Let me tell you a little bit about Bea.
Bea is amazing. Like, for reals.
In a world where understated really isn’t a thing, Bea shines, no, glows, like a meltdown at a nuclear power plant. She’s a woman you can’t fail to notice. She’s loud – fairly bellowing her demands for coffee when a hangover is particularly bad. She’s brazen – “I’m wearing a thong, so I’m dressed for the outdoors!” And she’s pretty much always up to no good. Yep, she’s our very own Latin American Three Mile Island.
We love her.
A while back she told us that her birthday was on September 15 – Guatemalan Independence Day. That’s a big deal around these parts. Duly noted, her special day was entered into Google calendar.
Shawn loves Google calendar. He puts things in it for me. Bless him. He has it linked up and doing sharesies so that we can all know the same stuff. Sigh. I never bother to look. He’ll tell me what I need to know…and I remembered Bea’s birthday, so…
Instead of taking our coffee cart and visiting all of the ladies, on the big day we showed up at her door with nothing.
“Why are you here? Where’s the coffee?”
She’s as subtle as a punch in the head.
Shawn threw open his arms. The men gathered around her room all turned to stare.
“No coffee, Bea. We’re only here for you. Happy birthday!” said the hubby. Then he wrapped her nearly naked self in a big ole hug. He’s good like that. Love lavishly – we mean it.
Bea was all kinds of tickled. “You remembered my birthday! That makes me so happy.” Oh, bless her heart. Seriously, this woman looks and acts like she’d skin you alive if she needed to, but her smile was just stunning. Birthdays matter.
After lots of kisses and hugs and all round happy lovin, Shawn told her we were there to take her out for lunch. Cuz, you know, birthdays.
And Bea was silent. That was a first.
She looked confused, the leering hoards looked confused, even the fella slithering out of the urinal that sits right outside her door looked a little taken aback.
“You’re what?” She was a teeny bit slow on the uptake.
“Lunch,” he said. “We want to take you out for lunch.”
“Because it’s your birthday. We want to celebrate.”
“You should probably get dressed though. Do you have any actual clothes?” My husband – he has to say some odd things.
“I have clothes! But are you serious?”
“Yes we’re serious. Get changed. We’re leaving in five minutes.”
Sigh…this was more challenging than we’d expected.
“Yes with you. Bea, we’re taking you to lunch. To eat. For your birthday. Put some clothes on.” He can be very patient.
She disappeared into her tiny room and we waited outside while things banged and thumped.
Bea is one of the few women who actually live on La Linea. Her room is barely more than the width of a single bed, and all her possessions are stored in there. The walls are covered with garish posters of the Virgin of Guadalupe, plastic flowers, candles, and seemingly never-ending rolls of condoms. Bea does a healthy trade with the ladies on the Line. Men are always gathered near to her door – either waiting to visit or waiting for the urinal. Men pee on her doorstep all day, everyday. It’s disgusting.
She burst through the door – a vision transformed.
“Bea,” Shawn yelled, “I didn’t know you owned pants!” She slapped him, laughed, and threw her arms around me as we headed to the car.
I wish I could describe it to you. The look on her face, the sweet, childlike grin, the constant giggling, the many hugs, and the skip in her step, but I really can’t. There are no words for the person she became as we made our way to McDonalds. Yeah, I know, but it was a holiday, and everything was shut. It was as beautiful as it was heartbreaking.
Bea is hard. Friends who’ve visited La Linea with us are often afraid of her. She kinda does that to people. She’s lived an extraordinary life, and seen things that I cannot begin to imagine. Her skin is marked with gang tattoos, and her face and body bear machete scars and all the signs of a life lived in cruel depravation. She has been there, seen it, done it…and definitely has the scars to prove it.
But this woman, whose glare could stop a speeding bullet, became a sweet, delighted child. Not kidding. Not exaggerating. Over and over she said, “I will never forget this. This is the best birthday ever. Nothing like this has ever happened to me before.”
You guys, it was a burger. I wanted to cry, but she kept making me laugh.
When we got to a packed Micky D’s she told us she’d only been there once before in her life – when her daughter, now twenty-six, was four years old. We were just a couple of blocks from her room, yet she had no idea where she was. She never leaves that horrid little hole. She’s too scared, she said. There are just too many bad things that happen. So she lives her entire life, in a tiny, squalid room, on a disused railway track populated by broken women and greedy, drooling men. I was shocked to hear that anything made her afraid. What kind of life is that?
So we ate, and we laughed, and we poked fun at her. She asked if she should take off her earrings, (Guatemalans are funny about jewelry and makeup), but we told her to wear whatever she wanted. Honestly, the earrings weren’t really the first clue for the onlookers.
We got a few looks from the good people at McD’s. Not disapproving or contemptuous – just confused. But it was okay because Bea was just so stinkin happy, that no looks, and no disapproval could have changed the joy of the moment. We talked about life. She shared some hard things. She asked questions. She laughed a great booming, raucous laugh. And she hugged us long and hard and often.
On the way back to the Line, Shawn stopped to buy her a slice of birthday cake. She carried her little baggie of frosted gooeyness like it was a treasure. More hugs at her door. More kisses. She giggled and skipped behind the door. Time to get into her work clothes.
How lucky am I that this is my life?