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Ismene

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The journal of one Esperanza S.,

translated to English by Estevan S.

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Dec. 22nd

It rained today. Ismene, Estevan and I walked the deserted streets. We were so very drenched! Ismene's spirits are high, with Christmas so near. Perhaps this year we can give her freedom instead of baubles.

Dec. 25th

Christmas Day. My brother (I wish I could write his name, but it would be too risky — what if this diary was found?) gave us a letter to give to his contact that will get us out of the country, north to the USA. Perhaps Ismene has her freedom at last.

Dec. 26th

Ismene said 'I love you' today. She has never said that before. I am not ashamed to say that tears felt good on my face. The faster we can leave, the better; I am afraid for her. The hounds have picked up the scent of our cell again. It is becoming dangerous.

Jan. 1st

New year, new life — we have our affairs in order. We will leave soon. Ismene can go to school, perhaps, in the land of opportunity.

She is the joy of my life.

Jan. 5th

Estevan and I are very afraid. The hounds are very close; the light I write by seems too bright, as though they will find it suspicious. Only a light, like thousands of others. What kind of way to live is this?

Jan. 8th

It is so dark. Why so dark? They have her. My precious little girl, the light of my life. A raid: hounds, damn them to the blackest pits of hell. They slew my beloved brothers, as well as Jalaza and Jasmine, my dearest friends.

The other seventeen are as of yet undiscovered.

Jan. 9th

Utter torment. They will give us our daughter back if I give them the other seventeen of our cell. I cannot, I know, but to have her back... How can I decide such a thing? How could they be so cruel? Their hearts are black.

Jan. 13th

We are running. We have evaded the hounds, and have contacted my brother's friend. He will be waiting for us on the coast. There is a place for us in the cargo hold of ship going north.

We must stay hidden. It is getting dark, and I cannot light anything.

Jan. 14th

Close call today: the hounds passed within a hundred meters of our camp. They had dogs. It is a miracle they missed us.

I miss Ismene almost more than I can stand. When I think of her, I cannot breathe, and my chest aches. My darling little girl...be safe, or I will die.

Jan 15th

We met the contact today. We board the ship tomorrow. He gave us the information we need to reach a lady in the States who will shelter us for a while.

I find myself wondering if I will be able to board tomorrow, knowing that I may never come back to Ismene.

Jan. 17th

Am I mad? If not, another few days in this hellhole misleadingly named a 'cargo hold' will ensure my utter insanity. Estevan is overly cheerful, but I see my pain reflected in his eyes. Every minute is another quarter-mile further from our daughter.

Oh, Ismene.

Jan. 18th

I broke down and sobbed in Estevan's arms today. There was a little girl playing with a rag doll. She looked nothing like Ismene, but the way she saw nothing but the little one-eyed doll was so like Ismene's utter concentration.

Jan. 19th

We arrive tomorrow. My eyes are red and ache from crying. The hold reeks. The stench is so thick it can be tasted; there is no escape. We are swimming in our own filth. Will America want us, I wonder, refugees coated in the muck of our own existence?

Jan. 20th

We camp tonight in an orchard. It smells so sweet here, I cried when it first hit my nose. Ismene would like oranges; she loves sweets. I wonder how she lives now. I hope it is well. My eyes will dissolve if I cry any more.

Jan. 23rd

We have caught a bus — the contact gave us some American money. The stares make me uncomfortable. Estevan sat in the aisle so all the people shuffling up and down would stare at him instead.

Jan. 24th

They kicked us off the bus. They said 'it' was making the others too uncomfortable. What 'it?' Our presence? Our easily visible pain? These people are so sheltered and intolerant.

Jan. 26th

Estevan and I have spent the last few days 'hitch-hiking' north. It takes so long; no one will take us far. America is so big! We have already traveled the length of Guatemala and are still in Florida, which is only one state of many.

Jan. 31st

We reached the contact today by telephone. He says they gave my precious Ismene to a middle-class family to raise when they realized we were not going to talk. At least she is safe. For the first time since I lost her, maybe I can sleep.

Feb. 2nd

I laugh — bitterly — at my last entry. Sleep? Not when nightmares of watching her first steps from behind thick one-way glass await me. Someone else is watching my little girl grow up. She'll probably believe I left because I didn't love her. It seems I have tears left still.

Feb. 5th

We are in Arizona now, very close to the Shelter. I have come to think of it with the capital letter; a haven, where we will not have to run anymore. I miss Guatemala. At least there my very face did not betray me as different and suspicious.

Feb. 6th

I cannot breathe. There is no water anywhere. Arizona is what hell must look like: no trees, no rivers, no clouds in the angry sky. I would give anything for a breath of Guatemalan air.

Feb. 8th

The city is so ugly. The buildings are drab, devoid of colour. There is dust and sand everywhere. There are at least some trees, but they too are withered and stunted. I cannot imagine life here, but I must live it nonetheless.

Feb. 11th

We settled into our temporary new home today. I will risk writing our friend's name down here; I do not think it is too dangerous, as if they find this diary they will already know she is a complicitor.

Mattie. She is the first white person I like. I feel like I can trust her.

Feb. 12th

For the first time since before Christmas, I let Estevan make love to me. I have such a wonderful husband; I feel so low and cruel, that I cannot love him back as he loves me. I am ashamed that I am not worthy of his love. Why can't I love him? Even though he is such a wonderful man?

Feb. 14th

Valentine's Day. I had never heard of this occasion before coming here, and it hurts because the one I love most is not here to celebrate with me. Mattie took us to a pretty little place. Some of her friends came too. There was a woman my age with a boy, and a woman slightly younger who was very beautiful. I think her name was Taylor.

She had a little girl with her who could have been Ismene, if Ismene were a sad child. I could not speak. There was thunder in my ears. If I do not get my daughter back, I will not live, Mattie and Estevan notwithstanding.

Feb. 18th

I cannot stop thinking of the child. Her name was Turtle, I believe, or something equally ridiculous. The world around me grows darker by the minute, with no stars in the sky of my existence. I am perfectly balanced between the fear of the pain seeing the child brings and the need to see the reflection of Ismene in her face.

Feb. 20th

We went to dinner at Taylor and LouAnn's tonight. There were two elderly women there, one with a cruel tongue. Estevan told her off, very subtly. These Americans are so crude and harsh. They do not deserve that child.

Taylor seems kind. I should not judge so quickly. But the child is so like Ismene!

Feb. 22nd

Estevan seems distracted. I am not stupid. Taylor is beautiful, and obviously very attracted to him. I have not been a good wife, and I do not blame him for his wandering eyes. I will try not to hate her, but it hurts to think that I may lose my husband on top of everything else.

Feb. 24th

It's too much. I will wait for Ismene on the other side of the veil. I cannot stand the sight of Turtle because she is not Ismene and never will be. Estevan cannot smile to my face anymore, and I see the look on Taylor's face when she sees him. She loves him, so much more than I can. She deserves him, and that way at least Esetevan can have a shadow of Ismene.

Farewell.

Feb. 27th

There is no God. I live, though there is no light, no joy. Estevan will not let me die. For a long moment when I awoke again, I hated him. I wanted to die! I yearned for it! It beckons to me, sweet release, the soft black quiet. I want it. Why won't he let me go?

He must love Taylor even more by now. I suspect he is in her arms even now. Selfish man.

Feb. 28th

Taylor came to see me today. I tried to be grateful for her concern, but it was just too grating. The girl my husband loves, who possesses the shade of my daughter, telling me I should not give up hope? That I have something left to live for? If there was a laugh left in my heart I would have given it. All I have to live for belongs to her. So naïve.

Estevan told her about Ismene. I can't even be angry. I suppose she deserves to know why I look like my heart's been torn out of my chest every time I see her daughter. She claims Estevan is 'crazy about me.' I wish she was wrong.Why doesn't he give up on me already? He deserves better.

Feb. 30th

Ismene Ismene Ismene Ismene Ismene Ismene Ismene Ismene Ismene Ismene Ismene Ismene Ismene Ismene Ismene Ismene Ismene Ismene Ismene ISMENE

March 10th

The pain has faded a little bit. I can live with it...if you can call this living. I sit and pray for Ismene all day. I do not cry. Not anymore.

March 17th

There are more green things growing. Flowers opening to the kiss of the harsh sun. Grass reaching up, just to be burned to same dead brown as everything else. So much dead, but not me.

March 30th

Turtle called me 'Ma' today. I think I may have frightened her by how hard I clutched at her. I would like to believe that Ismene can see me through Turtle's eyes.

April 7th

I have discovered a great respect for Taylor. She took in Turtle without a thing to her name beyond her clothes and the car and made this life for herself.

I had a life and lost it. She is a better woman than me.

April 17th

I helped Turtle plant yet another garden today. Estevan watched and smiled. I am grateful for his loyalty, but I still don't love him the way he loves me. All my love goes to Turtle/Ismene now.

April 28th

I have found an equilibrium, a balance point. I feel little, except pain and love for Turtle/Ismene. Instead, I am mild. Serene. I am coasting, waiting for something to happen to me.

May 5th

Turtle's newest garden is showing shoots. I smiled at her joy; my first smile in a very long time.

May 12th

We had dinner with Taylor and LouAnn again tonight. Taylor cooked; LouAnn brought the chili. She brought it from work. It made my eyes burn, but I appreciated their effort. If I have friends, I suppose Mattie and them are it.

May 19th

It's my birthday today. Turtle gave me carrots from an older garden and some remarkable violet beans. I believe they grow in Mattie's back yard. Taylor gave me a brightly coloured purse, a design of the quetzal on the front in emerald thread. I have no idea where she found it, but I love it.

Estevan gave me red roses and a little enameled box with my name carved on the inside of the lid. It is beautiful.

Mattie is already giving me more than I deserve — she gave me nothing, but I know it's really everything.

May 26th

I have discovered a new hobby: embroidery. I can lose myself in drawing with the thread, and forget the world.

June 3rd

Just when I thought perhaps we were finally safe, Mattie says Immigrations, alternately known as the American hounds, are sniffing around after us. Please don't let us run again. I like it here. I like these people.

June 10th

It has been an eventful day. Mattie had a visit from a government person, and Estevan and I had to sneak out the back — just like in the movies! — and hide at LouAnn's. Immigrations is making louder noises. Mattie says we will have to relocate to a sanctuary in Oregon or Oklahoma. Why?

June 17th

I am determined not to worry about the relocation until it happens. I'll cross that bridge when I get to it, as the Americans say. The weather is hot and dry, but I have found that I like it. The fire in the air sears the pain away.

June 24th

Turtle fell asleep in my arms this afternoon. If it were not for Taylor's fierce love, I would ask to keep her. But Taylor is such a woman that she might say yes, despite her own pain, and I could not do that to her. I would hate myself forever.

July 3rd

I find myself wishing for rain. I have made my peace with the dry, but I remember that day in the rain so long ago and Ismene dancing. I wish I were an artist and could draw her beautiful face.

July 12th

I got my wish: it rained today. Estevan had the day off work, so we all drove out to the countryside and watched the desert come alive around us. Something within me opened up a little; all the new life around me made me feel like maybe I could let myself live again, too.

This evening, someone touched Turtle while she was walking with Edna, and I was angry. I have not been angry in so long! It was refreshing to feel. Turtle will be fine; she is frightened, but she trusts Taylor. With good reason: Taylor loves her passionately, as much as I love Ismene. She is a sister to the pain in my heart.

July 22nd

I am afraid again. Mattie can't find a way to get Estevan and I to safety. All her plans are falling through, one by one. If we don't get away, we'll be deported back into the hands of the hounds. I have discovered that I no longer wish to die.

July 29th

We are going to be safe! Taylor is going to take us. I can trust her with my life without a qualm. She has another reason for going, but I'm not sure what is is. Right now, I'm just grateful.

Aug. 4th

We're going tomorrow. I'm going to miss it here. It's the closest thing to home I've had since Guatemala. We're taking Turtle; I wonder if she has something to do with the other reason Taylor's going? I'm sure I'll find out soon.

Aug. 5th

I feel peaceful, at last. We have had a sublime, strange two days.

First, we were stopped by the border patrol. It was harrowing, but we made it through. Estevan told the man Turtle was ours, and more than anything I wished it was true.

Turtle fell asleep on my lap as we drove. I saw the painful glances Taylor threw back at us, and knew if I asked she wouldn't refuse me, and it took all I had not to ask. Estevan seemed oblivious. Recently, I've felt something approaching love for him. Maybe I can deserve him again, who knows?

We drove into Oklahoma, and the wide nothingness of it frightened me. I longed for the mountains of Guatemala. We stopped for the night at a hotel Taylor stayed at when she was first traveling. We started early the next morning (this morning).

I was playing with Turtle and accidentally called her Ismene. I saw Taylor tense and cursed myself for my stupidity.

I was right: Taylor's reason did have something to do with Turtle. She wanted to find Turtle's relatives so she could make her adoption official. Unfortunately, she didn't find them. It was too much of a long shot.

On a hunch, we went to a beautiful place caled Lake o' the Cherokees. Everyone there was Indian, and somehow looked just like us. It was such a relief not to feel strange or different for once.

We accepted (after considerable coercion) Taylor's offer to rent a cabin for the night. It was an idyllic day — Estevan's antics made me laugh, and I felt my heart breaking free of its old, too-tight skin like a snake. I was truly happy, and could respond to everyone around me instead of just absorbing it all.

Taylor said nothing when I pretended Ismene was my own daughter; she just let me be happy for a while. I love Taylor. This evening she asked if we would pretend to be Turtle's parents to fool the official and make her adoption legal. For her, I would have done anything. We go tomorrow to save her happiness as she has saved mine.

Aug. 7th

The official was almost deaf, and his shouting secretary frightened me. She was so loud and American. I held Turtle on my lap, savouring the feel of her. For the last time.

I listened to them invent complex stories without a hint of doubt in their eyes. I saw Ismene, and knew I could finish it. I held my daughter in my arms, and spoke. I was crying, and it flustered the official. I could see he was convinced. I held Ismene, poured my love into her, and let her go. It was a physical tearing in my chest, but after, I felt immeasurably freer. My daughter would be fine with Taylor. I could leave her behind and not worry.

When we reached the sanctuary, I made myself scarce so that Taylor and Estevan could say goodbye. I looked back and saw him kiss her, and was glad... and sorrowful. They had such a beautiful love across such an uncrossable chasm.

We waved goodbye as she drove away, and I cried on Estevan's shoulder, on his behalf and my own. He kissed me with the same lips that had kissed my sister so soon before, and I knew I would never forget her. She helped me live again.

Aug. 16th

Life goes on.

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