Beverly was three-times divorced, with two grown daughters and difficult teenage son. She had a college degree, a job in an accounting firm she had for the last twenty years, and a yen for some more excitement in her life. She was fifty, good-looking, and fit from years of line dancing at the country-music bars she favored on most weeknights. She had money in the bank, a house in a small town in western Washington state with a mortgage she had nearly paid off, and a deep sense that life had to hold more for her than this. She told her brother and her friends that she was either going to get a red convertible sports car, buy a horse farm (she had loved horses as a teen), or have a certifiable breakdown. None of the men she had met since her last divorce ten years ago held any interest for her. She abhorred church-going, didn’t like joining clubs, and was politely not interested when her son’s counselor suggested she look for deeper meaning by doing good works or developing her spiritual life. Her clearest virtue was her storytelling ability; she usually had a crowd around her at the bar, eager to hear what true story from her life she’d tell next. She could make nearly any story interesting and funny, even a trip to the dump.
Francisco was an undocumented immigrant from a rural area in the state of Guerrero in Mexico. He had not graduated from high school, didn’t speak English except for a few basic phrases, had never been married or had children, and worked seven days a week as an all-around handyman at a horse stables a few miles outside of town. He was thirty, sent most of the money he made home to his parents in Mexico, and went out rarely. Most restaurants and bars in town did not welcome Hispanic folk, and he didn’t have much interest in finding the places that did. After work, he carved sculptures of the animals he saw on rides on horse trails in the Olympic mountain range, and dreamed of returning to Mexico with enough money to buy a ranch of his own. He was not interested in marriage except as a distant possibility, when he had a place and a living well-established in Mexico. He didn’t drink or smoke, disliked talking about himself, and would have gone to a Catholic church if he had found one with a Spanish mass nearby.
In short, they had absolutely nothing in common. They met one night at the bar. Bev was there earlier than usual, having a quick BLT before the dance crowd arrived. It was Francisco’s five year anniversary of work at the horse stables, and Bob, his boss, insisted on taking him out for a drink. They settled on bar stools next to Bev; she struck up a conversation, as she would have with anyone sitting next to her. When Bob said that they worked at a stable, Bev had a flash of certainty: that was what was missing in her life – horses! She made arrangements to come to the stables for riding lessons, and asked specifically for Francisco to give her the lessons. She liked his calm demeanor. Bob said Francisco didn’t speak English; Bev said it was better that way, so he had to show her, instead of tell her.
One thing led to another, and Bev and Francisco fell in love. Both of them. Bev was surprised since she thought she was through with men. Her first three husbands, in order, had been violent, gay, and alcoholic. Francisco was surprised since he planned to return to Mexico before even thinking of a woman. She liked his seriousness and his calm way with horses and people. He liked her liveliness. At first, they didn’t talk of living together. Bev bought a horse farm, and Francisco quit his job at the stables to come to manage the farm. He learned more English, and Bev picked up a few words in Spanish. Gradually, Francisco moved in with Bev, and then, a year after they met, they married.
Five years later, the horse farm was prospering, with a full stable of horses boarding. Bev was getting ready to take early retirement from her firm since the farm was enough to support them and 18-year old Michael, her son, and send money to Francisco’s parents as well. Bev’s brother, sister, mother, and many friends thought of Francisco as the first good man in Bev’s life. Bev rode for exercise, and took care of the books and advertising for the business. Francisco did the rest. They went to the casino on Saturday nights to dance and gamble, and meet their friends. They talked of going to Mexico to visit Francisco’s family, someday when the immigration law would change and Francisco could get his papers. Michael grudgingly accepted Francisco’s presence in his life, and Francisco wisely did not try to direct Michael, or complain about his behavior. Michael had dropped out of high school in his sophomore year, didn’t work, smoked copious amounts of pot, slept through the days, did nothing to help with the house or farm, and kept getting arrested and convicted of malicious mischief for his behavior on the streets of their small town at night.
One day in early August, Francisco fell from the high deck of their house, where he had been painting, and gave himself a mild concussion. The skin on his scalp split open and blood poured from the wound. He staggered up the steps into the house, and then lurched towards the stairs to their upstairs bathroom so he could get towels to staunch the blood flow. Michael was standing in front of the staircase and didn’t move when Francisco tried to get by him. Francisco pushed Michael out of the way and continued up the stairs. Michael immediately called the police and reported domestic violence. When the police came, Michael reported that his stepfather had hit him; Francisco was upstairs trying to wash blood off his clothes when the police arrested him, charged him, and hauled him off to jail. Immigration Enforcement put a hold on him in jail, and even though Bev had Michael wrote a letter to the prosecutor retracting the false charge, Francisco was transported to Immigration detention and stayed there for a week before Bev could figure out how to get him bonded out.
Francisco was in deportation proceedings: he had to go to immigration court and fight for his ability to stay in the country, as long as he could show that Bev and Michael needed him. But not just needed him. The law held that her and Michael’s need to have Francisco in the country had to rise to the level of “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship.” Bev stayed in a panic the entire year it took for the case to go to court. She decided that if Francisco was deported, she would go with him, selling the farm, retiring, and taking their savings with them. Michael – she was done taking care of him. He would have to take care of himself.
Bev steeled herself for the trial, but she was so nervous that she barely slept for two weeks before it. She and Francisco had worked for months with Francisco’s attorney to prepare evidence and testimony, including psychological evaluations of Michael, her medical records, financial records, and many letters from family and friends, and Bev and Francisco’s oral testimony. At trial, with more than a dozen friends and family in the courtroom, Francisco testified first. Even in Spanish, he was not an articulate man; the attorney had practiced with Francisco twice, and he got through the ordeal, but it was clearly hard for the judge to get a sense of the extraordinary hardship it would be to Bev and Michael if Francisco weren’t allowed to stay in the US. Then it was Bev’s turn.
After responding to the attorney’s first few questions, Bev took flight with her narrative abilities and nothing could stop her. Usually, the judge or the prosecutor or both would have tried to rein the witness in, and insist that they answer only the question, specifically, that the attorney asked. But not this time. The entire courtroom was spellbound. Bev told the story in detail of her first three marriages, and of her life raising three children alone while trying to support them all. She talked of Michael’s problems, and how only with Francisco’s help could she try to give Michael the love and discipline he needed to get his life on track. She talked of her dream come true of the horse farm, and of her love for Francisco. She talked of their good times together, and how he changed her world from boredom and lack of purpose to meaning. She said she would follow him to Mexico if he were deported, and Michael would have to make his own way. When she was finished, there was silence. Then the judge, seasoned by more than 20 years on the bench, and a well-known curmudgeon, said with admiration in his voice, “Ma’am, that was quite clear. Thank you.” Francisco won his case, and got his lawful permanent residence.
Now Bev and Francisco are planning that trip to Mexico. They will be gone a month. Bev’s brother and his wife are taking care of the farm. Michael moved out to live with a friend, and it looks as though he may get a job in a restaurant kitchen. Bev is taking salsa dance lessons in preparation, although Francisco told her his parents live on a very small farm in a completely rural area where the only dancing is occasional folk dances at fairs. She doesn’t care, she said. She’s so happy she can dance anywhere, even in a corn field alone.