A Mexican restaurant. Suppertime. I’ve been traveling. Earlier today, I spoke to a roomful of Presbyterians.
They were emotionally stiff. Only one gentleman in the audience laughed. His name was Davidek. Davidek is from the Czech Republic. Davidek laughed because he doesn’t understand English.
In fact, he only knew two English words: “Thank you.” Davidek shook my hand and said “Tankyou tankyou, tankyou,” nearly nine hundred times.
I pull off the highway. This joint is small. It borderlines on a dive. The stool cushions are torn. There’s a funny smell. A television above the bar.
My waitress is not Mexican. She is from North Tennessee. Her drawl is so mountain-thick it’s music. She has red hair and freckles. She is twenty-two.
It’s a slow night. Servers are playing on phones. The cooks are bored. My waitress is a talker.
“Where’re you headed?” she asks.
“Lake Martin,” I say.
“Oh dude, I LOVE it there, that’s where we went on our honeymoon. I SO wish we could move there.”
“You’re a long way from Tennessee. How’d you get this far South?”
“Oh, we been here three years. We came after my husband got laid off, I was pregnant. My husband needed a change of scenery.”
“What’s your husband do for a living?” I ask.
She points to the kitchen. “Right now? He works here. That’s him, cooking in back.”
The Hispanic man waves a spatula at me.
She laughs. “He’s one semester away from being an engineer. We’re so proud.”
“He must be smart. I can’t add more than two numbers at once.”
“He is. And I just started college, too, end of last year. Only taking a few classes ‘cause I’m busy all day with my daughter.”
She removes a cellphone. She shows me a photo of a toddler with a ribbon on her auburn head, a feeding tube in her nose.
“She’s beautiful,” I say.
“Oh, she knows it.”
“You’re gonna have your hands full when she gets older.”
“Honestly, we’re just thankful she’s alive. She was born with stomach issues. That little girl’s fought harder than you’d believe. She is our world.”
“She looks strong.”
“She is so strong. The doctor just gave us good news last week. Her tests all came back good. It’s a freakin’ miracle, man. She can finally live a normal life.”
The girl’s eyes fog up. “We’re just so grateful.”
Mine fog up, too. “She sounds like a real fighter.”
“Yep, just like her daddy. He’s stubborn. Nobody can tell him what to do.”
I have one those at home.
“Yeah,” she goes on. “I’m really close with his mom and dad. They’ve been my family. My support system, my real family don’t want nothing to do with me. My husband’s family moved within a hundred feet of us after Alma was born. ”
“That’s pretty close to be living to in-laws.”
“Yeah, but dude, I freakin’ love my in-laws. Soon as we got married they all started teaching me Spanish so I could fit in to the family. I started working with his mom on her English, too, so she could fit into mine…”
She gives another laugh.
“But it didn’t matter,” she goes on. “My family don’t want me. My parents couldn’t handle me marrying Guatemalan.”
This breaks my heart.
“Yeah. My mom and dad won’t even call me back no more. They don’t even know their own grandbaby.”
I wish I had something I could say. But I don’t.
“Aw, but it’s cool,” she says. “I gotta a new life now. And we’re SO ready to make decent money once he finishes. We’ll probably move somewhere cool.”
“Doesn’t matter, just as long as they have good schools and good hospitals.”
“For your daughter?”
“And my son.”
“You have TWO kids?”
She laughs. “Well, we WILL.” She touches her belly.
“No way. You’re too skinny to be pregnant.”
More laughing. “That’s sweet of you, but you still have to pay for your beer, hun.”
She shows me a cellphone photo of a sonogram. “See? This is Miguel, and there’s his you-know-whatie.”
“Yep, that’s definitely not a girl.”
She speaks in a loud voice. “My husband freaked when we found out. He cried at the doctor’s office. He’s a big old softy. I love him so much.”
My tacos finally arrive. I eat them in only a few bites. I order a few more to-go. I pay her, then tip her—I wish I had more cash on me, I’d give it all to this perfectly beautiful family. But you can’t win them all.
“Gracias,” I tell her.
She responds in Spanish.
Anyway, I have a short drive ahead of me. And something occurs to me that I wish I would’ve realized earlier tonight. Something a man named Davidek tried to remind me of, but I just didn’t listen. I guess what I’m trying to say is:
Thank you from the bottom of my heart.