Tag Archives: stories

Growing Up George: Ch. 7 The Missing Drink

Autumn in the Potato Falls district comes more chilly than in most parts of the country. There were already patches of white lining the slopes beside the straight wide roads that seemed to disappear into a horizon of mauve ashes. Some of those shortcuts into the woods would be shut down in a few weeks. By then all the fires northwest of here would have been put out.

In order to test our research and collaboration skills, Meztli and I had been given the most unimaginative assignment in Journalism ever. She herself turned out to be highly developed in the aforementioned skill set, while lacking in the latter. I guess you could say we were like Lois Lane and Clark Kent, except I couldn’t fly, didn’t wear glasses and there was no chemistry between us. I picked her up one Saturday to head toward the campus library at the university, which she said had public newspaper records dating much further back than the ones at our small barrio library.

As I took the back roads to avoid traffic, she kept asking me to slow down to take pictures of the landscapes.

“What do you do with all those anyway? Instagram?”

“No. I just.” Then she trailed off into her own quiet world again. She was playing Coldplay off her phone speaker and singing all the chorus parts when we passed a waterfall, I’d say about two stories high, right off the side of the road.

“Hey! Slow down! I didn’t get a picture of it!”

“This is already gonna take us all day.”

“Why didn’t you warn me it was coming up?”

I hate it when girls raise their voice for no reason. “…I didn’t know I was supposed to warn you.”

“Well go back.”

“We’ll pass it on our way back.”

“Ok. But you better promise,” she whined.

“Or else what?”

“I’ll tell Cindy you’re in love with her.”

I felt myself blush. “What makes you think I am?”

The end of the song “Yellow” was coming up. She ignored my question and rolled down her window. The brisk icy breeze swept in and blew some strands of her hair against my right arm.

“It’s true,” she sang to the crop fields. “Look how they shine for you…”

‘Ok. Whatever,’ I thought to myself. But if Meztli, whom I’d only known for about a month, had noticed my crush on Cindy, I could just as well assume everyone else had noticed it as well.

The song ended. “Are you asking her to homecoming?” she asked.

“What’s homecoming?”

Meztli laughed at my reply. She had this contagious, heartfelt, warm laugh but rarely seemed relaxed enough to share it with anyone.

After proving we were relatively local high school students and being given access to the archives, Meztli took over speed reading and sorting, assigning me the menial task of photocopier. A couple hours went by like this when she asked me to go get her a latte.

“I don’t think you’re allowed to drink in here.”

“Just sneak it in your backpack. Here,” she pulled out a money purse with a scene from the anime Death Note printed on it. “Buy yourself something too.”

I ignored her generous gesture altogether, emptied my backpack and headed toward the elevator. As I waited there, I complained, “We’re gonna get kicked out. Watch, we’ll be banned and your college application’s gonna be rejected. With giant red letters. REJECT.”

She laughed again, but this laugh had more of an evil undertone. “What makes you think I’m applying to come here?”

I was still in line at the cafe when she texted me: “Hurry up. I have to show you something.”

“I’m still in line.” SEND.

“Make it a double,” she replied. “Urgent matter requires your immediate attention.”

“4 people ahead of me.” SEND

My phone vibrated again: “Ask them for the chocolate swirl thing. And HURRY.”

Our assignment was to collect statistical data on complaints about air quality. Even if she had found a lawsuit filed against the government in the 50’s, it could hardly merit the excitement she was ensuing.

I ordered her the latte, unaware that it was twice as expensive as the ones back home. I even asked them to put one of those chocolate graham straws. When they told me the total I had to cancel my own drink. There is this saying, that there is more happiness in giving than in receiving… I can’t say I always get that.

When I came out of the elevator, she walked up to me and held up an unfolded newspaper in front of my face. The date was July 27th, 1996. The headline read, “Lara Murder Remains Unsolved.”

I grasped the paper out of her hand as she pulled off my back pack. I tumbled over to the nearest seat. The article- I can still see the print now clearly as if it were right here before my eyes-  stated:

“Potato Falls sheriff Mark Credenza issued a statement yesterday in which he gave a timeline of the events that probably led up to the death and apparent murder of local Hispanic woman, Angelica Lara. The body of Ms. Lara was recently found in the county dump by a scavenger entrepreneur who has asked to remain unnamed. Her family reported her missing on June 16th after she did not return home from her high school graduation celebration events. Friends say they saw her enter a vehicle at about 9 PM that evening- the vehicle belonging to her ex-boyfriend, who is currently being questioned regarding the case. Ms. Lara is believed to have been sober and not under the influence of any other substance, but an autopsy has yet to prove otherwise. The body has visible marks of distress, though authorities anticipate the results of the autopsy will be mostly uninformative because of the time that has elapsed. Ms. Lara’s disappearance led some classmates to misinform investigators that she had ran away from home, while close friends have affirmed that would have been entirely out of character for her. She is survived by an older sister and son of six months.”

“You didn’t order a drink?” Meztli’s voice had some sort of out-of-body intercom type effect to it.

“Huh?”

“You didn’t get yourself anything at the cafe?”

“I drank it on the way over here. …Meztli, where’d you find this paper?”

“With all the other ones. Hard to miss. You know, cause of your last name and it’s the Sunday paper and all that.”

“You think this is about my mom?”

“Was your mom’s name Angelica?”

“Yeah.”

“So what’s the population there, like, 1000?”

“1,080.”

“So what are the odds of there, like, being two Angelica Lara’s murdered the same year in Potato Falls?”

I clenched my teeth and hater her. I hated Meztli with all my might that instant, but for reasons far beyond me. I didn’t want to punch her or anything, I just wanted to concentrate my hate and fear of my past and ignorance on someone, and right then and there, she was someone.

She must’ve noticed something in my face because she put her hand on my shoulder, leaned in and whispered, “You deserved the truth.”

Our eyes met behind my held-back tears, and the hug that followed numbed my hate, at least for a moment.

“Whoops.” She had spilled some of her latte on the paper. “We should probably take it with us anyway.”

“NO,” I protested, but she stuffed it in my backpack along with all the photocopies, and headed toward the elevator.

“Come on,” she looked over her shoulder, “Let’s go ask Tío Jorge about this.”

 

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Growing Up George: Ch. 4 The Funeral

“So, you’re seriously not going to the funeral?” I asked my aunt as she tried for the third time to fix the tie around my neck.

“I told you. I haven’t decided yet.”

“Well it’s in half an hour. So now might be a good time to decide.” She pulled the knot really tight around my neck, turned around and walked out the room. Grandma rushed to my rescue. She pulled the whole thing off and then walked me through the steps one by one.

“Así, ira, así…” Like this, look, like this. I looked in the mirror and she complemented my looks. “Ira no más que guapo.” Then she pulled the whole tie off again and made me do it myself.

The funeral I was going to was that of Tío Ben’s, my dad’s brother. I don’t remember ever meeting the guy. Supposedly I did for a few months when I was a baby. What happened after that, I’m sketchy on the details. I guess no one wanted to see me after my parents died.

“Tía Matty, I’m gonna get a ride from Tío Jorge so if you wanna show up later you can take the car.”

She yelled back from the kitchen. “Oh really? I can use my own car? That’s so nice of you George. Thank you for letting me use my own car.”

“Dude, that’s not what I meant.” A rubber chancla flew by my head.

“Pendejo, no voy a ir.” Dumbass, I’m not going. “And I’ve told you a thousand times not to call me dude.”

“Well I don’t like being called ‘pendejo.'”

“Did I ask you what you like?”

I rolled my eyes and ducked. I knew she swatted at me every time I rolled my eyes at her. “I’m just gonna wait for Tío Jorge outside.”

“Go do that.”

I waited by the curb so the Navigator wouldn’t push a cloud of dust all over me coming down the dirt driveway. I must have been standing there like fifteen minutes. Should I text him? Should I call because he’s probably driving? But then I’d have to talk to him and I didn’t know what to say. I looked at my phone. Ten minutes til. Zero messages. What’s the point of even going or trying to get to know my other side of the family if I was obviously not that important to them? I texted, “Hey, you coming for me?” but was deliberating on whether or not to hit send when my aunt’s station wagon covered me in a cloud of dust speeding down the driveway.

“Hey, I just came out here to tell you your uncle’s running late.”

“You couldn’t walk or call me?”

“I brought you the car menso.”

“I don’t even know if I wanna go anymore.”

“Listen, George,” she said getting out of the car, “I know there’s a lot of things I haven’t been able to explain to you over the years, a lot of gaps in your life I haven’t been able to fill. You didn’t have the childhood you were supposed to have and there’s been a lot of important people missing. But I did not pay for that suit rental just to have you skip out on that funeral.” She shoved me into the driver’s seat and slammed the door.

The church was on the classier side of the barrio. There was a police car there. A black Porsche. A green El Camino and a pick-up truck with a landscaping logo on it. I guess turn out wasn’t amazing. I wondered if my uncle Jorge was showing up or not. Maybe he hadn’t found the right suit to rent. Yeah, right.

But he was already in there, waiting for me. He fixed my tie and walked down to the front with me, saying “Sorry I didn’t pick you up. I had to stop by my client’s- it was an emergency-”

“Ah don’t sweat it, I’m here ain’t I?”

“These are your other uncles, Freddy and Manolo. Their wives and daughters.”

“Mucho gusto.” Pleased to meet you.

“How are we related?” I whispered in uncle Jorge’s ear.

“My grandmother had a son from her first marriage, your Tío Juan Miguel, who married a woman who was already the mother of Freddy at the time, and Manolo is his first cousin.”

“Sorry I asked.”

“Yeah, me too.”

There was another man I was not introduced to who wouldn’t stop staring at me. There was a cop sitting next to him. “Who’s that?” I whispered.

“The cop?”

“No, the other guy.”

“That’s your uncle Pablo.”

“Distant or blood related?”

“He’s my brother.”

There was an open casket and I went to pay my respects before the mass started. The guy was about fifty, though the pamphlet on the podium next to the casket placed him at thirty-seven. He had large eyes, I could tell, though they were closed. A skinny face and broad shoulders, kinda short, but a medium build. Black hair with silver streaks and a scar down the left side of his forehead. They had dressed him in a black shirt, ivory suit and gold tie. The dress shoes looked brand new. He emanated anger. At least that’s what it felt like to me. So much for rest in peace.

The pamphlet talked about how he’d graduated from Potato Falls High (that was my school), been engaged and had a son. Outlived by a son and two brothers. He was “friendly and charismatic, left a lasting impression on all who met him.” Well he hadn’t left one on me, that’s for sure. Lifetime: 1975-2012.

I looked around the people in the church. Some neighbors had trickled in and were kneeling, toward the back rows. Probably just religious folk who came there every day to pray for those of us who don’t. No kids though. Apparently, my uncle Ben didn’t leave a lasting impression on his son, either.

Growing Up George: Ch. 1 The Headline

“George. George. My car’s making that sound again.”

Now I love my Aunt Matty but 6AM on a Sunday???

“Can you check it before I go to church?”

I rolled over and covered my head with my pillow.

“Were you going to go with me today, George? George? I know you’re awake.”

“No I’m not.”

“Come have breakfast.”

Aunt Matty, at her forty years of age, was full of energy, but her long silver hair made some ask if she was my grandma. She took me in after my parents died, though I’ve always been somewhat unclear on the details. She never really had boyfriends, and sometimes she openly told me she hated men, so she was gonna try to keep me a boy for as long as possible.

However there are some things that at sixteen a boy just cannot ask his aunt and at breakfast that morning I found myself cautiously trying climb up my family tree.

“Didn’t Dad have no brothers?”

“Whadd’ya wanna go knowin’ that for?”

“It’s just you never talk about it.”

“They’re all dead.”

“How many were there?”

“Three.”

“Including Dad?”

“Look George. I could lie and tell you your dad was an air force pilot and he died for all our freedoms and all that romantic crap. That ain’t what happened. You ever seen any uncles pull up to our house in their Bentleys looking for their long lost nephew?”

“Well, no- I just-”

“Then you don’t have none.”

“Well they ain’t gotta be rich. I could use a regular one just the same.”

“As far as you’re concerned, I’m your dad and your uncles and your ma all rolled into one.”

“That’s fine Aunt Matty. I didn’t mean to-”

“You going to church?”

This woman thinks I’m the Flash expecting me to fix her car and clean up in time for the 9 AM service. “I’ll try to make the afternoon service.”

That afternoon, I ended up at the library. I hadn’t been able to fix her car and I resorted to YouTube. Did I mention we didn’t have internet at home? Well we didn’t. My aunt said it would have disturbed the spirit of peace in our house but looking back I think we just couldn’t afford it. That’s the thing about growing up poor. A lot of times you don’t know you’re poor unless other kids point it out, and I wasn’t the type to openly share that information.

So there I was, looking at “car videos” when I stumble upon the city’s newspaper site. Main headline: “Parole Panel Delays Decision in Ballesteros Murder Case.” I didn’t care much for criminal law. But my last name was Ballesteros. At least it had been, originally, back in grade school. Then my aunt had it legally changed because the other kids were making weird comments like “Don’t mess with George, he’ll have you sniped,” and “You know where my brother can buy stardust?” Things that suddenly made sense upon reading the article, because this Ballesteros, whoever he was, had given my father and uncles a bad name.

Still, I thought if I could talk to him, maybe he’d have the answers my aunt didn’t want to give me.