You ask me about the worst case scenario. Well, the worst case scenario has already happened. Nothing else will ever compare to the things that have already come to pass.
It began in 1962. I was an art student, living in San Antonio, TX. I had a small walk-up flat just south of Downtown. My companion was a young woman named Maria who called herself Soledad. She had grown up not far from the city, in a place called China Grove, and had been making her living as a seamstress when such work was available. She had been known to perform some domestic cleaning services when times were hard and, when times were really hard she worked the streets and barrooms; catering to the new recruits as they finished their basic training at nearby Lackland Air Force Base, their pockets filled with money that they were eager to part with. When I met her she was with child from one of her dalliances, but only just beginning to show. She had no idea who the father was and really didn’t care.
I took her in. She was beautiful, slender with fair skin and jet black hair, usually worn long in a single braid down the middle of her back. She agreed to model for me and I probably have close to a thousand sketches, drawings, and paintings of her; or of her and her daughter, whom she named Elena. I can show them all to you if you want. To this day, when I look at a model I see Soledad in my mind’s eye.
In return for her modeling work she occupied a room in my flat. She visited me at night three or four times a month. For the most part, she provided her own food. She insisted that she did not want to be a ‘kept woman’ and continued to pursue her other three professions during the entire two years we lived together.
I was a poor art student and she a struggling single mother. Most of the depictions I have of her, or of her and Elena, clearly illustrate our unique version of domesticity, and the despair and sorrow of the working poor. I came to love her and she resisted me unflaggingly. She insisted our relationship should remain ‘at arm’s length.’
“I’m a whore,” she would say as she turned her back on me, “it will only be over when one of us jumps into the river. There is no happily ever after.”
Her family were all farmers, making a meager living off the land outside China Grove. They ostracized her for her ways, but were only too willing to accept any monies that she could send their direction. One of her brothers would come to the city, every so often, on an irregular basis and she would slip him an slim envelope when she thought I wasn’t looking. They did not like me at all and I only visited there the one time in early ’63. After the incident with her father and brothers, I never went back although she would continue to visit them, for about half a day, every six weeks or so until we parted ways.
My family did not approve of her either; or of my relationship with her. I told them that Elena was mine but my mother, either knew or, suspected the truth and would cluck her tongue and shake her head disapprovingly whenever we came to visit. We gave up trying to lie to them; this served as a balm to our conscience, but also drove the wedge between Soledad and I even deeper.
In ’64 I finished art school and, at the urging of my brother, I moved to Austin to paint there. Soledad did not come with me and although I thought of her constantly, I never saw her again. My career took off in Austin; and my separation from Soledad smoothed over the rifts I had had with my family; but it put an end to the only love I had ever known. My heart was broken, yet I managed to keep tabs on my Soledad through friends in San Antonio. She had returned to her life as a seamstress, housekeeper and occasional prostitute until she married a used car salesman in 1969.
His name was Naranja and I gather he was a good man. I heard that he truly loved both her and Elena. I’m sure that Soledad tried to love him back but I don’t know how successful she was at that. In 1983 at the age of 41 she took a car trip to the place where the San Antonio River flows into the Guadalupe. Fulfilling her prophecy of so many years earlier, she threw herself into the torrent and drowned.
You ask about the best? There is no best. There is no happily ever after.