Mexico. They were land-rich but cash-poor. Her parents owned thirty acres of beautiful juniper covered land that we could build on, but the cost and process of building a house seemed overwhelming.
One day as Anita and I were driving into Santa Fe from Peñasco, I happened to glance to my left as we passed the small village of Tesuque, five miles north of Santa Fe. I suddenly realized that I had found the answer we had been looking for.
Standing on a grassy meadow was a statuesque Indian tee-pee, just like I’d seen in the movies. However, in real life it was more magnificent and taller than I’d imagined. It stood about twenty-five feet high from the ground to the top of its narrow, wooden poles. It had a natural elegance that appealed to me instantly.
I pulled my car over to the side of the road and motioned for Anita to look. She began to comprehend what I was thinking about and she let out a spontaneous laugh. We jumped out of the car and cautiously walked toward the site. As we approached, she called out,
“Hello is anybody home? Can we talk to you for a minute?’
The tee-pee flap that acted as a door swung open and a young man in his early twenties with a long blond beard and dreadlocks stepped out. He wore a tie-dye tee-shirt with “Grateful Dead” scrolled across the front. Behind him emerged a slender, black woman who held baby at her breast. They both had ecstatic smiles and welcomed us.
I couldn’t help but grin at the symmetry of their names when they introduced themselves. The young man’s name was Hickory, his wife, Aspen and their baby was christened Twig.
Our visit with this beautiful family extended for several hours, and we shared a meal of lentils and rice and later we watched the unbelievable glory of a New Mexico sunset unfold, passing around a couple of joints.
The inside of the tee-pee was quite cozy. It held a queen-sized bed that the family shared, a cast-iron stove with a pipe that extended out the top, and a small table with pots and pans and other household essentials. Clothes were neatly stacked in boxes that slid beneath the bed.
Anita and I were enchanted with the space immediately. Hickory gave me the phone number of his tee-pee craftsman and the next day we placed an order for our own love nest with a Dutch immigrant named Hans, who lived in a tee-pee of his own and considered his craft a labor of love. He told us our tee-pee would be ready to pick up in about four weeks.
When our tee-pee was ready, we borrowed a pick-up truck and hauled our home to a beautiful spot we had picked out on Anita’s family land, situated on a flat, grassy spot near a small creek. Hans assisted us in the surprisingly complex process of setting up the tee-pee and by nightfall, we’d moved in our bed and basic belongings and we spent our first night sleeping under the stars.
The life within Anita continued to grow and it wasn’t long before she felt our baby kicking. She’d call me over to put my hand on her stomach and feel the gentle stirring. We chose a local mid-wife to deliver our baby. Mid-wives had a long tradition in New Mexico and Anita’s mother approved of the decision. The mid-wife we chose was a vibrant woman, with wise eyes named Sophia Pacheco. She’d delivered babies in the Peñasco area for over twenty years and she was highly regarded.
As we grew accustomed to our new home, our appreciation of the land around us increased and we resolved that someday we’d build a more permanent structure. Gradually, after seeking advice from relatives and friends, the task did not seem so insurmountable and I began to mentally scope out the right spot to build.
I investigated the step-by-step process that went into building a traditional adobe home. What had been a total mystery began to take shape in my mind. I realized that building a house was the only way my new family would ever be secure. No matter how tough things might get in the future, if we had a house and a plot of land to grow some food on, things would always be alright.
Anita’s father and I came up with a plan for a thousand square foot casita with one bedroom, a kitchen, a bathroom and a small living room. We figured that I could add on to it later as we needed more space. The house would have adobe walls, brick floors and a long row of south-facing solar windows to provide passive heating during the winter. Mr. Armijo explained to me that if the roof overhang on the south side extended out just the right distance, it would block the rays of the sun in the summer when it arced high overhead and this would keep the house shaded and cool. In winter, when the sun traveled across the sky at a more horizontal angle, the rays would not be obstructed by the overhang and they would pass through the solar panels and hit the brick floors that would soak up the heat and then slowly release it during the chilly nights.
The first step in making our dream a reality was building a strong foundation. I’d heard countless foundation analogies made my entire life but now I understood it first-hand. My father-in-law and I woke up early one morning and we drove four wooden stakes into the ground. We measured from stake to stake to make sure that the layout was perfectly squared. Then we tied strings that stretched from corner to corner, around the perimeter of the site. As I stood inside the area of my future home, I took a deep breath and said a silent prayer to the blue sky for the success of my endeavor.
Mr. Armijo smiled and said, “Bueno, Elvis, it’s time to start doing some sweating and harden up those soft guitar-playing hands of yours. Here is your most important tool” and he handed me a shovel.
My first task was to dig a trench two feet wide and two feet deep for the foundation of the house. As my shovel began to turn up the dark brown dirt, I caught the scent of rich, fertile soil. Even though the work was hard, it was invigorating and the pure labor cleansed my spirit in a way that nothing else had ever done before. It was wonderful to see the fruits of my labor taking shape in front of my eyes. I felt a connection with my ancestors who had undertaken this same process when they were building homes for their families hundreds of years ago in this isolated northern frontier far from the central government in Mexico City.
As I worked, Anita created an amazing home inside our tee-pee sitting near a giant cottonwood tree. She leveled and swept the ground and hardened the soil in the traditional way using cow’s blood mixed with mud. It made the floor a deep red color and gave it a hard, stone-like texture. New Mexican families had used this technique since early Spanish Colonial days. Anita and I raised our bed on concrete blocks to keep it off the ground. She set up propane camp-stove outside the tee-pee to cook on and we illuminated our space at night with a battery-powered overhead lamp. When we turned the little lamp off before going to sleep, the stars peeked through the smoke-hole at the top of our tee-pee and it felt like we could peer to into the farthest reaches of the universe.
Our life was basic and simple but these were the happiest days I had ever known. I couldn’t help but grin at the irony of driving into Santa Fe to work at a high- tech radio station only to return later to a lifestyle that transported me back hundreds of years.
Every week my work on the house progressed and Anita’s belly grew larger. When I was done with the enormous task of digging the foundation, my hands were hard and calloused. The next step was to fill the trench with concrete so it was strong enough to support heavy adobe walls. Pouring the foundation was a one-day, labor-intensive job that required many strong backs. It was time to invite friends and family to the first of what was to be several work parties. Our guests were in high spirits and happy to lend a hand. Anita and her mother made sure there was plenty of good food available throughout the day. Workers spread the mix that poured out of a concrete truck and made sure that the entire foundation was level. Even the children helped by throwing in rocks that they had gathered from around the surrounding property to save on the amount of concrete that we needed to fill the trenches. It was hard work but as sun set, the trenches were filled and the tired but happy crew sat down to enchiladas and posole. We laughed and played music next to a fire as the moon rose in the northern New Mexico sky.
Summer was passing rapidly and I wanted to get the walls and roof completed before winter set in and snow began to fall. I was ready for the most labor-intensive but also the most satisfying part of the building process, laying the adobe walls. Adobes are ten-inch by fourteen-inch bricks of mud that are four inches thick. Adobes have been the primary building material for houses in New Mexico for hundreds of years. They’re a wonderful material for dry climates and amazingly durable. Many adobe walls over a hundred years old are still standing and can be seen throughout northern New Mexico.
Adobe bricks are made by digging a large mud pit and mixing water, dirt and straw. When mixed to a thick consistency, the mud is shoveled into a wheelbarrow and then poured into wooden forms that are laid on the ground. They are allowed to dry for three days and then the form is lifted and the bricks are turned on their sides to fully cure for an additional two weeks. After this process is completed, the bricks are ready for laying. Our humble house required about two thousand adobes.
I laid my adobes using the same mud for mortar that I had used to make the bricks. As the walls ascended, I left openings where the doors and windows would eventually be. I felt a surge of accomplishment as the house began to rise up out of the ground and take shape. It was as if the earth had risen of its own accord and created this structure spontaneously. There was nothing in the world as beautiful as the sight of my adobe walls rising with the setting sun blazing orange behind them.
On most days, I worked sunrise to sunset, only stopping when Anita brought me tall glasses of ice water and sandwiches. I was obsessed but I needed to be to get our house up before winter set in. Finally, in late October the shell of the house was completed, that is, I had the walls up, the roof done and the doors and windows installed. Now it was secure and the finishing work could be done at a less hectic pace. It was time for us to turn our attention to other matters as Anita was closing in on her due date.
We moved out of our tee-pee and into a small room in Anita’s parents’ home as the weather turned colder and the birth grew nearer. We sank into a quiet, meditative space to await the great event. We did very little talking and engaged in few activities other than reading, drawing and playing music. This was a sacred time for us and we wished to center ourselves. Apart from my work at the radio station and Anita’s pre-natal visits, we stayed close to home.
During the early part of November, Anita felt what she imagined to be birth contractions. Eventually, they settled down and the waiting game continued. November stretched into December and she was beginning to think that the baby would never arrive. Finally, on December 4th at about four o’clock in the afternoon as a light snow fell; Anita knew the time had come. As soon as her contractions began to start in earnest, Sophia Pacheco was summoned and she was greeted by Anita’s mother. The women began to busily carry out the preparations.
Sophia moved Anita onto the bed, took her vital signs, and began to monitor her progress. She assured Anita that everything was fine and things were moving along as they should. Sophia suggested that Anita and I take a brisk walk and enjoy the snowflakes. The exercise and fresh air would help the baby to drop into the right position and make the labor go more smoothly.
We stepped out into the brisk afternoon and held each other’s hand tightly. We walked silently, absorbed in our own thoughts.
Anita looked at me, and she laughed, “Lighten up Elvis, you look like you’ve just seen a ghost! You’re supposed to be helping me stay relaxed, remember?”
I put my arm around her shoulder.
“I’m just thinking about everything. I can’t believe this is all happening. It’s unreal how life just sneaks up on you and carries you away. I can’t fathom that in a few hours, I’ll be a father. It seems like yesterday, I was just a kid myself.”
She stopped and kissed me and hugged me tightly. She whispered, “Elvis, you will be a wonderful father. I am so happy that we have each other and are bringing a new life into the world.”
I gazed into her tear-filled eyes and slowly we turned back toward the house. When we arrived, Sophia checked Anita and nodded her head in approval.
“Just like I said, the walk did you good. The baby is in good position and things look great. Try to relax and stay calm. It may still be a while before your baby is ready to enter the world.”
Anita sighed and sat back on the bed. I stared out the window at the drifting flakes of snow. The minutes and hours dragged by and Sophia and Anita’s mom chatted quietly in a corner of the room. We remained silent and I sat behind Anita on the bed, massaging her shoulders and back.
After a while Anita’s breathing became more labored and her contractions grew stronger. They started coming in waves and the team sprang into action. Sophia monitored Anita’s heart rate and Mrs. Armijo kept her daughter comfortable with cool wash cloths and cups of iced herbal tea. I began to coach her in the breathing techniques we had learned in prenatal class. By 11:00 that night, Anita was in full labor and her contractions were almost more than she could bear. I breathed with her and my inhaling and exhaling unconsciously began to match hers.
It wasn’t long before the crown of the baby’s head was visible. Sophia held up a small hand mirror so that we could see the patch of dark hair that belonged to our child. Sophia encouraged Anita to push more forcefully and she began to groan with the intensity of her efforts. I was awestruck by the scene unfolding before me and I gained a profound respect for the strength and courage of all women who had to endure this indescribable imposition to bring new life into the world.
Anita closed her eyes and focused on her breath as Sophia’s skillful hands maneuvered the baby’s head and shoulders and then finally it was over. The baby came into the world, slightly blue and covered with blood but with a hearty cry and the right number of fingers and toes.
Mrs. Armijo cried out, “Look, mi Hita! You have a beautiful baby boy!”
Sophia gently and efficiently cleaned the baby and clamped the umbilical cord. She handed him into Anita’s waiting arms and she immediately brought her son to her breast. The instinctive suckling drive took hold and the baby began to drink.
I remained seated behind Anita on the bed holding her arms as she held our baby. We laughed and cried at the same time and peered at our treasure. Sophia skillfully delivered the placenta and cleaned up around the birth. Anita’s mother placed the placenta in a jar for its ritual burial. Local Hispanic wisdom held that if the placenta was buried on one’s own land, the baby would live a long and healthy life and have deep roots.
By this time it was almost 3:00 A.M. For the first time, everyone in the room realized how exhausted they were. Anita lay on her back and our baby boy slept on her stomach. Her eyes closed and she began to doze. Mrs. Armijo and Sophia whispered goodbye and told me to call them if I needed to before they came by to check on things later that morning.
After they left, I turned off the lights and lit a small candle next to the bed. I took off my clothes and climbed in next to my new family. Anita looked so beautiful and my son was just like an angel. I gently placed my hands under him and placed him on my bare chest to allow Anita to turn over and sleep. She was completely worn out and she slept soundly. I lay awake through the rest of the morning feeling my breath and heartbeat merge with my son’s.
We were completely absorbed with the miracle of life our love had brought into being. We named our son, Tranquillino to reflect his gentle, sweet nature. He was a beautiful child with deep, brown eyes that seemed infinitely wise beyond his age. Every little movement and utterance Trank made was duly noted in Anita’s baby journal. The outside world and its troubles seemed a million miles away. Perhaps John Lennon was right when he sang “All You Need is Love.”
As April came along and winter loosened its icy grip, I begrudgingly turned my attention back to completing our house. I spent my time laying a brick floor, preparing walls for plastering and working with subcontractors to complete the plumbing and electricity. When another glorious summer bloomed in Peñasco, our house was ready to move into.
Anita and I shopped the second hand stores in Santa Fe and we found a wondrous array of used furniture and household items that wealthy immigrants had discarded. We moved into our new house with our hearts full of hope and contentment.
I held Trank in my arms and walked with Anita to the top of a hill behind our house to watch the magnificent golden sunset. As I stood on the edge of the world watching the sky that seemed to go on forever, I kissed my son, put my arm around Anita’s shoulder and I thought to myself, “Life can’t get much better than this.”