Blonde Redhead

She was standing outside the college’s recital hall waiting to be let in. She was late. I too was late, but there just in time to finally be able to talk to her. I had been secretly not so secretly spying on this girl, asking friends and classmates if they knew who she was.

“She has blonde hair. Well, she had blonde hair last week. Now she has dark red hair,” I said.

“What does she look like?” my friend Nick asked.

“She has big blue eyes and a big smile. I think she may be Russian.”

“Nope, I’ve never seen her.”

The search for this mystery girl coincided with a phase I was going through, one that involved the “hunting of tigers.” Nick and I used the word “tiger” to refer to a woman that we wanted to sleep with. It was the systematic process of selecting, staking out, luring and finally gorging on their sweet lips and bodies. Once this mission was accomplished, we would simply text one another:

“The tiger has been tamed.”

This girl presented herself as the perfect catch. She was beautiful, foreign and right in front of me. The prize was there for the taking. I ran my hands through my hair and began to walk towards her. She was tugging at the door handle, flustered at it not budging.

“Did they close the door on you?” I asked. She turned around and laughed.

“Yeah, they did,” she answered.

“I hate it when they do that.” She laughed again. Her dimples were high on her cheeks, closer to her nose than to the corners of her mouth. Her laughter had a soft percussive melody to it, like someone tickling your ears with feathers. “Hi, I’m Jose. What’s your name?”

“Galathea,” she said with a big smile. Galathea, Galathea, Galathea. I kept repeating her name in my head as she continued to talk. Everything was falling in its right place. We were two big jigsaw puzzle pieces getting closer and closer to interlocking with every word uttered. Our instant chemistry gave me such a level of confidence that asking for her number didn’t feel like an act of creepy desperation. We were alone, laughing and in close proximity. Conditions were perfect. Limber tongue. Check. Salivary glands producing just enough moisture. Check. Lips opening. Shit.

“What it is?” Nick came out of nowhere calling to me from afar. His boisterous voice was meant more to alarm than to find out what “it” really was. He raised his hand expecting me to high-five him. I looked up at it and reluctantly succumbed to his request.

“Hey, what’s up?” I replied. What I really meant to say was “Get the fuck out of here. You’re ruining what was up to this point a perfectly executed luring excursion.” I turned his high-five into a handshake and squeezed the shit out of it. I wanted to communicate with my grip what I couldn’t with words.

“What’s wrong?” Nick asked extricating his hand from mine and massaging its mangled surface. My furrowed brow and bulged eyes helped Nick deduce that the redhead in our midst and the one I had been nagging him about were one and the same. “Is that the?”

“Shhh…shut the fuck up,” I yelled as loud as one can in a hushed tone. Galathea was unfazed by our bickering, talking to another person who had also been locked out. “Yes, that’s her,” I said through the side of my mouth. His eyes lit up as he backhanded me hard on the chest.

“I just thought of something,” he said. I was surprised at Nick’s level of intuitiveness. Was he going to leave and give me room to ask Galathea out? What a great fucking friend this guy was.

“What’s the game plan?” I asked with excitement.

“We should have a threesome with her.”

“Fuck. No.” I replied. “This girl is different.” And she was. I had been staking her out for over six months and now that I had her, I wasn’t going to share her with anybody.

“Come on,” he insisted. “You know how we’ve always talked about having a threesome. About how we wanted to become milk brothers.” Nick was obsessed with the idea of us sharing a woman. However, I wanted nothing to do with it. “Whatever, man. You suck,” he said with a pout. Nick begrudgingly embraced the role that he was born to play at that exact moment and began to walk away from us. I turned around and began to talk to both Galathea and the other person that she was talking to. I was looking intently at her and she began to smile at me again.

“We should hang out sometime,” I said.

“Yeah, for sure,” she replied.

“Can I have your number?” As she was giving it to me, I realized that maybe she wan’t Russian after all.

“Don’t worry about typing in my last name. It’s a weird Hungarian one.” She was Hungarian. “I was born in San Diego, but my family comes from Hungary.” Her soft laughter ended every one of her sentences. “We should kick it sometime.” I smiled.

We went into the recital hall and I took a seat across the hall, away from her. Mainly to seem like a bad boy, but more importantly, to not seem needy or annoying. I couldn’t stop staring at her because I couldn’t believe that I was finally able to talk to her. I immediately texted Nick:

“The tiger hasn’t been tamed yet, but I’m afraid that in the luring phase, she has managed to tame me.” Although he replied with a disapproving sad face emoji, I was happy to know that my tiger hunting days were over.

Yellow Tigers Crouched in Jungles

There are three types of pressure points in the human body. The first may cause fatal injuries and must only be used in cases of extreme danger. The second will cause lacerations, fractures or mutilations, but are not deadly. The third type cause a shock to the nervous system, resulting in immediate pain.

           *                        *                       *                        *

As soon as I raised my fist to strike him, I felt an unshakable feeling of regret bathe the back of my neck. The fear and penitence in his eyes inspired in me forgiveness and an urge to dissolve from my hand the bludgeoning instrument my fingers had morphed into. My left hand was grasping his shirt collar, feeling the warmth of his panicked breath, beating moist on it. Beating hard like the heart lodged in my throat. His pleas of “don’t hit me” and “I’m sorry” were slowly chipping away at my rage, but the savage pleas of the crowd forming around us were louder and more coercive. My right fist was patiently waiting for me to make up my mind as to whether I was going through with the whole thing. I blinked and pried my fist from my conscience’s tight grip. It tore through the space between the white of my knuckles and the tears welling up in the white of his beautiful forest green eyes.

           *                        *                       *                        *

When you’re in a fight, you can’t allow your anger to influence how hard you should clench your fists. If you’re also clenching your jaw, then you’re doing it too hard. Your punching hand, the only one that you entrust to spoon food into your mouth and wipe your ass with, should feel loose. Weightless. A feather falling slowly as if defying time and gravity. Once this state of relaxation is achieved, you must deliver a quick, deliberate stroke meant to immobilize your opponent. The last place you want to strike somebody is on the head as this will cause more damage to you than to your opponent. You want to hit your opponent behind the ear, jaw or chin. Those are the sweet spots. When you punch in the mouth, you just want to knock their fucking teeth in. If your opponent is accustomed to fighting or full of adrenaline, that shock may not be enough to knock him out or subdue him and the amount of effort required to win will be multiplied exponentially.

           *                        *                       *                        *

My hand felt numb as it descended. It felt like an alien tentacle outgrowth with a mind of its own. I couldn’t stop it. The situation was beyond me. When you raise your fist like that in a playground full of hormonally charged, emotionally unavailable middle schoolers, you’re better off punching yourself in the face than simply lowering your fist like a civilized person. You would be the laughing stock of the entire school. Generations of students would remember you as the coward who let another kid push him down during a basketball game in the playground. I could imagine their jeers and their pointing to this very basketball court we were standing on. A few seconds before my fist pummeled his face, he closed his eyes and turned his head to the right as his last recourse. The impact of his ear’s cartilage colliding against my knuckles’ tendons shot painful shock waves up and down my arm. I didn’t derive from it the orgasmic catharsis that my guts were craving for.

           *                        *                       *                        *

Fighting is like fucking in that not everybody is good at it, and if you are, you want to do it all the time. Its complexity is determined by the person with whom you are engaging in the activity and someone always gets hurt in the end. You need to seduce your opponent into this carnal act, this dance of death. Although drawing blood from your opponent feels good and is a dependable indicator of the pain inflicted, it doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t scar or bruise them. The blood vessels that rupture under the skin serve as a reminder, to you both, of your victory. It’s a branding. A trophy.

           *                        *                       *                        *

I released his shirt collar to nurse my throbbing hand and he scurried away, rubbing his swollen neon-red ear. As I thrashed my hand to shake off the pain, the kids in the playground patted me on the back in a congratulatory fashion. Now my whole body felt numb. I could see the boy I had hurt running away to sob in solitude. I wanted to go after him to apologize, but what I had done to him had turned us into enemies. Besides, had I done that, the rest of the crowd would’ve followed me thirsting for more blood.

           *                        *                       *                        *

There is no such thing as a perfect punch as in most instances there is never enough time to prepare for it. Fighting is improvised. You should fight because you need to, not because you want to. Moreover, you must induce a level of fear into the mind of your opponent through the demeanor in your eyes and position of your body. You must conceal your own fear, you most powerful weapon, even more so than your clenched fists. For if there is no fear of succumbing to injury, then it is a sign that your opponent’s combative prowess is inferior to yours. If this is so, disengage immediately. It is better to appear weak than to prey on the weak.

           *                        *                       *                        *

The day after the fight, I bumped into my opponent in the hallway. He didn’t make eye contact but his avoidance of it told me that he too felt remorse about what had taken place in the playground. The jittery feeling that had coursed through me the day before as I brushed the embedded asphalt off my scraped knees, the one that had spurt me on to fight was now spurting me to make peace with him. I never wanted to punch him, but my actions spoke louder than my intentions. I flanked to the left before he could pass me and stood in front of him. With eyes bulged, he looked up sheepishly. I could see a reflection in the darkness of his dilated pupils and in it was reflected the darkness in me. It didn’t matter what I said to him. The damage had been done. I simply stepped aside and he ran away. I had won the fight but lost something I could never win back.

Photo Credit

Leach, L. (1963). Husband tells of stabbing [Photograph]. Los Angeles Public Library, Los Angeles.

The People v. The City of LA

There on the windshield, it was lying like a curvaceous woman beckoning me to release her from the lace lingerie concealing her body. Perfectly nestled between the dewy glass and windshield wiper. It was a parking ticket. I felt a sudden contusion in the pit of my stomach, worse than the time my mom caught me masturbating to a rerun of “Little House on the Prairie.” The middle finger in the shape of a yellow carbon-copied strip of paper, read:

“Parking Violation: Street Cleaning on Wednesday, No Parking. Fee: $96. Please pay in full within 21 calendar days from the date issued.”

Fuck.

The officer’s name was Craig. What a name? An officer by any other name would’ve been just as annoying. The ticket’s timestamp showed that he had been there only moments before me. Like a ticket fairy, he had bestowed upon me the gift of early morning high blood pressure. My whole day was now ruined. The ticket would be the only thing on my mind, looming over me like a dark omen.

This wasn’t the first time I had wrangled with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. While in college, I parked at a 4-Hour spot and after driving off of it, I wasn’t able to find another but the very one I had just vacated. In a mad scramble to get to class on time, I parked in the same space. Three hours and fifty-six minutes later, there it was. I came, I saw, I convulsed. $75. I requested, in writing, that the ticket be pardoned given the situation. They callously refused to do so. This time around, I knew that I needed substantial evidence in order to annul the ticket and not have to lose time from work to appear in court and futilely testify on my own behalf.

After I composed myself, I began to dissect the ticket to a near molecular level and noticed some glaring inconsistencies. First of all, my car wasn’t parked at the address that Officer Craig had written on the ticket. I was parked across the street from it. Then, I noticed that Officer Craig had cleverly written “A/F”–meaning “Across From”–in front of the bogus address. Touché. Craig 1, me 0.

The second discrepancy that I saw was in the sign I was parked next to. It read:

“No Parking: 4:30am – 6:30am; Thursday, Street Cleaning.”

However, every single sign in front and behind it read:

“No Parking: 4:30am – 6:30am; Wednesday, Street Cleaning.”

It read that way for blocks upon blocks. Was I crazy? Was the city of LA playing a prank on me? You need a tort law degree, an affinity for Seussian limericks, the wit of Aristotle and the patience required to read a Tolkien novel in order to decipher the mind-fucking circular logic that is LA street parking signage. These complicated ten foot totem pole puzzles would confound even the cleverest inhabitants of Carroll’s Wonderland.

I don’t mind getting ticketed for something that I’ve done. I pride myself in being a law-abiding citizen. However, I don’t appreciate getting one on behalf of the city’s blunder. I really shouldn’t have parked there knowing that this was the only sign that read “Thursday.” Did I think that this was a tear in the space and time continuum? The four leaf clover of parking? I took extensive photographic evidence of the sign. I wasn’t going to lose to a lazy parking officer doing the bidding of a negligent city. En garde. Craig 1, me 1.

The third and final misstep was the color Officer Craig wrote down for my car. He wrote gray. My car is light blue. My protracted apathy to take my car for a wash and the early morning’s dim lighting had strangely conspired in my favor. This was my final lunge. Victory was mine. Craig 1, me 2.

I wrote an impassioned letter to the Department of Transportation’s subdivision, the Parking Violations Bureau. It was a combination of a plea and a declaration. Oliver Twist meets Patrick Henry. “Please, sir, I want some more” and “Give me liberty, or give me death.” I was so sure of my overwhelming victory that I thought of paying a hooded horseman to ride through the night, at full gallop, and hand deliver my letter to the General Manager of the Department of Transportation. And just to make sure that she got it, I also wanted to send the message by pigeon and in a bottle dropped at sea.

Two excruciating months went by and I still hadn’t received word from the Bureau. Tired of waiting, I called their main office. The woman who answered spoke in a cold and sterile monotone. The only aspect that made it human was a slight hint of exasperation due to overwork. She asked me for my citation number and then she went mute. All I could hear was a jumble of keyboard clicking.

“Sir, you don’t owe anything. That citation has been closed,” she said.

A few weeks later, I received a letter in the mail confirming my victory. It read:

“Thank you for your inquiry concerning the citation(s) listed below. We have received your claim and found it to be valid. Therefore, your citation(s) is/are being permanently dismissed. No further action on your part is required.”

I framed it. It was probably one of my proudest moments. I hate to admit that I get a little teary-eyed every time I look at it. It restored my faith in my city.

Los Angeles, thank you for owning up to your mistake and being the bigger person.

Surrender Yourself

In the realm of music, it is a common practice to focus on one instrument and a limited number of styles in order to become highly skilled at them and attain full mastery. This is not the case with musician and artist Eddika Organista. She likes to explore different styles of music and their unique instruments. Her curiosity for the unknown is applied to her songwriting process. While most run away from the disparity to something more pristine, she embraces it and makes it part of her creations. In her song “Yagate” (Japanese for “In Time/Soon”), Eddika explores the notion of leaving behind a way of life and embracing a new one. The song was inspired by a sci-fi graphic novel that Eddika is working on. It deals with the dark state of an alternate futuristic universe meant to mirror our own. The song forewarns “Your world is no more” and advises to “Embrace the new one.” The advice is given by Eddika in a smooth rhythmic melody serves as a reflection of the types of changes occurring in Northeast Los Angeles.

I met Eddika at Tierra de la Culebra, a pocket park nestled deep in the historic neighborhood of Highland Park. At first sight, the park looks like an abandoned plot of land, but upon further inspection, it reveals its whimsical beauty. Mounds of concrete protrude from the dirt and are intricately decorated with multi-colored tiles, resembling a snake’s thick coils. The community has recently welcomed a high number of new residents who in turn have attracted newer and sleeker businesses. However, this park remains as a vestige of the former inelegance of the community. It is a community park because it is tended and taken care of by regular people, not the city. The park’s vast arboreal greenery along with the sea-foam painted benches brought out the caramelized turquoise in Eddika’s eyes. The curls that draped on the side of her face reminded me of those found in old photographs of French cabaret singer Édith Piaf.

“I didn’t want to sing along to the radio,” Organista said “I wanted to sing along with the guitar.” Growing up with a musician for a father, Eddika was always surrounded by a variety of instruments, such as the guitar, electric and acoustic basses and pianos. She picked up the guitar and began to learn how to play on it the songs that she most liked. Her father’s taste in music had introduced her to the exotic sounds and rhythms of Brazilian music. However, the music of Brazil wasn’t the only aspect of this country that had appealed to Eddika. The words that accompanied the songs always lingered on her mind. “I wanted to imitate the sounds of Brazilian music because I liked the way they sounded,” Organista said. It sparked her 10-year-old curiosity and felt like she understood a little bit of Portuguese. She decided to complete a minor in it along with her Ethnomusicology degree at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). It was almost like predestination. Fate. Things had come full circle. The music of Brazil that exposed her to the exquisite sounds of Portuguese eventually led her to study the music and language formally.

As a child, Eddika did a lot of moving from her place of birth in Boyle Heights to various parts of Mexico to Las Vegas to her eventual home in Highland Park. Now that her home is static, it is the city beneath her that is moving. Changing. It is like musical chairs, where those who can pay the increasing rents can sit and those who can’t have to move. Many of the businesses in Highland Park have undergone refurbishment along with their names, which were once in Spanish. Now they have trendy cheeky names in English and sell products that the remaining original residents can’t afford or don’t want to buy. They don’t appeal to them.

While studying at Pasadena City College (PCC), Eddika was teaching percussion to children through LAUSD’s LA’s Best program. “I feel like percussion is more accessible to me,” she said, “you can just grab a stick and create a beat.” Through the LA’s Best program, Eddika was able to bring the joy of drumming to the impoverished schools of Northeast LA. She was also fascinated by the physicality required to play the instrument. “It makes you dance as you play it,” Organista said, “that’s why I like it, because I like to dance.” Percussion has always played a big role in Eddika’s life. From a young age, she always wanted to learn how to play the drums. “If I had the chance to relearn music, I would have started with the drums,” Organista said. In addition to drum instruments, Eddika also plays other percussion instruments such as the shekere (a beaded gourd) and the maracón (a cylindrical instrument filled with seeds). The maracón, in particular, is a very difficult instrument to get the hang of as you have to time perfectly the trajectory of the seeds. “Your movements have to be very direct and sharp,” Organista added as she mimed the movements required to play the instrument with her shoulders.

As were once the inhabitants of Highland Park, the residents of the neighboring community of Boyle Heights have been very vocal and direct about their feelings on the topic of gentrification. Many of them have resorted to public demonstrations and vandalism. Anarchy of the people and by the people. Unlike Highland Park, who has consigned itself to its impending fate, Boyle Heights has yet to surrender itself to the burgeoning gait of progress. They are still trying to find ways of keeping the trendy coffee shops and designer thrift stores from infiltrating their humble community. They’re up to the challenge.

When it comes to songwriting, Eddika likes to start the process in different ways. “I want to challenge myself to try other things when things get too comfortable,” Organista said. She follows a similar philosophy to that of her friend Dominique Rodriguez (Percussionist) who likes to change the setup of his drum kit. “He created a customized drum set made up of bongos, congas, a tambourine, bass drum and a cowbell around his neck,” she said. Eddika doesn’t have a prescribed way of writing music—sometimes using percussion instruments to write a melody—”The congas fall into a different pocket and keep the groove very intense” she said.

Having been a long time resident of Highland Park, Eddika has experienced the dramatic change that the community has gone through; from working class to have-no-class. “As a child, my family and I used to visit some family that lived here and it was a very different place,” she recalls, “Highland Park was considered dangerous.” The danger levels have subsided a bit ever since the neighborhood began to undergo gentrification. The ruckus of gun shots and illegal fireworks has been replaced by that of the Gold Line train blaring its horn and drunken hipsters heading home to their overpriced apartments in the middle of the night.

Eddika’s lyrics are almost prophetic in that they perfectly describe what most of the displaced people of Highland Park feel: “The world that was mine disappeared.” She refuses to be a patron of any of the new businesses because they are bringing too much change in too short of time. The song continues: “It no longer is. It exists no more.”

As we departed from Culebra Park, Eddika pointed out to me an old woman peddling a cart. I couldn’t see her face and in the two years that I have lived there, I had never come across her. “She goes around Highland Park picking up trash,” Organista said. “I see her every day.” Even as the world around her keeps changing, this woman is steadfast in her work, in her purpose. With all the changes and influences that have led Eddika to this point, she is trying to find a way of dealing with the change, just like the old lady and all of the survivors of gentrification. Eddika continues to allow a wide spectrum of influences to guide the flow of creativity, in her life and in her music. She doesn’t question where it is taking her. She simply allows this creative effervescence to take over her and meld with her until all of these disparate streams of influence merge into one. Until they surrender to her.

Converse Upon Pleasant Subjects

Ludo’s laughter was loud. He stuck his tongue out, displaying the chrome stud piercing through it surrounded by the residue of the orange lollipop that he had been sucking on since we left the classroom. His hearty chuckle was followed by a fit of coughing that bent him at the abdomen and knees. After he caught his breath, we continued to walk down the empty hallway.

Although Ludo and I were in the same grade and the same age, he seemed more mature and experienced to me than any of the other 11th graders at my school. From time to time, the principle visited our classroom–flanked by two police officers–and escorted Ludo out of it, handcuffed, to a patrol car waiting outside. However, these public displays of correction didn’t seem to faze him. Once reinstated into the classroom, he would tell me about how funny the whole experience had been.

“One time, a pig payed me and another kid 10 bucks each to wrestle each other,” Ludo said. “I beat the shit out of him and the pigs were just watching and laughing.”

Walking next to him, I could see the dark bruises and fresh scars that adorned his face and body. His hair was naturally dark brown, but he had recently bleached it and dyed it orange. Ludo was part of a crew, a group of high-school-aged kids enlisted by local gangs to traffic and sell drugs to other kids within the school gates. Interns of the illegal narcotics rink.

“You have to get your ass kicked by all the members of the gang to get into the crew,” Ludo said rubbing his shoulder.

“Fuck. Really?” I replied.

“Yeah, but it’s better than being a chick.”

“Why?”

“‘Cause all the fools in the gang, even the old ass gangsters, get to fuck you.”

The squeaks from a pair of Chuck Taylors echoing in the hall made Ludo and I notice two girls at the opposite end. I realized that one of them was a girl that I had a huge crush on. I didn’t know her name and I didn’t know whose class she was in. All I knew was that she was new to the school. A freshman. She had a small petite frame with breasts and buttocks that protruded way beyond those of her companion and the other girls her age. Her bright green eyes were close set and protruded and her skin was light but slightly sun-kissed. Her hair was straight, parted at the middle with alternating streaks of blonde.

“You see that chick in the pink shirt and Chucks?” Ludo whispered as a waft of the artificial orange flavor in his breath clung on to my nostrils. “The one with the tight jeans.” I knew exactly who he was referring to. They were painted on.

“You know her?” I asked giddily. This was my in. My chance to finally find out what her name was. Maybe Ludo could hook me up with her.

“She’s gonna get initiated this weekend at a kick back.” I felt a sharp pain in my stomach as if I was the one getting initiated. The one getting fucked.

“Are you guys gonna to fuck her?” I stuttered as my voice cracked. Ludo smirked. I gulped.

“Nah, not the guys in the crew, only the fools in the gang get to fuck her,” he shrugged his face and kicked an empty soda bottle. He looked so disappointed. “We do get to fuck her mouth, though.” His face lit up again. My stomach sunk. The shriek of her approaching steps sent a cold chill down my spine. I just couldn’t understand why a girl with a clean smile and pristine made-up face would reduce herself to a mere cum rag.

“Hey, what up, girl?” Ludo asked her. I was hoping that he would address her by name, that way I would have a face and name to mourn. But frankly, I don’t think that Ludo knew her name either.

“Hey guys,” the girls replied in unison and continued walking. Her smile was directed mainly at Ludo, contributing further to my mourning. She seemed excited for her cumming of age ceremony with Ludo and the gang. She had accepted her fate, so why couldn’t I?

The sound of her pink Chuck Taylors steadily hushed as we looked back at the contours of her lower body, shrink-wrapped in denim.

“Yup. She’s gonna be a fun one,” Ludo said exploding into laughter.

I looked back one last time, waiting for Ludo to find his composure, but she wasn’t there. She was gone.

A Blessing and A Curse

He was staring at me. Well, he could’ve also been staring at the book I was reading. “ISLAM: A Concise History.” His sight was transfixed on me as his bloodshot eyes were bulging out of his head. As soon as we locked eyes, he looked away. He had piercing blue eyes and a sun-burnt white complexion. The unkempt condition of his clothes along with the huge duffel bag that accompanied him told me that this man was homeless. After our brief Mexican stare down, I went back to reading my book, but I couldn’t really focus due to the buzzing sounds and random utterances coming out of his mouth. Sounds that would be perfectly normal coming out of a 3-year-old. The whole 45-minute ride to work, I was trying not to make eye contact with him. I could feel his gaze on me and I’m sure he could feel my deliberate avoidance of it.

Once I had arrived at my destination, I realized that it was also his. I walked with my normal hectic and brisk gait towards my office and didn’t give the man a second thought. I never thought that I would see him again; a common Angeleno misconception. The idea that just because we cease to interact with somebody that they cease to exist. As if from nowhere, the man appeared to be in front of me, even though I thought I had left him in my wake. He was asking an older gentleman for some money with his palm outstretched expectantly facing up. I walked towards the man, his body-bag-sized duffel bag now acting as a backpack.

“Hey man, you got some change?” the man asked.

“No, sorry,” I replied patting my pant and coat pockets, giving him a sympathetic “I-would-if-I-could” smile. Like most people, I don’t carry around any cash. It’s clunky, cumbersome and it’s hard to keep track of. Once again, I walked away from this poor man.

I walked into a grocery store to buy some yogurt and during checkout I was asked by the card reader whether I wanted cash back or not. The little voice in my head reminded me of the man and my “I-would-if-I-could” excuse, so I pulled out $5, all in ones. As I was collecting my cash, I realized that the man was standing at the register right behind me. I didn’t just want to hand him the money right then and there, it seemed kind of crass. I simply went outside the store and waited for him to finish his transaction. When he finally emerged from within, I handed him three out of the $5. He took the money without flinching, as if I owed it to him. He didn’t even make eye contact.

“See, you didn’t have to be such an asshole about it,” the man said, still not making eye contact.

“God bless you, man. Take care,” I replied. I didn’t really care if he thought that I was an asshole or whether he thought I was talking about Allah or Yahweh or even Siva’s blessing. I simply wanted to do something nice for him.

“Alright, thanks,” the man mumbled. The way he said it felt more like “alright, thanks for the money, now get the fuck out of here.” I totally understood, the $3 that I had given him were not enough, he needed more. He needed to get on with his day and hustle. If he was curt it was only because he was broke. I knew where he was coming from because that was exactly where I was headed. To earn my $3.

 

Black Dog

Although I was tightly binding my pillow around my head, I could still hear her from the other room, begging him to stop.

“Jose Luis, no. Not on the face,” my mom wailed, “I have to go to work tomorrow.”

Her screams were drowned by the sound of my dad’s fists pulping her flesh. Beating on it to tenderize her will. He wanted to fuck and she wasn’t going to get in his way. I never saw him strike her with my own eyes. I didn’t need to. Her whimpers painted a clearer picture for me. Unlike my siblings, who were sobbing quietly, I wasn’t able to cry. I wanted to run into the other room and rescue her, but I was paralyzed on my bed. She was the reason why I feared him. Why I hated him. My dad was a bad motherfucker and it was when he beat on my mom that he would show his truest nature.

“They call me the dentist,” he once told me with a big smile.

“Why do they call you the dentist?” I asked with reluctance.

“They call me the dentist because I kick people’s teeth in.” He let out a loud piercing cackle that slowly spurred up to a full-chested laugh.

***

Soledad and Jose Luis met at church when they were both in their mid-teens. He was the new boy in town and one of the few men who wasn’t over 20 or married. All of the church girls wanted to date him, including Soledad. He was handsome, thin and charming. Jose Luis had just arrived from Mexico and didn’t know any English. Soledad seized this opportunity to approach him and help him get acclimated to his new home in the United States.

***

She was foolish to think that taking his abuse would turn him into the father that she wanted for her children and the husband that she needed for herself. My mom wanted him to transform into a man he didn’t want to be. In her mind, she was going to make their relationship work, even if it was the last thing she did. She sought to emasculate him into submission and inspire in him a sense of masculine duty. However, this only bolstered his jealousy.

“Why are you getting home so late?” he asked.

“My boss wanted me to stay to finish up a project,” she answered.

“I’m sure he did. Is that the guy you’re fucking?”

“I’m not fucking anybody,” she yelled. “I’m trying to feed my fucking family.”

“Don’t yell at me, stupid,” he mumbled. Her screams were muffled.

“Let go of me,” she panted, “if I was really fucking anybody, you wouldn’t even know about it.” He started to laugh.

“You really are stupid, you bitch.” Her comment infuriated him even more and fueled his appetite to hurt her. Everything that came out of his mouth was punctuated with a blow. “You think that’s funny. Huh?” His punches were accompanied by a short moan followed by her groaning. “See what you make me do, you stupid bitch?”

Her weeping droned steadily.

***

Jose Luis landed a great job at a big manufacturing company with a great salary and full benefits. This made Soledad find him even more attractive as she could envision him being a great provider for the family she wanted to have with him. They began to frequent each other’s company more and more, not only at church, but outside of it as well.  Jose Luis happened to be her brother’s roommate, so there were more opportunities for them to be with each other. They were inseparable.

***

When they fought, they sounded like strangers to me. My dad once told me that if my mom were a man, her words would make both sides of my family go to war.

“Stop trying to stick your cock in me,” she urged with a muzzled yelp.

“Shut up,” he screamed, “I bet you don’t say that to the fuckers you work with.” The bedsprings cried out as she thrashed on their bed, trying to break free. “Stay down,” he commanded. I felt the burden of their fighting pressing down on me. Deeper and deeper into my bed. However, the disagreement between my parents wasn’t a fight. It was an inquisition.

***

The couple’s affection led to them moving in together, with her brother. Soledad soon got pregnant and this prompted them to get married. It was a small wedding, given the short notice, full of family and friends. Jose Luis was so nervous. The wedding pictures featured such images as the couple cutting a cake together. Soledad was dressed in a white gown and veil and Jose Luis in a gray tuxedo and white shirt with a black and blue striped cravat. They were both smiling. They looked happy.

***

I couldn’t hear what they were saying. Their bedroom door suddenly slammed open. My dad stomped down the hallway to the kitchen, opened and slammed the kitchen door closed. It was over. I didn’t feel any love for him because of what he did to her. My mom continued to sob in her room. I often questioned what my dad wanted. Did he want to kill her? Did he even love her? Did he love his family? Me?