In this hard but necessary read, Roberto José Andrade Franco writes about one Uvalde family’s loss, and a small-town Texas community on the edge of the Nueces Strip that has changed forever. Franco beautifully honors the life of 10-year-old Tess Mata, a softball player and student murdered in the Robb Elementary School shooting, and traces a history of Texas shaped by guns, violence, and segregation.

When they tell the story, it makes them laugh, even now. They’re trying hard to get used to all the things that are gone. Trying to get used to no longer hearing the sounds Tess made, the thump-thump-thump whenever she practiced her pitching.

“This is where our heart’s at,” Jerry says of Tess’ room, and their home, and their small South Texas town next to the now waterless Nueces River.

We didn’t have to grow up alongside the Nueces River, listening to songs and stories of the violence all around us. But we did.

Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Cheri has been an editor at Longreads since 2014. She's currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.