Barbara Flores, a successful designer and cookbook author, vows to keep her family and her thirty-year marriage intact. When her Hispanic professor husband dumps her for a younger woman, she plots an over-my-dead-body warpath against the interloper—a thirtyish Halle-Berry-look-alike. Conflicting advice comes her wacky grown children and friends but it pulls Barbara apart. Her white suburban crowd eggs her to “forget that no-good cheater,” but her Hispanic amigas urge her to lure him back home with homemade enchiladas, rosary petitions, and if all else fails, witchcraft. With relentless honesty and humor, Flores invites us to witness how lifelong marital commitments can shatter, shift, and reshape our very core. Yet this life-affirming memoir proves the bonds of family can heroically survive its most threatening challenges: infidelity, bi-cultural chasms, and Viagra.
Deanna and I waited inside the Big O Tire reception area that smelled of burnt coffee and the sweet pungent odor of deep tread rubber. Deanna looked out the wide, sheet glass windows for Jaime. He wasn’t expecting to see us there.
“See there’s your Papa’s car,” I pointed to the silver Nissan Quest in the parking lot. “Papa will be walking up any minute.”
But instead of seeing his familiar, quick hiking gait on the sidewalk, a white sedan rolled up with Jaime in the passenger seat and, my God, a short woman in a red scarf sitting behind the wheel. The snapshot image jolted me like a stun gun. I had never seen them together before. I had never seen her before. And though I knew she existed, I wasn’t really prepared to believe it, to actually see a live breathing version of her. Jaime got out of the car. But before he had time to close the passenger door, I left Deanna and found myself hurtling toward the sedan, swooping into the vacant seat like a hawk with talons spread. My swinging hands, flailing and slapping, dislodged her red scarf, then my right grabbed onto a tuft of curly black hair, yanking it hard. “You fucking black bitch” erupted from my mouth. Politically incorrect words I had never dared to say aloud before.
Like a Kung Fu expert, she deftly shielded herself against the flying fist of my free hand. The one with a ring on it. “Who is this woman?” she yelled.
“That’s my wife,” Jaime said quietly into the open door. Pinned in a wrestling hold, I could only make out Jaime’s seer sucker shirt and his hands hanging limply at his sides. the woman yanked my thin, blonde hair and slammed my head down into the black of her dash. Neither of us would let go of each other’s hair. From a head-down-at-my-knees, upside-down angle, I could make out that she was young, thirtyish, with perfectly smooth, wrinkleless caramel skin. She was lighter than I expected with a small but extremely muscular frame, stocky even, where as I am tall and prone to frozen shoulders and neck cramps. Our entwined arms, snarled into a screaming knot in the front seat, while Jaime and a few yuppyish onlookers, who had showed up for routine tire maintenance, glared into the white sedan that blocked parking lot traffic. Fights, much less matronly, hair pulling, cat fights simply did not happen in our zip code. Not in downtown Lafayette, that had five shops in a two-block radius, where one could find a peppermint latté. Still bent over, with my head jammed against a plastic protrusion, likely a radio knob, my dash-level vision made out two approaching Big O Tire employees – one on a cell, the other wearing a monogrammed shirt that inadequately covered an immense hairy belly.
Jaime’s bearded head leaned down into the open car door. “Barbara, you better stop this. He’s calling the police.” He sounded annoyed. Then I heard Mr. Big O on his cell ask Jaime, “The dispatcher wants to know if they have any guns?”
My scalp felt stretched, like she was pulling my brains out. But my left fist, clenched around the spongy hair tuft, wouldn’t release.
“Are you sleeping with him?” I asked, yanking the tuft harder.
“Yes, are you?” she demanded.
“Yes,” I lied. It had been last May, seven months ago, on Mother’s Day. I tried to look over the car door to see Deanna. “My granddaughter is watch…” But my words got smooshed into the ribs of my corduroy lap.
Being head down and in pain, and because I did not want bald spots, I let go first. Then she released what was left of my hair from her admirably strong grip. After several more expletives meant to cast doubt on this woman’s moral character in the minds of the onlookers, I stepped out of her car and straightened my bulky sweater. Blonde strands lay scattered on her black upholstery like tossed tinsel. I hoped she’d be finding them for years.
Lashandra Jason promptly gunned her ass out of the Big O Tires Parking lot. The same LaShandra Jason, who’d let Jaime share her cell phone account, although he didn’t come clean with her actual name for another three years. She won. She got the prize. Still, seeing Jaime’s gaping, ashen face, I felt as if I had won something too. But I wasn’t sure what it was.
“The police are coming. She could still press charges, Barbara. You assaulted her.” His voice was peeved. “She’s the victim here,” Jaime kept saying.
“Oh, just shut the hell up!”
I was still in shock. Suddenly my husband’s girlfriend was real. Short. Young. Pretty. “Barbara, she’s just a friend,” Jaime said as we stood on the blacktop waiting for the police to arrive. But that time I didn’t believe him.
I knew I should have handled meeting “his friend” with more decorum and tact, especially with Deanna there. But only two years earlier, when we celebrated our twenty-seventh anniversary, Jaime had written in his card to me, “Let’s have twenty-seven more.” So I refused to share my future twenty-seven years with this strange woman. She was stealing my time. I felt like a little girl being forced to share her Christmas doll with another child, and I rebelled, kicking and screaming.
I suppose if the episode had been a hair pulling playground scrap between two girls at The School of the Madeleine, the kid’s grade school, Sister Allyn would have quietly marched across the black top, looking stern, acting as both judge and jury. And justice would have been been served. But who sorts out the wronged from the wrongdoer in the Big O Tires parking lot?
To pretend I was not a complete Neanderthal, I had apologized to the woman briefly before she drove off, if only for appearance’s sake, or perhaps so I wouldn’t have to hear Johanna tell me I owed her an amends. I knew then that I had acted like an insane, jealous wife, but still I wasn’t completely sorry for having slapped, clawed and pulled hair in one last Big O Tire ditch effort to keep my family together.
Officer Hernandez listened patiently to my story of woe, nodded frequently and occasionally reprimanded Jaime not to interrupt. He didn’t file a report. But before walking back to his squad car, he shook his head at Jaime. Jaime sulked off alone saying, “I’m never going to Big O Tires again.”
After the police car left, I caught sight of Deanna standing alone, starring wide-eyed against the glass. She looked so small, glued to the spot where she’d been told to wait. A little nymph statue frozen between two towering stacks of deep tread tires. What do I say to her? Hasn’t she seen too much already? When Deanna had been a year and a half, she had moved in with us, away from an abusive father, an order from Child Protective Services. After a fight with Miguel, her father had left her and moved to Washington. Now at eight, she was losing the “Papa,” she had lived with her whole remembered life. And she saw her grandmother attack a stranger, someone who had been sitting innocently (or not so innocently) in her own car at Big O Tires. Deanna knew me as her Gramma who always took her side, who told Maya not to spank her but to give her timeouts, the Gramma, who went to Mass every Sunday. The same Gramma who always said, “Every act of violence needs to be reported.” And now she sees me acting like a mad woman. How do I explain that? Seeing her wide-eyed innocent face against the glass, I felt ashamed. She had a front row seat to my violence. Gramma, acting badly.
Later that week I found a yellow post-it on the refrigerator. In Deanna’s print it read, “Love Sucks.” that’s what my actions had taught my granddaughter.
It was all my fault.