Inspiration for The Wanderings of Chela Coatlicue or The Woman Who Drowned

Many people have asked me, what on earth inspired me to write an Choose-Your-Own-Adventure ™ type novel about a bad-ass young woman who journeys to the US and crosses the border in seven different ways. I have an answer to the question but half the time I just shrugged my shoulders and let out a quiet, “huh-huh-huh.” The answer is long and people say I talk too much as it is and besides, the book I intended to write isn’t the one I ended up writing. But now I figure I’d better write it down before it gets lost in all the hubbub of my life because the reason is important. It speaks to basic human rights that are professed in our Declaration of Independence but not doled out to all.

My inspiration sprung from questions raining on my head about a real person that I knew. She ended up with a horrible crippling illness that I think could have been avoided with two hours off work and some antibiotics. The questions poured over me and wouldn’t let me go: what would have happened if she had gone to a doctor instead of staying at work? What if she had made a different choice? Why didn’t she just take off work and go the fucking clinic before things got bad? The floodwaters of her ailments were at a trickle and just stepping to the side could have avoided the whole deluge. As a person who has sick-leave, healthcare, 8-hour day, due-process and citizenship, it is hard for me to understand why. Hiding in the depths of my memory, there was a time when I had less and I recall chopping through half of my thumb while rushedly prepping veggies for the lunch cart where I worked and I remember calling my boss on the payphone to ask to go to the E.R. and him ordering me to stay and not get stitched up despite the blood and despite the dizziness. It was that moment when I realized they thought I was theirs and to some degree, I had believed it too… Until they told me to put a Band-Aid on a hurt that was much deeper and keep working; but a Band-Aid wouldn’t have held back the blood and I knew it. So I left and got myself to the E.R.

The woman I knew, the one that inspired this book did not have the luxuries I held when working my food cart job at 18. As a single mom, of a child with significant disabilities… as someone without healthcare… as someone without papers…as someone knowing few words in English: the language of power…as someone working ten-hour days, six days per week… as someone with no workers comp…. as someone who could be fired at any time with no recourse… the choice I had to leave and go to the hospital was not hers. When we say that America is the land of opportunity, I think what we’re really trying to say is that America is the land of choices. You too can be a Rockafella if you choose well. But some choices are a luxury. They hide from view. They live only in the mind’s eye of what this country represents and in the hands of the few. I wanted to write this book, to give her back the choices she didn’t have within grasp. I wanted to go back and stop time. I wanted to sit on her shoulder and whisper in her ear, “Go find a clinic…. Now!” Two hours away from work and some antibiotics could have changed avoided the flood, could have saved her life. In the end, a simple bladder infection turned into kidney failure, extreme bloating, blindness, and years of hospitalization in the county public hospital.

In writing this book, I wanted to give her choices and tease out different possible endings to her story. I wanted to scold her boss. I wanted to save her life. But then I never got that far into the novel. As I started writing and researching and talking to people about their journeys, I was so taken aback by the intense violence against women in Mexico and in the Borderlands, I got lost in it. The book was getting too long and was taking a different shape. Writing this short essay that you’re reading now is the only way this woman’s story will be told by me before it gets lost in all the hubbub of my life. Even as I take the time to share this with you now, I’m living in the land of forgetting, and sometimes the most important things slip away.

Ananda Esteva
December 28, 2014

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