Milk of Amnesia

Recovery Room


When I woke up from my involuntary Propofol trip I was in the recovery room. I was lying on an ambulatory bed. There were five people in the room. A male nurse was removing tubes and needles from my arm. He appeared to be Latino. Next to me there was another bed with a female patient on it, I couldn’t tell what her race was. A young white female nurse was helping her. Across the room I could barely see an Asian head rising above the counter of a tall desk. It took me two seconds to recognize him, he was my anesthesiologist. And that’s when I began my interminable blabbering . . . 

“There you are my friend, you know what? I love Asian guys, most of you guys are educated, respectful, and you know what else, I’ve never seen an Asian wino or homeless asking for money outside liquor stores. Oh, but now I remember race has nothing to do with it besides I bet you’re a hundred percent American. You must be proud of your race, and most of you are handsome too. Ah, but I also like Blacks and Latinos like me, and Hindu people are nice too. Let’s not forget Whites, sometimes they’re nice too, and the good thing about them is that they never get offended like us, ‘the minorities’. Hey Doc, what did you use to sedate me? I feel really, really good. I feel mellow, relaxed, I feel like a hippie. I want to share my euphoria and cheerfulness. Did you put some weed in the mix? Can I have some of that stuff before I go? Do veterinarians use that stuff too? I’ve read they could use some of that stuff for human executions, that can’t be true, but if they do, then it’s a good way to die, it’s like a reward. Better than the chair anyway. How could someone not get addicted to this wonderful drug? In this ‘world’ everybody is nice”.

That drug was hitting my sympathetic nervous system for sure.

Somehow, the Propofol was going straight to the section of my brain where I had stored the ideas for the short film I wanted to create. When I came out of the operating room, I was feeling like a director, like an actor, like a cinematographer. It was unbelievably cool. I, myself was the camera, my eyes were the camera. And it was very easy to handle, no need to focus, no need for a dolly or a Steadicam, all I had to do was turn my head. The moment I opened my eyes I started filming. And I was watching the movie. I swear to God I was watching the MOVIE at the same time. You have to believe me, I was filming with my eyes. I first focused on my nurse: 

FADE IN:
INT. HOSP. RECOVERY ROOM – DAY

No one was saying a word, all of them were smiling. The other nurse was moving her head sideways and looking at me from the corner of her eye, and her patient was rolling her eyes, and I kept going . . . “tell me Doc, (I was still referring to my anesthesiologist) if you were sick, would you like to be attended in this hospital or would you rather go to the Cedars-Sinai in Beverly Hills? Would you rather have a graduate Doctor from UCLA or from another country like Mexico or India or Russia or . . .  oh, but what a silly question, I forgot doctors don’t get sick. I bet that before they die they inject themselves with Propofol. Hey! I just remember that movie with Michael Caine, what’s it called? Oh yeah, “Cider House Rules” that’s right! The Doctor keeps self-medicating ether. Anyway, he was always in a good mood. He loved all the kids in the orphanage and all the princes of Maine and all the kings of New England too.”



Operating Room



When I entered the operating room this was the scene: I’ll try to be as accurate as possible. There were nine or ten people in that room. They were all young. Four females and five males. All the girls appeared to be in their twenties. I only knew the name of one of them. Janet Lee, she was probably the oldest, in her late twenties, I think. The anesthesiologist was Asian too. I remembered I asked him what kind of anesthesia he was going to use on me, and he said  Propofol. I’ve met most of them before, but I didn’t catch their names. I didn’t capture any foreign accents on any of them, but several races were involved in the group. Asian, Hispanics, Whites, and African-Americans. But to me, they were all Americans. The room had such an air of universality that I wanted to start singing “It’s a Small World”. I felt like I was in Disneyland. The moment I entered the room I felt safe. They were young, they seemed to be smart and well educated, they were very friendly, and in a good mood. Seeing so many happy faces in a single room made me happy. They were having fun helping sick people and enjoying their jobs. It was definitely a group of young talented people. The future of America seemed bright in this room. 


Prep Room



I waited for seven hours, from 9 to 4 in the prep room. The friendly group that was going to perform the surgery had come in waves to ask the usual questions about my medical record, allergies, medications, and other information about my health. But I wasn’t prepared to spend so many hours doing nothing; I didn’t fall asleep, so I kept thinking about a project I had in mind: 

“To Kill a Mockingbird” was the theme for the next Germ Film Festival in Fresno, Ca. I had to develop a five-minute short film around that movie, or book. So I had seven hours to think about that project. I knew it wasn’t easy. The story involved racial inequality, a false accusation of rape, mental and physical abuse. A humble and ethical lawyer, a mentally challenged neighbor, and a jury made out of twelve White persons. All told from the point of view of a ten-year-old girl. I loved the movie. Gregory Peck was absolutely perfect for the role, and the three kids were great, as was everybody else. But the story by Harper Lee was incredibly amazing. Another thing that I found amazing was that things haven’t changed a lot since then, it’s very sad. People like Donald Trump are ruining the situation even more. Ignorant intolerant persons like him are interfering with America to become a better country. It’s very sad indeed. America and the whole world had spent the entire twentieth century struggling to improve human relations, trying to erase hatred from the human mind, I thought it was working. But now my opinion has changed. It seems that we have to endure another century in the same conditions.

Anyway, the theme was complicated, it had too many characters. A lot of scenes had to be considered, and several locations were going to be needed. It was just too hard, and I still had to take into account the zero-dollar-budget. I found “To Kill a Mockingbird” very hard to transform into a five-minute-movie. I thought that maybe I could turn it into a parody and name it: “Tequila Mockingbird” and maybe I could turn the characters into their complete opposite, I thought about an all group of black people in the jury, and change the color of the skin of the ‘rapist’, and have a different type of lawyer, like Paul Newman in “The Verdict”, drunk and down on his luck, (hence the title) or have the ten-year-old girl kill all the bad characters in the movie with a slingshot. But I couldn’t find anything satisfying or convincing. I lost seven hours thinking about it. In the end, I decided to let it go and try something else. And just when I thought I had material for another story. They came for me, to shoot me with an injection full of Propofol.  

When I was wheeled out of the hospital, I felt something was wrong. I felt terrible, I didn’t say thanks to anybody. I didn’t even shake their hands. I bet they’re used to that. But it’s not that I was ungrateful it was just unexpected, one second I was in and the next I was out. I didn’t even see the doctor who performed the surgery or anybody else except for the anesthesiologist. The worst thing about it was that I didn’t have any energy to return and hug and kiss everybody.

You might not believe this but Michael Jackson was singing “Black and White” in the radio when I turned on the car. Right away, I thought that song could be perfect for the movie I just saw inside my brain. It also came to my mind that he had overdosed and died on Propofol. 

But I’m sure Michael had been watching a great movie too. 




Edmundo Barraza
Lancaster, Ca. 01-11-2016




A Box of Grapes

Visalia grapes are of the best quality in Central California and certainly in the entire State of California, probably better than in the entire USA and possibly in the whole world, without falling in the awful sin of exaggeration.

At least that’s what Juanito thought. Juanito was a third-grader at Elbow Creek elementary school. His dad worked in the fields where after a ten-hour work day, each worker was allowed to take a free box of grapes. That day, his dad proudly gave it to Juanito and said, “Here son, the whole box is just for you. You don’t need to share it with anyone. You have my permission to be selfish just this one time.”

Juanito ate three of them and thought it was the most delicious fruit he ever tasted in his entire short life. The grapes were as big as walnuts.

But Juanito wasn’t selfish. Before taking another one, he thought about his P. E. teacher. He liked him a lot because he had been paying special attention to him. Juanito had been losing weight. He was feeling better about himself. He was almost at his normal weight, so he decided to give the box of grapes to his teacher Mr. White.

Mr. White appreciated the gesture, and that gave him more strength to continue doing a good job. He ate three grapes, but before he took another one, he thought about Mr. Red, the Principal, and how he had always supported him; therefore, he gave the box of grapes to him.

Mr. Red, who loved the democratic ways of a fair institution, thanked Mr. White effusively and tasted only three grapes. He thought they were delicious, but before he was tempted to take another one, he thought about Mr. Grey, the Math teacher. Mr. Grey had nominated him for the Principal of the Year Award, he thought he deserved the grapes.

Mr. Grey, the Math teacher, counted the grapes. He made some numbers and calculations and concluded that he could also take three grapes. Then Mr. Black, the Science teacher, came to his mind. After all, he had recommended him for the post. Because of him he had obtained the teaching job, he gave the box of grapes to Mr. Black.

Mr. Black was very thankful and tried to figure out the shape, weight, configuration, evolving time from seed to maturity, its nucleus, and particles by tasting three of them. Before grabbing another one, he thought about Mr. Blue, the History teacher, who had been his temporary replacement while he was in the hospital and had done an excellent job with his kids.

Mr. Blue was grateful and immediately thought about the Mayflower, the pilgrims and the Indians, and about the graciousness of historical figures who gave their all to their countries. After he took the last grapes, he thought about Mr. Pink, the janitor, and gave him the empty box of grapes and told him, “Mr Pink, would you please throw this box in the trash?”

Mr. Pink wasn’t too agreeable to comply but did it anyway. Although he was happy with his job and had made a decent living, he said to himself, “If there’s such a thing as reincarnation, I’ll make sure next time not to be a High School dropout because I don’t want to be in charge of the trash.”




EDMUNDO BARRAZA
Visalia, CA. 12-29-2011










A Ghost In Visalia

Before I signed the rental contract, the landlady told me that an eighty-six-year-old man had died in the first bedroom. She said she needed to disclose it before I moved in so I wouldn’t quit suddenly without a thirty-day notice.

At the time I didn’t pay any attention and disregarded the comment as useless and unimportant. Later on, through the neighbors, I learned that the old man had lived there for fifteen years. After that, three new tenants moved in and out in rapid succession. 

The house was old and unattractive, with a garage attached to the kitchen and living room. The family room was next to the dining room with a narrow hallway and three bedrooms. The floor plan was terrible. It had dark brown paint, dark brown carpet, a dark brown vinyl floor in the kitchen and dining room. This could be the ugliest house on the block. I just couldn’t find anything attractive or pleasant about that house, but I’ve never been a person with many demands. Therefore, I signed the contract.

After a few weeks, the house was finally home, I didn’t care about how ugly it was.

One time, I was alone in the house watching TV in the living room. The volume on the TV was low; it was early at night when suddenly I heard the radio go on in one of the back rooms.

I heard a male voice for a couple of seconds. I turned the lights on and went to investigate. I checked in my bedroom where I have an alarm clock, but it was off. I had another radio, but it was unplugged. I thought it was very strange but I returned to watch the television.

As the days passed, my wife and I kept hearing noises, normal house noises like wood shrinking and swelling, or wind slamming doors.

Another day, I was reading in bed around 2:00 am when I heard the patio sliding door vibrating for a few seconds. I thought it was an earthquake, but nothing else shook. I convinced myself that it was my dog Diego pushing the glass door. I didn’t want to go across the hallway and pass the old man’s room at 2:00 am. 

One morning, my wife was cooking in the kitchen and listening to music on the radio. I was in my room when suddenly the music got too loud. I jumped and ran straight to the living room. I was ready to scream at her, but she was paralyzed with a look of terror. I could see from the kitchen the stereo system volume knob turning up by itself as far as it could go.

***

When my daughter and my ten-month-old grandson Damian came to visit for a week, I put them in the old man’s bedroom. At first, she said it was warm and comfortable, with no complaints. They were happy, and I was happy. My grandson was handsome and smart, like his grandpa.

On her last night, my daughter came into our room carrying her son. 

“Dad, somebody’s moving our bed, even Damian woke up. We’re staying in your room now.” then, she asked me to get the portable mattress we had in the living room for Damian to play on. I stood up very brave and self-confident, but when I went past that ‘room’, my knees were shaking.

The following day, I knew I had to confront the old man. He needed to know I wasn’t afraid of him. And I wouldn’t be running away like the other tenants. After all, he wasn’t the one paying the rent. I moved my computer from the garage to ‘his room’. That way I had to spend a lot more in that room. 

After my wife left for work, I asked him why he was still in the house. I kept talking to him for a few more days, sometimes even in Spanish, but it appeared he was gone. Or maybe I scared him off, or maybe he never existed.

Just when I was feeling relaxed and comfortable I saw him.

There was a mirror hanging on the bathroom door, when it was shut, I could see that mirror and the one above the cabinet sink. So I could see my body, front and back at the same time.

That’s when I saw him. I was in shock, but not terribly afraid. Of course, it took me by surprise; I jumped back, and in a blink of an eye he wasn’t there anymore. I saw him, but I wasn’t sure whether he was inside the mirror or behind me. He was wearing a light blue suit and a tie. He looked harmless.

“So you’re here after all,” I said, “I hope you’re not shy. What’s your name? Come on man, I know you know my name already, tell me yours.”

“My name’s Peter Shelby,” he answered in a soft, cavernous voice. Instead of getting scared, I got genuinely excited. 

“Tell me, are you with God, have you seen Him?” I asked him.

“Ha! I was eighty-six when I died. I was baptized and had my first communion. I gave the church a small fortune in donations. But God was nowhere to be seen. I tried all my life not to break the Ten Commandments. And it was all for nothing, I still hope he shows up.”

“You might be in Purgatory, and God could be undecided on what to do with you. Maybe you’re paying for some pending sins. Who knows?” I said.

“I hope you’re right because it’s boring here. That’s why I was making noises and trying to manifest my disappointment, I wasn’t satisfied with this situation.”

“But why did you have to scare my daughter?” 

“You were not paying attention, and that was frustrating. Being alone, bored, and ignored, I just couldn’t take it anymore. Tell her I’m sorry.”

“No, you tell her yourself. No, wait, just leave her alone, never mind. But answer me this, what’s your purpose in life? I mean, in death?”

“I have no idea, I think I need to do something but I don’t know what. My wife died three years before me. We were happy in this house. We spent our best years here.”

“And where do you think your wife is?”

“She must be in heaven; I guess. She was a much better person than I was. I wish I could communicate with her, be with her, and then maybe, I can ‘die’ in peace.”

“Okay, next question, do you eat, sleep, take showers, brush your teeth or go to the bathroom?”

“No, no, no, no, and no.”

“Can you cross walls or doors? Can you touch me or hit me? Do you touch the floor when you walk?”

“Yes, I can cross anything. No, I cannot hit you, although I tried a few times, ha, ha. I just float a couple of inches above the surface; I don’t need to sit or rest because I don’t need any energy. I’m dead.”

“I just need to tell you something; you cannot appear or manifest yourself in any way while my wife is here. Otherwise, she’ll bring the priest with his holy water and won’t rest until she makes you disappear for good.”

“But she seems to be such a nice lady.”

“Well, just consider yourself, warned. Oh, one more thing, how should I call you, Peter, Mr. Shelby, Poltergeist, Mr. Ghost, or what?”

“I don’t care; it’s not like I’m going to get mad and hit you, let’s just be friends and make the best of it, okay?”

“Okay, Peter. Oh, one last thing, is there anything I can do for you? You know; to help you do something, find something. This is so weird man, talking to a ghost, no one would believe me.”

“If you start telling everybody that you can talk to a ghost, they’ll put you in a mental hospital. Oh, and yes, you can do something for me, I’d like to go to the cemetery and see what kind of grave my family bought for me.”

“Okay, it’s a done deal; we’ll go tomorrow morning. What time do you want me to wake you up?”

“No need for that, I’ll be ready anytime.”

“Alright, see you tomorrow Peter.”

“Yeah, good luck with that.”

In the morning when I went out of the front door, I left it open for a few seconds, then, I softly whispered, “Are you out, Peter?” 

Then, I opened the passenger door and after a few seconds I asked, “Are you in Peter?”

“Yes, I am. Thank you.”

“Okay, now, shut the door,” I said.

“How?” he replied.

“Okay, okay, I’m sorry.” Then, I went around and closed the passenger door.

“Okay, Peter, put your seat belt on.” 

“Oh, you’re funny!” 

“Peter, you want to drive?”

Then, ignoring my last question, he said, “Man, you need to replace this old piece of junk.”

“Do you want to walk? Do you want me to call you a taxicab or you want a limousine or . . . ?”

“Sorry, sorry, can we just go, already?”

As I started to drive I asked him, “Hey Peter, do you go out of the house, to walk or float around town?”

“I tried a couple of times, but I think the dogs can see me. They bark at me and I can’t stand it, it’s very annoying. They want to bite me and I want to kick them. Your little dog, what’s her name? Yes, Frida, when I go to the backyard she won’t leave me alone. She follows me around and barks and barks, it’s so fastidious. I just don’t go to the patio anymore, but Diego, the other dog, he doesn’t know I exist. And he’s right.”

***

At the cemetery, we had to look for his grave because he couldn’t remember where they buried him. When we found it, he said, “Those cheap bastards! Look at my wife’s grave! I bought her a top-of-the-line tomb, now look at mine, the headstone looks secondhand, so small and ordinary. But at least someone brought me flowers, and they look fresh. There’s a note in them, can you please read it for me?”

“Yes, Peter. It says, ‘I miss you, Uncle Peter. I hope you’re happy wherever you are. I will always love you.'” signed by Nancy Shelby. 

“Oh, my dear Nancy. My favorite niece.”

Back at the house, he asked me to write a letter addressed to her.

“My dearest Anais Neess: 

I miss you more than you can imagine, please don’t disregard this note thinking it’s just a joke, and please don’t be afraid. I’m still at the house. I don’t know why, but I’m taking advantage of it to let you know that I left some money for you. You’re the only beneficiary. I found my last friend in the person who’s writing this note. He will give you more details on how to get this money. I didn’t put this in my will because I didn’t want the rest of the family to know about it. 

I will keep you in my heart forever. I love you, Nancy.  

Peter Shelby.”

After I searched for a few minutes on my computer, I found a government site for unclaimed money. A Savings account under the name of Peter Shelby, $45,000,00 I wrote down some account numbers and other details and put a separate note along with the letter, and sent it to an address Peter gave me.

He said Nancy was a nice girl and that she might give me a commission for helping her get this money. I said I didn’t care. Then, I asked if he could show himself again like he did in the bathroom mirror and he said, “I have no idea how that happened, but one time when I was watching the TV with your wife I saw my reflection on the TV screen.” 

“You watch TV with my wife?”

“Yes, all the time. I sit right next to her all morning, but when she changes the channel to her Mexican soap operas, I just disappear from there. I like it when she listens to her music while cooking. We like the same kind of music except for her mariachi songs.”

“And how can you move things around, or make noises? I mean if you say you can’t touch anything.”

“Oh, I don’t know, I guess when I get too desperate or frustrated, I might have telekinetic powers, but I don’t know.”

I wanted to try another experiment with Peter, and I asked him to come out with me to the backyard. 

“Okay Peter, with your permission, I’m going to paint your body, soul, or ghost or whatever it is. You just stand right here in the middle of the patio; I’ll bring my spray paint gun and some white paint and see what happens, okay?”

“Okay, that sounds like fun,” he answered.

After I got all the stuff I needed, I asked if he wanted a mask and he said, “What for?” and then I said, okay, close your eyes, and then he said, “What for?” 

“Okay, okay, just stand still,” I said and started painting him. Then my little dog Frida came and started barking around him. We couldn’t stop laughing out loud. That’s when my neighbor’s head appeared above the fence and asked, “Hey, why are you painting your dog for? Are you crazy or something?” Then, I realized he was right, Frida was painted all white. I didn’t know where Peter was and I couldn’t stop laughing.

Before my wife came home from work I asked Peter if he wanted to do something the next day. “Yes, if you don’t mind I’d like to go to church and have a talk with God because I don’t think he’s in this house.”

The following morning, after many years of absence I went to church again. I guess I had been busy doing nothing. But the truth was I didn’t need intermediaries, priests, or churches to talk to God.

When Peter finished with God, he whispered in my ear “Let’s go, I’m ready.”

On our way home he said, “I have a feeling that pretty soon we won’t be able to be together or communicate anymore. I want to tell you that I appreciate your friendship and your companionship very much. I hope someday I can see you in my “other” house.”

When we went back home, we found a woman knocking at the front door.

“Hi, I live in this house, what can I do for you?” I asked. She seemed to be in her thirties; she had a quiet and tender beauty. She appeared to be a little shy.

“Hi, my name is Nancy Shelby, I believe I received a letter from you. At first, I thought it was a tasteless joke, so absurd and incredible. But when I checked the account, I knew that it was true. I wanted to tell you how fortunate you are to be able to communicate with my uncle Peter. He was such a good person. At his funeral, my mother told me that my uncle Peter paid for all my college tuition. I knew my mom didn’t have the means to afford it.”

“But who’s Anais Neess?” I asked her.

She answered with a smile, “It’s a game of words, Anais Neess, or ‘a nice niece’ I always loved it when he called me that.” 

After that day, Peter disappeared from the house. I went crazy talking to him in every room, to no avail. No signs or signals from him. I missed him a lot. Then one day, I received a letter from Nancy, a note with a few words, a check for $5,000.00 under my name, and the most important thing, a picture of Peter. 

Now I keep that photograph on my desk, next to my computer. In his room. 

Edmundo Barraza 

Visalia, Ca. 11-29-2010

Foreign Violence

I’m an exile.

I fled from Mexico in a hurry. The reason was just a tragic, unexpected accident. I didn’t have time to pack anything. Straight from the accident, I ran away to the US. I couldn’t say goodbye to anyone, not even to my mom.

I was riding a crowded bus with my girlfriend. We were standing in the middle aisle when a man started groping my girl from behind. He was near the exit with his back close to the door. When I saw him touching my girl, I pushed him so hard the doors opened and he fell out of the moving bus, and then a truck ran over his head when he hit the pavement. It was an awful sight, his brains scattered all over. I can still hear the cracking sound of his cranial bones.

My first reaction was to escape the scene, the town, even the country.

I moved to the US. Without the slightest chance to return to my family. It’s been a few years since then, but it feels like an eternity. Years later, I found out my girlfriend got married and has two kids. I bet she doesn’t even remember my face.

My name is Pablo, I live in Visalia, Ca. in the central valley, near Fresno. I’m an illegal alien. I shouldn’t be spreading this information because they charge over two thousand dollars to help you cross the border.

I live on the second floor of a twelve-unit apartment building on Santa Fe Street in a run-down neighborhood. I’ve been working at the Rescue Mission for the last three years. I drive a forklift, I also separate donated items and put price tags on them. I used to live in LA, but rent and expenses were too high for my budget.

Recently, my cousin Julian called from Mexico to let me know he wanted to join me. He’s four years younger than me. I’ll pick him up at a McDonald’s in San Isidro, on this side of the border. He’s twenty-four years old.

When my neighbor Mark heard I was going to Tijuana, he asked for a favor. He wanted me to get some weed from a friend in LA. Being a nice guy, I agreed.

I brought Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Bob Marley, the Doors, and others for the six-hour trip.

In a way, the bus incident gave me a push to reach my goal. To move to LA. Having lost Mexico forever, made it easy to adopt LA. Now, I love LA even more than Randy Newman does.

The freeway was an ocean of cars. Lots of beautiful girls everywhere. Magic Mountain to my right, Universal Studios, the Hollywood Hills, Griffith Park, the Observatory, the Zoo, the cemetery on the hill. What a great trip, even the San Onofre nuclear plant seemed friendly.

Julian gained some weight and muscles since I last saw him. His skin was dark, not the burnt kind, but the tanned kind. He was close to six feet tall, his eyebrows were heavy. He said he crossed on his first attempt. Did I mention he was lucky too?

We still have to go through another checkpoint in San Clemente. I told him we needed to stop behind a warehouse or somewhere dark because I needed to hide him in the trunk.

The immigration checkpoint was closed, so I kept driving. I thought about playing a little joke on my cousin. I got off the freeway in a rest area and looked for a place where nobody could see us.

I parked the car and went to the rear and slammed the trunk, I yelled out loud in Spanish, ‘No señor oficial, no hay nadie en la cajuela se lo aseguro por favor déjeme pasar soy ciudadano americano.” (“No, officer, there’s nobody in the trunk. I assure you, please, let me go. I’m an American Citizen”) When I opened the trunk, Julian looked terrified. He was shaking. His pants were wet.

“Eso no es nada gracioso.” Julian said, “That’s not even funny.”

I kept laughing until my jaws hurt.

To get Mark’s weed, I had to drive through Topanga Canyon. I drove that highway from the valley to the ocean. A few miles of beautiful curves and mountains, deep green canyons and precipices. The weather gets cooler as you get closer to the ocean. The area was famous for the laid back hippie-style community and its marijuana crops.

When we arrived, Mark’s friend, Pete was a little high already. He met us with a friendly smile and two beers. He rolled a fat one while inquiring about our mutual friend.

I thought Pete would be like a Cheech and Chong type of guy, but I was wrong. He wasn’t Latino or Asian, or even a low rider. He was a short white guy with eyeglasses and long hair. Very friendly and funny.

After I gave him an update, he said Mark used to live there. Until one day, when Mark burned the weed patch. He said Mark was so high, he pushed the barbecue grill to the ground by accident and started a fire. That was the last time he saw him.

Pete said he was making a delivery (part of his crop) in Van Nuys. When he came back, the firefighters had the fire under control. He thought they were going to call the cops, but they just told him to never leave the barbecue grill unattended. He mentioned one of them said, “sorry about your loss” Pete said they were high and in a good mood.

By the time he finished the story, we were also high and in a good mood. I made a comment about his marijuana, ‘powerful shit man, powerful shit.’ and Julian asked me, ‘qué quiere decir eso?’ (what does that mean?) and I told him in a mellow way, “caca poderosa hombre, caca poderosa” and we started to laugh.

When I told Pete the story about the fictitious Immigration officer he laughed so hard, he dropped the joint he was rolling.

After three more joints and three more beers, we took off.

It was getting dark. I was high as a kite. My mouth was dry and I couldn’t stop smiling. Julian was smiling and that made me smile too. I was happy.

But I couldn’t concentrate on the road. My eyes were squinting. I had my face close to the steering wheel like an old lady. Instead of watching the road ahead, I was following the line in the middle of the road with so many curves. I was trying to concentrate on the double yellow line, not on the traffic. Julian’s conversation wasn’t helping.

What a strange trip it’s been. I felt comfortably numb. Driving on the long and winding road. I smoked two joints before I smoked two joints.

Wow, I needed my normal brains. I just wanted to get out of those curves. I was thirsty.

I wished we were in Visalia, at the Green Olive, with a beer in hand and my normal brains, but we were at the Top o’ Topanga, the highest point between the ocean and the valley.

I thought that once we reached the city streets my fears would disappear, but I encountered a different kind of fear. A million red lights.

Not all red lights were traffic lights. I was confused and wanted to use the breaks constantly.

Panicked and desperate I pulled over at a liquor store to get snacks and a six-pack of sodas. After a while, I felt brave enough to continue, and I said to myself, “I’ll be fine once I get on the freeway.” Julian was talking to himself too.

I felt a lot better when we reached the freeway, but immediately, a new problem emerged. The car was not moving. The freeway was! We were just floating in the car! The earth was circling fast. I was just keeping the car in the middle of the lane, watching the world come at us.

It was the weirdest feeling, I was hallucinating. Fuck! Powerful shit indeed. Julian couldn’t notice the kind of trip I was having.

After what seemed like an eternity, we reached the Frazier Park mountains, another great area at the other end of the valley. We could see the San Joaquin Valley, two straight lanes of black asphalt as far as I could see.

The effects of “la caca poderosa” were fading away. My brain began to function again. Gaining control of my little shitty cerebellum was good.

For the first time since Topanga Canyon, I heard Julian’s voice saying, “. . . and that’s how they got my partner and put him in jail.”

“Oh, that’s very interesting,” I replied.

I felt good we still had time for a couple of beers. We went to my favorite bar, the Green Olive.

We ordered two beers and sat at the end of the bar. I noticed a beautiful White girl in her late 20s, she had gray skintight gym pants, adjusted to her fine looking body. You could see the fine curves of her ass. Anybody could tell she wasn’t wearing any panties.

After our third beer, Julian asked me how to say “me gusta como se te ve tú pantalón,” in English, (I like how you look in those pants) but instead of the right translation, I told him, “You have a lovely camel toe.”

He practiced the sentence a few times, and after gulping the rest of his beer, he gathered all his courage and approached her.

I couldn’t hear Julian’s voice from the end of the bar, but I saw her slapping Julian on the face.

I was still laughing when he sat on his stool.

When I translated what he just told her, he said, “pinche cabrón pendejo.” Then he went back to her and told her, “sorry, amiga, sorry”. I’m sure she knew Julian was just an innocent victim.

While smoking outside, in a dark corner, I saw a couple of guys coming out of the bar too. I recognized one of them from my apartment building. He lived right below my unit. We’ve seen each other, but we have never spoken.

I didn’t like him, and I was sure the feeling was mutual. He had a swastika tattooed on his neck. The other guy looked like his replica. Baggy black pants, black boots, and a white tank top, big muscular guys.

They were half drunk and they stumbled a little. Before they crossed the street, they pushed a black guy with a shopping cart to the path of an oncoming car without any apparent reason. The car ran over him and the driver never stopped.

My downstairs neighbor saw me before they ran away. I knew I was in trouble.

I went inside to tell Julian we needed to leave right away. I didn’t tell him what I just witnessed.

I was in deep shit. I was sure I’d be his next victim no matter what.

Unless, I got him first.

I drove around my apartment building twice, to check for any signs of danger. We went in until everything was quiet.

His room was dark, I assumed he wasn’t back yet.

With a jigsaw, I made a small square hole on the wood floor under my couch, and then on the ceiling of my downstairs neighbor.

“What are you doing?” asked Julian

“I’ll tell you later, let’s go to sleep. We need to find you a job tomorrow.” I replied.

In the morning, after I pushed the playback button in my brain, I got a blurry vision of past events. Julian was lying on the floor, next to the couch where I slept.

I felt a cold sweat when I remembered about the supremacist piece of shit from downstairs.

I looked for the little hole I made the night before. The hole was about the size of a quarter. When I looked through it, a sudden shiver ran through my body.

My downstairs neighbor was inside the little hole. He was sitting on his couch. He was looking up, in my direction. He had drywall dust on his hair. His eyes squinting, full of curiosity.

My immediate reaction was to get the gun I kept under the couch. I put the barrel in the hole and pulled the trigger. When I looked back again, he had blood coming out of his left eye.

My cousin woke up with a look of terror.

“Qué pasa, qué pasa?” (what’s going on?) he said.

I told him to look through the hole and then I covered the hole with a sock. I told him what I witnessed the night before in the bar, and all about my neighbor.

“Good, it was either you or him,” he said in Spanish.

Julian was like one of those friends you can call at three in the morning to get you out of jail or to take you to the hospital, or even at more critical times when you need help to kill your worst enemy. He would never question your motives. If you’re lucky, you would only get a friend like that in your entire life. At the same time, you wouldn’t like guys like him as your enemies.

When he was a teenager, a stray dog bit his ankle right above his shoe. He was bleeding and in pain, but he followed the dog and kept going for miles relentlessly until the dog couldn’t go on any longer.

The dog was so exhausted, he just gave up and accepted his fate with resignation. Then Julian knelt down, grabbed the dog by his mouth and forced it open until he broke his jaws.

The dog kept walking aimlessly around the neighborhood for days. Unable to control his mouth, he died of thirst and starvation in less than a week.

Half an hour after I shot my neighbor, someone knocked on the door. Two cops were investigating a shooting downstairs and asked if we heard or saw anything. I told them I heard a gunshot, and that I saw a guy running away from the building. I described the skinhead’s friend.

“Thank you, guys, you’re good citizens. Thanks for your cooperation and your valuable information,” they said.

After the cops left, I said “I’m glad I killed that mother fucker.”

Julian liked the sound of what I said because he kept repeating over and over, “Maaddaa faackaa, maddaa faackaa.” pronouncing it without the ‘r’ sound at the end. I knew he’d be saying those words all day.

After we left the apartment, we stopped next door to give the weed to Mark. He asked us if we wanted some, and of course, we declined.

Just thinking about it made me shiver.

“Caca poderosa, hombre, caca poderosa.” Julian kept saying as we left.

***

One day, after I came back from work, Julian gave me a big surprise.

He had a thick wad of hundred dollar bills. He was fanning his face with them.

“Where did you get that money?” I anticipated an incredible story.

“Robé un Banco.” ‘I robbed a Bank,’ he said.

“What?” I replied.

“I went to this bank, I think it’s called Bank of the Sierra, and I gave a note to one of the tellers, but she couldn’t understand it because I wrote it in Spanish, so I called a Mexican looking guy waiting in line to come and translate it. Then, she gave me all this money, almost seven thousand dollars. I gave three hundred dollars to the guy that helped me and left.” he said in Spanish.

“What did the note say?” I asked him in complete disbelief, and he gave me a crumpled note.

The note said: “Este es un robo dáme todo tú dinero o exploto toda la dinamita que traigo bajo mi ropa.” [translation] “This is a robbery, give me all your money or I’ll explode all the dynamite that I have under my clothing.”

“You crazy mother fucker! We need to do something right away.” I said.

After a long lecture, (surely in vain) I made him wear a pair of sunglasses, a baseball cap, and gave him another shirt. I burned the note and threw away the T-shirt he was wearing and took him to the barbershop.

When the barber finished, Julian looked in the mirror and said, “I like it, I like it.”

He was completely bald and unrecognizable, but still handsome.

At work, I asked the trash collector driver if he could find a job for Julian.

“Yes, they need another driver,” he said.

“But my cousin doesn’t have a driver’s license,” I replied.

“No problem, neither do I,” he said.

“And he doesn’t have any papers or work permit,” I answered.

“No problem, neither do I,” he said.

***


Julian insisted that I take half the money he ‘collected’ from the bank.

“I didn’t participate in the robbery, I wouldn’t have even if you asked me.”

“While I’m living here, half of what I make is yours,” he said

It was useless, he’d get mad if I refused.

While having breakfast at Denny’s I was reading the paper I came across an article about a black homeless man who was run over. ‘A hit and run,’ they claimed.

There was another article about the shooting in my building and the killing of my neighbor. Next to it there was a picture of the ‘killer’ (his friend,) and a picture of the detectives receiving a medal from the Mayor for their excellent investigation leading to his arrest.

Another article mentioned a bank robbery, including a blurry picture of Julian taken from the surveillance cameras, it said they arrested one of the robbers.

A lot of shit happened since my cousin arrived.

Across from our table a woman, probably in her early 40s, kept staring at us. She was attractive and elegant. After a while, she approached our table. I thought she was rude when she sat in our table without our permission.

Pointing her finger to Julian, she said . . .

“I know you! I know it’s you, even without hair I know it’s you.”

“Excuse me lady, what are you talking about? I’m sure you’re mistaken,” I said to her, having no idea what she was talking about. “My friend doesn’t even speak English,” I continued.

“I knew I was right! I just knew it!” she said.

Then with her index finger straight up against her mouth and nose in a softer voice and looking at me, she said,

“Shhh, don’t worry, I’m not going to say anything to anybody, but this guy just robbed my bank last week.” she continued, “I’m the manager. Listen, I want to make a deal with you guys. I need you to rob the bank again, but this time there’s 25,000.00 dollars involved,” then she grabbed the newspaper and pointing to Julian’s picture, she said, “That’s him.”

“Okay, let’s say for a moment that you’re right,” I said, knowing there was no use denying it, “what’s your proposition?”

“Okay, here’s the deal. I have a gambling habit. I gamble with other people’s money. Our customers’ money. I go to a casino in Lemoore all the time. I’m in deep shit now. Sooner or later they’ll find out I’m swindling money from the bank. I keep going back to the casino thinking I can win the money back, but I keep losing. I swear if I get even I’ll quit for good,” she leaned closer to the table and continued.

You both show up at the bank, use the same method, no one gets hurt of course. I’ll make sure everything goes smoothly. I’ll make sure the teller has 25,000.00 dollars ready for you. You just come with your little note. But this time you must write it in English. I’ll just report a higher amount and we all win. My name’s Linda, I don’t even need to know your names.”

Her plan sounded pretty safe and I agreed. We exchanged numbers and said she’ll get in touch. When I translated everything to Julian he got excited and said. “I like it, I like it.”

Julian started working for a waste management company in Dinuba collecting trash around a rural area. He always had great self-esteem and that allowed him to work in any job without fear of failing. I bet he could even apply for a job as an astronaut.

Anything was better than passing notes to bank tellers saying he wanted to blow up their banks.

Linda called to give me some instructions.

“Okay, everything is set for tomorrow at 5:55 P.M. Make sure you’re our last customer. I’ll be working in register number four, don’t worry about anything. It’ll be fast and easy,” she added, “we’ll meet after the operation and I’ll give you your part.”

We showed up as city workers. We wore brown boots, yellow helmets, yellow safety vests, and dark sunglasses.

We left the car half a block away from the bank. I was a little nervous, but I didn’t show it. There was no need to carry guns.

I heard it was easier to rob a bank than a 7-11 store. They were right. It was a piece of cake, in and out in two minutes. Linda was at the cash register. We just gave her the note and she gave us a white canvas bag with a lock. It must have been the easiest bank robbery ever.

Boom, just like that, we were out of there. A second after I started the car, I heard an alarm going off.

Next day, we met with Linda and gave her the canvas bag and she gave us twenty-five thousand dollars in cash. Sweet!

A few days later, on my lunch break, I grabbed a hamburger from Carl’s Jr. and went across the street to the Green Olive for a beer to celebrate my growing bank account.

When I drove out of the driveway, I watched a patrol car passing by. The cop turned around and followed me. He put his lights on and pulled me over.

A tall, bald-headed white guy with a menacing look came out of the patrol car.

“Driver’s license and registration, please,” he said.

He walked back to his car and checked my record.

I wasn’t worried. I knew I was clean.

“Are you drunk?”

“No,” I replied.

“Well, I just saw you coming out of that bar. I know you weren’t drinking milk, so I’m going to ask you again, are you . . .

“I just told you, I’m not drunk!” I replied.

Damn! I raised my voice a little and that’s a no, no. I regretted it right away. And I interrupted him too. I knew that was rule number one . . . ‘never interrupt a cop if you don’t want to end up in jail.’

“Step out of the car motherfucker, I think you’re drunk,” he was insanely pissed off.

“Officer I just told you, I’m not drunk. I only had one beer with my lunch.”

“Shut the fuck up motherfucker, you’re going to be drunk in fifteen minutes,” he said while handcuffing and pushing me to the back of his cruiser.

He drove his car behind a boarded-up warehouse the parking lot was deserted. He parked and went to the trunk. He came back with a bottle of whiskey.

“Drink it, you piece of shit, or I’ll kick the shit out of you,” he said while putting his baton against my neck. Knowing when a battle was lost, I obeyed him and drank.

“Look all around you, not a soul in sight to save you.” then he pushed the play button on his radio and Freddy Mercury started singing, “thum, thum, thum, another one bites the dust, another one bites the dust, and another one gone and another one gone . . .”

Mother fucker! He just ruined one of my favorite songs.

When Julian came to bail me out the next day, I told him the whole story.

“Maaddaa faackaa, we need to find this maadda faackaa,” and added, “We’ll get him ‘primo,’ I swear, we’ll get him.”

Amazingly enough, the next day, I found the stupid cop on the front page of the newspaper. He was being honored by some ladies from MADD. (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) The Visalia chapter was giving him a medal for most drunk driver arrests in Tulare County. I felt my blood boiling inside my veins; his name was all over the place. Good.

Another article in the paper caught my eye, “Another bank robbery, this time they escaped with 125,000.00 dollars.” Oh, Linda, you’re such a smart woman.

It was easy to find the cop’s address on the internet.

In the morning, we drove by his house. He lived near Farmersville, on a new housing development. We found him mowing his lawn. His patrol car was in the driveway.

I sent Julian with his broken English to tell the cop that he had witnessed a drunk driver crashing his car into a tree.

Nearby, in a secluded empty field, I had the front end of my car leaning against a tree, as if I had just crashed. I was still at the driver’s seat with my chest against the steering wheel. I had my gun hidden between my legs.

When the cop got there, Julian was behind him.

“Are you okay? the cop asked.

Gun in hand, I came out of the car and pushed him to the back seat.

“If you don’t do as I say you’re dead in a second, motherfucker.”

We tied him up and covered his mouth with duct tape. As I drove away, Julian kept him down, with the gun against his head.

“If he moves, even just a little bit, shoot him in the head, Julian.”

The cop knew I meant it because he stood still. Then, we headed for Dinuba, where Julian worked.

We didn’t go through city streets, instead, we took a longer route through the fields. We drove across cornfields and orange trees on a two-way highway. When we arrived, the sweet taste of revenge filled all my senses.

The big yard was enclosed with a chain-link fence. Several trash trucks were parked neatly inside. The place was locked on Saturdays.

Nothing else to see for two miles in the surrounding areas.

“Look all around you, there’s not a soul in sight to save you.” I proudly said to the cop, when we got him out of the car.

He wrestled and complained when we put him in a residential trash container. He calmed down a bit after Julian hit him on the head. His body barely fitted inside.

I gave Julian the signal to operate the controls. The cop looked terrified when the thick metal arms slowly approached the container.

His muffled screams and expression seemed to be coming from a silent film. I especially enjoyed the moment when the container was horizontal, just before he went down.

A heavy muted sound was barely audible when his body hit the truck’s metal floor. When Julian turned the compactor on, I put my ear close to the truck to hear the cracking sound of his bones being crushed.

The sound must be similar to the sound you hear when you step on a cockroach, only a million times louder.

Julian needed to make many more stops to fill the truck with three tons of garbage. This was his first stop. I envied his job, I thought it was extremely satisfactory.

***


One slow weekend, while I was listening to classic rock and having a few beers, Mark showed up. I offered him a beer and he offered me a toke. He accepted my beer and I declined his toke. As I was narrating my trip to Tijuana, including my out of body experience while driving back, Julian stepped in the apartment with none-other than Miss-Camel-Toe herself.

We introduced ourselves, her name was Kim. After a while, I blinked an eye to Mark, and we moved to his apartment. I was sure those love birds wanted to be alone.

Mark was amazed at Julian’s progress. He wondered how, after only a few months, he already had a job and a car and dating gorgeous girls and communicating in English.

***

A few days later Kim showed up with a bloody nose. Her upper lip was split open and swollen, she had a black eye too. She said her ex-husband beat her.

“The fucking bastard can’t leave me alone. It’s not the first time he hits me, but it sure was the worst,” she said while looking at herself in the bathroom mirror.

“If I call the cops, he’s gone by the time they come,” still sobbing, she continued. “He lives in Madera, but every time he comes to Visalia to visit his buddies, he gets drunk and ends up in my house. And then he begs me, ‘come on honey; take me back, I know I can make you happy, you know you need me’. Stupid asshole, I need him like I need a dead rat in my ass.” she said.

We all laughed, but she complained right away, “ouch” cupping her jaw with her hand.

“You know, I’ve seen a ton of movies about abused women, and most of them end up dead. If I try to defend myself, he just hits me harder. I just don’t know what to do anymore.” she said.

“You’ll be okay Kim, we’re going to help you. He’ll be out of your life soon, you’ll see,” I said.

Julian was mad as hell but kept quiet. After we fixed her a little, we gave her two shots of tequila and four aspirins. Then, we left her to rest.

“I think we can plan something around this fog we’re having, like for example . . . ”

In ten minutes Julian found three different ways to get rid of him.

In the morning, I explained our plan to Kim.

“Call him and say that you’re going to give him another chance, tell him to come to your house to celebrate the reunion. But just get him totally drunk and bring him to us.”

“Okay, that shouldn’t be so hard, and then what?”

“Just get him drunk and bring him to us. But he needs to be all fucked up drunk, okay? It’ll be foggy tonight. Bring him around midnight, when the fog is at its heaviest.”

After she left I went to see Mark and asked him if we could use his van.

Sure enough, Kim showed up at midnight. “Okay guys, I got him in my car he’s all fucked up, now what?” she said, full of satisfaction.

Julian and I carried the son of a bitch to the rear of the van. Kim was driving, we headed to Delano, a small town, thirty miles south of Visalia.

The fog was so heavy, we could only see about a hundred feet in front of us. Julian and I were in the back of the van keeping an eye on the stupid guy.

A couple of miles past Delano, I told Kim to pull in front of an eighteen-wheeler, and then, we just pushed the guy out of the van.

As simple as that, the motherfucker won’t be hitting any defenseless girls anymore.

When I closed the van’s back door, I could see Kim’s eyes in the rear-view mirror. She didn’t seem surprised at what we just did.

During breakfast, I made a comment about a story I was reading in the paper. A funny story, well sad, but also funny.

“A basketball player from a local high school team was surfing in Australia. He was floating on his surfboard face down and pushing the water with his hands. And then, a shark bit off his left hand. Somehow, he managed to swim back to the beach and survived.

After spending a week in an Australian hospital, he went back to his hometown.

Hundreds of students received him on the baseball field, where they brought him from the airport in a helicopter. When he came out, he saluted the crowd with his right hand, and he got his hand chopped off by the helicopter blades.”

Then Julian made one of his typical silly comments

“Man, how is he supposed to wipe his ass now?”

Edmundo Barraza
Visalia Ca. May-30-2011

Miles Away

Miles was eleven when I met him. He was mildly autistic. It was hard to pinpoint his abnormalities. He appeared to be an average kid, maybe just a little mixed-up. It seemed like his mind was working faster than the way he could express his thoughts. He had a peculiar tic – his left eye blinked rapidly when he seemed impatient. His sister Gretchen was my girlfriend. We were both seventeen. I thought she was the most beautiful girl on this planet. 

Miles had been home-schooled; they said there was too much trouble at the public school, and that he had suffered at the hands of bullies for a long time. 

In time, Miles learned to like me because I treated him like a normal person. I thought he was a likable kid and nobody should treat him any differently.

His room was full of WWII memorabilia, all original stuff. He had boots, helmets, medals, diplomas, and other interesting things. He even had a first edition book written by Sigmund Freud. His grandfather emigrated to the United States to escape Nazi persecution. He also had several notebooks written in German. All of it was arranged in perfect order, everything in the room was his pride and joy. His grandpa had been an inventor.

Conversations with Miles were sometimes a little bit incoherent, but not when he was talking about dreams. That was his favorite subject. He appeared to be an expert in the matter. I never showed him indifference, regardless of how absurd his comments seemed. Gretchen and her dad avoided conversations with Miles about his dreams. They thought the dreams were interminable and boring.

I thought Miles’ brain was balancing his deficiencies with his proficiencies, the way it happens to blind persons when other senses get more acute, perhaps to compensate for their inability to see.

At first, I couldn’t decide whether he was handsome or not, but the more time I spent with him the more I realized he was a handsome kid. His face was mild and peaceful. 

The day I knew that I had gained Miles’ complete trust was when he showed me a helmet and mentioned that he wanted to share his dreams with me. 

“Randy, let me show you something,” he said, “Look, this is the coolest thing ever, I call it ‘the dream projector’, it helps me to travel in my dreams, and sometimes I can visit Grandpa.”

The thing was weird-looking. It was a gray helmet like the ones bicycle riders use. The frame wasn’t solid, it had gaps or slots, probably to avoid the head from sweating or to avoid the brain from getting too hot. Along the underside of the helmet, there were dozens of dull, hard rubber tips that looked like pencil erasers. It had copper wires and a few transistors.

Then, he continued, “This is my most precious treasure. I never use it for protection. I’ve been wearing it every night since Grandpa gave it to me.” after a short pause, that seemed more like a moment of hesitation he said, “look, I love my dad, I adore Gretchen, and you’re okay Randy, but my grandpa was something else.” as he said this, his eyes sparkled with pride and tears.

Afterward, when I asked Gretchen about the helmet, she said her grandfather built it himself and gave it to Miles just days before he died, and that Miles wouldn’t go to sleep without it, despite his dad’s insistence to not wear it in bed. It looked uncomfortable to use for several hours at a time, especially in bed.

“I like my other me better than myself,” he said while tapping his chest with his right open hand. “I’m happier with my inside me,” he said.

“What do you mean Miles? Is there another person inside of you?”

“Yes, he’s always there when I’m asleep. He is smart; his brains are good, he can think better.”

“Can you communicate with him? Does he talk to you?” I asked.

“Are you crazy? He is me! There’s no need to talk to me, we just think, that’s all. When I’m in there with him, we’re smart the same. I like him better than I like myself. Do you want to talk to him, Randy? You can borrow my helmet tonight if you want.”

“Is he inside your helmet?” I asked.

“No dummy, he’s in my dreams, ha, ha, inside my helmet, ha, ha. You’re a little retarded Randy. Sorry, I didn’t mean to insult you, Randy, you’re my best friend, sorry.”

“It’s all right, Miles I don’t feel insulted, you’re also my best friend. But tell me, Miles, how does your helmet work?”

“You just put it on your head before you fall asleep and you start dreaming,” he said.

“But I’ve never needed a helmet to dream, and I’ve dreamed all my life without one.”

“Yes, but with my helmet, you can talk to me in your dreams, you can have real dreams and you can also see my dreams.”

“Well, it sounds a little bit complicated, but I’ll give it a try. Are you going to be okay without it for one night? Gretchen told me you haven’t slept without it since your grandpa gave it to you. What if you change your mind and I have it at home with me.”

“It’s alright Randy, I can still have normal boring dreams without it. Sometimes I remove it in the middle of the night, sometimes, I’m boring myself.”

“Before I take it, just tell me how it works. Does it need a battery or a charger, do I need to connect it to an electrical receptacle?” I asked mockingly, which I immediately regretted.

“I don’t know how it works, my grandpa never gave me any instructions. He just made it and gave it to me and said, ‘dreams are its energy’”.

I didn’t know why I accepted to take it with me. Probably just to be polite to him, but I was somewhat curious.

I had to admit; the device looked a little medieval. Like you would expect a torture device to look, like an apparatus someone would use to reanimate Frankenstein.

When I went home, I placed the “dream projector” on the nightstand, next to my books. That night, I read a little bit until I got sleepy. After a while, as I reached for the lamp switch, I saw the helmet and grabbed it.

I put the helmet on in the dark. The blunt rubber tips inside the helmet rested on my thick hair. The tips felt like fingers, and when I moved my head it felt like I was giving myself a massage. The way it feels when you’re shampooing your hair. It didn’t feel bad at all.



*****

That night, I dreamed I was on the roof of a tall building and I was afraid to fall, I was paranoid. The roof was very small, a little bigger than my bed. I was lying on my back, grabbing the sides of the building with my extended arms. It was windy and I was exhausted from resisting my prolonged fears.

Within my dream, I knew I was dreaming. I wanted to end the dream and my suffering, but I couldn’t. When I accepted I wouldn’t be able to stop it, I decided to jump from the building. I thought it was my only escape. But I decided that instead of jumping to my death I was going to fly or glide and enjoy the ride.

I went straight down a hundred miles an hour. After I relaxed, my brain took control of the situation and turned my nightmare into a sweet, beautiful dream. I could see the entire city. I could see the sky, the clouds, and the horizon. I could fly above the treetops, I could go back up to the roof. I conquered my fears. I was happy.

When I woke up I didn’t open my eyes and didn’t move. I was lying in bed and I was sure that if I had been at the top of any building I would have jumped and I would have been able to fly.

A moment later, I thought it was ridiculous.

When I opened my eyes I had a hard time convincing myself that I’d been dreaming the entire time, including the time when I thought I was awake. Then, I removed the helmet from my head and I wondered if I could have had the same dream without the helmet.

I realized there were two of me inside my dream! There was me, acting my dream, and then the other me, watching me act. Or the physical me dreaming in my bed and my other me inside my dream, and I liked the other me, the one with the authority to control the dream. It seemed very clear.

“Did you wear it, did you dream?” Miles asked the next day.

“Yes Miles,” I said, as I gave the helmet back. “I wore it, but honestly, I wasn’t thinking about using it. I just put it on and fell asleep and had a normal dream.”

“A normal dream?”

“Well, yes, nothing different. It was vivid, it felt real and I enjoyed it because I could control it.”

“Did you like the other you better?”

“Yes Miles, I liked my other me better.”

“You see what I mean now, now we’re equal. I like my other me better and you like the other you better.”

“What? Wait a minute Miles, there’s only one of me. The conscious one when I’m awake and the unconscious one when I’m asleep, but we’re the same, there’s no need to separate me in two, (I felt a little stupid because I was contradicting myself) when I say that I like the other one better, I mean that I want to act like him in real life. I want to be unafraid and in control.”

“You have to admit it, Randy, you are feeling envy of the other you, but it’s amazing, isn’t it? Your first dream and you are already struggling with you and yourself.”

“No Miles, it wasn’t my first dream, I don’t envy me and I’m not struggling with myself. But let me tell you one thing, you are a lot smarter than most of us. And don’t believe anybody that tells you otherwise.”

I was confused. I thought the damn thing was useless, it couldn’t protect your head, much less your brains. I was glad for Miles, though. The helmet was his only toy, he loved it. 

As for me, I wasn’t attached to any material things. I wouldn’t run to save anything during an earthquake. I would just run with me and myself.

The following day, Miles came up with an unbelievable commentary.

“Hey Randy, I saw your dream. I’m glad you know how to fly now, from the treetops to the roof of a tall building in just a few seconds.”

“What? That’s impossible, who told you about it? Nobody knows, I never told anybody that’s not possible Miles, how could that be?”

“Randy, you shouldn’t be so surprised, it’s in my helmet. You knew that. Didn’t I tell you that I wanted to show you my dreams?”

It just blew my mind! How could that be possible? To know about that dream he had to be inside my head unless the dream was somehow recorded in the helmet, but that’s so out of this world, so science fiction. There had to be a better explanation. I needed more evidence.  

That was beyond normal comprehension. If the helmet could work like that, the world needed to know about it.

I was going too far ahead on my conclusions.

Miles probably saw all the provocative questions in my head because he gave me the thing back and said, “Here Randy, try again.”


*****

Gretchen wasn’t demanding or submissive. I knew she could be happy with me or without me. She had a strong character. She was also a little overweight. What some people might consider being on the verge of obesity I considered voluptuous.

Knowing that we were both virgins, I decided to do a little experiment with her in my dreams. 

Sometimes, when I did something repetitiously for hours during the day, I would dream about it. If I swam for hours, or if I watched a movie that impressed me in any way, I would dream about that.

In my dream, Gretchen and I would make love for the first time.  There was no need to take any precautions. No condoms or promises. Oh, and I wanted lots of foreplay.

I imagined the whole thing, including all my fantasies, and she would enjoy them too. We’d make love all night long. I’d take advantage of my experiment; after all, it would be just a dream.

I put the helmet on and I concentrated on my future dream until I fell asleep. 

I woke up with a big smile on my face. The dream I had with Gretchen was vivid and real. It was so real, when I woke up I still had an erection. My penis was still sore in the morning. I’m sure it hadn’t been a wet dream because my underwear and the bedsheets were clean and dry. 

***** 

The day after I gave the helmet back to Miles, he said . . . “Randy I saw what you did with Gretchen, you dirty man! I couldn’t believe it. I had to turn it off.”

I couldn’t find a rational reaction. I just said, “It was just a dream, Miles, don’t pay attention to it.”

I never imagined that Miles was going to be a witness to such a dream. It was not a PG13 dream, I felt ashamed. 

“I’m sorry you had to see such a horrible dream. Listen, Miles, can you try not to see my dreams in the future. I’m not an expert like you and I cannot control them, besides my dreams are too wild.”

“Don’t worry, I didn’t see the whole thing,” he said.

I realized I was in the middle of a complicated dilemma. Should I tell the entire world about this amazing invention? Should I get a patent and sell it for a hundred million dollars? 

No, of course not! The thing belonged only to Miles and I had nothing to do with it. Nevertheless, I knew the future of the helmet was in my hands. I could decide to be quiet or expose it to the world.

The potential was limitless, but I wasn’t concerned about its enormous value. I decided not to tell anyone, not even Gretchen. I needed to find its real potential, and make sure there were no risks involved.

“How do you turn it off?” I asked Miles, after a short pause. “You just tell yourself to wake up, as simple as that,” he answered.

“Please, Miles, don’t say anything to Gretchen about it, okay?”

“Why would I tell her? It was just a dream, right?”

“Yes, and completely unpremeditated.”

After that day, I asked Miles many questions regarding the helmet, without trying to be too fastidious. I didn’t want to lose his trust or his friendship. I asked him if I could read his grandfather’s notes and books. He accepted, but it was useless because half of it was written in German. Miles was the only expert on the matter. 

“One day I’ll be with my grandpa Dieter forever. He was my best friend. He showed me love, he was patient and caring. In the end, my grandpa was crazy like me. I know two crazy people can understand each other. After he died, he was in my dreams and I felt safe there with him, only there. The helmet was our connection; he gave it to me to visit him in my dreams.” I saw his eyes sparkle again.

“I still miss Grandpa, I miss his caressing hands, his hugs, and kisses. In his stories, I was always the hero, not like in this life, where most people are so cruel.” 

And then, he affirmed with conviction, “All things are better when I’m with Grandpa.”

Miles said the helmet transported him to another world, to another real world. Better than the one he lived in, and that he wanted to spend more time in his ‘dream world’. He believed that one day one world was going to cancel the other.

He said he wanted to erase bad memories from his past and add only good things to his future. It was hard to understand him. 

Could it be that his defective short-circuited brain was, in reality, a superior brain? 

All recent experiences had me excited. I tried to simulate my enthusiasm with false indifference. I told Miles that I wanted to experiment more. I asked him if we could alternate using the helmet, and I was glad he agreed. But I didn’t want anything to ruin our ‘partnership’. 

That night, I thought I would take a tour in hell. It sure was a drastic change from having sex with Gretchen. I figured that since I could control or manipulate my dreams if I didn’t like hell, I would turn it into heaven. I was a little hesitant about that choice, but I’ve always been stubborn. 

After I gathered some paintings from the masters depicting hell, I focused on them, then I put the helmet on and fell asleep.

In the morning, I woke up a little disappointed. No hell whatsoever. Probably hell didn’t exist or I couldn’t invent it in my dreams. Maybe I didn’t concentrate enough. 

All I dreamed about was Miles having lots of fun with a kite and an old man cheering him up until Miles fell on his knees. I was there next to the old man when he was comforting Miles after his fall. I saw Miles in my dreams for the first time, but I felt a little frustrated. I thought the dream was a failure, it proved nothing.

When I went back to Gretchen’s house I got another surprise when I saw Miles. He had some scrapes on his knees. I asked him right away what had happened to him, and he said he didn’t know. He said he woke up like that and that he probably fell from his bed, but I knew that was very unlikely. Could it be possible that he was in my dream and somehow . . . ? no, no way. Either way, I didn’t tell him about my dream.

The following day he told me about his dream.

“Randy, I saw you in my dreams! I was having a lot of fun with Grandpa. I was running and having fun with a kite, until . . .” then I interrupted him and finished his sentence,  “. . . until you fell and scraped your knees!”

“Yes, Randy, I was very happy with Grandpa. I knew I was inside a dream and I didn’t want to wake up. I wish I could stay there forever, but instead, I feel like it’s harder for me to connect with him. Like there’s more distance between us.”

*****

One day Gretchen told me she missed her period. Then she said that she probably just missed it, period. She said that she was curious and asked me to join her to the pharmacy to get a pregnancy test. Later, I heard her screaming in the bathroom.

“Positive? Positive! Positive?! It can’t be. Something’s wrong; somebody is playing a joke on me. No way. I’m a virgin! I have never even seen an erect penis in my life! Randy! You have to believe me. I need to get another pregnancy test, this was probably defective. Let’s get another one.”

On the way to the pharmacy, she kept going at it. I didn’t know whether she was mad at me for not believing or for believing. I never said a word. Gretchen, the always composed and undisturbed Gretchen was mad at me, at God, at the entire world. The second test was positive again. Then she took a different approach.

“The Divine Providence, Randy, that’s it, a divine mandate! God chose me!” she said with a sarcastic smile. “What are we going to do, Randy?  Well, not you, obviously it’s not your fault. What am I going to do? I can’t tell my dad, it can’t be possible, help me, Randy!”

“Well, if you’re pregnant, and that is beyond far-fetched, would you have the baby? Would you keep it?” I asked her, considering I was the only accusable prospect. After all, I did do it in my dream.

Then I thought about Miles’s scraped knees, did that happen in my dream or his dream? Was it possible for things to materialize from a dream to real life with the helmet?

“It makes no sense, why would I need an abortion if nobody has impregnated me? It’s impossible. But if I claim I’m innocent, I’ll be ridiculed. I need you to believe in me Randy, if I ever get pregnant it would be only by you.”

“Yes Gretchen, I believe you. But if you want, we can make it real.”

“Oh, Randy, don’t joke about it, not now.”

“Sorry, sorry. I tell you what Gretchen, let’s wait a week and then take the test again. Then, you’ll decide what to do, and of course, if it’s negative we’ll do nothing, or we’ll celebrate and . . .  oh, never mind.”

That night, I elaborated on a plan.

I thought that if I impregnated her in my dreams, perhaps I could undo it in my dreams too. It sounded absurd, but I wouldn’t lose a thing if I tried it.

After I gathered all the stuff I needed to provoke the required dream, a picture of a hospital with a doctor included, an operating room, and of course, Gretchen’s photo. Then, I focused on my intentions and put the helmet on. And after performing my relaxing ritual, I fell asleep. In my dreams, abortions are legal.


*****

A week later we got another pregnancy test. When Gretchen came out of the bathroom she said with a sigh of relief, “false alarm”. Of course, I was ready to show a false expression of surprise.

The instructions claimed ninety-nine percent accuracy. But it could be misleading. It could be less accurate if it’s done within the first days of a missed period. Anyway, I was glad for both of us. I could never know if I got her pregnant in my dreams, or if the abortion in my dream was a success. Or if it was all just a fluke and nothing ever happened at all.


*****

A few weeks later, Miles said he was going to miss me. I didn’t understand what he meant. 

“How can you miss me, if even in our dreams we are together?” 

“Yes, Randy, but it’s like a rubber band when it gets stretched to the limit, it could suddenly snap and push us even further apart.”

Sometimes, I just couldn’t understand him. Sometimes, he expressed himself like a philosopher, other times like a complete lunatic. But I always loved him either way.

*****



Then one day, Miles disappeared into thin air. Nobody ever saw him again. His dad filed a police report and they looked everywhere. The city offered a large reward. Nobody ever claimed it.

It was the saddest day of my life. And only I knew where he went. 

A day after his disappearance, I saw him in my dreams. He had finally decided not to come back. He said he was happier there, with his grandpa. He said that maybe he could use the helmet to come to visit us. 

But I had the helmet with me.

I told Gretchen exactly what had happened to Miles, but it was too hard to convince her. She would not believe me until I gave her instructions on how to use the helmet. 

I didn’t care if she saw all my dreams. All I cared about was for Gretchen to see how happy Miles was with his grandpa.

The following day, she grabbed a hammer and broke the helmet into a million fragments.


Edmundo Barraza

Visalia, Ca. Aug-22-2011

Brothers In Distress

The explosion was imminent. We didn’t know who or what would set it off. The decision was mutual and final. Everybody would later say absurd, too. I expected to be painless. I hated pain. Physical or mental.

We’re three brothers separated by six years each. We all were born in September. My brother Ralph was thirty, I was twenty-four and my little brother Anthony was eighteen. Our house was a gathering place for all kids from the neighborhood. I don’t remember having had any serious fights with my brothers. We were always very close to each other.

My dad had worked all his life for the Ford Motor Company. He was proud of it. At one point we had four Ford vehicles in our driveway. Three cars and a pickup truck. Anthony broke the tradition the day he came home in a brand new Honda Accord. My dad didn’t pretend to hide his disappointment. Dad didn’t let Anthony park his car near the house. At first, my brother thought dad was kidding.

My mom was a strict catholic, maybe on the verge of fanaticism. She wanted Ralph to be a priest, but that profession didn’t interest him at all. When she realized that her attempts would be futile, she continued her efforts with me. She insisted so much I almost accepted just to please her. I’m glad I didn’t. In the end, she succeeded with Anthony.

I’ve always found amazing how three brothers, raised by the same parents, in the same house, and the same environment could have so disparaging personalities, desires, and goals.

My brother Ralph had always been materialistic. He was ambitious, and a little vain too. Making money was his primary goal. He preferred the administrative side of all jobs. Being the boss was what he liked the most.

I always loved sports. I practiced baseball, soccer, and basketball. I considered the possibility of becoming a professional trainer or a doctor in sports medicine because the active life of most professional athletes lasted only a few short years.

My brother Anthony (thanks to my mom) became a priest. He had a true vocation for it. He had many virtues and qualities required for the priesthood. He was patient and understanding. His personality was passive and sedated. Anthony was gay, but I’m not implying a connection between priesthood and being gay.

We would do anything to help and protect each other.

We knew Anthony was gay since he was in middle school. My mom and dad knew about it too. We all accepted his sexual preference. “Accept” was not the right word, it wasn’t a matter of acceptance or rejection. It was  a matter of understanding. The subject never attracted any problems. He was never bullied or bothered by anyone. Maybe because he had two big brothers or maybe because he was quiet and smart and everybody enjoyed his company.

He never had the urge to come out of the closet. He never felt the need to disclose it or to hide it from anybody. To us, it was just a normal situation, no one was affected negatively by it.

We were born six years apart in September. Since Anthony was born, we celebrated our birthdays the same day. A single party for the three of us. 

One time, Ralph invited us to celebrate our birthday at his house. Just the three of us. We had enough tequila to last the whole week. Ralph explained to us that the mortgage on his fancy house was ‘upside down’. Meaning, he owed more than what the house was worth. It had negative equity. He had several active loans on it.

His wife Lauren had left him recently. They had a seven-year-old daughter. Everything was fine until he began to spend more time spending his money and not enough time making it. He loved expensive toys, cars, and boats. He used to take long vacations all over the world, sometimes without his family. Until he was broke and alone.

I saw it coming a long time ago. I knew he would have to file for bankruptcy and start all over. I didn’t know why he had to be so greedy.  Anthony always admired Ralph. He was his idol and his favorite person in the world.

After Ralph shared his economic situation with us, Anthony offered his help. “I could lend you . . .  no, I could give you ten thousand dollars, no, fifteen thousand dollars. I know I can get a loan for that much from my Church.” he said.

Ralph kissed him on the cheek.

“I love you, Anthony, you’re my favorite brother,” Ralph said, then he turned to me and said, “You’re my favorite brother too,” and he continued “but I’m beyond normal help, not even bankruptcy could save my ass.” He said this with a sad smile on his face. He took another sip of tequila, which was now drinking from the bottle.

“How bad is it?” I asked him.

“Bad,” he answered.

“Well, you can sell the house our parents left us, and you can also sell the shares my dad had with Ford. I’m sure Anthony wouldn’t mind,” I said. (Our parents had died in a dreadful car crash three years before.)

“I’m sorry, I already did. I don’t deserve to be your brother. I knew you wouldn’t mind because you’re not greedy like me. My problem is beyond solution. I’m facing real heavy shit. You see, I’ve been taking money from new clients to pay back old clients. And the bubble is about to burst. I’m talking about years of jail time. It’s not just because I’d lose my freedom. I’d be too ashamed to confront my friends and people that had trusted me. I’d rather die. I’m glad we’re together today, this is my farewell. I’m taking my life, no one can change my mind. It would be useless if you tried.”

Then, he opened a cabinet door where a handgun and a single bullet appeared on the bottom shelf.

He continued, “A few months ago I bought a life insurance policy for two million dollars. Lauren is the beneficiary, the only problem I have now is that she can collect it only if my death is accidental, but if I kill myself, she gets zero.”

To my amazement, neither Anthony nor I were shocked to hear about his abhorrent plans. I had the same strange feeling that I felt when I learned about the death of our parents. A vast emptiness inside my body. Like my soul wanted to disconnect from my body.


*****

On the day my dad celebrated twenty-five years of employment for the Ford Motor Co., they delivered a one-inch thick piece of beveled glass with the Ford logo. It seemed like it belonged in a car dealer’s showroom. I thought it was a large dining tabletop, but it turned out to be a front door.

When they installed it, it looked fancy and expensive, and I bet it was. My dad said jokingly, “Remember boys in case of an emergency, like an earthquake, a fire or something like that the first thing we’ll do is remove the door and put it in a safe place, after that, we can look for your mother.” I also remember that he used to clean it with a special cloth and glass cleaner every night, very ceremoniously.

Well, it lasted only two weeks because one day, we were kicking the soccer ball, practicing penalty kicks and using the garage door as our goal posts. Ralph was the goalie and I kicked the soccer ball very hard, I missed the huge garage door and hit my dad’s pride instead.

That afternoon, we waited for my dad sitting on the curve by the driveway. When he got home, we all stood up and Anthony said with the saddest face I’ve seen my whole life, “Dad, I broke your door.” He said this while hugging him around his waist and sobbing quietly. He was probably eight years old.

Then Ralph said, “No, dad, it was me. I’m sorry, I’ll pay for it as soon as I start working, I swear.” By then my dad was looking at me, knowing that it had been me the one who broke it.

As we stood in front of the house looking at the huge space where the door was supposed to be, my dad said,

“Don’t worry boys, it was just a door, a door is easily replaced. I want nothing bad to happen to you, because you are irreplaceable. You just showed me how much you care for each other and that makes me a happy father,” my dad proudly said. But we felt sad for him because we knew he wouldn’t last another twenty-five years of loyal work to get another door from Henry Ford.

Then we brought a piece of plywood from the garage and covered the space temporarily.

But to fill the space my dad had in his heart, I couldn’t find anything to say but, “I’m so sorry dad.”

I was very proud to belong to that family. I felt my brothers and I were indestructible. We were a powerful unit. I knew I would do anything for them, anything.



*****


Ralph grabbed the gun in one hand and the bullet in the other and said, “I have only one bullet. I just need to make it look like an accident, any suggestions?”

“Come on Ralph! Don’t joke about it, we can’t let you do that. There has to be another way out. We should put our minds to work and come out with a more reasonable plan. There must be another solution.” Anthony said firmly.

“I thought about other solutions, like running away like a coward to another city, another state or country. Disappear anywhere in the world and start all over, but I can’t do that. What I’ve done is punished with prison, and I know I wouldn’t last a week in jail. Even if I did, after many years of imprisonment, I wouldn’t be able to face my friends or my clients. I’d be too ashamed to look into my daughter’s eyes. I know I’m right when I say that I don’t deserve to be your brother. Please, don’t make it harder on me. My decision is final, I just couldn’t do it without letting you know first.”

“Well, if you do it; I’d do it too, I swear I would do it too. I’ve been thinking about it. I have strong motives. I’ll tell you what real suffering is.” Anthony said.

“I was deeply in love for the first time in my life, but in my case, it was wrong. I met a young boy, he was gay too, nothing shameful or illegal happened between us. We became good friends right away. He was sixteen years old. Some people say that priesthood is a refuge for repressed homosexuals and that we join the seminary to keep functioning in society and to hide our devious sexuality. My case is not like that at all, I love being a priest and I’d be a priest even if I weren’t gay. I was never trying to hide anything, and you know that. We fell in love and promised ourselves to wait until he turned eighteen. Celibacy and abstinence were tough choices for me, but for him, I could return to civilian life.” he paused and took a long sip of tequila, and continued.

“When he told his mom about us, he thought she would approve. Instead, she moved her family to another city and reported me to our diocese. He committed suicide two weeks ago. I couldn’t even go to his funeral. I felt like I betrayed God, like my vocation wasn’t sincere anymore. I just wanted to die too. My decision is final too, and nobody can change it either, not even you two. What hurts me the most is that God will never absolve me because suicide is a transgression against the sanctity of life.”

The three of us were quietly sobbing, each one of us had a bottle of tequila, drinking, and sharing our problems and individual pain. I’m sure we couldn’t even have these suicidal thoughts if our parents were alive. But at that moment we were just three grown-up orphans.

It never crossed my mind that any of my brothers could ever consider committing suicide.

I thought that if you were serious about it you would keep it to yourself. That was something nobody would announce to the world. In any case, I thought I was the only one with a legitimate excuse, the only one with an obvious motive.


*****


I had relived the entire episode many times. It was hard to understand life and the many tricks it plays on you. I knew how a simple decision could alter your future. I knew how a minor modification in your routine can vary (and bury) your future. It was amazing how fate, or God or whatever could change your future. For instance, let’s say my father had a toothache the day he was supposed to have met my mom and he didn’t get out of the house that day because of the discomfort and pain. I wouldn’t have existed, right?

I had just returned home from San Francisco for the long Labor Day weekend. My friend Mike from my high school days called me to joined him to shoot some pool and of course, to have a few beers. We called a few more friends and met at a bar about thirty miles from home.

I should have declined the invitation.

When we got out of the bar, we were completely wasted. Someone suggested buying more beer before the liquor stores closed. I was driving on my own, Mike and the other two friends were with him. While driving on the freeway, from the other car, they offered me a beer. Mike and I matched our speed, got our cars close together, and I extended my arm to reach for the beer.

That’s the last thing I remember from the accident. How reckless and irrational you become with some alcohol in your blood. And I thought I was a mature person.

A week later, I regained consciousness and came out of a coma. Only to learn that my able body had turned into a useless piece of meat. Condemned to a wheelchair for the rest of my life. Mike and the other two guys died at the scene. As I said, I should have declined the invitation.

I broke up with my beautiful girlfriend while still in the hospital, right after she offered to give me a blowjob.

For months, I had entertained the possibility to commit suicide. The first thought came up in the hospital. I knew then, that I had to do it. I didn’t know what I was waiting for, probably for the right moment, although the right moment was at any time. I had no hope. I had no goals. Nothing I would achieve could bring happiness to my life. I was only half a man, a fake. I was destined to be an eternal failure.

Some people said I was lucky that I survived. Lucky?

My plans to become a professional soccer player, a coach, or a doctor vanished with a careless decision. No more sports, no social life, no regular job, no career. At least not at its full potential, as I would have wished. Oh, and I couldn’t have sex or kids of my own. What a pitiful life!

After Anthony exposed his motives for wishing to end his life he looked at me, like expecting me to burst out my reasons to kill myself, after all, I was in a wheelchair. I was the only one with obvious reasons. One time Ralph asked me if I had suicidal thoughts. Before I could answer, Anthony said that I shouldn’t consider it.  

We all had reasons.

I’m sure we all felt like the day I broke down my dad’s door. Three brothers eternally united. We just sealed a silent pact. A mutual consent to end our lives.

Life didn’t matter to us anymore. We were just three adult orphans with no real close ties to anybody, other than to ourselves.

Neither one of us were optimistic about a bright future anymore. Although I wasn’t sure about Ralph and Anthony. After all, they were complete, I mean they didn’t have any physical disabilities, but they were disappointed with their lives and sometimes that could be worse than any disability.

Their dilemma seemed less drastic than mine did. Their predicament appeared to be only temporary and mine was permanent, there was no solution to my problem. Acceptance was my only option, but I was too bitter for that.

I felt tempted to convince them to retract. Instead, I just kept quiet.

A sudden thought came to my mind. If I ended my life, I couldn’t regret it. I’d be dead already. But if I didn’t end it, things could improve. Maybe I could postpone it one day at a time until the desire to kill myself went away. For a moment, I wished my brothers would reconsider it. I could go either way, but I joined the majority, and once again, I kept quiet.

“So, how are we gonna do this?” Anthony asked, trying to sound as casual as possible. “We could get drunk out of our minds and burn the place down. Or better yet, we could turn the gas range on, and blow out the flames until we pass out from breathing the gas fumes, or someone can shoot the oven and . . .”

“Our baby brother’s always the one with the best ideas,” Ralph said, looking at me as he took another sip of tequila. “I was going to ask any of you to shoot me, but I know that’s not possible, you wouldn’t dare. Besides, I only have one bullet.”

“Well, if we do it with gas, we’ll need some masking tape to seal all doors and windows,” I said.

In a few seconds, Ralph showed up with two rolls.

“I know many people were commenting behind my back that Lauren was my trophy wife, and they were right. I bet she can find someone better than me before my body turns cold.” Ralph said as he sealed the front door. Anthony was handling the gas range; while I taped the living room windows. We were always an excellent team. Fast and efficient, happy to do our chores together, and to talk nonstop.

It felt weird, working so happily together while preparing for our deaths, it didn’t seem right. It must have been the effects of the alcohol, but I hadn’t been happier in a long time. I wished we could do that every week.

We sat back again in the kitchen and kept drinking. We needed to pass out before we got sick from the gas smell. Anthony had turned off all pilot flames from the stove and then opened all gas valves. The odor was powerful already. We were drunk for sure, Anthony appeared to be more intoxicated than we were. I felt like throwing up. I got the lighter out of my pocket and raised my arm and asked, “who wants to do the honors?”

“Not yet, we’re not drunk enough, and besides, I don’t think there’s enough gas in the air,” Ralph said.

We were sitting down, facing the gas range, Ralph raised his bottle of tequila inviting us to do the same, and we all took a big gulp.

“We can still back out,” Anthony said, swaying his body involuntarily and added, “No, no, let’s do it. I’ve always been curious about the other side. I’d be disappointed if God didn’t exist, but wait, if we kill ourselves, He won’t be receiving us with a welcoming party, but I guess it’s still all right. I also wanted to meet Satan.” my little brother was sure drunk.

The gun was on the countertop and the bullet with its beautiful shape, standing next to it. We still hadn’t discussed who or what would set off the explosion, or if we were just going to die from the fumes. I thought I could just fire a shot to the stove.

The feeling of vomiting invaded me once more, and I turned my wheelchair around doing a ‘wheelie’ and hurried to the bathroom. I was good at maneuvering my wheelchair even while drunk. I needed to throw up. From the hallway, I heard my brothers laughing behind me.

I barely made it to the toilet. I got off from my chair and hugged the toilet, the way you hug a good old friend, and vomited.

When I regained consciousness, it took me a few seconds to realize I wasn’t dreaming.

The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was the toilet. I smelled an awful stink, my vomit. I climbed back to the wheelchair and hurried back to the kitchen. My mouth was dry, and so was my brain. I didn’t know what to expect.

I had no idea how long I had passed out. I was hoping to find my brothers still laughing, still talking, still breathing. Instead, they were lying motionless on the floor. Oh God, they were dead!

While vomiting in the bathroom with the door shut, I fell asleep while they were dying. Fuck! They were dead, and I was alive!

Slowly, I turned my head and looked for the gun. I took it and placed the bullet inside. Then I put the gun against my temple. Feeling the ridges of the trigger with my index finger, I began to pull it. Then I saw Ralph resurrecting on the floor. He sat up, looked around the kitchen and said,

“Oh shit, I know what happened. I forgot to pay the gas bill!”

The sun was up when Anthony woke up. We all agreed that this ‘mass suicide’ wasn’t supposed to happen.

Things got better.

The government came out with a bailout plan for crooked investment companies and saved Ralph’s ass. He could make some documents disappear, altered some numbers, and promised himself to be an honest investor for the rest of his life. We believed him.

Anthony moved to West Hollywood and found happiness in every single way.

I returned to school and later became a successful sportswriter.

We continued with our annual ritual. We still get together each September to celebrate our birthdays. And every year Anthony would repeat the same comment:

“Hey Ralph, have you paid your gas bill this time?”



Edmundo Barraza
Visalia, Ca. Nov-24-2011

Method Actor

“It’s never easy to turn failure into a hit”
 
 
 
 
We started shooting on Halloween Day. It was his first movie. The title was a little bit grandiose: “Apocalyptic Moons”. The film was supposed to be one-location-two actors-no budget kind of deal, nevertheless, the aspirations were high. 
 
The main actor was a little precocious, even for a three-year-old kid. He required naps in between takes. He also demanded milk and cookies during breaks. His real name was Lucius Night, which was perfect for the role. There was no need to change it.

 

The post-apocalyptical barren land mentioned in the script couldn’t be found in the area, even though we were in the middle of the desert. The absence of adequate transportation for the cast and crew was an impediment. 

Lucius’ mom offered her house, and the front yard was used instead. The post-production team, along with the special effects department would be working overtime. —and for free also— Luckily, the old camera from the 90s came with a zoom. Now, we could turn the miniature Godzilla into a monster bigger than the Statue of Liberty. The trick was to experiment with new tricks. Sometimes, dumb ideas look good on film (or digital.)

Halloween decorations were set. A huge inflatable menacing cat was the main attraction. It moved its head sideways. The dark pessimistic story also mentioned humongous spiders devouring humans. If only we could find a little spider.

The scene called for Lucius’ immense abilities as a ninja warrior to save Katana Luna —his one-year-old little sister— from the ferocious cat and its deadly claws. The director told Lucius to ignore previous instructions. Instead, this time he should look at the camera. He had to imagine the camera was the enemy and that he was attacking a powerful enemy. The camera was placed on top of a two-step ladder. No funds were available for a tripod.

Katana Luna was at the mercy of the monstrous feline, only a few feet away. The cat seemed to be enjoying the moment. It took its time intentionally, knowing that its future meal had no escape. The cat prolonged the suffering by moving in slow motion towards the victim. Inch by inch, the cat approached Katana. At that precise instant, nobody had any idea how Katana could be saved. 

Out of the blue, Lucius Night appeared in a close-up with a sword in hand attacking . . . the camera?

Brando had never been this good.

Of course, the movie was never finished.

The budget was so low; we couldn’t get a replacement camera.

 
 
 
 
*Especial thanks to my grandkids Lucius Night and Katana Luna for volunteering their talents.
 
 
 
 
Edmundo Barraza
Lancaster, Ca.
Jan-30-2018

A Day In My Life

The barber was almost done with my haircut when I heard the beginning of a song on a tiny radio. First, a single beat of a drum along with the piano, followed by the guitar and then the vibrating organ. From the first sound, it grabbed my complete attention with its beautiful melody. 

I couldn’t understand a word. The lyrics were in English. Before I heard this song I had listened to the Beatles and Elvis. Great music indeed but nothing quite like this. The song went straight to my heart. At that moment I would’ve given anything to be able to understand the lyrics. 

Up to that point, my young mind had refused to accept other kinds of music, for me, only rock existed. My mind blocked everything else. My inability to understand the lyrics wasn’t an inconvenience for me to enjoy it.     

I was fifteen years old, living in Mexico in the summer of 1966. In those days I didn’t have a single friend that liked rock and roll as much as I did. 

By the time the barber finished, the song wasn’t over yet. I stood there paralyzed. Looking at myself in the mirror, wishing for the song to never end. Then, I noticed the barber staring at me. I was sure he was thinking . . . ‘what’s wrong with this stupid kid?’

But he was right, I was a stupid kid because, if I could run to my house fast enough I could listen to the rest of the song and maybe catch the title. I was three blocks away from home. And I ran. I didn’t see the cracked sidewalks, or the unpaved roads, or my friends playing soccer on the street, or the grocery store, or the butcher shop. I didn’t hear the birds singing, or the dogs barking, or any noise at all. I was still listening to the most beautiful song I have ever heard.

We used to live on the second floor of a two-story house. I was up there in a flash. I went to my room and turned the radio on. I could still listen about a minute of it. The humble authoritative angry voice, the sweet sad harmonica drilling the core of my soul. And the part where the organ cried full of joy…  or pain. It induced my first mental orgasm. 

They said the name of the song and who played it. I knew that very instant that I had to buy it immediately.

I went to ask my three sisters for money. The first one, to no avail, she was the stingy one. The second one, the pious one, I asked her for church money for the next day. And the third one, the one that loved me the most, I told her the truth and she gave me the rest.

I got the record. They used to call them 45s because they used to turn forty-five revolutions per minute (RPM). I played it all afternoon. I even marked the record and counted how many turns made in a minute. They were right; forty-five times per minute, in total about 280 times. I played that song dozens of times that day, loving the song, even more, every time I played it. That moment I promised myself that I would learn the English language before I die.

Anybody could get bored after listening to the same song a few times in a row, but not me, not with that song. That night I didn’t even watch TV. I had dinner and then I took a shower and went back to my room to listen to “my song” a few more times before I went to bed and fell asleep.

It was probably past midnight when the sound of music woke me up. I stood up and turned the light on, then I turned the record player off and went back to sleep. But the music woke me up again. This time, it was the radio, but it was playing the same song. And once again, I turned it off.

The same thing happened once again. Pissed off and scared at the same time, I disconnected the cable from the plug and from the radio. I pulled it from the wall, removed the batteries, and put it under the bed. That should do it.

The next time it happened, I was out of my mind. I didn’t want to open my eyes. I thought Satan was playing tricks on me under my bed. I gathered all my courage and went under the bed. I was having the most terrifying thoughts. I imagined Lucifer grabbing my arms and dragging me to hell. But no, the only thing down there was my record player. I took it and threw it to the cement floor downstairs, where it broke in a million pieces.

In the morning my mom was poking my ribs and saying, “Wake up son, we have to go to church.”

I opened my eyes, and I saw my record player in one piece with my new record still on it, unbroken and ready to be played. 

But first, I had to go to church and pray. 

And I begged God to allow me to enjoy music again, without receiving any kind of punishment in return.

“Like A Rolling Stone”  Bob Dylan. Duration: 6:31

2004 Best Song of all time. Rolling Stone Magazine.




EDMUNDO BARRAZA

Visalia, CA. 06-04-2012

Healing Sessions

Pedro was thirteen years old, Luisa was twelve summer vacations had just started. No more school or homework for two months. Their favorite time of the year. But that year was different.

It was great for Pedro, but it was miserable for Luisa. When her mother took her to the clinic she couldn’t quite understand what the doctor said, but it sounded seriously grave. Something to do with her heart. On top of that her liver was not functioning properly. She was bedridden; she needed help to take baths and to do other things in the bathroom. She was very weak, thin, and pale.

Her mother suffered a great deal too. Luisa was her favorite child, although she never mentioned it. She agreed with what people say; parents have more love for the child that needs it the most.

Luisa needed more love. She was helpful and friendly. She always said how lucky she was to have a family like hers. Luisa was very loving, expressive, and caring. When her little sister Rosa was born Luisa said that Rosa was her little doll and that she was going to take care of her, and she did; her mother hardly did anything for Rosa.

Luisa loved reading, but lately even lifting her books was a difficult task. She enjoyed going to school, but she had to miss the last month of the school year. She was too weak to walk or study. The doctor didn’t give much hope to her mother. He said she’ll have probably just the rest of the year.

Her house was in a poor neighborhood. These hard-working people had seen better times. They still kept their dignity. The small and narrow streets made it easier for them to feel more united. Luisa felt sad with all the happy noises coming from the street. Kids of all ages jumping and running full of energy. She felt envious; she was happy for them but sad for herself.

Luisa didn’t know, but her mother had asked her other children to play in Luisa’s room for at least two hours, one hour in the morning and another one in the afternoon. They had permission to make noise and play anything they like.

They called it Luisa’s room even though all four brothers slept in the same room. They had two beds, one for thirteen-year-old Hugo and nine-year-old Paco, and the other one for Luisa and seven-year-old Rosa, or the more affectionate way Luisa called her: Rosita.

Pedro lived across the street. His best friend was Hugo, Luisa’s brother, they were the same age and went to the same school. They had been inseparable since they began to walk.

Pedro had no brothers; his dad worked as a night watcher for a large warehouse and slept during the day. Her mom was very busy baking and selling cakes for birthday parties and weddings. Pedro had little supervision and spent a lot of time at Hugo’s house.

Pedro loved the streets, but at lunch and dinnertime he had to be home because he was always hungry. Besides, his mom was the best cook in the neighborhood and possibly the city. He never got in trouble. His mother never had any complaints about him. Everybody loved Pedro because he was a good kid.

One night, Pedro was watching TV at Hugo’s house. The only television they had was in Luisa’s room. They were watching a marathon of Lassie reruns and it was getting late. Hugo asked his mom if Pedro could spend the night, she said yes. Then Pedro went to ask his mom for permission, and she agreed.

Before they turned the TV off, Luisa’s mom put several layers of bed covers and comforters on the floor between the beds for Pedro to sleep on. Bedtime was hard for Luisa because then she had all the time to think about her gloomy future. She knew she was gravely ill and at night was when she suffered the most. She had nightmares about funeral ceremonies, about burials and graveyards. One time she dreamed she was being buried alive and saw dirt fall on top of her coffin.

But now she was thinking about Pedro being next to her. She had always liked him. He was gentle and patient and polite. She never heard him say a bad word. He was fast and eager to help anybody in need.

“Are you awake, Pedro?” she heard herself whisper.

“No, I was thinking about what happened to Pinto (the neighborhood dog) this morning,” he whispered back. “Pinto was chasing a car and when the driver stepped on the brakes all of a sudden Pinto couldn’t use his brakes and hit the rear bumper with his head real hard. It was funny,” then he added, “I miss my bed, the floor is really hard.”

“Why don’t you come to the bed and tell me what happened on the street all day, you can go back to the floor early in the morning before anybody wakes up.”

With some doubt Pedro went to her bed. Rosita was already asleep with her arms around Luisa.

Pedro had been caught Luisa staring at him lately. He thought she was beautiful even in her current state, although a little skinny and pale. Pedro lifted the bed covers and lay down on his back, Luisa was on her side facing him without touching each other. They both lifted the bed sheet and covered their heads.

Pedro began to talk about the dogs in the neighborhood, “Do you know that dogs have their personalities too? Take Pinto for instance, he is very independent, ignores people and hates cars. Did you know that Tuno (another neighborhood dog) and Pinto are brothers? Yes, they are, and they’re very different, just like human brothers. Tuno is friendly and trustful he’s not afraid of strangers. They would fight any other dog that comes to their territory. They’re loyal to each other. But Kiss is my favorite dog for sure, his body is smooth, strong and muscular. He’s very playful. He seems to be happy all the time. And then Nikki, that poor dog, he’s very skinny, skinnier than . . .”

“Me?” Luisa interrupted him.

“No, skinnier than the rest,” he was glad Luisa interrupted him because he was going to say ‘skinnier than you’ and he continued. “He is sad and miserable, always enclosed in a small patio; they never let him out . . .”

“Like me” Luisa interrupted him again.

“No, no, Luisa, I’m sorry I didn’t mean . . .” now Pedro was blushing and stuttering, “I better go back to the floor.”

Luisa grabbed him by the hand and said, “No Pedro, stay. I like what you’re saying I never thought about dogs that way.”

“I know all these dogs like me better than their owners because I pet them and play with them any chance I get,” then he changed the subject and asked her, “Luisa, are you always in pain?”

“Yes, always, but I’m used to it now. In my heart I feel a piercing pain, and on my side where my liver is, I feel a suffocating ache. My body is constantly tired from lack of exercise and I can’t exercise because my heart is weak. I feel miserable.”

“Can I touch your pain?” he asked.

She took his hand in her hand and guided him to the side of her body and then to her heart. Through her pajamas, he felt her side was warm, and her heart was pulsating slowly. He felt sad for her. When he was touching her chest, he also felt her undeveloped breasts and started to get excited, but he fought this feeling, it wasn’t proper. He thought.

In the morning, a scream provoked everybody to awake at the same time, it was her mother. “Pedro! What are you doing in Luisa’s bed?” she yelled at him, “get out of this house immediately, Hugo take him out!” and she proceeded to examine and question Luisa.

“I swear, I didn’t do anything wrong Mrs. Valdez the floor was too cold and hard and, and . . .” Pedro was trying to find a reasonable excuse but couldn’t find anything on his defense, and of course, he wouldn’t say he was invited to bed by Luisa.

“Please mom, don’t throw him out; it was my fault, I told him to come to the bed to tell me a story. I swear we didn’t do anything wrong, mom, please don’t do it, please.” Luisa was now begging with tears in her eyes.

Hugo pushed Pedro softly out the door and started to question him “I can’t believe it, Pedro, what did you do to her? She’s my sister and you’re my friend.”

“I wouldn’t dare to harm anybody in your family Hugo. I didn’t do anything bad, I swear. You have to believe me. She’s just suffering a lot. She just wants some comfort, some company. We were just talking; I’m telling you the truth”. Pedro replied.

“Okay, okay, Pedro, I believe you. Just . . . just . . . she’s my sister, and she’s dying.”

Inside, Luisa was telling her mom that the night before had been the most peaceful night for her in a long time, that Pedro’s serene voice and stories were very soothing to her heart. That she was very relaxed and didn’t have the usual nightmares and begged her to allow Pedro to stay once in a while to tell her more stories. “I’m dying,” she said.

Later that day Luisa’s mom apologized to Pedro. She asked him if he could stay a couple of nights a week to tell stories to Luisa because she seemed to have enjoyed them very much and told him that she had already talked to his mom and that she had agreed.

The next night Pedro stayed with them, and they watched TV for a while. Luisa’s mom came to prepare Pedro’s ‘bed’ on the floor. When they all went to bed, Luisa asked Pedro to come to her bed; she said her mom had given her permission. Pedro turned his head to see if it was okay with Hugo, and Hugo just moved his head up and down. This time Rosita was wide-awake with her arms around Luisa and waiting to hear the stories too.

That night Pedro told them four stories. He began with the story of Joan of Arc, who fought fiercely on the battlefield along with the French Army against the invading English forces, advised by Saint Michael, just to be later abandoned by her King and falling into the hands of the English who burned her at the stake.

Followed with Saint Sebastian, an officer in the Roman Army who fought against the powers of evil and at the Emperor’s command, was pierced with arrows and left for dead, but God raised him and came back to accuse the Emperor of his persecution to the church and was sentenced again to die beaten to death by clubs.

And then about Saint Martin de Porres from Peru who established orphanages and hospitals for the poor and who had an extraordinary ability to communicate with the animals.

The last story was about Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, a Mexican writer, and poet from the 17th century, who became a nun to be allowed to study in the convent’s library at a time when women were not permitted to go to school, and who’s still considered one of the best poets in America.

When he finished, Rosita reached over Luisa’s body to kiss Pedro, and then, Luisa kissed him too. After that night, it became a ritual for them to kiss Pedro as a way of appreciation for his stories. That night Luisa went to sleep with a smile on her face.

When Pedro was learning to read, his father used to bring him small books about the lives of saints, heroes, and villains of universal history. After a while, reading was his favorite pastime. Later, he borrowed books from his teachers and neighbors. Soon he was using his allowance to buy second-hand books. He read anything that fell in his hands; he had no specific preference for themes or genres.

The following morning Pedro asked Luisa if she wanted to go outside and sit in front of the house, she agreed. After Luisa combed her hair, put a nice blouse, and grabbed a quilt, Pedro and Hugo put her on a chair and carried her out.

Pedro, Hugo, Paco, and Rosita sat on a cement bench and Luisa next to them on a chair, soon Pinto, Tuno, and Kiss joined them.

When Pedro saw a car coming, he told them “let’s see if Pinto chases that car.” They were very attentive to Pinto’s moves. When the car was getting near Pinto rose and wagged his tail. But he just followed the car with his head and sat back again, and they all laughed. The ice cream truck came and they bought ice cream bars. After a while, Luisa said she was feeling dizzy and asked them to bring her back in the house.

That night Pedro narrated passages of a book by an English veterinarian that lived in the countryside, far from the cities. He enjoyed doing house visits to assist and attempt to cure all farm animals and house pets. These stories were funny and full of joy and compassion. Luisa and Rosita enjoyed them very much, especially Rosita, she was ecstatic. When he finished, Rosita reached over Luisa’s body to kiss Pedro. Very ceremoniously for a little girl like her.

Every night, after the stories were over Pedro would Luisa’s side and heart. Pedro was trying to transmit his compassion, trying to share the pain Luisa was feeling. This time he said, “When I touch your pain, sometimes I feel excited and my ‘pecker’ . . .”

Then Luisa interrupted him, “it’s called penis”, and they giggled under the covers when she pronounced that word.

“. . .  begins to grow.” Pedro finished his sentence.

“It’s called, ‘an erection’” she corrected him, and they giggled again.

“When I started having erections I felt embarrassed, I thought it was shameful. I used to pray for it to go away. Sometimes it worked if the prayer was long enough, but I can’t help it now, I can’t control it. Sometimes I have dreams and I awake with it . . . with . . . the penis wet.” Pedro said.

“Don’t feel bad or ashamed, I guess it’s natural. My mom told me that soon I’m going to have my first menstruation or period and that I’m going to discharge a little blood, from, down there.”

“It’s called ‘vagina’” Pedro interrupted her, and they both giggled again.

“That’s enough for one day, good night.” she kissed him and went to sleep with a smile on her face.

They both started to notice that the best part of the day was nighttime. Luisa was anxiously waiting for him to tell her about his day, and Pedro was happy to return home to tell her all about his day. Pedro was paying even more attention to what he was reading, learning, and experiencing during the day because he knew that at night he was going to re-live it and enjoy it again. Luisa was now ignoring her pains and aches. She even thought the pain subsiding.

One thing was certain, she was gaining interest in life again and she was waiting for the next day or night to come. She wanted to take better care of herself. She was trying to feed herself better to gain weight.

One morning, Luisa heard Pedro screaming outside. She called her mom and told her to hurry up and see what was happening to Pedro. A minute later, Luisa’s mom came back carrying him in her arms.

Pedro had blood on his left eye. She laid him down on the bed and cleaned him up. Then Pedro’s mom and dad came and took him to the hospital in a hurry. Luisa kept crying and wished she could help him in any way but she only felt helpless and devastated.

After they took Pedro to the hospital she prayed with more devotion and concern than ever, something she hardly did for herself. A few hours later, Pedro’s mom came to tell them that he was going to be okay. “He won’t lose his eye,” she said, “the dog bit him on the eyelid; he just needed a few stitches. He’ll be wearing an eye patch for a few days, but he is fine.”

That night Pedro had to insist his mom let him spend the night at Hugo’s house. In the end, Pedro prevailed.

Luisa asked him right away to explain what happened that morning. Pedro said he was playing with a little girl from the house where Kiss lives. He was carrying her in his arms; Kiss started to jump and play too, and the dog bit him accidentally.

“No big deal, I’ll be okay, don’t worry,” and then he said, “Tonight’s story is about a pirate with an eye-patch on his left eye.”

Then he proceeded to tell the story of Tom Sawyer: This mischievous thirteen-year-old who lives with his aunt Polly. After playing hooky from school and getting in a fight, Tom had to paint the fence as a punishment. At first, Tom was disappointed. However, he soon persuaded other kids to do the job for him.

Tom falls in love with Becky Thatcher. Then Tom joins Huckleberry Finn to the graveyard, to try out a ‘cure’ for warts. At the graveyard, they witnessed a murder. Tom and Huck swore a blood promise never to tell anyone what they had seen. A harmless drunk is falsely accused of the crime, and in fear Tom and Huck run away to an island, to “become pirates”. While roaming around and enjoying their freedom, the boys become aware that the community is looking on the river for their bodies.

Tom had the idea of showing up at his own funeral. He persuades Huck to do the same, and their returns are met with great rejoicing. They become the envy and admiration of all their friends and in the end; he becomes a hero and gets a big kiss from Becky.

When he finished the story, Rosita asked him slyly, “Pedro, are you Tom Sawyer, the pirate with an eye patch and Luisa your Becky?”

“Go to sleep, you silly girl” Luisa, ordered her with a smile.

“Were you afraid of losing your eye, Pedro?” Luisa asked.

“Yes I was, but I thought if I lose an eye, an arm or a leg, I would still be alive. Then I thought about you. If you lose your life, you will lose it all. Your situation is worse than mine. I don’t want you to die Luisa. Promise me you won’t die, Luisa, please.”

“Yes, Pedro, I promise I won’t die. I’m going to tell my soul to save my heart, and then my heart will save the rest.” then she kissed him and went to sleep with a smile on her face.

On Sunday, they borrowed a wheelchair from an old lady down the block to take Luisa to church. The whole family looked very happy; Pedro and Hugo were taking turns to push her. Paco and Rosita were on each side of the wheelchair, and their mother was proudly greeting anybody that crossed their path.

That night Pedro recited a poem he knew by heart, a poem by Rudyard Kipling. He liked it so much and had read it so many times that he had memorized it. He felt great pleasure as he shared it with them. The final verses were:

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;

 If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds worth of distance run –

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!

Luisa liked it so much; she asked Pedro to repeat it again and then she asked him to write it for her because she knew one day she was going to tell the poem to her sons. After performing their habitual ritual, they went to sleep.

In the morning, Hugo and Pedro decided to take Luisa for a walk around the block, but they said, “You have to walk on your own, just hold on to our shoulders.” Soon they were joined by Paco, Rosita, and other kids, but the other kids disbanded after a few steps because they were going “slower than a snail could run”. It was boring going at that extreme pace.

Most people they encountered knew about Luisa and her condition and they showed sympathy for her. Halfway through, Hugo asked her if she was tired and if she wanted to go back. She answered “don’t be silly Hugo, it’s the same distance if we go back or if we continue.” and they started to laugh. It took them almost half an hour to return. Luisa was exhausted; her face was red and sweaty, but she was smiling. Paco brought her a soda and sat on the bench to rest and watch life go by.

That night Pedro told them a story about a selfish giant. The giant owned a beautiful garden, in which children loved to play. On the giant’s return from visiting an ogre, he gets mad at the children that were playing in his garden without his permission and builds a wall to keep them out, as a consequence of this the garden is condemned to perpetual winter.

One day, the giant wakes up to the sound of birds and discover that spring has returned to the garden as the children have found a gap in the wall.

He sees the error in his way and decides to destroy the wall, however when he emerges from his castle, all the children run away, except for one boy, who is crying so much, he doesn’t notice the giant. The giant helps this boy into a tree that he wants to climb; the boy kisses him in return. The giant announces, “It is your garden now little children and knocks down the wall. The children once more play in the garden, and spring returns, but the boy that the giant helped does not, and the giant is heartbroken.

Many years later, the giant is old and feeble and awakes one winter morning to see the trees in one part of his garden in full blossom. He descends from the castle to discover the boy that he once helped, lying beneath a beautiful tree that the giant has never seen before. The giant sees that the boy bears the stigmata.

He doesn’t realize at first that the boy is the Christ Child. The Giant is furious at the idea that somebody has wounded him.

“Who dared to harm you?” cried the Giant, “tell me, so I can take my sword and kill him.”

“No!” answered the child, “these are the wounds of Love”

“Who are you?” said the Giant, and when he understood who he was, he knelt before the little child.

The child smiled to the Giant, and said to him, “You let me play once in your garden, and today you shall come with me, to play in my garden, which is Paradise.”

Shortly afterward the happy giant dies; that same afternoon his body is found lying under the tree, covered in blossoms.

Luisa was going outside every morning now; she wasn’t feeling dizzy anymore. The kids were getting ready to play soccer. Luisa was trying to be impartial for this match because the leaders of each team were Pedro on one side and Hugo on the other. Although each time Pedro got the ball, she cheered for him, and she did the same thing when Hugo had the ball.

It was hard to take sides, so she decided to stop cheering altogether. At the end of the game, Luisa went back to her room on her own.

Luisa’s father had been a painter of cargo ships in Mazatlan for the last couple of years. He came to see them once a month and stayed for a few days. Mazatlan was in the Pacific Ocean a few hundred miles away. He arrived that morning.

Pedro was a bit concerned that Mr. Valdez might want to change the established situation because Pedro was accustomed to Luisa’s bed now. When Pedro entered Luisa’s room, he was a little reluctant and uncertain, because her dad was there.

“So, I heard somebody is sleeping with my two girls now, and I wondered who that person is. What’s your answer to that, Pedrito?” Mr. Valdez asked as he kept looking into Pedro’s eyes, not in an accusatory way, but in a playful manner.

Pedro was happy he called him “Pedrito” that was a good sign, but still; he didn’t know how to answer. “Sir, mm, ah, let me explain . . . you see . . .”

“Ha, ha, it’s alright Pedro you have my permission to continue. Luisa is getting so much better and everybody loves your stories, my wife gives all the credit to you” and he continued, “I’m taking my family to Mazatlan, would you like to join us?”

“Really, can I go? Oh, wow! Let me ask my mom for her permission.” and he ran out of the room.

The only concern Pedro’s mom had, was his eye. He wasn’t wearing the eye patch anymore, and the scar had barely healed and it looked fine but still, she said. “Okay, you can go, but you can’t get in the water.”

“But, mom, how can I go to the ocean and not get in the water?”

That night he decided to tell the story of Ann Frank, he knew Luisa would love it.

The story was about a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl that went into hiding with her family for two years during World War II to avoid being captured by the Nazi Germans. They were in Amsterdam, where some non-Jewish friends gave them shelter in the attic, all were aware that if caught they could face the death penalty for sheltering Jews.

Ann kept writing every day for more than two years about their confinement, about other family members, about her feelings, beliefs, and ambitions. She knew that her future was uncertain and to be hopeful might be useless if they were captured.

A short passage was, “I finally realized that I must do my schoolwork to keep from being ignorant, to become a journalist because that’s what I want! I know I can write, but it remains to be seen whether I have talent. If I don’t have the talent to write books or newspaper articles, I can always write for myself. I can’t imagine living like a mother and all the women who dedicate themselves to their husbands and children, and then they are forgotten. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people. When I write, my sorrow disappears. My spirits revive! But, will I ever be able to write something great, will I ever become a journalist or a writer?”

In the end, they are arrested and only her father survived, the rest died of illnesses or starvation in a concentration camp.

This time, after Rosita, kissed Pedro; she touched him on the face with her hand and looked deeply into his eyes. (At that moment, nobody could have guessed the impact these reading sessions would have in Rosita’s future. Years later, she would become an excellent and prolific writer with immense imagination and that she’d be admired by a legion of readers.)

Luisa was sobbing quietly, understanding that there was a connection between Ann Frank and herself because her future was uncertain too. What good was it, to have feelings, beliefs, and ambitions if she was going to die before she accomplished any goals?

They had to travel by train and bus; that was in itself a great adventure, Pedro felt like being part of the family. Luisa forgot about her predicaments while admiring the splendors of nature, the grandiosity of Mother Earth, the mountains, and the fields. She captured the difference between city life and the freedom that exists in nature, the beauty of the sky, and the clouds connecting to the mountains and the exotic vegetation.

The gigantic cargo ship was anchored in the harbor; it was in the process of being repaired and painted. They were allowed to stay in the crew’s quarters. When they went up to the deck Luisa took a deep breath. She thought that the view was what God saw after He finished with His creation.

They spent hours playing in the sand and getting in the water. They all were turned upside down by the waves and tasted the salty waters many times. Afterward, they ate exaggerated amounts of seafood. Before dusk, Luisa asked her dad if they could go back to the ship because she wanted to see the sunset from the deck of the ship. The view was overwhelmingly amazing. The sun was huge, and yet, the ocean was swallowing it. Luisa’s feelings were conflicting; she felt happiness and sadness simultaneously.

That night the children took a cabin for themselves, a bed for each one of them, but before Pedro started telling the story of Moby Dick, Luisa, Rosita and Pedro ended up in the same bed.

Pedro began the story, “Call me Ishmael,” he said to his new bunkmate Queequeg, and they became best friends, they were part of the crew of harpooners, hired to kill Moby Dick. (They were in a cabin of a ship, similar to this one.) They had just signed to work hunting whales. Captain Ahab is missing one of his legs from the knee down, which was replaced by a whale’s jawbone. Ahab’s secret purpose for this voyage: hunting down and killing Moby Dick, an old, very large, and ferocious whale with a snow-white hump that crippled Ahab on his last whaling voyage, Ahab is only seeking revenge.

Even though they sailed from the Atlantic Ocean, the events take place in the Pacific Ocean. The whale had already rammed and sunk several boats and killed a few men. When their boat meets Moby Dick, the whale wrecks widespread destruction, including the disappearance of their best harpooner the ‘Parsee’, later Moby Dick rises to reveal the Parsee tied to him by harpoon ropes.

After the initial battle on the third day, the giant whale disappears into the dark abyss of the ocean. Ahab ignores the advice of the crew members and continues the chase. Ahab harpoons the whale again, and the unfolding harpoon line catches him around the neck and drags him into the depths of the sea by the diving Moby Dick. The boat is caught up in the whirlpool of the sinking ship, which takes almost all the crew to their deaths. Only Ishmael survives clinging to Queequeg’s coffin for an entire day and night before he is rescued.”

After the tale was over, Rosita asked Pedro, “Are we in the Pacific Ocean?”

“Yes, we are,” Pedro answered.

Rosita’s laconic response was “Mm.”

Mr. Valdez had to stay, and the rest of the family went back home. It was time for Luisa’s check-up at the hospital. The doctors were impressed by Luisa’s improvement. They noticed a remarkable change, even though her prognosis was supposed to be quite the contrary. As usual, they said, “We must be doing something right, a perfect combination of the right drugs and the right dosage.”  Mrs. Valdez and Luisa didn’t tell them she wasn’t taking any medicine at all.

They confirmed something Luisa already knew. She was getting better, and she was probably going to survive the adversity.

Pedro had a program by now; he was reading early in the morning and preparing a summary of his nightly narrations. That night, he invited Miguel de Cervantes,  Don Quijote de la Mancha, with his skinny horse Rocinante, his lady love Dulcinea, his loyal sidekick Sancho Panza and all their imaginary and fascinating adventures. The following night, the honors belonged to Victor Hugo and the Hunchback of Notre Dame. About the deformed bell ringer named Quasimodo, a cruel and heartless priest Claude Frollo, and Phoebus the Captain of the King’s archers. All in love with Esmeralda a beautiful gypsy with a kind heart.

He had a list of poems by Federico Garcia Lorca, Pablo Neruda, Gabriela Mistral, Ruben Dario, Jorge Luis Borges, for the following week.

Except, a dark episode was about to happen in real life.

Luisa had decided that morning for the first time in a long while to take a shower on her own. She felt strong enough, but her feelings were based more on her mental strength and desire to conquer her demise than on her still weak body. When she came out of the shower, she slipped, and her head hit the sink. Her mom was in the kitchen, and her brothers were playing outside. Twenty minutes had passed before they learned what had happened.

The funeral ceremonies took place on a Sunday.

Pedro read Rudyard Kipling’s “If”, the poem Luisa wanted to read to her sons. Rosita was hugging Pedro’s waist as he read the first verse:

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise.

Edmundo Barraza

Visalia, Ca. 12-28-2010

A Girl From Orosi

GRACIELA

I was born seventeen years ago in Orosi, a tiny town in the middle of California.

My parents came from Durango, a northern state in Mexico, where they were farm workers. After they moved to the US, they kept working in the fields. My mom worked as hard as my dad. Sometimes, I joined them in the fields, but it wasn’t easy to keep up with them. I loved my parents more than anything in the world.

My goals were much different than what they could ever have dreamed.

I knew the world was too big to remain in that little town for the rest of my life. I wasn’t planning to have a boyfriend because I didn’t want to be attached to Orosi for too long. Also, I wasn’t in a hurry to ruin my life.

I wanted to go to high school in a bigger city, so I convinced my mom to let me go to Visalia.

I also wanted to be the best in my track and field team. That was the only way to get a scholarship. My dad enrolled me on a soccer team when I was eight years old. That could also get me out of there too. I didn’t hate my life, I just disliked my options. I loved my family and friends but the lack of opportunities in the area made my future bleak and narrow, so narrow, I felt claustrophobic.  

It took twenty minutes to get to Visalia. The bus came every hour. Even though Orosi High School was only a few blocks from where I lived, I attended Redwood High School in Visalia.

People said I was pretty, they also said I had a nice pair of legs, but in my opinion my legs were a bit muscular. A few boys kept chasing me, but I wasn’t interested.

Sometimes dogs chased me too, but I ran faster than them. One of them almost bit my rear end, but just before he caught me I turned around and screamed at him with all the force in my lungs. I scared him so much, he skidded ten feet while trying to pull back. It was funny.

I enjoyed riding the bus. I loved feeling the air in my hair while I did my homework. I organized my thoughts on the bus. I dreamed all my dreams and saw my future riding the bus. Sometimes, I felt romantic, and I daydreamed that I was on a streetcar in San Francisco, where I met my Romeo, and . . . oh well.  

One of my dreams was to move to L.A. or even better to New York, but I didn’t want it just to be a dream.

HECTOR

I had to do it. I was fifty feet above the ground, it looked really scary but I knew I had to do it.

The judge gave me twelve years. I’d be thirty-five when I get my release. On top of that, I’d be deported to Mexico after doing my time. I was contemplating the only way out, my only escape. It didn’t seem easy. There was a palm tree, taller than the building. I needed to make a long jump and if I didn’t grab that tree after I jumped, an awful death awaited me, but if I stayed and didn’t jump, I could spend a long and sorrowful time behind those bars.

***

I was seven years old when my parents came illegally to this country. My dad found a job as a gardener, while my mom started taking care of kids from the neighborhood.

At school, I was always in trouble, I was a bully in every grade. I was taller than the rest of the kids; even the teachers were afraid of me. When I was twelve years old, I started touching girls every chance I got. I lifted their skirts or grabbed their breasts. Most of them didn’t complain, they were probably afraid I’d become more aggressive. By the time I turned thirteen I was masturbating several times a day.

Around that time, I had constant thoughts about naked girls. Sex was always on my mind. At fourteen, I had sex for the first time with a sixteen-year-old girl. The older I got the more sex I wanted. 

When I was sixteen I raped my eighteen-year-old cousin. She didn’t say a thing to anybody because, I guess, she enjoyed it too. I raped one of my aunts too. After that, I had sex with her whenever I wanted, even though she was married.  

Some of my victims didn’t get too upset about it, others just disappeared from my sight. I knew there was something wrong with me, but since I wasn’t getting in trouble, I kept doing it. But I was never violent. Well, not yet anyway. 

If any of them were insistent enough, I would stop. But it was weird how some of them switched their attitude in the middle of it, from hating it to loving it. It might seem hard to believe but some of them returned for more. If the first time they didn’t have an orgasm because I was too fast or too rough, they would get a second or a third chance. 

People could say what they want, but I knew some of the girls I raped enjoyed it too. I shouldn’t glorify rapists, but two of my victims mentioned that being raped had been one of their sexual fantasies.

When I was first accused of rape, the judge cleared me of all charges for lack of evidence. The girl didn’t have any bruises and there were no witnesses. 

And then, the waitress in the Mexican restaurant. The place was deserted. I forced her into the bathroom and I ignored her cries and kept insisting until the cops showed up. That time, the judge gave me a six-month sentence, a restraining order, and three years probation. I was twenty years old by then.

For a while, I behaved properly and stayed out of trouble. I was almost done with the probation period when a young lady moved near my house. I was tempted to sin with that woman in the most horrendous way. She was married and had a child. After spying on her for a week I figured her entire routine. The time she left home, the time she came back and the time her husband left for work. She was so hot, I had to do it.

She lived in an apartment building, behind her unit was a small patio with a six-foot fence. Across the driveway, two workers were fixing another apartment.

The worst mistake I made was not covering my face. But when I was horny my brains didn’t function at all. I should have known she could identify me since I lived so close.

One morning, as soon as her husband left, I made my move. 

The fence was easy to jump and the sliding door was unlocked. She was sleeping topless, the sheets were on the floor. She looked beautiful in her black panties. The baby slept in a crib across the room.

I’ve never been so excited. I had an immediate erection. I had the pants on my knees in a second. I covered her mouth and removed her panties at the same time, but the moment I touched her, she woke up and kicked me in the chest extremely hard. I wasn’t ready for that reaction. I was still in shock when I fell on my back, her screams were deafening, the kid started to cry and I panicked. I wasn’t expecting such a commotion. I got up and ran out to the patio and shut the door behind me. The workers saw me jumping the fence but they didn’t say a thing. 

What a pathetic pussy I turned out to be, running out like a coward. Later, in my prison cell, while I re-enacted my failed attempt. I was convinced I would had to strangle her just for five minutes of pleasure.

That afternoon, when I came back to my house the cops were waiting for me in an unmarked car. There was no need to resist or to claim innocence.

The judge sent me to a county jail, where I was told I’d be transferred a few days later to state prison. My temporary jail was on the top floor of a four-story-high building. 

From the roof of that building, I was contemplating the two choices I had. My freedom or my death. I knew I could never find a better chance to escape than at that moment. It was getting dark and the rest of the inmates had gone back to their cells. The guards had gone too. They probably thought that an escape from there would have been impossible.

There were two palm trees next to the building, I aimed for the skinny one.

I began to run from the far end of the basketball court. I picked up speed in the middle of it because I had to jump over a four-foot metal railing. While flying in the air, I thought I’d taken a stupid decision. I was fifty feet above the ground when my heart stopped beating . . .

After my body hit the tree I couldn’t breathe for a few seconds. I remained immobile for an instant.  

I could see the freeway down below. I was holding to the dark side of the tree. I caught my breath and started to climb down. Except for a solid pain in my chest and a few scratches, I was okay. As soon as I touched the ground I got rid of my shirt. On the back, it read:  “Property of The Tulare County Jail.” Well, I’m not your property any more fuckers! 

I walked away from the bright street lights and headed for the St. John’s River, where the homeless people gathered under the bridge. I could spend the night with them, and probably get a change of clothes. Maybe they could offer me a drink that I was sure I highly deserved for my daring ‘impossible’ escape.

GRACIELA

I enjoyed watching from the bus the hustle and bustle of people on their way to work. I knew most of them worked in the fields, most of them came from Mexico, and most of them seemed happy. Not much to do in a town where even the bus ride seemed exciting. But the real source of joy for me was hiking in the Sequoia Mountains.

There was a tree near Avenue 336. They trimmed it every year to avoid the branches to make contact with the electrical wires. Because the branches carried water and if they touched the cables they would cause an electrical outage. It looked like the tree was afraid of the wires, and it grew away from them. The tree was ugly and beautiful at the same time. 

Out-of-town people always complained about the smells around the area, the cows, the manure, fertilizers, recycled irrigating water, even the city dump. I always defended my city and denied it all. But I knew they were right.    

At school, I got along with everybody. My favorite teacher was Miss Nunez, my Art class teacher. I considered her my friend, she was patient and caring.

Life was slow and peaceful. A little boring is what I meant to say. I was born here, and I had no choice over that, but I just didn’t want to die there.  

I had big plans for my future. I wanted to have at least two different careers; I wanted to be a writer and maybe a doctor of medicine or something like that. I knew it wasn’t that hard, I just knew it.

To go back home I had to take two buses, one from school to the edge of town and another one that went straight to Orosi on road 63. After waiting for ten minutes at the bus stop, I decided to get a soda from the liquor store across the street. On my way back, I watched with resignation the bus passing by. I hated to wait for another hour for the next one.

I was tempted to hitch a ride, but I didn’t like the idea ’cause there were a lot of weirdos in town. One time I got a ride from an old man. He seemed to be a decent family man, but when he offered me a hundred dollars in exchange for a ‘good time,’ I got out of his car at the first stop sign.

HECTOR

I planned to hit the road as soon as possible, I needed to go to another state. Nevada was my first choice. Hitchhiking or taking the Greyhound bus in Visalia was out of the question. I needed a car to go north to Fresno or south to Bakersfield. Visalia was going to be a hot spot for the next few days. 

If they caught me, I’d be facing at least twenty years. That’s too long for attempted rape. I didn’t even want to think about it. All I knew is that I was too horny, and that next day I had to find some pussy, that’s for sure.

There were about a dozen people under the bridge. An old pickup truck was parked at the edge of the road, finding the owner was my main priority. With a twenty-dollar in hand, I told them I needed a ride to the liquor store to get some booze. A guy stood up and said, “I’ll take you buddy, but you drive. I’m a little fucked up already.”

Around midnight, we made another trip to the liquor store, when we came back I kept the keys, it wasn’t too complicated. I just needed to wait for them to fall asleep.

GRACIELA

Frustrated, I decided to ask for a ride. Right away, a young guy in a pickup truck pulled over and I asked him if he could take me to Orosi, and he said, “Yeah, get in, I’m going that way.”

I knew immediately that I had made a big mistake when he put a screwdriver against my ribs and said, “We’re going for a ride, and you better enjoy it.”

Damn! It’s unbelievable how fast things could change. 

I thought if I got out there alive I was never going to make another stupid mistake like that. I was scared to death, but I was determined to survive whatever was coming my way. I also knew that whatever his intentions were, I would do anything to avoid getting raped or killed. 

As the truck gained speed, I saw my chances fading away. 

There was an old gas station at the corner of Avenue 328. After that, there was nothing but an empty road for the next ten miles. If we went past that gas station my chances to escape would be minimal. 

I planned to provoke an accident. I could die too, but I had to risk it. I was in great danger anyway. So, I went for it with lightning speed.

First, I pushed the button to unlock his seat belt and grabbed the hand that held the screwdriver, and then I turned the wheel toward the gas station. Then, I hoped for the best. 

The entire action must have taken all but three seconds.

When I opened my eyes, the windshield was broken and the driver’s seat was empty. My astonishment increased when I saw him all twisted and mangled next to the gas pump. He couldn’t be alive. We crashed into another vehicle, but nobody else got hurt. I came out unscathed, unharmed, and very happy to be alive.

GRACIELA

Frustrated, I decided to ask for a ride. Right away, a young guy in a pickup truck pulled over and I asked him if he could take me to Orosi, and he said, “Yeah, get in, I’m going that way.”          

“There’s a lot of crime in the area, you shouldn’t be asking for rides, it’s not safe,” he said, as I entered the vehicle.

“Yes, I know, but I don’t want to be waiting for the bus for another hour, it’s boring,” I replied. 

He appeared to be in his early twenties; his hair was tangled, disheveled and a little dirty, he probably had just gotten out of work or out of bed.

“Well, we can have a little fun before I take you home,” he said.

“No, I need to pick up my little brother from school and I need to do my homework,” I said, but he kept driving.

“No, no, I said we’re going to have some fun. I’m not giving you any options,” he said, as he pulled a screwdriver, and pushed it against my ribs.

I couldn’t see a stop sign or a stoplight anywhere near so I could jump out of the vehicle as I did with the old man. We were about twelve miles from Orosi. And not a soul in sight.

“No, I want to get out, please stop,” I said, as we approached a dairy farm. It would have been useless to scream, the area was deserted. After he passed the farm, he made a right turn on a dirt road. Then he stopped the truck behind several trees. 

He pulled me out of the truck by the hair. And as he held the screwdriver in his right hand, he added, “I said we’re going to have some fun,” then he pushed me to the ground, still pulling my hair. As I lay there, he climbed over me, and said,  “My name’s Hector, what’s yours, baby?”

I needed to escape and the only way to do that was an out-of-body experience. So, I transported my body to another area, to a place I loved . . . I found myself hiking up along the stream in the Sequoia Mountains, where I was admiring the centuries-old beautiful trees . . . ouch! I just felt a stinging pain at the center of my body . . .  now, I’m walking in the middle of the shallow river, looking up, to where the trees connect to the sky. It appears that all trees point to heaven, the place where I should be.

When I returned, I checked my intentionally abandoned body. I found it complete, and except for a little blood on my private parts and some pain, I was ‘unharmed’. 

As I reached the main road I began to think about Miss Nunez, because I needed to ask her for a favor. I’d heard about a pill you take the following day after having sex, to avoid pregnancy. She’s my favorite teacher, but she’s my friend too. She might help me get it.

             GRACIELA                               

Frustrated, I decided to ask for a ride. Right away, a young guy in a pickup truck pulled over and I asked him if he could take me to Orosi, and he said,

“Yeah, get in, I’m going that way.”                                          

“Hi, how you doing, my name’s Hector, what’s yours?” he asked.

“I’m doing fine, my name’s Graciela.” he looked a little dirty but he seemed to be a decent person. 

“I’m from out of town, just passing by, but I can stay if you show me around. You know, we can have a good time,” he said.

I had a strange feeling about that. “No, thanks, but I have to go home, now if you stop at the next light I’ll be fine,” I answered trying to sound casual, but I was very nervous indeed.

“I don’t think so,” he replied, “I said we’re going to have a good time, and we will,” he was doing fifty miles an hour.  

There was a stoplight up ahead, and I was hoping it would turn red by the time we got there so I could jump out. But the damn light remained green for an eternity. Then, all I saw ahead of us was a desolated road. I knew I was in deep trouble. And I didn’t deserve any of it.

“Okay, Graciela, today’s your lucky day, we’re going to have sex. You can enjoy or you can suffer, it’s up to you. I would recommend you to enjoy it, but if you don’t, makes no difference to me,” he said, while slowly getting his hand between my legs.

My body began to tremble. I was mad at myself, I wished it was tomorrow already, so I could forget about today. How can I be so dumb? My fists were tight and my knuckles white, I felt so helpless and vulnerable. 

“You don’t look like a bad guy, just pull over and let me out please, I beg you,” I said while trying to hold my tears.

He turned on a dirt road and went to a shed behind an abandoned house. Then, he dragged me to the shed and told me to take off my clothes threatening me with a screwdriver in his right hand.

I suddenly remembered about a rape case I heard on the news. The victim faked enjoying the whole episode, and when the rapist finished, he gave her his phone number so she could call him any time for more sex. But she called the cops instead and they got him. I considered doing the same thing, but I couldn’t give him that kind of satisfaction.

I thought I would ignore him instead. I would just remain immobile down there on the ground like a log. I wouldn’t show any emotions. I just didn’t want to get hurt or killed.

I was on my back, naked. He was holding me between his legs. That’s not how I had envisioned losing my virginity. After he finished, he turned me around and did it again, then again and again. Then he rolled me over like a sack of potatoes and said, “You bitch, say something. Scream, hit me, cry or do something you stupid bitch!” then he said, “You deserve to die.”  

He lifted the screwdriver with both hands above his head and in a blink of an eye and with tremendous force, he inserted the screwdriver on my chest. The last sound I heard was,‘thump’. 

I felt my soul escaping my body. I could see myself lying there with the screwdriver on my chest. I could see only the handle protruding from my breast. I thought about my mom, about my dad, and my unfulfilled dreams and my future. It was all cut off abruptly and without a warning. It all belonged to the past now.

How could you do that, God? I only asked you for a little favor, “I don’t want to die in this miserable town,” It was a simple favor, easy for you to concede. Why did you allow this horrible ending, why?

 

       GRACIELA

Frustrated, I decided to ask for a ride. Right away, a middle-aged man in a pickup truck pulled over. Oh shit, it’s my dad! I’m in real trouble now.

“Graciela, what are you doing asking for a ride? I can’t believe it. Don’t you know how dangerous that is?” he said in a very alarming voice.

“It’s not dangerous dad; it’s daytime, there’s a lot of people around,” I replied, trying to minimize the gravity of the situation.

“No, Graciela, I’d die if something bad happened to you. You have to promise me you’ll never do it again.”

“Yes, Dad, I promise,” I responded sincerely. And as I got in the truck I kissed him on the cheek. “I promise you, Dad,” I repeated and kissed him again.

Edmundo Barraza 

Visalia Ca. 11-17-2010.