MLK 2019

— Read on

Mine could easily be placed here among the number of sentiments that were offered up about the “MAGA teens confrontation.” From similar mea culpas, and doubling down, to attempts to place the video in a wider perspective, there were no shortage of opinions to be had over MLK2019 weekend.

I chose Zimmerman’s piece for the very image of a test. A test case for me and every one who made their voice heard in the initial frenzy.

I failed this test. What shakes me the more, however, is the supreme irony of my behavior. And on MLK weekend no less…

I literally betrayed the ideals of Martin Luther King, Jr.

I literally judged a kid by the color of his skin and not the content of his character, insofar as I was able.

I literally equated a bygone era’s entrenched and systemic racism, codified into law, to a relatively innocuous event that happened on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

How could I have been so wrong? How was I so mislead?

There’s plenty of blame going around and plenty of lessons to be learned; rightly so. And if this were an isolated incident, I might be able to rest well under an umbrella of, “lessons learned,” and, “I’ll do better next time.”

Carl Sagan routinely cautioned about the interaction of society and technology. He often wondered how our species would handle emerging technological change. How would we negotiate our ‘technological adolescence.’ While he had nuclear proliferation in mind, there’s no shortage of evidence that communication technology has the potential to create its own chaos.

I can’t help but feel unsettled at how caught up I became in this story. How easily I had succumb to groupthink. Social media, yes. Mainstream Media, yes. Agenda driven narratives, yes. There was also a pernicious agent within myself at work. A Pandora’s Box of my accepted social conventions and personal certitudes that I long ago stopped questioning opened. I had been, “triggered.”

I’m ashamed at how easily, and most assuredly, I moved passed Lincoln’s better angels and King’s content of character into that most American form of grievance: collective outrage. In other words, I readily and hastily moved passed those ideals I claim to dearly cherish.

Sadly, I can’t escape the feeling that in this one, tiny, snapshot of America; this one slice of the American experience, I was on the wrong side of history.

I had a part to play in all of this. I wasn’t part of a solution. I was the problem.


Eulogy For Joe L. Alaniz

On behalf of the Alaniz family I would like to thank each and every one of you for being here to celebrate the life of an extraordinary man.

My name is Ernesto Alvarez III and although Joe was my first cousin, he was “Tio” Joe or “Tio” Cuti my whole life. The difference in our age and my respect for him made it the most natural thing in the world for me to call him, “Tio.”

I have been given the distinct honor of delivering the eulogy for an exemplary man whose life and example have touched so many people, in so many different and unique ways.

Whether it was his music with Los Exitos de Joe Alaniz, El Coro del Buen Consejo, numerous “serenatas” and backyard gatherings, or him just playing the guitar on his porch. His love for the Dallas Cowboys (we all know what it was like at Tio Joe’s on Cowboy Sunday); definitely his sense of humor and his sense of service to his family, friends, and community (through the church or simply out of the kindness of his own heart) in Kingsville and the surrounding areas.

Whether his role as husband, father, sibling, friend, compadre, grandpa, trusted mentor or grand example – his impact can be seen and felt in the lives of so many people. Many of whom are gathered here today.

You can imagine how difficult it must be to try and capture in words such a life as his. What to say? Or rather, where to begin? Just my memories alone, or do I tie a whole bunch of memories from a lot of different people together like a quilt? The answer eventually came. And it came to me in words I’ve heard Tio Joe say on numerous occasions: “Es muy simple la cosa!”

And it is. It’s very simple.

That’s why I think it’s entirely appropriate to begin with scripture. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he writes:

“I have become all things to all people to save at least some. All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I may have a share in its blessings”

1 Corinthians 9: 22(b) – 23

All things to all people, this has certainly been my experience of Tio Joe. I bet if you talk to everyone here, you’ll get a glimpse as to the many roles he played; chief among them husband and father.

He and Rachel lived out the sacrament of marriage and weathered every storm life brought, all the while remaining faithful to God and to each other. And although they are no longer here with us, physically, their example lives on in each of our hearts. They raised a beautiful family who are themselves talented and giving.

One of my favorite memories of Cuti and Rachel together was a time when we were at my sister Mere’s house eating – of course. Tio Cuti started telling a story (or probably a joke) – and every 2nd or 3rd detail – Tia Rachel would jump in with: “Ya te chotiates,”and, “Haci no va.”

It was hilarious, their interplay. Their back-and-forth. It’s the reason there was never a dull moment when they were around.

As a musician, we all know the story. His influence is far and wide. Lucky were we to have had such a wonderful musician around us, so giving of his talent. For some he was a teacher, for others he was the reason music made all the sense in the world.

Many lives were touched and made better by the music he and his compadres made with Los Exitos and especially, the Alaniz family with El Coro del Buen Consejo. I know I have very fond memories that I will always cherish.

Finally, and most importantly, Joe Alaniz had a servant’s heart. Always willing to give of his time to help others; be they family or friends. Through the church at Our Lady of Good Council and organizations like the R.A.A.N.A club, he dedicated himself to living out his Christian faith. Jesus reminds us that, those who are greatest among you shall be your servants. Both Joe and Rachel exemplified this truth in their lives.

All things to all people. This was Joe L. Alaniz.

I’d like to end by sharing 2 of my favorite memories of Tio Joe.

1) On many occasions when I was growing up (and especially after Tia Rica passed away) Tio Joe would show up to my mom’s house early in the morning, “breakfast supplies” in hand. Sometimes it was eggs and bacon. Sometimes it was chorizo and papas. He always brought something! And because it was Tio Cuti – the plàtica and the laughter were unending. The worst part for me was having to go to school because I wanted to stay home. And because it was Tio Cuti – he’d often volunteer to take me to school.

2) Myself, Jay, and Joey were hanging out in Tio Cuti backyard. After having been inside for a few minutes, Joey walks out the back door with a “look” on his face – barely containing the laughter.

Apparently Tio Cuti has left a $50 bill with a note attached – in case the kids got hungry. You know he was thinking Whataburger because there was a postscript that said:

“And if they can’t cash a 50 dollar bill, they have no business selling hamburgers!”


Baílo con duda

Sín duda

Baílo abájo de un sol brillánte

Entre llúvia enorme y amores pequeños

Exquisítamente, arríba un píso trasparénte

Vívo con duda

Sín duda

Vívo enfrénte del espéjo

Solíto, endonde nádie me ve pensár

Rasguñando deseos que no me déjan en paz

Lóco, miedóso

Sin aire

Entendíendo que no soy el que me mira

Tengo destino de horquíllas

Una existencia que ahí alguien mas me puso

Colgádo, désde un mecáte grís

The Loneliest Little Sin on the Planet

Since her, I am a cultural Christian at best.
The bright spirituality of my youth, so vibrant, has waned through the years.
Petered out, as they say.
I don’t trust in God any further than I can see Him.
I see the Divine as the hope dangled before me like the proverbial carrot.
Prodding me onward, never to be satisfied with where I am.

An Unsettling Hope. Nothing more.

This diminutive spirituality of mine, I believe, is self-inflicted.
All the wrong in my life I can trace back to a singular act of cowardice.
A decision so selfish, so disgusting and perverse, I know full well that I deserve every ill that has come way because of it.

I abandoned a woman. Left her in a state of divorce, to her own devices, when she needed me the most. I committed this Cardinal Sin in full view of the sun. And now, only Night is left to me.  I had vowed before God to love her and cherish her, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. Then I turned my back on her like some such dish at a buffet I no longer wanted. A dastardly deed if there ever was one and I wasn’t ashamed of it then.

I am now, utterly so.

Since her, all that I have loved has been unrequited. All my dreams looked upon, without the full bloom of experience. I have been on the outside, looking in. Like a phantom. The Odorous Act was insidious like that, like the loneliest little sin on the planet. A puddle in my path that to this day, I have not overcome.

A Chronicle of “Barnia”

Mr. Maldonado

“…it seems like a crossroads of existence and for a small town, it might as well be.”

For a place like Kingsville ripe with paradox (a curse-of-a-small-town nestled within the largest ranch in the world), their lives seem so mundane. And by mundane I mean broken and perplexed, triumphant and forward-looking, over worked and under paid; like the rest of the world but in the microcosm that is small town living, Taking what this life gives and making anything out of it whether the best or the acceptable, I have the lot of seeing them everyday in this endeavor. It’s my job.

The frantic mother who’s always late hurrying to buy breakfast for her kids before school. The still sleepy student who, in frustration, confides in me that he still hasn’t memorized Avogadro’s number for the Chemistry quiz he has in 30 minutes – Red Bull, please! There’s Maritza. Sweet, precious, efficacious Maritza Maribel. Every time I see her I can’t help but hum the chorus to Rod Stewart’s Some Guys Have All the Luck. It tugs at my heart until what’s left of me is a platonic oblivion. Then, there is Mr. Maldonado.

I have often sat in judgment of his drinking habits which start bright and early as the dew. He drives into the Party Barn with his fingers raised in a “V.” This is the sign letting me know he wants two 24 oz Bud Lights. “Dame dos,” he always adds making sure I’ve gotten his order right. He’s always joking and there are days he checks his shirt pocket and adds Camel Filters, always in the soft pack, to his order. Most times shit he says isn’t at all funny but I’d like to think he jokes for the sake of joking, just to have a reason to let out his raucously big laugh. A laugh fraught with all the character that decades of beers and cigarettes have given him. A laugh as deep and varied as the insistent wrinkles all over his face.

My judgments often take the form of snide remarks held within myself. Thoughts like “Ah yes, the breakfast of champions,” or “Are you on a liquid diet or what?” With these, I indulge in little victories. I’ll never forget the day my judgment came to a sudden end. As usual, he drove in full of purpose, his gray Camry sporting a new spare tire. Only later did the lack of “the signal” become obvious.
Como estas, sir? Dos? I asked him before he could say a word.
Si, dame los dos, he said averting his red swollen eyes.

I plunged my hands deep into the icy water that held the coldest beer. Solemnly, he informed me, “Se me murio mi vieja a noche.” I could hear his voice cracking along the fault lines of his sentence structure. It took just a second to register and my inner voice, the one reserved for judgment, chided me: No pendejo! This is no joke. By now, his words brushed cold upon me like the water that surrounded my hands.
“Apenas vengo del hospital.”

I looked at him feeling dead in the water, wondering if I should say anything at all. Or, whether to let my silence speak for me and just listen. And really, what does one say that has any semblance of meaning at a time like that In a haste, all I could think to say was what I’ve heard my mom and countless elder relatives say at news like this: Pero como? It turns out diabetes had struck its interminable changes upon yet another soul. “No se que hacer ya. Voy a tomar hasta que me muero yo tambien.”

He offered this foresight with a rather shallow laugh, almost entirely through his nose like he was half joking. But the tears in his eyes told a rather different story. Commerce can be cruel at a time like this. With such emotion hanging in the air refusing to be denied or overlooked, the price of his purchase lingered like the proverbial white elephant in the room; oh so ready to burst the bubble of poignancy he had created. That’ll be $4.58, please. Combing through his hands, he countered: “Aqui tengo unas centavitos.” Continuing, he bleakly surmised “Pos, que le hacemos? Alla vamos todos.”
Very true, I dimly offered.

I’m very sorry to hear about your wife, Mr. Maldonado.
Wanting to relate further, I reached out in clumbsy Spanish: Que descanse en paz, eh
He let off a sigh, gingerly shaking his head. “Pos ojala que puede, era bien repelona mi viejita.”

And there it was! Like a gritty refugee breaking through the tyranny of grief, his laugh. His raucously big laugh. His Grand Laugh. His I-miss-her-so-much-I-just-wanna-fucking-die laugh! It was early, like 7:15 in the AM and the cars where stacking up behind him. The morning rush had overtaken the Party Barn and not even the death of a cherished one could stop that. With polite acceptance he looked into the rear-view mirror, bid his farewell, and drove away.

Whats Left of Taormina

Part I Elation

Kaleidoscopes may have once embraced the melody of her faces
And may someday capture the spring in her dance
Tonight, gaze brazenly into the sky for mere hints and glimpses of the wonders in her expression
Impetuous delights abound in the art of her playfulness
Entangled with each moment, like conspicuous pearls, are new and better reason to smile

Part II Longing

Relinquish as best you can the gift of her presence
Assuage that cold darkened sound
Compelled to live in the light of mere memory
Hallowed like soldiers on the ground
Echoes of her linger: that porch, that couch, that tree
Leading to long winding roads of reverie
Longing once more to embrace the melody of her faces
Ebbing inevitably with the passage of time

Part III Jubilation

Songbirds kiss the dawn, greetings in a thousand forms of splendor like the many faces of her
Mana falls with new expression – the shape of her smile
Inundated by the wealth in her attention
Taken by the warmth of her style
Hail, O Fortune! She gave me new eyes for seeing
Evermore besotted in the brightness of her being

Manitas de Miel

Hay se quedo el harina

Hecho polvo en el fondo de un altar

La sal y pimienta no se hablan

El agua se dio cuenta que ya no estas


Las tortillas se han hechos obstinidos

Rectangulos y torcidos

Porque el palote esta en huelga

Y “Basta!” dice la comida


Hacen falta sus manitas de miel

Dedos de experencia y su modo de ser

Faltan su suspiros haciendo que hacer

Su tarjeta de la vida y su receta del placer

The Former Self of Renita Jai

Cover Girls

She always tried to cover them, the scars of her former self when she was into cutting. Every shower revealed them. As she stood there, water dripping off of her, all wet and squeaky clean and free of the dust of the day, the irony was not lost on her.  At her cleanest the scars presented themselves to her.  At first she used what was convenient.  A long sleeve shirt or a piece of fabric she’d fashion into a cute little bracelet but she finally decided that her foundation made the best cover for the scars.  Wiping away a large swath of steam from the mirror, she mocked herself derisively: You’re an honest to God “Cover Girl.”

She’d often feel shame. Ashamed that she had let him besmirch all the pride her mother had instilled in her. But she was a mother now too and full of hope.  The kind of hope only a mother could have. She was determined to better herself.  Determined to be the best mother she could for Jamal, like her mother and grandmother had done before her.  She assured herself of this. Nothing would stop her.

But he had before and she feared he might again.

Only time will tell, she thought to herself, as she walked into the bedroom to clothe herself.

Maritza, her longest friend, was playing with Lil’ J in the living room and whatever she was doing filled her little apartment with his raucously joyous laughter.  Renita hastened her clothes on so that she might catch them in action; almost tripping as she made her way toward them.

“Watch this,” Maritza exclaimed, “watch this!”

She covered her face in a peek-a-boo fashion revealing herself to Lil’ J in a playful tone.

“Auntie Maritza loves you, yes she does!’

Her hands moved from her face to his belly in one smooth motion the length of the sentence like a skater on a rink.  Whether it was the tone of her voice or the poke of his belly with her fingers, or perhaps a combination of the two, the gestures sent Lil’ J into a fit of laughter, sudden and boisterous, that ended when she covered her face with her hand. And then again.

“Auntie Maritza loves you, yes she does!”

Laughter eruption.

This went on several times when Renita declared, “I’m going to the store now, M, want anything?”

“Auntie Maritza loves you, yes she does!” Her hand impatiently shushed the question away in a bothersome gesture.

“I guess not,” Renita said as she made her way toward the door adding: “I’ll be right back.”

Renita walked down the same street, coming from the same store, humming the same song. She was a creature of habit after all.  She was thankful Jamal wasn’t with her and that she had some time alone.  She was grateful for the space and that Maritza had agreed to watch him even if only for the time it took her to get back from the store.  This caused her to hum along with extra jubilation.  Melodies took on another form, she thought, when it was just her voice. No words. No music. Just her voice.  The notes seemed more real. More alive, like they had crawled themselves out of her own soul.

It was hot, oven hot, but she didn’t mind because stiff winds blew by her a brief respite at a time.  Hot air was better than nothing and besides, she told herself, at least it made the trees dance; entertaining her.  The heat of the asphalt crawled up her flats making the soles of her feet uncomfortably warm and sweaty.  She was approaching 2nd and Huisache when she stopped and sat on the one bench that remained there.  Smoking a Black & Mild, the one with the wood tip, she couldn’t help but think of the stories her father often told her.

In the 80’s this corner was the center of a thriving community with bustling streets.A restaurant here, a barber shop there.On that corner a night club that later became Hill’s Antiques and Collectables. A grocery store over there gave closure to the space bracketing it in as a hot spot of black wealth and entrepreneurship.  Her father was fond of calling it: Kingsville’s own Greenwood, Archer and Pine.  What the rest of the town called “Little Africa.”  King Star Baptist church was just up the street where her grandfather used to preacher and where he fell in love with her grandmother.  These were the days of a by-gone era. The good ‘ol days her father came to call them.  It all hardly seemed possible considering the current state of the neighborhood: graffiti filled red brick facades, broken down doors and windows. Trash piled up against walls left to fend for themselves.

When she returned home, Maritza had Jamal sprawled out across the floor on his favorite green blanket. She was thoughtful enough to keep the oscillating fan fixed on him.

“He just fell asleep,” she said.  His naps didn’t last long so they sat on the kitchen table to talk, music just audible in the background.

“So have you made a decision or no?” Maritza inquired with curiosity.

“I made the decision a long time ago, M, only thing left is the courage to follow through. I don’t know if I have that yet.”

“Well you know I believe in you Love. I know you can do this,” she consoled her punctuating the point with her finger on the table. She continued.

“I’ll help you in any way that I can. Come live with me for a while until you get back on your feet, you know, like we talked about.”

“I can’t do that, M, I told you already. I can’t risk bringing trouble to your place cause you know that is what’s gonna happen.  He’s not gonna just let me just walk away from him. He ain’t gonna let that happen. I know him, he’ll make this as hard as possible for me. And for you too. I can’t live with that. I won’t live with that!”

Maritza countered, “Harder than you have it now, living under his thumb all the time? Not getting to live your own life or make your own decisions?  From where I’m sitting, Love, you have it hard already! Can you live with that? Will you live with that?”

After some time, the intensity of their conversation subsided.

“Fuck girl, it’s hot in here!” Maritza indulged in the obvious. Can’t we turn the A/C on or something?”

“You know X-Jai won’t have that shit.  It’s bad enough he pays for my bills.  If we want A/C we’ll have to go chill at his pad. And besides, grandma paid my utility last month when X-Jai and I had that big fight. I’ve got to take it easy on her.”

Looking around to comfort, she clicked the fan in Maritza’s direction.

“Here you go, my Peach,” she said smiling.

“Just for a bit, Love. I got to head to work soon. I was late yesterday and got my ass chewed.”

“Don’t forget about you Sprite and Hot Cheetos, M, you’ll need your strength.”

“I didn’t ask for anything,” she replied. A big smile on her face.

“I know but that’s your favorite combo. You’ll want it later on at work. And here’s you Lone Star card too. Thanks again”

She sighed, her words escaping without courage.

“I’m flat broke again.”

“No worries, Love. I got your back. You know that,” she comforted her with a warm smile. Lifting her right arm in the air, she cocked her left shoulder and gave Renita her best solidarity fist.

Little Renita Jai

She had been called “little” since birth.  Her namesake came from her great grandmother, the grand matriarch of the family.  She was a woman so important, so revered that her name had been hers alone, kept from at least two generations. Hers alone, that is, until: Little Renita Jai.  Her birth was the stuff of miracles.  She was born premature, given a grim prognosis by all the doctors in the city.  Her parents were told that if she lived at all it would be at a ghastly price.  That she would never maintain a “normal life.”  Her eyes were malformed though she could see.  Her tiny arms were mangled and deformed. The shape a stick of Laffy-Taffy might take if left in the South Texas heat too long.  Her legs were bowed at the knees, so much so that it seemed they might have been a portal to another dimension or another time.

Her skin was so dark and mysterious, multiple shades of deep dark bruise purple, it made the night sky writhe in jealousy of her.  Her eyes, when they were open to be seen, were a deep eerie white. As white as pure sin after the Lord’s grace has washed it clean.  She was the scion of a proud African family that came to Kingsville very early, when dark folks were welcomed only for the labor they could provide.  They had settled in what was called “Little Africa” on the corner of what came to be 2nd and Huisache.  Her great grandmother among the first blacks to settle the neighborhood on land donated to the “town folk” by the venerable King family.

Little Renita Jai was not expected to live beyond a year.  And that year, they were told, would be a year full of heartache and medicine, doctor visits and costly procedures until finally what ailed her would prove victorious and take her fragile little life.Leaving the family with only bitter memories and gnawing questions of Why?

For all that, here she was at age four, a precocious little girl with dark curly hair, eyes a splendid moss-green and a smile as wide as Texas itself.  She still suffered the pains of her misfortunes, of course, because miracles never work out as we’d like them to.  in life, Lazarus never really rises from the dead, or Jairus’ daughter for that matter.  But here was little Renita Jai, alive and well despite all the wisdom of the learned medicine men.  She had just began learning to talk, a symptom of her mother’s insatiable need to read her stories at night.  All the classics too: Dr. Seuss, the Bothers Grimm, Aesop.  When she began to speak it was a little miracle in and of itself.  When she was able to put words together, enough to string sentences along toward a semblance of meaning, she told her mother about a recurring dream she ‘d been having.

Mommy, I dreamed of place I’ve never been. I was wearing a pretty dress with new shoes and my hair was up in a bow.  It was a big parking lot but there was no cars.  It was night-time and I was all by myself. A few lights were on but I could only see just so far into the distance.  And it was purple everywhere. Dark and purple like when I look out the window when you read to me and the train tracks go on for ever and ever.  I was scared because I could feel something was there in the dark. I could feel something was looking at me.  I call out to it: monnstro, monnstro, like I know the name of the thing that’s out there. But nothing happens.  Then there is a man who come out behind me and asks me why I’m all by myself in the dark parking lot.  He’s a good man, mommy, he asks if I need help.  In my dream, all I can do is point out into the darkness.  He asks me, “What are you pointing at, sweetie? Are you afraid of the dark, there’s nothing there I promise.”  All I can do is point out there into the dark place.  Monnstro, I say, over and over again but he doesn’t understand me.  “monnstro? what is that sweetie, what is it?”  And again I point.  “Do you mean, monster?  Is that what you’re trying to tell me?  There’s a monster over there?”  Then he walks a few steps closer to the dark place.  “There’s nothing out there sweetie.  Look, there’s nothing there. No monsters, nothing. You don’t have to be afraid.”  And then we hear it.  A loud noise, mommy. A very loud noise like a lion and a pig and a human all screaming together at once.  The man jumped toward me and pulled me behind him. He tries to protect me. All I can do is close my eyes real tight and cover with my ears with my hands.  Then I wake up

Her mother was rightly put off by the dream she heard. It was just a dream she said.  Told Little Renita Jai that dreams are mysterious things that happen to everybody.  Sometimes the dreams are scary but sometimes they are really good one too.  She consoled her with these words.  Throughout all your life dreams will happen to you. There is no need to be afraid of them.  She took her in her arms and showered her with affection, somewhat saddened that her precious daughter now had nightmares to worry about on top of everything else in her young life.  Little Renita Jai, sighing into her mother’s chest, asked her pointedly: Then why do I have this one all the time and not those other ones?

Little Renita Jai has regained much of the normalcy the doctors predicted she would never have. She outgrew those words a long time ago.  She has made something of herself. She can walk and talk.  She has friends and even a lover, all those things normal people have.  She lives in Kingsville, the place her great-grandmother came to as a young girl.  He mother has passed and her father too.  She has had a thousand dreams since then and a thousand nightmares too.  But this one, this dream, of her fragile little voice echoing in the night, “monnstro,” haunts her still.

A Powdery Nothingness

Genius visibly struck her as Maritza closed the door to leave.  She would take advantage of Lil’ J napping and finish putting her make up on.  Looking at herself in the mirror, and gently humming the Lauryn Hill that played in the background, she peeled her now-sweaty clothes off the mass her physique had become.  She tried to take hold of the fact that she was older now and a mother, not wanting to let her mind drift back to her younger years when she had mad booty.  Many more men looked at her then, with desperate eyes, like she had all the power in the world.  Even so it was not like she could give over to them anyway.  X-Jai just exploded when me looked at her.  It always embarrassed her but at least they looked.  It got to the point that he’d lose so often the men just stopped looking.  Or rather they did look, but they were older now and less attractive. Their eyes had gone from inviting to hunger, plain and pure, like they wanted one thing and one thing only.  Fixating on a remnant pimple under her left eye she softly hummed the first melody her ears deciphered.

“Renn?” a booming voice called out from the front of the apartment.

“Renn? Where are you girl.”  he asked with intensity.

“I’m in here, in the bathroom,” she said informing him.

X-Jai poked his head through the doorway, his eyes darting her up and down.

“Aren’t you ready yet? I told you we’d be leaving by six when I got here.”

“I know,” she said gravely, “I just have to finish up. We have to drop Jamal off at grandma’s house. Will you get him ready?”

“Sure, but hurry up. We gotta go Renn,” he said with typical curtness.  And as was his custom, he let off a sharp crisp snap of his fingers over the operative words of his sentences.  In this case: hurry up!

She peered into her eyes in the mirror. It was time to be strong. She had heard someone say on television that God did not want us to be happy. He wanted us to be strong.  And that was her mantra the last few months while she built up the courage to leave X-Jai.  Could she go through with it? Could she escape her former self and be brave enough to leave him come what may?  He heart pumped with great resolve. today was the day.  Today was the last day of her former life.  Any love she had for X-Jai withered long ago.  After the threats of violence became occasions of pain and sorrow, after the hospital visits became more and more frequent her love for him withered away into  powdery nothingness like the wings of a butterfly.  She could not stand it any longer. Not with Jamal around. She could not take him learning to be like his father. A violent and possessive man, full of jealousy.  She was tired of worrying. She was tired of being afraid.  And she simply did not want to think about X-Jai anymore.  Never again.

It wasn’t just that she was tired of the thoughts of him. It was that she had in mind another.  A man she’d met altogether elsewhere. Had not even told Maritza about him.  He was handsome, yes, but there was more.  It was his eyes, yes, but there was more to him than that.  It was the peculiar way in which he looked at her and saw all that which she could not see in herself, like her father used to before he died.  All the potential wrapped into her package he just intimated without a word.  And it was in that moment that she knew she loved him deeply because all of her insecurities solidified themselves within her, vast and immovable as the sea.

A Better Man Might Have Said…

Silence is the first verse in the song of forgetting.

And he knew he fucked up.  Treated her like shit because he wanted her to feel a little of the pain he was feeling.  Wanted to have an effect on her the way she had an effect on him.  He wanted to have some power over her to match the immense power she had over him.  And it back fired in ways that he had not even anticipated.  And what was left to him now was her silence. He was sorry he was so sensitive and emotional.  Sorry he wore his heart on his sleeve.  It was a symptom of his upbringing.

I grew up with my mom and my sisters, he implored, so much so that I practically have a vagina myself.  I care too much and too often and too easily and I let that guide my behavior way more than I should.

Is that such a terrible thing, he asked her at the cusp of exasperation. Was it a bad thing that he wanted to hear from her everyday? A bad thing that he wanted to hang out with her everyday?  To hear her laugh and to tell her jokes that made her laugh again and again? Was it such a terrible think to notice the littlest things about her; like how her fingers elongated every time she would make a point; they punctuated the rhythm of her sentences and gushed over him like fresh and living water.

And don’t even get me started on the tenderness in the shape of your neck, he warned gravely, and how it ebbs and flows as you breath.

He didn’t know how to share the truth of his heart with her.  That gave her way too much power. But for moments at a time, he was perfectly OK with relinquishing so much power to her. Her kindness and tender heart would have absolved him of the tyranny of his fears and self-doubt, his insecurities.  But rather than sheer honesty, he was cryptic and coded.  Wreathed himself in drunkenness and desire and became but a burden on her.  He was erratic and careless with her friendship. Used her as a springboard for his own selfish desires. And for that, he was deeply ashamed.

In all honesty, I was proud of the way you handled me.  Extremely proud of how you shut me down because as you said: “I don’t play that shit.”  I couldn’t have been any more proud of you were I your brother or your father.  I remain utterly impressed as your friend how you stood up for yourself.  I would’ve been the first to tell you: Don’t ever let a man treat you that way!  You don’t deserve that bullshit; drop this fucker like it ain’t no thing!  It is to my complete and utter humiliation that I let myself be that man.  I am ever more thankful and grateful for your kind heart and gentle spirit.

Silence is the first verse in the song of forgetting.

I suppose he deserves her silence now.  Can only assume, because it was the one thing that brought him the least amount of pain, that she was simply letting him cool off and accept the reality of their relationship: Dear friends and nothing more. But certainly nothing less.  He looked forward to the days when, again, they could share in this life together. In laughing and sharing; on roads headed toward times well spent and days worth remembering.

I shall not forget the greatest truth between us: before anything and everything, you are my friend.  Nothing more and certainly nothing less.

He must now have the strength and the courage, the faith even, to trust in her. Trust that at the root of this silence placed before him there lies her kind heart and gentle spirit.  The very reason he ever loved her in the first place.



The thing about a rugged individualism:

It’s almost always done in the name of God, family and country.

Therein lies the irony, the pernicious myopathy

The blinders that lead to suffering of other people

Who are often a means to an end

Rarely do the blinders come off