no tears

My friend Chris died when we were in the 7th grade; he shot himself playing Russian roulette. He was a very talented artist, he could draw anything you asked him to and he was a great friend. He would come to class bearing gifts, drawings of Winnie the Pooh or Elmo for me and he always made me smile when I was feeling down. His head half shaven with the top half gathered in a long ponytail grazing below his shoulder blades would swing back and a playful glint would appear in his eyes as he turned to me to relay the latest joke.

As I walked out of class and converged with my girlfriends, Liz came up to us and told us – Chris is dead. Sometimes words can’t describe the finality of such a statement for someone you know. Sometimes when you’re that young and you’ve already lost a handful of friends to gangs, beatings, and drugs you don’t know how to grieve; it seems part of life, another day in East L.A.

I couldn’t cry, part of me didn’t believe it – I half expected him to walk around the corner, his stocky frame in his daily uniform: baggy gray courdoroys and a gray sweater that was three sizes too large, his near empty backpack skipping off his shoulder. But I never saw his gentle boy face again.

reading and thinking

Have you ever read a book and cringed, tempted to look but desperately wanting to skip the pages so you could avoid what you knew would come next? Human downfall, the loss of morale, of the main character that you have been rooting for until you find out that he is – human. The pain of disillusionment is made sharper by the talented hand that wrote the words your eyes are skimming in a vain attempt to look away from the imminent disgrace that will befall the once untarnished hero of the book.

Human Nature should not make us wince but when it is described in such potent details that make you descend to the dark cages of human weakness; one cannot help but shudder. Dante led us down a path of increasing monstrous characteristics that were made all the more unbearable as we recognized them to be human. Dostoyevsky makes your stomach churn as Raskolnikov wavers between the reality of his cold blooded crime and his conscience that gnaws at him until it shatters his remaining sanity.

As children we fear tales of dragons, of one-eyed monsters luring in the dark; or that red creature who has a serpent as a tail, a hoof for a leg and a cock’s claws for the other. But as we get older we learn that those are simply tales made up by parents long ago to keep our mischief at bay. The fear remains but it is replaced by another that we suppress for it proves too uncomfortable for us to express. One cannot run from the discomfort that we all carry the same human nature in varying degrees of evil measure. I do not claim that we are all murderers or capable of it but we certainly all share the ability to knowingly cause harm unto others: the conscious decision to do harm although it feels wrong and makes us guilt-ridden.

Whether it is a small lie or a simple insult to someone as we strive to prove our superiority – be it in intellect, appearance, or material possessions; we can relate to the act of knowingly causing harm. This is why when one reads about a character in a book who is about to commit something disgraceful, usually a moral flaw, that will cause a tragedy to befall him; we cringe and try to inch away from the words that the author has so deftly knitted around us. The sensation of your skin crawling seems to be the perfect analogy for your own feelings of self-reproach trying to bury deeper within your flesh lest it is exposed just as the hero’s flawed human nature is betrayed.

A connection to you

Between the walls that separated us there were clues, deeply buried, that I tried, in vain, to latch on to – to derive a hint of you, a connection to you.

I lived a parallel life; breathing the same air as you, stepping into the space where your foot had just graced the pavement. I synced my walk to yours; hurried my legs to keep up to your pace – to melt into your rhythm.

You once were the window to a tower where I could safely hide from Mami’s blows and other dangers. As you heard the scuttling of my running feet on the linoleum floor, you scooted over on the bed and pulled the covers up so I could dive underneath and hide. You would pat my head when it was safe to peek out and would offer me a matching lollipop as we lay there; you reading a western, and I trying to decipher the words on paper that captivated you so much.

As I got older, I did not run from the blows but stood there silently as my skin swelled, tears running down my cheeks; all I could hear was the dry rustling sound as you turned the page.

“No llores”, “No digas nada”, “No preguntes”, “Callate”! These phrases were repeated to me so many times that I became withdrawn; learned to stay quiet, to shut my eyes and let my mind wander.

Years passed and our only communication was a nod of the head; an emotionless acknowledgement of common existence. By then I grew curious of this man who could be so frightening when swept up with alcoholic rage and yet who could show aspects of the father I missed when I would come home and see you sitting calmly reading a book. The tugging inside my chest would only subside when I would run inside and find the book that opened up the fantasy world in which we both escaped to – 100 Años
de Soledad.

The residents of the fictional city of Macondo became our extended families; aunts who feared a child with an animal’s tail, men who joined their own revolution only to fail at everything including ending their own pitiful life, and a house who always grew – an endless expansion of rooms and hallways whose eccentricities was only rivaled by its own inhabitants.

Every time you said, “No seas de Macondo!”, my eyes would light up at the mention of the place we both knew.

I read and re-read these pages and looked for you. As I walked through the town, you were there next to me, holding my hand like you used to – being my hero like you used to.

But as I grew into a young woman and the heaviness of all my heartache threatened to collapse my frail mental state, even that book was not enough. I could no longer hear the echo of you as I shut my eyes and pressed my ear against that wall – the translucent wall that refused to come down. “One hundred years of solitude”, what an ironic title to bring us closer – one that made the shattering of our, of my, imagined connection to you feel jarringly clear.

Where were you?

I sat against the bathroom wall, the cold tile starting to numb my legs.

Why can’t you take me now? Why? Answer me! Diosito – tu eres el unico papi que tengo, take me with you, I can’t take this anymore.

Not a sound graced my ears as I looked out the window and up at the blue sky.

I got up and walked into the kitchen. My body was tired from the crying, from the punches I had thrown against myself, my eyes felt droopy and kept closing. I just need to take a little more to dull the pain. I pushed a kitchen chair against the sink and stepped on top of it to reach the cupboard where my mother kept all of her medicine.

I just need a couple more.

I grabbed Tylenol, Vicodin, OxyContin, anything that said pain reliever.

I walked to my parents’ room and looked in the mirror; I felt so ugly and destroyed – what was the use? So worthless, I was just taking up space; I just needed to sleep to forget the pain. I would feel better afterward.

It felt as if I was in a dream, my hands kept opening bottles and grabbing fistful of pills and pushing them down my throat followed by gulps of water. The gagging would stay with me forever.

A sense of calm came over me as I looked down at the empty bottles; I dusted the powdery residue off my parents’ comforter so it wouldn’t bother them when they went to bed. I ambled over to the sofa, my arms guiding and balancing my body as my vision kept blurring.

My stomach felt hot to the touch and I couldn’t sleep. I kept swatting at him. Let me sleep; I want to go with you. Just let me sleep.

I woke up an hour later, vomit erupting from my mouth – sticking to my shirt that clung to my chest. I looked at the clock and saw that my dad would be home soon. I couldn’t let them see me like this. I tried to get up to walk away but my body kept falling back – the heaviness getting harder to manage. I tried again and this time my hand landed on top of the phone. My fingers were dialing 911 without my command, my body was in survival mode – trying to get me out of this mess even if I just wanted to close my eyes and sleep.

“I, I feel sick…” “Ma’am, what is wrong, you need to tell me what is wrong.” “I swallowed, I, I feel sick.” The phone fell out of my hand as I lost consciousness.

I woke up as two ambulance attendants pulled me off the floor; gently holding me up as they asked what I had swallowed. Gurgles and nonsensical sounds escaped my lips as I pointed at the bottles.

The bright lights were glaring in my face as the doctors and nurses undressed me, spread my legs and probed me everywhere. “Did someone hurt you?” I shook my head and tried to curl up to the side. Hands held my face straight ahead as tubes were inserted down my throat full of foul tasting liquids. My head rolled to the side as black vomit spewed out of my mouth raining on all of the equipment and white lab coats. “You’re lucky, you’re extremely lucky; if you had not called and waited another hour your organs would have shut down and you would have died.” Lucky? Ha!

My sister and mother came to see me but I refused to talk; the psychologist tried to ask me questions but I stonily looked away. “I have no choice than to send you to a psychiatric ward.”

This time the ambulance brought me to a one story structure in a city whose name they would not tell me. They would not disclose the name of the center either; citing me as a runaway risk.

I walked in, wearing the vomit stained shirt, braless, in shorts, and my tennis shoes – which they were quick to remove the shoelaces lest I get any suicidal thoughts. They pushed a cup full of pills, vitamins they said, at me but the sight of them made my stomach turn. I rolled them around with my tongue as they made me open my mouth to show that I had swallowed. As soon as they turned I stuffed them inside my pocket.

I could shower but I had to be supervised. Two apathetic women looked on as I scrubbed my body with soap – as always trying to vanish the feeling of filth and shame.

A blonde Caucasian girl lent me a pair of jeans and a shirt until my parents could show up with my own things. She didn’t give a name, just said she went by Fairy, as she gave me the breakdown of the place. She pointed and said: suicide by razor (her wrists deformed by the pink tissue growing like a mountainous range), crack, uppers, cutter, and then she pointed at a little girl – no older than 7 – who burned her house down while her parents were sleeping; I didn’t want to press for survivor details.

The following morning I woke up to the feeling of pinching on my arm and pulled away as I saw a figure in a lab coat hovering over me, injecting me with more vitamins. More threatening followed until they figured I had had enough violations in the first 24 hours.

The days melted onto each other as I saw the mindless teenagers and kids around me gazing at me first with curiosity and then abandoning me to my inner turmoil. It was not as bad as I initially thought, at least these crazies left me to my own devices. Then Fairy left without explanation and Lalla took an uninvited interest in me. When I realized I would be unable to fend off her crazed and violent passes at me I asked to speak to the doctor.

I nodded as he asked if I was having a difficult time because I was a middle child, nodded that my parents were great and that I was causing them pain by being bad, nodded as he continued to spew his egotistical drivel and I asked for forgiveness. Just as a priest thinks he can erase the pain that went along with the sin with a few Hail Mary’s, this labcoat assured me that I would be cured if I chose to, if I was a good girl and swallowed his wisdom.

Soon I was back to smiling on the outside while my emotions remained hidden, sinking deeper into the darkness within.