With heavy eyes, we watch the fate of what was once our land, yet we sing ‘this land was made for you and me’. . .
The sun was beginning to set as Richie was sitting outside his broken house on the barrio. He looked out and saw the chamacos playing soccer on the street. As they were screaming like little creatures, one of the abuelitas called one over to put on a sweater. Richie took a breath and took it all in… his barrio. It was everything he was and all its imperfections. From the flickering streetlights at night to the cracked, pot-hole streets that never seemed to end. Richie’s shoulders were tense, and he clenched his jaw real tight. His eyes were lost, and every now and again, his left leg would suddenly jolt and shake violently up and down.
“…”. He didn’t hear anything, except ayudame…ayudame.
Richie didn’t look up for a while, he was checked out, he didn’t want to come back.
“Get your head out of your ass.”
“… Oh, Sup Happy.”
“Foo, you blast my phone como un loco and tell me to go to the park, and when I do, you’re not there. And you say ‘oh. Sup happy’. No soy pendejo foo, what happened?”
When Richie saw Happy looked up at the white, two-story house with the patio on the second floor, he knew that something was wrong by how the door was open- there was a square dent on the side of the doorway right next to the doorknob. It looked like Richie’s place was robbed: Clothes were everywhere, the mesa was in front of the stairs with a broken leg, plantas ripped from their soil and the vase made by my tia in Michoacán was destroyed, glass was shattered in almost every room and some were stained with blood. Even the candles of The Virgen and the Lord Jesus Christ was left broken on the floor. Richie can still hear the screams of his mother and father telling them to stop, his mother begging not to take her baby away from her. His father was fighting them to get them off his Amor, the love of his life. Now, silence only filled the void along with Happy’s voice. It was lower, but Richie was still able to hear him talk.
“Richie. que pasó, tell me, foo. Roberto isn’t working on his car and your mom isn’t inside watching her novellas.”
“…i…. my mamá-”
Richie wanted to tell his homeboy what happened, but every time he’d try to speak, it would replay in his head and nothing would come out. Ayudame… ayudame. He trembled as he stared off into the barrio again. He wanted to run away from it all, even if it was for a little while. Richie took a deep breath. One by one, the little creatures of the barrio went home when their mothers and abuelitas called them in for dinner. The clouds were stained a dark pink, and the trees began to silhouette in darkness.
“…. El Cu-cuy man” Richie said in a hoarse whisper. He fought the tears that he tried to hold back, but all dams break eventually.
Richie’s walls were being ripped apart faster than he can fortify, rotting piece by piece, destroying pillar by pillar. They grew old and crumbled until there was nothing left. Richie looked down and stared at the pavement, it too was cracked, sprouting from it little weeds that he stepped on to get rid of. His father always hated the weeds on his lawn.
“El Cu-cuy… he took away everything from me, Happy. Everything. you know, he comes when you least expect it. he knocks on your door with a smile and says, “tengo un paquete para señor y señora Ramirez”.
His breathing became quicker and shallower than the last. No matter how much he tried, his thoughts raced inside his head. Richie wanted to relax but he just couldn’t. The world stood still but it felt like he was spinning. It was absolute fear. It was the type of fear you have when you get stung by a bee and crying for mamá to make it feel better. It was the type of fear that leaves a constant pit at your stomach and leaves you hungry for the last supper because you knew you were in for a whooping from papa because you were suspended for fighting at school. It was the type of fear that leaves you with tears in your eyes so heavy that you could drown at the thought of being on your own without your parents. it was the type of fear that leaves you forever broken because your parents never told you they were undocumented.
“El Cu-cuy? …what the fu-… oh, El Cu-cuy”.
Ryder saw Happy ball his hand into a fist. ‘How could this happen’ he must have thought. It probably made Happy think about his parents, and his older sister Estrella. How he would feel if that were to happen to them since they too were undocumented. Happy was tearing up now too, but he didn’t look at Richie. He didn’t dare to. They didn’t look at each other at all.
“fuck. I’m… I’m so sorry.”
That’s what he hated most, people feeling sorry for him. He was just like his father. It made him feel low and inferior, a cucaracha. That’s was all he needed to rip the remaining walls and pillars he was hiding behind. It broke him. He wasn’t Richie anymore. Ya esta muerto
A silent tear instantly began to fall from Richie’s left cheek.
He leaned forward, and his face planted in his hands. Happy heard the haunting moan coming from Richie. shame, anger, and the longing for his mother brewed and simmered in him until he couldn’t contain himself any longer. Richie was sick of crying, no matter how much he tried, he couldn’t stop. The pain never did. He even felt it in his throat. His eyes got blurry from the tears and he just wanted to scream at the top of his lungs.
“They’re gone hap. They’re really gone.”
“Richie… You’re gonna be ok. entiendes? Understand? You’re gonna b- “
“How the fuck do you know that!”
Richie screamed with tears in his eyes, refusing to look at happy.
“how the fuck do you know that Happy.”
his breathing was so erratic even Happy heard his tremble. His heart going full speed with no intention of stopping. He sprang up in front of happy and threw a brick from the planter his father had been making. ‘it’s all my fault’ he thought.
“you’re gonna be- “
“They’re. gone. Happy! -”, Richie’s eyes darted right at Happy, and all he did was stare at the top of Richie’s shoe.
“And guess what? it’s all my fault. I heard the door knock. I opened it and saw the Cu-cuy with their helmets and armor. I slammed the door on their faces and yelled for amá y mi apá. I’m the one that got that dent in that door, and broke amá’s candles. I’m the one who made y mi apá bleed. Im the one that let the Cucuy in and take them away. What the fuck was I doing happy? What the fuck was I doing? Like a pendejo I stood there…frozen, scared. Mi amá y mi apá were fighting, and it took four people to hold him down. Ama was screaming ‘ayudame’ … she was fucking screaming ‘ayudame’ man”.
Happy just jumped up and hugged his homeboy. Richie flinched but he didn’t back away. he just fell into his best friend’s arms, broken and letting out another loud broken wail to dios. He was tired of fighting it all. Tired of fighting himself, he couldn’t do it anymore.
“you won’t be alone” happy said, “you’re my brother, right? Remember when we first met? I was getting jumped at hazard by 38th street, two people just slamming against my head and my ribs-”. Happy’s voice sounded like he was trembling. “I thought I was dead. I was ready to go with dios and be in heaven. Or I don’t know, maybe I’d go to hell when I passed out. Then the pain stopped, and I saw you over me checking to see if I was alive. That was you, foo. you didn’t have to and could have left me there for 38th to have, but no. I owe you everything, Richie. Everything. You helped me survive. That’s some really gangster shit. You said your familia is gone, but you have familia right here. you won’t be alone, Richie. You’re my brother, for life.”
“Si, you won’t be alone Mijito” a soft, feeble, and familiar voice said.
Happy and Richie turned towards the voice and saw Senora Cisneros from across the street and all of Richie’s neighbors on his front lawn: there was Senor Diaz with some water. Abuelia Julia Alvarez brought with her with some towels and blankets, Senora Castillo with her famous frijoles, Tikis from next door had school supplies because her abuelita can’t get out of bed, she was followed by her three older brothers. Even cranky Senor Valdez had clothes and even dog food for Chewy. It made Richie chuckle in between his sobs. He knew his father would have a meltdown if he saw this many people on his lawn.
Senora Cisneros was the barrio’s abuelita. Everyone knew her, and she knew everyone. She had very long, dark hair and didn’t look a day over 50, but she was really sixty-three. As far as everyone knew, Senora Cisneros had family, she’d always glow and smile when she had the opportunity to talk about her nietas Lala And Esperanza. She would always ask people how their kids were and smile hearing about their good grades and good attendance. If they were good, she would give them five dollars. Even if her ‘nietos’ weren’t doing so well, as long as they promised to better themselves, she would still give them five dollars. Senora Cisneros is the barrio’s diamond in the rough. It’s the people like her who save people like Richie from being broken forever.
“aye, pobrecito. Poor little thing. I saw what happened” She said in Spanish. “I heard your mother and went outside to see what was happening. I saw those matones go in there and take them. Los Animales. Those animals.” She clicks her tongue while shaking her heard. don’t worry Mijito-“she came over to Richie and Happy slowly and rubbed their backs with a soft and somber smile. “I already told her time and time again that if anything ever happened. Abuelita Cisneros would come and watch over tu y tus amigos. Yo y la comunidad. Your Ama knows, and como Happy, says not to worry, you won’t be alone mi vida. everything will be ok”.
“how do you know abuelita? How?”
“porque yo estoy aqui. Mijito. Im right here”
Abuelita Cisneros wraps her arms around Richie and hugs him tight, she smells of too much perfume and Jamaica. But still, her voice was soothing to Richie. It made his breathing calm; his heart was still racing but it would soon be at a cruise. It wasn’t pounding out of his chest as it was before. His eyes were sore from the crying, he still couldn’t talk. But he heard his other neighbors rally behind her soon after.
“Simon limon!” said Tikis and her three brothers.
“Por Vida! For life!” said Senor Diaz.
“Richie you’re going to be ok, you’re with us” Said Abuelita Alvarez.
“Abuelita Cisneros knows best” Said Senora Castillo.
“We are all familia!” Said Senora Cisneros.
That’s what rang in Richie’s ears the loudest as his neighbors cheered with Senora Cisneros. ‘We are all familia’.
Looking at everyone’s smiles, he couldn’t help but smile himself- it was contagious. Abuelita Cisneros giggled seeing that beautiful smile Richie always had- it always made her glow too. Happy backed off and nodded with what everyone said to reassure Richie that he would always be there too. Abuelita Cisneros hugged Richie tight again and gave him a kiss to the forehead. Her red lipstick left a mark, and everyone else with soft and happy cheer came over and patted Richie shoulder. It did make him feel better, his walls and pillars that were demolished were slowly starting to repair themselves again. It warmed his heart to see that people cared for him in the barrio.
“Si. A todos somos familia. Yes, everyone is family”.
Abuelita Cisneros held onto him like she would her grandchildren and sighed contently before looking at the battered house.
“ya. Let’s all clean the house so you can do tarea and get ready for school Manana. No?”
Richie nods and looks at everyone, taking it all in… his barrio, his familia.
“gracias. Gracias a todos….no hay palabras. There are no words…” his voice cracked. His throat would probably be sore for a couple of days.
Abuelita squeezed his shoulder and motioned everyone to follow her and Richie and they all began to pick up and clean Richie’s house.