Last night, I sat on the Uptown D train. My pink wig and flashy jewelry made me look like a young Celia Cruz (Cuban singer). The bubble gum pink wig, electric blue (faux) fur coat, sparkly gold dress, pink heels (which obviously complemented the wig), and dramatic eye shadow gave me a bit of an edge. It was also a nod to Edie Sedgwick. One little hindrance became unavoidable. “Mommy, are those water balloons,” asked the little boy sitting next to me. His loud voice garnered my boobs much unwanted attention. I smiled nervously. His mother, who looked like an urban earth mama (stringy hair, yoga pants) hushed him. After looking me up and down, she became increasingly interested in my appearance. I fiddled around with my purse, as a way to avoid her. The mombie kept smiling at me, in an obvious attempt to garner attention. After smiling back, she analyzed me further. “You look a bit like a younger Celia Cruz. Really love your outfit! So, where are you going tonight,” she asked. “Thanks, just came back from a work party. I work at this cool coffee shop in the East Village, St. Mark’s Coffee,” I said. She nodded her head in agreement as the little shit next to her swung on the subway pole. Some guys and even old ladies slyly stared at my tits. “Shit, fuck, shit,” I thought to myself. Obviously, my boobs were artificial. Having unwanted attention made me nervous. In the grand New York tradition, I ignored their glances and adjusted my pink wig. It was one of those nights. Obvious sexism and gawking would’ve provoked me to kick someone, with my very sharp high heels. As fabulous as they were, it’s doubtful anyone would want to deal with one angry queen (or my fabulousness). I just wanted to get home to enjoy a campy film marathon. The subway tunnel faded. Columbus Circle Station appeared. Throngs of people with shopping bags waited for the train’s arrival. The mombie and her little shit prepared to exit. She gave me a wink and walked out. Most of the train emptied out. New passengers arrived in the subway car. Passengers battled for seats. Music roared from headphones. The old and young read paperbacks, gleefully. Before the train’s doors could close, three teenage boys with a boom box arrived. Unassuming New Yorkers looked on in dismay. The train doors closed. Quickly, the train roared out of Columbus Circle station. One of the younger boys dressed in a red Adidas track suit switched on the music. Grandmaster Flash blasted from the boom box, as the three boys struggled to hold their balance. Then I stared at my boobs, and thought, “This can’t end well.” One of the boys yelled, “It’s show time.” These two words struck terror in even the most jaded of New Yorkers. Their break-dance routine began. One boy clapped. One boy spun on the floor. A brave-boy swung from every pole. As he swung, my fake breasts stared back at me. If this kid accidentally kicked me in the boobs, the train would be flooded. The express train slowed down, and then sped up. Train lights went on and off. 72nd Street, 76th Street, 86th Street flashed by, as the music grew louder. As 110th Street approached, the dancing only intensified. For once, I internally prayed to La Virgen Maria. “Por favor, don’t let these assholes make my boobs explode.” Reaching for the rosary (from my purse), I suddenly became a good Catholic. The train came to an unexpected halt at 116th Street. After the longest delay ever, the subway train sped up again. Simultaneously, the break-dancing show ended. Some people clapped. Most people rolled their eyes. The “show time” boys asked for generous donations from the subway riders. Obviously, I refused to give them any money. As I stared down at my fake boobs, they were still intact. Afterwards, the “show time” boys ran into the neighboring subway car. Gritty 125th Street station looked like the promised land. I was almost home (with my tits intact), just one more train. A local B train waited in the opposite track. Maneuvering in uncomfortable high heels, I made it into the next train. It would take me to 135th Street. Then a lady ran into me. My boobs exploded. Water flowed from my chest to the grimy subway car. My black dress was drenched. People ran out of the train. They thought I had pissed myself. Mortified, I just stared at the puddle. “Surprise, my boobs are really water balloons,” I yelled. “I am sorry, mija,” said the fortysomething lady, in a heavy Cuban accent. The voice sounded familiar. She looked into my eyes. I looked into her eyes. The train doors closed. As the train headed toward 135th Street, I stood in shock. The lady also stood in shock. Her grocery bag was drenched. Taking a gulp, I muttered something. Then it became legible. I muttered it again. “Ma, I’m sorry,” I said. My ma looked at me. She folded her arms. I wasn’t sure, if I was going to receive a bit of Cuban Catholic guilt for dressing like a fabulous lady. She obviously didn’t know I was a drag queen. Taking off my wig, short black hair was revealed. I became a boy again. “You look good, but shit I have to teach you to do make-up, mijo. You look a little like ‘la grand Celia Cruz,’” She said. “That’s the point, ma,” I said, with a chuckle. The train arrived at 135th Street. She handed me a grocery bag. We exited the train and walked toward the 135th and St. Nicholas exit. Anxiety rushed through me. Predictably, uncomfortable silence followed. “You make a pretty girl, Alex, just no water balloons as tetas next time,” she said. “It’s Cuca, Ma,” I replied. We finally walked up the stairs onto the busy 135th Street & St. Nicholas Avenue. Buses, gypsy cabs, green cabs, car horns, and flashing deli signs welcomed us home. We reached our beautiful brownstone with its bay windows and commanding stoop. The “great subway odyssey” was over. My evening campy film marathon commenced (Polyester, To Wong Foo & Pink Flamingos). Cuca no longer had to hide in the drab shadows. When I look back, love, acceptance, and a bit of Cuban guilt are the main themes of that most colorful evening.
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. “Richie.” “…”. He didn’t hear anything, except ayudame…ayudame. “Richie!” 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.
It was the second time Shawn was picked up by ICE agents and delivered to Mexican authorities on the other side of the border. Well, it had happened three times, really, but the first time ICE was still the INS and then he was a teenager. He stepped out of the bus into a dirt parking lot, his shirt stuck to his back and his jeans feeling heavy in the 2 p.m. heat. He had spent 26 hours in a detention center with crying babies, desperate women and resigned men before he was deported. That was lucky. Many people had been moving from detention center to detention center for weeks, some for months, before they were close enough to Mexico to be sent back by bus. Shawn had refused the prison chow and now he was hungry. He checked his wallet and found a grand total of 12 dollars. In his jeans coin pocket he found a quarter and two dimes. “Mister, por favor, a coin!” asked a boy, white powder surrounded his lips, like he had eaten a donut and forgotten to use a napkin. His broken English reminded Shawn of something he had learned on his previous deportations to Mexico: It was clear to them that he was American, though ICE had not bought it and deported him anyway. He gave the boy a quarter, but kept the two dimes. The boy waited, as though expecting Shawn to give him more money, but Shawn wanted to keep the dimes. “No más,” he said. The boy shrugged, and walked away, the back of his legs catching dust as his sandal flapped against his heels. Shaw went on the other direction, his hands stuffed in his pocket twirling the dimes between his fingers. Tijuana was chaotic. The disorganized drive-at-your-own-risk traffic produced nauseating fumes of burnt oil and gasoline and the sidewalk were crowded with kiosks. Vendors screamed as he passed, trying to lure him into buying their trinkets. He walked, followed by scent of gasoline, fried foods and a broken sewer pipe for several blocks, until the smell of carne asada with a dash of cumin compelled him to enter a taqueria. The establishment was too small to have tables and a few people stood, holding paper plates under their chins with one hand and stuffed soft tacos with on the other. He was happy to see a handwritten sign that read “U.S. dollars acépeted.” He bought two tacos, paying a dollar each. He remembered from his previous deportations that though businesses accepted dollars in Tijuana, they never seemed to have change and he had a pile of pesos back home, which he should start carrying, considering how often immigration was picking him up. The place with its hot griddle and an open vat of boiling oil was far hotter than outside. He ate standing on the sidewalk, where a California poppy grew out of a crack, its orange petals drooping. His brother would not get home until 6 p.m. that evening and wouldn’t turn on his cell phone until 8 because he couldn’t afford to pay for calls during the daytime. His brother would have to go find their tio so they could drive to the border and sort things out. He tried to remember if his passport was not expired. What a drag if it were! He never used it to go anywhere. It was not like he traveled, but after the first deportation he had gone to the post office and filed the papers to get his passport. He had used only once (his brother brought it to Tijuana on his second deportation). “Hey gabacho,” someone called him. He looked over at the three teens on the other side of the narrow street. Gabacho, really? Only in Mexico they called him white American. “Wasup?” another said, but he was not friendly at all. They were fidgety, as though they were getting ready to pounce on him, but not sure if it was a good idea. “What is up?” he said. “Whatch’ you have in pocket?” the “wasup” guy asked. He was obviously the leader, with enough English skills to convey their intentions. His overgrown hair covered his ears and most of his cheeks. “Mis cojones,” he said. The “followers” laughed. They were all short, but they were stocky and if Shawn had to defend himself, he’d likely lose. “You think you funny?” the guy insisted. “Whatch’ in your pocket?’ “Seriously, I have nothing,” he said. “I’m just happy to see you!” The translator looked puzzled. The others waited. Shawn was in no mood to explain the joke. They talked among themselves and he considered his escape route. He glanced up and down the street. There was an old woman at the window of a decrepit house a few yards away, staring at them. “Maricón,” the shortest one taunted. The old woman hacked loudly enough to get their attention. She spit on the sidewalk and, in a thunderous voice, told the kids to get lost. They called her bruja vieja and told her to mind her own business. She stared them down and they left. Shawn made his way back to the border and sat on the square, if you could call that a square. It was a stamp-sized piece of partially paved rectangle that at some point had been landscaped. There were remains of a badly dried-up rosebush, and weeds grew around the lonely tree, leaves blackened by smog and other debris spewed by the heavy traffic going by. There was no place left to sit, the two cement benches being occupied. Some people sat on the ground in circles playing cards or staring at the ground together, as if it somehow made them feel better not to be alone in the misery. For it was a collective misery, no doubt, which he might have to join soon enough if his brother had forgotten to add credit to his pay-as-you-go cell phone. He could go hang out near the immigration building, where the crowd waited – some to legally cross, and some for a miracle, as if having come all this way and unexpectedly found there were walls, guards and helicopters patrolling the American side they had exhausted the resources to return home or to find another crossing point. After a while, that’s what Shawn did. He walked up to the border patrol building to cool a little, but soon they asked him to move out if he wasn’t going to cross. “I am an American citizen,” he said. Sure his English was pretty good, but he had to admit he always had the cadence he had learned from his mother, even a slight accent, and the ICE agent heard it, looked him up and down, and shrug. “My name is Shawn Kilpatrick,” he said. “Can’t you find me in your computers?” “Are you Irish?” the agent asked. He had a full hair of red hair and seemed misplaced in that corner of the world. He turned to another agent, a tall white guy with broad shoulders, “He claims to be Irish like us.” “My father was Irish, I’m claiming to be an American,” Shawn said. A third agent, a Mexican-American joined them, gave him a once over, and declared, “he’s not Mexican, that’s for sure!” “No passport,” said the red-headed agent, “no entry!” He didn’t have his driver’s license; the agents who had picked him up in San Diego had kept it, claiming it was a fake. Even if he had his license, it would not have been enough. It used to be, when as a younger man he came down to Tijuana with his buddies for the cheap alcohol and occasional weed. The agents shooed him out and he tried to remember the places he used to go to, all within walking distance from the crossing point, on one side or another of International Avenue, which ran along the border luring tourists who didn’t want to go deep into the city – that was trouble and always ended up badly. He found the Avenida Revolución, once a bustling destination for kids paying a $1 a beer, now a depressed area with most businesses closed. He found a bar where a woman was dancing a top of a table surrounded by American college kids. They were a boisterous bunch, making crude remarks the woman did not understand or pretended not to. She shook her hips doing her salsa moves with an invisible partner, sometimes hugging herself and running her hands down her own torso and buttocks. Shawn ordered a beer and as the mustached bartender opened it, he immediately regretted remembering he only had a $10 and was going to get a pack of pesos in exchange. He was pleasantly surprised when the man gave him back $9 in American currency. “If she wasn’t so damn ugly I’d fuck her,” one of the students said, and they all burst into laughter. “I’d fuck her anyway,” another said. Shawn would never know why he took this personally. Perhaps there was something in her that reminded him of his sister, who was in the state prison at Chowchilla for killing her abusive husband. Shawn threw a bottle at the students, not aiming at anyone in particular as though all of them were equally insulting. Almost instantly, he felt the blows raining on his face, his head, his torso. He was relieved when he was thrown out on the sidewalk. The beating could have gone on for much longer. He looked back at the bar. The two Mexican bouncers, who had beaten him, were at the door ready to give him another beating if he tried to go back inside. “Go home, Yankee!” one of them advised him. The students watched him for a moment, then returned to the woman, all laughter and cheers. Shawn pulled himself up and leaned against the wall, taking a deep breath. He limped for a couple of blocks, holding his bloody nose, under the glare of people who knew he was not one of them, despite his mother giving him her eyes, her accent, and trying to convince him that Mexico was forever motherland. He stood near the border crossing, every so often using the pay phone to call his brother. Eventually, his brother picked up his call. “Hermanito,” he said. “I’m in fucking Mexico again. Come take me home.”
Morning is the best time of the day. There is always inspiration in the air. When I wake up the sun hits my face in such a way, that if I took a picture of myself I could show the beauty of my plain brown eyes. I’m not a real photographer, but the morning always makes me feel like I could be. I get ready in a matter of minutes, my clothes are the same every week. Monday through Thursday I have about four to five t-shirts that I cycle through, and then Friday is spirit day so I always wear our school colored t- shirt. Since it’s Friday I don’t have to worry about clothes today. Standing in front of my mirror I look at my wet hair and run my fingers through it. I remember how I had to beg my parents to get bangs. I was the only girl in school who didn’t and the boys always called me five head. It wasn’t until I cut my own hair in the 5th grade and did it so poorly that my parents were forced to take me to the salon. Ever since I’ve taken very good care of my hair. Once I detangle my hair with my fingers then I switch to a brush. Dad walks out of his room which is just across the hall. He is fixing his collar as he heads downstairs, and his cologne wafts into my room making my head hurt. I fix my hair and leave it down as I clip a bow on the right side of my head and go downstairs. “Buenos días,” my dad says to my grandma as he grabs a cup of coffee and a Concha. “Buenos días, Ignacio,” my grandma says from the kitchen shuffling to the living room to take a seat. I come down the stairs. I look around the bottom floor and see my dad sitting at the table to my right, and to my left I make eye contact with my Grandma who is sitting down. “Buenos días abuela,” I say as I make it down the stairs. She looks over and nods her head. I turn my head the other way and see my dad finishing his coffee with only crumbs on his plate, where the Concha used to be. He looks at me and waits for me to greet him first. I’ve learned my lesson from the last time I didn’t say good morning to everyone. “Buenos días,” I mutter to my dad. He nods as he gets up to leave his dishes in the sink. I head over to my backpack, and the books inside make my biceps flex as I lift from the straps. I must have at least thirty pounds of books in there, or maybe I’m just weak. The jingle from my dad’s keys signal that we’re about to head out. My dad has always been a punctual man. He doesn’t like to be late to work, so if I wanted a ride to school I had to leave on his time. I’ve gotten used to it because it’s been this way since middle school. Getting up early became routine and whenever I was late dad would get really mad, and when he gets mad at me he just ignores me. I hate it so much; because, he’s very stubborn. My mom tells me that I’m just like him in personality, and I feel like that’s an insult. We get along well, or at least I think we do. I hear the jingle from the keys again as he walks in front of me. I snap back into reality and grab a sweater, since it looks like it might rain later. I can smell the moisture in the air as he opens the door. He’s at the threshold, and does the sign of the cross then mumbles a few words and steps out with his right foot forward. I remember a few years ago when he was dropping me off at school, he told me this was the most important part of the day and I needed to make it routine in the morning. He said that I needed to do it every morning to be safe in the outside world. Back then I was very impressionable, so being the God fearing child I was I would mimic him perfectly. I always made sure he would see me do it correctly, waiting for him to turn around and lock the door as I outstretched my right leg. Lately, however, the action became more habitual than purposeful. If there is a God out there, I’m sure he’d be okay if I put my left foot out instead of my right one first. I walk out with my left foot, passing my dad and heading towards the car. He unlocks the car door and I sit down with my backpack in between my legs. I see him walk like a man with a ruler glued to his back. He gets in through the driver’s side. I love days like today when the sun only came out to wake me up, but then gets covered by the clouds that look so plump. I always thought it was difficult to cool off but it’s always easy to get warm, so winter was always my favorite season. Our drives to school are always a little awkward because we don’t initiate conversations with each other. I’m still working on it, but today he caught me off guard. “Did you finish applying to the local university here?” His voice pierced my core. I still have not told him that I applied out of state. He didn’t look at me, but kept his gaze forwards on the road even though we were are at a red light. “Well yeah,” I said trying my best to get the next half out. I try my hardest to keep talking and just praying that the rest would come out. My hands are messing with the frayed strings hanging off my sweater, “but I also applied to others you know.” I winced, that’s not very Straightforward I think to myself. “What other ones?” He is always so direct. Never giving me time to think my answers through. I make some up in my head but I really want to throw out New York. “Well some other ones in California,” I say as I look over at the radio that was playing music at a soft volume, acting as the white noise between my thoughts and my dad’s reactions. He turns the volume all the way down to zero. “Where in California? How far away? Be specific.” His fingers go from the dial on the radio to the steering wheel again. Even though it’s cold outside I can feel the heat emanating from me, and making the car warmer. My attention is on this frayed string, now wrapped around my finger, cutting off circulation. I pull my finger hard and hear the satisfying break of the string. “I mean does it matter how far it is? Shouldn’t it being a good school be good enough for you?” I look out my side of the window. Then I look at the string still wrapped around my finger. “Como que does it matter?” His voice mocked mine as he repeated my words. I could tell he was angry. He would do this all time, but I swear he only did it with me. “When I ask you a question you answer it.” He is done with my games. Not that I am doing it on purpose, but he is getting worried. Worried that I have aspirations outside of his. I am still confused from his voice change, so I face forward and try to answer as clear as possible, so as not to upset him too much. “I did apply here but I also want to go to New York.” My voice was soft. If he didn’t mute the radio there would have been no way I would have been heard. There was a long pause. There was no white noise to help me feel more relaxed. The deafening silence makes my ears feel like I am in the middle of a flight, while my body shakes with turbulence that is threatening my safety. “What do you mean? You don’t want to live with us anymore?” He spoke in a tone to match mine, soft and quiet. I actually never get to hear this one too often. It always catches me off guard. “Did we not give you everything?” He continued, raising his voice a bit more. I know I am throwing a wrench in his plan of living comfortably and me taking care of him and my mom. That’s just his traditional way of thinking, but I want to see what I’ve been missing. “Me wanting to get a higher education somewhere else, doesn’t mean you guys have not given me everything.” I say this a little louder. I try not to yell, but I need to stand up for myself. “Besides, I want to pursue Photography. I think I can be really good at it.” “Your brother didn’t leave us. He did everything right here.” He said as he started talking with his hand. His finger is pointing to the floor to emphasizing the ‘right here’. “Since when did you want to do this Photography? That’s a waste. You’re too smart to be making such a dumb decision.” His words are jabs to my heart and soul. Every sentence that comes out of his mouth is another round of boxing I have to endure. At this point all I can do is wait for someone to ring the bell. I hate being compared to my brother, he’s older by 9 years and we are definitely not the same person.“He wanted something different. He’s okay staying here, but I’m not.” This time I looked over at him. “I can do it.” I somehow manage to get this out. At this point I’m wondering if perhaps there is a God I can ask to help me make my dad understand my potential. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore. If you choose to leave you won’t get any help from me.” He drops his volume back down. Lighting flashes in the distance, and after three seconds comes the crashing of thunder. The rain falls softly at first, then harder. I look away confused about what just happened, the feeling not yet hitting me. We arrive at the school’s drop off point. I am always here early so there is no one outside other than the security guard that stays outfront. I look out my door and see the rain falling down hard, “I love you dad.” This is my final blow before I am saved by the bell. I open the door and get out, with my backpack and sweater in my hands. I close the door, not waiting to hear a response, and hear him drive off behind me. I stand in the harsh rain and look down to see the frayed string on my finger. Still wrapped and clinging to my wet finger, and I remember everything that happened in the car. I now feel an overwhelming wave of emotion come over me, enveloping me, smothering me. I take the string and throw it on the ground with the force of a baseball pitcher trying to get a quick strike. I watch as it gets swept away by the rain. I watch it drift away, into the street, until I lose sight of it. I am soaking wet. I feel heavy, yet I walk to a bench inside the school. I sit down and lean forward with my arms and sweater cushioning my head. I imagine someone taking my picture right now, and getting an award winning shot of a person that no longer knows what to do. I would be giving someone their morning dose of inspiration. They will realize that they have a knack for Photography. At least someone else can. If mornings are the best time of the day, today might be the worst day of my life. The rain continues to fall, giving me a new white noise to focus on. My head is turned to the right, and the noise of the rain is lulling me to sleep. The rain hushes everyone as it guides the people inside. I watch them all pile in as I forget that I’m soaked and slowly close my eyes. Hopefully I can have another try at the morning, this time I’ll put my right foot forward.
I’ve said pain so many times It’s become my name And the name of many others Who’ve been renamed “Too difficult” on their medical charts, Hopeless, not even worth the copay Stop answering their calls
We wither in our beds Make believe they’re our graves And all this pain will end. soon
We were the ones who didn’t believe in destiny Until the doctor said our rate of suicide Was upwards of 50% (You better watch her closely One day she’ll try) Until our bodies were s h a t t e r e d And the DEA made it clear there was one Choice, And it doesn’t start with M And end with -edicine.
Our Doctors are taking back the scripts While their medical degrees Become arrest warrants. Don’t forget about us
Don’t forget about us As we sit on the bottom step of the stairs Unable to get up at the ripe age of 22 No longer sure who to pray to But my body is alive Pulsing in every part My hips feel out of place And my knees are falling off My body is dismembering itself Don’t forget about us As I hide away Scared of my own anger
Don’t forget all Those who’ve tried Everything Acupuncture, physical therapy, SSRIs dumped down my throat And NSAIDs burning a hole in my stomach Needles piercing through my kneecap The sweet burn of lidocaine
Truly everything, But tears are our only certainty Filled with hope-less, grey exam tables and Crinkling white paper, And bottomless nausea. We’ve been torn apart And broken Down This life is hard And surviving is even harder.
Please Don’t forget us in this mess We just want you to care, Friends, Family, Senators And Doctors. Anyone please help care For us too. We’re more than a statistic My pain can’t be measured Not 1 to 10 or 47,000 people Don’t Forget Us.
And all our brothers and sisters We lost to the pain A number I can’t tell you Because it doesn’t exist. Not worth studying All those lives Not lost because the medicine Please. Don’t. Forget. Us.