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An officer comes down from upstairs, announcing the door to our apartment is still locked and remains undamaged. I notice his cheeks turning pink, sweat building on his brow.

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I tell him OK, as long as on that, we agree. We know what he means. My mother retreats to the back of the shop, walking more slowly, I can tell, her steps more cautious on the stairs as though the glass blew through the room and shards could still be circling, eddying in the air. A light rain has started, and now my father is lifting up a tarp to nail behind the bars, refusing my help.

She uses a Q-tip to remove her mascara, gently wiping away its stain.

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She unclasps her necklace from around the starched collar of her shirt, presses it between her fingers and hangs its sterling chain on the knob of her medicine cabinet. She splashes her face, now less flushed from crying.

She pats her skin with a white washcloth. She looks up at me. Behind her, through the bathroom window, I can see the moon over our city, a million lights going on and off at every hour in the distance, like an ocean without a pattern, without a current, each wave under a different force of wind. I can see by the edge of streetlight coming in through the window, just barely eclipsing her face with soft orange in this incredible darkness, that she is smiling.

And I do, retreating back down the hallways, shutting the door to my room, pulling a stack of plain, white paper up from my unlined drawer. I pause, feeling the beat of electric current reverberating against my fingertips; I begin again:. Dat a putty baby. Putty, putty putty baby.

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The guy at child services laughed about it but also said he followed up on all calls. I will never do this, I tell myself. What a wittle worm. What a ittle bittle worm. A load of scrap roars down a chute from a construction site, Cannibal Corpse blasts from a second-story window, Til wakes and wails, and Grandma walks away in a huff. My one job was to produce a baby content as a tick for our interview. How to Love a Little Boy! The titles all end in exclamation points to prove love is frantic. When I ask Steve what parents did before baby books, Freud and Melanie Klein, he reminds me that Victorian children were treated like bugbears and doorstops.

Death metal, construction workers, and Til are full-throttle now, so I scream too. Which feels great. Passersby frown now, eyeing me like Do something! Advice darts holes in me. You have to rock her. He wants his mother. Less now. Til has shit his diaper. Do that thing you do with my belly.

That loud, silly thing. I try to leave it at that. I no longer feel compelled to go into all the rest.


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Before my daughter started coming home for visits, when she was still unsafe, they had to interrogate me to get at the truth. When you meet someone new in the suburbs, the questions about kids always come, usually just after where do you live , and right before where do you work. But some persisted. My daughter was curious before we arrived, although my wife and I felt gutted.

We were relinquishing our most sacred responsibility, even as we knew that we had no choice. But sometimes not. I would let those three terrifying words hang in the air, waiting to see if they provided a passage back to drinking a beer or to watching my son play soccer or to picking out bananas at the Jewel in peace.

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In those first months, right after my wife and I dropped our daughter off at the residential treatment center back when I could still sometimes convince myself that it was a therapeutic boarding school , when I met new people and they asked about my kids, because in the suburbs the questions about kids always come, usually just after where do you live , and right before where do you work , I would say way too much.

In the weeks and months after we dropped her off abandoned was the word that rattled around inside of my head , the mask of terror she wore when we left her proved impossible to forget. And the person I just met would manage a few awkward words of sympathy or worse before they put some distance between us, returning with relief to drinking a beer or to watching their own son play soccer or to picking out bananas at the Jewel. What I miss most is the smell of my hometown. The mix of chile guaco , wood smoke, and masa seared into every cell of my body. On hot August days I miss the torrential afternoon storms of the wet season.

Sometimes in my dreams I hear the click-click of beetle wings and see the steep hills covered in ten different shades of green banana leaves. Other recollections are this immersing but not ones I want to remember, however. Not very often now, but I still have pesadillas of my country that wake me drenched in fear.

And it is this mixta , of yearning and that which I long to forget, that holds me captive to the place of my birth. There are las cruces everywhere. On the tops of headstones, engraved in them, all shapes, sizes, and styles. I know I will never visit again. There is nothing left for me there and I am forever tied to this place, the city of the angels. It is true that no matter how long I am here, part of me always feels alien. I have no papers.

They call me illegal. A name that makes one afraid to live here, work here, have a family here. Much worse. I had no choice then. Today is the anniversary of his death. His two best friends, his mother, and I journey here for a small reunion. Perhaps the last. These two boys have grown into young men. Chris in a lean, athletic body, short brown hair and wide smiling eyes; Raul with black curly hair, studious look, so tall and broad he towers over the rest of us. Seeing them is painful.

What would my son look like, what would he be doing with his life at this age?


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  • It is a small consolation that they too remember him. I hope not a once-in-a-while memory but the carry-with-you kind; like chile , wood smoke, and masa. Angela wears her Sunday best: a black cotton skirt that flows around her ankles and a white top she embroidered with traditional Salvadoran flowers. She clutches my hand, startled at the rustle of birds in the bougainvillea that adorn the entrance.

    Straight to the second left, then up the hill to the first marker and across the grass to the fourth grave.