It is the Monday after Thanksgiving, 2005. On this day, the climax of our desert story is about to be composed. If only it were fiction instead of fact.
Our family of six is living in a 900 square foot, one bedroom, one bath house on a desert plateau in the state of Chihuahua (Mexico), miles from any sizable town. The Christmas season is dawning, therefore my plan is to shop today for baking supplies. We had put up and decorated our artificial tree two days ago; today is the day to begin filling the house with the fragrance of December. After a brief family discussion of who will go along, we settle on going as a family. Living isolated in the middle of nowhere facilitates decisions like that.
Someone once told us this home we rented was outstanding… out standing in the middle of nowhere! They weren’t wrong.
Though it was small, we managed to live there by utilizing the small office as a bedroom for the boys, building a double loft out of necessity. The walk-in pantry was converted into our daughter’s bedroom while we hacked the garage into our family room.
The six of us climb into our SUV and drive north on one of the deadliest roads in northern Mexico. Arriving at the first light in Cuauhtemoc City, we turn left toward Soriana, a grocery and department store similar to Walmart. There I spend my time picking out items and checking them off my list. Our three sons, 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. Then we stop at the vision store opposite the checkout registers. We are casually looking at frames for our oldest son when, without warning, my husband 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 metal edge against the wall. His body falls to the floor, thrashing. A circle of blood begins eerily spreading as he continues convulsing.
My God! What just happened?
“Mike!” I yell.
Then I cry out, “Dear Jesus!”
In an instant I am 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, I recall basic instructions of what to do when someone is having a seizure. I turn his head to the side, which keeps him from choking on his tongue, then I keep my fingers away from his mouth, which avoids my fingers from being bitten off when the involuntary spasms shut his jaw.
My husband is lying in a growing pool of blood on the dirty floor. I glance 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, slowly coming to a halt several feet away. I could care less about my purchases and turn my attention back to Mike. Repeatedly I call his name, in vain.
Repeatedly I whisper His name, the name of Jesus, an anchor of hope in the midst of this swift and unforeseen tempest. A crowd gathers around us in a semi-circle. They stare. Gasps and cries of ¡Dios mio! emanate from them. I look up and ask if anyone can help.
That is when I find myself facing a nightmare within a nightmare. As I look at my kids again, I see one son has fallen on his knees and is laying hands on his dad and praying, another son is standing several feet away crying and holding his face in his hands, and the third son looks numb as he nervously shifts his feet, his hands in his pocket; next, I look for my daughter…where is she!? I don’t see her anywhere. Where is my little girl?
Katie on her fifth birthday, old enough to already insist on doing her own hair and asking to model-pose for her own unique glamor shot. Colorful and independent – describes her perfectly!
“Where’s Katie!?” I yell at all my sons collectively.
I hear one of them answer, “Some lady took her by the hand and walked away.”
I am in Mexico, the country statistically in third place that year for kidnappings. American kids are considered profitable targets. Blond-haired, blue-eyed little girls are top prizes. My husband is lying in a pool of blood convulsing and now I’m told that some lady took my daughter?
My head spins as my heart races even faster. Helplessness and vulnerability are immediate and intimate companions.
This story was published seven years ago on my former blog. I have decided to edit and republish it here to tell part of our story to those who may not know it fully. This was part one.