The Metal Skeleton in Mexico
What follows is a story from my childhood. The brief background: when my sister and I were six and eight years old, our mother kidnapped us (at our request) to protect us from our abusive father, who had won custody of us. We lived as fugitives for seven years. Five of those years were in Mexico. This story took place during our time in Mexico.
May 1990 – Pátzcuaro, Mexico
“Hey, what’s that?” I asked Rosy, pointing at a curious object propped up on our neighbor’s wall. It looked like a weird, flat metal skeleton.
Mama still had not returned home from her work at the Club Olympia in Uruapan. Rosy and I had long since finished our chores and schoolwork. The longest, most boring part of the day was upon us—the three o’clock hour when our friends couldn’t play with us because their schoolteachers had laden them with homework. We climbed the wall and gazed, sighing, onto the empty street. No sign of Mama. No sign of our friends. “You stay inside the house until school gets out. After your friends come home, you may go play with them,” Mama had said. With no TV in the house, Rosy and I created our own entertainment during these boring afternoons. We conducted archaeological digs. We invented playgrounds with things laying around in the backyard. We experimented with making different things in the kitchen. Today, we had run out of ideas—until I saw the strange metal skeleton.
“I don’t know what that is,” Rosy said. “Let’s go look at it.”
We climbed down the wall facing our street and climbed up the wall facing our neighbor’s yard. Nobody was home. Sidling up to the metal structure, we examined it closely.
“Look, these metal sticks are held in with screws. I bet we could take them out,” I said. “Why don’t we take it down, inspect it, and then put it back before the neighbors get home? They’ll never know!”
“Yeah, that would be fun!” agreed Rosy.
“Do you think they need this?” I asked, feeling a slight sense that maybe this wasn’t the greatest idea.
“They’re not using it for anything. It looks worthless to me,” she said.
We pulled the metal skeleton off its supporting pole and lowered it to the ground on our side of the wall.
Soon we had it upside down on the grass. It looked like a giant metal spider that had been run over by a semi.
“If they need it for something we can just put it back together,” I said as I came back from the kitchen with a pair of butter knives. “Here, we can use these to get the screws out.”
We lifted our skeleton onto a makeshift workbench created with bricks and boards and worked with lips pursed together in concentration. The screws and metal lengths fell to the ground as we moved to the next ones in our haste. Soon we had reached the end of the skeleton, and the last little metal stick fell to the ground. About fifteen minutes after we had begun, we had a pile of metal sticks. We surveyed our handiwork.
“It looks like a backbone,” Rosy commented. We smiled at our industriousness.
“Hey, these little metal sticks are pretty neat,” I said, picking one up and noticing how light it felt in my hand. “I wonder if they bend.”
I put my knee into the center of a stick and pulled the stick around it, bending it into a V. When I tried to straighten it again, it snapped in two. “Neat!”
“Let me try!” said Rosy, picking up another one of the rods and breaking it. We bent, then snapped several more sticks, listening to the gratifying pop of each one as it broke in two.
“Ok, now let’s put it back together and put it back up before the neighbors get home,” I suggested. After locating one of the screws in the dirt and grass, we started to re-attach one of the sticks. We tried for several minutes. Getting them off had been so much easier! We fiddled with the sticks and screws for a few more minutes, then grew bored and frustrated with our project and abandoned it.
Several minutes later we heard the neighbors come in. Rosy and I climbed onto the wall, where we were met by Sara, the youngest girl in the family.
“You know that thing that was over there?” I asked Sara.
“Do you guys use that for anything?”
“It’s our antenna. That’s how our TV works.”
“Oh.” After a long, uncomfortable pause, I added, “Well, um, Rosy and I didn’t know what it was and we wanted to take it apart. Will you please not tell your mom?”
Sara’s eyes widened, but she promised not to tell. Rosy and I returned to our yard, minds racing. What are we going to do? We hadn’t been able to re-attach even one of the sticks. Even if we could, we had broken a lot of the sticks! We didn’t have any money, either. What if Mama found out? We could get into big trouble! Working with haste, we gathered up all the scattered metal sticks and hid them behind a pile of boards. We leaned the giant “backbone” against the wall behind the palm tree and hoped no one would notice.
We waited a day, then two. The antenna seared at our conscience. Burdened with guilt, we decided to talk to Lupe about it and hope she wouldn’t be too mad. Trembling and embarrassed, we walked around to her front door and knocked. When she answered, I blurted out the whole story.
“We’ll pay it all back,” I promised.
Lupe told us of her confusion. “I went to turn on my TV and there was no picture. I changed all the channels and nothing was coming in. So I went out to check the antenna and when I looked up it was gone! I thought someone had stolen it!”
“Please don’t tell our mom,” we begged. “We don’t want to get in trouble. We’ll pay you back, we promise!”
Lupe promised not to tell.
A few days later, while we all worked in the garden together, Mama looked up and saw the antenna backbone resting against the wall behind the palm tree.
“What’s that?” she asked, looking with puzzlement at the strange object. Rosy and I didn’t want to lie, so we avoided a direct answer.
“It looks kind of like a dinosaur’s spine, doesn’t it?” I forced a laugh. Rosy caught on and laughed too, and then Mama started laughing and dropped the subject. Rosy and I brainstormed ideas for making money to pay Lupe back, but couldn’t think of anything profitable enough.
“Do you know when you will have the money for me?” Lupe asked us when she saw us a few days later.
Faces hot with embarrassment, we had to admit that we still didn’t have the money. We promised to make it right soon. Finding no recourse, we approached Mama.
“You know that dinosaur spine in the back yard?” We told her the whole story. “Can you help us pay Lupe back?”
“You girls should know better than that,” Mama said. “I’m very disappointed in you! For the next month, I’ll be giving you extra chores to do to make up for it.”
Rosy and I worked extra hard for the next month, and Mama repaid Lupe, apologizing profusely for the inconvenience we caused and making us apologize, too. After that, I never disassembled anything that didn’t belong to me, no matter how useless it looked.
I hope you enjoyed that story! If you’d like to read the book about our fugitive years and learn about what it was like to live in hiding and grow up in Mexico, sign up and I’ll send periodic book updates and let you know when it comes out!
Credit for featured image: Bradford Hill, Flickr.
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