Letter from Honduras: A delay and more death
They have postponed Chemo’s cardio-cath operation until October. The folks of the Brigada, composed of world-class doctors and nurses from the United States and elsewhere, are the best people on Earth, but the reason surprised me. “Unfortunately, we do not have a cardiologist in June.”
What? They’re doing open-heart surgery on kids and they’re not cardiologists? But, wait. While the catheterization to plug a tiny hole in Chemo’s heart is obviously a much simpler procedure than cutting into a child’s chest cavity, it takes a ... cardiologist. All I know is that Dr. Manuel Acuna, who diagnosed Chemo’s problem in April, will be back in October. We’ll just have to wait.
But there is some urgency to Chemo’s situation, or so I thought. By October, Chemo will be 18, and I will no longer be his legal guardian. Everyone is assuring me it will be no problem, because he will be “of age.” He can sign himself into the hospital. OK, but I’m still a little nervous. Please bridge the gap with your kind thoughts and prayers.
I've started planning my return to St. Louis in September to coincide with the “Labor of Love” walk/run fundraiser for Micah House, a great place in Tegucigalpa that takes kids in off the streets and sponsors their education all the way to university, if they want to go that far. I have visited them a few times, but they have to move to a safer part of the city.
Jeanette Sipp-White, who is fighting through the tangles of Honduran bureaucracy to adopt a child, is one of the main organizers. As a Spanish teacher at Parkway South High School, she has already done so much for “my” kids in Las Vegas and always arranges for my talks to students at South. I already signed up online. Gonna get a free T-shirt! It’s on Labor Day, see? So “Labor of Love.”
But in the midst of such plans, Honduras jumped on my back when Gerardo (“Tato”) Barahona, 25, was murdered in San Pedro Sula. It was a robbery after dark, some depraved kid, high or drunk, armed with a broken bottle, gouged a hole in Gerardo’s leg despite the jeans he was wearing, ripping an artery.
Gerardo, a husky guy, Army-trained, smart, handsome, a supervisor at the local Russell Athletic plant, loving husband of Loyda and daddy of 2-year-old Tatito, a proud Las Vegas success story, was lost -- he quickly bled to death. I think I read somewhere it only takes six pumps of the heart to shoot enough blood out of the body to kill you.
I last saw Gerardo when he came home for Holy Week. And now I shuddered to think of the screams in Las Vegas, where the biggest “news” lately had been a supposed face of Jesus miraculously “carved” into the trunk of a cedar tree near the cemetery. Gerardo’s mother Jacobina, crippled by a twisted leg, is Las Vegas’ go-to baker for the rolls and breads served with coffee at our communal grievings, and a horrible image popped into my mind, if Jacobina baked the breads for her own son’s funeral, poisoning any pleasure in her livelihood forever. But neighbors quickly intervened. Maricela, who lives nearby, assured me, “Miguel, it was never even a question, we did all the baking.”
When I finally got back to Honduras, I saw Jacobina’s ruined face; she was all but destroyed. Mothers -- and fathers -- who lose their sons, their children, are torn inside out by an unspeakable, unbearable grief, forever stamped in Picasso’s 1937 painting “Woman Weeping.” For the sorry task of emptying all of Gerardo’s stuff in San Pedro, they borrowed a truck and returned with a huge load, including a refrigerator, a washing machine, a bed, sofa, furniture, a ton of clothes. Gerardo had settled into a good life, never expecting a catastrophe.
They all went, Jacobina, two other sons Noelvis and Felix, her daughter Nancy and Nancy’s husband Osman, plus her father, old Pedro, the fearless veteran of the fireworks that I talked about last month; a face of granite, but with this blow, water from the rock in unaccustomed tears; I had never before seen him even come close to crying; a man of deep faith his whole life, now his twisted expression seemed to say, helplessly, “Why?”
Management at Gerardo’s work took advantage of the family’s return to present them with a special memorial they had made, a photo of Gerardo framed with their signature shirt “QUALITY.” (In a short video of the funeral that someone showed me, I saw a similar shirt signed by Gerardo’s fellow workers, draping his casket.)
That gave me the idea to ask Chepito to do one of his drawings for Jacobina. He said he would, but after about a week passed, he gave up: “I don’t know what to draw.” Then I remembered that in St. Louis my sister Nancy had picked one of Chepito’s drawings, a heart with wings. So he did that, and he went one better; he also drew a gorgeous emblem of Gerardo’s favorite soccer team, Barcelona.
The hardest part was to get Chepito to actually hand the drawings to Jacobina; I finally had to do it, the artist himself standing at the door. But Jacobina was not shy about her gratitude, and her face softened.
Gerardo is a perfect statistic for Honduras. One of the daily average of 17 violent deaths, up to 500 a month, most of the carnage a human sacrifice to the god of drugs, whose worship prostrates the youth -- and others -- of the United States. Honduras is just the mailbox, between Colombia, Venezuela, etc., and your local dealer. But it’s a pipeline full of blood.
Some say legalize, legalize. Here, the corruption is so wide and deep that the same criminals would no doubt still have all the money even if the laws changed. And in the U.S., the “choom” train runs on tracks of corruption, too, filling for-profit jails with first offenders.
Yet I guess I cannot call myself a Christian, or a believer, or even a person, if I do not have a hope of salvation for every human being. Like the father of the poor, bedeviled boy in the gospel, I cry, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!”
So, the other day, about four weeks after his death, I gathered a group of kids to visit Gerardo’s grave, where we said the Rosary. The load of flowers that had painted the mound of dirt with bright colors were all brown and brittle now, dust to dust.
But there is hope, as long as a baby gets born, or a birthday is celebrated. Maricela’s Helen turned 13, and her brother Felipe made his First Communion, so we combined the celebrations, and Carlota designed the perfect cake for it, a half and half. Santos, 38. and daughter Mirna, 14, share the same birthday, and for them Profe Flor whipped up one of her giant confections with barely a day’s notice. Cristian and Aurora had a baby girl whom, after a week or so of debate, they named Yeimi Tatiana, the first so called, I’m sure, in these parts!
And, against all odds, I guess you could say, the parish celebrated its second annual Youth Day, in Victoria. A big crowd gathered to affirm our faith, beg for hope, and choose love.
Yet nothing gold can stay. So, while I was still working on this dreadful letter, this tiny child with a big name, Jeslyn Mercedes Dubon Ramirez, was born; she spent just one day with us and the rest in eternity. Her daddy Oscar with her little casket, the mother Deysi beside herself, we trudged up to the cemetery, past the mournful Jesus in the cedar tree, to console the family as well as we could with sheer numbers. “Mercedes,” of course, means "mercy," that -- would to God! -- tempers all our disputes and conflicts and empty longings.
I used to read a Shakespeare play every now and then; it’s been at least a couple years, so I thought I’d try his last one “Henry VIII,” returning to his salad days, when he cut his dramatic teeth on English history. Cardinal Woolsey, the villain of the piece, the very image of corruption, is laid low at last. Chastened and repentant, he seems to mouth Shakespeare’s own hard-won wisdom at the end of his career.
“Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition!
By that sin fell the angels; how can man, then,
The image of his Maker, hope to win by it?
Love thyself last; cherish those hearts that hate thee.
Corruption wins not more than honesty.
Still in the right hand carry gentle peace
To silence envious tongues. Be just and fear not.” (3.2.441-447)