Continued from Chapter 10.
“Pablito’s a jerk and a loud mouth. He and Arturo take the stupidest risks. And too often we’re the ones who end up paying for their stupidity. I’m glad we have a chance to take a new direction, to do something different instead of hanging with them all the time.” Tony
By Richard Juarez
One immediate result of the sessions with Don Emilio was that no one in the family bugged me or gave me a hard time anymore. From sisters, to parents, to grandparents, no one asked what I was doing, or where I was going, or who I was going with. When I asked if I could go to the library after our session with Don Emilio last week, to do some research on a school paper, my mother surprised me with her response.
“You don’t have to ask if you can leave the house anymore,” she said. “I should keep you on restriction, but your father and I promised Tío Emilio that we would let him deal with you. So you are now off restriction and in his hands. Don’t go and blow this, and embarrass him and your Tata. Tata is the one who really wanted Tío Emilio to help you. I was opposed to this, but Tata insisted, and … well, he’s my father. So you don’t have to ask any more. But use your common sense, and let me know when you’ll be gone, so that I don’t have to worry about you.”
When I called Tony and asked if he could go over to Chicano Park to play basketball, I was surprised he could go, but he told me that the same thing had happened at his house. It felt strange, walking out of the house and not having to ask first. It felt even stranger to see Pablito again for the first time since that Friday night three weeks before. So much had happened since he and Arturo took off running. I hadn’t seen either one of them at school.
“Hey, bro’, I see you’re not dead after all,” I called out to Pablito as I neared the gate to the basketball court in Chicano Park. Pablito was coming from the opposite direction, walking onto the court just ahead of me. Tony, who had phoned Pablito and asked him to come play with us, was already there taking shots at the basket. There was no one else on the court, so we had the whole place to ourselves, although we were going to use just one of the four baskets.
“Did you hear some bad rumors about me being dead?” Pablito asked as he chased down the ball. “Hey, who was that guy who walked into his own funeral?”
“Tom Sawyer,” said Tony. “The Mark Twain book we had to read last year.”
“Oh yeah. That was a way cool book. I didn’t get around to finishing it though.”
“How did you do the book report?” I asked.
“Hey, I didn’t say I got a good grade!”
Tony and I laughed. Of course. I didn’t expect that he had gotten a good grade. Why would I think he had read the whole book?
“We thought for sure you two were in for it when all those guys ran after you out in East San Diego,” said Tony.
“Oh, what a pinche situation that was. I thought we left you guys in the dust to deal with those guys, and then it looked like all of them were on our tail. How did you do that?”
“Hey, they didn’t want to mess with us, cabrón,” Tony said, puffing out his skinny chest.
“Yeah, right,” Pablito said grinning and shaking his head. Turning toward me, he asked, “So what really happened?”
“Man, you won’t believe it!” I was eager to tell the story. “When you two took off, some of those guys ran after you, and four of them started to come after us. But they stopped cold when this car came screeching to a stop right in front of them at the corner, with its headlights lighting them up. When the driver called to us, those guys turned and took off after you and their friends. It was my Tío Emilio in the car! Can you believe that?”
“What a coincidence that he would appear right then, out there,” said Tony. “He said it was no coincidence. Somehow he knew we were gonna be in trouble, and somehow he knew where we’d be. It was amazing!”
“What’s amazing is that we got away from those guys,” said Pablito, taking a shot at the basket. “I thought we were gonna die. Those guys chased us for about four friggin’ blocks. I was running as fast as I could the whole time, in my good party shoes. I don’t think I could have run any farther. Luckily, we caught up with a bus on University Avenue and jumped on just as the driver was closing the doors. As the bus pulled away we could see those guys out the back window as they ran after the bus and one by one gave up as we got farther and farther away. We rode over to North Park and stayed at Arturo’s cousin’s house. We didn’t wanna get too far away because we had to go back for the car in the morning. His cousin dropped us off at the car.”
Pablito stopped talking and chased down the ball again after Tony took another shot. He seemed to ignore what we had said about the “coincidence.”
“I didn’t know your Tío was back in town,” said Pablito, before tossing up a skyhook that didn’t come close. Tony caught the air ball on the fly.
“Neither did I. He just showed up.”
“Hey, Vincent, you gonna take a few shots to warm up?” asked Tony, throwing me the ball. “Or are we just gonna start?”
“Just let me take a couple,” I said as I swished the first one from the free-throw line and then bounced the second shot off the front of the rim.
“Okay,” said Tony, grabbing the rebound, “let’s go. Horse. Free throws to determine what order we shoot in, okay?”
We nodded. We knew the routine. In the game of HORSE you make a shot, and the next guy has to make the exact same shot you did, no matter how weird. If you miss, you get a letter, starting with H. When you have missed enough to spell HORSE, you’re out of the game.
As usual, we were pretty intense about our shots for the first six games. Tony won three, I won two, and we sort of let Pablito win the last one. Then we got creative and tried some really impossible shots. At that point in the game, when one of us would finally make it, there was almost no chance that the next guy would. So from then on we didn’t really keep score, except to joke around that so-and-so had something like HORSSSSSSS.
“Hey Vincnet,” Tony called out, pulling up his shirt and wiping the sweat off his face, “we should tell Pablito about this new stuff Don Emilio was telling us.”
“Don Emilio? How come you’re calling him Don?” asked Pablito.
“He’s our teacher now, so we gotta call him Don Emilio,” I answered as I chased down the ball, “as a sign of respect.”
“What exactly is he teaching you?”
“He’s teaching us to be brujos,” Tony said, emphasizing the word brujo. “We’re gonna learn how to cast spells. Next time you ditch us and leave us to fight off a gang by ourselves, I’ll put a spell on you so that you won’t be able to run. Your feet are gonna be dragging.” Tony walked around very slowly, acting like he was trying to run but was barely able lift his feet. “And they’re gonna get closer and closer, and finally they’ll catch you. And wham!” He pounded his fist into his palm with a loud pop. “Then we really will have your funeral after all.”
All three of us busted up laughing.
“Is he really teaching you that kind of brujo stuff?” Pablito asked, with what sounded like fear in his voice.
“He’s going to teach us about his work and about the spiritual side of our culture, our native ancestors’ culture,” I said. “And it ain’t about spells. It’s about connection with God and the earth and all living things. About energy and stuff like that.”
“Oh, man, I don’t believe it. You guys gonna get religious.” He raised his hands toward the sky, laughing, while he yelled out, “You gonna get saved, hallelujah!”
“Well, I’ve already been saved,” I said. “Don Emilio saved our butts from those guys. I want to keep learning from him. He’s going to show us how to make good things happen in our lives, and how to get what we want. As far as spending my time, I think it’s better than just hanging around doing nothing. And maybe it will help keep us out of this gangbanging, drug dealing pit that guys are falling into. You should join us, Pablito. Maybe you’ll live longer.”
Hell, I don’t think I’m gonna live to be 21. I’ll be lucky to get to 25. But I’m not gonna wimp out. I’m gonna go out with a bang. Sounds like you guys are wimping out. We gotta be tough, man. We got this area to protect, people to take care of. That religious crap, where’s that, man? How’s that gonna take care of your homie or your babe?”
Listen to him, I thought to myself, skinny wimp that he was, talking about wimping out. Protecting your babe. Heck, he ain’t never had a girlfriend, that liked him back anyway. What babe did he think he was taking care of? It wasn’t any use talking to him about it. He just didn’t have a clue.
“Hey guys, I gotta be getting home,” Tony called out, taking one last shot. I knew he didn’t want to carry on this conversation with Pablito anymore either.
“Well, I guess I better get home too,” I said. “That’s enough running around for today.” It had been hotter there on the court than I thought. My shirt was soaking wet, and sticking to me.
“I’ll catch you guys later,” said Pablito. “I’m gonna head over to Arturo’s. And don’t get into any trouble on your way home,” he laughed as he started toward the fence gate. He stopped and turned around. “You’re not really gonna do none of that brujo stuff to me are you?” He paused and looked like he was thinking about his own question, then said, “Naaaw,” waving both hands at us and shaking his head. “Later, you guys.” And he turned and walked off the court and out into the park.
I could tell that the gulf between us and Pablito, and the others as well, was beginning to widen. He didn’t pick up on any of the positive stuff. He only talked about the imaginary spell Tony made up.
“You know,” said Tony as we walked away from the basketball court, “Pablito can really be a jerk sometimes. And the trouble is, he ain’t acting. That’s how he is. He’s a jerk and a loud mouth. He and Arturo take the stupidest risks. And too often we’re the ones who end up paying for their stupidity. I’m glad we have a chance to take a new direction, to do something different instead of hanging with them all the time.”
“It’s definitely different,” I said. “Like Don Emilio said, this could change our lives. Man, I’m ready for a change.”
“Me too. But like we talked about, I don’t want to just move on and forget about our homies, even if some of them are real jerks. If there’s something in the teachings that will help us, maybe it can help them too. I mean, we’ve known them all our lives. They are our friends, even though sometimes they don’t act like it.”
“Well,” I said, “Don Emilio did say that our homies could choose this too. I don’t mean I want to go in a new direction and just forget about them. Maybe we’ll be able to convince them to join us. Maybe they would if we have something to offer.”
“Speaking of something to offer,” said Tony, stopping to sit for a minute on a bench near the park kiosko, “what about the daily breath meditation? You think we could get the guys to do that?” He was grinning because he knew the answer.
“Don’t think so,” I answered sitting down next to him. “Too boring for them. You know, I didn’t think it was going to be so hard to keep my attention focused on my breath. Mostly my mind kept wandering. And when I can’t get it to stop thinking all kinds of things, I feel like stopping the exercise. And when I look at the clock, sometimes I still have ten or fifteen minutes to go.”
“Yeah, the first few times I didn’t finish,” said Tony. “I couldn’t sit there for the whole twenty minutes. I would find myself breathing faster, trying to drown out the thoughts. I’m glad Don Emilio said not to worry about it and just practice, because it’s gotten easier. Some days I can keep my mind on my breathing more.”
“For me too,” I said. “And the more I practice, the less boring it becomes. When I’m not thinking about stopping and doing something else, it actually feels good to finally get into a groove and just kinda space out, thinking about nothing but each breath.”
“I’m glad we still have three more weeks before we have to tell Don Emilio how we did,” said Tony. “I’d like to keep practicing and see if I can get a little better at it before then.”
Copyright © 2013 Richard Juarez
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