David Soto Writes

I think I figured out what I want to be when I grow up.

Tag: chicano

Lover Number 1 (Chapter 5)

Esperanza was born on Christmas Day in Ojocaliente, Zacatecas. The delivery was uneventful until the midwife, Señora Mondragón, saw the child’s eyes. The Señora looked up at Esperanza’s father, Don Eduardo, and then to Esperanza’s mother, Doña Ángeles, and said, “Disculpe, pero—who in your family has green eyes?”

Puzzled, Doña Ángeles responded, “Why, no one.”

The first thought that came to Señora Mondragón was that the Doña had been unfaithful. Right away, she asked that Don Eduardo give the mother and child time to bond. The father, not knowing what was normal in childbirth, easily agreed and left the room.

“Forgive me, Señora, but I must know. Have you stepped out on your husband at all?” the midwife asked.

“Of course not,” the Doña responded. “How could you ask such a thing?”

“Perdón, Señora, but I had to know for sure.”

Besides being a midwife, Señora Mondragón also served as the town’s lie detector. People, usually women, would come to her with the accused in tow and pay ten pesos to ask a question in front of her. She would then simply respond, “He’s lying” or “He’s telling the truth.”

A mother once brought her fat, little boy to ask, “Was it you or the dog who ate all the empanadas?”

“It was the dog,” the fat boy responded.

“He’s lying,” Señora Mondragón concluded.

A young bride-to-be brought her fiancé to ask, “Were you at the whorehouse last night?”

To which he responded, “No.” They always said no.

“He’s lying,” Señora Modragón said.

Once a woman asked her husband, “Did you sleep with that zorra, Anita Rojas?”

Her husband answered, “No.”

Señora Mondragón was forced to say, “He’s telling the truth,” because of the question asked in front of her. But she knew that it was Sofía de la Vega whom he had slept with.

So, when Doña Ángeles answered that she had not been unfaithful, the midwife knew that she was telling the truth.

“This child is the daughter of the devil,” said Señora Mondragón.

“How can you say that?” the Doña asked.

“Because she has the eyes of a serpent!” she said and handed the baby to her mother.

Doña Ángeles gave out a “Dios mío!” and did three signs of the cross before taking her daughter.

Esperanza had green eyes. They were the greenest eyes anyone had ever seen, so uncommon that people thought that they looked like the eyes of Satan—though all anyone had to go by were artists’ renditions of the devil found in churches. Esperanza was not the daughter of the devil, but the dye was cast. She might as well have been.

With the daughter in her mother’s arms, the wet nurse, Lupita, was able to see the baby’s eyes for the first time. Regardless of what anyone said, when Lupita looked into the newborn’s eyes, all she could think was that they were those of an angel. Lupita immediately fell in love with Esperanza, and it was a good thing, because the Doña promptly handed her daughter over to her.

With the baby in her arms, Lupita announced in protest, “This baby is no daughter of Satan.” And with that, as if on cue, Esperanza started to wail and did not stop until the next day when Lupita reported to the kitchen with the baby in her arms.

Hours later, after la comida had been prepared and served, Lupita gathered up the child and exited the kitchen. As soon as Lupita crossed the threshold of the kitchen, Esperanza started crying again and did not stop until the next day when it was time to prepare la comida again.

It didn’t take long for Lupita to figure it out. With the help of the other servants, Lupita turned the walk-in pantry of the kitchen into sleeping quarters for her and Esperanza.

For a while, the house was at peace, and everyone seemed to forget the declaration of Señora Mondragón—until Esperanza learned to walk. The child got into everything within reach. The lower kitchen cabinets were fitted with latches so that she couldn’t access the contents inside them. All decorations and trinkets within one meter of the ground were removed or placed on higher shelves, for fear of them getting knocked to the ground and destroyed. The family even had to give away their prized German Shepherds because Esperanza would not stop collecting dog shit and bringing it into the house.

For the next several years, the only time the house was quiet was when Esperanza was asleep. No matter what happened, though, Lupita never lost her temper with the little girl. And when it came time for Esperanza to say her first word, it was “’Pita.”

Don Eduardo was so distraught by the child’s behavior that he stopped making love to his wife, for fear of creating another devil child. Then one day, after years of tolerating both the little troublemaker and the rumors as to who her real father was, Don Eduardo packed two leather bags and left on a business trip, never to return.

For the next several years, the house of Doña Ángeles never had a moment’s peace—until the day came that Esperanza started school. The relief was short-lived, though. By the end of her second year in school, Esperanza was sent home with a letter pinned to her blouse asking Doña Ángeles not to send the child back.

This was when Esperanza started her first apprenticeship, under Lupita, in her mother’s kitchen. Along with learning how to cook, Esperanza learned how to read. Although she resented her, the Doña couldn’t stand the possibility of having a dummy as a daughter. So she labeled everything in the kitchen with its appropriate word. After Esperanza mastered every word in the kitchen, her mother moved on to labeling items in the rest of their home. The house looked as though Doña Ángeles had died and was hosting her own estate sale, but instead of prices on the cards, there were vocabulary words. Once Esperanza learned how to read and spell the words on every label in their home, Doña Ángeles started giving the child books and insisted that if Esperanza wanted to be in the kitchen, she would have to finish a book a week. It turns out this was all the education Esperanza ever needed.

After several years, Doña Ángeles resigned to the fact that her husband was never coming back. She was also broke and resorted to the selling the antique furniture that decorated her house, piece by piece.

One of the furniture buyers was the widower Don Raúl de la Serna, a foreman for the copper mining company in town. After he first laid eyes on the Doña, Don Raúl came by the house every day to either inquire about or buy another piece of furniture. Within two months Doña Ángeles had her furniture back, even the pieces Don Raúl did not buy, as well as a new husband.

Don Raúl did not think of Esperanza as his own daughter. The wild child was just too much for him. But he did treat her with respect. She was, after all, his wife’s daughter. One Saturday, while peeling chayote in the kitchen, Esperanza got distracted, as she often did, and sent the tip of her paring knife into the end of her middle finger.

Though she was sixteen by this time, she let out a wail as if she was an infant who had just taken a tumble. She cried, not so much because of how much it hurt, but for the attention. Don Raul, who was in the garden, ran into the kitchen to see who was dying.

“What’s the matter in here?” the Don said.

Esperanza, crying and holding her finger in her other hand, shouted, “I cut my finger!”

The Don took Esperanza’s folded hands in his and took her over to the washbasin. As he unwrapped her finger, expecting it to be severed, he couldn’t help but laugh. “It’s just a pinprick,” he said. “There’s barely any blood.” The Don wiped the blood off Esperanza’s finger with his thumb and said, “Look. It already stopped bleeding.” The Don exhaled deeply and wiped his forehead with his sleeve. “Dios mío. You almost gave me a heart attack.” Looking at his thumb he continued, “All that over a little drop of blood.” And then, without any thought, Don Raúl put his thumb into his mouth and sucked the drop of blood off of it.

Later that night, with a look of lust and desperation in his eyes, Don Raúl de la Serna crept into Esperanza’s bed. He slid between her legs and pulled her panties to one side. When she started to protest, he put his hand over her mouth.

By the time Don Raúl finished taking Esperanza’s virginity, he was dead.


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Young Man…

I wrote this cool little story about an experience at the YMCA for my upcoming memoir but realized that I was in second grade when this happened. That meant we did not live at 1255 W 102nd street yet. So, I’m posting it here. Enjoy.

Before I was trusted to fend for myself on the playground after school, I was a member the Y’s after-school program. At first, kids were picked up in a van. We had different drivers, “counselors” is what they called them. My favorite was a fat black man by the name of Dennis. He wore tracksuit jackets, tinted eyeglasses, and an English cap. For some reason, I recall an unlit cigar in his mouth. Dennis was kind. Funny, the impression that man left on me simply because he was nice. Other counselors left lifetime impressions, but for different reasons. It was in this van where I learned that Reagan had been shot.

The hours spent after school at the Y were always eventful. I learned to play chess there. (Thirty-something years later, I play at the same level I did then. I was in 2nd grade.) I had a girl forge Mona’s signature there, on assignment I failed. I got caught and probably got a beating for that one. I had my first fight there, too. I think his name was Demond.

When attendance at the Y’s after-school program grew, the van got upgraded to a bus. Now, a bus requires a special drivers license, or at least the ability to drive a manual transmission. This restricted who picked us up. Dennis didn’t know how to drive a bus, I guess. He never did pick me up from school after that. There were several different drivers, but I specifically remember a man who didn’t seem to fit in as a Y counselor. Most of them were college-age kids. Some of them, like Dennis, were kind. This guy wasn’t. I don’t remember his name. To me now, he seems like someone I would hire for my company’s painting crew and then fire for lying on his time sheet or smoking in the apartments.

My fight with Demond that took place at the Y started on the bus. Either he had my rubber spider, and I had his green Trapper Keeper or vice-versa. It doesn’t matter the whole deal was pretty silly. For every leg Demond pulled off my spider, I scored a permanent line in the clear vinyl covering of his Trapper Keeper with a pen or something. Eventually, there were eight etched lines on the front cover of the stupid folder, and the spider reduced to a rubber ball. Things were about to escalate. Voices raised and kids started standing up. That’s when the bus driver spoke up. Everyone settled down and took their seats but not before Demond let me know he was going to get me when we got to the Y.

Now, I always stood up to bullies. Sometimes it took me a while, like the time I was in junior high and Mona told me to Go out there and kick his ass! (This story happened when we didn’t live at 1255, so you’ll have to wait for it another time.) Even when they were older and bigger, I didn’t let anyone treat me like an asshole. I’d like to think I didn’t let anyone else get bullied either. All that being said, I told on Demond. He may not have been bigger but he was older — he was at least two grades above me, stronger, and for sure more athletic. For my entire life, everyone has always been more athletic than me, but there were the kids who were super athletes. They were good at every sport — ended up star athletes in high school. Demond was one of these future athletes, and I assume he would be good at fighting too.

I was done standing up for myself. That’s what the whole spider – Trapper Keeper thing was about. I was not letting Demond bully me. Now, I was just scared and needed help. I told the bus driver, and his only response was to look in the rearview mirror, not at me mind you, and say, “I don’t care what y’all do, ’slong as it ain’t on my bus.” Thanks a lot, dick! Pack your shit. You’re fired!

There was no way out of it. I was afraid the rest of the bus ride to the Y. While getting off the bus, I looked to the bus driver in one plea for help. He didn’t even look at me. I walked down the steps of the bus and into the Y where I knew Demond was waiting for me.

In the dark hallway that ran along the short side of the gym in between glossy painted cinderblock walls, among several onlookers — grades two through sixth, I held my ground with Demond. Neither one of us knew that you were supposed to throw punches when you fight, so it was more of a wrestling match. Something where my size made up for my lack of fighting skills or athleticism. The skirmish ended when one of us got thrown into the girl’s restroom. I’d like to think it was Demond, but it was probably me.

***

Before the movie Dodgeball, dodgeball was called Bombardment. It’s the same game. If the gym was available, the counselors would pick two captains, usually the two oldest boys, and a pickup game of bombardment would ensue. Of course, I got picked last. The only time people picked me first was when they hadn’t ever seen me play, like on the first day of school or something. I usually had fun playing bombardment, regardless. As long as I didn’t take a red rubber ball to the face, I was cool. The older, bigger boys ran the show. This was their game, and it was nothing for them to easily eliminate younger kids like me.

One day, by complete surprise, I found myself the last man standing on our bombardment team. I remember my team captain, the older Asian boy who taught me how to play chess, being pissed. He had just been eliminated, and the fate of his team was up to the only boy he didn’t pick. I was the last kid in the pool players when it was his turn, by default I went to his team. He despised this. My whole childhood, people were often disgusted when I ended up on their team. They’d smack their lips and roll their eyes because they ended up with me.

To be honest, who could blame him. Like I said the older boys ran the game. They were the last ones to get eliminated. The end of the match was usually a battle between the biggest, strongest, and most athletic boys. I was not one of them. The last player on the other team was. I was about to be eliminated. Everybody knew it. I knew it. One super fast toss from that other kid and this fat boy was out—game over!

My opponent paced back and forth dribbling the ball as he sized me up. Eventually, he wound up and hurled the red rubber ball across the line straight towards me. The ball came at me like a rocket, and it was accurate—headed right for my fat belly. I was too slow to get out of the way, so I did the only thing I thought I could. I squatted down, curled my arms, and caught it.

The whole gym exploded with cheer—both teams! In case you didn’t know, in Bombardment, when you catch the throwers ball, the thrower is eliminated. Since there was only one guy left on the other team, we won. Everyone congratulated me, even my dickhead Asian team captain. I was basking in the glory of my win. All the guys had gathered around me. The guy I eliminated was sitting next to me. “Nice catch. How’s your chest, man?” He said as he rubbed his hand back and forth across my shirt. “I threw that one pretty hard.” It was Demond.

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