The first brilliant colors of dawn present themselves, but are unnoticed by a young couple in a grey sedan. The bright orange edge of the sun emerges on the horizon, but these two figures are distracted by the commotion that immediately surrounds them, and the final goal that lies directly in front of them. They did not expect that their modest vehicle would stand out the way it does here at the border. Their Chevrolet Caprice is already several years old; the shine of the paint is worn, but it has an air of luxury when compared to the vehicles surrounding them. The year is 1983, the Caprice is a ’76, but the engine runs smoothly and evenly, while the cars around them sputter and spew black smoke into the air. The uniform grey paint of their sedan looks immaculate, in contrast to the rust-spotted brown and tan patches of all the rest. Traffic is at a standstill. They move forward a few inches at a time before they halt again. Their progress over the last 90 minutes is barely noticeable. Six days in Mexico have passed quickly up to this point, but now it seems that time itself is stuck in the traffic along with them, unable to move forward as it normally would.
Juarez has been surprisingly cold each morning before the sun rises; that was something they had not prepared for. Martha sits in the back seat, and holds a small, wrapped bundle closely in her arms. She adjusts the blanket every few minutes to cover a delicate brown chin. Gary lets his foot off the brake just enough to roll forward another two feet then presses it down again. He looks to the lanes on either side of them to see if one is moving any faster, then he looks again at Martha in the back seat. “It will be okay. We will make it,” he reassures her.
They were told that it would be best to make the crossing from Juarez to El Paso just before dawn, but it is hard for them to imagine that it could be any worse than it has been so far. They move slowly, but they can now at least see the crossing stations in the distance. “Another half-mile, that’s it. We’ll make it,” Gary repeats.
Martha had been dreading the border crossing for days as they met the lawyer that represented the orphanage, signed papers, and wrote check after check. There was even a grey-cloud of doubt that hung over the excitement of being able to hold their new son for the first time. When the child was put in Martha’s arms, she was certain that it was worth the thousands of dollars they had paid up to that point, but it was the risk of not being able to cross with him back to their home that really terrified her. They were reassured countless times by the lawyer that there would be no issues when they crossed the border. He gave them a manila folder with a dozen signed forms with official-looking seals and letter head. “Everything is in order now, Felicidades!”he said. Then he handed them the packet and walked them to the door of his small office. “There are no troubles at the border. Never,” he insisted. His assurance made them feel slightly better, but before going into Mexico they had been told many times that these adoptions did not always work out. They were told from the beginning that they might arrive in Mexico to discover that their “processing fees” and “taxes” had all been given to an adoption agency that did not exist, or that the child’s mother might decide that another large sum of money was needed in order to finalize the process. In the worst cases, they had been told that people were stopped at the border and denied re-entry after waiting in the massive line of cars… just as they feared now.
They move forward another three feet, and the car heater kicks on, warming the interior. The car in front of them appears to be made out of corrugated tin; it is hard for Gary to imagine anything like this being produced in a factory and rolling off of an actual production line. “This one in front of us looks like it’s handmade,” he comments to Martha, trying to take her mind off of the border station ahead of them. She doesn’t seem to hear him, her thoughts are dark. It is hard for her to be optimistic without tangible assurance that they will make it across with the child. She tries to construct a mental wall against the idea that all their efforts will end up being for nothing. The thought of losing the new baby had brought many tears even before coming to Mexico. Despite the doubt and fear, Martha didn’t hesitate when they were told that there was an agent in Juarez that had seen their application for adoption and lined them up with a “candidate”. They received the official letter three weeks ago:
Baby Boy/Age: 2 months
Location: Orfanato Maria de Jesus de Ciudad Juarez
Martha was unable to contain her excitement. She knew from the time she received the letter that he was their boy.
The border ahead of them is more than a crossing from one country to another. It is the border to parenthood, and a family. It is the crossing from 4 years of trying and “failing” to finally having a baby they have wanted so badly. Gary’s hope is that for Martha it will be a crossing from tears, and doubt, and depression to love and happiness in the years ahead.
The car in front of them pulls away and Gary rolls forward once more, arriving at the station window. He rolls down the window to the agent, who glances quickly around the bare interior of the car, then looks more closely at Martha. The agent notices the bundle that she holds tightly, and stands up abruptly. He says something in Spanish to the man in the adjacent booth, then leans over again to address Gary in a thick accent, “Excuse me please, sir, if I look at your baby?” Gary reaches for the manila folder on the seat next to him, which suddenly seems very far away. He picks up the bundle of documents and notices that they now feel very light. He feels completely powerless…