Monday, February 20, 2017

Impatient Patient



Most people would agree that committing suicide is a cowardly act, but I disagree, I believe that you need a lot of guts to do it. And why would you care if they think you are a coward if you are already dead? Of course, I'm not an expert on the subject. First, I would have to kill myself to be an expert, but then I wouldn’t be an expert, I’d just be dead.

You are a coward if you kill yourself to avoid confronting any kind of personal problems, but you need a lot of courage to effectively carry it out and end it all.

I cry quietly when I’m alone. Solitude always brings pain to my soul. It reminds me of the cruel reality. That I am dying.

If only I could die before my life ends, that would be perfect.


I don’t want anyone to notice my pain and desperation because I don’t want anybody’s forced compassion. When I think about my hopeless situation I get depressed, even though I understand about the futility of it. 

I feel like I'm drowning and someone throws an anchor to save me. It's useless. On the other hand, why would I ask God for a miracle when I know that he has already sealed my fate.


My doctor is a friend of the family. I believe my wife and him dated briefly before she married me. His name is Eric. I put my complete trust in him. We've been friends for years. I’m sure he’s doing his best to save me, even though I'm beyond salvation. I also know he does his best for the rest of his patients too, so that removes the tag from me, of being a 'special case'. I feel his compassion and his desire to lessen my suffering.


Before I found out about my illness, my wife and I shared many happy years. Then, we imperceptibly started to disagree about our desires and goals. Our real selves began to emerge. We began to spend more time apart even if we were in the same house. Our relationship survived mostly because of our kids. But our love didn't completely disappear, we still loved each other, we just became too reluctant to show it. It just became a stupid game of, "if you don't show your love I won't show mine either."


Then, the incompatibility began to grow and pushed us further apart. I began to think, ‘what if I’ve taken the other path. What if I had said yes to my other option, to the other candidate, before we met each other.’ My wife was probably having similar thoughts.
Deep inside I wanted her to show me more love, but perhaps I was getting what I deserved.

I knew my wife was a good person with a great heart, I contributed to change her original personality. I extinguished her ebullient love for life with my many flaws. I know she was a better person before she met me. 

 *****


One day, I was killing time before a doctor’s appointment, I noticed a little church near the doctor's office and I decided to have a talk with God. Even though I've never been a religious man, I knew my recent health decline wouldn't change any of that. 

A non-believer shouldn't ask for miracles, but I did anyway. 

“So here I am asking you for an extension, you’re the landlord and you're asking me to vacate your property, but I renegade your decision, what are you going to do about it?” 


Wait a minute, I began too aggressive let’s start again. 


“I've learned to love the life you gave me, please don’t take it away just yet. I know you can come up with a trick or two. I can even suggest a few. For example, tomorrow I’ll wake up from my sleep to find that my predicament was just a dream, or they can discover the nurse made a mistake and took a medical record from another patient. Oh, it’s useless, just do whatever you like. But I wish you could change your mind. Take care now, and don’t give yourself a terminal illness.”


The last part of my monologue was a little sarcastic, but I don’t regret it. I know I’m not good enough to influence his decisions, but at the same time, I don’t believe I’m bad enough to deserve this fate. The only urgency I have is for God to postpone my death for another thirty years. 

I just wish I didn't know I was dying.


*****



We all have a special friend, one we can trust with our deepest secrets. A friend that you can call to bail you out from jail after a DUI at three A.M. One you can trust with your medical history,  one that will never betray you, even if you tell him you just killed somebody. A friend that will never laugh at you just to make you feel bad. He would never hurt your feelings.


Daniel is that kind of friend. He doesn’t belong to the normal group of friends I socialize with. We confide in each other and talk about our personal problems, things I wouldn't discuss with anybody. He knows I’m dying; he knows about my fears and my thoughts of death and suicide. He knows more about me than my mother. He knows how much I was enjoying life before the current events ravished my future. Of course, I know him well, and I would do anything for him too.

Once he was convinced how serious I was about committing suicide, he gave me a gun. Now, that's what I call a good friend. 


*****



The best thing my wife and I ever did was having kids. They were the glue that kept us together. I love their inner beauty, their peaceful serenity. Nothing can match the happiness they bring to me. I can never be thankful enough for such blessings. At the same time, one of the worse regrets I have is knowing that I could have been a better father. If I had more time that's the first thing I would fix.


After I received the devastating news from the doctor I began to make appointments, and get disappointments in return. After bad news, worse news. I never heard of best-case scenarios.


After a while, I lost my patience for everything. I hated when I had to wait in line for whatever reason. At the bank, restaurant, or when I had to wait for my turn at the pool table. Waiting for the movie to begin was bad, but the worst was having to wait for my death to arrive.

One time, I received a call from the dentist office, they said they needed to cancel my appointment. What the hell?  It was like postponing an execution to the electric chair because the sentenced man had suffered a minor toothache (combining barbaric middle age actions with modern human ethics.) They could only put him to death if he was completely healthy. Can you find a worse contradiction? Anyway, why would I need perfect teeth now?


There was one thing I could be thankful for, my physical condition had not suffered any changes. My body was not showing any deterioration yet. At this point, only my mind had taken a beating, but I knew I looked healthy overall.


Unnoticed by my family and friends, I occupied most of my time thinking about the short time I had left. I was worried about looking at watches, clocks, and calendars. About birthdays and anniversaries, about holidays and vacations. I was worried about time passing by so fast. When you don't know you're dying you don't worry about death.


It’s been a few months since I found out about my prognosis. Perhaps, because of my imminent, gloomy fate, I began to feel an immense love for my wife again. I wanted to share many more years with her, grow old with her. If I could live another thirty years I would do more things than what I’ve done so far. I would get rid of all the faults and defects that I have, that's for sure. I would worship my wife back again. Like when I first met her. I would make every minute of my life count. 


It was ironically sad that I had a doctor’s appointment on my birthday. When you have a death sentence you can’t celebrate your birthdays, they turn into sad events and you have to keep it to yourself. You have to keep your tears inside your "joy".

Eric was professionally serious, but I thought I detected a restrained smile on his face. My wife grabbed a chair and put it next to Eric’s chair. At that moment I felt a little jealous. They looked like the perfect couple. My wife, wearing a beautiful smile said . . .  

“We have good news,” then she took a long pause, still smiling, but she seemed to be struggling to find the right words to continue.

“What I'm about to say will be a complete shock, but you have to promise you’ll react in a mature way. Promise . . . ?”  


I had no idea what the good news could be. I didn’t have the slightest idea of what they could consider good news in my certain and fatalistic case. Did somebody discover a drug or vaccine to cure my disease? Were they going to confess their love for each other? But, that wouldn't be good news for me, so I discarded that horrific thought right away. Finally, my head stopped from spinning, and I quit wondering about stupid assumptions and I said, “I promise.”


“Don’t speak until I finish,” after a short pause she said, “You are healthy. You were never sick. I planned it all to avoid our marriage to end. I never stopped loving you. I did it because I was afraid of losing you,” then, with tears in her eyes, she added, “I just couldn’t live without you. I knew how much you enjoyed life, so I never thought you'd commit suicide, although that was a stupid risk I was running. Now, you can do whatever you like with your life, but I wish you decide to spend it with me. Happy birthday, honey, I love you.”


I should have been mad, but I wasn't. I could have had a heart attack and died right there, but instead, I stood up and kissed her. I had joyful tears rolling down my cheeks. I was born again. No matter how I would look at it, it was a miracle, nothing but a miracle. How could I feel mad or upset about it, how could I feel angry or annoyed? My heart was full of joy; my soul couldn’t hold so much happiness. 


Then I remembered my visit to that little church, the talk I had with God. I knew I had to go back right away and offer him my repentance and appreciation. The only place I wanted to be at that moment was in that little church.  


My wife and Eric were baffled about my sudden desire to be somewhere else.

*****

On my way to church, I kept thinking how fortunate I was to have my life back. My future was intact after all. I never had a death sentence, and for that reason, I never needed a miracle. But in this case, I’ll discard all logic and rationale, the hell with it. It’s a miracle as far as I’m concerned, and I’ll never change my mind.



The church was deserted. We had a one-way conversation. One of them, a mere mortal who had received a second chance, and the other, a Supreme Being, able to grant or to deprive of anybody’s life in an instant. He had given me another chance, and this time I wouldn’t waste a minute of it.

Then, I addressed God.

"I know I'll never find the proper way to express my gratitude. but I promise you I'll never doubt your existence again, and I can assure you we'll be friends for a long time. I'll be thanking you every single day for the rest of my life."


When I came out of the church my soul was at peace. I was the happiest man on earth if that could be possible. 


Then, I heard something that sounded like a firecracker, and then I felt a little pain in my chest. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my good friend Daniel with a gun in his hand. 

Then, before I could react I heard another shot. 

And that was the last thing I heard.







Edmundo Barraza
Visalia, Ca. Aug-7-2011

Friday, February 17, 2017

Virginia and Her Fears






I'm sitting on a cement bench in front of the house. The bench is against a picket fence next to the sidewalk in the front yard. My twelve year old little sister sits next to me. Her legs rock back and forth, with her hands crushed under her legs; she is crouching a little bit. She’s crying, and that makes me sad. 

Even though it's winter, we're warm, very warm, because of the heat coming from the house. The house is burning down. Nobody was home when the fire started, we just came back from school. I called my dad at work to give him the bad news.


I don't know why we ended up in this little town in the central valley of California, an agricultural region near Fresno. I don't know why we left our simple life in central Mexico. Things could have been so different.

My mom died last year, some say out of pure sadness. She died disappointed and ashamed in complete sorrow. She wasn't sick, she was defeated. Can you really die of disappointment?

My dad’s name is Plutarco. Where we’re from, if the first born is a boy, the father names the boy after him, but in this case the boy was a girl, so he named her Plutarca. Ugly name for a man but ten times worse for a woman. 

My mom said dad cursed her with such an ugly name. She said she could see the word 'puta' in her name. And that's what she became, a 'puta', or whore in Spanish.

She lives in Las Vegas now. I heard she sells her body for money. I consulted the meaning of the word ‘prostitute’ in the dictionary after hearing that word so many times in the house.

She's not completely condemned, she’s a whore, but she also goes to college. She pays for her tuition selling her body. She wanted to get out of this town, she wanted to study a career, and she loved having sex. To reach her goal she combined her three wishes. She moved out of town, she goes to college and she became a call girl. Now, she does what she wants to get what she likes, or vice versa.  


My mom used to say that Plutarca was always horny, always in need of men, and they could smell that. My mom said Plutarca would change boyfriends more frequent than her underwear. Now, my sister is in exile, my dad kicked her out. One time she sent money to mom, but my mom told me to burn it. She didn’t even touch it.

Other than that she wasn’t a bad person. I still miss her, she was a good sister to me.


My other sister, her case is even worse. She’s still in town; she’s married. I've found her having sex with different men, many times. In the car, at school, in the house, in the backyard, even in the park. My mom used to say she could fuck anything that moved. 


My sister told me that our uncle raped her and that he took her virginity. Yeah, it’s always an uncle or a cousin, but I guess she liked it, because they still do it. Now, I don’t know if we can call her a whore, because she doesn’t do it for money. I guess she’s just addicted to it. My mom used to call her a slut. One time I heard my mom call her a nymphomaniac, (a woman with abnormal desire to have sex) I checked for the meaning of that word in the dictionary when I was eleven years old. 


She does it with co-workers, friends of the family, cousins, nephews and of course, uncles. She’s unashamed, maybe even proud. She doesn't discriminate, she flirts all the time with anybody, from gardeners to lawyers and everyone in between. What I can’t understand is how her husband doesn’t know about it, when everybody in the family does. My dad kicked her out too; she is not allowed in the house anymore, but she still comes when my dad isn’t home. She loves Virginia, but my dad doesn’t want her near her. He says she could contaminate my little sister.


Now, my little sister is sitting next to me, and it breaks my heart to see her sobbing as she watches her house go up in flames. My dad put the house on his and Virginia’s name after my mom died. 

Dad says my mom died of sadness, because of the enormous affliction my two older sisters inflicted on her. My mom used to call them ‘par de pirujas,’ pair of whores. At one point my mom decided not to go out of the house anymore because she said she felt the accusatory stares from the neighbors. Then she lost interest in life and became sad, depressed and joyless, then she fell ill. 


When mom was about to die, she made my dad promise her to leave the house to Virginia, so she wouldn’t become a whore. Her logic was, if she wanted to go to college she could sell the house or maybe a decent man would marry her, even if just for the house.


Before my mom died she called my sister Virginia to give her one last piece of advice. She told her that if the word ‘Puta’ was in Plutarca’s name, the word ‘virgin’ was in the name 'Virginia'. Then she told her to honor her name and not to mess it in the mud. And she begged her not to follow the example of the other ‘par de pirujas'. Finally, she told her to save her innocence and purity for a decent man, and to avoid sex until she got married.That was her only wish, her last wish. 


But I’m worried about my little sister, because she's even more beautiful than my other two sisters. I know that her breasts will attract lots of lustful desires. I saw my other two sisters naked, I don’t remember, or I don’t want to admit if it was accidental or on purpose, but I saw them naked a few times, and it was obvious they were going to provoke enough temptations.


My little sister was in deeper trouble than she could imagine. Just the other day she was trying to remove her sweater above her head, but she pulled it up along with her undershirt and I saw her small breasts, well, medium I should say. Hers, are tits that point to heaven but can take to hell, they don't obey the laws of gravity. She tries to hide them to avoid drawing the attention of men between the ages of fifteen to seventy-five. When I was her age, I was always trying to hide my erections, I thought everybody noticed them; my crotch looked like a circus tent. My little sister does the same thing, she hides her erected tits. She she'll be a magnet to males in general. She’s in trouble and she knows it.


With the house on fire, her options are disappearing too. Her college dreams would fade away. Her good grades will decline too.  She'll be afraid of desires and temptations, afraid of enjoying sex too much, and turning into a sex maniac like her sisters. And finally to become another exile.

To other people this logic might seem like absurd concerns, but she doesn’t have other examples. What she's seen, is what seems normal to her. 

Of course, she'll be worried about getting too close to her only phobia . . .  becoming a ‘piruja’. With the house in flames, she feels like a step away from becoming one. 


The firefighters are losing the fight to the fire. Her hopes are fading away with the flames. The house is hers, but it is fast turning into ashes. At some point, mom even considered sending Virginia to a convent. But now, Virginia probably thinks she's getting further from college, and closer to sin. 


Our dad just got home, but what home? He's behind us, hugging us both. He knew we were safe. To our surprise he says not to worry, “We had fire insurance.” he says.


He says he’s going to fix it himself. He used to work in construction, and he says we’re going to get a ton of money to fix it. He just needs to do it himself. He says he won’t give the job to unscrupulous general contractors or fraudulent companies and intermediaries that take huge commissions and profits out of suffering homeowners. 


He says he'll rebuild the house, and still have enough money left for a down payment on another house. I told my dad that I didn’t get in time to save our memories, family photographs, birth certificates or the family jewels that were so precious to mom. But he said he took care of all that yesterday. 


Hmm, in the back of my mind I had a little suspicion about that, but I erased it immediately. I knew my dad would do anything to save his last girl from perdition. He knew Virginia was his last hope to make mom proud. My dad too, was trying to make sure my little sister wouldn’t become a ‘piruja’ under any circumstances. He wanted to make a hundred percent sure that my little sister wouldn’t become a whore, a slut, or even a nymphomaniac. 
My dad says that we’re spending the night in a hotel. He says that tomorrow we’ll visit mom at the graveyard to tell her the good news . . .  Virginia is safe. 


Then, Virginia holding dad's hand, looks into his eyes and simply  says, “Thank you daddy.”





Edmundo Barraza 
Visalia, Ca. 01-27-2011
http://edbar1952-accomplishedignorant.blogspot.com/




 


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

I'M OUT OF HERE!



I’m in a hurry; I might not have enough time to finish writing this. I know this will be my last blog post. I won’t have time to revise it or to edit it. So pay no attention to insignificant mistakes. The only good thing about all of this is that I always wanted to write non-fiction. This is it.

I just killed a man. I just dragged his body to my garage. I know I’m not thinking clearly; my mind is very confused. If my writing doesn’t make sense to you, please forgive me. I’m nervous and I don't have time to organize my thoughts.

The most important thing right now is to apologize to the family of that man. I swear to God that I didn’t mean to kill him. I was defending myself. I killed him in self-defense. I’m sure that I am a pacifist, but at times when I see injustices, I become violent. You could say I’m a violent pacifist. 

Since I’m in a hurry and because of the urgent situation this will also be used as my will.

I need to start from the beginning, you just need to know that there’s not a single lie in all that I write here. So in a way, this is my confession too.

One of my dogs had been sick for a few days. I knew he was gravely ill. In fact, I thought he was going to be dead at daybreak. He’s barely alive now. Last night, I let him stay in the garage and I put my other two dogs on the back patio. In the morning, Dylan (my sick dog) had a big mess in the garage, a terrible mess. The smell was unbearable. 

I began to clean the cement floor with a water hose. I put my three dogs on the back patio. Since I was using the patio hose, I couldn't close the door, so the door was ajar. I was concentrating in cleaning the mess when I noticed a man walking his dog, a big German Sheppard. We shared a friendly smile, and suddenly out of the corner of my eye, I saw my dogs parading by my side, barking and heading menacingly toward the man and his dog. 

What happened next it’s still confusing to me. I hope I can be impartially truthful and objective. First, the man kicked my smaller dog, Frida to the middle of the road; I thought for sure she was dead. Then, he kicked Dylan, the poor dog, he had been barely alive. He hadn’t eaten a thing for the last four days. Meanwhile, Diego, (an adult Husky) my other dog, was involved in a fight for his life with the German Sheppard. I must say that Diego is very strong and fierce, but nice and loyal at the same time. 

I’m positive that Diego would have killed the other dog. But the man (a very large man) started kicking Diego too, that’s when my blood began to boil. I ran to the guy I kicked him in his ribs as hard as I could. Then, he turned and punched me in the face; he almost knocked me out. I fell to the ground but I immediately stood up to ran to my garage and grabbed a piece of metal pipe that I keep in a  corner for occasions like this. I know the pipe is a weapon, a lethal weapon if I’m mad enough. I went back and hit him with the pipe on the head several times, maybe too many times. I kept hitting him even after he was down on the floor, perhaps the last blows were unnecessary. 

Then, I struck his dog a few times too. When I began to reason and came out of my stupor I turned around to see if anybody had witnessed what just happened, but nobody was around, not a single person was in sight. Still shaking, I dragged the man to my garage, and his dog too. 

I picked up Frida from the middle of the road; she was still alive. Dylan, my poor skinny dog went back to the garage on his own, he could barely walk, but he made it. When I closed the garage door I thought my heart was going to explode. I could feel my chest expanding rapidly as never before. Then, all my thoughts turned into a different kind of fear, the cops showing up and taking me to jail for the rest of my life. 

What I was watching was surreal. The bloody sight, the disfigured man’s face and the dead dog, it was all too much. Today was supposed to be just a typical day. Then, I noticed my dogs were staring at me, startled as if saying, “Now what boss?”

I need to get away from here right away, I need to disappear. But I can't think. I feel deeply sorry for the man’s family, I feel miserable. What happened today wasn't supposed to be a part of my life.

I have to be selfish for a moment. I need to find a solution to save myself from this terrible predicament.

I’ll go back to Mexico, that's what I'll do. I don’t want to spend what's left of my life incarcerated. I lose either way if they put me in jail, or if I disappear in Mexico, I won't see my family or my friends anymore. 

The man I just killed won't suffer anymore, but I'll be suffering for the rest of my life. I just killed my future too. It feels like I'm a dead man too, but I’d rather be a lonely free man than a lonely miserable man in prison.

I want to leave the pool table to my son, the flat TV to my sister, and my three dogs to my daughter. I don't care what they do with the rest. I feel terrible it ended this way. I'm glad I won the fight anyhow, this is better than a permanent visit to the cemetery. I hate funerals too.

I love you all, and I will totally miss you very much. I’m sure God witnessed it all, He knows I'm not lying. It was all in self-defense. I wish I could write better and be able to describe properly how bad I feel.

Another thing that bothers me a lot is that today is my daughter’s birthday and I won't be able to join the celebration . . .

Wait, someone's at the door . . . 


Edmundo Barraza
Visalia, CA. 12-07-2112





Spirit in the Sky




If we were doing sixty the train was probably doing fifty-five. The highway was parallel to the tracks but we were gaining speed because we needed to cross to the other side before the long train arrived at the railroad crossing. It seemed like we were going to beat it. We were getting closer. At that point, we had a better chance if I accelerated than if I’d try to use the brakes or chicken out. 


My brother Ralph was always daring me to do stuff like that and I was stupid enough to listen to him. On the other hand, Anthony was always eager for a chance to reach another adrenaline high. He kept cheering. Ralph was twenty-two years old. Anthony was seventeen, and I was nineteen.

*****


I was sleeping on the couch when I heard someone knocking at the door. I didn’t want to get up, but whoever was at the door had been very persistent. When I opened the door nobody was there. I was pissed but happy at the same time because I could go back to sleep. The moment I sat down, they knocked again, this time I hurried to the door but again, nobody was there. Then, I stood alert and ready to jump and catch the funny guy who interrupted my dreams. Even if it were one of my brothers, I would kick his ass.

That's when I noticed they were knocking on another door, the closet door in front of the couch across the room. What the hell? 

I wasn’t mad anymore; that was a cool joke after all. I bet it was my younger brother Anthony. Ralph wasn’t so inventive as to pull such a smart prank. But I still wanted to kick somebody’s ass.

I was smiling when I opened the closet door, but nobody was there either. What the hell? I clearly heard someone knocking from the inside. How could they do that? Then I noticed a note taped to the shelf. It said, “You need to go to the cemetery. We’ll meet you there.” it was signed by Ralph and Anthony.

They both knew how much I loved cemeteries. When we were kids, I begged them to join me to the cemetery every year on the Day of the Dead even though we didn’t have anyone to visit. The first time we smoked grass, we were there. I remember it was a foggy night and just before midnight Ralph said, “Shh, did you guys hear that?” We turned around and a second later we fled like mad ghosts, laughing hysterically.

It was almost dark when I arrived at the cemetery. We always liked a mausoleum with a black marble surface, it had four thick Roman columns and a statue of a child angel. I went straight to that tomb, but they weren’t there. I kept looking for them until I found two mounds of fresh dirt, obviously belonging to two recent arrivals. My brothers were there, but they looked transparent and foggy. That's when I remembered what had happened. We didn’t make it to the other side of the railroad crossing. 

The shock and pain had been so great, it had blocked my memory and reality of the accident.

“I miss you brother,” Anthony said to me right away. “We were supposed to be together all our lives. We can’t be apart, remember? We can't be with you anymore, but you can come with us. You have to brother, we need you."

Ralph was weeping sadly. “We didn’t make it bro. Well, you did, but not us. We don’t know what’s going on, but I think we'll soon have to leave this place because nobody else is here. But we don’t want to leave without you.”

“What’s the solution, how can I join you, do I have to commit . . . ?” I replied, but I had to stop before I pronounced that ominous word.
“I think the best thing we can do is to dig another hole next to our graves, then you can lie down at the bottom while we fill it back.” said Anthony.

As we began to dig, Ralph started to tell a story. He told us about the time he lost his virginity and about the silly situation he created when he dropped the condom in the dark and kept looking for it under the bed until he noticed he had it on one of his fingers. We laughed until we had tears in our eyes, even though we had heard that story many times before. 

Anthony told the story when he stole our dad’s wristwatch to buy a heart pendant for mom on mother’s day. He was only thirteen.

Just before I began my tale, the silhouette of a man appeared. He had a flashlight on one hand and a shovel on the other. He said, “What the hell are you doing? You grave robbers, sons of bitches!” Not even a second passed when I felt the shovel hitting the side of my head. I fell on my back semiconscious, but I still could see the gravedigger trying to hit my brothers too. Swinging the shovel left and right in vain and saying, “What the hell?” Until he realized that my brothers were the spirits of the two young men he had recently buried. And he ran away faster than the train that killed my brothers.

The following day there were three mounds of fresh dirt next to each other.

But we weren’t there anymore.




Edmundo Barraza
Visalia, CA. Nov-14-2012

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Homeless






One cannot blame God or Satan or the economy or a recession or high unemployment. When you lose it all and become homeless you should only blame yourself. 
   
But you can also blame all of the above. Including yourself. You feel better.

The descent to homelessness is long and unfair, sad and cruel. It starts when you lose your job. You never panic in the beginning, because you never consider that all your options will disappear at the same time. But you never imagine yourself on the other side.

I remember years ago when we bought our first house, the former owners (two brothers in their fifties) used to walk by every day in front of the house with their sad faces. The house had been repossessed recently by their bank. My heart broke every time I saw them admiring all the repairs and improvements we did to the house day after day. I felt bad for them; I’m not lying. But I felt good for us, the house was looking great.

I also remember that back in those days I used to love two songs that brought tears to my eyes, Fast Car by Tracy Chapman and Another Day in Paradise by Phil Collins. Sad songs about losing hope, devastation, desperation and poverty. Years later, I became an expert on the subject.

Then the economy went bad and after months of unemployment, we depleted our saving. Depression began to take hold of my mind and my attitude changed. I started to argue with my wife for insignificant little things, and then for everything. I didn’t treat my children the same way as I did when things were plentiful. I felt they didn’t admire me anymore. Then, I sold one of the cars, the one we didn’t need. Garage sales became regular and a good source for fast cash. Suddenly the garage looked bigger, and the house too.

The pile of bills grew relentlessly, it became thick and heavy; pink notices started to arrive. Not even bankruptcy could save us. The time to panic also arrived. 

Just before we lost the house, I sold the other car. I was convinced that I had the Midas touch in reverse. We had one last garage sale before we moved to an apartment.
Things aggravated in a hurry; there were no signs of relief anywhere. I knew I had lost the rat race. The rats won.

My wife abandoned the ship just before we sank. She took the children with her to live with grandma. I was glad she lived in another state. I was too ashamed to face my friends, and I became a recluse. 

I had to accept that the middle class was now too far from my reach, maybe impossible to recapture. I didn’t care anymore, I spent the last few months in the apartment, (rent-free) ignoring 15-day notices every fifteen days. and when I finally left, I felt free.

I ran out of options, and with no place to stay, I hit the streets. I never imagined how easy was to become friends with homeless people. Within a week my dirty clothes and dirty appearance would expose the cruel reality. I had become one of them. For the first time in a long while, my problems disappeared. I had no more bills to worry about. The social group I once belonged to would have to ignore me now.

Once your pride and dignity are gone, begging is not that hard or shameful.

When I was in a better position, my unselfish generosity gave me humility. I am proud to say that I’ve never been indifferent to people down on their luck. 

I began to drink to drown my sorrow and instead, I sank deeper. I adapted rather easily to my new life in the streets. Inebriated every day I couldn’t find any work. I lost all hope and I became another casualty of society. When your source of income disappears, every twenty dollar bill you break, it breaks your heart too.

Most homeless people form groups to protect themselves; most of them are compassionate to each other. I became friends with a few of them. We shared our pain, and everything else. I found better friends in the street than the ones I used to have in my time of success. Many of them were true war veterans. One of them was Bill, a former real estate agent. He said he knew this was only temporary. That’s a very popular phrase. 

Every night, after I'd found a place to sleep I would pull the pictures of my kids and my wife from my wallet and begin to cry. Only alcohol could kill that kind of pain. I wasn’t strong enough anymore. I was an old, weak drunk. Nostalgia, loneliness, and defeat soon would turn into resignation and acceptance.  

People knew that the money we collected begging would be used to buy drugs or alcohol; that’s why sometimes they would give us food or milk instead. One time, someone even gave me a lottery ticket. I laughed at him and blessed him sarcastically. I remember it well because it was my wife’s birthday. I felt depressed all day, and for a change, I got drunk again. In six more months my birthday would come, by then I would probably forget about all birthdays and holidays.

Another strange thing about being poor is that regular people make you feel abnormal. With their attitude, they would push you into corners. You feel hunted down, observed, surveyed and trapped. You’d move from place to place to avoid detection, to be invisible and to escape your visible poverty, but poverty is within you and it becomes inescapable. 

People feel uncomfortable. They wish we didn’t exist because we make them feel bad. They think this is our choice. They never look into our eyes because they don’t want to feel guilty for refusing to help us. The way they treat us makes us feel like we’re lepers like we're carrying a contagious disease.

One of my new friends, who came from Haiti, made a funny comment. He said that poor people in America were not that poor because they were never hungry. What a consolation. 

Some homeless people suffer mental deficiencies, others are drug addicts. Most of them are alcoholics, but I believe that the common denominator in all of us is that we gave up on our responsibilities. We got tired of struggling for so long and gave up. I have no doubt some of these poor people are lazy. I wonder what category I belong to.

I feel sorry for myself for not having a home anymore because if opportunity knocks, I won’t be there to open the door. I’m afraid I don’t exist anymore. I don’t have a permanent address. I don’t have a phone or a bank account. I don’t pay taxes, and I don’t receive charity from the government. I have a driver’s license, but I don’t have a car. I have a social security card, but I can't find a use for it.

Even though the trip to my downfall had been long and cruel, sometimes I think that I didn’t fight hard enough to avoid my ruin. I think I gave in too soon. 

I say if there’s a God in heaven, what is he waiting for, and why doesn’t he take me once and for all? 

Winters are tough for all of us. Half of us disappear. Some are taken back temporarily by their families; others go to hospitals and some others to the cemetery. Bill and I keep fighting. We don't think this is going to be permanent, we're not going to die out here.  At times, I wish I could be arrested, that way I can spend a few days in the comforts of a secure cell, with free food and shelter.

It’s been almost a year since I became homeless. Now, I’m well adapted, I know every single trick. We never go hungry. Churches from all denominations take good care of us, there are many in the city, and they feed us well. All we collect in the corners is for booze. 

I still miss my family, and sometimes I wonder if they miss me. They have no way to communicate with me and I hardly get in touch with them. They might think that the separation was my decision and that I abandoned them. No matter what they think, I hope they still love me.

Then, on my birthday, something amazing happens.

I’ve been saving a fifty dollar bill in my wallet for an emergency. Well, my birthday sounds like an emergency to me. And what do alcoholics do to celebrate? Right, they get drunk. Early in the morning, we headed for the liquor store, and when I pulled my fifty-dollar bill, I dropped something that’s been hidden there for six months, a lottery ticket. 

The little machine they have to check the numbers says that I’m a winner. Really? When I take it to the clerk, he says, that I hit the jackpot. Twelve million dollars. Really? I sat down on the floor with my back against the display, because if I faint I want to be close to the ground. Then I heard the clerk saying. “Hey, my friend, you better hurry up, because today is the last day you have to claim your millions.”

As I fill the back of the ticket with my name and my signature, Bill tells me that Frank has a car and that he can take us to Sacramento to claim the prize. 

Of course, we didn’t forget about getting our booze.

Rumors spread fast among the derelicts and the beggars. Bill made a collection from them for gas and expenses, without failing to make a list of our benefactors. Then we headed for Sacramento to claim my prize.

I was just thinking how incredibly amazing this is. I hope this is not just another stupid dream because if it is, I'm sure I would kill myself.

We were two hours away from Sacramento. We had enough time and booze to make it there. We kept making plans for our bright futures. And of course, I wouldn’t forget about all the friends I made during the last year on the street. I thought about buying a large apartment building and have all my homeless friends live there rent free until they find a job and can make it on their own, then, rotate them and give a chance to another group. I’ll be turning my friends, from old and useless to new and useful.

Our time was cut short severely after a cop pulled us over and arrested Frank for driving under the influence of alcohol. The car was confiscated because Bill and I were also drunk and couldn’t drive. The tow truck driver gave us a ride to a gas station, where we called for a taxicab.

I was desperate and nervous; it was 4:00 already. We only had an hour left; I told the driver that we had a good tip for him if he could hurry up. He said he wouldn’t break the law for a million dollars; he said he needed his driving license to survive.
Oh my God, a responsible taxi driver. My future depended on him, but I didn’t say a word the rest of the way.

When we arrived at the front of the lottery office, a man was locking the doors from the inside. I pulled the door handle, and he wagged his index finger, and then with the same finger tapped his wristwatch showing me what the time was and walked away. I couldn’t believe a man was deciding my future, not God, but a simple man.

I had tears in my eyes, and I wanted to break the door glass with my head. For just one second, my future couldn't be changed. Then on one last attempt, I knocked on the door before he disappeared. When he turned our way, I showed him my wrinkled lottery ticket, and he came back to open the door.

God exists!

After I deposited my winnings in the bank we went to get Frank out of jail. 

Then I went to claim my family back. 

I’ll come back later to rescue my friends. I swear to God. I will.


Edmundo Barraza
Visalia, CA. 10-29-2012

Sunday, February 12, 2017

BUSTER





After I had hit my head on that rock I knew my life would suffer a drastic change. I also felt a little pain. 

That was my favorite spot on the river. I loved to dive from that mound next to the river, but I had never tried to dive from the tree. I always doubted that branch was thick enough for my weight. I was right.The branch broke and I went head first, unprepared. My hollow head hit a rock a few inches from the water.

That happened a long time ago when I still had a lot of energy. I was already married, which was a good thing because by then I had shown my wife how much I loved her. And she had enough time to know about my character and who I was. Otherwise, I think it might have been tough to find such a nice wife in my wheelchair. I'm not saying that it is impossible for anyone in a wheelchair to find a decent wife, no, but I think it makes it a little harder. Or a lot.

Suicide always comes to one's mind, but with my wife's indications of unconditional love, I could repel those thoughts. Eventually, those ominous thoughts disappeared.

Three months later when I went back home from the tremendous shock of pain, therapy and rehabilitation, (mental and physical) my wife gave me the greatest present I have ever received. But I didn't know it at the time. She gave me a puppy. I named him Buster. Breed unknown, an undefined mixture. She got him from the dog pound. That was my first time as a dog owner; I had never been a pet lover. Not that I disliked them. I was just indifferent to them.

He was a beautiful white puppy, with brown spots, and a long tail. As he started to grow, he lost his charm and his beauty. I sadly accepted that fact, but he also had interior beauty. His capacity to love and show affection, a human could not surpass, with the exception of my wife. I always thought that Buster lived to please me. It seemed that that was his only desire, to make my life easier and to make me happy. He spent the first few weeks of his life on my lap. I remember the day I installed the doggie door on the rear kitchen door. I was an optimistic fool, trying to convince myself about the future size of Buster. In the end, the size of that doggie door was too big for my dog.

He quickly learned to get my shoes, the paper, the remote control and other little things. But his favorite was his leash, he loved to take me out for a walk. I know that's the way he saw it. Loyalty was his main distinctive trait. When they say the dog is man's best friend, they fell short with Buster. With the love from my wife and my dog, being a paraplegic wasn't a big deal. With their help, I didn't miss my former life.

With the help of a friend, I adapted a small pick-up truck with an automatic transmission and a hand-brake lever. When we finished, I started my new project, plastic and aluminum recycling. I know some people saw us like a freak show, but I didn't care. We established a regular route, and some people began to save the recycling for us instead of giving it away to the city. At first, I felt my wife was ashamed of my new profession, but that feeling eventually disappeared.

Buster was medium size, or even smaller, by the time he was four years old I even thought he had started to shrink. But my love for him was continuously growing.

Every time I went for a haircut Buster acted as if he was the father and I was his kid. He kept a close eye on the barber's scissors, never losing sight of me. He was popular at the post office and at the bank. He seemed to smile to all people who pet him. Everybody loved Buster, even though he was a little on the ugly side, he was the most popular dog in our neighborhood.

And I was happy, as happy as I have ever been, probably even more.

Until one day, until one miserable and sad day. Why can't happiness last forever?

After a rigorous hard day in our collection business, Buster and I went for a walk. We were only a couple of blocks away from home when we saw a pit-bull crossing our path. I knew Buster could easily die defending me, and I could also die defending him. We both knew that. Buster wasn't a coward, on the contrary. But this dog really looked like Cujo's brother, even the devil would move aside. He appeared to be mean, strong and ferocious. A stray dog on the prowl. He looked like he was on a mission, on a killing spree, dogs or humans, or anything. I knew right away that we were in deep trouble. For the first time in a long time, I wished I wasn't in a wheelchair.

Buster shared my bad vibrations. The devil was approaching us, and we didn't see any signs of salvation. We were in need of a miracle. Buster stepped in front of me, like a shield. Oh, how I wished I were out of my chair. The pit-bull ran toward us, and in a few seconds, he was killing my Buster. My faithful dog was losing the fight, I knew he couldn't win. I was yelling, screaming and crying. Nobody could help us, even if somebody had been present. 

An instant later, they rolled into the center of the road, where a car ran over them, both of them howled in pain, but only the pit-bull stood up and ran away. Buster remained immobile on the road. If the dog hadn't killed Buster, the car did. Other cars stopped, and people came out of their houses. Too late, my dog could not be saved.

Somebody helped me put Buster on my lap. I tried to wake him with my loud weeping and my begging, but it was in vain, I couldn't bring him back. A couple of kids joined me on my way back to my house. They were crying too.

Seeing my wife's emotional pain increased my suffering. I kept crying uncontrollably until I noticed he was dead, then I couldn't even talk. I decided not to call the animal shelter or the dog pound. My dog was not a simple dog. I needed to be present in the burial process. My final decision was to bury Buster in our back yard. My wife didn't object to my plan. We both dug up the hole. We kept crying the whole time.

At dinnertime, my wife tried to keep the routine and served us dinner, but we didn't touch our plates. We kept crying quietly. I became even more melancholic when I threw our leftovers in the trash because we had always given them to Buster.

The day had been long, but the night was longer, it had been an interminable agony.

When bedtime came, I felt even sadder. Buster had always laid beside our bed, on my side. I kept on crying all night long, quietly, trying not to disrupt my wife's sleep. But I knew she was also crying. My pillow was soaking wet, inundated with my sorrow. At times, my sobbing seemed to subside. But when another forgotten trick by Buster came to my mind, I started again. I couldn't help it. My mind was busy, only thinking about Buster.

The numbness I started to feel on my right hand made me forget about Buster for a second. I began to do my usual exercise, opening and closing my hand in a fast sequence. I turned to see my hand in the semi-darkness of the room, and there he was! Buster was licking my hand, I thought I was dreaming. After a few seconds, I noticed I wasn't. He was right there! Bloodied and covered in wet dirt, licking my hand. My wife heard me and turned the lights on. We saw his entire trail of mud on the white carpet. In an instant, we were with him on the floor, hugging and kissing him.

Then, I realized that the saddest day of my life was also the happiest. He was bloody and dirty, he had bite marks all over his body. Then, we took him to the bathtub. I forgot about my wheelchair and dragged myself all the way to the bathroom. I kept bathing him for the rest of the night. We didn't go back to bed. As I was washing him, he was licking my face, returning the favor, clearly thanking me. He had a speedy recovery and stayed with us for another six years.

We never filled the hole back in the backyard, and it became his favorite spot to lie down to rest.



EDMUNDO BARRAZA
Visalia, CA.08-20-2012
edbar1952-accomplishedignorant.blogspot.com 







Friday, February 10, 2017

The Last Funeral





That day I lost three family members. No, I lost four. Actually, I lost my entire family.

My dad used to be a functioning alcoholic. He used to drink almost every day. Although he never missed work, occasionally, he would leave home for work still a little drunk or hung over. He was a construction worker. I miss him. He was a good dad. 

I was seven years old. My mom was getting ready to go to work. My sister Rosita was three years old, and my two-year-old sister Adriana was in her highchair. The new babysitter, Mariana was there too. We knew very little about her, but I think she was from Central America. 

Before my dad left for work, he played for a little while with my sister Rosita, and then he gave her a peach. Mariana was feeding my little sister Adriana. I remember it was a Saturday. My dad only worked half a day on Saturdays. My mom was a hairdresser; she used to work at a beauty salon. 

I also remember that Rosita was choking on the peach pit. My mom got scared right away. She kept screaming at Rosita and saying, “Spit it out, spit it out.” She even put her fingers inside Rosita’s mouth.

When she noticed that all her attempts were useless, she panicked and ran after my dad, who had left a minute before. Rosita’s face was purple by then. I kept hugging Rosita, not knowing what to do. Then she fainted and fell to the floor. 

A minute later, a man came to the house to let us know that a car had run over my mom. By the time the ambulance came, Rosita was dead, and they had to call for another ambulance. After they had taken my mom to the hospital, someone called my dad at work to let him know what had happened. 

Then, another tragedy occurred.

On his hurried way back home, my dad crashed his pick-up truck head-on against another car and died. Later, they said that my dad was driving drunk and that he had caused the accident.

I was at the hospital when they said that my mom had also died. I was with my mom’s friend, a woman that lived next door from our house. When we returned home, Mariana and my sister Adriana weren't there anymore. My neighbor said that the babysitter had kidnapped her. I never saw Adriana again.

I spent the next ten years at different foster homes. 
       
My mind was paralyzed and numb, and that horrible experience was relived in my mind for a long time. I kept waiting for something to happen, for somebody to return. It never felt real. I never shared my sad story with anyone. I didn't care about physical pain, my body and mind were disconnected. I was just a sleepwalking ghost.

The time I spent as a foster kid wasn't pleasant. Nobody really cared about me. Some of the foster parents were more interested in the money they received from the government than taking good care and sharing their love with the children. 

I bounced between foster parents while waiting to be adopted, and yet, that wasn't important either. During that times I consulted the meaning of 'foster' in the dictionary. It meant: to nurture, to strengthen, stimulate, cultivate. I found out that most foster parents ignored the meaning of that word.

I was seven years old when my family disintegrated and I became an orphan. Even surrounded by temporary family members I felt alone. When I needed affection or compassion, I received indifference and mistreatment. I was confused, but it was probably my fault because I never wanted to be part of another family.

Sometimes, I defended my 'temporary brothers' against all kinds of abuse, and most of the time, I would only worsen the situation. The day I turned eighteen, I didn't even say goodbye to my last foster parents. 

Five or six different houses and many parents, but I never had a home, and nobody could substitute my mom and dad. All I did was to survive.

I just buried the last vestige of my blood. I'm returning from my uncle's funeral. My dad's brother used to live near Fresno. The last time I saw him, we were in another cemetery. He was present at my family's funeral. He could have claimed me and adopted me, he could have taken care of me, but he never did. I don't know why. He never had any children, and that added up to my bad luck. He didn’t leave any cousins for me either.  

I have no roots attached to this Earth any longer. I'll be twenty years old next month, and I have no idea where I'm going. Options, I guess, I have many, what I lack is enthusiasm.

Riding the Greyhound bus feels lonely and sad, I’m returning to North Hollywood where I live. Every bus must have a million sad stories, but probably none as sad as mine. Every seat must have carried at some point, a lost soul or a soul in transition.

The bus is full, except for one seat. A beautiful girl is sitting by herself, and I ask her if I could sit there. She nods. I consider rude sitting next to her without starting a conversation. She's pretty and younger than me.

“Excuse me, can I ask where you’re going?"

“To North Hollywood, California,” she said.

“Oh, that’s great, me too. Do you live in North Hollywood?” I asked her with confidence, feeling a little connection.

“No, I live in Merced, California.”

“I don’t want to bother you, but I don’t want to be inside my thoughts right now. You see, I’m coming from a funeral, and I need a little distraction. Would you mind if we talk for a little bit?” I was probably looking for some compassion.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Who died, a relative or a friend?” 

“My uncle, my last living relative. I believe I’m alone in this world now. I don’t think I have anybody else. I'm sorry, I’m not trying to be depressing if you want I can stop this conversation,” I said.

“No, no, if you don’t mind, I don’t mind either, but I never imagine that could be possible, I mean, to be alone in this world.”

“I could tell you my story, but if I do, there wouldn’t be enough tissue paper on this bus to wipe our tears. I know it sounds 
dramatic. I better not continue, the subject is too somber. Let me change the subject. Your hair is very beautiful, it reminds me of a little sister I had many years ago.” then we both laughed, realizing that I had unconsciously returned to the same sad subject.

“All right, keep talking, but don’t make me cry. What happened to your little sister?” She asked.

“I lost her about thirteen years ago. She had the same color of your hair. It was a little wavy, like yours too. My mom used to cut her hair, that’s all I have left of her, a lock of hair, let me show you. I always keep it in my wallet. It’s one of the few possessions I have.” then I put my sister’s hair next to hers, and indeed, it looked very similar. She agreed too.

“Have you kept her hair all these thirteen years in your wallet?” she asked.

“Yes. Well, I’ve spent many years in foster homes, so I never separated myself from my most precious possessions. I also have pictures of mom and dad, and my two little sisters.” I proceeded to show her four individual pictures of my long lost family. She examined each one of them, but she kept looking for a few more seconds to Adriana's photo, my two-year-old sister.

“So, what happened to your little sister?” she asked, as she held Adriana’s picture close to my face, probably comparing us. By then, I noticed we had an audience. The two ladies in front of our seat, obviously listening to our conversation kept looking over their shoulders.

“You know, you look a little bit like my sister Adriana, you have her eyes and the same smile, and of course the same hair. How old are you?”

“I’m fifteen. Do I really look like your sister? You haven’t told me how you lost your sister.”

“Did you ever live in North Hollywood?” I asked her, considering the remote possibility.

“Yes, but when I was two years old we moved to Merced.”

“Who’s ‘we’?”  I asked her, feeling dizzy.

“My mom and I. Are you ever going to tell me how you lost your sister?”

“What’s your mom’s name?” I asked her, now almost fainting.

“Mariana.”

Later, she said that I fainted after she answered my last question.

At the Bakersfield station, the driver said that we had a fifteen-minute break. We sat in the cafeteria.

“You know, you never told me what happened to your little sister, are you going to tell me now?” she asked.

Then, feeling still dizzy and while drinking a glass of water, I told her the entire story. 

When the break was over, the two women from the bus came to tell us that the driver was waiting for us. One of them said to my new friend, “You know, I’m sure you are brother and sister. I bet you are Adriana.” And they left for the bus.

“Is that your name, Adriana?” I asked her.

“My mom told me that I was born in El Salvador, but I don’t know anything about my father. You really think it’s possible?”

“There’s only one way to find out. Can I have a lock of your hair?”

“DNA?” 

“Yes, Adriana. Can I call you Adriana?”



EDMUNDO BARRAZA 
Visalia, CA. 08-30-2012 
 http://www.edbar1952-accomplishedignorant.blogspot.com