Tuesday morning I took Marta to the student clinic to get a pregnancy test. There was no sense in getting all freaked out until we knew what was going on. She wasn’t from a super fertile family, she said. It had taken her mother five years without protection to get pregnant with her, so one little slip-up, or, well, maybe it was one shot of sperm that slipped out on day 12 of her cycle.
Who knows? That’s what I thought. I’m not sure what Marta thought.
At noon I had an executive committee meeting of CISPES, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador. We were planning the expansion of the education programs to five new churches in the area. James and Robbie already had commitments from the pastors. We really had to hone the message to the religious community, focus entirely on the recent murder of the archbishop of San Salvador by right wing thugs connected to the regime. On the university front, I’d gotten fifteen more faculty members to sign petitions calling for the end of all US military and economic aid to the government of El Salvador in the previous week alone.
This was the University of Texas in the spring of 1980, and we were cooking with gas. In two weeks we were going to march to the Texas capitol building to demand an end to all US involvement in Central America. There were movements on campuses across the country. In Austin, we were building a ground swell of support, not only within the confines of the university, but in the greater community as well. On campus, we had the support of a growing contingent of middle class white liberals and more than a few international students from Europe and the Middle East to go along with the core of Latin American leftists who were running the show. Expanding outside the university was the focus of the noon meeting.
Marta and I had an appointment at the clinic at 10:15 am on Tuesday morning. We were a bit nervous about what the results might be, but neither of us would say so. Marta had to be at work at the Sheraton at noon, and I had the lunch meeting with the executive committee. I wasn’t sure what was going on in her mind, but I had no concept of what it might be like to be a father and no intention of learning in the near future. As a freewheeling hippie with a fellowship in the master’s program in Latin American Studies, I just wasn’t going to let my country support dictators and murderers if I could help it, and I certainly didn’t believe this was a good environment in which to bring in a new life.
Marta’s thoughts? I wasn’t privy to her innermost musings. We’d been married for just two years, and already we’d been to a marriage counselor at the student clinic more than once. It had to be bad when a hippie rebel went to a marriage counselor. What was next? Would I ask my parents for advice or something else equally ridiculous, maybe tricky Dick Nixon had some thoughts on the subject, or Henry Kissinger.
When the first marriage counselor asked me what I really wanted in life, I said I’d really like to take out Kissinger. Oops. The asshole told me he had to report such expressions of violence to his supervisor. Fuck you, motherfucker, I thought, “I was just kidding,” is what I said. I knew there were intelligence people watching our movement grow.
The truth was I didn’t have the balls or the means to get at the sonuvabitch Kissinger or I would have gladly taken him out. Pompous prick sitting safely somewhere in Washington or New York after he and Tricky Dick engineered the military coup in Chile that assassinated the elected president, tortured and “disappeared” thousands of students, and proceeded to imprison tens of thousands more. Students, clergy, civilians, anybody opposed to a US-backed military dictatorship was fair game. Yeah I’d take Kissinger out if I could. A quick death was better than what most of the students who’d been tortured in the stadium in Santiago had gotten when the US-backed military took over Chile in the bloody ’73 coup.
For some reason we decided not to go back to that marriage counselor, fighting with each other was better than getting reported to the FBI. But there was a young woman counselor who did help us, a psychology grad student. She got us started talking to each other. Funny thing though, we never talked about Marta getting pregnant. That never crossed our minds.
We needed to talk now for sure. After getting the news at the clinic, we hadn’t hugged, we hadn’t kissed, we just looked at each other, wondering what the other was thinking without saying anything. A sullen stillness crowded the Fiat 125 as we drove down Congress Avenue, past the capitol building, toward the big hotel on the river.
It was 11:45, and I was dropping Marta off at the Sheraton Cove restaurant for her afternoon shift as a waitress in training. After the noon rush where she bussed tables, the afternoon was light, and she would practice waiting on a few customers. The Syrian chef liked her, the old sleazebag. I would pick her up after work but had to go to an event at the student union first. Some CISPES members were going to disrupt a meeting of the Young Republicans.
The silence was finally broken as we arrived at the Sheraton.
“Vamos a hablar de eso en la noche, Martita. Hay que ver qué hacemos,” I said, we’d talk about it that evening, see what we were going to do.
“Si, vamos a hablar, tenemos que hablar,” agreed Marta, they’d talk, they had to talk. So much to say and nobody to say it to. Her mother was a continent away, and there were times when I wasn’t much closer.
That afternoon at 5:00 pm, me and the rest of the CISPES hard core were to meet in the student union. The placard at the entrance told us that the Young Republicans’ dinner would be upstairs in the Hogg conference room. Robbie and Pablo and Alberto and I were the only ones who showed up, and after one pitcher of beer, Pablo and Alberto bugged out, claiming another commitment. Light weights, I thought. Robbie was a black belt in karate and wasn’t worried. I was just kinda stupid. We had another pitcher.
The Republicans’ meeting started at 6:00 pm, and we went upstairs at about 6:20. There was a guy at the mike spouting some kind of bullshit, and we kind of hung near the back waiting for an opportunity. Funny thing, the resume-packing Republicans were dressed a bit differently than Robbie and me, and they were all seated at round tables semi-circling the small stage that had been set up along one side of the conference room. Robbie and I were beginning to get a few inquisitive stares from some of the attendees. Wonder why. We stared back.
When the guy at the mike said something about dinner and stepped away from the small stage that had been set up in front, I saw my chance. Striding quickly forward, I jumped up on the stage and grabbed the microphone.
“I hope you’re all enjoying this fine evening, eating your fancy food in your fancy clothes, while your brothers and sisters in El Salvador are being tortured and murdered by a military government funded entirely by the United States of America. The guns that kill the impoverished people of El Salvador are provided by our taxes. Think about that as you enjoy your dinner.”
At which point the guy who’d just left the stage and another pretty big dude came hustling toward me. Robbie jumped between them and me and executed a beautiful high kick in their direction that made them step back for a moment, but there were more of them coming. We exited stage left. Left is where the door to the ballroom was and we hustled out of there toute suite, laughing excitedly as we bolted down the stairs. Then seeing that the Young Republicans were satisfied to have run us off and no one was following, we did the logical thing and headed back into the student union for another pitcher of beer and a celebration. Now that was a rush!
I was pretty high when I picked up Marta at the hotel at 7:30. I told her what Robbie and I had just done and suggested we stop by the Deep Eddy Cabaret on the way home. She could see I was in a good mood and was amenable to the suggestion. The Deep Eddy was only a couple of blocks from our apartment in married student housing, and it was like our second home. Before I’d gotten the fellowship for grad school, I was working construction and we’d lived in the big, rambling house next door to “The Eddy” and often fell off in there. And many a night, true to its name, The Eddy would trap us in, going round and round, pitcher after pitcher of Shiner beer, until we were released at closing time.
I really don’t think Marta cared much to hear about me and my political shenanigans. As we sat down at the bar with beers in front of us, a torturous silence pervaded. There was an elephant in the room, or maybe it was a baby.
Aided by the alcoholic buzz crinkling across my brain, I was thinking that I was thinking clearly about the situation. In my infinite wisdom, I knew that abortion was a difficult topic for women in general, and although I’d never known Marta to step into a church after we got married in the chapel in Cusco, Peru, she had been raised a Catholic. Maybe that meant something to her. Maybe it didn’t.
I figured we should get our feelings out on the table, more precisely perhaps out on the bar, and make an educated, adult decision about what to do. We were young, neither of us had a decent job. I was still in school, involved up to my neck in campus politics.
Marta spoke limited English so we communicated in Spanish most of the time, both at home and with our friends, about half being foreign students and the other half undocumented Mexicans. I was often more erudite in Spanish, losing my southern accent and maybe even adding a bit of a romantic touch from time to time. This wasn’t one of my erudite or romantic Spanish moments.
“Do you want to kill the little fucker?” I queried. No sugarcoating it. I didn’t want her coming back to me later and blaming me for convincing her to get an abortion. If we were going to make what seemed like the logical decision in a difficult situation, I wanted to be sure there was no wiggle room to come back later and question that decision. A very logical Anglo-American approach to the situation.
As mentioned previously, Marta and I, for some reason, often experienced slight problems communicating. She almost fell off the barstool when I asked her my simple question. Tears welled up in her eyes. She looked at me intently but couldn’t find the words to convey her feelings. As she gazed into my eyes, I reflected. Maybe I’d expressed himself a bit strongly, a bit too intensely. Surely she couldn’t think I meant what I’d just said, that we were going to kill a baby.
Yup, that’s what she thought.
We were from different cultural backgrounds and still had a bit of work to do on cross-cultural communications. And oh yeah, maybe alcohol was a factor in my thinking process that wasn’t altogether positive in this instance. Just maybe.
So I put my arm around Marta and helped her out the door of the Deep Eddy. I didn’t bring up the question of abortion again. It was a done deal. I’d seen it in her eyes. I was going to be a father.
Oh well. Just one more thing on the “to do” list I figured. No big deal, I could handle it. Hell I’d grown up on a farm working hard enough that a construction job was a piece of cake, learned a couple of foreign languages traveling in South America, and now had a graduate fellowship at the University of Texas. A kid wouldn’t kill me. But not having it would do Marta in, I could see that as plain as day. She said more without moving her lips that night at “The Eddy” than she’d said in a good while.
Two weeks later, I was front and center when CISPES put 5,000 people on the streets of Austin, demonstrating against the US involvement with the murderous regime in El Salvador. After a march on the permitted route through the downtown area, we had speeches from politicos and academics on the lawn of the Texas state capitol building. I was quoted on the evening news about the counter-demonstrators who were chanting “Communists Out of El Salvador” to our “U.S. Out of El Salvador;” they were attempting to provoke a confrontation. Our security committee had successfully surrounded and isolated them, and I made a coherent statement about these being the same tactics used by the right in El Salvador to try to discredit those simply arguing for free elections and aid for the poor. I speculated on-air that the counter-protesters were probably financed by the CIA. Turns out I was right about that. By infiltrating the group, we’d discovered they were almost all Moonies, a shadowy group of right wing religious nuts, who were followers of a Korean preacher being subsidized by the CIA (https://freepress.org/article/reverend-moon-cult-leader-cia-asset-and-bush-family-friend-dead).
That was the highpoint of my involvement in politics. A month later as the spring semester was ending, the Austin chapter of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador fractured into a thousand pieces. The core of Latin American leftists who were running the organization were acting like caudillos, wanting the white liberals to do all the work while they sat around, postulating, gesticulating, and expatiating endlessly in flawless, fluid, and florid prose, all the while telling the white liberals what to do.
At the regular monthly meeting a couple of weeks after the successful march through downtown Austin, the white liberals doing the work had decided to vote themselves into control of the executive committee. Since there was no formal membership criteria in the organization, the Latin American leftists, getting wind of the move against them, called on their longtime allies in campus activism, the Iranians and the Palestinians, to pack the meeting. As a result, they maintained control of the organization but lost all the worker bees. The most important work, outreach to churches and other community organizations, was dead. People who had been giving hugely of their personal time to make something happen, like me for example, quit giving of their personal time at all.
Because of my political work, I had taken incompletes in all three graduate seminars I had that semester, and it would be a while before I’d finish the papers I had to write to complete them and get credit. In the meantime, I started taking engineering classes instead of ones in Latin American political science and economics. I couldn’t change the world, and my wife was going to have a baby. I had to get practical.
I learned a valuable lesson with the CISPES experience. Politics is a messy business and many people who get into it for ideological reasons get a whiff of power and it turns them on their heads. I couldn’t afford to play that game.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — —
Two years later, Marta and I were sitting in the living room with Eduardo, an undocumented Mexican and one of our best friends. Our twelve-month old son was pulling himself up by the edge of the couch, trying to walk. I had spoken to my mother and sister about this. My son had never crawled and now he was starting to walk. I explained to Eduardo what they’d told me, that crawling was important in the left/right brain development, and the child really should learn that skill before walking because once he walked he wouldn’t crawl anymore.
Eduardo thought for a moment and responded, “Verdad que sí, tu hijo está cagado. Qué va a hacer cuando está viejo y borracho si no sabe gatear?” This was a more practical concern, what was he going to do when he was old and drunk if he didn’t know how to crawl.
Laughing, I reflected on how politics had somehow taken a back seat to supporting a family. Oh I’d still take out Kissinger if I could, though it did occur to me that it might make it a bit difficult to teach my son the important things in life. Like crawling for example.