What if, instead of immigrating
from Hungary in the early 1920s,
my parents immigrated from Mexico
around 2005 and settled
in a Texas town called Uvalde
where I was born in 2011?
They left their lives behind
to give me chances they never had.
What if, as hoped, I excelled in school,
dreamed of becoming a teacher,
and made the honour roll every year?
What if the dreams of my parents,
along with mine, were coming true?
And then one day, a mentally unstable
eighteen year old with two assault rifles,
entered the school and my classroom?
He killed two teachers, nineteen students,
and wounded numerous others.
What if I was one of the students
whose life and dreams he snubbed out
as nineteen policemen waited in the hall?
Papa, who looked most like Bogart,
but admired the tactics of Cagney,
would not have waited for two hours.
He would have found a long two-by-four
rushed inside past the waiting policemen
and broken through the classroom door,
with inhuman strength as he was shot.
The policeman, forced into action,
finally entered and shot the killer dead.
Papa would have called my name,
scanning all the bodies of the children,
then howled in pain as he pulled my body
into his arms while our thick blood flowed,
and tears poured down his ruddy cheeks.
The EMTS would try to get him on a gurney,
but he would not release my lifeless body,
as he tried to figure out how to tell
Mama, still praying her rosary outside,
that the dream we all had was shattered.
Dad in 1927 Mom in 1927
Harmony on the Hudson 1927
A passenger on the first bus from Sacred Heart
Hungarian Church, my father is already on board,
balancing in the prow. His eyes, almost as dark
as his black hair, see the women hurrying toward
the Skyline at Sunset cruise from the second bus.
A slim woman with dark wavy hair in a flapper dress
with a drop waist, pleated skirt, and t-strap heels
sees him staring at her and smiles back. He moves
to help her from the pier and leads her to a seat,
taking the one beside her.
“I’m Andras,” he offers in Hungarian. “Margit,
from Battonya in Bekes county.” she replies.
He looks puzzled. “Its on the Great Plains. You?”
“Turterebes on the river Tur. It was given
to Romania after the war. Now it’s Turulung.”
Filled with passengers, the ship jolts into reverse
and pitches into the East River. Margit gulps, grabs
her seat, admits she can’t swim. “I grew up swimming.
I can save you,” Andras offers, smiling. A band
plays “Bye, Bye, Blackbird” as they approach
the Brooklyn Bridge and hear over the intercom:
When Roebling, the engineer, became bedridden,
his wife Emily took his place and finished the job.
“Only in America could a woman do that. My daughters
will have so many opportunities.” Andras smiles again.
She was going to be a great mother. As the ship passes
New York Harbor, Margit beams at the electric lights
erupting in every highrise. “They would never believe
this in my village. It’s amazing. Wish I owned a camera.”
“I like your dress,” he ventures, not easily distracted.
“I’m a governess. My mistress gives me her clothes
she no longer wants and lets me go to English classes.”
Beautiful and smart, he thinks. “Want to dance?”
Following him inside, she slips into his arms as the band
plays “My Blue Heaveen” and she follows him easily.
“Oh, we’re under the Manhattan Bridge,” she exclaims,
glancing through a window. “I take a subway across that
every day to a factory where I work as an auto body man,”
he tells her, proud he has a trade. She looks impressed.
The band starts to play a csardas, a courting dance.
“Do you know it?” She smiles and nods as he
grasps her waist and her hands encircle his neck.
Others gather to watch them work through the slow lissu
into the exhilarating frizz as he swings her to the finish
amid claps and cheers. Panting, he leads her to a table
by a window as a waiter brings two glasses of wine
and a plate of hot hor d’oeuvres. They approach
the Hudson River and glimpse the Statue of Liberty
shining green in the spotlights as the intercom instructs:
Notice Lady Liberty and her torch with a flame of gold.
Bertholdi used his mother’s features to shape her face.
“I cried when I saw her from the deck of the ship
three years ago,” Margit tells him. “My mother sent
for me but she died before I arrived.”
A man taps Andras on the shoulder. “Time.”
“I’ll be back,” he promises, patting her hand.
He climbs to the stage. As the band breaks into
Hungarian tunes, he sings the lyrics and Margit
gasps in surprise. When the set is finished, he
rejoins her. “My foster father sang in our summer
Playhouse, but you sing, you dance, and even swim.”
Andras suddenly finds the courage to tell her a secret
few others know. “I was married before. She
was to join me in America, but she died in childbirth.
I have a son back home being raised by her parents.”
His words gush out Tears stream down Margit’s cheek.
“I learned what it means not to know a mother. I am sorry.”
That night, back in his room, Andras writes to his mother
to tell her he feels he has found someone to help him love again.
First Communion Foster sisters forty-five years later
Margit (mom) on L.,
Mariska on R
Home After Forty-Five Years
“It’s my first time back in forty-five years,”
Margit announces, wishing she could use
the loudspeaker to tell the whole airport.
“Have a wonderful trip to Hungary, my dear,”
the ticket taker says, patting the wrinkled hand
of the white-haired lady beaming with joy.
The ship had taken eight days in 1924,
the plane takes eight hours to Budapest in 69,
then the four hour train trip to Battonya
where Mariska and her good friends wait
at the station with open arms and bouquets
of huge sunflowers. Will it feel the same?
The three smother her in hugs and kisses
and versions of welcome back in Hungarian
as the conductor lowers two heavy suitcases
and smiles at their reunion. “Your hair is white,”
Mariska, her foster sister, says. “So is yours,”
Margit counters, “but I’d know you anywhere.”
Margit marvels at Gerda and Agi, so unchanged
except for grey hair, but Mari has grown heavy.
“Let’s go to my house,” Mari says. “I have lunch
waiting.” Margit hires a taxi for them and Mari
gives the driver their old address on Garmezy street.
“I live there now. I helped Roza neni as she aged.”
On either side of her, Agi and Gerda hug Margit
and marvel at how good she looks. They wear
cotton dresses longer than Margit’s and smile
at her as if she is an apparition from their past.
The white stucco house with a straw roof looks
the same. It is as if Margit never left at seventeen.
They take places at the table set with hand-painted plates
on an embroidered tablecloth. Mari brings a cucumber
salad, then heats something on the stove. “You didn’t!”
“Of course I remembered your favourite and made lecso
just like Roza neni did, but added sausage to the onions,
hot peppers, and tomatoes. Have some bread and butter.”
Margit finds out that all got married and had children,
Mari the most with three boys and a girl. “I have one
daughter, but she has three boys and a girl under four,”
Margit says, showing photos. “To our reunion,” Margit
says, raising her glass of plum brandy. When Mari brings
crepes filled with fruit, Margit passes out her presents.
After lunch, Mari finds someone to photograph them under
the acacia tree. “I used to resent Margit,’ Mari admits.
“I was special, the only girl, until she arrived, and then she
was always smarter and prettier.” Margit gasps in surprise.
“She even had a mother in America who was going
to send for her, but when she left, I missed her so much.”
When the others leave, Margit hugs Marisa and tells her:
“I never stopped loving you.” “I was stupid to be jealous.”
“I want to see their grave,” Margit says. “Tomorrow,” Mari
promises. “But you won’t be happy. They are buried with
six other caskets. They said we are running out of room.”
“I’ll fix that,” Margit says, “but I’ll have nightmares tonight.”
Mari insisted she stay with her as she was also widowed.
In bed, they spoon as they did as children. “Zoltan
and Bela?” Margit asks. “Both dead. One heart attack,
one cancer. Good brothers.” “Eva? Donka?” “Jewish
and Roma. Gone in the camps with their whole families.”
Margit asked no more as tears poured down her cheeks.
In the morning, Mari walks Margit to the small cemetery
and they find flowers at the grave. “I try to bring them
flowers from the garden every week.” Margit hugs her,
then joins Mari in the prayers for the dead. After paying
the caretaker, arrangements are made to construct a walled-in
gravesite Roza and Laszlo will never be forced to share.
The rest of the two weeks are spent visiting with friends
and Mari’s children, who worked as local tradesmen. They
ask Margit where she would like to go and she asks to visit
the nearby museum for Janos Arany, the Hungarian poet.
She wishes her daughter, also a writer, had been able to come,
but Margit knows she is there with her, tucked into her heart.
The following day, Mari passes her a gift to open on the train
back to Budapest. They hug farewell for what they both know
will be the last time and Margit tells her, “I never really left,
you know.” “I know.” In the package, Margit finds a copy of
of Arany’s poems and Margit finds the quote she memorized
in school: “In dreams and in love, there are no impossibilities.”