Monday, May 31, 2010

3000 Miles From Home I Find My Relatives In Traffic Court

3000 Miles From Home I Find My Relatives In Traffic Court

I was doing 38 in a 25, just past the VMI Pit. School was out, all the students gone away, and the road, for once, was clear. I wasn’t a professor of English that morning: I was on a mission to find birthday goodies for my beloved, and a little too free with the accelerator. I saw the dark blue cop car coming towards me and swore. Slowed down. But in my rear view mirror, I saw him flip a U-turn and come after me. I had time to crank onto a side street and lose him, but I was a good Indian and didn’t.

He caught up with me at the onramp to 11, flashed his lights, and I pulled onto the gravelly grass.

“Driver’s license and registration.”


Officer Smith, a nice rotund man, wrote me up very respectfully, and didn’t joke about my last name. “Are you on your way to an emergency or something, ma’am?”

No, just errands. Just happy. So sue me.

Officer Smith walked back to his fort on wheels to complete the paperwork and radio in, make sure I’m not on the lam or one of those Mirandas. By the side of the road, windows down, I rested my head against the back of the seat and inhaled the scent of honeysuckle from the tangle of plants climbing the rocks nearby. Watched the light blue and dark orange butterflies dance from one creamy blossom to another. Thought about birthday wrapping paper and lactose-free ice cream. Thought about my beloved’s dark eyes laughing as she opened her presents the next day.

He returned, boots heavy on the gravel, with his clipboard and bright yellow NCR paper. I signed my name by the red X, and oddly enough, said, “Thank you.”

He didn't respond.

I hit my left blinker, looked back, caught him nod me toward the road, and pulled away. I won't let this ruin my day, I told myself.

Later, when I looked up my ticket online to pay it, I found myself in good company: Fernando, Juan, Lourdes, Rosina, Marcelle, Henry and Richard Miranda all owe the County of Rockbridge, too. Huh! 3000 miles from home, and I thought I was the only Miranda in Lexington, VA.

Now I remember I’ve seen them in Walmart, the Dollar Store, on the half-peeled roof of Newcomb Hall outside my office window. Indian like me, they speak Spanish, say they’re Mexican, but I’m not fooled. Indios, right down to the bone. Right down to the wrong side of the law. Right down to the unpaid moving violations – no operating license, no inspection sticker, failure to observe traffic sign – that’s us: Mirandas, children of coyote and Franciscans or Jesuits. Far from home because the border tells us so, and still breaking the rules as we go.

For me, this ticket is an inconvenience. Something else to add to my Visa bill that I'll be able to pay off in a few months. Thanks to luck, sacrifice, a few good teachers, student loans, The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, violently imposed borders and some undefined, unknowable twist of karma, this ticket is just a momentary frustration for me.

For Fernando, Juan, Lourdes, and the others, I fear it was a week’s wages or more. The possibility of losing a license or car: livelihood. Jail time. Deportation. Separation from children. Disaster.

Most of their tickets are several years old, and unpaid. Probably, they just moved on. Just passing through, trying to make a buck; “illegal” or good as, in the eyes of the law. They left their names behind – names, and sturdy new roofs, the restoration of Old South brickwork, freshly painted white columns, poured concrete foundations beneath buildings named for alumni, weedless flower beds.

Travel safely, my relatives. I haven’t forgotten you. Tonight I went back to the book, back to the Mission, back to the story that hasn’t been told because poverty, malnutrition, racism and hatred silenced our tongues.

If I escaped, it was only to bear witness. If I survive, it is only to call down justice like rain, and re-baptize you in the Tears of the Sun. If my voice is heard, it is because of your sweat in Virginia summer heat, rebuilding the halls where I write. I haven’t forgotten you.

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