You'll do great in whatever you wish to do. Thanks for always being so beautiful.
Ana enrolled at the local community college and was offended when the administration wanted to put her in classes for students with learning disabilities. Then one morning as she was getting ready for school, she fainted. Her dog found her on the floor, and she decided it was best to wait on college.
One day her cousin Lalo turned to her and asked, "Is your face getting worse?"
"Yeah," she said.
By now, the tumors had subsumed her left profile, obscuring each landmark -- the eye, the bridge of the nose, the corner of the mouth -- beneath a swirl of sagging creases and dimples.
She stopped wanting to go out. She spent hours on the computer. She met a boy online, and they started to chat regularly until one day he visited her and complained that she drank too much. She dumped him.
Her mom asked her cousins to take her on outings. Sometimes they'd go to the park or to McDonald's, but strangers would stare. She tried to be polite and simply walk away, but it was hard.
"Why don't you just take a picture?" she'd snap. "It will last longer."
Once a little girl in the family burst into tears when she saw Ana, and later when she and her mom went to recycle some cans, two strangers walked up and gave her hugs.
"God bless you," they said.
She'd tried to get a job at the local Hometown Buffet and McDonald's, even at the potato plant where her mother worked, but the managers didn't bother to call back.
Partying with her cousins became a favorite pastime, zombies her drink of choice. They would take spur-of-the-moment trips to the Morongo Casino in Cabazon. They'd stay out late, dancing and drinking.
After 9/11, she began to think about the people who were on those flights and those who missed them. She realized that her life, like theirs, was a lesson in the fickleness of fate.
Most of us grow up believing that the world will open up for us and we will find our place: a home, love, purpose, work. For Ana it was never that simple.
How do you create a life when you are so dependent upon others and for no other reason than how you look?
Nearly 20 family members had gathered at the park. It was hot, August 2005, but there was shade above the picnic tables.