My antennae sought for a surrogate mother in the women that he dated.
At first, he chose women with professional careers, very attractive and childless. They were nice, but you could tell we were tolerated.
Once he would start talking about the future, they would start running. I think they also hated to be kept waiting in restaurants and coffee shops, while they fed us and paid the bill. He wasn’t settled. He was unreliable, had no job or prospects, no home of his own, he was still hung up on his ex wife and had us. On top of all that, he had the beginnings of a drug problem.
One woman in particular who was greedy for his grief was Gina Rodriguez. I could see that my father was intrigued by the raven beauty. She was five feet one, but with a large and dominant personality that came in handy in her line of work as an auxiliary police officer. I could see that she calmed his worries just by listening. I knew he would confide his financial and family problems with bald face trust and was surely relieved when she offered her help.
Her parents were a type of High Priest and Priestess in the Santeria religion, just two out of many.
“They’ve been doing it for years and have helped a lot of people. Trust me, Tommy.” she said with a smile that showed even bright teeth.
He, abuela and Earl invested hundreds of dollars to remove negativity that their guides, Joaquin and Samara, insisted surrounded them and were responsible for the current situations.
They had an elaborate ceremony and wore white clothing, which they paid for in order to be received into the faith. It seemed fair to them, as long as they kept paying and praying to the Spirits, the luck, joy and prosperity would flow.
We saw less of them as the money got tight until one day, they were gone. Just quit their jobs and were gone, along with the hopes and dreams of their victims.
Sarah Weinberg was the closest to a guardian angel that my father had. She was kind, hospitable, charitable and she fell in love with him. She was a thick, round woman in her early forties with wild, black hair and soft features and a slash of pink for a mouth above her chins.
She loved him through his dark moods, hysterical rants and his careless attitude. She was devoted.
Whenever the feeling of loss came over me, she tried her best to soothe me.
“Please try not to cry, honey. Your father gets so upset when he knows you’ve been crying.”
I remember shutting down and trying to keep as far away as possible from the apex of that loss, it scared me.
Sarah’s mother, Edna, lived down the hall and was an older version with a robust attitude.
She would educate us on the customs and foods of the Jewish religion. I listened politely and was entertained, but I was hopelessly loyal to my rice and beans.
They were both warm and giving women, self sacrificing and strong people who genuinely enjoyed being around kids. They treated us like individuals with acceptance and respect.
My father, at that point in his life, wasn’t exactly boyfriend material.
He went out one night and didn’t come home. By the morning, Sarah was frantic and called abuela to come and pick us up while she searched for him.
When she arrived with him at abuela‘s house, I was pretending to sleep on the fold out bed in the living room. He looked terrible, even through the slits of my eyes.
“Aye, Dios Mio.” abuela’s voice crackled with worry. Earl helped her put him down on the sofa. He was mumbling, drowsy.
While abuela went in search of clean clothes, Sarah took off his dirty canvas shoes.
“I found him in West Farms, at the crack house.”
I could see Earl look down at my father.
“I thought he was just doing the blow.” he told her and she shook her head sadly. Tendrils of black stuck to her flushed face.
“I guess he decided to try something stronger.” she told him. They could say no more when abuela returned. I shifted and turned over to face the wall. My eyes wide open and remembering the place where Sarah had found him. He had taken there once.
The alley next to an abandoned building led to a basement apartment with few doors. It smelled damp and the stink of trash was nauseating.
He walked up a thin Puerto Rican man and spoke in hushed tones while I waited, trying not to rub up against anything and wanting to go home.
I followed my father through a maze of halls until we reached a door that was ajar.
Ribbons of smoke snaked through the air as we walked into an large room, stepping over people passed out and slumped over. The crunch of vials under my feet would make someone in the corner stir. At the far corner, under a card table was a solitary light bulb that showed just how filthy the love seat next to it really was. An African-American wearing a ripped t shirt and dirty pants was sunk into the cushions and looked over at us, he gave a crocked smile.
“Hey man, what’s going on?”
He looked at me and then looked at my father.
“My kid’s going to wait here for me.” he told him. The man’s smile faded a bit then he quickly recovered.
“Yeah man, sure.”
He got up slowly and zigzag his way toward us, his feet were bare and filthy. He smelled of old sweat and a vile gagging odor that I didn’t recognized, but would never forget.
My father led me to the love seat and had me sit down.
“Okay, baby. Just stay here until I’m done and be a good girl. I’m going to be right in the next room, so don’t be scared. Okay?”
I nodded, but I was scared.
“Then we’ll go home?”
He tried to smile to reassure me, but I wasn’t buying it.
“Yes, then we’ll go home. For now, just sit there, be good and don’t talk to anyone.”
He left me there alone and I heard a door close. I thought about what he was doing there and even though I knew that whatever he was doing wasn’t good for him, that it took him away from us, I wanted to be with him. People came in, would look at me then would turn away into the dark.
It was eternity before I got scared enough to find him. I was terrified that someone was going to attack me, so I tried to be as quiet as possible. Maybe he was busy talking to one of his friends, I thought. My father was a talker, a big one. One of my mother’s pet peeves was that he never knew when it was time to shut the hell up.
“Papi,” I called out. Someone in the darkness shushed me. I was disturbing their ride of blow and puff. He appeared from nowhere and walked very slowly toward me. He looked exhausted and pale. His skin was sweaty and cool.
It was very late when we walked home, mostly because he couldn’t keep his eyes open while we waited for the light and I would have to shake him.
“When we get home, just tell abuela that we were at a friend’s house, okay?”
I nodded, but I was busy trying to forget the night and I knew that she would not like it at all if she knew.
We didn’t see Sarah much until she came by abuela’s house one day with a big bag.
“I’m sorry guys, but I have a new job and I have to move away.” She said tearfully as she kissed us goodbye and rushed out the door. We wailed and abuela had a hard time calming us down. We became distrustful of the few women that came after. Some were worse off than he was.
The toll of the drugs weighed heavily on my father. He would notice it from time to time and try his best to look cleaned up, but he couldn’t disguise the pallor that comes over from being a junkie. His skin was papery and slack, his blue-green veins a road map for the road he was traveling, getting narrower. He would point to his graying temples and laugh ruefully.
“Look, I look like a distinguished gentleman.”
I didn’t think that he could dodge the reality for too long, he was eroding from the inside out and seemed helpless to stop it. He became a shell of who I remembered.
He turned to pimping to feed the addiction and would often crash at one of his women’s apartments. Some of the had a child who lived with their grandparents in some far away place because of the drugs. I hated sleeping in the rooms that were kept like shrines, as if the child was dead. It was so creepy that I used to have nightmares.
Addiction is hard on families, but when there’s no support system it’s near to impossible to get the help that’s needed. Add to that, repressed anger, emotional damage and feeling spiritually deserted and it’s a perfect storm to take the very last dose.
I was familiar with the signs of a junkie. Elias and I have been trapped by a cousin who was high as a kite, talking about how hard life was and how we should somehow find a way to stay kids because we would be in for one hell of a ride. My family’s junkies were never shut out literally, but they were in many other ways and it probably had to do with getting the strongest vibe that they just wanted you to go away. We lost a lot of junkies that way.
June came and I was so excited that graduation was three days away. I was going to the seventh grade and looked forward to wearing my new dress. It was a deep pink with pearl buttons, a square neckline trimmed with lace and short sleeves. Abuela had bought me a pair of low heeled shoes that made me feel very grown up. It was still raining when I came home excited from the rehearsal, but it did nothing to dampen my spirits. My father was lying on the sofa with Elias watching TV with drowsy eyes. While I chatted about the graduation, my father half listened. He fidgeted until I was done.
“That sounds nice, mami. I’m going to take a shower, can you make some coffee?”
When it was done, I knocked on the bathroom door.
“Come in and put it on the sink and sit down.”
My hand started to shake as I set down the steaming green frosted cup.
I sat on the toilet and waited, wondering if I was in trouble. I was uncomfortable, even though he was behind the curtain. I was grateful when the steam started to rise.
“Is Elias sleeping?”
“Yes.” A strange frightening feeling was coming over me and I fought against it with putting my trust in him and in the knowledge that he wouldn’t let anything hurt me.
“I bet they’re a lot of boys that like you in your school.” He was peeking at me from the side of the curtain.
I shrugged and he chuckled.
“They’re lining up around the block, huh?” he said playfully. I remained silent because he was so off the mark. He probably wouldn’t have believed me if I told him that they weren’t lining up the block, they didn’t even know I was alive and the ones that did, weren’t very nice. Would he have believed that it was easier for me to have boys as friends than girls and that the price was that they thought I was easy?
A friend was someone who spoke to me today, but might not in the near future. Losing friends made me insecure and I would always have to just wait it out and enjoy it while it lasted.
He opened the curtain and stepped out of the tub. I turned away and felt my face get hot with embarrassment. The confusion and conflict in me burned my brain.
He stood of me and took my face in his hands.
“You look so much like your mother.” he said wistfully. “I love you, Susanna and I’m going to show you what the boys want.
I’m your father and it’s my job to show you how you can protect yourself.” His brown eyes were tinged with red and he looked normal, but the air around him was different.
“Take your clothes off and get into the tub.” He stood aside and waited.
A voice in my head began to scream and got louder with every piece. I forgot how to breathe as I tried to do what he asked. I knew what was happening, I thought that this was a punishment of some kind, but I couldn’t remember what I did. I swallowed over the lump of tears in my throat.
When I was naked, I slowly stepped into the tub. There was only a few inches of water that was cool on my skin, I hugged myself to cut the chill. My heart almost stopped when he joined me. He knelt down over me and kissed my cheek.
I was sure that he could see the fear that covered me, but I didn’t want him to get angry with me and stop loving me, like my mother.
He started to touch me and I put my hands on my face. I prayed for some kind of intervention. None came. He poked and prodded, he had me touch him and the hands that cradled me when I was very young now dragged themselves over me. When my tears came in earnest, he stopped and pulled himself up.
“I have something that will make you feel more comfortable.” he said and left. I hoped he would maybe come to his senses and explain what was happening and why. He returned with a handful of porn magazines and had me look at the women, they laid there bare assed and spread eagle for the entire world to see. It didn’t make me feel better, I feel like I had been dunked in a tub of grease. When he didn’t receive the response he wanted he sighed defeated.
“You can get out now.”
I got out and covered myself with a towel. I couldn’t look at him and I was howling from the shame. He touched my arm gently, I felt nauseous from it.
“Did I hurt you, mami?”
The question hit me like a punch in the stomach, but despite what he did, I wanted to spare him some guilt.
The truth was that he did more than hurt me, he broke me. I felt shattered and scattered to the wind, I felt shut off and closed in. Something had been taken from me that could never be replaced. My father died that day and he didn’t even know it.
He left that evening and we didn’t see him for days after.
I watched for him at the balcony, waiting to see his image walking down the street toward home.
He managed to show up at my graduation, dressed in his only brown suit and in his hand the oldest camera I had ever seen, it the accordion type with the extra large flash.
As I sang our school song, he rushed down the aisle and takes my picture. I was so embarrassed and ignored the quizzical eyes. I couldn’t catch the slightest bit of my initial excitement; I was too busy hiding the change, the sullenness and the loss that felt as if it was branded on me.
He left when we got home.
“I’ll be back.”
He had gone back to his life on the street and would return every week or so only to disappear again.
I felt like an orphan and had it not been for the love and patience that abuela showed me. I would have gladly jumped that balcony just to end the intense pain of loss and loneliness.
In the summer of 1984, my mother called abuela’s house to announce her return. She arrived looking thin and tanned, but her face showed signs of stress. I didn’t want to be happy that she was back, but I couldn’t fight my happiness with my anger, it kept losing steam. She was unusually affectionate and I had forgotten how good it felt to be held by her. I had allowed myself to believe that she had missed us.
“Want to go to McDonald’s?” she asked and we squealed with delight.
I hugged abuela tight and smiled as if a cherished wished had been granted.
Outside of the building, a taxi was waiting. My stomach fell to my feet when I realized that we were going in the other direction, a trick that had made me remembering my anger at her and now at myself for being fooled once again. The truth slapped me hard and kept me quiet.
We arrived at the airport with Benny waiting at the gate. Together we boarded and for three hours, I looked out the window. I hated her as much as I loved her. She was always making a mess here, a mess there then she’d run off somewhere until people forgot or just didn’t care anymore. When was someone going to stop her? I wanted to think that my father would be angry when he found out what she’d done, but would he be sober enough to care? How much time would pass before he decided to come home or even remember that he had kids? I swallowed my disappointment like I did every time he promised to spend time with us and never showed up. Why should I even think that he would do something like rescue us or something? Now, we were alone.
When we arrived at San Juan Airport and had to take a cab to the pier to catch the Lancha, a shuttle boat that would take us to Viequez. For thirty minutes, I breathed in the salty air and marveled at the turquoise water. It was as if my mind was on pause and I couldn’t think of what life would be like now, but all I could think about was going home. Viequez is a tiny island, a dot off to the right of Puerto Rico. It’s a beautiful place full of poverty. We lived in El Barrio de Legielou*. No matter where you are on the island, you’ll find the same narrow streets, tiny nickel and dime stores and not much else. They were at least three years behind in every thing from music to fashion. The people built their own homes and had simple jobs like teacher, store or bar owner. Other people sold their handmade goods or took in laundry. Even with the constant need, it had its beauty and sense of tranquility.
Benny’s pension was enough for us to have a two family house with a small guest house in the back above a cabana. The house rested on top of a steep hill and it dominated the area. It was made of white stone and cement with wraparound porches on both floors. It became a blessing to be inside on hot days. The whitewashed walls, bare floors and the consistent rush of ocean air created a frigid cocoon. I liked to throw water out on the porch and lie on the floor, basking in the middle of sun and shade.
Elias and I had the whole second floor to ourselves. I liked to imagine that we were living alone, it made being there bearable. My mother and Benny lived below. Even though, when they argued we might as well be in the same room. We had very little furniture or clothing. My mother took us with the clothing on our backs. She had to buy us some shorts and things at the bargain bin in town. I had three pairs of jeans, and two shirts. We had twin beds and a lot of space.
One day, that space was occupied by bikes.
“How do you like them?” he asked, displaying them proudly. I was happy because it meant freedom and I grasped the handlebars with both hands. Our reaction wasn’t gleeful enough for him. When I expressed my thanks, he held up a bony finger.
“Thank you, Sir.” he corrected. Elias had already begun to call him Daddy. I refused.
“I already have a father.” I told him, still raw whenever I thought about him and the secret I held.
Benny looked at me.
“What do you think?” he asked me. “Do you think that he’s going to come and take you home? Huh, sweetie is that what you think?” he said mockingly. My mother stood behind him.
“Ay, Benny, stop already. You gave them the fucking bike, that’s enough.” she told him. Her words were ignored and he stepped closer to me. I did not move and couldn’t even if I wanted to. My mind had flipped back to the day my world fell apart, the day my father brought true pain into my life. Benny smirked at me and my silence.
“He’s just another junkie and you know where they end up, don’t you?” he asked and pointed down. I threw my bike down and walked away.
“Benny, why do you always have to start?” I heard her ask.
“Just telling the truth, Lorna.” he replied.
Elias and I rode our bikes to town everyday and played in the Plaza. It was a raised platform with a stone gazebo in the middle. It had marble benches that were etched with the names of people I didn’t know. The trees were encased in enormous cement planters that doubled as benches. It was like a blended forest of nature and man, growing together by the sea. We would stay out until the sunset would turn the Plaza pink.
My mother and Benny began to fight within the first few weeks of our life there. When they got more frequent, they moved into the guest house, but it didn’t matter where they were. They fought everywhere even in the street. I don’t know how they never felt embarrassment, people gawking at you and whispering. They both would claim not to like to be a “show” for anyone, but they worked hard to do the opposite. I know that they often fought over money. My mother apparently thought there wasn’t enough. I didn’t know how she could expect so much fortune and still act, say and do things to hurt others. Pettiness, jealousy and selfishness surrounded Elias and I. We were stuck in the mire and lessons of honesty, loyalty and forgiveness were scarce. We learned from other people, people who would eventually end up leaving us because they couldn’t be held down by the baggage and the issues that had nothing to do with them, but that they suffered for. It was a cycle that ran through every generation of our family.
When Benny had remarked on my hair one day, I knew trouble would come.
“A woman’s hair is her crowning glory.” he told me in front of my mother, whose short hair was growing out awkwardly from a perm. My hair was a deep brown with streaks of copper from the sun. It was bone straight leading down a path to my waist. The next day, my mother invited a neighbor who professed to be good at cutting hair for a cut.
“Just to give you a nice style.” she told me.
I imagined a pretty cut with bangs and instead I got a mullet. The neighbor made a big show of feathering the sides with the brush, but I was feeling uglier by the second. It was a humiliating haircut for an already self conscious girl. It affected me more than I ever let on. If she thought that it would stop Benny’s comments, she was disappointed.
“What do you think of Susanna’s hair?” she asked him at dinner, enjoying putting me on the spot. He looked at me for a moment and smiled a little.
“It makes her look like a lady. I like it.” he told her. I think that he said it to infuriate her and I knew a fight was looming nearby.
Later that night I was lying in bed, reading a book by streetlight when I heard the slamming a door and raised voices. I peeked through the window and saw my mother stomping down the stairs. She went through the back door of the main house. I listened to her shuffling around below and muttering to herself. She kept a mattress in one of the empty rooms for such an occasion. I went back to bed and dreaded my first day of school. Growing up with abuela had rooted the Spanish language in my mind, but I couldn’t move my tongue in the fluid way of my family. They all could talk, curse, soothe, sing and joke in Spanish. Only Benny would use that as a weapon. One day when she was writing a letter to the family, he took his opportunity.
“How can you call yourself a Puerto Rican and not know how to write Spanish?” he asked her.
“I just never learned, Benny. What the tuck is the big deal?” she said on the defensive.
“The big deal, Lorna, is that you’re showing your family you’re just another nuyorican who lives here. You should be embracing it as your family’s native home. “Shame on you.” he explained as if she were a slow child too ignorant to wipe her own ass right. Then he walked away to allow the sting of his words set in. From then on, she wrote the family in Spanish with the help of her Spanish/English dictionary. I wondered what she wrote to them. Did she tell them that we were happy and adjusting nicely to the tropical air, emphasizing it with her signature smiley faces? There were times when I couldn’t be around her. I would get a headache from clamping down on my anger and disappointment.
My mother enrolled me in the local school that August. She had to speak to the principal so that I could be allowed to wear my own clothes instead of the uniform, which was brown skirt and yellow or white blouses for the girls. This caused a problem with the students and some of the teachers. They considered me a rebel who thought she was too good to follow the rules. I didn’t play into their insults and comments about nuyoricans, but I felt every one as a poisonous dart. My history teacher took great pleasure at my expense by calling on me to stand and read out loud. When he’d had enough enjoyment, he’d stop me.
“No practees fo ju, Diaz?” he asked in destroyed English. I would answer him with my trademark smirk and say nothing.
I felt the spongy part of me sucking in every mean comment and sneer, just I wouldn’t have to feel anything.
One morning, Benny took his seat at the small cheap dinette set and looked at me.
“I noticed that you sleep with your legs bent and knees up. Why do you sleep like that?” he asked innocently. I stared at him in shock and looked over at my mother, who was just as surprised, but said nothing. He just sat there waiting for his answer.
“I’m going to be late.” I said and hurried off.
I made some friends with some kids who lived at the shady foot of the hill. Elias and I used to play with them all the time. On rainy days, the gutters swelled and washed down debris into the marsh field at the bottom. The drop was hidden by bushes and trees.
The kids were popular for being outcasts in school. They were ridiculed and were the butt of jokes and rumors, but they carried themselves with confidence and grace. I fell into puppy love head first with one of them.
His name was Eric Arroyo and he made my heart squeeze every time I was around him. I could hardly maintain a friendship with him. He was a good friend, smart, loyal and magical.
He packed in the small auditorium with curious students, who he amazed with his magic tricks.
This earned him a little respect and he would just smile humbly.
He, his two sisters, Clara and Josie and his older brother, Willie lived with their parents in a house that looked shabby and neglected. For some reason, their life intrigued me. I didn’t understand it, we had more than they did and they seemed happier.
One night, I decided to take a walk to his house. I peeked inside; I wanted to see how they lived.
I was in awe of by the sight of so much comfort and home.
Their living room was lit by a bare bulb and it shone down on a worn rug that was strewn with coloring books and dolls. They all wore second hand or handmade clothing that smelled like Ivory soap. His parents were reading the newspaper and talking quietly on an overstuffed sofa. Their dark heads were close in a secretive way that told of deep friendship as well as marriage.
They tanned faces were very thin from hunger, but they seemed to be happy that they had each other to hold onto.
Eric sat in a large recliner, reading a book. I guessed that it was a case for Sherlock Holmes, his Idol next to Houdini. He read with passion, insatiable. It told me he was smart and wanted to be smarter.
The smell coming from the room reached me and formed thoughts of abuela’s food, rich and spiked with sharp flavor of pepper. My stomach began to regret missing dinner and growled deeply. I couldn’t turn away. I wanted to be around that. A voice said that that was as close as I’ll ever get. I took the long way home and thought.
By morning, I decided to tell Eric how I felt.
“I wanted to tell you that I like you very much and wanted to know if you felt the same way.” I said breathless.
We had stopped on the side of the road from school when he looked at me, his brow furrowed at first with no understanding. Then he understood and nodded a little, but it didn’t look good.
My heart was beating so fast and I could feel drops of sweat slide down my back.
He looked down at his tattered sneakers and was about to respond when Willie came jogging up to us.
“Mira, Gloria said that she’s going to stop by later. Ta bein?” he told him without even acknowledging me. I saw Eric’s face flush with excitement and anticipation as he nodded. He wasn’t shy anymore, he looked like he was hiding his enthusiasm and not doing a very good job of it.
I had never heard him talk about a Gloria and waited until Willie moved on.
“Who’s Gloria?” I asked.
He looked at me, his light brown eyes full of pity. There were patches of unwashed skin around his eyes and mouth, his lips slanted down a bit.
“Look, you’re my friend. I know you like me more than that, but she has my heart. I’m sorry.” he said.
I saw him change before my eyes. He became mean, distorted and empty.
I couldn’t hear his flimsy apology without tasting the dismay.
He knew how I felt and just let me walk into it, like a trap. Like my mother.
“Forget it, its fine. Really. I got to go.” I said in weak confidence and walked away.
I kept to myself for a bit then started to meet other students. I resisted when Eric tried to be friendly, I had stopped our friendship. I was too abased to swallow my pride and just accept the friendship. I was responsible for ruining it and it was easier to not be around him than feeling like a fool.
I started taking my lunch outside instead of in the lunchroom, to avoid him.
It was under those canopied benches where I met Marisol Ramirez.
She was a pretty thin brunette with brown eyes and light flawless complexion. She had a straight nose, thin lips and a strong jaw that she jutted out when deep in thought. She long elegant fingers that were prone to bouts of arthritis, she was constantly wringing them or rubbing scented lotion on them to calm the ache.
She became for me my best friend and that was like finding buried treasure.
We shared a class or two and we had some things in common, but what I liked was that she was different from me. I found her to be more feminine and interesting than I felt I was and she accepted me. She was very warm and genuine.
Out of boredom, we started following the juniors and seniors around. Wherever they gathered, we would hang just on the outside. Observing and admiring them like wildlife.
After a while, we began to talk to a few and got noticed. They warmed up to us and we were sparkling from the dizzy dazzling feeling.
Several seniors decided to make their last year memorable, and they put together a singing group called The Visionaries. Marisol and I felt lucky to be included.
It was the best thing that could’ve ever happen to me to me. Nothing gave me more of an intense rush like singing. I was skeptical of praise, but I sang for the pleasure of singing.
Only one thing could stop this bud of a dream from growing. Benny.
True to his form, he wanted all of the information available and dragged his feet with an answer. He was flexing his authority as the other half of the Decision Makers and knew that we would wait for it.
I got the leader of the group, Ricardo to the house to answer any questions. They sat there like caring parents, but still Benny was slow to decide.
“You know, we have to know where she is and who she’s hanging out with, the world there days. What kind of parents would we be if we didn’t?” he explained to Ricardo. I stifled an answer.
I was so excited about the audition, I barely slept. I woke up with a sore throat and cursed my luck, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I gargled some salted water and rode my bike to the meeting place. The song chosen was We Are the World. I was assigned my part and cleared my throat to sing. It was enough. The group was a lot of fun and I fed off their energy. I couldn’t do the same things they did, but I liked that I belonged to a group of people who liked to sing as much as I did.
We gathered around a local shirt store and celebrated when we got our bright yellow t shirts. They boldly showed the groups name under a music bar with notes and our names on the back.
We practiced a few days a week and I loved every moment. We were over the moon when Ricardo told us that we were scheduled for a concert at the center in town.
The Visionaries saw this as a first step toward something good, but when the lights went down and the music started, it couldn’t have gone more wrong.
The audience was rowdy and wouldn’t settle down. We practically had to scream our parts because the microphones suddenly went dead. Someone would blow a line and mix up the rest of us. I will tell you that at that moment; the only thing that was important was that I did my best. I didn’t give a shit about how anyone else did. It was a disaster.
After we slunk off the small platform, Ricardo got his spotlight to do a surprise solo. He developed a limp and supported himself with a thin cane.
He walked up to that microphone and did his best Bruce Springsteen singing I’m On Fire.
He held their focus until their eyes adjusted to the dim room, and then the rowdiness began again.
He couldn’t finish the song; the sound of the unruly crowd overpowered him. He stalked out on his recovered legs to the nearest bar.
The group gathered there slowly, trying to enter unnoticed and getting Ricardo’s glare.
“All that fucking practicing for nothing! Not one of you cared enough to try to save it. Nah, you guys, you go off really quietly. You know, at least I tried to give them a show.” He yelled. One girl started to cry and Marisol comforted her, he went on.
“Oh great, yeah, see? That why we didn’t score big tonight, bunch of crybabies. Wah! Nah! Nah!” he mocked. I stood up.
“Shut Up!” I yelled. My throat stung.
He looked at me through glassy eyes. “You’re just mad that they didn’t give you a standing ovation. What kind of leader talks to his group like that?” I asked, steeling myself against my shaking.
He rested on his pool cue and shrugged.
“You don’t like the way I do things, you can leave then.” he told me, swaying a bit.
I gave him the finger and left.