Red As A Rose Was She

She rose in early morning, the day
Of new hope, spring in January,
As the Sun thawed her heart
Blossoming red once more.

The silk of a man’s tenderness;
Lost in her rent memories of a husband—
Bruised petals at his feet,
A youth he strew about
Wildly as if love were a trinket to torture her with—
Violence on her scars.

Years plot in bad soil, her rose wilted, waiting for
No one, allowing her beauty to shame from the Sun:
Falling backwards into his empty embrace,
Gouging the double-edged thorns of his promise blind,
Learning that mistakes can’t teach you a thing until you make them;
That even so, you make them again and again.

The blood she shed for others
In tears and petals withered,
Rid her of the flower befuddled by masculinity,
Palming grit aimlessly for romance’s indecipherable leaves—
The charm of his eyes, the vow of his smile, the succor of his virility—
But rather for what love had deprived her of;
For what it still owed her.

We watched as if we saw her,
But witnessed what she no longer was.
Miraculously, as dead as plucked on asphalt, arid by the
Everyday, at its core, the bud entombed in petals, ever so
Crimson fluttering on her cheeks,
Bled love anew on the day of her wedding.

 

Artwork

“Mexican American bridesmaid and flower girl” [Graphic]. http://www.lapl.org, Los Angeles Public Library, Los Angeles, ca. 1938, http://jpg1.lapl.org/00002/00002629.jpg.

It Takes A Thief

Infantile whimpers had always unnerved him, even now that he had two boys of his own. Carlos never made a conscious choice to be a father, or a husband, or the kind of man he said he was or acted impeccably as.

“Hi, daddy,” Dominico said as he swung the rear door open flooding the car with a cacophony of youth, drowning out the drowsy, vocal fry of early afternoon NPR news.

“Sup, dad,” Carlitos said, heaving breath back into his sweaty body, having sprinted to the car from God-knows-where. He was the oldest, named after Carlos himself just like he was after his father.

“How was school?” Carlos asked, not because he really wanted to know— he could care less about the inane goings-on in the life of two prepubescent grade-schoolers; elementary and middle school—but given that he was playing the role of father as he was the role of husband to his wife Maria Fernanda, he needed to ask.

“We got a lot of homework today,” said Dom.

“That’s ni—”

“Suck my dick, bitch,” Carlitos yelled out the window at a group of boys walking away from the school’s front gate. He burst into laughter as he settled back in the passenger side seat. The group of boys exploded into a laugh track of hoots and gibbers.

Once his son’s hysterical laugh dwindled to a satisfying, prolonged sigh, Carlos felt that nagging inner voice that cried at him whenever filial care and responsibility was required. It told him to reprimand his son, but, What the fuck do I know about sucking dick? he thought.

Aside from the “rights-and-wrongs” that every father needed to impart on his children, being Mexican, he also needed to pass on to his sons the rules and stipulations on how to be a man. What the fuck do I know about being a man? Carlos asked himself.

Carlos was reluctant to teach his sons anything— regarding life or manhood— because of the repercussions these “lessons” would ultimately have on their lives. Looking over at the seat Carlitos was sitting on, his wife’s seat, Carlos remembered the last time he had gotten his dick sucked on that very seat, but not by its owner. Back when his email used to be spiritualjourney76@live.com and prepared meals primarily with ghee and coconut milk. How his dad’s ultra-macho, Übermensch speeches and close-fisted beatings did nothing to dull the raw desire he felt for his older cousin Heriberto after the night they slept together in a car. What the fuck did that cheating bastard know? Carlos thought, wiping away a tear.

“Are you okay, daddy?” his younger son Dom, sometimes going by Dommie, asked. He was always looking at Carlos; mimicking even the way he laughed. He was his favorite person. It annoyed the living fuck out of Carlos. Who the fuck am I to have anyone want to be like me? was what he really wanted to tell his son.

“No,” Carlos replied, looking at his son’s concerned eyes— his eyes— in the rearview mirror. “I’m just wiping some dust from my eye, buddy. Don’t worry.”

####

Carlos had his mother Concha’s eyes and her taste in men; guys who didn’t love you because they didn’t even love themselves. They loved no one and hated the world. Brash, passionate men that didn’t give a damn about you, but that knew how to love with their soul. That’s why you can’t stop loving them, even after they leave, Concha used to complain; your bed or this godforsaken earth. Carlos also inherited from his mother the ability to lie to himself and hold true to the deception no matter how miserable the outcome made him. He lied to everyone; about wanting a big family, and falling in love with the woman who he would eventually marry, Maria Fernanda. But mostly, he lied to himself about how much he loved Heriberto, his second cousin. His affection for Heriberto grew commensurate to their maturing bodies. They would go years without seeing each other, and when they finally did, it was as if they had never lost communication.

“Look at those two,” Papa Carlos would tell his cousin Lencho. “Those two love each other like brothers.” Butt-brothers.

Carlos was driving his family to meet Heriberto. They had lost touch with one another for over 14 years. The last time he saw Heriberto, they were both thirty, single, and writhing in forbidden urges.

####

The car ride was silent at first. Carlos used this time to analyze every single detail in Heribertos’s car that was within his field of vision. The first thought that came to mind was that the car was spotless. The smoky scent of leather made it feel as if he had just rolled it out of the dealership. The rug under his feet was slick, absent of any grit to cut the friction of his leather-soled boots. The inner-door didn’t contain wayward pennies or dimes rattling around. There weren’t any crushed, half-drunk plastic bottles rolling around underneath his seats. The interior smelled of Heriberto; not quite cologne or car-freshener, but also of his sweat and minty breath. It was a quality that Carlos had noticed of Heriberto upon first meeting him since he had become an adult. His presence simply took ownership of whatever place he inhabited. His locker at the gym smelled that way as well. While other lockers smelled of old ass boiled in armpit sweat, served with a side of farts and smegma, Heriberto’s smelled of freshly-bathed skin; that smell soap releases when it’s first wet by hot, slightly scalding water, how it fizzes and bubbles, and melts into a white, smooth lather. Carlos could still see this lather reservoir in Heriberto’s belly button— and innie that he wanted to dip the tip of his longest finger into— and trapped in his nicely trimmed and landscaped pubic hair. It continued to waterfall down his pubic bone, framed beautifully by his protruding hip bones and perfectly-defined obliques. The rush of water pushed the foam past his pubic bone, on and around his flaccid, yet large penis, slowly dripping off his smoothly-shaved, puckered testicles.

It was at that moment that Carlos knew that he really liked Heriberto. Mainly because he had never thought of someone’s body as much and because it felt wrong. While watching porn, the male performers were as attractive to him as the female. He often imagined the man’s chiseled body slamming hard against the woman’s round and fleshy bubble butt doing the same to him. Carlos wanted to search man-on-man porn, but he was too afraid of liking it more than straight porn. The same went for tasting his own semen. What if I like it so much that I become addicted to it? he wondered. The problem wasn’t that he had sexual feelings for another man, or that the man was his cousin. The main issue was that Carlos felt that he couldn’t feel good about enjoying anything that felt good in life. According to his parents, everything in life was either vanity or a sin. That’s why most of the things Carlos did were done so behind everyone’s back, and if he could do them behind his own— as a safeguard to not feel guilt or remorse— then he would.

Carlos could hear his dad’s voice saying, Carlos, cabron. You better not be thinking of what you’re thinking. Remember that time I ripped off a branch from out pomegranate tree and beat the shit out of you and made you sleep outside naked? That time I found you and Heriberto acting like fags. Being gay is a sin. It’s being less of a man. Everyone you know will stop loving you for thinking and feeling this way. So, just stop.

“How long have you had this car for?” Carlos asked.

“This old rust bucket?” Heriberto replied. “Uh, I don’t know. For about two years.”

“Really? I’m impressed.” Heriberto had a lust for fast cars, and his 2004 Mustang GT, in lipstick red, was beginning to close off the world it was speeding on. The faster Heriberto drove, the more distant Carlos felt from the world within his own head tying him down, making his own body and soul accessible to him once more.

“Really? Why’s that?”

“I don’t know.” The more comfortable that Carlos got, the wider the spread of his legs became. The closer his left knee got to the center console, the more separated Heriberto’s vision became, as if each of his eyeballs operated independently of the other, playing tug of war with his eye sockets; splitting their focus between the harsh, bumpy road and Carlos’s tanned, hairy legs. “Most people would’ve trashed their cars by now, I guess.” Carlos let out a nervous laugh.

“Well, you know me. I like everything to be in order. I hate messes.” The truth was that Carlos didn’t really know him. The reason he had decided to accompany his cousin to the gym was to prove, once and for all, whether either of them felt anything for one another. Whether pursuing this crazy feeling he felt deep in his guts was worth ruining his whole life for. “Speaking of which, would you mind handing me something from the glove compartment?”

“Sure. What is it?”

“Oh, it’s just my cologne.” Carlos leaned forward and pushed the button on the center of the compartment and it popped the lid open. He couldn’t help but take a quick look around at its contents. The giant box of Magnum condoms sparked his interest immediately. A pack of 36. Why would he need so many? Carlos wondered. How much tail is this guy getting?

“Here you go,” Carlos said as he closed the compartment and handed the half-empty cologne bottle to Heriberto.

“Thanks, man.” Heriberto spritzed a pump on each side of his neck, one on his chest, reaching under his shirt, and the last in his pubic area, lifting the elastic band of his track pants. “You never know when someone might pay a visit downstairs, am I right?”

Heriberto noticed that Carlos was looking into the tent pitched as if looking for boy scouts.

“I go commando after I shower,” Heriberto said, smacking the waistband against his abs.

“Oh, that’s cool,” Carlos said, fumbling his gym bag over his lap, trying to conceal from Heriberto that he too was pitching a tent.

####

On the ride home, Dom asked if Heriberto was gay. Maria Fernanda chuckled uncontrollably. The car suddenly broke. So hard that both of the brothers’ heads slammed against their parents’ headrests.

“What did you say?” Carlos asked lasering his dark-brown, almost black, eyes into his son’s; their intensity only augmented by the rearview mirror delivering them. Carlos’s wife stopped laughing. “Dominico. I asked you a question.” Carlos turned his head 180 degrees and around the driver’s side headrest as if it were slithering off his shoulders. Dom froze, tranquilized by the venom injected in him by his dad’s stare.

“Carlos, just stop it already,” Maria Fernanda said. “It’s okay, mijo. Just answer your daddy’s question.” She said so with the intension to fuel her husband’s rage rather than defuse it.

Dom felt like he had lost his ability to speak. He wanted to apologize, which is what he thought his dad wanted. Carlos always wanted to be right; to be the strongest, the smartest, and the kindest, even if it meant being the biggest asshole and ruining everybody else’s time, including those he wanted to please.

“I…I…” Dom mumbled, wanting to choose his words so wisely that he didn’t know which to choose, like rattling Scrabble tiles around on the wooden stand. “I just wanted to know if Heriberto wanted to get married again.” Carlos took a deep breath and Maria Fernanda a sigh of relief.

“Listen, Dommie,” Carlos finally said after exhaling, “Your grampa once killed a man for calling him gay. Do you know what gay means?” His wife winced, rolling her eyes and huffing air through her nose.

“Mmhhmm,” Dom shook his head.

“Well, son, being gay is bad. It goes against what we believe.” Dom continued to nod, tears rolling down his sunburnt cheeks. “And if you ever mention what you did or if I ever find out that either of you are gay— I’m talking to you too, Carlitos— I’m going to be so fucking angry that I won’t wait for someone else to kill you.” Carlos turned the key in the ignition. “I’ll kill you myself.” He wiped the tears his wife interpreted as rage-incarnate, gnashing his teeth together, trying not to yell at her, Stop looking at me! Can’t you see I’m tired of playing this fucking game?

####

Carlos Echeverría Senior, or Papa Carlos as his son would refer to him, was a migrant worker who would leave his wife and their son Carlos alone in their small home in Guadalajara, Mexico for months at a time. He was a seasonal fruit picker for the big growers in Central and Northern California.

By word of the town’s people, a young Carlos found out that his father engaged in extramarital acts and heavy alcohol and drug consumption. Not only did he have another wife, he also had another son that was also named Carlos and was older than him by a year. When Carlos confronted his mom regarding the town’s allegations against his dad, she slapped him across the face. Her blow carried the weight of repressed anger and the sting of conjugal subjugation; an impotence to speak her truth.

“Just shut up about it,” his mother Concha roared. “These neighbors just love to gossip, and the things your father does are his to know about and his alone.”

Carlos didn’t understand his mom or why at that moment he felt so much hatred toward her— even more than toward his dad.

“I only believe what he tells me. If he wants to lie and thrash around like a dog with all the town’s whores, he’s the one that’ll have to answer to his Creator.” The town whores were comprised of widows, abandoned women, and spinsters; those that didn’t have a husband to look after, therefore they tried to take them from those that did. “These dirty bitches bewitch married men with their big asses and sex-magic.”

####

Carlos looked over and noticed a headless Heriberto peeling his tight, moist white t-shirt around his ears and over his head. After he wedged his head out of the shirt, Heriberto’s unkempt hair and disoriented look brought a smirk to Carlos’s face. Heriberto smiled and threw the balled up cotton top over the steering wheel.

Heriberto’s chest rippled red; either from blushing or blooming with lactic acid. It may have been the massive amount of blood flooding the individual chambers in Carlos’s penis that was making him light-headed, but everything that Heriberto did began to play in slow-motion in his head. Heriberto placed the tip of his tongue on the tip of his right thumb and licked the distance between it and his index finger. The same distance popular science had deemed to be the measure of a man’s dick. In order for that to be true in Carlos’s case, he would need hands twice their original size. Clown’s hands. Heriberto began to lick the palm of his hand; purring and moaning in anticipation. The bright red head atop Carlos’s cock was shiny, glistening with pre-come.

Heriberto gripped Carlos’s penis tightly with his right hand while massaging a doughy bulge in his sweat pants. His penis was heavy with blood, stiff like never before. It felt to Carlos as though it was the first time he ever had an erection. An erection that had never been touched by anyone other than he. Heriberto’s veiny and sinewy hand looked stringy, and long but around his penis, it felt full, almost pillowy. The strangeness of his fingertips pressuring the thick dorsal vein running up and down his shaft— molding to the precise amount of pressure Heriberto was applying to it— felt as though his fingers would go right through it like a stick of butter.

The grip began to churn slowly, up and down loosening the skin on the shaft; which was practically shrink-wrapped, ready to rupture had his penis grown even a centimeter in girth. Heriberto’s strong, warm hands— the ones he used to beat all of the town’s kids, and some adults, with at arm-wrestling— could’ve melted wet a pillar of solid ice, as they were moistening the tip of Carlos’s cock. They could’ve turned his stone-hard erection into enough bread to feed an entire family. They felt miraculous.

####

It bothered Carlos that his wife looked so pleased; the fact that she was more concerned with his own soul-crushing performance than with the tears perspiring down her little boy’s eyes. The look she gave their son seemed to communicate, That’s what you get for being a little fag.

“I’m sorry,” Maria Fernanda whispered to Dom.

Being gay in Mexico meant going against God’s will: against the holy sacrament of marriage between a man and a woman; and the bearing and raising of catholic children. The shame that the town would subject those who didn’t comply was worse than the punishment their sin would be awaiting them in hell. The act of sodomy— technically a sin— was only looked down upon, but it wasn’t unheard of amongst straight men. Calling yourself gay was wrong, but fucking other men wasn’t. It was a prima-nocta-like ritual that straight men bestowed upon themselves; to bestow into a newly-declared gay man’s body their God-endorsed penis. The pecking order for staying a true man was to fuck and never to be fucked.

Carlos’s speech made his heart race faster than after being chased by rabid dogs when he was a child in Mexico. He actually didn’t care whether his son thought Heriberto was gay or whether he liked Heriberto or not; which he still did. He knew that his son wasn’t gay. There was something about Heriberto’s eyes and smile that made Carlos feel good, a goodness that he felt he couldn’t share with anybody; not even his son. A goodness that felt wrong to feel, but at the same time, felt so right.

####

Carlitos’s phone began to ring. The ringtone— Drake’s “Started From The Bottom”— was one that he and his mother had fought over as being too inappropriate for school.

“The school’s going to think we’re heathens,” Maria Fernanda argued.

Carlos saw it as a healthy form of self-expression, but he hated the creepy, looped toy-box music, Drake’s lazy way of rapping, and his gratuitously awkward interjections of the N-word.

“Pick up already,” Carlos snapped.

“What’s up, bitch?” Carlitos answered. “You like dick, don’t you?”

“I’m telling mom you said that,” Dom hollered from the backseat, taking on the parenting role that Carlos had no interest in relinquishing. The white noise of kid chatter, radio blasting rap, and a brass band of car horns placed Carlos in a daze.

For his sake, Carlos hoped that Carlitos did end up being openly gay, instead of living the repressed life he himself did. Carlos would have to reject his son, torture him with convenient-theology just to keep up appearances, mainly with his wife. But deep down, he’d be proud of his son for doing something he still wasn’t strong enough to do, even now as a full-grown, fully-formed fragmented man. Withholding the fact that he was and had always been gay. My sons will have to base their reality on what I tell them, he thought. Carlos somehow wanted to tell his kids that he loved them no matter what; that he didn’t hate them. He only hated himself for hating them; for being so much like the father he grew up hating. As his father did when his spousal fidelity came into question, Carlos would always deny being gay even if someone caught him with a cock in his mouth.

In Carlos’s mind, Carlitos was fated to become a fuck-up just by looking at the way he dangled his leg out of the car. It took a fuck-up to understand another. Papa Carlos thought too highly of himself. Nothing ever affected him; physically or emotionally. He never cried, or expressed any delight, at least not outwardly. Fuck, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him bleed, the thought once crossed Carlos’s mind.

“There are three ways of doing things: the right way, the wrong way, and my way,” Papa Carlos used to say. “My way supersedes the right way.”

 

Artwork

Relief showing procession of offering bearers[Photograph]. Dynasty 12. ca. 1961–1917 B.C. Rogers Fund, 1909. Accessed on January 12, 2017. (https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/544193).

Dream So Like A Waking

Watching porn started off as a fun game of hide-and-seek to Omid; hiding from his parents, and seeking their stash of magazines and videotapes. These articles of filth belonged mostly to his dad, and the excitement Omid felt thinking about it was matched only by the first time he saw a pair of silicone-enhanced breasts in some of the porno magazines. His dad used to fall asleep with the lewd publications draped on his bare chest: one hand on the page and the other holding his flaccid penis. Omid used to remove his father’s tranquilized hand out of the way and flip through the pages. Images of hair-covered vaginas spread open by lace-gloved fingers made him wonder if his father’s taste coincided with his mom’s naked body. Or if somewhere deep in her drawer, balled-up like a pair of socks— his mother had the same outfit. Both the models and his mother had the same brunette hair and olive complexion. In spite of the moistened pink labia gleaming back at him like freshly polished chrome, Omid’s flaccidity echoed the wan penis staring back at him from the bed.

Porn’s crinkled, musty-smelling prohibitiveness often made Omid fake an illness because he was old enough to be left home alone to recover. It felt dangerous looking at something his parents had caught him and told him not to look at. Although he could look at it all day, and sometimes he would, at the age of 8, he still didn’t get what the big deal was. Why do all my cousins and friends want to look at this stuff? he wondered. He coveted the naked female body because he felt that that was what every male he knew wanted. He simply wanted to fit in.

****

Once puberty began to make his testicles itchy with hair growth and the pit of his stomach tingly with semen production, porn took on a different tinge. Masturbation turned the game into an occupation, as when children who play backyard basketball go professional. Porn became a necessity, a release, and a prison. He needed to ejaculate at least 4 times, sometimes 5, before he felt satisfied. Otherwise, if he didn’t, he felt shaky and nervous, like walking around in sopping wet clothes that you also urinated in. It was a gateway to sex, if only by proxy, to something he knew and felt that he couldn’t get at 15 years: An adult woman.

****

He didn’t watch porn as much as he used to, but not as infrequently as he should.

Nowadays, he preferred other types of porn. He could only manage to get off while watching girls that seemed like ones he would personally like to meet, ones with whom he wouldn’t feel shame after coming. He needed to imagine them with clothes on in order to find them attractive naked; in tight washed out jeans that rode up, displaying the lower quadrant curvature of their ass. The same ass that was bouncing up and down on the computer screen. He could imagine himself holding one of these girls’ hands while walking their dog Max, or maybe Winston, around the lake in LA’s Echo Park, or sitting next to her on their big comfy couch binging on Netflix.

As his body temperature rose— heart palpitations as well as his manic jerking— he could picture the emaciated, Russian girl of 25, pretending to be just barely 20, smiling and winking at him across the dinner table at his parents’ house during Thanksgiving. How his mom would babble on and on about how Jesus died for her sins and how he would be thinking about all the dirty sex that they would have on his kid-sized bed, surrounded by a shrine of his life up to high school his mother had kept intact. The thought of having a naked girl in his room, biting her bottom lip, holding back pleasure-pain because of his penis being tightly-deep inside of her excited him so that he needed to rewind the video player a few minutes to the part where Agness had first slid off her black lace thong. What a name. He had a great aunt named Agnes and according to his mother, she was a little cunt.

****

Omid enjoyed reading comments left by other users on the various porn sites saved in his “Favorites” bookmarks. He got hard with those that were constructive, such as: “She has nice round titties;” or “I love the cute little face she makes when she eats his ass.”

He hated those that dehumanized women: “That’s right. They’re just fucking machines. Made for taking cock;” “Don’t pity them, it’s their purpose. Their holes are for filling. It’s not abuse if you treat them rough;” or “These girls have nothing human anymore…They’re just dolls…fuckmeat!”

In the tight grip of pleasure, he felt conflicted. The roughness with which the guy was feeding his impossibly large, erect penis to the girl turned him on, but in his heart of hearts he would think, I would fuck her like that, but I’d be a lot nicer to her. In fact, Omid hated any video that depicted rape or orgies of any kind, Two penises were one too many, was only one of his many viewing policies. Any scene that imposed sexual acts on women, or ones where they were duped into a sexual situation were out of the question for him.

Porn, even as an adult— older now than his dad was when he first exposed him to porn as a child— had always been about feeling good; about enjoyment. He never wanted to hurt anyone, not even the girls getting paid shit wages to take it in every hole. Omid preferred scenes that took place in clean, Mid-century modern homes with nice lighting and flowers in glass vases, on beds or couches upholstered in white, velvet fabric— 85% Cotton, 15% Polyester. He wanted each video to have nice trip-hop or piano music, and proper titles, like “Take It Slow,” or “Slow and Sensual.” But most of all, he liked it when the action transitioned organically into sex, as he imagined it did in real life.

****

The video was only 5 minutes long, more than enough time to come. He was a 3-minute-man, 4 on days when he had ejaculated more than once. He liked seeing a connection between the girl and the camera. Point-of-view porn was his favorite. Looking at the male performer’s anus opening and closing as he thrusted his hips back and forth made Omid’s penis soft. He wasn’t thrilled about the penis either, but in his mind, it was a necessary evil. Girl-on-girl was hot, but it just didn’t do it for him. He needed to see some pounding. If there happened to be a porn girl that he liked, but she was fucking someone visibly on camera, he prefer that it be someone who wasn’t more attractive than he. Someone fat, or chubby. Someone that he could identify with. Seeing these young women who wouldn’t be caught dead talking to the type of men they were fucking on camera on the street gave him hope that maybe there was a petite, bosomy, bubble-butted, chestnut-haired, Eastern-European 20-year-old out there looking for a guy just like him. That upon seeing this unicorn of a woman, they would both instantly know that they had finally found each other.

****

Her name was Agness Agnelli and Omid fell in love with her upon first seeing her brown eyes look fiercely at the camera. He found her lack of mastery of the English language endearing— something he would help her work on once they started dating. She was skinny, but with a little bit of a tummy, just like a real girl. He could see them walking out of a movie and feel people’s judgmental looks, as if saying, what does a girl like her see in a guy like him? He would see other men more attractive than him— like the ones Agness performed lurid acts of sex on camera with, the ones he hated clicking on— and he would feel jealous, but in his jealousy, he would feel reassured because he knew that she was his. She was with him. He had something that they didn’t. At first, her decision to further develop her career in porn would make him uncomfortable, but after a while he would grow to accept that it was part of her job. Some people just have to deal with assholes and dicks at work, he thought. The only difference is that she dealt hers and took strangers’ in it.

****

Holding down the “Command” key on his Macbook and clicking on her name, he saw under Agness’s personal page that she was from Russia, a place he never thought of or wished to visit, but given that they were dating, he would have to travel there to meet her parents, brothers— of which she would have two; big and strong, Boris and Yevgeny— and one younger sister. As her moaning got heavier and louder on the other tab, he kept looking at her “About Me” page, imagining them in LAX going through TSA, snickering and smiling at each other in a language only they understood as they each got legally molested. Once in their seats, Agness would ask him to accompany her to the bathroom. Omid clicked on the tab that contained the action and imagined that he and her were doing it doggy-style in the plane’s bathroom. After having proudly joined the mile-high club, they would go back to their seats and she would fall asleep on his shoulder.

He paused the video for a moment, clicking on the “expand window” button to cover the video’s distracting tags: teen, facial, hardcore, pornstar, blowjob, amateur, POV, cumshots, big-dick, facial-cumshot. He wanted to enjoy this most private of moments in complete silence.

****

He felt a tug on his balls and a twinge on the back of his neck. His penis twitched as his jerking slowed from psychotic to soothing. Even though he lived alone, he released a suppressed exhale and cupped his free hand, forming a reservoir to catch his incoming semen. It was all part of his system. After the spurt of warm come dwindle to non-ejaculatory palpitations, he turned his palm down on his boxers and wiped his hand clean. Tomorrow was laundry day anyway.

Even after he came, he always needed to see the money shot. It soothed him, like hearing a dissonant chord resolve itself at the end of a song, or like seeing “The End” at the conclusion of old films; not really necessary, but it gave people a pleasant sense of closure.

“Oh fuck, I’m gonna come,” the muscular guy banging his hips against the girl of his dreams yelled out.

Omid was currently single, and had never dated a girl in person. He really wanted a girlfriend, but had little to no clue on how to get one. The expression on Agness’s face was of relief. Omid felt happy for her, for going through all that and still having the courage to smile.

****

Omid began the next morning’s session as he always did; searching for videos to get his blood going and get ready for work. He searched for Agness videos and clicked on her profile page to see if any new videos had been uploaded. To his surprise, Agness’s “Career Status” had changed from “Active” to “Retired”. How could this happen? When did this happen? Just the night before Omid had feasted his eyes and body to Agness, her Muscovite beauty and controlled, premeditated acts of sodomy and debauchery.

He scoured pornhub.com, freeones.com, and every other porn site he could think of. To his dismay, they all repeated the sad truth: Retired.

In the comments’ section, various users posed their hypothesis for Agness’s sudden apotheosis.

JArhturRank posted on December 9 at 10:35 a.m., “Don’t hold your breath for more stuff from this babe, she’s a case of ‘Gone in 60 seconds’. Too bad really.”

scotty whores rock!!! posted on the same day a few hours before, “Bummer she retired agness was a super skilled whore and a super sweet lady.” That was it. Nobody else was reacting to Agness’s retirement. It was as if Agness had died and nobody really cared that she was gone forever. The very next comment, posted over three months before by civilianX read:

“Damn this girl is cute. I would like to tongue punch her fart box.”

Omid got sucked into a vortex of comments, and kept reading and reading. A few hours went by and he called in sick to work. He searched every free porn database, and even paid $39.99 a month to have full access to the site russianhoneys.net, featuring unreleased videos of Agness. After he entered his credit card information and agreed to the cryptic endless-scrolling contract, he clicked on her videos. There were only two; one he had already seen, and the other was barely over a minute long and mostly dialogue.

He searched and searched, clicking page after page of animated video thumbnails, displaying miniature previews of the scenes. But nothing caught Omid’s eye.

He was looking for something, someone he didn’t know of yet. He knew not what he wanted. It was a gut feeling. He would know when he saw her.

He wasn’t looking just for porn anymore.

Omid was looking to fall in love again.

Artwork

Albert Dyer during trial [graphic]. Herald-Examiner Collection. http://jpg1.lapl.org/00105/00105985.jpg. 1937.

The flicker of her eyes

 

The flicker of her eyes will be featured in

Sky Island Journal’s Issue #3,

their Winter 2018 release.

Read Sky Island Journal

Artwork

Campbell, Judith. Skeleton angel [Image]. Los Angeles, 27 Dec. 2017.

Through His Bars Of Rage

I am the hunter.

He is the hunted.

He runs away from me with all his might. I chase after him with all of mine, but it’s never quite enough to reach his speed. My short, stubby legs are no match for his long, veiny ones.

He distracts me with false promises and steals the prey we agreed to share. He does so with a spirit of play, not malice. His essence is pungent and alluring to me as blood is to a predator. The scent trickles away from his face as the wind that crashes against his body disperses around him. His sweat drizzles on my nose, the sound of his laughter chatters in my ears. The faster I run behind him, the farther away he seems.

The adrenaline coursing through my drained child-body is the only energy source keeping my feet moving. I’m tired of chasing him, of feeling that he doesn’t want anything to do with me. I’m tired of knowing that this is what fuels his unapproachable speed.

Is he getting faster, or is it a combination of my reluctance to pursue him and his objection to being pursued? He runs away laughing.

And that’s how the dream ends.

*          *          *          *

I dug my face out of the pillow, and gave the nightstand a half-open, one-eyed look. My phone buzzed violently, nagging me to get up, so I tapped the “snooze” button and relieved it of the futile endeavor. I looked around the gray-lit bedroom. The fan I should’ve replaced years ago was still circulating tepid, dusty air into my wife’s asthmatic lungs, heaving gently under the covers. My one-year-old son was cooing a gurgled song in his crib. My dog Nala was deeply focused on giving herself a full-body tongue bath in the sun’s warmth slivering through the blinds.

It was 7:05 a.m. on a Saturday, and the sun itself had barely awoken. Getting dressed in my yellow Club America jersey— a team from Mexico’s capital— was a big step for me toward playing a sport that I’ve loved since infancy, but one that conjured the worst bouts of anxiety. The angst I felt was due to the mix of two bloods coursing through me—Izaguirre from my dad and Marion from my mom—and the bad blood between them. In this malpracticed alchemy, born of the love once felt by a teenage boy and girl, each side seemed to be trying to eliminate the other as if it were a bloodborne virus. It would have taken the synchronous work of a hematologist and psychiatrist to accurately diagnose the damage wrought inside of me.

I closed my eyes, and took a deep, slow, calming breath.

*          *          *          *

When my dad first landed in prison, my mom used to take us to visit him. It was her way of rescuing a shred of normalcy from the wretched situation she found herself at 22-years-old. She called it normalcy, I called it love. Hate. Acceptance, and revulsion.

My mom woke us up at 4 a.m., showered each one of us, dolled herself up, and took a Mexican bus from La Sánchez Taboada— a borough of Tijuana— to the Mexico-U.S. Border. After dealing with Customs, we then took the San Diego Trolley from Chula Vista, to Downtown and then walked three city blocks. My mom wouldn’t allow us to break the illusion of a cohesive family by talking or complaining.

“You’re not hungry,” my mom would say, licking her thumb and brashly gouging out an eye booger lodged in the inner corner of my eye. My siblings and I weren’t even allowed to rest our eyes, because we weren’t tired either.

At the prison, the surly, underpaid guards patted us down. We weren’t allowed to breathe audibly in there, let alone talk. Waiting on a long name list to finally dwindle down to our proud Izaguirre name, tribes of people stalled in a packed waiting room filled with horny women and insufferable children. Once in, my dad was ecstatic, he was the only one, hugging and kissing us all.

At the age of 8, I found it puzzling as to why my mom was always so pissed off at my dad. No hug. No kiss. When they did hug, it looked as though my dad was hugging a complete stranger, a broom, and not a woman he had been inside of, one who had carried his children on three separate occasions. She would give him a look of writhing disgust, of How could you have done this to us? This was her way of finding a catharsis from the misery, the curse of the Izaguirre men. Fighting with her husband was her way of finding normalcy. To us, she only wanted to see him to show him her anger and to let him feel her grief. That’s why she went through all that trouble. And he was perfectly fine with it. She did it out of spite, and he took it in spite of it.

“Don’t believe his bullshit,” she would pre-screen us. If she was really peeved, she wouldn’t even let us get close to him.

“How are you, mijo?” my dad would ask. He was surprised that I didn’t want to be near him. As I approached him, my mom would step in.

“Leave him alone,” she’d say, placing her arm across my chest, pulling me aside. “He doesn’t want to be with you. He’s embarrassed of having to come here, and being seen with you.”

This was the only normal thing about this minimum security display of visiting hours affection. Everything else was premeditated and staged. It didn’t feel real. It felt like going to church. We went because my mom threatened us, not because we loved Our Father.

That never felt normal. It would’ve been normal for my mom to divorce my dad and remarry. It would’ve been normal for her to stay single and live the asexual life of a brooding, abandoned wife. But she wasn’t seeking normal. She was seeking love. A love driven by hatred. She wanted to show my dad that we were still his. She wanted to provide normalcy for only one person, Him, only to shatter it right before his eyes as she used to break the porcelain china whenever they fought. Izaguirre men knew how to seduce a woman, how to get her in bed and how to please her once in it. They also knew how to place a baby deep in their wombs and a deep sense of comfort in their hearts. More than anything, they were experts at letting women down. Any woman. Girlfriends, wives, lovers and mistresses. All women, except their mothers.

*          *          *          *

Growing up in a suburb of Los Angeles simply known as “the Valley,” my dad often expressed that he felt like a stressed out teenager, not wanting to find employment or being capable of holding down a job, and leaving my mom alone to fend for herself and tend to their kids. These feelings facilitated his drug usage not only to escape this undesirable reality, but to spite my mom for trying to change him into a man he didn’t want to be. This led to the erratic and violent behavior that eventually landed him in prison.

In Uncle Ramiro’s eyes, mom’s older brother, not only did I bear my dad’s first and last name, I also bore the gene, the cancerous putrefaction, that made Izaguirre men so loathsome. So unmanly. I bore the mark of the beast. A bullseye of derision. He figured that a fatherless boy could use disciplinary guidance, but his ulterior plan was to ridicule the Izaguirre out of me, one flagellating insult at a time.

Soccer was a sport that required a high level of skill, one that required the support of your family. My mom was always busy working 18-hour shifts due to my dad’s absence. Uncle Ramiro was the only person who cared enough to take me to play. Through his rants, I learned that soccer was a man’s game and that you had to be a real man to truly excel as a player. Under that simple yet discriminating rule, I would never be good at it. I wasn’t a man because my dad wasn’t one either. My dad’s early filial departure technically made me the man of the house, but at that time I was only 9, with not enough hair on my balls, according to Uncle Ramiro, to make even the finest of paint brushes.

His cruelty wasn’t his fault. He was merely attempting to reverse the psychological damage my dad had inflicted upon my chances of becoming a real man. Based on Uncle Ramiro’s upbringing, it was customary to knock people’s confidence when they thought that they were better than what they should be, when they demonstrated any sign of promise. Any conversation between us consisted of him telling me what to do and how to do it. But as are all the people who give some of the best advice, my uncle never gave me the best examples to follow.

“It’s your damn job to put it all together,” Uncle Ramiro said. “Figure it out, cabrón.”

*          *          *          *

The conflicting messages from either side of my family always discouraged me from playing soccer. Even as an adult, I refused to play it, making up excuses such as I really don’t like soccer or it’s an okay sport, I prefer baseball. But I didn’t prefer baseball. I simply didn’t feel man enough to play the sport. A desire to u-turn away from the park, and a hyperventilating impulse overtook my hands and lungs the closer I drove to the field. It was a childhood reaction I adopted as a defense mechanism against Uncle Ramiro. Every time I set foot on a field, I could hear his name-calling, and immediately feel the air punched out of my gut. When he was watching me play years before, but especially now that he wasn’t.

*          *          *          *

“Run, you bow-legged cabrón,” Uncle Ramiro roared any time I touched the ball. He was hard on all of his nephews, but especially on me. It was as though he was holding a grudge against me for my dad’s treason— his breach of the friend’s code, particularly the clause prohibiting one from dating the other’s sister— and for my mom’s perjury— her running away from home and telling my dad that she would be sent back to Mexico if they didn’t get married within a week. I suppose he felt guilty for having inadvertently introduced them to one another in the first place. He was applying Deuteronomic law on me, Old Testament stuff, in which the kids paid for their parents’ sins, and bore those wounds for the rest of their lives. Even after my mom, dad, and Uncle Ramiro himself stopped speaking and caring about one another, when all of it became a distant memory to them, it remained a constant reality to me. “Run right, cabrón.”

In his severity, I knew that he did it out of responsibility and filial care, but it didn’t feel like love. He came from a culture where toughness bred toughness. One where you beat your kids so that they wouldn’t end up dead in the streets or rotting away in a prison.

*          *          *          *

Even as I bolted down the field, inebriated by a toxic cocktail of adrenaline, endorphins, testosterone, and lactic acids; feeling bulletproof, intimidating my opponent to a scowling cower, I still thought about my dad and Uncle Ramiro. How one didn’t want to play soccer with me and how the other did, but only under his stringent rules. When he was still around, my dad encouraged me, calling me his number 9— the team’s star-player— his Center-forward— the top-scoring player. However, he was never there to protect me or his claims. On the other hand, my uncle did nothing but talk down to me, never once giving me a compliment; however, he was there for every one of my graduations, elementary through college. I constantly heard their feuding voices rattling in my head, and in those of my teammates. In their Aw, come on, Jules or That’s it, that was a good play. During my brief stint in high school athletics, my coach angrily reminded me that I was a great athlete, but a bad player.

“Son, you’re too much in your head,” Coach Bonilla said. “What in God’s name are you thinking about so much?”

I thought about a lot of things. About how my mom lied to cover for my dad’s absence from family gatherings. How she used to send us to Tijuana to stay with my grandma for months at a time during vacations. Not to give us a taste of where she grew up, but because her low, single-earner salary wasn’t enough to afford a babysitter or a fancy sleepaway camp. But mainly, I thought about how I used to play soccer as a kid in the streets of barrio La Sánchez. Playing on those dirt-paved streets, we never cared about the rules of the game because we played for fun. All the kids emerged from their dilapidated, lopsided houses, sandwiching the people between the problems that came as a result of living in squalor. No score was ever kept. The ultimate goal was to shed who you were and be who you were meant to be. That version of yourself that you dreamt of being as you watched your heroes on TV battle each other every weekend to defend their team’s colors, and attain the glory of victory.

Sure, I wasn’t really a street kid. I had a mom who made enough to clothe and feed me, and I was a U.S. citizen with access to Medicaid and Welfare. But one thing I did share with those boys— who were constantly trying to sucker me out of money, not because they were bad kids, but because they were poor— was that most of them were fatherless like me. Bastards of fathers who never loved them. Children of men who were never taught the roles and duties of a man. Boys raised to be men by women overwhelmed with too much responsibility.

But all of that didn’t matter when we played fútbol. United as part of a big family, we felt unstoppable and became immortal as the ball rolled between our feet. Individually, we were defenseless, runty kids, but together, we had no need for fathers. We were a giant. We accepted nothing and rebelled against it all. All we needed was a ball that rolled, like a tennis ball or even a golf ball. Hell, those kids would’ve played soccer with a ping pong ball. These games were played endlessly, chasing the sun into the night, when the bright sphericality of a full moon would’ve given us enough light to play until our limbs gave out. We ran as if chased by a nightmare, or a pack of ravenous, rabic stray dogs. Faster than our lungs could oxygenate our depleted bodies, relying not on book-smarts, but animal wit and instinct.

These games blurred the lines: between play and ridicule, becoming astute to render your opponent asinine; and violence and aggression, getting our fill of fighting, and making up over chilled bottles of cane-sugared Coca-Cola. We went to bed tired, but unable to sleep. Our feet wiggly under the warm, knitted blankets, tossing and turning. On those long nights, my heart pumped like a drummer pounding a mallet against my ribcage ready for morning to rise again, so that we could start a new game.

My Tijuana friends were poor, but they were free to run and laugh until their ribs hurt so much that they didn’t feel hunger for the food that they couldn’t afford. And because they were free, so was I.

That was how we played the game.

That was who we were.

*          *          *          *

As a gangly 34-year-old playing at Clover Park in Santa Monica, I used the skills I learned in La Sánchez to coyly seduce my opponents, and lured them to lunge forward toward the ball. I shook my hips, crossed my feet over the ball, teased and entranced the opposing players, just as I did when I was a kid. During games, these solitary spurts of fun were the only times when I could despoil myself of my posttraumatic stress and feel good about being in my own skin. It was a dance meant to lull my opponent into believing that they could outstretch their foot and take the ball from me, but also one that helped me relax. This feeling was the reason I went through it all in my head. Vivid now as it was when Uncle Ramiro’s voice was exploding my eardrums. To feel fun doing something that I couldn’t stop loving, regardless of how he and my dad tried. The unbearable chemical burn consuming every muscle fiber in my legs— pain bathing my thighs, buckling my knees, splinting my shins—allowed my mind to cease its meandering, and tranquilize it numb.

As we chased the fleeting ghosts of youth, one of my friends yelled out Last goal as we all ran like a drove of wild horses after the spherical prey. Tiredness, a temporary itch as a child, was a chronic ailment on my grown-up joints. Love the game, and love the pain, I thought to myself as the game slowly ended. It was a loving that couldn’t be tamed.

We all began to walk off the field, leaving strewn on it our full strength and vigor. Everything that could be shed by the body and reaped of the soul. Nothing that the mind could comprehend or that could be taught. Not even by my dad or Uncle Ramiro. Something born within ourselves. A higher power.

*          *          *          *

Sunday was the Lord’s Day. Well, at least from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Not a minute over. After they came home from church, my family’s true religion commenced. They gathered around the cubical god whose warm, bulbous light and thundering voice filled the room and rocked the souls of the faithful. My uncles yelled angry mantras at the antenated oracle, hoping for a better outcome this week. The glow of the television broadcasted into our hearts the heroes we immortalized. Those that made us dream in our sleep and waking hours alike.

“Why do they spell it F-U-T-B-O-L, tío Ramiro?” I once asked while watching El Clásico, the biggest game of the Mexican League between Las Chivas del Guadalajara and their mortal enemies, Las Águilas del América from Mexico City. “Shouldn’t it be spelled: F-O-O-T-B-A-L-L?” I knew the spelling was wrong because it wasn’t spelled that way under the National Football League’s logo.

“It’s because we’re Mexican,” Uncle Ramiro replied. “It may be spelled that way in English, but in Spanish, it’s called ‘fútbol’, mijo.” He patted me gently on the head, never detaching his eyeballs from the screen. “Now shut up and watch what real fútbol looks like.” He took his hand off my head. “If your sorry-ass ever becomes a pro player, you’ll fit right in with the other sorry-asses that make up the U.S. men’s team.”

*          *          *          *

I walked to my car and waved at a few of my friends before getting in. The sour smell of my soiled jersey, soaked in pride and perspiration, filled my rejuvenated lungs. I reached across the passenger seat and pulled my phone out of the glove compartment. An impatient push alert from Facebook buzzed notifying me that my cousin had died. The banner appeared as casual as when someone posted a picture of what they had for dinner last night or a passive-aggressive comment meant to be helpful. Thumbing it led me to a GoFundMe page that was raising money for his funeral costs.

The dirt-laced sweat rolled down my forehead, past my brow, and burned salty in my tear-duct before it dripped of the tip of my nose and trickled into a small ripple on my screen. It wasn’t a tear. The pain felt distant. I pitied the fact that this young man’s life was trivialized, and the manner by which he was being disposed of. Not just by the State, but by the Izaguirres. How can I mourn someone I never knew? I thought. What was this feeling spasmodically beating in my neck? Was it the engrained reaction to feel pain for the misfortunes that befell family?

The picture’s graininess, and the boy’s careless and youthful way of holding and kissing the baby in his arms told me that neither the boy nor his family were prepared for his death. He was my Uncle Carlos’s son, my dad’s older brother, the segment of my DNA that carried the criminal Y chromosome, one that had more imprisonments than my mother’s X.

As I burrowed my bearer of bad news in my bosom pocket, I felt its sharp, intermittent vibrations stab at my chest’s nerve endings. It wasn’t a text or email. It was a call. An unknown number. Could it be a creditor, or a dialing machine? I answered. It was my dad.

“This is a collect call from Kern County Correctional Facility,” a robotic voice said, calibrated to sound like a woman because studies have shown that most people are less likely to hang up on a woman. “Do you accept a call from…” the voice paused, leaving an awkward gap for a poor wretch to speak his name.

“…Julian Izaguirre, hm,” my father’s defeated voice said. It was the voice of one tired of showering, shitting, and shaving in front of others.

“…an inmate at the Kern Valley State Prison?” the effeminate cyborg’s voice continued.
“Yes,” I replied, wiping the perspiration beading anew on my forehead. It was no longer sweat from all the fútbol, but rather a cold one. I was losing my high and slowly sinking into my abyssal headspace.

*          *          *          *

On one occasion, Uncle Carlos asked me to drive him to visit my dad at the Kern Valley State Prison. We were accompanied by my grandma, two aunts, and a cousin. Each person, including me, had a person to go visit at the prison. Uncle Carlos wanted to visit his brother, my grandma her son and son-in-law who was married to one of my aunts. My other aunt was visiting a prisoner she had taken as a lover, and my cousin was there simply to watch how the older women in her family visited their men. Something she herself would probably have to do in the future.

As we exchanged pleasantries, my dad told me that he was happy that the family was back together. The Izaguirres saw prison as unjust and as a temporary holding place for good people gone slightly astray. It was also a good way to reconnect with family.

“Come here, mijo,” my dad said. “This is my cousin Pancho.” It was a cousin who was also incarcerated. They would’ve never known that they were related had they not landed in the same prison. “He’s fast. Faster than you even.” I faked my laughter because Cousin Pancho kept staring at me. I found it funnier that when he was living at home, he never wanted to run with me, and now he was bonding with people whose existence he was unaware of. “Izaguirres are fast runners, huh, mijo?” Yes they are, I thought. They were great at running, especially away from responsibility, from blame. That’s why Izaguirre women liked prison, because it kept their rambling, wayward men in one place.

As beautiful as that family prison portrait was, this symptom masked the real problem, the root of the cancer befalling every Izaguirre man, the fact that Izaguirre men didn’t know or cared about raising good, responsible men. Izaguirre men were selfish, they thought only of themselves, of feeding their pleasure and stoking the fire by allowing their pleasures to feed on them, and their family’s hopes and dreams. They made the choice of allowing their vices to take precedence over the livelihood of their own blood. If they didn’t acknowledge the problems, they didn’t exist, and eventually they didn’t matter, and everyone forgot about them. However, they never disappeared. The people that caused these problems were imprisoned, but the problems never went away.

It was at that moment that my mother’s Don’t believe his bullshit started to make sense. The pressure to choose weighed heavy on me once again. I began to cry, tears that my dad confused with nostalgia.

“It’s okay, mijo,” my dad said, hugging me as if he had learned to do so from the security staff. “Daddy’s here. You’re here with you dad who loves you.” The truth was that he wasn’t really there; not when I was a kid, not at that very instant in the strange warmth of his emaciated arms, or ever. He had vested interest in me, I was his son after all, but it wasn’t love.

For the first time, I realized that he had never grown to love me, and that I’d grown up never loving him.

*          *          *          *

“Hola, mijo,” my dad said. “What are you up to? Is this a good time to talk?” His questions made me uncomfortable due to their obliviousness. Had he forgotten that we hadn’t spoken in over four years? He sounded like someone who wasn’t in prison, but merely calling me to chat.

“No, it’s okay. I just finished playing soccer with some of my friends.”

“Really? I play a lot of soccer over here where I’m at. I’m really good at keeping the ball close to me, but the rival away.” The way he was describing the process of ball possession, resembled the type of relationship we had. The love I had for soccer had always been linked to the love my dad never had for me. The memories of me spending time with my father were very few, but the ones spent playing, watching or talking about soccer were as sparse as the stars in the light-polluted L.A. night sky. “Do you play in a team?”

“No. I just joined a Meetup group with my friends.”

“Oh, that’s good. Do you guys wear uniforms?”

“Not really, just my fluorescent-yellow Adidas cleats and my yellow Club América jersey.” My dad scoffed at my reply.

“I hate that fucking team,” he said, followed by a moment of realization. “I didn’t mean to offend you, mijo. It’s just that I like Las Chivas.” Kids are normally supposed to root for whatever team their fathers root for, however terrible the team may be. This was news to me. I realized that I never had gotten to know my own father. “Didn’t Ramiro tell you that I liked them?” According to his question, it was everybody’s responsibility, but his, to tell me about my own father.

Uncle Ramiro did like that team, but like me, he knew neither the fact nor the man to whom the fact belonged. My dad and Uncle Ramiro were once very close friends, but the former was never around. He never allowed anyone to get close to him or get to know him. As far as my family was concerned, my dad was invisible. Solitary confinement and being forgotten began way before my dad landed in prison. Incarceration was merely the manifestation of the disease. Like a cancer, it consumed every aspect of the person and destroyed every aspect of who they were.

“No,” I replied. “He never talks about you.”

“Ha! That rat bastard has always been jealous of me.” My dad huffed and sighed, sucking air through his teeth. “He owes me big. I got him his first job in LA back in the ‘80s.” My dad’s voice carried the drama of one who had been betrayed, like Caesar prior to his stabbing or Jesus before the kiss. He expected his old buddy Ramiro to not only look after his family but to also put in a good word for him to keep his memory alive. Mexicans never allowed you to forget a favor that they did for you, no matter how minute the gesture or how remote the time it had been since it happened. “He’s stupid. Whatever. Anyway, I’m calling you because I just wanted to tell you that they killed your cousin.”

“They killed him?” I asked myself out loud. Who was this faceless they? It was the pronoun that allowed the Izaguirres to point the finger at a higher evil, one that took the burden of responsibility out of their hands, and handed it over to something they could lay the blame on and divert it from themselves. “Who killed him?”

“I don’t know. They’re still investigating.” They versus they. They investigating they. Nobody wanted to confess to the role they played in his death, not even his family. The shortcomings they had played in his poor upbringing were genetic and they spread onto the next generation. The boy was in prison as his dad had been before him, as well as his grandfather had in his youth. “He was murdered.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said after I ran out of things to say. “What was he in prison for?”

“I don’t know,” my dad replied. It struck me as strange that my dad had no idea why his family members were in prison.

“What was his name? I couldn’t find it on the site where I donated some money for his funeral. Which one of tío Carlos’s sons was he?” I had a faint memory of us playing soccer as kids, perhaps a fake one. Something created by my mind in order to focus all of the raw grief I felt knotting midway between my throat and lungs. I felt embarrassed that I knew more about the guy who collected cans at Clover Park than someone in my family.

“You did that?” my dad asked surprised. “That’s good, mijo. That’s really good. I’m not sure what his name was. I’m going to ask Carlos’s ex-wife.”

“Why don’t you ask tío Carlos himself?” Were they not on speaking terms?

“I can’t because they put him in solitary confinement after the murder. They were in the same prison block when it happened.” Most of my dad’s brother’s had landed in prison at least once, and a majority of them were in prison still. The family had accepted it as another one of life’s intricacies. “How did you find out?” My dad knew the gossip, but not the news.

“Facebook,” I replied. Family was thicker than blood, but Facebook gossip was stickier than blood.

*          *          *          *

After I hung up the phone, I made my way home. It was 10:23 a.m., so I was certain that all of my roommates would be awake on the other side of my apartment door. My wife, my son, and my 5-year-old golden retriever Nala would be expecting me to walk in through the door. My blondes, as I liked to refer to them.

“Oh! Daddy’s home,” my wife’s muffled voice yelped as the keys jingled into the keyhole. “Here comes daddy!”

Opening the door, I was greeted by a furry rush of panting and tail-wagging. Nala was so excited that I nearly tripped over her.

“Look who’s been waiting for you all morning,” my wife Marie said pointing her eyes at the playpen in the living room. I walked over, and knelt down. Luca was outstretching his little hands through the nursery-white bars.

“Come here, mijo,” I said, taking him into my arms. As I looked deep into his innocent eyes, he took a deep breath and sneezed on my nose, giggling a toothless smile. The way that he was looking at me told me that someday I would have to explain to him why his eyes were blue and mine brown; his hair light, mine dark. Why the U.S. had one of the worst soccer teams in the world despite being the best at literally every other sport, and why his penis was circumcised and mine wasn’t.

However, the hardest conversation of all the ones we would have— including the one about sex— would be the one where I explained why there were so few Izaguirre men and why the rest of them would never be part of his life. Not only because they were bad men, but because I chose not to be like them.

This beautiful baby boy would carry the last name, but no longer the stigma that accompanied it for generations. I wanted him to be different, to be loved. I was here to put an end to the criminality created by paternal absence.

Luca wrapped his tiny hand around my gritty, dirt-spangled thumb, and tried to put it in his mouth. As I pulled it away, I thought about the game that allowed me to express emotions forbidden anywhere outside of the field. Emotions of appreciation, admiration, and love. A love for the game, love for myself, love for the feelings it made me feel, the longing it filled, and the sense of belonging that only its mechanics allowed me to witness. A game that I would pass on to my son, and encourage him to play. Always for fun.

With him in my arms, nothing would hurt him.

With him in my love, nothing could stop him.

Marie came over and kissed our son on the cheek. I looked at her and she smiled.

Then, I kissed her lips.

 

Artwork

Oseguera, Jose L. (2017). El Clásico [Painting]. Acrylic on colored pencil, Los Angeles, CA.

The Depths Of You

The Depths of You will be published in the upcoming issue of:

Jelly Bucket Number 8

It is an annual graduate-student-produced literary journal from Eastern Kentucky University’s  Bluegrass Writers Studio.

As always, thank so very much for your continual readership and support.

Love you all.