March 13, 1960


Wedding Day

I wonder what Grandpa thought
as you smiled for the camera
on this your wedding day.
Did he object to you marrying so young?
Did he have other dreams for you?

Did Grandma wish for more time
with you as her daughter
instead of as dad’s wife?
Did her hands help sew your wedding dress?
Did you “borrow” her white hat and gloves?

Did they fear losing you to the chaotic world
into which you decisively stepped?
Did reports from the kitchen radio of sit-ins
at Woolworth’s lunch counters concern them?

Who were the people at your side
standing as witnesses before God
listening to your sacred vows?

Where was your younger sister, my Tia Noche?
Where stood dad’s many siblings?
Did they try to talk you out of it?

Did they support your desire
for a family of your own
or did they voice concerns
of a lifetime of struggle?

Did they forewarn that brown skin,
bilingual tongues, and a limited education
would condemn dad to work years
in a congested meatpacking plant
and us to labor in the fields?

Perhaps like other young people of the time,
you found hope for your generation
in John F. Kennedy
in Martin Luther King
in yourselves.

Happily you breezed into a new life.
You were having your cake and eating it too.
After all, 1960 was a leap year
and that you did.


So I got a bit of a bombshell dropped on me. I haven’t had the courage to write about it and that’s why this blog abruptly stopped.

I was talking to my sister in early February. She asked me how my manuscript on the migrant kid was coming a long. I told her it was slow but I’m allowing myself the distraction of attending both the AWP and Split This Rock conferences before I jump back in it.

She said she had an idea for my next project. Now, when people say stuff like that I usually take a deep breath. I mean, I can barely get my own ideas on the page, what am I gonna do with someone else’s ideas? But for the record, I’ve gotten some really good ideas from family members. I guess they just get me. Unfortunately, their ideas (and others) sit in a folder called “Stuff I need to write.”

Anyway, my sister suggested I work on a project based on the effects of  Kansas City pharmacist Robert Courtney’s drug diluting crimes. Uhm. Okay. That’s kinda weird.

“Two months before his arrest in August 2001, the pharmacist who in 1990 listed his gross income as $48,000 had amassed $18.7 million in total assets. During approximately the same time frame, Robert Courtney would, by law enforcement estimates, dilute 98,000 prescriptions for 4,200 patients.” 

via The Toxic Pharmacist – New York Times.

My sister suggested the story unfold from the point of view of a Latino family dealing with cancer. She explained how I could use our experience with our mom as a guide.

Wait. What?

“You know, because he probably diluted mom’s cancer medication.”

I’d forgotten mom was on an experimental treatment but I remember watching news reports and wondering if he’d been mom’s pharmacist. I buried those thoughts along with most of my memories of that last year.

Now my sister brought it all back by saying mom’s medication came from Courtney’s pharmacy.

Researching and reading about that devil of a man would probably consume the rest of this year not to mention conducting interviews and court records. It could be well into next year before I even begin to tell the story. I’m not intimidated by the work. My journalism background would help me organize and tell the story but — I’m afraid.

I’m afraid to know that all those times she cried in pain were deliberate. I’m afraid to accept that instead of advocating for her, instead of helping her through it, I dismissed her pain as part of the disease. I’m afraid to accept that I purposely kept myself ignorant of her disease and that I averted my eyes as cancer slowly and painfully consumed her.

I’m afraid that while his actions may have been toxic to her body, mine were toxic to her spirit.

Watch full episode about Courtney on “American Greed: Deadly Rx for Greed”