It is the Monday after Thanksgiving, 2005. On this day, the climax of our desert story is about to be composed. If only it could be fiction instead of fact.
Our family of six is living in a 900 square foot home on a desert plateau in Chihuahua, miles from any sizable town. The Christmas season is dawning, therefore my plan is to shop today for baking supplies. We assembled and decorated our artificial tree two days ago, now it’s time to begin filling the house with the fragrance of December. After brief discussion of who will go along, we settle on going as a family. Living somewhat isolated facilitates decisions like that.
The six of us climb into our SUV and drive north on one of the deadliest roads in northern Mexico. Arriving to the first light in Cuauhtémoc City, we turn left toward Soriana (a grocery and department store). There I spend my time picking out items and checking them off my list. The three boys, young teens, spend time looking for gift ideas; our five year old daughter holds daddy’s hand as she ‘helps’ me shop. Finally, we stand in line and make our purchases before stopping by the vision store opposite the checkout registers.
We are casually looking at frames for our oldest son when without warning, Mike’s head snaps backward as a shout bellows forth from his mouth. His scalp slices open from the impact of his head hitting a corner metal edge. His body falls to the floor, thrashing. A circle of blood begins eerily spreading as he continues convulsing.
My God! What just happened? I yell, “Mike!” Then, “Dear Jesus!”
I’m on the ground next to him, watching him suffer what I will soon learn is a tonic-clonic seizure. From somewhere in the recesses of my memory, whether from reading or from conversations with others (I don’t know), I recall basic instructions of what to do when someone is having a seizure: turn his head to the side, which keeps him from choking on his tongue, and keep my fingers away from his mouth, which avoids fingers bitten off when the involuntary spasms shut his jaw.
I turn his head, which is lying in a pool of blood on the dirty floor, and look up to see my kids in shock, frightened, looking at their dad, then at me. I notice our grocery cart, filled with bagged groceries, had managed to roll away from us, stopping in the middle of nowhere. I could care less about my purchases and turn back to Mike. I repeatedly call his name, in vain. I repeatedly whisper His name, the name of Jesus, an anchor of hope in the midst of this swift and unforeseen occurrence.
A crowd gathers around us in semi-circle. They stare. Gasps and cries of “¡Dios mío!” emanate from them. I look up and ask if anyone can help?
Then, a nightmare within a nightmare. I look around at my kids again, one of which has fallen on his knees and is laying hands on his dad and praying, another standing several feet away crying and holding his face in his hands, the third one nervously shifting his feet, his hands in his pocket, and the fourth one…where is she!? Where is my little girl?
I ask my sons collectively, “Where is Katie!?”
I hear someone answer, “Some lady took her.”
I am in Mexico, the country statistically in third place for kidnapping. American kids are considered profitable targets. Blond haired, blue-eyed little girls are prizes.
My husband is lying in a pool of blood convulsing and I’m told that some lady took my daughter? Helplessness and vulnerability are immediate and intimate companions.
Yet hopelessness is not.