The following story includes the Spanish language. I’m not versed in this language and was forced to use an online translator. I’m not sure how accurate it is. I mean no offense if it’s wrong.
So, one of the great miracles that Sunshine pulled off was this one right here. Just watch what she does here. She sat me down one day, looked me in the eye, and said, “Okay, now what?”
“Now what, what?”
“Now what? How do we get you out of this?” she said.
“Get me out of what?”
“This apartment, this lifestyle. You have to have a plan. You have to find a way to make a difference and start planning for when you have put yourself back together.”
’Til that moment I had not even thought about it. Therapy and pain had been my whole life for so long that it was just the way of things. I was going to be in pain and torment for the rest of my life. That is what I accepted. “I don’t know.”
“You need a dream. I am not going to let you put it all right, just so you can sit in this apartment all day with two women fighting over you. You need a future to look forward to. You need to make your life livable, not just survive it.” Sunshine whipped her blonde hair out of her eyes and looked at me hard. “So, what is the dream? What is it that you can do that no one else in the world can do better?”
“I don’t know about no one else in the world, but I can write.”
She threw her head back laughing and snapped her fingers. “I knew it would be something like that. Of course, you’re an artist. How could you be anything but? So, you’re a writer, huh?”
“I am. I want to be, but I haven’t written anything since I got out of school.”
“Dropped out. I didn’t even really do that. I just failed my last semester and didn’t go back.”
“How far did you get before you quit?” she said.
“About Junior year, I would say. I still have quite a bit of Gen Ed to go, but yeah, I’m a Junior.”
She leaned forward and rested her chin on her hands, planting her elbows on her knees. “What did you study?”
“History and literature. I figured if you are going to write fantasy you had better know what you are talking about.”
“Right, right, well, would you be willing to go back if I could get it in line?” she asked.
“I would love to go back if it is possible.”
“Well let’s get it going.”
We left my apartment that day and went straight to the university. We got the forms, we filled everything out, and she dropped me back off at my apartment. Within a few months I was back in school.
I wrote my next big story around that time. I was in senior Creative Writing as taught by the head of the department, and I had forty pages to write by the end of the semester. He said we would be graded on our best forty. If we only turned in thirty, we could only get a B, twenty would get us a C at best, and if we turned in any less than ten, we would fail.
This seemed beyond daunting. I could not imagine writing that much ever. I was terrified. I had never written any more than a twelve-page story, and that had taken me an entire semester. What he was asking was impossible.
I got to work. This is when I wrote “Cabbage.” This is when Artist tried to explain to us what was happening with Bekah again.
Cabbage was an old black blues man who sang and played the harmonica. He worked in Detroit and had a regular gig now. He was in his sixties in poor health. He was getting to the end of his life, and he had nothing. One night after a set, a girl approaches him. She is a mixed race girl, beautiful and about thirty. She walks to him and asks for his time.
He waves her off, telling her he has to get home, his bed is calling, when she says a name. It is the name of her mother. This name stops Cabbage in his tracks and drops him in a bar chair to stare across from her at the table.
The girl hands Cabbage an old yellowing piece of paper and she sighs. “Listen, mother died this year and she asked to be buried with her guitar. She had it as long as I remember but never played it. Well, she wanted to be buried with it. Said it had brought her the greatest happiness of her life.
“When we got the guitar out of its case, we heard something fluttering around inside. We took off the old rusty strings, and we got a coat hanger and my brother, he is good at this kind of thing, and he got this letter out of the guitar.” She looked at the letter and wiped her eyes. “See, when you put this letter in her guitar case, it fell into the guitar and she never read it. I don’t know what would have happened if she did, but well, my brothers and I, we thought you deserved to know that this never made it to my mother.
“I’m not sure what would have come of it if it had but,” the girl reached across the table and squeezed Cabbage’s hand. “She never chose you because she didn’t know she had a choice to make.”
The letter was his confession of love. See, the guitar playing girl and the harmonica playing boy worked their way from New York, where they met on a bus, to LA where the girl’s husband lived. He had told her to come to him and gave her no money to do it. She had to play her way, and while she traveled, she walked beside Cabbage. When he dropped her off with her husband, he tucked the note in her case.
You see it, don’t you? I was going to play the blues for the rest of my life and my girl was going to walk away never having read how much I loved her. My message was not getting through. In the story, Cabbage goes to his tiny apartment where he lives alone with an angry woman he doesn’t love, and he crawls into bed and weeps for a love he never held because of words he never expressed.
Siren loved it, said it was chilling and heartbreaking. She asked if it was about her. I deflected the question. I closed up the comp book and no one read that story. It was as if it was tucked in a case somewhere unread and forgotten about.
I had a history professor who was certifiable. He loved violence, death, blood and horror. He was one of the great minds the world possessed when the topic of Mayan culture was mentioned, and the school had secured him to the history department so he could create a Latin American History curriculum. I took Latin History 1, and he loved me.
We would sit in his office after hours and hang out, and I would tell him stories of fights I had gotten into as a kid. We would talk about fights I had gotten into as an adult and the stick fighting. We cussed and laughed and laughed some more. It was like having a very cool boss, and I learned a lot from him.
One day after a bad therapy week, I missed a few classes in a row, and when I got to class late the next week, he grabbed me and shoved me into the hall.
“Where have you been?” he asked.
“Therapy. God awful, mind breaking, soul crushing therapy. I’ve been curled in a ball for a week. This is my first time out of the house,” I said.
“Yeah, I figured it was something like that. Want to get together later and talk about it?”
“I would love to. Shouldn’t you be teaching right now? Shouldn’t I be learning?”
“Yeah, you can’t go in there,” he said, motioning to the classroom door.
“They are taking a huge test in there. You are missing it. If you go in there, I will have to fail you. Come to me later and make it up. But don’t go in there right now. They will see you and ask questions I don’t want to have to answer. And if you take this test you will fail. No doubt about it. This is an insane class.” He laughed. “You’re so screwed if you go in there. Get out of here. Come to my office later. We will catch up and I’ll get you ready for the test.”
I studied for the test, I took the test, I passed the test. I passed the class. I failed every other class I took that semester. I was outclassed by my abuse. The therapy and the lifestyle of getting one body blow memory after the next was too hard on me. And keeping up with college was impossible. I fought through two semesters failing almost everything, but it was not a waste.
Sunshine had shown me that I needed a life after this horror was over. I needed to think about what I wanted to do with my life. I needed to have something to look forward to.
So, my Latin American History teacher invited all his students to his house for a party. No host gifts, that is bribery. No racists, which we thought was an odd thing to say. And come hungry, he said we would be eating. He was a friend so I showed up. It was a day I will not soon forget.
His wife was Mexican, and since moving into the city, she had touched into the Mexican community. When I got there, I was greeted by twenty Mexican men and an untold number of Mexican women.
I knew black culture enough to get by in it, but I did not know much about the Latino culture at all. This was all going to be new to me. I didn’t speak the language, but I spoke respect and I spoke honor, so I figured I would be fine.
When I tried to stop at the kitchen, my professor grabbed me quick. He pulled me away as the women glared at me. “You can’t be in there.”
“I was just going to say hi,” I said.
“Leave them alone. Your crowd is out here.” He pulled me into the back yard where a great circle of men stood. Every man here was a Mexican. They looked at me, and I heard a few of them mutter the word gringo. My professor spoke Spanish to them for a while, and they stared at me with a hard look before one of them nodded and moved aside. He motioned to me and I stood beside him.
One section of the circle stood under a tent, and an elder man stood there beside a stack of coolers. He spoke to me and I looked at my teacher.
“He is asking if you want a beer.”
I looked at the elder and nodded. “I would love one, thank you.”
He reached into his cooler and pulled out a bottle of a brand of beer I had never seen before as he reached behind him and pulled a massive knife from his belt. It was at least four inches across with a twelve-inch-long single edge.
It was stunning. I had never seen anything like it. I had been a knife guy since I was six and a gangster had stuffed one in my pocket. I was carrying two pocket knives at the time. I stared at the blade, near the point of tears at its beauty, and the men around me laughed. They began pointing at me, saying gringo and shaking their heads, when my professor spoke up.
He waved his hands, gestured to me while he spoke Spanish to the men, and he pointed at me. “What are you looking at?” he asked me.
“That blade is gorgeous. My God, it is just gorgeous,” I said.
The teacher laughed and repeated my words to the gathering. They looked at me skeptically and spoke amongst themselves.
Soon another student came in. He was good looking and brash, proud, and he said he spoke a little Spanish. Whatever he said they laughed at, and my professor kept correcting him until finally the kid gave up. The professor asked if the guy wanted a beer and he said yes.
As soon as the elder pulled his blade to pop off the cap with the back edge of the knife, the other student jumped.
“Holy shit, what is he doing with that knife?” the kid said. He stepped back and pointed as if everyone in the circle had not known the old man had it. “What is he going to do with that knife?”
I laughed. I was beginning to see this was a big part of the culture of these men in particular. I can’t speak for all of Mexican culture, because I am not an authority, but I can tell you that almost every one of these men had a knife on their person. Some clipped into the pockets. Some strapped to their belts. I saw more than a few hunting blades and a few folders in sheaths. The men in this circle carried blades. I immediately felt at home.
I was reminded of my old neighborhood where every street kid had a blade. I felt safe and I felt accepted.
“Every man here is carrying a knife,” my professor said. “It’s just a fact. You’re going to have to get used to it.”
“We don’t carry knives in our culture,” the guy said to the circle. It was a statement of ridicule. A way of parting himself from the men here. A way of saying his people were better and more civilized. “He doesn’t have a knife,” he said, pointing at me.
“No,” my professor said. “He doesn’t have a knife. He has two.”
“He does not!”
“Jesse, pull,” my professor said.
Shadow shifted out hard and, with a flick of his wrists and a thumb of his folders, he had both of his knives out in a blink. Guardian carried a folder with a gray handle. It had a fine single edge. It was utilitarian and it opened fast. Assassin carried a black-handled knife with a serrated edge and a black blade.
As soon as my knives came out, the Mexican men took a step back and laughed. They pointed at me and shook their heads surprised. The college boy gasped and shook his head in disbelief.
The food was insane. We had chicken, rice, beans and a spiced corn. The chicken was smothered in chocolate sauce. It was not sweet. It was anything but. It had a bit of a bitter tinge to it, but more than anything, it was spicy. I devoured everything put in front of me as the other students chattered about school. I didn’t belong here. They all had exciting futures with big plans, and they talked about classes they would take and the other professors they were studying under.
I wanted more food but with a crowd this size I decided asking for seconds might be rude. I waited for the party to spin off in another direction, but decided it was a cook out and nothing more, so I made my way toward the door.
We were in the garage with long tables and folding chairs and I was headed toward the door to the house to say my goodbyes. I wanted to give a nod to the men in the back and thank the cooks, when the door filled with the large presence of my professor, and he carried a stereo.
“Where ya goin’?” he asked with a grin.
“Saying my goodbyes and I’m headed out.”
“Oh, buddy, that is not what you are doing at all.” He pushed me aside and a wave of people moved into the garage from behind him. They pulled guests out of the chairs and stacked them. In a flash the tables were folded and gone, and out came the young ones.
By young, I do not mean young. What I mean is that twenties and teens began to flood the place. I had not seen any of these people before, but every one of them was my age or a little younger, and every one of them wore clothing.
That is a weird way to say it, but it is not. See, right now I am wearing a t-shirt with that chubby kid from Sandlot on it. The caption reads, “You’re Killin Me Smalls.” I hope you know which quote I am talking about. I have on work shoes, black loose fitting pants that could double as PJ pants. I have a black vest on and a stainless steel pinky ring. See, I’m not dressed at all.
Not the way they were. Silks and lace. Colors that were damn near dizzying, and everybody walking into this garage was toned and full. The hair was all perfect. They had come to play.
Bold Latino men in their prime began moving up to blushing college girls and speaking in rich accents with wild staring eyes. Every college guy was being approached by a gorgeous Latina woman. I looked at my professor, who was setting the stereo on his workbench, and shook my head.
“I gotta go,” I said with a chuckle.
“We want to dance,” my teacher said. “She wants to dance.” He was pointing to my left and I turned to see a goddess staring at me.
She pointed a long painted nail at me, looking over to my teacher. “Dos Tirones?” she asked him.
He grinned and nodded. “That’s him.” He chuckled at me and smiled. “You’re welcome.”
She pulled me into the middle of the garage and dropped her forearms on my shoulders, crossing her wrists behind my neck. “Dos Tirones todo mio.”
“What did she just say?” I asked over her shoulder.
“Your new favorite words,” my professor said. The music came in with a blast of horns and a firing of drums, and she swayed her hips back and forth.
I looked at her and really saw her for the first time. Her hair was liquid black, her lips full and red. She wore a tank top that clung to everything and was cut off at her tight stomach. It was the color of raspberries and it had its hands full keeping her covered. Her jeans barely came up to her hips and were so tight they might have been painted on.
“I can’t stay,” I said looking at her. I started looking around at the other girls and could not find one prettier. This was the most gorgeous woman in the building.
But she was not my gorgeous woman.
“I really have to go,” I said. I reached up to her forearms, touching soft skin, and very gently tried to remove her from my body.
She was not interested in that at all. She ran her hands through my hair and shook her head. “Te quedas y bailas conmigo. Todo mio.” The words poured out of her mouth like a ribbon of silk. Her eyes lit up and she smiled a devastating smile.
But it was not my smile. My smile was thin and a bit crooked in a way that I could stare at all day.
I looked at my teacher, who stood at the stairs grinning. “She is yours just for tonight. Look around you,” he said. “Just look around you right now. Then look straight ahead and get lost.”
I removed her arms and she took my hands. She moved in a mesmerizing way that the rest of the garage was beginning to do as Latinos and Latinas began to teach the gringos how to move.
“Ven, ven conmigo y te lo mostrare,” she purred.
“What did you say?” I could not look in her eyes for long. “What did she say?” I yelled over the music.
“Does it really matter?” he said.
I looked at him and shook my head. “You know I can’t do this,” I said to him pleadingly.
“Because of her?” he asked.
“Bekah, yeah. I can’t be here.”
Painted nails touched my chin so gently and turned my eyes to hers. Her eyes did something hungry, and I looked up at my professor and shook my head.
“You are not even dating Bekah. You can do this. This is not a bad thing. Just let her move you around for a while. You never know…”
“Tell her I’m in love.”
She looked at the professor and he smiled, “Amor.”
She looked back at me, her hair swinging wild and she smiled. She pulled me toward her and now she was pressed against my body.
“Podemos trabajar por el amor. Ahora bailamos,” she murmured into my neck.
“Tell her I am in love with another and I can’t be hers,” I said.
Every guy in the garage looked at me like I was a dunce.
“Amar con otro,” Professor said. He shook his head. And tapped his chest over his heart with two fingers.
I kissed both of her hands and looked her in the eye. “Thank you. You are more than any man here could ask for. Except me. Go be beautiful.”
She pulled in tight to my body, popped my earlobe in her mouth and sucked it just a bit. She pulled back and I slowly backed out of the garage.
“You’re gonna regret this,” my teacher said.
I never did.
The Latina goddess watched me go, swaying her hips and staring into my eyes. She waved at me before I turned. “Adios, Dos Tirones.”
The translation is Goodbye, Two Pull.
They called me Two Pull. I walked out of that party with a nickname. As I was walking to the spot where Siren would pick me up, two of the Mexican men saw me and leaned out of their truck. They had gone on a beer and ice run, and the passenger said in spotty English, “Hey Two Pull, you need a ride somewhere?”
“No brother, thank you, I’m good. I got people coming to get me. They will meet me right here.”
The driver leaned out the passenger window and grinned. “Nice to meet you, Two Pull. You’re a good gringo.”
Still to this day, one of my top three favorite parties. I didn’t understand the language, but I understood the men, and I knew my kind of people when I saw them.
This chapter is from Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 2: Normal Street.