From 1952 to 1981, a chemical used to clean airplanes contaminated the groundwater in a Tucson community. By the time the city stepped in, thousands were already sick or dying.
Matthias Meyer, Graus Wasser, 2014. Oil on canvas, 31 1/2 × 31 1/2 in, 80 × 80 cm. © Matthias Meyer.
On the way home from the doctor, after the initial diagnosis, Fernando asked me if I was okay. I wasn’t. I wanted him to stay home with me, but instead he dropped me off at the house, where I tried to grade papers while he went back to work. Later, as we were falling asleep, he said that all afternoon, when a customer would say, “Thank you,” or “Have a nice day,” he’d think, “I have cancer.”
As a girl, I learned from my mother, who had lost her first husband in the Korean War, to encyst sorrow and bury it deep within, so this is not an essay about grief. It is an essay about water.
In 1977, when Fernando and I had been married for almost four years, we bought a house on the north side of Tucson near the freeway and train tracks. It rained so hard the first winter we lived there that the water rose and began spilling in under the doors…