Chapter Two

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Citizens of Juárez don't see a lot of rain throughout the year, but today's weather resembles the storm brewed inside me. The cacophony orchestrated behind curtains of dark gray clouds chant into the misty night, keeping me and the ghosts of my past awakened. Lightning of haunting faces mingles with thunders of ruthless words rumbling across gloomy memories. I still find myself drowning in the murky floods of injustice and cruelty, sensing how my abiding lack of oxygen makes it difficult to breathe. I still see the waves of hope retreating with each splatter of despair, wishing for a justice that only exists in a perfect world. But reality is tarnished with corruption and all kinds of abuse, and the concept of justice is only a utopia written in law books that should be classified as fiction.

I spend another night entrapped in the vortex of a dreadful nightmare that drags my entire being rock bottom. Same dreams. Same faces. Same words. My feelings, my hate, my anguish, and my deep sense of powerlessness are a daunting constant in nights like this. That horrifying night is the reason of my nightmares; which also was the last time I cried for help. I died that night. The light of innocence was extinguished and my body was rendered soulless. My voice was torn away from me and my dreams were shredded. They blew far away, scattered by the wind gusts along the streets of my  town, Guerrero.

The squeaky mattress protests at the sudden jolt of a body curling up into a fetal position. No matter how much I try to breathe, I can't fill my lungs with enough air. My foggy mind tries to discern between images from my past and my present. The line between my present and past is completely blurred. My throat feels dry and my heart seems to be stuck in it, demanding to be set free from the captivity of my fears. My hand finds its way up to my neck, my fingers skimming over my glistening skin. Cold sweat makes my white cotton nightgown to cling to my dampened body.

As I open my eyes haltingly, I find a wood-framed mirror in sight. In its reflection, I see the figure of a sixteen-year-old young lady with medium-short black hair and hazel eyes, encased in an oval canvas. Her normally full lips are drawn to a hard, thin line. Her quizzical gaze is lost in the older woman lying in front of her. Her tanned skin brings out the beauty of her molten caramel-colored eyes.

"Stop hurting yourself. Please, stop." The young girl pleads soothingly and stares back at me with a clear understanding. "They are not hurting you anymore. Save yourself. Save me! You are the only one who can save me. Only you ... " This time, her voice breaks and she starts sobbing uncontrollably.

We both cry. The girl in my nightmares and the girl looking at the mirror.

We mourn for what was stolen from us. We hurt for all the broken promises and for memories that we try so hard to keep alive but start to vanish. Our scars are a reminder of the depth of our wounds. We grieve, but it's me who she needs. It's my words of reassurance and comfort. I need to reassure her that I am different. I won't fail her.

"I'm sorry if you feel I also failed you," I whisper. Salty streams roll down my cheeks. My eyes are filled with tears that eventually my quivering lips get to taste. I close my eyes and the tears fall nonstop. Strong emotions impede my ability to talk momentarily.

"I couldn't save you back then, but I can save you now. I will save you," I pronounce softly, my sight averted from the mirror. I can't look at her right now if I want to keep telling her what I need to. Every word I pledge to my inner child is said with emphasis and self-commitment. "Your mom abandoned you and left you in the hands of that bastard, Chiquita," I smile sadly. "That's how she used to call you, remember? Mi Chiquita ..." 

My heart shatters into small pieces once again at the glimpse of a memory that brought me so much joy in the past, the endearment my mother used to call me. But sorrow leaves like smoke and resentment combined with anger flash through my veins for being so stupid.

"I promise I'll fight for you," I declare fiercely. "I'm done crying. I won't see you sad anymore." There wasn't a day when my younger self didn't wait for my mother to come for me. I ran to the door every time I heard a new knock on the door or sprinted to the nearest window every time I heard a voice like hers. The memory fuels my growing resentment toward my mother.

My mother failed me in every way possible, but Lupe didn't. She rescued me from the streets after I escaped from my captor. She fed me, sheltered me, dressed me ... Who knows? Perhaps Lupe is right and la Virgencita de la Guadalupe is watching after me after all.

It's not a coincidence Lupe was named after the Virgin of Guadalupe. My grandmother, who died when I was a child, wanted to have a girl after having three boys. She was suffering from a severe anemia that put her life and the life of her baby at risk. During her pregnancy, she started losing weight and one day in her weakened state, she implored her husband to take her to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Grandpa Antonio, being the good and loving man he was, agreed to take her to the place venerated by millions each year. What my grandmother didn't know was that her husband shared her fear. He was scared to lose his wife and daughter, so he asked for his own miracle.

The day they visited the Basilica, grandma Francisca made a promise in front of the image of La Guadalupana. She offered to visit her town's chapel to pray the rosary every day if the baby survived and was born healthy. A promise that Lupe also adopted. This is the reason why she visits the chapel every day. The Patroness of Mexico and Las Americas protects our country like she protected my grandmother and my aunt. Sometimes I wonder if Lupe's life was spared to protect mine. Lupe gave me a second chance in life when she brought me here. She'd call it a miracle in disguise. After all I've done and all the dangerous situations I've been through, I'm still alive.

When Lupe found out I ran away from home, she didn't hesitate to come after me. For me, love is a foreign feeling. I spent all these years so focused on not letting anyone get close to me that I didn't value her kind act of love and sacrifice.

A sudden and completely unexpected realization hits me. 

I don't want to us to be apart.

I need Lupe in my life. I want her to leave this hell and go with me. With everything that is happening, what if it's her the one making the headlines in the newspaper one day? Her oldest brother José lives in Florida and has a construction company, while her youngest, Juan Diego, lives in Texas and has a taquería. All her brothers, except my father, remain close. The only reason my father made contact with Lupe twice in the past three years was only because he was looking for me. He tried to convince his sister that he was worried for my well-being, but ended up exposing his true intentions when he told her he needed to know my whereabouts to save his miserable life. He blames me for his luck. 

Lying bastard.

When I look at myself in the mirror again, the young lady is no longer there. My young self's cry for help is finally being heard by the fragmented woman I am now. My mind slowly starts to feel clearer just as the dark gray clouds in the skies of Juárez start to dissipate. I turn around on my bed and stretch my stiff muscles. When I look up, my eyes dart to the golden rays of bright hope gliding through the cracks of my windows, cutting the fading darkness left in the room.

I am incapable of loving someone. Anyone. I don't think I ever will. I have trust issues. I am not what she deserves, but I can become better and give her a better life to pay all she has done for me. I have to admit that I haven't been fair to her. 

I get off my bed and walk to the window on my bare feet. Slowly, I push each white curtain panel to their sides and gaze longingly at the blue skies. The sun, the biggest star in the universe, is shining brightly. If the sun has a prominent place in the universe, why wouldn't I? Maybe it's time to claim my place, whatever and wherever it is. It's time to show my mother and the pathetic excuse I have as a father that I can also shine brightly. That will be my best revenge.

I don't want to die anymore. I want to live. There's a promise I must keep.

Most importantly, I won't be doing this alone. I won't leave Lupe. She is coming with me.

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