I have five exams to take. The first two, Navigation General and Deck General, will be taken this Thursday. I hope to take the next two, Chart Plotting and Rules of the Road, on July 6 and July 7. After those are done, then I will take the exam for the Master's. Rules of the Road is the subject that requires a lot of memorization. It is also considered to be the most difficult because out of 30 questions, only 3 may be missed.
I am not having much fun with this since there is so much material. It is like being back in college on finals week. But I keep telling myself that in another couple of weeks, it will be over. Maybe then, I won't be driving down the road and see two white lights in a row vertically and be thinking "Those are lights for a tug whose tow is < 200 meters".
I have mentally been bemoaning that I haven't been having much fun lately. And just when I do this, I get a reminder that what I'm doing for these few weeks isn't bad, not dangerous, not going to hurt me. That reminder came in the form of a share at my home group meeting last night. It was the one year anniversary of J. I remember when she first came to Al-Anon last summer, a shy young woman who just graduated from high school.
Last night, she told her story of being born in Mexico and at age 9 crossing the U.S. border with her mother and two brothers. They had been told by the "coyote" to bring enough food and water for a day's walk. After getting what belongings they could carry, the group of people started walking towards the border.
The walk across the desert turned into three days and four nights during which all ran out of water and had very little food. J. told of seeing dead bodies as they walked, of people on the journey who became sick and were left behind, of the heat and thirst the group endured.
The group eventually arrived at a house where people brought over by other "coyotes" were staying. There were perhaps forty people in each room. The "coyotes" carried guns and threatened to tie concrete blocks to the legs of the children and sink them in the river unless they were paid. J's mother was waiting on money to be sent from her sister in Florida, but it didn't arrive right away.
After several days with threats from the "coyotes" and with violence among them as one group tried to take guns away from others, the police arrived. J. and her family escaped from the house during the commotion and found their way to a 24 hour convenience store. They had no money but thought that they would be safer there than in the woods.
During the late afternoon, a woman and a man drove up in a van. The woman bought something in the store, came out, and kept looking at J. and her family who were a road worn and sad group. She eventually came over and asked them if they were okay. J's mother told her what had happened. The woman went to the van, said something to her husband, and came back to invite the four of them to their house. They stayed with this kind couple for three weeks until the money finally arrived from Florida. The family then boarded a bus that took them to pick oranges in Florida.
After the orange harvest, they traveled to South Carolina to pick tomatoes. J.'s father arrived here after his border crossing. The family decided to stay in SC and were offered work on a farm where the mother cleaned, the father and sons worked in the fields, and J. took care of the animals.
Not long after their arrival in SC, J. was raped by her step-brother who had come to visit. She was raped later by a cousin as well. She didn't tell anyone immediately because she had been told that she would be killed if she told.
By this time, she was enrolled in school, being tutored in English and making excellent grades. The first rape happened on a Sunday. Because she didn't want to miss school, she went as usual on Monday. At school, some of her friends knew that she was troubled so she confided in them about the rape. Soon the teachers knew and J. was taken by a counselor to a hospital where she was examined and evidence collected.
After the rape, she became despondent. She couldn't concentrate in school. Her grades slipped. She kept going to therapists but mostly they would ask, "How do you feel today?". Finally, she was assigned to N. who really listened to her. J. began to trust N. and talked to her not only about the rape but about how both her parents were alcoholics. It was through N. that J. got to Al-Anon and the little meeting that I call "home".
J. is a remarkable young woman. She graduated in the top five of her class in middle school and in the top ten of her Senior class in high school. She has been verbally and emotionally abused by her father, yet she feels compassion for him. Her full brother who is a drug addict stole all of her saved money from her. She called the police who deported him. She works whenever she can taking care of animals and babysitting. Her hope is to become an American citizen, go to college and become a nurse.
I know that there are so many people like J. She has come a long way since struggling across the desert. She shared that she has found people to trust in Al-Anon, people that she can call, people who won't judge her. And that she has found her own Higher Power who gives her comfort.
I heard just what I needed to hear from this young person at the time when I needed to hear it. Amazing how that works.
For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern
past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.
"How do you know if you are going to die?"
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
"When you can no longer make a fist."
Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.— Naomi Shihab Nye