Home > After the Rain

After the Rain
Author: Renee Carlino

CHAPTER 1

Healer

Avelina

FALL 2003

My middle name is Jesus. Actually it’s Jesús de los Santos. In Spain it means Jesus of the Saints; in America it’s just a really strange middle name to grow up with. My parents came to America from Spain in the early eighties so my father could go to work on his cousin’s cattle ranch in Central California. To my mom and dad, America meant freedom, education, prosperity, and happiness. I was born here in ’85, ten years after my brother Daniel. My mother, being a devout Catholic, continued her family’s tradition of giving daughters religious middle names. I was her only daughter, born Avelina Jesús de los Santos Belo, which was quite a mouthful, so on school and medical records my mother shortened it to Avelina Jesús Belo. No pressure there.

Aside from putting up with the occasional jokes from classmates about my middle name, I had an otherwise idyllic childhood living on the ranch and attending the local public schools. Since before I can remember, I was riding horses and moving cattle with my father, brother, and cousins. The work was in my blood and riding horses came to me naturally, unlike making friends or doing other typical girlie things.

We had everything my parents wished for when they came here until I turned sixteen. That’s when my father was diagnosed with lung cancer. He was the first of many whom I loved but wasn’t able to mend. There were no healing powers in my hands; I was just a little girl with too many hard lessons to be learned. After he passed, my mother fell apart. His memory haunted her and made her frail. For months she sat in the ranch house, in front of the window, looking out for someone to come and rescue her—perhaps my father’s spirit, or maybe death.

I resented her for not being stronger, for not seeing how blessed she was. After burying my father, my brother dove into his own life, going to college and starting a family in New York City, far away from the ranch. The horses became my friends . . . and family. I started barrel racing in rodeos and competitions to make extra money while I watched my mother wither away in front of my eyes.

In my last year of high school, right after I turned eighteen in October 2003, my brother made the decision to send our mother back to Spain. Daniel promised me it was for her own good as well as mine. He agreed to take me in so I could finish my last year of high school, which meant moving all the way to New York, living in the city with his pretentious wife, starting at a new school, and being without my horses. I had no other options. I knew I would have to go somewhere, and New York sounded like a better option than Spain at that point.

Two weeks before we were to move, wild brush fires began raging in Southern California, sending clouds of smoke and haze into our valley, so I took my mother with me to a rodeo in Northern California to escape the dreadful air. We trailered all four of our horses, stopping periodically and letting them graze in the beautiful, untouched land of California’s Central Valley. During our drive, she spoke few words to me. She stayed hunched in the passenger seat, gazing out the window. When we traveled west to a small stretch of road where the mountains met the ocean, she sighed and said in her heavily accented English, “You are a healer. You have a gift. You’ve brought me home, belleza.” Beautiful, she called me. I looked exactly like her, with brown eyes too big for my head and long, dark, unruly hair.

“I’m not, Mama. I’m just a girl and we’re still in California,” I said to her. She didn’t respond—she was too far gone. Most of the time she was despondent like this. There would be the occasional nonsensical observation and then she would go back to quietly mourning my father. She existed in a grief-filled world that was off limits to the living. She existed in the past, and I knew I would never be able to help her, which made it the second time in my short life that I felt utterly powerless.

She spent most of that weekend in the cab of our truck or the dingy motel room where we were staying while I practiced and competed. I brought her meals and made sure she was okay before I went back to tending to the horses. I was scheduled to race for the last time on Sunday afternoon so I spent the morning watching the other events, sitting atop the corral just outside of the arena. It was a small rodeo composed basically of a main arena and two corrals freckled by a few sets of old, wooden bleachers. There wasn’t much money in the purses at those rodeos, but it was good practice and it wasn’t too far for me to drive.

During the men’s team-roping finals one of the horses, saddled and waiting in the corral, sauntered over to me. She nudged my leg and sniffed at my jeans. I let her smell my shoes and then I pushed back against the front of her face, in the space between her eyes and nose. “Go, get outta here.”

As soon as the words left my lips, I heard a brief whistle. Across the corral stood a man, his face shadowed by the large brim of his black Stetson. The mare left my side abruptly and trotted over to him. I watched as he climbed into the saddle with grace before giving the horse a subtle foot command to move forward into the arena. His team-roping partner entered from the other side. Just before the steer was released, the man looked over to me and nodded, the kind of nod that means something. It’s the quiet cowboy’s version of a wolf whistle. I lost my balance on the top of the corral and wobbled just for a moment before smiling back at him.

Instantly, the steer was out of the chute, followed by the men, one on each side. They roped the speeding creature in 5.5 seconds. It was fast, very fast but not fast enough to win. I fully expected to see two sulking cowboys trot back to the gate but only one looked totally defeated. The other, the man in the black Stetson, was smiling and riding toward me.

   
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