Pork Barbacoa is a comfort food for me. I was getting in the line that leads me to it at my favorite Tex-Mex joint, going over my order in my head, though it hasn’t changed in ten years and I’d been eating a lot of sweet pork burritos lately. But you don’t want to be caught mis-ordering at this place. They might shout it out and embarrass you in front of everyone else in the line.
It was there I noticed a woman, a young mother, who had just got up from her table and walked the length of the dining area to get a refill on her drink. She had short hair, a petite nose and a cut jaw line. Her tank top made her shoulders and chest bare within its modesty, revealing scar tissue on both as I had never seen before.
On her way back to the table where her little family ate, I could not not stare at her, at her grace and utter nonchalance in both her perambulation and her detachment from lookers-on, like me. She moved with one leg and one prosthetic leg, reached her table and lit.
I reached the point of ordering in the line, executed it with an alteration that gets the cooks behind the counter to yell something about extra meat. I needed extra comfort.
I took the usual table, in the corner, back to the windows, near the exit. I surveyed all the other diners before digging in and noticed whom I’m assuming to be her husband. They were seated at a small square table, her a quarter to me, their little girl in a high chair whose back was to me, and him facing me at three-quarters.
He was unrecognizable. To anyone. A burn victim of such severity that there were no distinguishable features left on his face or where his ears once were, only dark, patchy hair on top of his head.
He and the woman carried on in conversation and in his gestures communicated with stubs instead of flanges. The extent of his scar tissue appeared unbounded. They talked and carried on like anyone would in a place like this, though most everyone else was now talking in hushed tones and stealing glances. I didn’t. I alternately watched them and watched others watch them.
And then he stood up and picked up his little girl from her high chair and brought her to his chest while she wrapped one arm around his neck the other around his arm, laid her head on his shoulder and looked straight into me.
She looked just like her daddy. No facial features save the diamonds of her eyes, no ears, no fingers, no expression. Her mom got up and grabbed her bag and the little family left the restaurant turning every head along the way.
They saved my life that day and even a few days since.