The bodies in the brush
By Manny Fernandez in Falfurrias, Tex.
April 18, 2019
The New York Times
Last week, President Trump told reporters during his visit to San Antonio that he was shocked to learn that migrants were dying in the South Texas brush after crossing the border illegally.
“I had no idea,” Mr. Trump said. “Nobody has any idea how bad this is.” He added, “Many, many are dying. That was what surprised me.”
The president spoke at a private club last Wednesday at 12:56 p.m. At that very moment, 186 miles to the south, Deputy Bianca Mora with the Brooks County Sheriff’s Office was driving a patrol truck on a caliche road. She was responding to a report of a migrant body on a ranch. It was her second body of the day.
“I don’t know how to explain it but you get used to it,” said Deputy Mora, 25. “I went to one last year and I didn’t have enough body bags. I wasn’t prepared for the amount of bodies that we found. I went initially for one. We picked up three.”
Six weeks ago, when I was working with a group of No More Deaths volunteers out in the desert of southern Arizona, bushwhacking in search of bones, the sight of white teeth in the dirt made my heart explode.
Yesterday, when I was reading the news and saw a headline about No More Deaths volunteers finding more bodies near the U.S.-Mexico border, my heart sank.
In the weeks between the two, there was another article that ruined me. The one quoted above. “The bodies in the brush.”
I didn’t write about this article when I first read it, because… well, because it ruined me. Because after I returned from Arizona I wasn’t just scratched up by catclaw, I was rubbed raw. I hovered in a state of tears or near-tears for days. Anything that’s already happened and is done happening is now just a memory, isn’t it? No, not in those first few weeks back home. My time working to try to prevent deaths in the desert wasn’t yet memory. It was still very much continuing to happen in my body. A faint sunburn glowed warm in my flesh; Sonoran dirt stubbornly lined my fingernails; the dark pricks of blood pulled from me by thorns were dry but not yet healed or peeling. I went about my chores and tried to ignore the desert-death-heat that still encrusted me until, time after time, someone’s careless question or the scent of cooking beans unleashed sudden weeping.
In those weeks it wasn’t a question of remembering or forgetting the desert and its pall of death. I was still wrapped in its dusty shroud. How could I remember or forget an experience that was ongoing in my body and mind?
But time passed. I washed myself each day. My mind and body cooled and healed and softened again. My mind slowly relaxed and slid back into different daydreams.
Here we are, mid-May: my time with No More Deaths at last feels like memories.
Back on April 18, when I read this in-between news story: No More Deaths deaths deaths was still alive in my skin, bones, brain.
And heart. The heart. That old cliché, the heart, the heart of a person, the heart of an issue, the broken hearts of those who grieve, the bleeding hearts of liberals who care about them, the hot wet fist of muscle that squeezes in every chest every second of every human life.
Six weeks ago my heart exploded. Yesterday my heart sank. What did my heart do on April 18 when I read this other news story?
It exploded and smoldered, sank and throbbed, burned and squeezed.
It took over the rest of me. I couldn’t catch my breath—my lungs went dry and tight. My hands shook. I keened so frightfully that my dog came clattering over with his velvety ears folded back to search my face and lick my tears. I said fuck with the intensity of a scream but in a low, soft voice. A hiss. Fuck you, I hissed. Fuck you, Trump, fuck you, fuck you, fuck, fuck, fuck, no more, no more deaths, deaths, death, fuck.
That’s what my heart did.
I didn’t know how to write about it then, so I didn’t.
I’m still not sure if I know how to write about it now, but there you go—I tried.