Chasing Hope

The bathroom door pops open and she glides out, her blue-checked slippers with bows quietly swooshing over the carpet.

Jacqui sits on her bed and dangles her legs over the edge. She wears light gray pajamas with a big teddy bear on the chest and little bears on the legs. Her beige pressure garment, designed to reduce scarring, peeks out from under her pajamas. The suit is tight, she says, but it makes her feel safe.

It's almost midnight. Bedtime, Jacqui decides.

"Ti-to" she calls, using her nickname for her father. They're never far apart in their small apartment, but she belts out her summons like a stage actress.

"Tito," Jacqui calls. "Gotas y crema. Y la máscara."

Drops and cream. And the mask.

Amadeo, wearing boxer shorts and a T-shirt, brings the tiny tubes and squeezes drops into her eyes. It's a precise gesture — like dripping oil on a hinge — yet tender.

Gently, he rubs moisturizer on her cheeks, his heavy eyebrows furrowed in concentration. A bald spot peeks through his dark hair.

At night, father and daughter often nit-pick and match wits.

"Children are a reflection of their parents," she says late one night as her father grumbles about her sleeping habits.

"Children," he replies, "are a reflection of their parents' mistakes."

When she's ready, Amadeo brings out Jacqui's sleep armor.

First, la máscara.

Gingerly, Amadeo lifts the white silicone rubber mask, which helps smooth her scars. It looks like a flat, floppy version of the mask of comedy and tragedy. He lowers it over Jacqui's face.

Next comes a gold Lycra hood, which keeps the mask still and keeps pressure on Jacqui's head.

He puts the goggle over her eye. If she doesn't protest too much, he wraps a hard collar they call "the watusi" around her neck and screws a lip-stretching clamp into her mouth.

Then, more gotas y crema.

Amadeo sets the alarm for 2 a.m., when he will shrug himself awake for another round of eyedrops. He will rise again at 4 a.m. and at 6 to repeat the process, keeping Jacqui's eyes moist.

Father and daughter hug good night. They pray together, or she prays alone.

Jacqui closes her right eye. Her uncovered left eye stares in the darkness.

She used to sleep on her stomach, but now she can't. She worries she could scratch her left eye against her pillow.

She also worries her father might forget the drops.

"I'm scared all night," she says.

When she sleeps, sometimes she dreams she's looking in the mirror at her old face. In other dreams, she's at the beach, looking down nervously at her healthy hands and skin, afraid the sun will burn her.

Oh my goodness, she sighs, waking up. It's just a dream.

Caracas, July 1999
Two months before the accident, Jacqui felt her life coming apart.

She seemed to have everything: beauty, intelligence, money, friends. But she was anxious.

In college, where she studied industrial engineering to prepare for running Amadeo's factory, Jacqui had fallen behind. She panicked during tests. She fixated on her failures and debated whether to continue.

Outside class, she fantasized about having her own home, a husband and children, but she hadn't dated anyone seriously since Marcos, the boy her parents introduced her to years before at the beach.

Marcos Martínez had seemed perfect. He was sweet and determined. Like her own father and mother, his parents were from Spain. One day, as a prank, she slipped a note on his car: "I love you forever."

They began dating just as Jacqui's parents separated. When Marcos broke up with her, Jacqui was devastated. Her schoolgirl crush spiraled into obsession. She saw a psychologist, hoping to erase Marcos' memory, but two years later she still thought only of him.

Jacqui always seemed to be missing something, Marcos said — love, perhaps.

Growing up, she always felt a little lonely.

"She had everything, but she wasn't happy, either," said Jacqui's mother, Rosalia Garcia. "She was lacking a family."

Jacqui always considered her mother the volatile one, but now Jacqui found herself arguing with everyone, even her father. She judged people against her high standards, and they often didn't measure up.

"Every day I got worse," Jacqui said. "I cried. I got depressed. I didn't study. I wanted to close the door and forget everything."

When she needed to escape, she hopped in her car, a green Toyota Corolla that Amadeo had given her — over Rosalia's objections — for her high school graduation.

She loved the adrenaline rush of driving fast, blaring salsa and hugging curves. She felt in control.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Jacqui tossed her black skirt and black dance shoes — the pair with metal taps — into her car.

She had begun studying flamenco when she was 18. She thought the Spanish dance, sensual and forceful, revealed a woman's character.

"I could feel it in my blood," Jacqui said.

She had trouble concentrating in class, but sometimes after returning home she got the urge to practice. In the parking lot, she tapped and sang to herself — uno, dos, tres ... cuatro, cinco, seis. Or she went upstairs, blasted music on the balcony and watched herself twirl in the glass, dancing until she lost the rhythm.