Growing Up George: Ch. 17- The Fuzzy Line

What?” Cindy’s voice deadened all the bustle and hustle around me and hung me up in the air from my neck, it seemed.

“Cindy!” I managed to crow out. “I’ve been trying to reach you for ages!”

“…I think there’s static or something. Can you hear me OK?”

“Yes Cindy, I’m so relieved to finally hear your voice again.” On second thought, I better try to cover up my lapsus linguae. “Oh wait, no, you’re right, it’s a little fuzzy. Pretty fuzzy. Very fuzzy. Fuzzy comes and goes.”

“Why hadn’t you called me?” she asked in a heartfelt spoiled voice. “I miss you so bad.”

“I didn’t have any service.  Yesterday I just stayed at home and slept at my grandparents’ but today the first thing I did was come unlock my phone so we could talk.”

“My sisters keep telling me you don’t love me anymore and you’re already hooking up with some new girl down there.”

“Cindy, it’s been two days.”

“So you don’t even miss me?”

I slapped my palm on my forehead. “Girl, of course I miss you, I couldn’t even sleep wondering if you were worried.”

An automated voice interrupted the line in Spanish: “Su saldo disponible es de diez pesos.” Your available balance is ten pesos.

Fuck!” I blurted out.

“Are you mad at me? Why are you mad at me?!?” Cindy freaked out.

“I have to go. The thing is running out.”

“What thing? Our thing? Why is our thing running out?”

“No, no! Let me explain! Our thing is good. Our thing is rock solid. Cindy, there is no other girl. But I bought a card-”

The automated voice chimed in again. “Gracias por usar Telefónica-”

“No, no, no, no, NO! You were supposed to give me at least five minutes! That was not five minutes!” The shoppers crowding me gave me weird looks as they moved a few steps away in caution. “Damn it!

I went back to the cell phone booth to buy another card, then thought it  better to buy it at an actual store. I walked down the main street shrouded in anguish at the idea that Cindy and I had argued and that she might be crazy enough to think there was some other girl.

God, why did I have to say “Mindy.” That had to be hands down my stupidest mistake ever. More stupid than when I told Hugo back in the locker room that I would ask Cindy about whether or not her breasts were real. More stupid than when I was eleven and I poured detergent in the motor oil of my aunt’s station wagon to clean the fuel injectors.

As I walked past the main plaza and fountain, everything looked like something I ought to buy her so that she’d know, when I got back, that I’d been thinking about her nonstop. The Nemo balloons tied to a cart. The bags of flaming hot Takis- miniature crisp chips rolled into crunchy scrolls. I walked past a row of teddy bears holding embroidered hearts that said “Te Quiero,” every one of them staring at me with disapproval. Whatever the misunderstanding, it had to have been my fault. Cindy was incapable of faulty judgment. After all, she had chosen me.

I heard a car honk. It was Elias at a stop sign. He rolled down the window. “Where you going buddy? Hop in.”

I ran over to the passenger’s side. “How’d you find me? How’d you know I was lost?”

“I was just passing. Man, you look hung over. What’s wrong?”

“My girlfriend. I think she thinks I don’t miss her cause I haven’t been able to call. And then I did call and I accidentally maybe might have called her Mindy.”

“Who’s Mindy?”

“My grandparents’ neighbor. She’s a hair stylist.”

“Blonde? Petite? Green eyes?”

“Yeah I guess. You know her?”

“She’s friends with my sister.”

“Small world.”

“Yeah. Hey if you wanna call your girlfriend, here, use my phone. It’s only like ten Mexican cents a minute.”

“Oh thanks, I owe you.” He unlocked the phone and handed it to me. I dialed but no answer. I tried again and again. I left a voicemail.

“Is she temperamental?” Elias asked.

“Nah. That’s just the way she is.”

“Well she is a woman. Or girl. How old is she?”

“Seventeen. Same as me.”

“Relationships are hard enough when you’re an adult, man. At your age it’s harder to deal with changes in hormones and stuff.”

“Do you date? You seeing anyone?”

“Nope. I’m just happy finding myself first.”

“I’d feel lost without Cindy.”

“How long you been dating?”

“Going on two months.”

He laughed and drove onto an on ramp on the speedway. “I’m gonna show you my shop.”


Growing Up George: Ch. 16- Magic Peanut Butter

My phone never did pick up a signal in Mexico. I went to the local tianguis, or flea market, to get it unlocked and buy a local SIM card for it.

My grandma told me to take the Fraccionamiento/Centro bus route into town and to get off at the pharmacy with the Dr. Simi.

“Who’s Dr. Simi?”

“He’s really fat and he dances in a white coat on the corner.”


“Yes. Like this.” There was a commercial playing reggaeton on t.v. and she busted some moves. I covered my eyes embarrassed.

“He dances for money?”

“No. That’s his job.”


I walked to the stop and found Mindy there.

“Good morning. You know you could use a haircut.”

“Good morning. No, this is how long I wear it.”

“Is that how they wear it in el Norte?”

“Yup. I started the trend at my school.”

“Uh huh. Where you heading?”

“The tianguis.”

“By yourself?”

I looked over my left shoulder, and then my right. “Oh! I guess I must have lost them.”

“That’s not the only thing you’re gonna lose,” she muttered.

The rickety bus pulled up in a cloud. I had changed a few dollars into pesos back home but had not realized I needed coins because the buses there didn’t have those auto payment slots for bills. The driver held out his hand and I handed him a twenty-peso bill, expecting fifteen back in change. He pointed at a sign over the windshield that said, “CAMBIO EXACTO.” Exact change.

Now, my skin’s brown as a coconut but I could feel it turning tomato-red.

Mindy handed him a five-peso coin.

“I’ll pay you back when I get change downtown.”

“Don’t sweat it. We’re all friends here, remember?”

I looked for the pull-strings to signal my stop but the passengers just yelled “STOP!” every time they needed to get off.

I asked Mindy, “Hey, what happens if a passenger’s mute?”

“You mean dumb?”

“I mean if he can’t talk. Does he have to write a message to the driver or hold up a sign? Or does he just ride to the next stop?”

“They’re always on the buses selling peanuts. The driver lets them get on for free. They just walk up to the exit when they need to get off. Some of them also sell gum.”

“Is it less or more than at the store?”

She furrowed her brow and rolled her eyes.

“I know a guy. Started from zero. Makes more money in a day than you do in months.”

“Selling peanuts?”

“Yeah. Magic peanuts. In home-made baggies.” She laughed. “They don’t sell those at the store.”


“His name’s Rubilio Veinte. I can hook you up.”

“Uhm, yeah, no thanks.”

“I don’t touch that stuff myself. Just saying.”

As we neared downtown, more people crowded the bus, and some nice men yielded their seats to them. Eventually I had to give up mine.

As I balanced myself using the bars at my disposal, I asked Mindy, “Do you know where the Dr. Simi dances?”

“Yeah. That’s him over there.”

About half a block ahead was a dancing guy in a fat doctor costume. People just walked around him. I laughed out loud.

“Is that your stop?”


“Call it.”

“…Can’t you call it for me?”

“No. Because then everyone will wonder why I didn’t get off.”

We drove by the jolly doctor, who waved at the bus passengers.

“So you’re just going to stay on the bus forever?” she asked.

“No. I’ll get off next time someone calls a stop.”

“Ugh. You are hopeless.” She got up, took my hand, pulled me toward the front and called “STOP!” She turned around and said, “I was getting off here anyways.” I let go of her hand as soon as she loosened her grasp and wiped it on my thigh.

“I’ll walk with you to the pharmacy,” she said outside. “I just remembered I gotta buy something.”

When we reached the pharmacy she danced a Banda number with Dr. Simi. Some spectators gathered around. Mindy seemed perfectly in sync rocking back and forth and under and over between the giant costume hands. The song ended. Everyone clapped and went on their way. She kissed me goodbye on the cheek and whispered, “I went to school with the girl in there.”

I squeezed through the tianguis labyrinth looking for a cell phone booth. Some booths were between arches inside gray concrete corridors, while others were an extension of the building, under a river of blue tarps.  There was noise everywhere I looked. It could just as well have been the Mexican stock exchange. I wouldn’t have known the difference. For around twenty bucks I was able to unlock my phone and for around another ten, I bought a SIM card with free international text messaging.

I leaned against one of the columns and called Cindy. We hadn’t spoken in three days. The phone rang once and her sweet angelic voice rose above the commotion around me and sung, “Hello?”

“Hi Mindy! How are you?”


Growing Up George: Ch. 15- The Low Signal

Meeting my grandfather was quite a trip in itself. He picked us up at the station in a faded yellow 89 Ford pick-up. He was standing there with a couple dozen different colored roses. My grandparents spoke to each other in Spanish, of course.

“And these roses?” Grandma took them. “You must have done something you don’t want to talk about to bring me these many.”

“And off you start. You should unpack first. Make me dinner, then you can nag.”

“Like my nagging ever had any effect on you.”

“You know it turns me on.” He tickled her waist. She laughed and hit him on the head with the bouquet.

“Not now, the boy is watching.”

I raised my eyebrows at him and waved.

“Is this Angelita’s boy?” He put his hand on my ear and gently turned my head from side to side, like I was a melon and he wanted to see signs of ripeness.

“Hello Grandpa. I am George. Nice to meet you.”

He laughed a hardy laugh then smacked me on the back. Then he put his arm around me, said I had my mother’s eyes and said she wouldn’t have let me dress the way I do. A real man needed a hat.

We threw the luggage into the back of the pick-up and squished into the cabin which had been pimped out with black and red furry fabric. In a gut-wrenching flash, I envisioned the slaughter of local black and red furry fauna. We made our way down the speedway to the colonia where my grandparents had bought a tiny condo that looked identical to every other one there. The only way to remember where it was exactly was because the house next to it had a sign for beauty salon services.

“Son, the girls there are hot stuff, and they’ll give you a real close shave, if you know what I mean,” my grandpa told me, as we squeezed between the truck door and the walls along their driveway.

“Don’t be putting ideas into his head!” Grandma had gotten off on the sidewalk but that’s how well she knew him.

“The blondie with the…” He made a hand gesture along his chest. “I think her name is Mindy…”

“I have a girlfriend, Grandpa.”

“Oh bless God, you’re not gay.” …That explained my aunt’s homophobia. He went on, “But if you just need a hair cut… Ask for Mindy…”

I could see Blondie in her backyard from the spare bedroom where they had put me up. She had a lot of oomph and sparkle but wasn’t my type. Not that it would have made a difference.

My grandpa asked me to water the plants. I stepped into their yard, grabbed the hose and started spraying. Blondie leaned on the short fence.

“Hola Chico.”

I looked up and got water all over her face. I could hear Grandpa laughing his head off inside.

“Whoa! I’m so sorry!” I said in Spanish.

She ran her hands through her hair and blinked rapidly, then patted her hands dry on her breasts, which were pressed against the fence. “If you wanted to see me all wet you could’ve just invited me to the beach.”

“I… have a girlfriend?”

She giggled. “What’s your name?”


“You are the Lara’s grandson?”


“Matty’s nephew?”

“You know my Tía Matty?”

“She’s friends with my older sister. That would make you… Angelica’s son.”

“How do you know my mother?”

“I’m not old enough to know your mother. Your grandpa’s told me about her. I’m Mindy.” She held out her hand. I handed it to her, she pulled me in and kissed me on the cheek. “We’re all good friends around here.”

I wondered if “friends” had the same connotation in Mexico as it did back home.

Back inside I could hear my grandpa telling my grandma how I had sprayed the neighbor with the hose, laughing all the while.

“They’re always like that.”

“My grandparents?”

“Yes. They’re in love, you know.”

“No. I don’t know. I… I just met my grandpa.”

“I know. He was really excited about meeting you. He’s always talking about his daughters. I’d be happy to show you around town. You know, as a friend.” She winked.

I took my phone out of my pocket. I really should be texting Cindy by now. But I still had no signal.

“Uhm, thanks but uh- there’s this guy I made plans with- my schedule’s pretty full for the two weeks I’ll be here.”

She stared at me in disbelief for a few seconds, then turned around, flinging her long yellow tresses in my direction. “Your loss.”

As I wrapped up the watering and walked back into the house, my grandpa laughed between smokes at me. The thing was- I really could have used a haircut.



Growing Up George: Ch. 14- Duty-Free Karma

Tía Matty started making noise in the kitchen sometime between 2 and 3AM. I rolled over on the sofa and pulled the thick fuzzy Sponge Bob blanket over my head. (That blanket’s gotten me through some bad nights). My aunt let her movements and clanking become gradually louder until finally my alarm went off at three. My Abuela and I were to take a bus to Idaho Falls to catch the 5:35 flight to Denver, where we would get a connecting flight to L.A. There, some time late tonight, we would get on a first class southbound international bus to Mazatlan. But we’d only ride half way, because my grandparents lived in Guaymas.

“Ya levántate,” urged Tía Matty. Get up. “There’s chocolate caliente on the counter.”

As if a classic cup of Mexican hot cocoa wasn’t motivation enough, she yanked the pillow from under my head. I reached for my phone and checked if I had any messages from Cindy. I had stayed up texting her til one. There was one last kissy emoji I hadn’t seen. A few days earlier, for our one month “anniversary,” I had taken her to spend the afternoon at Jackson Hole. We parked near a bridge over Flat Creek to watch the sun set over the range peaks. There, hugging her waist and kissing her neck, I swore my unconditional love to her in foggy whispers and declared myself the happiest 17 year old on earth. We went to the movies after dinner to watch Breaking Dawn and she let me rest my hand between her legs. It was a really good film. From what I saw, anyway.

It was now 3:05 and I was still sitting on the sofa. I rolled up my blankets and knocked on my bedroom door. “Mamá is in the bathroom. You can get dressed in there,” my aunt said. “Hurry up.” I could have gotten up at two and she’d be hurrying me up. I had already packed everything I needed for my two-week trip. Two pairs of jeans. It was warm down there so about ten short-sleeved shirts. My laptop I’d manage to buy at a thrift store. It’s crazy how little you actually need to get by. When we don’t travel, we constantly try to pile the world onto our shelves and plaster its landscapes across our walls. But we were designed to wander. A reliance on stuff isn’t evolution. It’s more like devolution. Relying on less- that is progress. Eventually I would rely on myself and not my aunt. I’d have my own family and they’d all rely on me. And I wouldn’t buy them tons on stuff, like I never had. I would teach them to rely on themselves, too, and then other people who are really hurting can rely on people like us. People ’round here who’d seen me grow up would see me then and say- “That George was a nobody. They say his dad was a drug-dealer. But he’s really made a name for himself. If you need your car fixed, take it to George. If he don’t fix it, he won’t charge you labor.”

We waddled with the luggage through the frost to the driveway. My aunt turned on the motor and we waited in silence for my grandma. Five minutes later, we were still waiting. “Go see what’s taking her so long.”

“It’s like fifteen degrees outside. I ain’t going back out.”

“George.” Her tone had that threatening inflection parents give to their voice when they’re lining up an ass-beating for you.

“It won’t make any difference unless I physically carry her out of the house.”

She honked on the horn.

“Tía, the neighbors!”

“Oh, our neighborhood’s so nice, I hope they don’t kick us out.”

I got out and went to look for my grandma.

“Abuela, ya es tarde.” It’s late.

“Es que no encuentro la caja de cigarrillos para tu abuelo.” She couldn’t find the box of cigarettes she’d gotten for Grandpa.

I told her my aunt probably threw it out and urged her out the door. She turned around and went back to the bathroom to grab her toothbrush.

When we finally got buckled into the station wagon, my aunt put it in reverse and nothing happened.

“Qué la fregada.” My aunt hit the steering wheel and the horn blew again.

“What’s wrong?”

“You tell me.”

I wiggled the gear selector. “It’s gotta be the transmission.”

My aunt pulled on her hair. “I knew I should’ve bought the flight insurance. Mom’s always running late.”

“She’s old.”

“No digas que estoy vieja, tarugo.” Don’t call me old, dummy. She was slow physically but was all there mentally.

“Sorry, Abuela. Don’t panic. I’m gonna call Meztli.”

We lugged all the baggage back inside. Meztli didn’t answer until the third try.

“Why you gotta interrupt my beauty sleep?”

“Yo Meztli, we need a ride.” I explained what had happened.

“Call Cindy.”

“She doesn’t drive!”

“She’s got brothers. Your cuñados.”

“Oh come on Meztli. Just this once.”

“Slave for life.”

“I can’t do that.” I waited a few seconds while she mulled it over in her head.

“It just kinda feels like- like there’s nothing in it for me.”

“Good karma.”

“I guess my bad karma has been piling up for a while. Ugh. Fine. I’ll be there in five.”

But I did call Cindy. And I had Meztli pick her up on our way to the airport. And I made my grandma switch seats with me so Cindy and I could cuddle for the next hour. Meztli was very mature about the whole thing, mostly because of her high regard for the elderly.

We got to the TSA line where Meztli asked me for gas money. Cindy kissed me good luck and then pulled me back in for a “happy new years” kiss. I saw Meztli rolling her eyes out of the corner of my eye. I reached over and pulled her hoodie over her face.

I’d never been on a flight before and the ride to Denver was a bumpy one, but my grandma slept through it, so I figured we weren’t gonna die unless she woke up.

At the Denver airport, Grandma asked me to go buy Grandpa another box of cigarettes. I argued with her and refused to go. Finally, she went herself, except she wound up getting him two boxes since they were duty-free.

We exited LAX around 4PM and that gave us about five hours before we had to board the international bus. Grandma knew all the best taco stands downtown and we hit them all. Her cough had gone away altogether as soon as we had left the frigid cold.

It was at a taco stand at the Plazita Olvera that I met Elias. He was following a Chivas-America soccer game on an old mounted television and I asked him what half they were in. Turned out, he was also on his way to the train station. So the three of us rode a cab there. Then all three of us walked up to the same bus stop, and it turned out he was also headed to Guaymas, to do some sort of missionary work for his church.

Not gonna lie. Elias and I had a lot in common. I mean, he had parents and had grown up in Santa Monica, and was a full on adult- like 22 years old. But he had an auto shop down in Guaymas, where he’d been living for the last couple years. He was really into soccer and video games- though he took the latter to a more serious level than I did. And he liked to write too, except he wrote songs.

The next morning, the sun crept up the orange desert plains and the mesas on the horizon seemed to catch on fire. Elias pulled his guitar case out from above the seats and started singing some popular Mexican folk songs. Someone started to pass a hat around and I put a five in it. He really got all the passengers into it, especially my grandma. I couldn’t imagine ever being on a singing bus back home. Not even when I was in elementary school. I just smiled in awe.

“Musicians may be poor but I’ll tell you one thing, we’ll never starve to death,” he said as he got back in his seat beside me. “The bus makes a long breakfast stop in Hermosillo. Let me treat you and your grandma to this great burrito place. You know, they don’t sell burritos south of Hermosillo.”


“You better stick by me, Buddy, or you’ll wind up smuggling drugs and not even know it.”

So that’s what I did, and upon his advice, I took a couple burritos for the road.

Growing Up George: Ch. 13-The Excuse

I spent the rest of that Sunday morning tidying up the snow around my mother’s grave. There were locust pods and pine needles that needed to be removed by hand. I walked over to the grocery store and tried to buy flowers, but they didn’t have any. So I cut some of the gladiolus I had planted there a few weeks back. I brought them back to the grave and laid them in front of her tombstone. The bright red star-shaped flowers with yellow borders gave the illusion that life rested amidst the pure white. I knelt down, locked my hands, and began to pray.

‘God,’ I said in my head, ‘I don’t know where my mother is. Or why you took her from me, or why you take anyone at all. ‘Specially when they’re just down here trying to finish school and bring up their baby and be a decent person. To be honest, I don’t even know that you exist. But if you’re up there just listening or watching or whatever it is you do up there- please let my mother know I’m gonna try to be a good son. That way when she meets me again, if that day ever comes- she’ll be proud to have had me.’

“I’ll try,” I said to myself, “but sometimes I don’t even know what good’s supposed to mean.”

Was my uncle Jorge a good man for making lots of money and staying out of trouble? But he’d defended my mother’s assassin. At least that’s what he’d led me to believe. Was my aunt Matty a good person, for bringing me up like a single mom all those years? But then I’d have to wonder if being good is necessarily synonymous of being unhappy. And if moral superiority comes at the price of happiness, is that even what my mom would want for me? I had a history teacher in junior high I thought was a good person. He was Filipino and he took me and some other boys camping a couple times. He taught us how the native people had survived off the land for thousands of years til White generals came and burned their camps in the middle of the night. I liked to think Mr. Guillermo was a good person, but if I analyze it, he was just a good teacher. So what could it mean to be a good son?

I went to church service with Tía Matty later that day. The pastor’s wife greeted us, as she did everyone every Sunday. She told me her husband needed to ask me something. I found him in the library going over some of his notes.

“George! So great of you to come today. I hear you have a job now.”

“Yeah, it’s just landscaping, but it’s something.”

“Yes, well we all have to make a living. Has your aunt mentioned to you registering to pay the tithe?”

“The what now?”

“Oh, that Sister Matilde. I’ve told her to explain it to you since she said you started working.”

“Whoa, man, I mean Brother- to be honest, I’m not even baptized or anything. I mean, technically, I’m not a part of the church.”

“What are you talking about? You’re like another son to us. We’re all family here.”

“No, man- I mean- this morning I wasn’t even sure if God exists. I have no idea what it means to be a good Christian.”

He put his hand on my shoulder and opened the Bible on his desk. There was an article folded up inside. It seemed to have been cut from some sort of theology journal.

“I used to be confused, just like you. I was jobless, hopeless, my parents had kicked me out of the house. But I started investigating about Jesus. And you know what I found out?”

“About Jesus or yourself?”

“There isn’t a single trial the Lord sends us that isn’t to train us to be something better.”

“So God wanted me to be a better orphan?”

“It’s all part of a greater plan.” He unfolded the article and held it up in the air. It had a shiny photo of the cosmos.

“You have to accept what God sends you, and learn to thrive in it.”

…So I had to learn to thrive in shit… “What happens if I don’t?”

“But you will. That is your destiny. God chose you to be a part of this congregation.”

“But if God already knew I was going to be a part of the flock, then why send me all the trials to begin with?”

“Oh George. So young. So much to learn.”

“You imply there are answers.”

“In time, my son. For now, I just really need you to clean the men’s room before the service. And don’t forget to give my wife your info for the tithe.”

Then he tenderly showed me the way out, the way a father shows his son out the window of a high-rise building.

Grandma was still visiting us and she started coughing a lot during the service. We waited a week to see if she’d improve, but finally she decided it’d be best to go back home to Sonora. Tía Matty asked me to accompany her, since she couldn’t leave her bookkeeping gigs that time of year. And I needed an excuse to get out of taking Cindy and Meztli snowboarding, so I eagerly jumped on board.

Growing Up George: Ch. 12- The Etching

I sat kneeling there, with clumps of snow in both hands, with Jake yelling, “Any day now!” in some distant background from another dimension.

I felt myself struggling for air and pulled off my scarf. I just sat there kneeling, making air puffs with my heavy breathing, for an eternal moment in which time stood still, staring at the etching in the tombstone.

“Angelica Lara.”

‘Mother. Madre. I did not know you rested here. I did not know you at all. And this is how we come into each other’s acquaintance. Though you must have been acquainted with me long before now. Have you remembered me all these years? Or did you forget me, like my father? Forgive me if pride gets in the way of my embracing you. The last time we held each other, I was complete. Now I have wandered this earth like a lost puppy these last seventeen years. You were so beautiful in my mind. You were so comforting in my mind. You were so there for me without even existing. But now I find you here, lying in the cold hard ground, incapable of answering my most basic questions. Why did you bring me into this world? Did you know I tried to kill myself when I was ten? When I overheard Aunt Matty on the phone with the electric company? Did you know I found her rifle and tried to shoot it at myself that night Sancho died? Because she always said I overfed him and I spent too much time on my PlayStation. Mamá, why did Sancho die? Did you know he was dying alone when we were at church that Sunday? Did you need Sancho in heaven? Where are you? Is Dad there with you? Where were you the time my first grade teacher slapped my hand for mispronouncing “chair” and then gave everyone a Popsicle except for me? Were you even there? What about the time I rode my bike into the city and left it in front of a convenience store and it got stolen right in front of me? Did you see who did it? Why didn’t you stop them? When grandma baked me a cake for promotion, she said you were the baker in the family. And I wanted to taste your cake, the one you would have baked for me. I wanted you to drive me to Youth Soccer, not have to get picked up and dropped off by Riley’s snobby stepmom every weekend. And last week, when Cindy took off her sweater while we were making out- I didn’t know what I was supposed to do next. So I just sat there and stared at her nervously, awkward as fuck- excuse my language- oh, Madre mía, I am such a moron, please forgive me if I’ve let you down. You deserved a doctor or an engineer or a history professor that tells it like it is, but instead you got this sorry-ass son who wants to fail at life because life has already failed him. Madrecita-

I leaned in toward the tombstone until my forehead rested on its gravelly texture. The warm December sun wrapped around my back and gradually penetrated me until I felt its flames warming my inside. I felt myself shaking. I was reaching the boiling point. I opened my eyes and wiped off the remaining snow from underneath my mother’s name.

“Beloved daughter, sister, friend and mother. May your smile remain forever. November 17th, 1978 – June 16th, 1995.”

Just then I felt a jolt at my shoulder.

“Hey Buddy. You ok?” It was Jake, who’d jumped the fence and crossed the street to get his football. “You look like you saw a ghost. You know they say this part of the cemetery is haunted.”

“Jake- I appreciate your good intentions-” I stood up. “But nothing can haunt us that we have buried in the past.”

“Right George-man. Don’t worry. I got your back.”

Words are to the deaf of heart what analogies are to the ignorant.

Growing Up George: Ch. 11- The Catch

Cindy and mine’s transition into couplehood seemed like a natural and expected evolution in the course of Potato Falls High events. Meztli was apathetic to it all, at best. At least it didn’t seem to inhibit the authority she thought she rightfully had over me.

“I should go interview some of the inmates at Helado Flats who graduated from our school for our mid-term essay,” she said over breakfast. I had to stop by her house early that Sunday to return some equipment to her dad. “But Papi doesn’t want me to drive alone this time of year. Because of the ice I guess.” The only endearing thing left in Meztli at her seventeen years of age was her relationship with her dad.

“Why don’t you just write about feelings and shit, like the rest of us?”

“I find your slovenly use of words at the breakfast table rather prickling. You need to step up your vocab game when you’re in my presence.”

“Who died and made you queen of diction?”

She laughed. She seemed to laugh less and less these days.

“No one died, wiseguy, it was always me.” She poured me a glass of fresh orange/carrot juice. “Though to be honest- and I have not dignified anyone else on earth with the knowledge I am about to bestow on you- I am the goddess of diction, reincarnated into the humble being that is Meztli.”

“Unbelievable!” I said, taking a tortilla off the stove.

“Don’t be so incredulous. I have the secret power to fail your essay.”

“You very well can be the goddess of diction but that Meztli could be a humble being? That is beyond the scope of reality.”

She swatted me with the roll of paper towels and did an o.k. job at holding her laughter in. I guess she was rationing it for fear it would eventually run out altogether.

“So are you in?” she asked, slicing up fresh cheese and folding it into a warm tortilla she handed me.

“I don’t want to go.”

“Let me rephrase that. I am going up there as soon as Christmas break starts. You are coming with me.”

“I got plans. Cindy and I are going snowboarding.”

“Well cancel them.”

“Meztli, I can’t. Cindy is really excited. Her sisters and little brother are coming. Have you met Ponchito? You try saying no to that face.”

The truth was I didn’t want to go to Helado Flats. In fact, the whole essay reasoning seemed like a giant excuse Meztli was using for me to confront my mother’s presumed assassin. She would probably end up writing her essay about exploiting the psychological nuances of a friend’s sojourn into his gruesome past. That he largely preferred to ignore.

She looked lost in thought for some seconds. “You know, I’ve never been snowboarding.”

Oh no.

“I wonder if I’d be good at it.”

I created a monster. Or maybe not created it. Just gave it drugs to get high on.

The thrill of the rush now possessed her face. “Is it anything like jet skiing?”

“I wouldn’t know but I imagine that’d be more like ski skiing.”

“Is it like surfing?”

Mental flashback to last time I was at the beach off the Oregon coast and I briefly fell in the waves while I was jogging, nearly freezing my ass off. “You know, I can’t say that I’ve surfed much. Or ever.”

“I’ll just have to give it a try then. Hey! I wonder if Cindy would mind if I asked her if I can join you guys. You know, since it’s already a party and all.”

“Well- not really a party- mostly just a family… type… thing… that we planned… in a surprise sort of… way.”

“Great? Because I’m family, remember? Your words not mine.”

I knew what she was referencing- that first day back in English class- but that wasn’t exactly how I remembered that conversation unfolding. I picked up my plate and stepped backwards towards the back door. “Tell your mom I said it was delicious.”

“Menzo, yo coiciné.” Dummy, I cooked. “My mom hasn’t been out of bed in three days because of her back.”

I hadn’t even thought to ask. “I have to finish up shoveling the snow at the cemetery.” And I sprinted to my car for some reason.

I usually started shoveling from the front, but the stratus layer up above seemed to break half way into the grounds and I had always neglected that area all the way in the back.

I looked across the street at our school stadium. Some die-hard star athletes were already doing their daily rituals. I used to do something like that, when I was around twelve. I would tie weights to my calves and run around the block twice a day. Then I would run around the whole neighborhood. Then one day I ran all the way into the city. I stopped running there because there were too many traffic lights. So I started running up through the forest that grows on the hill north of Potato Falls. I can get very religious about things when testing my own limits. I did that until I got my license.

Anyway, now I was getting just about as much exercise a guy could ever need doing landscaping. My training wasn’t as glamorous as that of those jocks. But I was getting paid. Not enough- though, I feared- not enough to take Cindy and her siblings on a snowboarding trip.

Such were my thoughts when a football landed a few feet away from me. Jake Mitchum, quarterback, hollered at me, “Yo, Boy George! Throw that back, won’t ya?” I glanced over, past the blinding white ground reflecting the sun, trying to shield my eyes as I located him behind the fence.

“Sure.” I walked over to the tombstone that had “caught” the ball. As I picked it up, the tender snow broke away from the gray cement. The name “LARA” glistened behind frosty speckles of ice. I dropped to my knees, took off my gloves and removed the rest of the caked snow with my bare hands.


Growing Up George: Ch. 10- The Dance Lesson

That night, I couldn’t sleep. I had to ask Cindy to be my girlfriend early the next day, before Hugo got to me. If he beat me up after she started officially dating me, he’d look like a sore loser. I could hire a Latin trio and go serenade her at midnight. Except I’m not that great of a singer. Still, it’d be legend, so worth a shot. I called a group I’d seen at a couple quinceañeras. They charged $500 for half an hour.

On to Plan B. I pulled out my box of Cindy mementos from under the bed. There were a couple old gums in wrappers she’d given me long ago. A pencil I never returned. A USB Flash drive with pictures of her I’d downloaded from the computer in Journalism class. And a note she passed me once in SexEd asking what we were supposed to have read for homework the night before. Also, my leather bound journal, with an inscription on the inside cover:

“Tía Matty- If I die for whatever reason, please make sure this journal reaches Cindy Nuñez.”

Then her address and phone number underneath. I opened the journal to the last page- my “Cindy Likes” list page. Persimmons. Salsa music. Guys with beards. Bunnies. Also paella made with rabbit meat. But not bunny meat. Ponytails on Mondays. Cruz Azul (Mexican soccer team). Sensational celebrity news. And red roses.

If I were an artist, I could spread all the contents of the box onto a canvas in all of their aesthetic glory, from the wrapped gum to sleazy news articles, with printouts of her beautiful face overlapping all of it. But something in my gut told me that wouldn’t turn out well. So I decided to bring a red rose to her locker early the next morning and ask her to go dancing with me Friday night.

I knocked on my aunt’s bedroom door. I had heard her use the bathroom a few minutes earlier. “Tía Matty. I know you’re awake.”

“Go away. I’m sleeping.”

“I just need a favor.”

“Are you dying?”


“Then you don’t need a favor.”

“Please? It’s an emergency.” I opened the door.

“Latoso.” Crybaby.

“I need you to teach me how to dance.”

Her face lit up. Or I imagine it did. Her bedroom had a nightlight but it was still pretty dark. “Well why didn’t you just say so?” She got out of bed and switched on the lights.

“I have to learn by Friday night. So that just gives us today and tomorrow.”

“Is this about a girl?”

I couldn’t conceive any other circumstances in which this would not be about a girl. So I played with her a little. “No. It’s about a boy. I-”

“¡Cállate!” Shut up. And her open palm hovered inches above my face, ready to slap down on it. …So I guess we know where she stands on that.

She pulled out her old Tito Puente and Celia Cruz albums and started jiggling around like a worm. As I tripped over myself I began wondering if it was even worth it. I just wasn’t the dancing type. But then I pictured Cindy dancing with Hugo and me watching from across the room with a patch over my black eye. My grandma had gotten up too and the smell of fresh coffee penetrated the old Victorian cedar walls. We kept at it til three in the morning. It was a good way to expend my nervousness.

Four hours later, I drove to the nearest supermarket to pick up a single red rose. Since it was late autumn and we lived so far north, they didn’t have any. I was going to have to drive into the city. Which meant I’d probably miss first period. I might as well hit my uncle up for breakfast, since I was heading in that direction.

I texted him and we agreed to meet at a coffee shop. He said he knew where to find red roses and he’d get one for me.

I drove in circles around the block til I was able to find a free parking spot and then walked for five minutes between hordes of men dressed in hunting clothes and people in office attire. Why would anyone want to live in that place?

My uncle handed me the rose at the cafe. “Who’s it for? Cindy?”

How did he know about Cindy? I shrugged. “How much do I owe you?”

“It’s nothing. I know a girl.”

Not sure what I was supposed to make of that. Did he steal a rose from some lady’s bouquet? Was he sleeping with a florist?

We ordered our drinks and he started talking about my uncle Pablo, the one in prison, and how he hadn’t made parole.

“Are you his attorney?”

“Well I’m not proud of it. But he’s kind of the reason I got into Law to begin with. My mom couldn’t afford to pay no one, and you know how the state-appointed counsels can be.”

I nodded, but I had no idea.

“So what’s he in for?”

He gave me one of his deep analytical looks. The I-haven’t-seen-you-in-years-but-I’m-going-to-figure-you-out-in-ten-seconds look. “You know I’m not supposed to tell you that.” He scratched his beard. “But he’s upstate by Helado Flats if you ever think you need to talk to him. There’s a reason your aunt asked me not to tell you these things. She knows as well as I that no one can stop you from becoming an hombre. A real man can handle the truth.”

“Did he kill my mom?”

His eyes widened as he looked at me and then they filled with pain. He put his hand on my shoulder and took a deep breath, then looked at his watch and finished his latte. Not another word about it. A real man can handle the truth.

His phone rang and I was about to leave but I needed a note from him on account of my tardiness. I sat through the conversation- something about motions to dismiss and a pretrial and the racist D.A. He covered the mouthpiece with his coat collar and leaned over. “This is going to be a while.”

“If I were you I wouldn’t say all that stuff in public.” I looked around at all the professional looking folk around us. The courthouse was only three streets over.

“I’ll have to call you back.” He hung up and got up from the table, and I asked him for the late slip.

Back at school I decided to wait for Cindy in front of her second period classroom. The bell rang and Hugo swung the door open with a couple of his buddies pushing into him. I clenched my teeth and looked at the ceiling. I should have taken Hugo’s whereabouts into account that morning but I was sleep-deprived, running on caffeine and endorphins, not to mention the fear of rejection. I tried to turn around and face the wall, but as the hallway began to shake all around me, I knew it was all over.

“Hey Punk, that rose for me?” Hugo’s friends laughed at his supreme sense of humor.

Whatever I replied, it didn’t matter. Any second, Cindy would come out the room, see me pinned against the wall, taking a beating. My life was over. I’d have to move away, out of state, and start from scratch.

“I was just- I was just-” Damn it. Why start stuttering again now?

“You were just about to hit on my woman, weren’t you, dip-shit?”

The whole class had formed a circle around us. His friends egged him on. “Do it Hugh-boss. Beat that mamón’s ass.” He grabbed my shirt collar into his fist as I calculated the pros and cons of running away.

Cindy stepped forward. “Leave him alone Hugo. He’s just my friend.”

Now, let me tell you, that hurt about ten times more than the beating I was about to endure. The girls in the crowd started giggling. Where was Meztli? At the the other side of the school, probably, casually wandering over to Journalism.

Mrs. Gutierrez, Cindy’s English teacher, stepped out into the hall. “Cindy, is this the boy you wrote about in your last essay? The one about repressed emotions?”

Jesus Christ!, I thought, could this get any worse?

The teacher went on. “George, let me take that rose from you before you poke someone with it. And all of you, off to third! You’re blocking the entrance for my next group.”

Hugo leaned in and whispered in my ear. “Mamón, watchatela.” Dumbass, you better watch it.

Cindy stayed behind everyone and straightened out my shirt. She took my arm and asked, “Was that rose really for me?”

“That depends. Are you holding my arm as a friend or the other thing?”

“What’s the other thing?”

“Cindy, I’m sorry, I thought you weren’t dating anyone-”

“I’m not. Dummy. Why would I be holding your arm- You don’t think I’m just a flirt, do you?”

I looked her in the eyes. Those eyes, like a pool of chocolate you could drown in. She looked at my lips, and so, I kissed her.


Growing Up George: Ch. 9 Tiramisu To Go

The weeks went by. Green turned to yellow, which turned to red, which turned to brown, black and then white. Cindy had gone to homecoming and a Halloween party with Hugo, one of my teammates. I was working for Meztli’s dad as a landscaper, mowing the lawn at the cemetery, among other things. You’d be surprised how fast grass can grow in the right type of soil. But as pre-winter settled in, I turned to shoveling instead of mowing.

I don’t know what my excuse was for not asking Cindy out. She was there. All flirty and glittery like a glow-in-the-dark butterfly ready to go clubbing. I wanted to put her in a glass case and carry her around everywhere for the rest of my life. I wanted to be known as the crazy guy who went around with the butterfly jar. And everyone would be mesmerized by her. That would be my thing.

But after I heard she was going around with Hugo, I wondered if that was just the way she was and she wasn’t being particularly friendly toward me. Maybe I was just reading too deep into things. I tried to pay more attention to Hugo’s locker room talk. How serious were they? Had he gotten to second base with her? Whatever I overheard, I’d have to assume he was exaggerating. If a guy says he slept with a girl, maybe there was oral or maybe they just made out long enough for him to get stiff. Most of the guys who say they’re getting laid are mostly only in circumstances where they could have gotten laid. It’s the quiet types that usually have the most actual action.

Myself being the exception.

Hugo was more on the quiet side but he exuberated over-confidence. He was a forward, usually used during the second half of games. He’d messed up my passes on at least two occasions. But he wound up scoring on both.

After practice one day, the guys were talking about cup sizes, as in girls’ cup sizes- obviously- not men’s. One of the midfielders asked Hugo, “What about Cindy? Wait, wait, lemme guess. D. Or is it all fluffy fillings?”

“Well first of all,” Hugo replied, “You shouldn’t speculate on things ain’t got nothing to do with you. But to answer your question, no, Bro, they are real.

“So what are they then?” asked my buddy Riley.

I interceded. “Riley! Shut the fuck up. The man said, it ain’t got nothing to do with any of you.”

“So it ain’t got nothing to do with you either.” Riley tilted his head at me, squinting his eyes inquisitively.

I could feel Hugo staring a hole through the back of my neck. He felt compelled to loudly agree with Riley. “No, it doesn’t!”

I wanted to say it was up to Cindy, not him, but if a fight broke out, odds were he’d beat me up, not the other way around, Cindy would be flattered but not inclined to date me, both Hugo and I would be suspended, wouldn’t be able to play our next game, the team would blame me, and obviously my aunt would kick me out of the house.

I slammed my locker door, pulled on my backpack and walked slowly toward the exit. Aware I could outrun the guy but not out-punch him, I turned around and said, “I guess I’ll just have to ask her and see.” Then I ran out the door. Toward my car. Naturally.

I drove to Meztli’s martial arts place. I walked in while she was kicking some instructor in the stomach. I needed to ask her for a favor, but now that I was there, I figured she could just as well be my bodyguard. So strong women care about me. No shame in that.

Meztli finished her round, grabbed a towel, wiped her face with it, and threw it at my face. “What do you want? I’m busy.”

“Girl you’re looking fine in that.”

“Get to the point Georgy-porgy.”

“Let me buy you dinner.”

“Ok but nothing fancy. And you can’t blog about it.”

How did she know about my blog?

Over burgers I told her more or less what locker room life was really like. Not the glamorous sweat shots she lusted after on ESPN. All the stuff they shut the mics off for.

“Those impotent jerks,” she said, tearing off another bite.

I had her where I needed her. “Anyway, not to make a long story short, but if you could find out what Cindy’s deal with Hugo is, I would owe you like, a thousand favors.”

“Like a million.”

“Like 500,000.”

“Like slave for life.”

“We’ll work out the details later.”

“We’ll work out the details now. Slave for life.”

“Slave for a week.”

“Slave til June.”

“Ok but I gotta throw in that my life may be in danger. And you may need to protect your assets.”

“It would be my pleasure.” She held out her hand to me to seal the deal.

She finished her burger and shake, asked for tiramisu and got another one to go.

As we left, she said, “I just remembered I need gas and don’t have gas money.”

I reached into my wallet and handed her a five.

“Thanks.” I walked her to her car in the dark. She got in and I lingered over her door as we talked about what an ass our English teacher was.

“Oh that reminds me,” she said, turning on the motor. “Cindy is single. She just went out on those two dates with Hugo because you never got around to asking her and she didn’t want to go alone.”

“What? How did you find out so quick?”

“I tutor her for English.”

“And you never told me?!?”

“Slave til June!” And she started backing up while I was still leaning on her door.




Growing Up George: Ch. 8 The Password

It wasn’t that Tío Jorge wasn’t in a chatty mood- he welcomed us into his office, where he apparently slept most nights. He picked up a stack of binders from his desk, put it on the floor, and sat on the edge of his desk. He asked us about our classes and if I was working for the mechanic I’d told him about. He asked Meztli about her parents and if her mom was still having back pain. He offered us leftover pizza.

“I eat it cold. I don’t mind. It tastes the same, just cold.”

Meztli made a gross face.

“But I can warm it up for you.”

“I’ll take a slice. Cold is fine,” I smirked and glanced at Meztli out of the corner of my eye.

“We just came over to ask you about this article we found at the university library.” She pulled out the brown damp paper from her backpack.

“Oh. You kids are diving into the deep end. You know, they say that what you don’t know can’t kill you, but I say that what you do know can get me in trouble.”

“What?” I asked.

He took the paper in his hands. “I promised your aunt I wouldn’t talk about this.”

“Is it about my mom?” I really didn’t want to know the obvious answer. It was actually my first time in his office. Meztli walked toward a bookcase and pulled down a framed picture with a very young version of my mom and aunt on it, hugging each other, wearing Mickey and Minnie Mouse ears.

“Did you take this picture, or did they give it to you?”

“I took it.” His phone rang. “Oh, excuse me kids, I have to take that.” He opened the office door and asked us to wait in the lobby. The sofas were old, worn leather and seemed to absorb our bodies into them.

Meztli put her legs up on the armrest and took a deep sigh. “Is he always like this?”

“Like- nice but kind of an ass?”

“Yeah. That.”

“I can’t say I know him all that well.”

“Haven’t you two known each other your whole life?”

“I don’t know. Have I? I can count my memories of him on one hand.”

Meztli plugged in her headphones and I scrolled through my phone’s WiFi networks. The firm’s network was probably the one called “ProSniper,” as it had the highest signal strength. I took a wild guess and typed in my mom’s name as the password with my year of birth.


“Did you say something?”

“I got into his WiFi.”


“Just did. Check it out.”

“Wait. Did you bring your laptop? Maybe we can hack into some of his legal files.”

“That’s probably a felony of some sort.” And No, Meztli, I do not have a laptop.

She took over my cell phone and I grabbed her headphones, turned the volume all the way up. “I was just trying to look at YouTube videos. Not get arrested.”

But whenever she got like that, I seized to exist. She was all passion and I didn’t even want to be her audience.

A song and a half went by on her phone when she pulled the headphones off of me. “He kicked us off!”

“You don’t have to yell.”

“I had been talking to you for like a minute. You didn’t hear anything I said. You never listen!”

Since when did I have to listen to girls I had no intention of ever dating?

“Good. We shouldn’t have been on there in the first place.”

“Don’t you want to know what happened to your mother?”

“Of course I want to know. But how’s hacking into his client files gonna help us?”

“He must have a ton of information on the murder case. Wouldn’t you?”

“Yeah. I suppose. Or I wouldn’t want anything to do with it. Besides, he’s a defense attorney. He wouldn’t have worked on this case. He wouldn’t have defended my mom’s murderer.”

“Sorry about that.” My uncle was standing right in front of us. “This guy ran over a homeless woman. She’s suing for 500,000. We’re trying to settle out of court but it’s going to trial this Monday.”

“Was he drunk?” I was curious.


“So about the newspaper article…” Meztli kept pushing her case.

“What newspaper article?”

“The one we brought into your office a few minutes ago.” She stood up and put both hands on her hips.

“I don’t remember any article.”

“Can we have the paper back?”

“Are you talking about a paperback novel?”

Things were getting tense.

My uncle wasn’t very tall- about my height- but towered above Meztli, and watching her trying to stare him down, in her fuzzy boots and fuchsia cardigan, with her Sailor Moon messenger bag across her body… Him in his big tough black suit, with a pair of stupid designer sunglasses pulled over his head, and his stubble beard that you just wanted to punch… It was all quite humorous if you stepped back and looked at it.

“Hey Tío, we’re sorry we broke into your WiFi. Thanks for the pizza. We really should be heading out now. But if you’re ever in the mood to talk about this, feel free to call me, any time, day or night.” I extended my hand toward him as a peace offering.

He scratched his head, flustered. “Of course, Son. Just, uhm, hey you know what- Let me make a photocopy for you. You know, you have the same demeanor as her. Your mother. She was always so- Well your aunt and I, we’d always argue about everything. Your mom was always trying to get us to-”

We had followed him back into the office. He put the paper against the flatbed and changed topics.

“So if you’re not working for the mechanic yet, maybe you’d like an internship here? You can choose your own hours.”

“Uh- well it’s not really my field.”

“Right. Just tell your aunt I said hello.” He handed me the photocopy. “And never ever show this to her. She’d shoot me.”

So I was finally starting to get the hang of this “Uncle” thing.

The ride back was short and boring. Meztli kept complaining about missing that one waterfall picture and how I hadn’t kept my promise. As I dropped her off, she said, “Hey, my dad’s looking for someone to help him with landscaping. You know, if you want to work for him.”

“Well that depends. Do you take after him?”

“Haha. Very funny. Come in; you can talk to him about it right now.”

“I can’t just walk in and ask a guy I hardly know for a job.”

“Then maybe just fix his lawn mower. He’ll pay you.”