Running on Empty

vw bug

Long ago, when Rudy and I first started our courtship, I did all the driving. For no other reason than Rudy did not have a car and I did. And honestly, I really didn’t mind. For me, any chance I could get to drive my very first bought it myself car, a yellow VW Bug, I took the opportunity to make use of the term Pedal-to-the-Metal.

In the midst of driving and dating, Rudy had asked me if I had twenty bucks he could borrow, which was one of the hardest things for him to request. He claimed he needed it to cover a few days before he was handed his weekly paycheck. And then he’d pay me back. I’m not sure he realized it, probably not, but my feelings for him deepened in that moment. I felt trusted. Someone he could rely on. So I simply smiled, hugged him, dug into my wallet, and pulled out a folded twenty dollar bill. Rudy quietly responded with something about how hard it was to even ask me, that he really appreciated my help, and all other manners of speech relating to him, a guy, asking me, a girl, his date, for money, something he never thought he’d ever need to do, and on and on. In the end, he said his thanks, and, well, he was humbled by my kindness. Then he hugged me.

Ironically, less than a week after Rudy had timidly asked me if he could borrow money, I timidly pretended that my Bug was capable of running on gas fumes.

You see, I was driving south on the 57 Freeway, in Orange County, CA, when I noticed that the Volkswagen’s gas gauge was lower than low. We were heading towards Rudy’s place, for a nightcap, you might say, when I nonchalantly mentioned I needed gas, or some such comment. “You want to stop, put gas in the car?” Rudy questioned. Well, now, even though I knew I should have right then and there, filled that tank up, I simply, quietly said, “No, it’s alright. I have enough to get me back home.” He questioned if I was sure. I said yes. And that was it. No more discussion.

Later, after I left, to return home, at about one ‘o clock in the morning, I was traveling north on the 57 when the VW gave out on me. That cute little car just could not move without fuel. I let the car cruise until it came to a complete stop, its nose barely reaching an off-ramp entrance. Cell phones were only used by the wealthy back then, and that wasn’t me, so I was stuck in the darkness of the evening. By myself. Until another car pulled up, a guy got out, and offered help, speaking into my barely cracked-open window. I politely said no thanks, and he left. Which left me to fend for myself. Which meant I had no other option – AAA wasn’t on my radar during those days – except to walk to the nearest gas station, and borrow a filled gas can. I then had to walk back the half mile to the Bug, dump the fuel in, then drive the fumed-up car back to the not very helpful attendant at the service station, where I preceded to fill the Volkswagen full. An hour or so later, I returned to the freeway, driving myself home.

Why I didn’t take Rudy’s suggestion that we get gas for the VW earlier in the evening? I don’t know. All I can say is that I felt just like he did when asking me for money. Timid. Awkward. Yet, unlike him, I couldn’t rise to the occasion and accept his help.

freeze frame

Two people.

A man.
And a woman.
Driving along.
In a racing green Jaguar.
A convertible.

He with his hair pulled back in a ponytail.
Loose strands whipping his face.

She with a brimmed red hat.
Tied under her chin.
Shading her porcelain skin.
Complementing her blue eyes.

The sun is shining.
A breeze is blowing.
As they drive along.
Down the wide open road.

Both laughing.

That image.
Is a memory.
I hold within my thoughts.

Of two people.

My dad.
And my mom.

Long ago.


IMG_5573Rudy was nineteen years old when he left Honduras and came to the United States for the first time. His dad had died a few years before and though he had no real reason to leave his homeland, and especially his mom, he knew the time had come for him to be proactive about his own future. Conversations began with a sister of his who was living in Shreveport, Louisiana, and very much willing to greet Rudy with open arms. Thus began the process of applying for a Passport and a Visa, which would allow him to travel out of the country. A month or so later, before boarding his flight, mom and son embraced, each feeling the weight of a heavy heart.

The Visa, stamped into his Passport, would expire four years from the issue date. But, within the four years he was only able to travel back and forth to the states in six month intervals. Meaning, he could not stay in the United States for the total duration of those four years, but rather use the Passport and Visa as traveling documents. After about five and a half months of living in Shreveport, Rudy decided he wanted to visit some friends in California for a few weeks, before heading back to Honduras. His sister helped him apply for an extension on his Visa, which would allow him to continue his travels until he heard back from them, either yes or no. Aside from filling out paperwork, Rudy was asked to send a copy of both his Passport and Visa and the original Immigrant Declaration declaring he was legally allowed to travel. All good, but also worrisome. Rudy was worried that without the mandatory Declaration to speak for him, if for some reason someone questioned him, he wouldn’t know how to explain himself. You see, his English skills were basic, at best.

Not to be deterred, Rudy boarded a greyhound bus bound for Orange County, California. At the immigrant checkpoint in El Paso, Texas, an authority figure walked up and down the aisle asking random people for some type of documentation. Passports, Licenses, ID’s and such. Two guys were taken off the bus, never to return. After that, the man-in-charge waved the driver on. Rudy felt relief, figured he’d make it through, no problem. Little did he know, he still had San Clemente’s checkpoint to conquer. But, because he wasn’t aware of what was going to happen, he slept sweetly.

“Excuse me, Sir?” he heard a voice say, loudly, as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “Sí,” Rudy answered nervously. He was asked to show his documents. He gulped, cast his eyes down towards his lap. Not because he was doing anything wrong or illegal, but because he was trying to figure out how to explain why he didn’t have his Immigrant Declaration paper. Rudy’s speech stumbled. Hand signals and basic words were how he communicated. But this didn’t help as he tried to explain himself to the officer. So, the authority figure waved his hand in a follow-me motion. Outside, in a small tollbooth-like office, a Spanish-speaking translator listened as Rudy told him about the extension for his Visa. There was no computer to check the validity of his story nor were there cell phones to make a quick call. But, maybe it was Rudy’s demeanor and honest tone, because the official cleared everything, believed he was in the process of extending his Visa, and wished him “Good Luck” in Southern California.

Shortly after he arrived to my birthplace, Rudy and I met, and began to have serious feelings for each other. Soon after that he got a call from his sister stating she had received an answer to his request for an extension. “They denied it,” she told him. And then, Rudy told me the truth. That he was no longer legal in the United States. Not surprisingly, I honestly didn’t care. In my opinion, in those early days, I felt immediately that Rudy was an honest and loyal person. And I completely trusted him when he told me I meant a lot to him. And, anyway, at that point, it was the romance that meant everything.

One day, as we were driving to my brother’s house down south, Rudy noticed the very familiar San Clemente checkpoint. He stared at those officers scanning cars, looking for people entering California illegally. He swallowed hard, just as I realized I had made the mistake of thinking my brother lived further north of the checkpoint. Rudy spent most of the visit taming his nervous ticks. But, luck was on his (our) side. He now jokes that it was my blond hair and my cute ’67 yellow Volkswagen Bug that allowed us to sail right through the span of immigration officers, without a second thought. We married about a year and a half later, not because getting him an Alien Resident card was our priority, which was a definite plus, but because we knew we were meant to spend our lives together.

Seven years ago, after we had been married for twenty-one years, with the encouragement of myself and our children, Rudy finally became a US citizen.


another woman

I heard he was interested in a girl, a younger woman. Someone he met, somewhere. She had dark hair and dark eyes. And was supposedly nice. A nice, simple girl.

He didn’t talk about her, and she didn’t talk about him, but somehow I knew this woman was someone who may, or may not, intrude on our life.

The day we went to the local fair, he and I, with our kids, I saw her. Just talking. I didn’t know her. Yet, I knew she was the one. Somehow I just knew.

He had wandered off, taking our youngest on a ride. I stayed behind, just hanging out with my daughter.

I walked over to the girl, said hello, and asked her if she was indeed interested in him.

The strange thing is, the fact is, that even though we didn’t know one another, at all, she knew who I was talking about and answered as if we were best friends. I think so, yes, she said. He’s nice. Very nice. She went on to say other things, nothing big deal, but things that confirmed her interest in him.

When she was all done talking I stated, He’s my husband, the guy you are considering a relationship with. The girl didn’t seem surprised by my admission. And neither did she seem pissed, as if she’d been duped. She simply stared at me with her big brown eyes, saying nothing.

Later, at home, I said to him, I know about her, and if you have plans to pursue something, anything, count me out. He looked at me, didn’t respond. Not five minutes passed when I restated my thoughts. No. Never mind. Just the fact you are interested has uninterested me in you. I’m done.

Suddenly I awoke, from the dream I was having about my husband considering an affair with a another woman.

I rolled over in our California King bed and found him there, lying on his side, turned toward me, looking at me. Good morning, we whispered, simultaneously.