Continued from Chapter 8.
“They’re talking about Tío Emilio. I think they want him to come and cure me of my evil ways.” Vincent
By Richard Juarez
“Too bad he couldn’t stay longer,” mused Tío Pancho. “I thought I was going to be able to spend a little time with him today.”
I stood on the porch next to Tío Pancho as we watched my father drive off in Tata’s car with Tata and Tío Emilio. They were taking him to the bus station, so he could get back to L.A.
“That was a long way to go to turn around and go right back,” Tía Paula said as she walked up the porch steps and stood beside us. She lived only a few blocks away, so she had made it over here this morning in time to have breakfast with Nana, Tata, and Tío Emilio. My mother insisted on us doing most of the usual Saturday morning household chores before we came over, so we didn’t get there until about eleven o’clock, right when they were getting ready to leave. Tío Pancho arrived just after we did.
“He said he had some important business to take care of here last night, but that he really needed to get back to L.A. before this evening,” Tía Paula continued. “He certainly has become a very busy guy for being here for such a short while.”
So far, it seemed like Tío Emilio hadn’t told anyone about last night. No one knew it was Tony and me he had picked up and brought home. I guess no one in the house heard us talking when we got here. When Tío Emilio said hello to me, he didn’t act like he was seeing me for the first time in weeks, but he didn’t act like he had just seen me yesterday, either.
His having to be back in L.A. that evening made it even more amazing that he would show up in East San Diego. I would have liked to assume, like everyone else, that he had business to handle in San Diego, but I couldn’t. I knew inside me that he had come to save us. Somehow, he had known we would be in trouble. Of course, everyone had been telling us we were headed for trouble, but he had shown up in the middle of it and saved our butts. I sure wanted to know how he did that. How could he know we would be in a mess on that day, at that spot? And then to take a bus down, and get over to Tata’s to borrow his car, and still get to us in time—it really boggled my mind. Maybe that was part of that shaman stuff he had talked about.
Tata and my father got back in less than an hour, since the bus station was right downtown. Then, with everyone gathered in the house, the conversation, as usual, deteriorated to a focus on me, on the younger boys in the family, and about the drug and gang activity going on in the neighborhood.
“Hey, get off his case,” said Tío Pancho, defending me. “He hasn’t gotten into any real trouble. All this teenage acting out stuff—you’re making it out to be worse than it is.”
“Right, he hasn’t done anything except hanging out with drug dealers,” said Tía Paula. “You call that not doing anything? I know what’s going on around here. Don’t act like it’s nothing.” She sounded angry at Tío Pancho.
He came right back with an animated reply. “But Vincent isn’t selling drugs. He said he isn’t. And he’s not a liar. If anything, he’s still too much of a mama’s boy.” Then, turning to me, he said, “Sorry, mijito. I didn’t mean to diss you.”
“¡Ay, qué tonto, Pancho!” my mother said as she slapped him on the shoulder. “You just don’t know what he’s been getting into—stealing, fighting—and those criminal friends of his!”
“Right, and when those guys get arrested, they will all be just as guilty because they’re out there together. He could easily be sent off to juvenile hall with those hoodlums.” Tía Paula was definitely my mother’s sister. They pretty much sang the same song. And they kept at it as they moved into the kitchen and started cooking lunch.
I went back outside and sat on the front porch. I had to get away from it. I just hated this. They were all talking about me, but no one was asking me anything. As far as I was concerned, Tío Pancho was right. I hadn’t done anything serious. Tony and I could be in the middle of all this drug dealing if we wanted to, but we weren’t. And no one gave us credit for making that decision, for staying out of it. It was hard to walk that line with all the pressures the other guys put on you. But they were also our friends and so far they respected our decision to stay out of it.
“Vincent,” my father called from the doorway, “go home and bring your sisters here for lunch. Tell them to change into some clean clothes, and lock up the house when you leave.”
“Okay,” I answered as I got up. They could just as easily have called the girls on the phone and told them. But I was glad for the excuse to get away.
The girls didn’t ask any questions about Tío Emilio or why he had been here. They looked at me with wondering eyes, but they seemed as confused as everyone else about his short visit. After locking up, I sat in the sala while waiting for them to change.
When we got back to Nana and Tata’s, everyone was eating. My mother ushered us into the kitchen and began serving the chicken in green chili sauce, rice and beans onto our plates. I could hear from the discussion in the dining room that I was still the topic of discussion. At least two different conversations were going on, in Spanish.
“You kids sit out there in the back patio and eat your lunch. Gina and Mona, you go sit down. Vincent and Gracie will carry your plates out for you.”
After bringing out the last plate, I sat down to join my sisters. Gina, who had been staring at me for quite awhile, couldn’t bear it any longer.
“So, are you going to jail or something?” she asked.
“Not jail,” said Gracie, “juvenile hall.” Even Gina had picked up on the adult’s conversation, even though it was in Spanish.
“Same thing,” said Mona. “They lock them up there, don’t they?”
“You guys too! What is this, get on Vincent’s case day? No Gina, I’m not going to go to jail or juvie. I haven’t done anything to get sent to juvie for!”
“Except for stealing sodas,” said Mona.
“And assault and battery!” Gracie yelled.
“Hey, gimme a break. That stuff is over with. I haven’t been in any trouble lately, at least not any real trouble. I haven’t been caught … uh, I haven’t done anything!”
“You dumb ass … oops,” Gracie quickly put her hand up to her mouth, hoping that none of the older folks heard that. “You dummy,” she continued. “Mama and Daddy have been telling you to stay away from those hoodlum friends of yours. They’re slimeballs.”
“Whoa, this really set you off!” I said to her. “I’ve never heard you use cuss words before.”
“Well, I’m sorry,” she said with exasperation. “This really makes me mad. Mama and Daddy have tried so hard to keep you out of trouble and you keep hanging out with that idiot Pablito and his drug dealing buddy, Arturo. Stay away from them!”
“Hey, calm down, Gracie,” Mona piped in. “Your food is getting cold. Why don’t you eat while you cuss him out?”
All of us laughed at that. Gracie never cussed. She was as upset as Tía Paula and Mama. Well … not as upset as Mama.
“Anyway, I don’t know why you would want to be seen around them,” continued Gracie. “The girls at school think they’re just a bunch of sleazy macho idiots, trying to be bad stuff all the time. They’re bad stuff all right. So bad none of the girls even want to be around them.”
“Yeah, right,” I said, “what girls at school?”
“Well,” she said, “Alice and Linda, for two.” Those two and Gracie were two years ahead of us in school. Linda was another of Doña Rosa’s granddaughters.
“And Anita, too,” added Mona. “Pablito thinks she likes him, but she can’t stand him anymore, because she sees him hanging around with those other stupidos. Besides, she saw you kick his butt good. I think she likes you now.”
“She better get in line,” said Gracie. “Linda said her sister Gloria likes him.” And then, turning back to me, she added, “but not if you’re hanging out with those dopes!”
“Woo, hoo! Gloria likes Vincent!” Gina and Mona sang out together.
I could feel my ears getting red, as they repeated it. “Shut up, you guys. She’s just a friend in my class.” I shouldn’t have said anything because I don’t think I sounded very convincing.
Mona went back into the kitchen and came out with more tortillas. “They’re talking about you in there, Vincent. Mama and Daddy said they don’t know what to do. Tía Paula said it’s just a matter of time and you’ll be in jail, just like Tío Marcos and Tío Juan were.”
“They were in jail?” asked Mona with surprise. “When?”
“A few years ago,” replied Gracie. “You were too young to remember it.”
I finished my plate and went into the house for more food so I could hear for myself what was being said. As I heaped my plate with more of the green chili chicken, Tata started to talk. He spoke in Spanish, so I didn’t quite get it all, but he was talking about someone to help.
For some reason my mother got very animated, shaking her head, saying she didn’t believe in the old ways. And she mentioned the Church opposition. She too was speaking Spanish.
Then it hit me. Of course! The old ways! They were talking about Tío Emilio.
“Oh, María,” argued Tío Pancho, “you’re against it because you think the Church is against it. But none of us really know anything about it. I’ve never heard anyone connected with the Church say anything against curanderos and brujos. What he’s saying is that Emilio has had success working with young people in Mexico and L.A. So don’t be so stubborn. Your father is asking you to give it a chance. If not this, what’s your suggestion?”
“Well,” she said hesitantly, “I don’t have any other suggestions. I … I’ve given up. That’s why we’re talking. I need help. He’s out of control, and … I’m so worried.” She began to sob.
That was my cue to get out of sight. I just couldn’t take it when she cried because of me. I hustled my food outside and sat down with the girls to finish eating.
“Hey, Mama’s crying,” Gina called out as she stood by the screen door, looking in.
“So what are they saying?” Gracie asked.
“Something about old Mexican traditions,” I answered, “and about curanderos and brujos. They’re talking about Tío Emilio. I think they want him to come and cure me of my evil ways.”
“Wow. They must think you’re pretty bad off,” said Mona, “if they need to bring somebody else besides themselves to straighten you out. I think a good fat belt …”
“Hey, shut up, you punk. I don’t need straightening out!” I answered, getting angry. “I’m not crooked! I haven’t done anything!”
“Right,” said Gracie. “You’re just an angry young man, with a chip on your shoulder.”
“I ain’t got no chip on my shoulder,” I shot back loudly. “I’m not an angry young man!”
“Yes you do! And yes you are!” yelled Gracie even louder.
“Yes you are!” yelled Mona, trying to be heard over Gracie’s yelling.
The three of them laughed.
I wouldn’t admit it to them, but maybe I wasn’t totally innocent. I knew it was going to catch up with me sooner or later. Last night just came sooner than I thought. Even though I resented the idea of them bringing Tío Emilio here to try to keep me out of trouble, maybe spending some time with him wouldn’t be so bad. After all, he had saved me! Somehow, last night, he had saved me. And he had offered to teach me about these “old ways,” as my mother called them. It was kinda weird what he spoke about. And the dream—that whole thing about seeing the dream carved into the leather was so strange and impossible to understand. But something about it felt right, from the very night I dreamed it. I had a feeling there was a message in it for me somewhere, and perhaps Tío Emilio could help me find it.
Copyright © 2013 Richard Juarez
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