There are people the world over who live utterly unimaginable lives. The anecdote I choose to tell occurred less than a week ago, but it is not the first time it has happened, nor will it be the last. It is also a story that is in no way restricted to a small village in southern Mexico. So, I humbly ask you reader friend, to don your spectacles of insight, prepare to read some uncomfortable things, remembering that these are real people. I have hugged their sweet little children; they have played with my own.
For delicacy´s sake, I choose to change names. For storytelling´s sake, I have taken the liberty to add descriptive detail and dialogue, which may or may not be exactly as it all went down. However, the heart and soul and main points remain unequivocally based on the sad facts of some of the most desperate lives I have ever witnessed.
Elizabet watched anxiously up the road for Pedro´s arrival. He had worked all week, she had even gone some days to help him, and today he would be paid. She looked down and her children´s gaunt eyes stared wonderingly back up at her. They had been to the garbage dump that morning, as usual, but had little success that day.
“Mama,” little Pedrito said plaintively, “I´m hungry.”
“I know you are little love, but just wait a bit longer. Papa will be home soon. When he comes I will get something to make you.” Pedrito appeared hardly convinced at this optimistic opinion.
They heard the gate bang shut, all flinching involuntarily.
Pedro came stumbling up the dirt drive, heaving himself through the curtained door. All five children huddled behind their mother’s tiny, skeletal body, wasted for their own sake, to give each a couple extra bites that should have been hers.
“Where’s my dinner?” roared Pedro in the incoherent slur of any inebriated human.
“Did you bring me money? How can I get food if I have no money, Pedro?”
“Don’t talk back to me woman!” And as Pedro lifted his fist, Elisabet gave an imperceptible signal to the innocents behind her skirt.
The sound of his slap was enough to cover the slight, harried shuffle of 10 feet out the back door.
He continued railing, yelling, shouting, abusing, his bloodshot eyes bulging in anger.
“Come, Pedrito, quickly! Come, oh come little Mary! Don’t look back, just come!” Isabel, in her anguish, fairly scooped up Pedrito in her thin arms and ran recklessly through the coconut grove.
The others followed behind, trusting their big sister to take them as their mother had shown them so many times.
Always take a different way, she had said. He might discover a worn footpath. Go quickly, go quietly. Skirt around the mango and head down to the dip. On they went, beating through the long grasses, the hot, hot sun burning mercilessly upon their heads.
At last they arrived, panting, to their special hideout. Mama had made it herself, a refuge from the storm of a drunk and violent husband. It was just a little structure, four wooden poles as corner posts with an old, faded canvas sign strung across the top. The children, heaving with fright and exertion, sat down on a couple of logs Mama had dragged in the last time and said nothing.
Pedro by now had crumpled on the floor, his soiled pants filling the house with their rank odor.
Elisabet quickly, silently, grabbed a jug of water and followed her children out. There was no telling when he would wake again, no telling what else he would do to her or the children. Between alcohol and drugs, he was completely unpredictable. She remembered clearly their last child, conceived not of love but of drunken, lustful, brutal demand.
She arrived to the little tent, hugged her frightened children around and gave them all a drink of water.
“Come, little ones, Papa’s bad off. It’s best if we were gone. Follow me quickly and quietly.”
She scooped up the littlest and the four others fell into single file line behind this tiny woman who would give her all for their little selves. They walked through the bush, eventually cutting across to the main road, keeping always to the shadows, an ear open for a follower, eyes alert to certain danger. The children said nothing. They had nothing to say. Hardship, hunger, poverty and violence had beaten into their brains the uselessness of complaint. Silence hung about them, broken only by the buzz of mosquitos and the whistle of a golondrina, as they trudged on into the village to find help.
They made it at last to the home of Elisabet’s sister who, knowing the drill, ushered them in, closed the door then peered up the street for a long, long while. Convinced at last Pedro had not perceived their escape, she turned her attention inside. Fresh fruit juice all around, the baby on her hip, forcing her sister to sit, the children to play, Soledad was a flurry of activity. She made them empanadas, filled them to the full. Showered them with the love and attention they all so desperately needed.
“Come with us tonight to hear the gospel preached,” Soledad suggested, knowing her sister’s urgent need for Christ in her life.
“I would go. You know that. I would love to go. But he will find me there. Remember last time? We had to hide in the bathroom, the believers had to lock the front door for us. He will find me and make a scandal, cause a terrible scene, try to fight the brothers. He won’t even let me go when he’s sober. And now like this?”
Soledad acquiesced, determined instead then to show her the love not just of a sister, but the love of Christ to a poor, lost family. Elisabet and the children stayed until they could find out if Pedro was finally sober again to go back home, which they did. Admittedly, quite anticlimactic.
But how did they? How could they return to such an environment? Questions abound. Why does she put up with him? What will happen to the children? Will there ever be any change?
There is a strength in impoverished women that supersedes any I have ever seen.
Today, we think of strong women as ones who have climbed the corporate ladder, who run their own businesses while homeschooling 6 kids, women who write long articles on how they are equal to men.
Strong women are women who will go hungry for their children. They are women who are faithful to their husbands even when they deserve everything but. They are women who have no running water, yet manage to wash clothes and kids and dishes and floors every day. Women who are not afraid to look for help. Women who will risk their lives for those of their children. Strong women are ones who wake up every single morning and simply do it all again without murmuring against their unfortunate lot.
As much damage as a husband like that can do, it is impossible for his wife to leave him. She needs the physical security of a man’s presence, she needs the occasional money he actually does bring home, she needs his help and even his love, for when sober he is truly a pleasant man. She is left with little choice.
And the children? Where does it leave those precious, sunburnt kids with big brown eyes? It leaves them with little education, little hope for advancement, little opportunity to learn what a functional family should be. They will only watch and grow up believing it is somehow normal, leading down similar paths in life.
Oh, if only the wretched cycle could be broken! If only the light of God’s glorious gospel could shine into their dark hearts! Hope, love, joy could all be theirs.
As I ponder back over what I have just written, I am remembering the last time I talked to Elisabet. She came over to the house with her sister and we had a lovely little chat. She was happy and peaceful, laughing and enjoying conversation. Yet her 22 year old eyes always belied her mirth. They are the eyes of an old woman, eyes full of miserable, hard knowledge. They are heavy with care and pain. I wish I could scoop them all up, take them home and make everything better. But I can’t. Only God can work to make it all right, only He can provide the necessary miracle to save their family.
I am well aware that this family is not the only of it’s kind. There are others in this town, this state, this country. Families like this exist the world over.
There is only one word left to add.