Wet Slide 2: Wetter Slide

Read the first story, Wet Slide

My car idles impatiently. I've rolled down all the windows and I tap my finger on the steering wheel. It's getting hot in here. I call out to my kids again.

"Mija, Antonio... let's go!" I say.

"But Papá! Tony has the good towel!" my daughter pouts.

Antonio is five and Liberada is seven. They bicker inside the open door of my street-side apartment, playing tug-of-war with a towel. I gesture out the car window, but my kids don't see me. Have I wasted their time over the long Mesa summer? I might have shown them a better time while they stayed with me, but I am so busy with classes. As a result, los ninos are restless and irritable.

I lean out the window and call out to them again.

"Guys, you can rent towels at the park! There's gonna be a long line if you don't hurry up!" 

They close and lock my front door and scramble down into the car, still arguing.

"I'm telling you both," I start in, "We can go to Water World or we can stay inside and you can help me with my nursing test."

"Papá, you crazy!" Antonio laughs. Now that I have mentioned Water World, he's forgotten all about the towel, which Libby now cradles proudly.

"No, Papi, we're going! You promised!" she whines.

I smile back at them reassuringly. I want this fun day as much as they do.

Two months ago, my ex-wife flew them out here from D.C. Now, with only a week left before they fly back, it is our first and last visit to Water World, the premiere water park in the Southwest. I feel a twinge of regret. My Summer classes have kept them mainly cooped up inside my apartment during the day, and my homework keeps us from spending more time together at night. It has not been perfect, but I want them to have one good memory with their Papá before going back. It has been such a treasure to have them with me.

Automobile lots and pawn shops pass by on either side of the street. The city doesn't begin or end anywhere. It just goes on and on. While in Mesa, I feel as though I'm in a valley that has been abandoned by its mountains, leaving the city behind, naked and alone in the desert. I feel cut off here, not only as a father and a human being, but as a child of immigrants. There is a tension here that no amount of community outreach can temper, and I don't know what to do about it. What I do know is, I want to make peoples' lives better, and I am well on that path.

I think about my parents as I guide my car from the cruddy part of town and onto the main boulevard. Strip malls and fast food franchises are the backbone of this city, and I find that a little sad. My kids twist like worms in the back seat. Mesa was really never my first choice after Maria and I divorced, but the gruff words of mi abuelo brought me here. I recall his advice even now, long after his passing.

Usted va donde el trabajo es, he used to say. Go where the work is. And go I went. Esta pais, Abuelo hablábamos a los ninos, es el lugar sin limites, donde el trabajo de las vidas - then he'd point to his bony chest - que yo no tuve hacerlo en mi vida. Los amo... a todos. You'd better make your life something more than mine. He'd firm up his bony, stern face and shove us off into the yard, where we played, and hoped for a better life, and dreamed of being doctors, and lawyers, and musicians, and artists. He and mis padres had no hope for permanent status here in the United States, but I did, and my kids do, and for that, I feel an obligation to do better, and again, to save lives.

The suburban sprawl turns to dusty lots, then open road. The horizon is all around us now, and the hot summer sun spreads out over the car hood. "We're almost there, guys!" I announce. Both kids holler and throw themselves across the seat. I'm almost there, I think to myself, if I can just pass my tests. Dios mio, I've had many false starts, but every time I feel sorry for myself, I remember what mis padres crawled through for me, and I slap myself out of it. I am close to my certification. My kids love me. And here is Water World, rising up out of the desert like it has been built just for us.

From a distance, Water World is like a twisted plate of spaghetti on a stretch of baked earth. Chlorine stained pylons and tubes curve and bend all over each other. Artificial mounds of earth slope up between the tubes, and artificial rivers foam and crest through them, carrying yellow inner tubes. The unmistakable smell of hot water on pavement is everywhere, from the moment I let Tony and Libby out of the back seat. The sky overhead is a deep, punishing blue that bakes our skin. I take their hands - one on either side - and we walk toward the high towers of water spray and gleaming, sun kissed bodies.

"Stay close to your Papi, ok?" I say gently. "Stay next to me, ok? Ok Mija?" I squeeze Libby's hand. "Ok, Mijo?" I look down at Antonio. He makes a funny face at me which shows me that he understands.

Just then, a brown pickup pulls alongside us. Its muffler burps loudly. I hold my little ones back to let it pass us, but it does not pass. Instead, it rolls slowly in my blind spot. I hear an angry voice yell, "Hey, Paco! Move your dirt babies!" Someone else laughs high and hard out the window of the truck. The laughter goes on far too long. I can feel the prickly heat of anger rising up along the back of my neck, but I refuse to look up or back at the vehicle. I scoop up Antonio and corral Libby in front of me.

"What did he say?" she asks, innocently.

"They wasn't talking to us, Mija." I response curtly, my heart pounding. "Just keep walking, ok?" Tony rests his head on my shoulder and looks back to the sound of the loud exhaust pipe. I hear a voice yelling from the truck: "Hey, man!" The voice yells again. "Hey, man!" And again. "Hey man!" Ignore it, I tell myself.

"No, kiddo. Hey kiddo." I guide Tony's face back to mine, and look into his wondering eyes. "Staring is rude, ok?" I point up at the slides. "Just look on ahead, look, we're almost there! And you can ride on the slides, and swim around!"

I get us across two lanes of parked cars, but I still hear the low growl of the truck's engine. I tense up as another male voice yells across the lot. "Hey Paco! Is that your anchor babies?" Another high, forced laugh follows, a laugh like a hyena, and it cackles for what feels like forever.

We're finally at the gate to the water park, and I let Tony down. He and Libby amble alongside me. They are a little bit scared, I can tell. They can't understand what was said, or what it means, but they know I am upset, and they, in their small way, are worried about me. Kids are so damned smart, smarter than you or I.

We pay for our tickets. Far off, I hear that same truck's engine revving. I fight an urge to do something violent, pero con mis ninos aqui alongside me, I have to stop myself. If they were not with me, I might be in trouble right now. I have to set an example. I have to keep them safe. I have to shield them from hate, not expose them to it. Maria will get an earful if I don't, about how Papá had a fight. It won't matter why or how. I remember the time I fought the man who spoke to Maria disrespectfully at dinner, and she never forgave me for causing a scene. I told her I was defending her honor, but all she saw was my temper.

That was years ago, though. Fatherhood has made me more responsible. I tell the ticket taker about what happened in the lot. I describe the truck - a brown ford - and the lady gets a really tired look on her face. She is already bored with my talking.

"Be careful about who you let in here!" I tell the attendant. "I don't appreciate that kind of language directed at my kids!"

The lady is already past bored. I ask for her manager. She is the manager, she says. There is security in the park if anything happens, she says. She has already looked past me at the next guests in line.

The water on the concrete evaporates under our sandals. New water splashes across the ground, and it turns to steam almost the moment it appears. We have three choices: the wave pool, the slides, or the river rapids. The kids love the way the artificial waves slice down the massive pool, so we head in that direction.

We stay in the shallow end of the wave pool, which is packed with senior citizens, young children and a few roving lifeguards. I kick my feet around in the refreshing blue water. The floor tiles shimmer through the water and are smooth and blue, and the rough grout between them feels good on my feet. Next to me, Antonio raises his arms like a body builder and shows off his new inflatable muscles. I can hear screams from the high water slide towers all around us.

"Argh!" Tony growls, bending and posing like a gladiator. He stomps his feet in the shallows, wielding an invisible axe. Liberada just laughs. She takes to dunking her head in the pool briefly, then lifting her head out of the water and exhaling loudly. "Ahhh!" she sputters. She ducks her head in again, for about five seconds, then lifts her head out, breathing like a drama queen. "Ahhh!" she says again.

"You were in there long, mija!" I laugh. "Are you a diver?"

"I'm diving, Daddy!" she exclaims. "I'm diving to protect the weefs!" I'm beyond words at how cute she is.

We swim around until one o'clock, at which time Antonio starts pestering me for the water slide. We walk toward a prominent slide tower on the far end of the park past a man-made hill covered in gushing, twisting streams of water. Just past it is a ramp, followed by stairs. We climb the steps to the top and wait in line. A hot mid-day wind whips around us so high up. I can see for miles in any direction, and it is all brown scrub lands. The slide entrance is build up into the far end of the aerie. It's a dark mouth that breaths low with the sound of rushing water. The sting of chlorine is especially strong up here. Voices chatter all around.

Someone says, "It's Paco and his anchor babies!" I look up and see three twenty-something Caucasian guys, waiting in line just ahead. I recognize the voice from the brown Ford. They've turned to face us. The first guy has a mustache and a blonde mullet, and his t-shirt reads Miller Time. The second young man has an army cut, and his shirt is that of an American eagle. The last guy has a big curly tangle of black hair, and his shirt reads, in big letters: Where's the Birth Certificate?

"Hey, why don't you guys just turn around and shut your mouths?!" I blurt out. "You got no business talking to me or my kids that way."

The guys are all amused. They don't see me as a threat.

"Hey, look! He a-speaka da English!" the Miller Time-shirted one says in a mock-Hispanic accent. "Your babies get da English? Probably not." The Birth Certificate guy looks at his buddy, and cackles high and loud.

"Why don't you shut up?" a girl in line says to the three men. "That's hate speech!"

"Your moo-moo is hate speech!" Eagle guy shoots back, emotionless, pointing at her with a weird glazed look in his eye. He isn't smiling. His face twitches. His two buddies laugh even louder.

"Fuck you!" she yells. A few other people in line look really uncomfortable, but they say nothing.  A couple of white senior citizens stand off near the railing on the top landing. The lady wears a golf visor and both her elbows jut at her sides. The old man's face is blank and expressionless, and his arms are folded in front of him. I can't see his eyes either, as he wears big ray bans. It seems like they are both watching us.

Miller Time suddenly punches Eagle really hard in the side of his arm, then knocks past some people and pushes Eagle into the slide. After his buddy disappears, Miller Time jumps after him, hard, and hits the wet plastic with a loud squeak - the whole tube contraption wobbles as he does it - and he whoops and hollers all the way down the slide. I feel sick and angry. Birth Certificate is left standing near the slide entrance alone. He is suddenly quiet without his friends to back him up. Nobody says a word to him. Outrage consumes me. I know I must think of my kids first, but they cower behind me. I think to myself, this will be a memory for them forever, and this thought hits at me so hard that my anger floods over me like so much water gushing down through the pipe.

"Not laughing so hard now!" I say to Birth Certificate. "You and your buddies should learn manners!"

He spins around in front of me and reaches out his hand. I'm confused at first, so I don't react quickly enough, but before I know what's happening, he brushes his hand antagonistically down my neck, and his fingers pinch at my skin a little bit. That does it. I grab his hand, and before I can stop myself, I've got him in a headlock. I shove him toward the slide and push him, but he grabs a fistful of my hair and tries to kick at my groin, and suddenly I'm tumbling down into the slide with him. My first thought is Libby, Tony, no! as the guy kicks wildly at me in the darkness of the tube.

I've got to get him off me. He has dug his legs into either side of the tub, so we've stopped, although water gushes over us. It's dark in the tube but I can feel him trying to climb over me. It's pitch dark, and wet, and noisy. I raise my arm and start whacking against any part of him I can find. My closed fist connects with what feels like his head. I punch again and feel like I've hit his chest. I feel his body go limp and slide off me. Now that we've dislodged, I'm sliding really fast, out of control. I can't stop the downward momentum. The tube opens out into bright blue sky shining down onto the half pipe. I see his body just in front of me, careening and hurling away down the slide, head-first. The force of the water has pushed his swim trunks down around to his knees. His limp body fishtails as the slide twists and turns down toward the receiving pool below.

I shoot out the from pipe like a champagne cork and land on top of his body. He is face down, bobbing around in the water. I move to him and turn him around, and see that his eyes and mouth are open. A woman screams, shrill and loud, from somewhere near us. He's not moving.

"My kids!" I scream. My mind is going a thousand miles a second. None in the growing throng of onlookers seem to hear me. "My kids! Somebody get my kids!"

"You fucking wetback!" Eagle screams. He and Miller Time approach from the side of the pool. Eagle takes a swing at me immediately. I lean back, avoiding his hit. He says, 'we're gonna send you back to Mexico, you illegal dirtbag." He starts swinging more. I block most of his punches with my arm. The other redneck, Miller Time, curls his arm around Birth Certificate's back and pulls up his swim trunks. He guides the body to the edge of the receiving pool, and with the help of some onlookers, hoists it up onto the wet pavement. He yells at anyone who will listen with, "Rob is fuckin' dead, man!" He is hysterical. Eagle stops tossing blows at me to wade over to where they are. He mutters indistinctly.

I feel yanked in several different directions. I want to rush from the pool and get my kids, but I won't walk away from the body in the pool without checking for vitals, without trying to help. It's my training. I can't help it. My mind is a mess. No lifeguards in sight. I must do something, so I sidle up to Rob's motionless body, to the immediate alarm of his two redneck pals.

Eagle and Miller Time shove me back, and scream at me, and one of them whacks the back of his hand against my ear. The other one moves in and tries to wrestle me under the water.

"Get the god damn away from him!" spits Miller Time.

I push both of them back and scream, "I'm EMP-certified, goddammit! I know what to do!" 

The two rednecks hestitate, then linger back behind me then, breathing heavily, and I rush forward and check his vitals. He's still alive, but he's not moving, and not breathing. His face and lips are blue. I climb up out of the water and look around frantically. The park lifeguards are still nowhere to be found. I lean down over "Rob" and begin preliminary CPR. I clear his airways. Again. Again. Has his heart stopped? I get my fists over his rib cage and start in on him.

Whispers carry through the crowd about the unconscious body. I don't know who to trust. The sense of unease I've had for so long in my community at large, seems amplified here, made caustic in the searing heat. But another part of me has taken over and I continue.

A huge spurt of water gushes out of Rob's mouth along with the a frantic, choking and coughing noise out from his gullet. I think I see his eyes flutter, but before I can check his breath, a fat security man with a mustache rushes over and and forces my arms behind my back. His fingers reach into my back pockets.

"Where's your ID?" he asks me. "You a citizen?"

"Why should I produce ID? Get your hands off me!" I say. I wriggle loose and stumble back near the pool. All of my identification is back in the car.

At that same moment, more park security appears, followed by Tony and Libby, and the old couple from the slide aerie. The adults all point in my direction. I run for my kids, flush with panic and relief. Their small faces look stricken. I take them both and pull them toward me. The moment I touch them, they start to cry.

Miller Time  leans in sees that Rob has begun to move, if just slightly. Lifeguards are now on the scene, carrying a gurney and supplies.

"Deputize us!" Eagle tells the fat security guard. "Just deputize us right here and now, brother! We'll take care of him. No need for the cops."

Another guard, a dark skinned man with heavy eyelids, holds his arms out. He's almost laughing, but not quite. "Now just hold on a sec..." he says. "No, no... we don't deputize here. That's not how this works. Cops are on the way. We'll figure this out. Everyone back up." He looks at me "Hey friend.. best you stick around." I see sympathy in his eyes, but I know he won't ask me nicely again. "We'll work this out, and if not, well..." he lets his voice trail off.

The rednecks are getting agitated.

"Deputize us, brother." Eagle says, looking pointedly up at the fat guard. "C'mon, brother. Deputize us." An eerie wave of whispers ripples through the crowd around us. I take care to wander from that crowd, still holding tight to my children. I need silence and peace. The water from the slide continues on, rushing forth unabated. Its ebb needs to slow and stop, to give me room to think and to breathe, but it continues spilling into the pool, stronger than ever.

"I'm waitin' on ya." Eagle says to me. He's close enough so that I can hear the air whistling through his nose. He circles me cautiously. "You hear that, dirtbag?" He speaks softer, his nose still whistling. "We're sending you back to where you belong, cops or no cops."

Miller Time, satisfied that Rob is okay, pats his buddy on the back. "Let's let the cops sort out this son of a bitch."

My daughter can't wrest her eyes from the EMPs and the gurney. "Is he dead?!" she asks. Antonio is breathing loud and low, and his eyes dart back and forth between the rednecks.

"No, mija, esta vivo." I say to him. I guide them further from the crowd, but am careful to let security see that I haven't fled. Half the park seems to have amassed near the slide. Playful screams echo out from other ends of the park, but all around us is the mayhem of rushing water and the ripples of whispers and dagger stares in my direction. The two senior citizens walk up to the fat mustachioed security guard, and the lady with the golf visor whispers to him. Her husband, with silver hair and sunglasses, places his hands on his hips and watches me like a hawk.

Miller Time follows the EMPs away. His military friend, Eagle, stays behind and walks up next to the elderly couple and the security guard. He says something to them.

My children tremble. "Everything is going to be okay." I say to both of them. I get down on my knees and look each one of them in the eyes. "Liberada, Antonio. Papá lost his temper a little bit, and some bad things happened. Everyone is going to be okay. I love you guys."

They nod slowly, their eyes wide.

"I want you to stick by me. I won't leave you again. The police will want to talk to Papá, but I want you to stay by me, okay?"

"Papi, the old man scared us." says Libby slowly. As she speaks, her head turns slowly toward the elderly couple and her face twists into a fearful sob. "He told us he was gonna send you away to Mexico and ... And Papi, I lost my towel!!" she cries uncontrollably, tears streaming down her cheeks.

I kiss her on the forehead, then I stand and take their hands, and watch the crowd dissipate around us. The sun begins its late afternoon descent from the apex of the Summer sky. Two more security men appear next to the fat one, and Eagle, and the two old ones wearing white. I stand dutifully by my two children, waiting for law enforcement. It doesn't take long. They assemble into our midst. I do my best to comfort the kids, and all the while, play it out in my head again and again. A man attacked me and I only defended myself and my children. I saved the man's life. I did not flee the scene. I have nothing to hide.

The old man removes his sunglasses and steps across the concrete in front of the pool. He sticks out his hand to shake mine, but I refuse. He waits for me to change my mind, and when he sees that I won't, he puts his sunglasses back on, and motions over his shoulder. Seven police officers, all wearing sunglasses, surround me and my kids. The old man starts to talk.

"Now you're gonna listen to me, and you're not going to say a word, or my officers are gonna take your children."

"You are not going to..." I begin, but he cuts me off by yelling in my face.

"I don't want you to talk! Do you get me? You are gonna get the beating of your life if you say another word! Just nod if you understand."

Both Libby and Tony suck in their sobs. They try so hard to stay strong. I keep each of my hands firmly on their backs, holding them close. I feel caught - caught between my duties as a father, as a man, as a child of immigrant, as a bona fied American citizen caught in what is clearly an illegal act, and desperately, madly aware that I am outgunned. I know that now all of this will get back to Maria, and if it does, there is no way that she will believe me. She will think I started something and put the kids in danger. I may never see them again. Those thoughts - and more - began to cycle through my head, all as I find myself nodding at the old man with the golf visor and sunglasses.

"Good." he says, satisfied. "I was going to ask you some questions but I can see by the look on your face that I am wasting my time with you. If I were to ask you where your ID was - " he held out his hand. "I don't care if you have one or not - you'll tell me you left it in the car. Next I was gonna ask you about your kids. Cute kids." He doesn't smile. "I wonder if they're even yours."

"Next," he continues, ignoring how I've stepped back a few paces. "I'd ask you if you're gonna cooperate. See, my wife run this here park. I own it. Before that, I was Chief of Police for Mariposa County. These - " he gestures around at the silent officers. "Are my guys. Isn't that right?" Murmurs of assent come from all around me, and for the very first time, I see the hint of a smile on his mouth.

"When you disrespected this park, you disrespected my wife, and not only that, you disrespected this community. You are being downright disrespectful." says the former Police Chief. "I'll tell you what I told your daughter. I don't think you belong here, and I'm going to drop you off at the Border myself."

He signals his guys to grab my two children. I'm going to go down swinging. I can already feel a strange loco spectacular popping through my brain like firecrackers. I will die for them, if I need to.

Just then, I see a red flash as the heavy-lidded security man swoops into our circle and scoops up my kids.

"Escaparse!" he screams. "Vamanos!" More than half the cops around me melt away as they move after him. I don't know who he is, and I watch as he disappears into the crowd with my children. The black-clad police rear back; they are stymied, held back by the edge of the crowd. Some older Caucasians linger around the edge of the crowd, looking stern and stunned, their hands on hips, not sure what to do. They cannot hurt my kids. The crowd has is friendly to me. I can just see it in the anger that flashes through their eyes at what has happened. They hold the police back, and it is now time for me to run.

In the madness of the moment, a wide enough space opens up for me to run through, and I kick my legs wildly up a path not flanked by police. I brush so closely past the Chief, that old white devil, that I can smell the spearmint on his breath. Eagle, that army bastard, is faster than the others. His hand grazes at my shirt at first, then finds a fold in the cloth. He has me. Unfortunately for him, I twist low and leave him with an empty shirt in his hands. Now I really look like the criminal, I think. A shirtless Mexican American. Might as well book me now.

I hear the Chief yell, "Knock him down!" from the footpath behind and below me, followed by a quick succession of boots on pavement. I must run fast, y necessito rezar de los ninos están seguro. I must pray to God my kids are safe. The benches I rush past sit next to tall cylindrical ashtrays. I slow down, and spin my body around and heave them over onto their sides, and kick them madly down onto the sloped path, one after the other. I almost have to laugh at the sight of the rolling metal ashtrays - there are now three - and the way the pursuing policia must hop and lurch around to avoid being bowled down by them. Eagle is out in front of the rest and he hurdles them expertly. He is almost upon me.

Only fifty meters left on the path. The rest is dead end, and cacti, and high wired fence, but to the side - my only choice - is the head of the rapids ride. There is no time. I hop onto the small dock and jump onto a stray yellow inner tube. The water is still warm although the sun has begun to set. The light casts an orange glow on the water so intense that I feel caught up in a gushing torrent of mango juice. I don't want to think about what - or who - is at the bottom of the hill. One of my shoes comes off somewhere under the water.

Behind me, Eagle and the cops pile into inner tubes, brandishing their nightsticks like rodeo clowns on yellow steeds. I feel smashed and pulled and yanked by the current, which trails down the artificial mountain, past vending stands and water slide pylons. Most of the park residents stand by the side of the mountain, gazing up with their hands cupped over their eyes, watching it all unfold. The sun still blinds them from what is happening, but they are trying to see.

Liberada, Antonio... I am sorry. I don't know if friend or foe got you away safe. I can only hope Maria can forgive me. The rapid gains speed and I get a nose full of treated water. My head ducks down under the inner tube, into a sloshing abyss of artificial rock and wild current. I am no longer in control - right side up one moment, upside down the next. I can no longer tell. It is so wet. I breathe lungfuls of water. The steep slide twists down this man-made mountain, where I am pulled along by forces I cannot tame, unaware of what lies at the bottom as the sun sets over the desert.


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