Dinner and a Swat Team

“We tell ourselves stories to live.”

Joan Didion wrote that it’s the first line in The White Album. I admire Didion’s writing, her spare prose permeated with insight in the guise of simple introspection. I hope someday to write something as clean and acute as she. But, neither is my way, so I will weave my way through this story.

 Dinner and a Swat Team

On the other side of our small town that lies in the foothills of the Sierra Madre, a four-year-old girl is having nightmares. She dreams of armed and masked men. She has begun to wet the bed. She is afraid in the daylight, scared of shadows, she is afraid to be alone. Her father comes to my house and beckons to our houseguest, a practitioner of Santeria*, to come heal her. He visits the girl in the morning before he and Felipe go off to work; he leaves before daylight, before coffee. Three days into the girl’s treatment I am told her tale.

EnramadaWe try to have a few nice meals together before I travel. One week before a trip to the US to renew my Visa, Felipe and I were enjoying dinner. It was a special meal, we had wine, and we got out the fancy glasses. Suddenly, so suddenly the dogs didn’t even have a chance to erupt into the usual cacophony, our patio filled with soldiers bearing arms, some of them wearing facemasks, snipers. They wear masks because executioners don’t want their identity known. Our reaction was, and here is the shocking part, casual. Felipe and I looked at each other, shook our heads, and laughed.

The captain emerged and asked for Felipe’s papers, and he went into the house to retrieve them. I was now sitting in my enramada, a nine-by-five-meter area enclosed by six-foot-high chain-link fencing with approximately 15 armed men and exactly two snipers. I smiled at them. It was a genuine smile. It seemed like a good idea to be friendly with a sniper. One of them was wearing glasses; I thought how odd, a sharpshooter with corrective lenses. Felipe emerged with his papers as the soldiers searched our garden. I pondered whether the garden search occurred because the last time the military had visited our land, there were two marijuana plants in our garden. Felipe’s Mother asked us to grow it for her. She uses it in her arthritis remedy* and was concerned about growing it in town. Continue reading