Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Best-Laid Plans

       This past weekend Bruce and I had plans to fly to Nashville to see our new baby granddaughter. We haven't been away from the children for more than two nights and I even think our honeymoon was three. This was to be four nights away! Was. As we turned our phones off airplane mode they were filled with notifications of texts and calls.

       Ben, ten, had taken a bad fall, breaking both bones in his forearm. The paramedics stopped the bleeding (I won't be more graphic), had given him pain medication intravenously and were taking him to Children's Mercy Hospital. Our daughter Susanna, a nursing student, was following the ambulance.

      Even if I'd taken the very next flight back I would have missed the surgery necessary to reset his arm. Bruce and I went to see our beautiful granddaughter, and took time to formulate a plan. Holding Norah was soothing and lovely. Grandparents say that there is nothing like having a grandchild, and it is true. Sharon had flown in from Japan. Bruce stayed to visit, it was his birthday weekend. I flew back the next morning.

       Bruce has told me that there is a saying in the Army: "Planning is everything, but the plan means nothing." In other words, do have a plan--but be ready to adapt it. I don't really think the plan means nothing, so much as the plan must be flexible. We are told the Bible says not to be anxious, and I believe planning is important to that end. One must look ahead to be wise. There are verses about fools running into lions and bad folk, because they were not looking ahead and being safe.

       When I read about "preppers" I have some admiration; they are far more ready for emergencies than I. While it is wise to have food and supplies in store, and even a back-up generator, I wonder if those who have loads of firearms and supplies for a year or two might be taking it too far? I wonder. Perhaps I'm just feeling inadequate, but the attitude seems key, especially the attitude toward fellow man in need. There was a man in the Bible who stored up so much for his own household and was proud, and then promptly died. The lesson was about trusting God. Each must find his "middle-ground."

       Ben is doing well. He had a rod placed in one bone and he is in a bent-arm cast for eight weeks. He's a happy fellow. Today his teacher texted me a photo. He sat out of recess and instead taught the Kindergartners about dinosaurs. Bones heal fast in little ones. "Happiness strengthens the bones." Another Bible verse. Ben is happy so I also choose to be. I missed a weekend planned, but there will be others. I got to hold Norah, and I got to be with my Ben when he needed me.

       Ben is the name of someone in my story...

Chapter 4

1985


       The landing gear engaged after that long, droning hum one feels through the seat and floor of the plane. The wind seemed audible below his feet as Ben looked out from the small window into the brilliant blue sky over Mexico. He smiled; it wouldn't be much longer now. Wispy clouds flew past, and below he could see Saltillo, Coahuilo; all of the many ruddy-colored rooftops, and mountains in the distance. He looked at the photos on his lap before bundling them back into his carry-on. 


       His photo taken for graduation from Kansas State University showed a handsome young man with faded freckles, auburn hair and a boyish grin. He flipped it over and read the sentiment he'd penned: To Renata, You are a part of this. Love always, Ben. He looked at another photo, a family photo from when he was about twelve. He turned it over and read the faded ink: To Ben, Always my adventurer. Thank you for making me feel a part of your family these last few years. My Bem, Renata


       He smiled, sitting back up from stowing away the photos. "Bem," he remembered, meant "love" in Portuguese. Renata spoke both Spanish and Portuguese, as her mother grew up in Brazil. She had affectionately called him her "Bem." Ten years his senior, she had come to America from Mexico through an au pair program. Ben's family were hard-working farmers and his Mom needed help with seven children, soon to be eight. It was a way to learn about other cultures, to have some childcare in the home, and to help a young woman from another country earn some money and strengthen her English.


       He could remember the first time he saw her at the airport in Kansas City. He thought she was beautiful, with sparkling green eyes and long, curly brown hair. She had a funny accent and he immediately took it upon himself as the oldest, to help her in this new country. Her duties revolved more around the younger children, and he felt proud when she addressed him as the big brother. He always wanted to make her proud.


       She stayed two years before she had to return to Mexico, and in that time he fell in love with her. His heart felt broken when she left. She never knew of his feelings, and she never patronized him. When she learned how to drive, Ben's father Harry let Ben come along. He had an old 1974 El Camino with a convertible top he'd installed. When Renata passed muster, she took the children to the local park in it. Ben would sit up front and they would play pretend. They had many adventures. The younger ones loved it. Renata often let him be the heroic knight.


       The flaps extended and the plane touched down with a little double-hop, and Ben lurched forward just slightly as the plane slowed and the pilot's voice came on overhead. First in Spanish, then in English, he welcomed them to the state of Coahuila in Mexico. Ben's heart pounded with excitement. His parents gave him this trip as a graduation present. With a degree in Agricultural Engineering, Ben could work almost anywhere in the United States, but he wanted to stay in Kansas to work his family farm, and to contribute as much as he could in the industry, much like his father.


       Renata would show him Saltillo, where she had grown up, and they would drive to visit farming communities as well as sightsee historic places and farmland. All would be circumspect. Renata had no idea of his past adoration, and she had gone on with her life. She had written to his mother, mentioning a boyfriend here and there, and classes she'd taken. She had a job teaching English. But she intimated that she was lonely, and missed Ben's family; she had no brothers or sisters, and her parents were divorced and distant.


       It felt good to stand and stretch, and to exit the cramped airplane. Ben was 6' 5" now and the window seat did not afford very much leg-room. The stiffness wore off as he walked out onto the ramp and into the terminal. He paid the aches no mind because he was so intent on seeing Renata, in finding her face in the crowded airport. And then, there she was!



***

       Renata stood on tip-toes to see over and through the people in front of her. The flight from Dallas had landed, and she was thrilled to see "her little American brother," her "Bem." People were filing out of the gate and she strained to see any red hair. They looked so tired. She remembered the long flight well--even a decade later. A decade. She shook her head to think so many years had gone by. 

       She looked down and smoothed her worn sundress. She hoped to look presentable. This little boy whom she loved so very well was now a man. She hoped that it would not be awkward. Her feelings had not changed, but he was older now, no longer a boy. She hoped she would not offend him in any way for being too demonstrative. She was not shy, and she was not quiet.

       She had not changed in the last decade in looks or in character; a loving woman, always willing to help someone in need. After returning from her years in America she had gone into somewhat of a depression. The au pair coordinator had warned her of it. It took so long to acclimate to the United States, but once done, it was hard to return to her home country. She stayed with her mother at first, but then soon knew it was time to rent a small apartment on her own. Her parents were rarely on speaking terms and explaining depression and reverse-culture shock over and over came off as nonsense to them and an effort to hide something far more wrong. She was accused of love affairs in America, even of abortion. She hadn't spoken to either of her parents in a long while.

       After a teaching course she was able to get by on money earned tutoring and teaching English. But it was hardly a living. By American standards she was dirt poor. The weekly "fancy" coffee she would have in Kansas at the local restaurant was next to impossible in Mexico. She added what milk she could afford to her coffee at home, and dreamed of America. 

       After a year or two, she had re-acclimated to Mexico, but she always longed for the United States. The program that got her to America accepted no one over 26 and so she felt that she missed the opportunity to return. She had tried once, even got an acceptance at a community college near Ben's family, but after much money spent on that endeavor, her country denied her a Visa. Another bout of depression followed, and then after some time, she recovered. 

       Renata was indeed beautiful, inside and out. Unfortunately, she seemed to attract men only intent on short-term relationships.  A handsome man, the uncle of one of her former students, truly broke her heart. The man had promised marriage, had encouraged her to stay at his apartment; they even spent a weekend in Mexico City. And then he suddenly left, no word, his apartment empty.

       She was dealing with her grief when Ben wrote her, asking if he could visit. It brought her out of a dark place. Not long after, she realized that she had missed her monthly cycle not once but twice. The unused pregnancy test was still in her bathroom. It was hard to find the strength--to know She wanted to be as happy as she could be during Ben's visit.

       She strained to see the passengers and almost overlooked one very tall young man. She gasped. The hair was darker, but it was the face of her Bem! She called out his name and waved wildly. He looked up, and she saw his brilliant smile. Renata was happier in that moment than in a long time. Ben was here.


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