On Monday, a Denver Post columnist wrote an article about this spring’s first-ever prom at Florence Crittenton High School for teen mothers, and the article elicited negative comments that so upset me that at first I was at a loss for words. I’ve been working on a project involving the school’s first-ever leadership class, and that class has turned the prom into a hands-on leadership project. Those who complain about the prom say it’s a reward for bad behavior. What they may not know is that this prom is also a practical training program in goal-setting, planning, and execution. It’s teaching this class the very accountability the naysayers complain they don’t have.
Around noon, an aging sedan rolled up. A skinny, baby-eyed girl-woman got out, stepped up to the courtyard gate, and gave me a puzzled smile through the bars. She had long, metallic-red hair, mod side-bangs, and fluffy white ankle boots.
“Sara?” I asked.
She widened her eyes, as if shocked at the very thought. “Anita.”
“Un momento.” I rushed toward the house to find someone to unlock the gate.
Once-upon-a-time, with Americans crossing the border to shop for novelties and bargains, Juárez used to be a great place for entrepreneurs.
Anita is Sara’s daughter, a twenty-year-old student at the University of Ciudad Juárez. She had arrived to take her aunt Patricia, grandmother Carmela, and me to her mom’s house, a forty-minute drive through the gauntlet of Juárez.
I woke to the safe sounds of a gas burner igniting, a pan shifting, an egg sizzling. It was only then that a rooster started crowing somewhere in Colonia del Carmen. Perhaps he sets his clock by Carmela. I lingered in bed, until I heard 69-year-old Carmela and her 40-something daughter Patricia muttering in Spanish and figured it must be time to come out of hiding. I had no clear idea of the hour. My cell phone is my usual watch and I hadn’t brought it, unwilling to pay roaming charges in Mexico, or to risk having it stolen on the desperate streets of Juárez.
The pan dulce was a soft, airy, lightly sweet reminder of my L.A. childhood.
When I emerged it was 7:30 and Carmela was hanging laundry in the chilly morning shadows of the courtyard. Every day she washes dozens of towels and smocks for her son Diego’s hairdressing shop. She then made us a delicious herbal tea from canela (cinnamon) and flor de azahar (orange blossom).
“Good for calming the nerves,” she said, “para la tranquilidad.”
“I need that,” I teased. “I have an energetic personality.”
She smiled and offered her sincere hope that her tea would help.