Books by Esteban A. Martinez
Life and love in the housing projects.
I grew up in a world where the most pressing thought of the day was the thought of the moment. It wasn't because we were enlightened existentialists that we lived this way. It was because of our economic situation -- we lived from hand to mouth -- and because we lived as a conquered people. Our pasts and futures belonged to someone else.
Welcome to Brick City. That's what we called the housing projects in Denver when I was a kid. Either Brick City or the bricks. As you might have guessed, they were made of brick. Deep red brick, sort of beautiful. Despite their beauty in color, they were ugly in design. Each unit, which had four apartments for four families, was two stories high, about a hundred feet long and twenty feet wide. They were arranged in rows for about ten blocks and there was no variation in design. Very utilitarian.
My best friends were some guys from a black family, the Faulquays. They had eleven kids, all boys. No dad. I was friends with all of them but best friends with Laurice and Randy. Laurice was the oldest. Randy was the second oldest.
We were tough kids but Laurice was the toughest. He was only fifteen then and wasn't afraid to fight with grown men. Once, I was walking back with him from the liquor store (on the east side anyone could cop liquor no matter how old), through a part of the projects where mostly black people lived and some man, drunk, started yelling at Laurice.
"Get away from that Mexkin, nigger! What the fuck's the matter with you?"
"I'm from thirty-third," Laurice said. "We don't trip on that shit, Man. Every other crib is Mexkin."
The man got off his porch and walked up to Laurice.
"You on twenty-seventh, nigger."
Laurice was a quiet guy. He didn't like to talk, much less argue. If anyone tried to make him argue, he'd get mad. I could tell by the way he was looking at the sky, as if he were praying, that this was one of those times.
The man was waiting for a reply. He kept mad-dogging Laurice, staring at him with hatred, belligerence.
Laurice didn't say a word. He just punched the man in the forehead.
The man looked surprised. He tried to kick Laurice in the balls but instead hit him on the inside of his thigh.
Laurice grabbed the man by his head, dug his thumbs into the man's eyeballs then slammed the man's head against his own.
That ended the fight and the only thing Laurice had to say was, "Nobody tells me who to hang with."
Yes, Laurice, my dog, man's best friend, was tough. I think he got that way because he was the oldest child in his family. Unlike his younger brothers, he always had to handle the dangers of life by himself. We all admired his courage, his toughness, his ability to fight, and we bet our money on him. Literally. In Brick City, on our block of 33rd street, we held bare-fisted fights every other Friday and Saturday night. It was like any other spectator sport. People worked out their frustrations through the activities of others. It had a cathartic effect. People came from all over Denver to compete and watch. Black, white, Mexican, Vietnamese, anyone. Laurice, five-ten, one hundred ninety-five pounds, was one of the top ten contenders.
You might be wondering how this could go on without the intervention of the police. If you are, you're probably an upstanding middle-class citizen, unfamiliar with much of the nastiness of the American way. Sure, you've read about governmental corruption in your newspaper, but have you ever had any first hand experience with it?
For example, your son, if you have one, has probably never been beaten into a coma by the police for ditching school. That happened to one of my childhood friends, Kitchie. He was fourteen when it happened. A big fourteen. He should have been in school that day, but like most of us from the bricks he rarely went to school. No one knows exactly why the cops beat him. They told his grandma, who was raising him, it was because he attacked them when they stopped him for "questioning." To everyone in the projects, that explanation sounded like bullshit, an over-used euphemism for harassment. Kitchie was a quiet kid who didn't like violence. He rarely had to fight because he was so big and when someone did provoke him he'd back down if he could. He was such a pacifist that one of the Faulquays even nicknamed him Big Sis, short for big sissy.
A day after she heard the cops' explanation for Kitchie's beating, his grandma raised hell. She went to a precinct house in City Park, about four miles away from the bricks, and pulled out a gun. According to the newspapers back then, Kitchie's grandma pulled out her gun and demanded justice. The police, not knowing who she was and what she was talking about, shot her. At sixty-eight years old, she took a bullet in the shoulder and didn't die. When everyone in the bricks learned what had happened to her, she became a kind of hero to us. A true representative of the bricks.
Her story is interesting but a digression from the point I was trying to make. You've probably never had first-hand experience with governmental corruption. That is, it has probably never affected your life in a way that made you want to kill. My first example was, "your son, if you have one, has probably never been beaten into a coma by the police for ditching school." My second is this: Your teen-age daughter, if you have one, has probably never had to choose between fellatio with a cop and going to jail for shoplifting. That used to happen (notice the imperfect/habitual tense) to Kathy Esparza, this girl that lived a door away from me. She used to steal at this Woolworths downtown in Denver. Often, I'd see her there, taking chances when she didn't need to, as if she was trying to get caught. I figured she was a kleptomaniac even though I didn't really know what one was. One day I saw her at Woolworths and asked her to help me boost a sweater. She looked at me kind of flirty. She was a beautiful girl with beautiful, dark, cat-like eyes, and she said she would. All I wanted her to do was to watch traffic for me, to make sure no store detectives were cruising by the aisle where the sweaters were. Instead, she got busy stealing her own stuff, little packages of make up and cheap perfumes, and she got caught. She warned me by yelling at the store detective.
"I didn't take nothing!"
I knew it wasn't my fault that she got caught, but I felt kind of guilty. She would've stolen without me, but that day it was my idea. As though she were my homeboy, I waited around while the store detective summoned the police. Then I saw her and a cop walking down a main aisle. She saw me and shouted at me to wait for her at the bus stop. I looked at her and the cop, a fat Mexican guy that wore a lot of gold, and wondered which bus stop she was talking about. I hung around the store a while longer then went to the closest bus stop I knew of. While I waited, a cop car pulled out of an alley and stopped before it crossed the sidewalk. The door opened, Kathy got out and the car squealed away.
She walked up to me and smiled and I kind of wanted to kiss her. I had always considered her one of the most beautiful girls in the bricks. Although she had extremely sexy eyes and a superb athletic body, she had an innocent nature that made it difficult to lust after her. If I saw her now I would think, unadulterated beauty.
"What happened?" I said.
"How'd you get him to let you go. You cry or something?"
"He always comes when I get caught at Woolworths. That's why I only steal there."
"Is he your boyfriend?"
I was mad.
"What do you mean sort of?"
"I don't like him, but he let's me go if I act like I do."
"Do you guys do it?"
"Well . . . well, I give him, you know, head."
I felt sick. I didn't want to kiss her anymore. I wanted to hit her. I wanted to kill the cop. Cut his dick off. But I didn't do anything, not even speak. Both of us just waited for the bus.
* * *
A kid getting beat by the cops and a beautiful young girl performing fellatio on a cop to avoid arrest, were everyday occurrences that me and my homeboys lived with. They gave our lives stories, made our lives interesting. More interesting than the world we saw through our televisions. More interesting than the lives of relatives we had who lived in the suburbs and better parts of Denver.
Sometimes we would tell each other about the aches and pains of our suburbanite cousins -- no date for the prom, bad acne, no car for graduation -- and laugh our asses off. Because our lives were harder, we thought that they were better. Maybe we thought this because when you suffer your experience seems more authentic than when you don't. And --
But I wanted to explain how our illegal activity, our boxing, functioned without police intervention. Actually, it was quite simple. As long as we didn't make the news, the police didn't give a damn. In fact, sometimes some would attend and make bets (never in uniform, of course). When every so often, some media person, feeling righteous, did produce a story on our fights, we'd shut down until they stopped bothering us. Like a lot of people, we hated the media. They had nothing to do with our world but tried to paint pictures of it anyway.
* * *
Now, a repetition of my original statement. I have a hard time with the notion of theme. It implies meaning and I'm not sure there's any. I feel like the writer of Ecclesiastes, "Everything is vanity." Think about it. To what end do we do anything?
Some might say we're working on our evolution, that every action takes us that much closer to a completed end. Others might say we're maintaining our species, insuring its survival. Still, others and others and others and others might say we're the characters in the game of some gods; free moral agents created by a god; dream pieces of a god; gods who are dreaming and don't know we're gods. Any of these beliefs, whether true or not, must face an important reality: they are simply beliefs, guesses. To the best of our knowledge, their existence is contingent upon those who believe them. When the believers die, so do their thematic constructs, the things that give their lives meaning.
Intuitively, I knew this when I was a kid and I think my friends did too. Perhaps, it was our environment that gave us this knowledge. Or, perhaps, this knowledge is incidental to humanity. We all know that we'll die.
Wherever this knowledge came from, it shaped the way my friends and I lived. The apostle Paul said, "If the dead are not to be raised up, 'let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we are to die.' " My friends and I never thought a resurrection, a future. Yet, we lived the second half of Paul's statement in our own fashion. We focused on the moment. And we tried to agitate each moment, make it interesting as possible. To us, life was interesting or boring. There were no other options. And that was as deep as life got.
Because we preferred the interesting, we would hang out at Five Points, a neighborhood a few blocks from our own. A lot of bars, food stands, dealers, gang bangers, slims, winos, homeless people, crack heads, glue heads and dance clubs made Five Points the place for action. Once, our little world of action even made international news, CNN, because of riot that broke out there. Our riot wasn't as big as the one that happened in Los Angeles in '92, but it happened a few years before.
I was there that day. Me, Laurice and Randy. Some celebration was going on, Juneteenth, a celebration of slaves being freed in Texas, in 1865. To me it just meant a lot of good barbecued cat fish, chicken, steak and pig-ear sandwiches. It was hot that day. I was getting bored and could tell Laurice and Randy were too. We were getting ready to jet and, without warning, everyone went insane. People started throwing shit at the cops and fighting with each other. The few white suburbanites that were there, slumming as they call it, started getting a real taste of ghetto life. They were getting their asses whipped and so were the cops.
We didn't know the reason for the riot and didn't care. We just smiled at each other because it wasn't a boring day anymore. We started walking toward a pig-ear stand that was left unattended when someone started hitting me in the back of the head with a pipe or something. I turned around, dizzy, and watched this black girl, about thirteen (my age), lift a trophy bat to hit me. She was screaming.
"Fuckin' Mexkin! Mexkin!"
I blocked her blow then watched as Laurice grabbed her by this fat braid she wore and threw her about twenty feet. She didn't get up and we all looked at each other, shocked, then bust out laughing.
What had happened wasn't funny and I'm not sure why we laughed. What comes to mind is the way the girl looked flying through the air. She looked like a cartoon, Wile E. Coyote from Road Runner. But maybe we laughed because we were nervous. Maybe the girl was dead.
We didn't try to find out. Instead, we finished making our way to the unattended pig-ear stand, made ourselves some pig-ear sandwiches, and watched the black people, the white people, the Mexican people, the camera people and the police go crazy.
I can't help but think about this notion of theme again. I mean, what was the theme of that story. When we watched it on the news that night and read about it in the paper the following day, I didn't hear or read too much about the riot's theme. It was just something that happened.
Another interesting piece of life.
Only once when I was a kid did I ever try to invent a theme for something that happened. It started with what I thought was a dream.
Before my dream, I had been in the concrete playground next to the Faulquay's place drinking a forty ounce with Randy and smoking some weed. Laurice was inside. It was about six p.m. and I had been drinking and smoking since ten a.m. I couldn't stand up straight. Randy mumbled something about me looking like rubber, then helped me walk to his house.
This kind of thing happened many times before and it never bothered Ana Ree, the Faulquays' mom. She just told every one to make sure I didn't throw up on anything.
Randy dropped me on the living room couch. Everything was in its own little spin. Then I closed my eyes, passed out and had the dream.
Blobs of color, no clear pictures. Soft lips. A tongue. Pulling at and licking me. Instant erection. Lip-smacking sounds. A little biting. Lip smacking. Whose? I reach down and touched a head. Fuzzy. Coarse. Greasy. It doesn't stop. It bobs. Up and down. Up and down. I explode. Lips against my cheek. Hand wipes my cheek. Feet running up stairs.
I woke up and thought I could hear someone walking up the stairs. I looked at my watch. It was four a.m. I wasn't sure if I had a dream or not because it seemed so real. And there was a little cum in my underwear. In any case, I knew I had experienced a wet dream. But still there was a question. Those feet walking up the stairs? I didn't dwell on it too long. It didn't seem that important. I closed my eyes and slept.
When I woke the next day, I had decided the dream was a dream. As is common with dreams, I invented what I couldn't or didn't want to remember. Instead of belonging to an unknown, those smacking lips belonged to Rosita Lopez, a girl so fine that once you saw her you never forgot her. She lived about five doors away from the Faulquays. I re-invented my dream so well that I told Randy and Laurice about it.
"Man, it was so real. She's so fine, man. And I couldn't stop her. I wanted to, so we could kiss, but she just kept going, man."
Laurice shook his head in disapproval.
"Man, Steve, why do you want to talk about that shit? People don't talk about those kinds of dreams."
"I ain't people, man, I'm me. I love dreams."
Randy grinned, added his two cents.
"Man, I wish you invited me to that motherfuckin' dream. Rosita Lopez! Blam! I would of been on it."
Laurice tapped me on the shoulder.
"I got to get cleaned up, man. You can get cleaned up here if you want."
I shook my head.
"Naw man, my old girl probably wants to see me."
"All right, man, come back later."
"Later," Randy said, then grabbed his crouch. "Rosita Lopez. Damn you a lucky motherfucker."
"Later," I said, then walked two doors down where I lived with my old girl, that is, my mother.
As soon as she heard me in the house, she started lecturing me as she always did about my future.
"You're not going to live past twenty-one! What the hell's the matter with you. You want to live in these projects forever?"
Fuck you, I thought.
"I hear you out there with your friends. A punk. You sound like a stupid punk. Calling yourself a man. 'A man with a plan.' Wake up, Esteban, you're no man. You're fourteen!"
"MA. I didn't come home to hear this. I just wanted you to know I was okay. To make sure you was okay. Okay?"
"YOU'RE NOT OKAY. You won't live long if you keep this shit up. You'll be dead and I won't have anyone."
She started crying and I hugged her and said I'd live forever and she cried louder. I bent down to kiss her on her head, she's only four ten, then went upstairs to take a shower.
As I washed myself, I began thinking about what my mother said, about her references to the future and how she said I wasn't really a man with a plan. I tried to think of my accomplishments and realized that I had never accomplished anything. Realized that I had never tried to accomplish anything. I began to feel like a stupid punk. I quit washing and just stood in the shower, thinking of something I could do, something big. Then it hit me. I would throw a block party. Not any block party, but one that no one would forget.
At the time, I thought throwing a good block party was a career move. If you knew how to throw a party, you might eventually get paid to do so, like some of the older guys I knew. They would get paid to organize wedding dances, house parties, graduation dances, anything. Some of the guys even opened legitimate clubs. More important than these guys getting paid was the fact that they were cool, respected.
Themes. I haven't decided if they actually exist, even in fiction. That is, do thematic constructs, meanings, last beyond those who believe in them? A silly contemplation. Is there sound when no one hears it? Who cares.
Action, ideas, images -- they're either boring or interesting and maybe that's as deep as it gets. Who knows. Maybe you do. Maybe that's your job. At least in fiction. To decide. To find a theme because maybe you can't find one in fact.
My friends thought the block party idea was happening, down, on the money. We had never thrown one before but knew that more than likely there would be some kind of trouble. Even though we liked excitement, which often manifested itself in violence, we didn't want any violence at our party. We didn't want any of our friends beat or shot, so we began to think of a way to check the violence before it happened. At first, Laurice suggested that we hire off-duty cops. We all thought it was a good idea but when we found out how much they cost we gave up on it. I suggested that we make the party invitation-only and everyone laughed at that idea because block parties are held outside for everyone on the block, and then some. Then Randy suggested we give invitations to all our enemies, the people we thought might start trouble.
"They'll feel special," he said. "Like it's their party."
"I don't know, man," I said.
"What if they act out, man," Laurice said.
Randy slapped himself in the chest as he often did when he grew impatient with his older brother.
"Man. No matter what, them motherfuckers are gonna come. We might as well make them feel welcome, important. Damn, nigger. Don't you think!"
Laurice looked at his feet and nodded.
"You right man."
I nodded in agreement too.
After a few day's preparation, our block party was set to happen, only hours away. We did as Randy suggested and got invitations to everyone we thought might start trouble. I wasn't too sure about that idea but I knew it was better than doing nothing. Without consulting my friends, I went ahead and wrote a special invitation to Rosita Lopez. I knew she had a boyfriend and they had kids together and everything but I thought maybe I could be with her just one night. If I was, I knew being with her would satisfy a lifetime of wet dreams and a month of masturbation.
The party started earlier than we anticipated. As soon as people saw us rolling the beer kegs to the middle of our block of the projects, they started coming. By about nine-thirty the projects looked like they were hosting a presidential inauguration. Except everyone was either black or Hispanic.
The music bumped, as we used to say, and the slims, because it was so damn warm that night, wore about nothing. Laurice was getting a lot of attention from all the people we grew up with. They acted like he was a king or something.
"Man, Laur," they said. "Party's bumpin!"
And, "Dog, you the man tonight. Man, this shit is happenin."
And other such words of praise.
Laurice loved it. He didn't say much in return but mostly smiled like a big kid. Randy and I looked at each other and grinned because we were glad that everyone was giving Laurice all the praise for the party. We knew he wasn't the brightest guy there ever was and that he felt good when he received credit for anything besides fighting.
As the party continued, Randy tried to turn some dollars selling weed and tried to impress all the slims. Earlier, in the day, he promised me he'd make more than our money back selling his dope and that he'd get laid. I didn't doubt him.
I wasn't too interested in all the fine women that showed up at our party. I was just looking for one. Rosita Lopez. Already it was eleven and I hadn't seen her. I began to suspect that Angelo, her acne-faced boyfriend, wasn't going to let her come. Then I saw the two of them standing by a beer keg. I was glad she came, but I wished Angelo hadn't shown up. He didn't like me and I knew if we ever went toe-to-toe he'd beat my ass. He wasn't much bigger than I was but he was older, 19, and could scrap.
Rosita spotted me staring at her and smiled at me.
I remembered the dream I'd had and got an instant erection.
I started to smile back but then I noticed Angelo's ugly face mad-dogging me. staring at me hard.
I thought of the party and how I didn't want any shit to go down. Then I looked away and acted like I saw something on the ground. As I looked down, I thought that I was doing the right thing. And I thought I was probably avoiding getting hurt.
I looked back up just to see if Angelo had forgotten me and noticed Rosita looking at me again. Just one night, I thought. I noticed that Angelo was talking with some guy by the keg and had apparently lost interest in me. I gave Rosita my best smile and tried to send her a mental picture of the two of us making love.
I think she got the message because she frowned then tugged on Angelo's arm. Angelo looked at her and she said something to him. Then Angelo looked at me and started walking my way.
shit, shit, shit, I thought,
Angelo stopped in front of me and simply stared.
"What?" I said.
He didn't say anything.
I cleared my throat and spit, then gave him the hardest look I had.
"What do you want, man?"
"You want to fuck my lady, aye?"
"Who said anything about fucking your lady?"
"I know what you want motherfucker."
An image of Angelo pulling out a gun and shooting me in the face popped into my head. I panicked and shouted.
"FUCK YOU! YOU WANT SOME SHIT? COME ON WITH IT!"
My shouting had the effect I intended. In seconds, I was flanked by at least half the Faulquays and a number of other friends.
Angelo didn't seem to care.
"You think you're bad hangin' with all these niggers, don't you? You ain't shit boy. Without them you wouldn't be shit!"
I had heard this accusation before. It was partially true . Without the Faulquays, I might be dead but I never actually asked them to fight my battles for me, I just knew they would because of our friendship.
Someone behind me grabbed my shoulder and squeezed it.
"Man, let's send this punk home, Steve."
It was Laurice.
"See what I mean, soon as some shit starts to go down these niggers save your ass."
Laurice pushed me out of the way.
"Say nigger like you one again and I'll fuck you up."
I heard Randy near-by.
"Yeah you pimple motherfucker. That be a whole new issue."
I noticed Rosita standing by Angelo. She looked frightened.
"Esteban, man. You're a pussy. Bet you're chicken-shit heart is trying to hide in your ass."
I was afraid. The intensity of the situation had grown beyond what it should have and that scared me. But I had to say something, to do something. At the same time I didn't want to get hurt. Not too bad.
I stepped in front of Laurice and mad-dogged Angelo.
"Punk," I said. "You ain't shit. Let's pug man, but not here. Let's just you and me walk to Curtis. That way you know my homies won't stomp your ass."
For a second Angelo looked confused. Then he gave me his ugly smile.
"Okay, punk. Let's go."
My heart felt like it was trying to hide in my ass. I saw Randy and Laurice look at each other, confused.
"One more thing," I said. "Don't wear no coat or shirt."
Angelo looked at me like I was crazy.
"Fuck you man. You weird or something?"
Then he headed toward the park.
I didn't want him to wear his coat or shirt so that I would know what (or if) he was packing. I knew he wouldn't shoot me because he was afraid of the Faulquays, but I thought he might stab me.
I looked at Randy, Laurice and a few other Faulquays. Laurice grabbed m by my shoulder.
"Steve, man, what's up with this. Why you want to pug alone?"
I didn't know. I didn't feel I had anything to prove so I didn't know why I said what I said about going to the park with Angelo. But after I said it, I felt I had to keep my word. If I didn't, no matter how much they liked me, my friends would think I was a punk. I looked at Laurice and the rest of my friends as tough as I could.
"It ain't about shit, man. Angelo ain't shit."
"Beat that boy's ass," they said, almost in unison.
Then Randy handed me a butcher knife he had got from his crib when he noticed everything going down.
I put the knife in the back of my pants and started heading toward Curtis. I could see by the street lights that Angelo was already there. A wet fart squeaked out of my body. I was so damned afraid.
As I neared Angelo, I could feel a lump growing in my throat. I stopped about ten feet away from him. One of his hands was hidden behind his leg.
"What's up?" I said. "Why you want to start shit at my party?"
"Fuck you, ese. Let's do it."
"Wait. Let's just go toe-to-toe. No weapons. Like men."
"If I want that kind of chingasos, I go to the fights, man. To watch or to fight."
"Is that what you want to do, man? Fight me in the fights? That would be cool."
Angelo leaned in my direction.
"No ese, I want to fuck you the way you want to fuck my lady."
I started to sweat and my voice became squeaky.
"Man, you should take that as a compliment."
Angelo took a small step toward me.
"Fuck you, boy. Tonight you die."
Then he rushed me and from behind his hidden leg pulled out the longest switch blade I had ever seen. I tried to jump away but Angelo moved like a cat. Then my chest felt hot, burning, and I thought I would die.
I was surprisingly lucid for having just been stabbed in the chest and stared at Angelo as he gloated over me, his conquest, I imagine he believed. I thought about how little I had to do with the fight -- how it lasted only a few seconds and how I didn't even get to spit on Angelo. I thought about trying. Just one nasty luggie.
Then someone spun Angelo around, it was Laurice, and Angelo fell next to me, his head near my stomach. I looked down at him and saw that his throat had been slit. It sort of hissed as though he were trying to breathe through it and every so often erupted and sent a mist of blood my way. Abruptly it stopped. I started feeling cold and began to shiver. Laurice bent down to me, held me gently by my shoulders. He looked frightened.
"Steve, man," he said. "Don't move."
I didn't feel like responding.
"Steve, don't go to sleep."
I didn't really feel tired, I just wanted to reflect on my day, to put it in an understandable perspective, that's why I kept trying to close my eyes.
I opened my eyes and gave Laurice a dirty look. I wanted to dream. I've always loved the worlds of dreams. They're the places where the dead arise and the weak are strong. At times I can't distinguish dreams from reality.
"Steve, don't die, man. Don't die. I love you man. I love you."
He started crying, kissing me all over my face and lips, rubbing my arms and shoulders.
"Please don't die."
I thought I could talk normally, but my words came out hoarse whispers.
"Why you kissing me, man? What are you doin'?"
He looked shocked.
"I, Steve, I . . . don't die, man."
I tried to push him away from me but my arms wouldn't obey.
"What are you doin?" I said and closed my eyes.
I figured that maybe I was dreaming about Laurice kissing me so I tried to change him into Rosita Lopez. For a second, it worked. I could feel her kissing my face, lips, neck, and crying on me. Then I opened my eyes and saw Laurice again. I wanted to shout. I didn't understand what was going on. Laurice started to sound far away.
"I love you, Steve . . . I love you . . . I love you . . . "
I remembered the dream from a few days before, the sexual dream that I added Rosita Lopez to, then passed out.
I woke up twenty hours later in Denver General Hospital with a catheter up my . . . you know where they go. When she noticed I was awake, a nurse fetched a doctor. The doctor told me how lucky I should feel to be alive. He explained that Angelo's switchblade had missed my heart by a fraction of an inch and that I had lost a lot of blood. He kept shaking his head and saying, "We thought you were a goner."
I didn't even thank him. I was too busy living to care whether I was alive or not. I just wanted to talk to Laurice to confirm what I could remember before I passed out. But I didn't see him until I got out a few days later.
The only person I saw while in the hospital was my mother. The worried look on her face made me feel terrible. Guilty. She looked as though she aged ten years. I felt bad because she was thinking about me, but all I could think about was getting out and drinking a forty ounce, smoking a jay. She didn't say much, she just held my hand and looked worse off than I did. Now, because she looks much younger than she did then, I wonder if she did something to her make-up that day to make herself look so wretched.
Although I had only one visitor at the hospital, when I got back to the projects I had a plenty. Some unwelcome. The police for instance. They wanted to know what went down that night. They didn't think I killed Angelo because they knew my knife never left the back of my pants in the fight. An emergency-room nurse found it when he stripped me for surgery. The only blood on it was mine. Also, they didn't think I killed him because of where his body lay in relation to mine when the paramedics found us. I didn't tell them that when I passed out he was right next to me. Apparently, Laurice had dragged him some distance away. Still, perhaps to frighten me, I was a suspect. I didn't care, I knew I wouldn't go to jail. For the most part, I told the cops investigating the case the truth. I told them I went in the park to fight Angelo, that he stabbed me and I passed out. I didn't tell them about Laurice.
Like so many other murders that happen, the cops didn't have a clue. When they asked people from the party what happened, everyone, even Rosita Lopez, said they saw only me and Angelo leave to fight each other. Apparently, Laurice snuck away without being noticed. He probably walked into the front door of his crib and snuck out the back. I don't know for certain because I never asked him. Maybe no one told on him because they were afraid of the Faulquay's. Like I said, I don't know. Also, I'm not sure how long the cops investigated the murder (maybe it's still under investigation), but I never went to court for anything. I was glad because I wanted time to figure out what the deal was with Laurice. I wanted to invent a theme, a meaning. When I finally got to see him, it wasn't because he visited me but because I visited him.
It was seven days after the fight.
He wouldn't even look me in the eyes. He was sitting on his bed.
"Where you been," I said. "Every time I come to see you Ana Ree says she can't find you. Today she said you're sick."
"Oh. . . I been looking for a job and stuff. Got the flu or something. Started last night."
"A job? Why do you want a job?"
"I don't know. Just something to do, Steve. Stay out of trouble. Move maybe. Are you okay?"
"What do you mean?"
"You know. Do you hurt from what happened?"
"Yeah. But I can't sit up fast or run or anything without my chest kicking my ass. Hurts like hell."
"You'll get better."
I felt like there was this big chasm between me and one of my best friends and I didn't know how to bridge it. I walked close to Laurice then sat next to him. Our thighs touched.
"Let's be straight up," I said.
He might have thought I was going to ask him about Angelo's death, but I didn't. Angelo was dead, history. I didn't give a shit about him.
"Something happened," I said. "We got to clear that shit up."
"What you talkin' about, Steve?"
I turned and looked at him.
"Come on, Laur, you know what I mean."
He looked at his knees.
"Man, Steve. man, . . . I don't know what happened . . . . I just went crazy."
"When. When did you go crazy?"
He started to shake.
"I . . . a long time ago, man. I. When I was in the sixth grade."
"Damn, man. That long? Does anyone know?"
"Why'd you do that to me when I was asleep."
He started wringing his big brown hands.
"Do what, Steve?" His voice squeaked.
"Do what you did, man. You know what I mean, man. Be straight up."
He started crying.
"I don't know? I thought . . . I wanted to, to, to be with you . . . to be, to love you, Steve."
I felt uncomfortable with the word "love" and wanted to get up and leave. But I remained because I needed some meaning, some purpose. I rested my hand on Laurice's shoulder.
"I love you too man." My voice squeaked. "You're my dog, man. I just . . . I just don't understand that other shit, man. I don't mean to be cold but don't do that shit again man. Don't even try. Ever."
Laurice turned and hugged me and I let him because I knew he wasn't trying to be with me again. He started crying and sniffling.
"I love you, man. I love you."
When he shut up, I gently pushed him away and stood. I was uncomfortable with the moment, although it was interesting, and wanted to leave.
"Well, man. I gotta jet. My old girl wants me to go to Econo Drugs. I forgot to get the money from her."
He just sat and stared at his knees.
"Laur, I gotta jet."
He looked up.
"Stop back by on your way to Econo's. I need to get a application there."
His voice sounded like the "old" Laurice, the one that fought grown men.
"Okay, man. I'll be back. I'll bring a pen too, man. I should find a job too. Either a job or go to SCHOOL!"
Laurice broke into laughter.
"Fuck that, man. Damn school's a mad house, man. Can't learn shit there."
"Straight up," I said in agreement and left his room.
I walked away without a theme. I didn't know the meaning, significance, of what happened between Laurice and myself and didn't care because something had happened in his room that readjusted our world so we could move on.
* * *
I reconsider the notion of theme, its alleged necessity to a good story. My reconsideration doesn't last long. My views haven't changed. Such a notion is nonsense, bullshit. Life is either interesting or boring and that's as deep as it gets. You don't need thematic constructs to enjoy life. I don't anyway.
Then I think of you, the reader, and how you might feel differently. How you might be trying to find a theme for what you've thus far read. How you might be somewhat confused because you don't know from where I'm writing. I debate with myself whether that's information you need to know. Whether it's interesting or boring. And I think, what the hell, it's boring, but I'll give it to you anyway. If you've read this much, maybe I owe it to you. I think that maybe you might need to invent a theme.
* * *
I'm writing from my bedroom on my top-of-the-line Macintosh computer. Much has changed since my adolescence. I rarely see the Faulquay's although I know to some degree how their lives are going. For quite awhile, Ana Ree, the Faulquay mom, has been living in a more middle-class neighborhood, thanks to some federal program designed to help the disenfranchised. Randy lives with Ana Ree. I saw him about a month ago. He's an alcoholic. He looked ill, like he was dying, but was glad to see me. As he always has when I visit him, he recapitulated his story of how well his younger brothers have done for themselves. Three are non-commissioned officers in the military and have jobs that are in demand in the private sector. Four are in college and paying for it with academic scholarships. One owns a dental lab. One owns a gas station. When I asked him about Laurice he laughed.
"Man, he's still in Arizona and Becky is fixin' to have another baby."
"Damn, man. What does that make? Five?"
"Is he working?"
"Nope. He stays home and watches the kids. His lady wants him to. She hates watching the kids."
"What a trip. Man, when's he coming down. I'd like to see him."
"He says he might come down next month."
"Good, man. I haven't seen him since he left."
"Yeah, man. He asked about you. Said he wanted to see you. Said you were in a dream of his."
I sort of flinched.
"Did he say what it was about?"
"No. He just said he wanted to tell you about it because he knows how you like dreams."
After Randy said that, I couldn't concentrate on the rest of our conversation because I was wondering what Laurice dreamed about. Before long, our conversation fizzled and I left. Left wondering.
Well, seems I've given you a lot of information about the Faulquays' present and forgot to give information about my own (except that I'm writing on a computer). I guess I'll just throw it at you. Like Randy's brothers, somehow I overcame the negative elements of my environment. I say somehow because I don't really know how. It wasn't something I reflected on then did. It was just a matter of survival. Do it or die (or end up in jail). The changes I had to make were new experiences and perhaps that made them easier to make. I don't really know and pursuing the matter further doesn't seem like an interesting idea to experience.
Years ago I quit drinking alcohol and smoking weed. Stopped experimenting with new drugs. I went to college. Got a master's degree in education. Have had several teaching jobs in the suburbs. I hated them all. For the past seven years, I've been teaching at a school, Cole Junior High, close to the bricks I grew up in. Been married for five years. No kids. That's the main stuff. Everything else would require that you read a novel . . . Oh yes, there's one more thing. For the past month I've been waiting. Waiting for Laurice to return. Waiting so that he can tell me about his dream.
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|Reviewed by TONY NERONE
|My, my, not one review to this story which is I know how truthful it is. I grew up in the Bronx NY and living or just visiting friends in the projects was a daily occurence. They were low rent housing, and the buildings were rather tall. Usually about seven stories. Everyone was poor and had to be tough to survive. So I liked this story because it was well crafted and familiar. Keep writing even if there is no response. You have talent.
GOD BLESS YOU