I want to tell you the story about my family vacation. Well, actually that part is not really that important; what is important is that it’s the story of how my baby sister died.
When I was younger my Dad took our family on vacation to Mexico.
Now when you most people that that, they probably think of going to a nice resort for an all-inclusive vacation where you can sit on the beach in the sun and drink margaritas to your heart’s content until you are drunk as a skunk at two o’clock in the afternoon while your bratty kids play in the surf and you ogle the gold-digger with a supermodel body in a tiny bikini in the beach chair next to you out of the corner of your eye and hope she or her fat old rich husband don’t notice because your wife sure as hell won’t because she’s passed out next to you in another beach chair from too many damn daiquiris and has her wide sun hat pulled down over her face and a New York Times bestseller that Oprah recommended splayed open facedown on her chest.
This was not that sort of vacation.
You see, when I was growing up, my family was poor. My Mom was homemaker and my Dad held down a blue-collar job – he worked the line at the plastics plant just across the tracks before they brought in all the robots and computers and fired everyone.
But goddammit my father was a proud man. Even though he was poor and could barely afford to feed me and my baby sister sometimes, we were going to go on a vacation.
So we went to Mexico, not to a resort with surf and sand and unlimited food and drink, but to a ranch in the desert. As determined as ever, he drove our family through the sweltering heat for 12 hours straight, in that beat-up old blue Chevy with no air conditioning. I sat in the back and sweated and read comic books while Mom sat in the front and took care of the baby.
Finally we pulled in off the desert highway to the ranch where we’d stay for the week. It was a big property and the room where the four of us stayed in wasn’t bad for what my Dad was paying – it was about what you’d get at a cheap motel back home.
The ranch was owned and run entirely by two tall Mexican brothers, who constantly wore giant grins and spoken quickly and excitedly, mixing Spanish and English. They did everything – the older and taller one, Alejandro, greeted us at the desk when we arrived and managed the grounds. The younger brother, Eduardo, cooked delicious Mexican meals 3 times a day in a cramped little kitchen in the dining hall. When he wasn’t doing that he was working with the ranch machinery – tractors, generators, pumps – at a big shed on the edge of the property.
The problem was there wasn’t a whole lot to do on the ranch, other than stuff ourselves with food or ride the couple of horses they had around the fenced-in area by the stable. My Mom mainly just took care of my baby sister, and sat in a chair on the deck outside our room.
I think it was around the third or fourth day when I started to get really bored. I had finished reading all my comic books and explored the ranch as much as I could. There was just nothing else for a kid like me to do.
Later that evening Mom and Dad were sitting out on the deck chairs. Dad was drinking a beer and arguing with my mother about the baby. I just wanted to get away from their shouting.
“Dad, I’m bored.” I said, and sat up. “I’m gonna go exploring.”
My Dad stopped yelling at Mom for a bit. She was rocking the baby which had started crying because of their arguing.
“Alright son,” he said, and took a long pull on his bottle of cheap Mexican beer. “But don’t wander off too far, it’s getting dark out. Come back soon, ya hear?”
“Ok!” and off I ran.
That night I wandered far off into the desert, past Eduardo’s big machine shed and over one of the hills surrounding our little bit of civilization. I wasn’t worried because I could always see the lights of the ranch, but had never explored out that far before. It got quite dark out and what I could see was illuminated by the light of the full moon.
I came down the side of another hill and stopped. There, off in the distance, I saw it – two green eyes, reflecting the light of the full moon back toward me. I was afraid. What was it? It didn’t move – the black shape surrounding the eyes just stayed there, perfectly still, and stared back at me from the next rise. When I finally slowly took a step forward it darted off up over the hill, kicking up plume of sand behind it.
That was enough for me. I high-tailed it back to the safety of the ranch lights.
I asked Alejandro about it in the morning when he was serving us delicious piles of his brother’s huevos rancheros.
“Ahaha, little señor, oh you were out exploring the desert at night?” He laughed again. “Strange things live in the desert my little amigo, I think perhaps you met some of our neighbors, no? los coyotes!” I smiled at him but didn’t understand the last words.
“Coyotes, huh?” my Dad answered gruffly through a mouthful of egg and refried beans. “Half wolf, half dog, son.” I found out later that wasn’t true. “I toldja not to wander on out there. Yer lucky he didn’t make a meal of ya. Best be more careful.” I nodded and Alejandro kept smiling.
It was our second last night at the ranch when it happened. I guess Dad drank too many beers and didn’t close the door all the way behind him when he went to bed.
I woke up halfway through the night and thought I heard boards creaking outside, and a scratching at the door.
“Dad! Dad! Something’s outside!”
“ehhhhhh? Go to sleep son.” He rolled over in bed next to my mother. I know I heard something. I was frightened but closed my eyes and managed to fall back asleep.
In the night I dreamt about the hills of the Mexican desert, the green eyes of los coyotes staring into me, and my baby sister crying.
In the morning I woke up to the sound of my mother screaming and sobbing. I had never seen my father like I saw him that morning, and never did again – he just got real quiet and had this far-off look in his eyes.
It killed my little sister. I looked over at the overturned crib and her body laying next to it on its side. Whatever it was had come in to get her – there were claw marks on the door and a trail of sand from the desert. Two perfectly circular puncture wounds were in her tiny throat, and the body was pale, as if all the blood had been drained out. I’d never seen anything like that before and to this day wish I hadn’t. I cried and cried and buried my face in my hands.
The brothers came by later that morning. The tall one, Alejandro, tried to console my mother, and called the police from our room. They were in the next town which was 30 miles away so didn’t arrive for another half hour.
The other brother, Eduardo, looked more like my Dad did. He just got really quiet after he saw my sister’s body, and then just stared at the ground without saying anything.
Later the two brothers argued in Spanish but I didn’t recognize any of the words: sangre, policía, niña muerta. Alejandro kept talking quickly and loudly, but Eduardo just looked down at the ground and quietly murmured responses.
Coyotes, los coyotes….. the older one kept saying, over and over again.
“No,” said the other, sadly, without looking up.
Even though I didn’t understand, I remember feeling a chill run up my spine when I saw him mouth the next words.