My Lifeline…

in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico to life back home was a public telephone in the shady courtyard of Suites Victoria, our apartment complex. I stood in line impatient, fingering a prepaid phone card, while I struggled to keep my sons playing within my eye sight.

LADATEL6This was fifteen years ago when cell phones were cost prohibitive and Skype had yet to be invented. I bought the Ladatel cards at our corner store. The most common ones came in thirty and fifty peso denominations. Most times I used two cards for one phone call, much to the chagrin of the poor soul waiting in line behind me.

LADATEL3The day Doña P brought out fresh one hundred peso prepaid cards, I ran around the counter and hugged her. She blushed. The customers assumed I’d won the Lotería. Crazy gringa, they murmured when they witnessed me pressing the phone cards to my chest. My sons marveled at the tiny chip embedded in vibrant images. I handled them like family heirlooms. Now, I could carry on a longer,   uninterrupted conversation with my husband or mother-in-law, who listened to my fears and desperation without once telling me to relax. She made me feel like a modern-day warrior.

ladatel4I arranged stacks of used up phone cards on my night stand, studying the images late into the night. Grateful for this thin slice of plastic, which afforded me the luxury to release emotions I kept tamped down until I slipped it  into the phone slot. For those precious minutes, I could hold on to a tiny piece of normality.

LADATEL1The look on my sons face when they held the receiver in both hands and heard their father’s voice constricted my throat. Was Papi in the box hanging on the wall? Not all my phone calls were pleasant. I hung up on my husband before spitting out words I’d never be able to take back. I silently mimicked and flipped off our social worker more times than I care to remember when she delivered bad news. I wrapped the cord around my arm stifling tears while I begged government officials not to be put on hold, again. I bargained, pleaded, and lied in the hopes of getting out of this hell hole unscathed.

The day Doña P handed me this particular one with the bold lettering–VOY A VER SI PUEDO–I’LL SEE IF I CAN struck me like a dare. No shit, I can! Just you wait and see, I muttered under my breath. Once I drained the card of every minute, I kept it on the top of my stack of cards. It made it back to my home office and eventually lorded over all of the other cards by landing on my book cover. LADATEL7