Rosa Stephens was a Mexican girl who managed to pass as white. She used this to her advantage when she met Mason Stephens, a well-to-do businessman from San Diego. Rosa’s naturally fair complexion and strangely lit green eyes made her look exotic and unique, but not a poor Mexican girl whose family were migrate workers who picked strawberries and blackberries in Monterey every summer and pinot noir grapes in fall.
Mason met her at a wine tasting festival at Wine and Roses in the new Napa Valley, which was a swath of gold country land located near Lodi, California. Mason, a carefree but conservative man ran several branches of the Dollar Rental Car chain. He was an extremely handsome young man with close-cropped and gelled dark hair. He mostly wore a white shirt, tie and slacks to work each day. He did have a hearty laugh that anyone within a few yards could hear. He was athletic and snow skied at Bear Valley in the winter and boated on the San Diego harbor in the summer. People loved Mason. He was charismatic, charming and mostly good-natured … in public.
Rosa, who was outgoing when necessary, was mostly quiet and very secretive. Mason was a good guy, but he had his prejudices, and he was no fan of Mexicans – and in particular he complained about workers taking American jobs and illegal aliens crossing the nearby border. While they courted, Rosa rarely mentioned family. She had won a Mensa scholarship in high school because she had an incredibly high IQ and was a genius with numbers and codes. Her gifts were strangely unexpected in her family where her father had only a 7th-grade education and could barely write. Her mother Eleana while adequately educated up to the 10th grade, but had spent her life moving from place to place and being a proper Catholic who had too many babies. She had 10 kids with eight surviving past age one.
After they discovered Rosa’s incredible IQ, her father Miguel had accused Eleana of an affair with Joseph Landers, the head of one of the ranches they worked at. Eleana and Joseph had spent many hours talking while she worked. He eventually hired her to work in the office, and that is when everyone assumed Rosa was illicitly conceived.
Her fair complexion combined with the unusual intelligence made it quite possible. While Eleana had never admitted if she had slept with Joseph Landers, most people assumed it was true. As a result, Rosa was efficiently ostracized to San Diego State University, and her family happy to see the reminder of Eleana’s affair gone.
Rosa’s shame over her true heritage caused her to hide her background. She found it easy to lie and say they died in a car crash on Highway 1 along the coast. She also hid all her brothers and sisters by saying she was an only child. Mason was never the wiser, but when he began systematically beating Rosa after she failed to pick him up on time from work, her lies made it easier to isolate her. After the first time in which he got out of the car, grabbed her by her wrist, and straight up slapped her multiple times across the face, the abuse never stopped. Any wrong move or just bad mood, and Rosa became Mason’s punching bag. He showed no kindness as his fists would pound her down into the wood floors or he would toss her petite body against a wall. One time she had left chicken out to thaw and he went off on some rant about salmonella. She was left with a broken rib after that one and a story to the doctor about slipping on the sidewalk.
Soon her morning ritual was consumed by hours of covering up bruises. It didn’t matter though because she was a housewife who never saw anyone but the gardener Rod, who was a stout, strong Mexican who paid Rosa compliments that Mason never said. He called her “chica” and “bonita” for Rod could see through the charade to the truth. He knew she wasn’t white. But even Rod’s support couldn’t ease the emotional pain of the constant beatings. Rosa soon turned to the bottle for help to numb away her grief, shame and humiliation. She just couldn’t quite see how she could leave Mason. And after so many physical and emotional poundings she found it easier to just take the blame and punishments.
But it was the previous fall when her house of cards began to fall and crumble. She had become pregnant with their first child. Mason initially was overjoyed. He had hoped to have a big family, and it seemed now that dream was coming true. He cooked for her, doted on her, brought her red tea roses from the back garden, and fawned on his wife. Rosa foolishly began to believe the beatings were over. She started to relax and enjoy the pregnancy until one day it happened – he found out.
They were strolling along Harbor Blvd. in San Diego. Mason had his arm around his six-month pregnant wife who was literally glowing with one hand on her small belly. Mason’s hearty laugh caught the attention of a young woman who was sitting at the bus stop. The woman immediately recognized Rosa and ran straight up to her.
“Rosa?” she cried. “Is that you?”
Rosa and Mason stopped and stared at the sweet young woman with chocolate brown hair and searching brown eyes. It was Kendra, her younger sister. She hadn’t seen Kendra is seven years or better. Kendra just grabbed her older sister and hugged her tight, pulled away, and touched her burgeoning belly.
“Oh mí hermana! Un bambino!”
Mason knew Spanish. “Is this your sister?” he frowned.
“Sí,” said Kendra. “It’s been so long. And this must be your man?”
Rosa was scared and quietly nodded.
“I will have to tell Mommy. She will be so happy for you. We miss you so much!”
Now Mason glared down at his frightened wife. Kendra looked at Rosa with concern. She didn’t understand what was happening.
“I … I … have to go,” said Rosa as she started to move forward.
“But wait dear sister, where do you live? Do you have a number?”
Rosa shook her head with her eyes now averted. She began to move faster away. Mason was right behind her. Kendra watched them go. She didn’t know what to do or what was going on.
That night, it happened: After Mason raged and raged about his “god damn lying Mexican wife and bastard child,” he began to beat her. At first, he avoided her belly, but then the rage took over. He no longer cared. He tossed her around the house like a ragdoll as she pleaded for the life of their unborn child in-between punches and kicks. By the time it was over, he had perforated her uterus and amniotic fluid and blood were everywhere. Walls were smeared with blood, the floor was a slippery mess of red puddles and fluid, and a still fetus with its umbilical cord still attached to Rosa lay dead on the floor.
The only thing that saved Rosa was that a neighbor heard crashing and screaming. By the time the paramedics arrived, Rosa was half-dead herself and Mason nowhere to be found. As she lay for two weeks barely alive and in a coma, she prayed not to wake up. She just wanted to die. Her baby gone, and her life ruined. When she was well enough the doctor told her she would never be able to have another child. She screamed and screamed. She screamed for herself. She cried for her dead baby. And she mourned for the children who would never be.
When they released her from the hospital she returned home. She never told them it was Mason who had beat her within an inch of her life and killed their baby. She said she couldn’t remember what happened. So when Mason finally showed up repentant with two-dozen roses, the hospital staff thought he was the grieving husband. No one stopped to question him.
Presumed innocent of any wrongdoing Mason was allowed to take Rosa home. He then left her alone day and night to fend for herself. For three weeks she recuperated without anyone to help her in and out of bed. Every time she passed the baby’s room she cried or simply looked the other way. She began calling her dead baby Rosario. She began drinking more and more hard liquor to dull the physical and emotional pain. The prescribed Vicodin soon became a toxic remedy to her grief, too.
It wasn’t long before Rosa was out of her mind.