Her name was Guadalupe, Lupe for short. She was born to an eighteen-year-old migrant farm worker thirty-eight years ago. She was a small fragile baby. The smallest of the six charges in my care at the home for handicapped children where I was working my first job out of high school. The room, which was the only home she ever knew, was large and bright, painted in a light yellow with paintings of nursery rhythm characters on the walls. There were five more cribs just like hers and shelves filled with toys for the other children who shared the room. She was always dressed in a little pink tee-shirt and wrapped in bright floral blankets, but her small body hardly filled the corner of her large chrome crib. I remember her eyes the most. They were a soft, fluid, brown, but not dark or deep, just gentle and doe-like, flecked with small spots of gold that seemed to dance. Maybe I remember her eyes so well because her face ended just below them, leaving them her only truly human feature. Below her eyes, there were two open holes where her nose should have been. I can imagine it would have been a small little button nose if it had formed. And where her sweet plump rosebud lips should have been, was a gaping cavern. Her upper lip was split and exposed soft pink gums. Her lower lip was gone completely. Her jawbone had not formed. Nor had her vertebrae that would have been her neck, forcing all the organs of the throat into her chest cavity, and leaving her mute; unable to even cry out in protest to the pain and suffering that was her short life. The devastation of her body went beyond her face. Her little arms and legs were bent and bowed. The doctors had broken them each in three places and she wore a plaster cast on each in an effort to straighten them. Between each of her long thin fingers was a webbing of skin that made her hands look like flippers.
Each day while she was forming her mother had worked the fields, back breaking work; I can’t even imagine doing while pregnant. And every day she breathed in the toxic fumes of the pesticides that give us our unblemished fruits and vegetables. These pesticides worked their way to her womb, where they could not tell fetus from fungus, embryo from insect. Her mother didn’t get to hold her after she was born, and only got to see her briefly before she was forced to leave her behind, as she was sent back to Mexico two days after giving birth. What did she think when she saw her baby so malformed? All I know is she called for a priest to give last rites, assuming Lupe would not live. Whether or not he came, I do not know.
Lupe lived three months. On Cinco De Mayo thirty-eight years ago she died. And thirty-eight years later, her eyes still haunt me. They were just beginning to learn to laugh. Each time someone would show her any kindness, a soft rubbing of her little back, a gentle stroking of her hair, her eyes would light up, even though her mouth was silent. Her mother was allowed to come and see her after she died, and she held her for the first time then. She was not however allowed to take her back home to the churchyard where all of her ancestors lay at rest. Lupe was an American citizen, and so she was buried in an unmarked grave in a public cemetery. There was no service, no graveside mourners, but I mourned her passing. All these years later, every time I pick out the best fruits and vegetables at the market, I think of her, and the many others like her, their bodies bent and broken for our food.