When I picked up the Boy at school today, we opted out of cooking and went to a pizza restaurant for dinner. As we passed classic suburbia while driving under trees still shaking off their blossoms, the local NPR station began playing a report about the gang violence in El Salvador.
As I drive through a world that is pretty much characterized by peace, the Boy and I listened to the story unravel as the reporter describe how the country or maybe even specific cities were among the most dangerous in the world.
A person is murdered almost every hour.
I did the math (which is impressive given that I am an English teacher and I was driving).
In one year.
The reporter was interviewing a man who helped deal with the crime scenes. I wasn’t certain about his actual profession, but I listened to him as he talked about the horrors of the area.
The man spoke in Spanish and a woman translated and I luxuriated in the soft, rolling sounds of the Spanish language. I love Spanish, especially when spoken by someone who is either a native speaker or a person who is truly competent in terms of speaking the language.
Spanish is beautiful. I can’t speak it other than what I have learned from Dora the Explorer or Sesame Street. But I love the rolling sounds, the way the phonemes will curl over and under themselves and spin into long soft musical tones that just slip off the tongue. I love German, but it’s guttural.
But this afternoon, as I was driving under dogwoods and cherry trees, the man being interviewed talked about arriving at a crime scene, at the blood and glass sprayed everywhere, like a viscous, deadly firework that never stopped exploding and sending out its shards into the night.
The man described finding bus drivers slumped over their steering wheels or bodies strewn on the beaches.
He described a gang member seeing a twelve or thirteen year old girl and thinking her attractive. The gang member confronted the girl’s family, threatened the family, demanded that she be handed over to him. The family begged for clemency, begged that their young girl be left alone and be left to grow up. He threatened to kill multiple family members.
And the girl was eventually handed over. And was forced to marry the gang member. She is now fifteen. Has two children. Is repeatedly beaten. The children are beaten. She has been forcibly addicted to drugs.
As I am listening to this, I am driving past McDonald’s, a car dealership, Wal Mart. Houses tucked just behind pine trees and oak trees.
A Dairy Queen.
Cars rush past me because I am not exactly a fast driver nor am I driving a car that accelerates that quickly.
And on my radio, I listen as the man who is speaking a language that, to me, is characterized by gentle, soft syllables begins to cry, slams his fist into the steering wheel of the vehicle he is driving. His grief slips the boundaries of language and time and distance and hemispheric lines and I am no longer just a woman driving her son to a local pizza restaurant.
I am almost paralyzed with a sense of sadness because I can’t really do anything about this. I can’t call any police officers who will drive out past the manicured lawns and the well spaced stores and find this poor young girl and release her from the incarceration her helpless family placed her in.
I would rather die than to let this ever happen to my daughter.
The man on the radio sobs as he describes going home every day to his daughter. He disguises his work for her, always answers her questions with lies that are painted words which bleach away the ugliness he sees everyday.
The report concludes with descriptions of the thousands of people who flee yearly, try to emigrate to the United States with the hope of finding something other than more dead bodies and hopelessness strung out on the street corner.
But the man, the man crying in his vehicle as he is confronted with horrifying statistics, he chooses to stay in El Salvador because he loves his country and wants his daughter to see that their home country can be saved, can be pulled out from the clutches of gangs and violence.
And myself? I drive home, my son sitting next to me. He balances two pizza boxes on his lap, trying to keep the searing heat off of his legs. I have rolled down my window and drape my arm out over the car’s side and just love the feeling of the air rushing over my arm.
I make a left turn into one of the connecting subdivisions that will eventually take me home and enable me to avoid a dozen stop lights. I drive past a small farm, one of the last vestiges of the old agricultural landmarks that are being swept into suburbs and strip malls.
Once more, I drive under trees that have exploded out their new leaves, are shaking loose the old blossoms. I stare straight in front of me, aware that at home my daughter waits for me to arrive with the pizzas and a smile.
And I stare at the way the world shifts around me and know that I am safe and, briefly, feel almost guilty. I have been born into this peace. I haven’t earned it. I have done nothing to be more deserving of this quiet world in which I live. Nor has that man done anything, committed any sin that has caused him to be sent into such a dangerous place.
But we are separated by so many boundaries. And as the radio waves dissipate and the next report begins….I am thankful. So thankful.
And so very sad as well.