By Vivian Yee
After color-guard practice one fall Wednesday, Fanny’s coach caught her in the parking lot getting into an Uber and wanted to know why. Fanny was still in seventh grade, a cadet on the junior team, and in the Atlanta suburb where she had spent her whole life, parents, not taxis, usually waited in the school parking lot. Coach Stephanie was concerned that a stranger was picking up a 13-year-old, but Fanny didn’t feel like explaining that she rode with strangers all the time now, or that “home” was with people who, until recently, had more or less been strangers, too. Her mother had been gone for months. Her father hadn’t been around for years. Her 22-year-old brother lived a 45-minute drive away.
“It’s fine,” Fanny said. “My brother’s tracking me on his phone, see?” She held up her iPhone. “Don’t worry,” she kept saying, and Stephanie relented, telling Fanny to text when she got home.
Fanny had practice in the local high school’s band room twice a week and competitions every few Saturdays. Sometimes she skipped when she was feeling sick or sad, but other days she wouldn’t stop rehearsing even after she got back to the quiet neighborhood where she now lived, casting her green flag up toward the yellow streetlights in the dark. In color guard, time moved in orderly counts of eight. You couldn’t stop and think; there was always a next count, a next step to get to. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, Fanny whispered.
The sounds of practice shushed all thought: the artificial swish of bare feet on floor mats, the swoop of flags shearing the air, the clatter of wooden rifles hitting the ground. “Can I get a whoop-whoop?” Stephanie called out every few minutes. “Whoop-whoop!” the girls chanted back. All through their routine — more modern dance than military, set to Demi Lovato’s “Warrior” — Fanny kept count under her breath. Stephanie wanted her middle school cadets to channel the emotion of the music. “Think of a sad, hard moment in your life, like a problem with your friend, or a hard math test,” Stephanie called out as they warmed up at one practice. Fanny listened, hands on hips, nodding slightly. “I want you to think you’re a warrior,” Stephanie went on. “Think of that superhero in your mind.”
Fanny had wanted to be a captain, but she never told Stephanie, and two other girls were chosen instead. Still, she couldn’t help taking charge now and then, demonstrating a tricky move to some of the more timid-looking girls, pointing out corners that needed unwrinkling when it was time to roll up the vast floor mat at the end of practice. As Stephanie issued instructions for their next competition — call times, eye-shadow color, topknots, hair spray — Fanny interjected with some practical footnotes, confirming that they had to show up at 6:45 a.m. and dispensing tips for cleaning newly pierced ears. Then Stephanie handed out invoices to the girls who still owed money for the program, and Fanny fell silent as she looked hers over. “Oh, wow,” she said. “Oh, wow.”
She shifted away from the knot of other girls, her brow scrunched. “O.K.,” she said to herself. “I’m going to do some accounting.” From his paycheck working construction, her brother, Alejandro, gave her between $50 and $100 a week for Ubers, food and anything else that came up. She’d already had to buy nude tights for Saturday’s competition, and she’d devoted another chunk to a couple of trips to Walmart for tubs of Mayfield Creamery cherry-vanilla ice cream, Chick-fil-A for chicken sandwiches and the pizzeria where her mother, Rosario, used to work, for slices. Sometimes the couple who owned the pizzeria tried to give them to her free, but she always insisted on paying; Rosario had taught her to earn whatever she got. Next week, she’d have to save more.
Outside, the other girls were dispersing into their parents’ waiting cars. Fanny planned to order an Uber as usual. Alejandro worked all day, including on Saturdays, so he’d never seen her color-guard routine except in videos she showed him on her phone, and he couldn’t leave to pick her up unless there was an emergency.
Fanny folded up the invoice as she went over to talk to her coach. “I just wanted to let you know that my mom was deported,” she announced. “So it’s just me and my brother.”
Stephanie laid a hand over her heart, her mouth open. “Oh,” she said, groping for words. “That … that hurts my heart. Just because … just because I know as well. My parents are both immigrants. So I can’t imagine.”
Fanny looked at her, her face unreadable. “See you Friday,” she said, and headed to the parking lot.
Until Rosario was deported, it was always Rosario and Fanny together. (For their protection, The Times is withholding their last names and identifying Rosario by her middle name.) Fanny and Alejandro’s father left the family three years after Fanny was born in Georgia, only to be deported later on. Alejandro never finished school and moved out of the house when he was still a teenager. Rosario was frequently absent, too, working two or three jobs for as long as Fanny could remember. But Fanny would wait up for Rosario to get home from her late shift, as a cleaner at a local private school, so they could get a bite at Waffle House; Rosario would get up early enough to tell Fanny, “I’ll see you soon,” as her daughter left to catch the school bus. That was the last thing she would say to Fanny before the arrest, in May 2017, that would eventually lead to her deportation.
Fanny was at home, waiting up for Rosario, when a county police officer pulled Rosario over as she drove home, even though she was sure she had done nothing to attract attention. The officer booked Rosario into the county jail for driving without a license — the same consequence most immigrants living illegally in Georgia risk every day to get around — and after a few days, the jail turned her over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Rosario pleaded that she had a 12-year-old daughter struggling with depression at home; Fanny had tried to kill herself earlier that year, after bullying by her sixth-grade friends. After a few more days of detention, ICE let Rosario go with a clunky ankle monitor that she tried her best to hide under her skinny jeans.
With Rosario back at home, Fanny managed to convince herself that her mother was edging out of danger. She thought Rosario’s lawyer would manage it, that a visa was on its way. Rosario kept wearing the ankle bracelet and showing up to the ICE office in Atlanta for check-ins, certain she was following the rules, until the morning four months later when she was arrested again. Rosario called Fanny from the detention center a day later: ICE agents knocked soon after Fanny left for school, she said. They told Rosario she was going to come back home, but they also said to call Alejandro and tell him to pick up Fanny.
Rosario spent two weeks in detention in rural Georgia, too far away to visit. Fanny and Alejandro pleaded with her lawyer to do something, but the lawyer was out of options. The day her mother was deported back to Mexico, Fanny was with the family of one of Alejandro’s old friends from school, Laura, whom Alejandro trusted to look after Fanny while he was at work. Alejandro came to see her there when he heard the news.
“I want you to be strong,” he told her. “Mom called earlier. She’s already on the border.”
“Please tell me you’re playing,” Fanny said, and she started to hyperventilate in Alejandro’s arms.
Laura’s mother came outside. “Everything’s going to be O.K.,” she promised, and some days Fanny could almost believe it, and some days she couldn’t.
The first few weeks after Rosario’s deportation, Fanny and Rosario used FaceTime or WhatsApp to speak at least once a day, but Fanny wasn’t used to talking to her mother like this. Fanny had known for years that her mother didn’t have legal status, but that hadn’t seemed to matter, at least until Rosario’s arrest. One day, a daughter’s citizenship and a mother’s lack of it amounted to little more than a piece of paper; the next, it was an iron barricade.
Stories like theirs had been common for years in the fast-diversifying Atlanta suburbs. Long before the Trump administration began separating immigrant children from their parents at the border, deportation was dividing immigrant parents from their American families, never more so than under the Obama administration. But a case like Rosario’s most likely could have occurred only after Trump took office. Rosario was a single mother who had not broken any criminal laws since crossing the border; ICE used to prioritize those with serious criminal offenses and often agreed not to deport someone if a child who was a United States citizen, like Fanny, would be left parentless. But the Trump administration erased such stipulations soon after Trump took office, allowing a single parent, or both parents in a family, to be deported. Which meant that the government was no longer only dividing families but also effectively orphaning American children.
Deportation was throwing together new families too — kitchen-sink households in which an aunt, a family friend, a grown-up sister or an older brother who had just barely reached adulthood was suddenly raising someone else’s child. This is happening often enough that last year, New York and Maryland made it possible for immigrant parents to designate another adult to step in if they are detained on immigration charges. A handful of other states, including Pennsylvania, Illinois and Connecticut, have taken similar steps or are considering them. More than half a million children from immigrant families are being raised by extended family members, one study found in October, but there are no reliable estimates of how many children of immigrants live with people who are not related to them.
For a while after Rosario was detained, Fanny and Alejandro tried to keep it together. Rosario had long trusted Fanny with the bank-account and credit-card numbers and passwords, which, as Fanny had correctly guessed years ago, were various combinations of her own name and birth date, so Fanny kept paying the bills out of her mother’s savings. Alejandro moved back into their apartment and learned to shop for them both — a task that came to include buying Fanny’s sanitary pads, which she was too embarrassed to get herself — but he was still working the same long hours, so Fanny moved in with Laura’s family, who were from Mexico, too. She called them “family friends,” but in truth, she hadn’t spent much time with them before going to live with them.
When Alejandro told her she could start calling Laura’s mother “Mom,” Fanny made a face that said, That’s not right. It was weird in October, just a few weeks after Rosario was deported, when Fanny turned 13 and the family took her out to the local diner for dinner and cake, even though she didn’t really know them. It was still weird over Thanksgiving, and then Christmas, which was especially hard. She and Rosario had always dressed up nicely and posed for photos in front of their tree; these people pulled on ugly sweaters. Rosario decorated only the tree; this family, her new family, did the whole house, decking the living room and kitchen with tinsel and paper snowflakes while Christmas music blasted from Fanny’s dinged-up speakers — the mother; the father; the sisters, Laura and Ana; the brother, Nando; and Laura’s young daughter, Leila. To a girl who had grown up mostly without others around, it was amazing how quickly the small ranch-style house could fill with sound and people.
At first, she didn’t tell most people what had happened to her mother — not her teachers, not even most of her friends — and some people she never told. It had never been hard for Fanny to convince grown-ups that she had everything under control, and by the time Rosario had been gone three months, Fanny’s air of competence, combined with her careful imitation of YouTube makeup tutorials, often seemed to make adults forget that she was in seventh grade. Friends’ moms would keep chatting with her long after their own kids became bored and disappeared into their phones. Managers offered her minimum-wage jobs. A man asked for her number.
There were days when a prickling sensation would spread out from her right foot and left hand, like a limb falling asleep, except it was her entire body vibrating in an anxiety attack, and she passed out in the school cafeteria and woke up in the nurse’s office. Days when what Fanny called “the feelings” overwhelmed the antidepressants she was on, and she took an extra pill to see if it would help. Whenever she got sick or had a panic attack, and her brother couldn’t pick her up from her middle school, she had to wait in the office until the bus was leaving. The staff there wouldn’t let her call Ubers. Alejandro, resigned but nervous, always told her not to fall asleep in the Ubers she did take — “just listen to music and look outside or something” — but she didn’t sleep much at night, so she often remembered his warning only when she was waking up at the end of the ride.
Alejandro gave her an allowance, filled in at her parent-teacher conferences and tracked her whereabouts when he remembered to look at his phone. But it was clear to Fanny that the only person fully responsible for her was herself. So she kept making her own appointments with the therapist she’d been seeing regularly since her suicide attempt the year before. She kept handling her own finances. Now, however, Fanny slept on a heap of blankets on the floor of the bedroom of Laura’s teenage brother, Nando. She tucked the pile under Nando’s bed every morning and dragged it out every night. “fanny and nando!” the door to the room announced in colorful sticker letters, but Nando had a bed and she didn’t, and Nando had two parents and she had none.
Rosario wouldn’t stop talking about coming back, and it made Fanny anxious every time she thought about it. Where would her mother get the money for the smuggler’s fee? What if she were deported again? People could be sent to federal prison for illegally re-entering after being deported. Even if she did make it back, what kind of life would they have, with Rosario all but in hiding? But Rosario just said Fanny was being negative; she had to trust her. A few days after one of their fights about it, Fanny fainted again. The feelings were back.
As the weeks stumbled on, Fanny stopped saying things like “I want you back” and “I wish you were here.” “Mom, I can’t talk,” she’d say instead. “I have to go to the mall.” Or she’d say she was at a friend’s house. Or she’d ask her to stop mapping out her return to America, which was the only thing Rosario thought about now — that, and Fanny. Who was Fanny with? What was she doing? Where was she going? If Laura’s mother was taking care of Fanny, and Fanny thought she could take care of herself, where did that leave Rosario?
After a while, Rosario stopped telling Fanny about her plans to return, though she kept Alejandro updated. She didn’t want Fanny to worry, but she agonized over keeping it secret. “If something bad happens to me,” she thought, “Fanny won’t know.”
Two days after Christmas, Fanny went to stay at Alejandro’s place, where she sometimes shared a bed with Max, their dog. She didn’t know what time it was when she half-woke in darkness. Someone was in the room with her. No, someone was in bed with her. Someone who had put arms around her. Someone who was crying.
“Oh, my God,” Fanny said. She turned over, disbelieving, needing to make sure. She had told her not to come. She couldn’t have come. But somehow, almost exactly three months after Rosario left, here she was.
“I missed you, I missed you,” Rosario whispered through her tears, stroking her daughter’s hair, because now Fanny was crying, too. “Nothing was going to keep us apart. I love you. I love you. I love you.” While Fanny had been celebrating Christmas at Laura’s that week, Rosario had been jammed in the back of a smuggler’s car for the daylong drive from Mexico City to Nuevo Laredo, then walking across the border into Texas, then riding a bus to Dallas. She had hired the same smuggler she had used the first time but decided on a route safer than the desert hike through Tijuana she took before, paying him extra for a fake green card to show to the immigration agents who checked everyone’s IDs on the bus. The trip had cost her $7,000, money she’d borrowed from a close friend, her brother and her old boss at her janitorial job in Georgia. Once she made it to Dallas, another car arranged by the smuggler took her to Georgia.
Now that she was back, though, Rosario didn’t want anyone to know, in case it somehow got back to ICE. She dreaded another knock on the door. She dreaded being sent back again to depend on her brother’s generosity, to the isolation and the poverty, to the dreary past. Refusing to take any chances, Rosario didn’t tell anyone she had returned except the people who helped pay for the smuggler. She made Fanny and Alejandro keep her secret, even if it meant lying to the family who had been caring for her daughter. So they did.
For months, Rosario laid low in her old apartment, afraid to leave the house even to walk the dog when her kids visited. What if ICE came back to check the place? She asked Fanny if she wanted to move back in with her, since she was living with a family she barely knew, but Fanny said she would be fine, and Alejandro pointed out that it would be tough for Fanny to live with someone who was in hiding. Fanny was relieved: Her furtive visits to her mother meant hours stuck inside. Then she felt guilty. She was trying not to say too much to Rosario about the other family. She didn’t know how, exactly, to tell her mother that she had come to think of somewhere else as home.
When Laura came through the door after work one afternoon in January, Fanny greeted her with a “Hi, sister!”
“Hi, sister,” Laura replied, plopping down next to her on the brown couch, where Fanny sat cross-legged in skinny jeans and a school-logo hoodie. Laura put an arm around her, tapping at her phone as they talked. Within a few minutes, Fanny had given up on her homework. “So yesterday, me and Mom had the conversation about why I don’t talk to Jesús anymore,” Fanny said to Laura. Jesús was a boy who had been texting Fanny.
“Which mom?” Laura asked.
“Mom Mom. Mom 2,” said Fanny, holding up two fingers. She meant Laura’s mother. “I said Jesús is the kind of dude who watches ‘SpongeBob.’ ”
Laura was the one who talked to Fanny about friends and boys, about who was having a baby and who was going out. The other sister, Ana, was the one with the closet full of clothes Fanny was always borrowing even though they didn’t quite fit her yet, the one with the bag full of makeup she was teaching Fanny how to use, the one with the independence and wherewithal to help with the household bills, the one Fanny could see herself growing up to be — ideally not too long from now. Nando, 15, was the one she swapped marching-band gossip with, the one she stayed up talking to long after they were supposed to be asleep, the one who shared her belief that Fanny had brought a small ghost from her old house to his. And Mom 2, who cleaned houses for a living, was the one who teased Fanny about her sweet tooth, cracked her back when it felt funny and taught her to do her own laundry. “You’re turning into a woman,” she said. “You have to learn how to do your own stuff.”
At dinner around the oval kitchen table that night, Fanny sniffled quietly over her foam plate of pork stew, refried beans and chicken flautas. “I think I’m getting sick,” she said, as the adults around her chatted in Spanish. She laid her head on the table. “I’m going to hate going to school tomorrow, and they’re going to check my temperature and say, ‘Oh, you got a fever, we’re going to have to call your parents.’ Like, who are you going to call?”
“What about brother?” Laura asked.
“He’s going to have to get out of work.” The school wouldn’t let her leave on her own, so Alejandro would have to pick her up, but he couldn’t always get permission from his boss to leave. Rosario didn’t want to risk being seen.
“If you have a fever, there’s no point in going to school,” Laura said.
“I’m going to go to school,” Fanny said, head still down, flinching at the idea of staying home alone. “If they send me back, they send me back.”
Getting up from the dinner table now, Fanny threw away her plate and resettled on the couch with Nando, their eyes flicking back and forth between their phones and the TV. Nando eventually disappeared into their room, and it was just Fanny on the couch, still sniffling, her throat aflame with what would later turn out to be strep. The Disney Channel was playing the final episode of “Jessie,” a show about four siblings and their beloved nanny, Jessie. Onscreen, the kids were saying a tearful goodbye to Jessie. “Family members are like planets,” Jessie told one girl. “The force of love keeps them together,” the girl replied, nodding. Fanny let her head droop against the back of the couch, blinking rapidly at the ceiling. “I guess that was the last episode,” she said. “It counts as the last episode if it made me cry.”
“Which one?” Laura texted Fanny from the bakery one day after school in March, six months after Fanny moved in, sending photos of cakes.
“Wait, why are we getting cake?” Nando asked, as he and Fanny examined the options. Fanny realized before he did: “Today is Mom and Dad’s anniversary!”
“Is it bad I didn’t know that?” Nando asked, giggling.
Fifteen minutes later, Nando’s father walked through the door carrying flowers, cake and a balloon that read “Happy Anniversary,” surprising Mom 2 in the kitchen. They kissed. Their children cheered. Fanny was recording the whole scene on her phone to post on Snapchat, her face rapt and smiling, while the chocolate cake was enthroned on the kitchen table. She reached for it as Leila hopped on the balls of her feet behind her, and Mom 2 mock-batted their hands away, shouting, “It’s my cake!”
Fanny, doubling over with giggles, had to drag Leila off the table. Mom 2 cut a slice for each of them. How long had she been married? she wondered aloud. She couldn’t remember.
“I know how many years, and you don’t?” Fanny said. “It’s 24!”
Soon Laura arrived, carrying a feast of Bojangles’ fried chicken, biscuits and sweet tea; after her came an aunt, an uncle and some cousins, here for dinner. “Ay, felicidades!” they exclaimed. As Fanny watched, Mom 2 gave the aunt’s pregnant belly an affectionate rub. Fanny ran over to rub it, too.
By late March, Rosario felt safe enough to rent a room. Fanny announced to Mom 2 and Laura that her mom had just come back from Mexico. Alejandro had alerted them first, so they weren’t surprised. Instead, they just said: We’ll always be here for you if you need us. We’re just a phone call away. Fanny had resigned herself to leaving, but she would miss them. After goodbyes, she headed out with her clothes, her school supplies and her color guard flag.
On her first day out of the house with her daughter, Rosario got up early to watch Fanny’s color-guard competition. She passed the booths selling bedazzled hair ribbons that said “fierce” and T-shirts that read “train like a beast, look like a beauty” and scanned the high school gym for a good seat. She had already missed so many of her daughter’s competitions. She wasn’t going to miss this.
A herd of adolescent girls dressed as unicorns tossed rainbow flags in the air while Rosario, out of practice with English, tried to decipher what the announcer was saying in his Southern accent. As soon as Fanny took the floor in a sequined periwinkle blue leotard, Rosario started filming with her phone. Fanny’s eyebrows were impeccably shaded and shaped. Gray eye shadow shimmered on her lids, which were fringed with fake eyelashes. Winged black eyeliner traced her eyes, and bronzer contoured her cheeks. When did she learn to do that? Rosario wondered.
She filmed the whole performance, and then the awards ceremony, in which Fanny’s team won first place. When it was over, parents clattered down the bleachers to reach their children. Fanny was talking to teammates and adults Rosario didn’t know. Rosario nodded at them, saying nothing. Then she got busy around her daughter, tugging off Fanny’s hoodie for the team photo, taking pictures of Fanny with the team trophy, tucking a few stray hairs behind Fanny’s ears. She noticed Fanny’s jacket hood was inside out and fixed it as they walked out of the gym. She rubbed Fanny’s back and smiled. As they headed to the parking lot, Fanny turned almost imperceptibly toward her mother, her arm extending just an inch, and Rosario slid her arm through her daughter’s as they pushed the doors open under a roof of gray sky.
Fanny and Rosario had to share their new apartment with roommates — a married couple; the woman’s 20-something, TV-hogging son; and a small yapping dog that tended to leave a trail of urine across the off-white living room carpet — so they kept to themselves and went out for almost all their meals. They couldn’t drive, and Uber funds had to be conserved. So mostly they walked, and mostly to the Waffle House a few worn-out strip malls away.
It was almost noon one Saturday in April when Fanny made her way down the weedy sidewalk for breakfast, double- or triple-jabbing the walk buttons as she went, bolting across the five-lane main road where there was no crosswalk. Rosario was supposed to meet her there after a doctor’s appointment, but 15 minutes passed, then 30, then 45, and still no Rosario. Fanny ordered some food and waited.
She had gotten used to waiting. She used to spend hours home alone during Rosario’s work shifts. When she moved back in with her mother, she wondered whether that would change. Fanny hated to be alone. “She hasn’t changed at all,” Fanny said now. Rosario was working as much or more than ever, determined to pay back the thousands she owed as quickly as possible. Her cleaning shifts ran late and through most weekends, and Fanny went to school early. Rosario had started taking Fanny with her to work sometimes; if she didn’t, they might go two days at a time sharing the same bed but barely seeing each other.
Today they were supposed to go to the nail salon after breakfast, before Rosario had to go to work again. Fanny sat staring out the Waffle House’s big window at the 50-mile-an-hour traffic whooshing by. She hadn’t seen Nando or Laura or Ana or Leila in weeks. At their house, someone was always around. Fanny could see friends more or less whenever she wanted. Now Rosario wouldn’t let her go out more than once a week, and not at all if boys were in the group.
Fanny’s phone buzzed. Change of plans: Rosario didn’t have much time, and for them, manicures trumped breakfast. Fanny paid the bill and walked over to the next strip mall to meet her mother at the salon. Less than 15 minutes elapsed before they began bickering about a recent episode in which Fanny had worn track pants to school, a dress-code violation that would earn her an in-school suspension unless she changed into acceptable pants. She had called Rosario, pleading for a new pair from home.
“If you knew you weren’t supposed to wear those pants, why did you wear them?” Rosario said in the nail salon, trying to keep her voice down.
“I’ve worn them multiple times before and not gotten into trouble, that’s what you’re not understanding,” said Fanny, her voice dropping into surliness. “This is why I don’t argue with you anymore.” She pulled out her phone and started flicking through Instagram, looking for a photo of the polish color she wanted. Rosario tapped at her own phone. She was amazed when Fanny talked back. She never used to. Time to go, she said after a few minutes, and left.
Alejandro called while Fanny’s nails were drying. “I’m triggered,” she told him, “because Mom went to the doctor, and it was $130 plus medicine. She should’ve told me so we could save up for it, $50 and then $50. Now it’s one big payment, and we won’t have as much for other stuff we need.”
Rosario tried to be patient when Fanny started telling her how much of her paycheck to save, how much to spend and what to spend it on, but sometimes she lost it and threatened to take away Fanny’s phone for a few weeks, or to cancel her quinceañera. Rosario dreaded Fanny’s obvious desire for financial control. If Fanny wanted things Rosario couldn’t afford, she would want to work, even though she was barred by law from employment until she turned 14. If she got a job, she might want to take on more hours. If she worked more, she might want to drop out of school.
“Live your childhood now, because the minute you’re an adult, you’ll miss it,” Rosario sometimes told Fanny.
“You’re just exaggerating,” Fanny would say, addressing her mother in Spanish with usted, the formal “you” that Spanish speakers usually reserve for authority figures and strangers. Underlying this habit was the private assessment Fanny had formed of Rosario: “My mom is not the type of person you can actually talk to.”
Fanny sometimes felt as if they fought about everything now: about money, about going out and, more and more, about makeup. Fanny had taken to leaving the house with a full face of makeup, complete with novelty contacts that magnified her brown irises into green, pink, gray or purple discs. “I don’t even have that much makeup on,” Rosario said. Maybe it was the makeup or maybe it was the way Fanny sat up straight and had a quick answer for every question he posed, but Rosario and Fanny were pretty sure that the elderly manager at the diner across the road from their apartment hadn’t known how old she was when he offered her a summer job waitressing a few days a week. Rosario didn’t stand in her way.
Some days that summer, Fanny woke up in their 8-by-10 room, and Rosario was still asleep, because she’d worked late the night before. Some nights she went to bed after her shift at the diner, and Rosario wasn’t there, because she was still at work. And sometimes she woke up because her mother had cranked up her favorite Latin music on Fanny’s old speakers and was dancing in her pajamas. “Wake up, Fanny!” Rosario would say, shimmying at the foot of the bed. “Come dance.” Fanny would laugh and join her.
Mostly, though, they saw little of each other, except in passing. It felt weird to Fanny. “Mom, I’m going out,” she would say. Or: “Mom, I’m going to work, I’ll be out late.” Or: “Mom, I’m going to Walmart — do you need anything?”
By the fall, Fanny had dropped the diner shifts because of school, but she would soon find new ways to avoid being home. She got a fake ID and started sneaking out of the house to go clubbing. When Rosario first caught her, she said that if she couldn’t stop Fanny from going out with her friends, she at least didn’t want her to drink. The second time, she was suspicious that Fanny had been drinking anyway. Their fights turned louder and more vicious. Rosario couldn’t stop herself from saying to Fanny: I gave you everything, and this is how you behave? One night after Fanny had been out late, not wanting to face her mother at home, she was sexually assaulted. She didn’t tell her mother. Fanny’s mental health, already fragile, took a sharp turn for the worse, and she was in and out of school all year. She spent time in a mental health facility, and only just managed to pass eighth grade.
By the summer after middle school, Fanny had moved out of the room she’d shared with Rosario and in with her brother, who lived in a neighboring county with a couple of friends and their girlfriends and kids. Come this fall, Fanny had decided, she would enroll in high school in another town; maybe she would pick up shifts with a housecleaning crew after school. After graduation, maybe she’d get a business degree and start doing other people’s makeup for a living, or maybe she’d become an auto mechanic. She didn’t talk much to Rosario about what she was thinking. She and Alejandro were moving in with a friend of his who lived in the new school district. It would be her fifth home in two years.
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