I wonder, now, of all the stories she might have told had I worked harder to defy her, to learn her native language. I wonder how much more I have lost of my mother because I could not truly speak to her.
In four decades of family history on the ranch no immigrant had ever made contact. The effort to capture them, though, is omnipresent in the post-9/11 militarization of the borderlands. The number of vehicles on constant patrol in the Big Bend Sector has more than tripled. Helicopters circle, sometimes for entire days, scanning the hills, bearing down on migrants, driving them to the point of collapse.
Every night, I built a blind in the field from heaped tires, shot pheasants from there. I’d found the rifle at the abandoned shooting range. It was an air gun, fired pellets with hollow points that left holes the shape of keyholes in the targets. So far I had killed two pheasants and, accidentally, one squirrel. I had never seen another person. Squatters occupied the other abandoned warehouses, but squatters avoided the warehouse in the field.
My very first memory is about being alone. I’m one or two years old, and I’ve just woken up from a nap. It’s pitch black, and I’m standing in a creaky wooden crib, holding the bars, looking out into the small, windowless room of our apartment on Kobylanskaya Street.
I’d been wandering for the better part of two hours through the outskirts of Lviv, or Lvov, or Lemberg or Lwów—it was hard to know what to call this city, given how many countries and empires had conquered, reconquered, occupied, reoccupied, or otherwise staked claim to it—looking for a concentration camp called Janowska, where upwards of 200,000 Jews, including, possibly, my grandmother’s older brother, Pinchas, had been worked to death or shot, unless they’d somehow survived all that and been put on a train to Belzec where they were taken care of once and for all.