Juan of Words

Más Sabe El Diablo Por Viejo Que Por Diablo

The Devil Knows More From Old Age Than From Being The Devil

The devil: El diablo

One day I’d be somebody. One day I’d make enough money to stop wanting what everyone else had.  One day my day would come, and it’d be shiny and new, expensive, cherry red, big, with lots of rooms, a pool in the backyard, flashy, classy, the works, like those people in the telenovelas, just like the two and three story mansions in River Oaks we’d go trick or treating at every Halloween.  Racing to beat each other to the next house, grabbing handfuls of entire candy bars of chocolate, throwing them in our plastic bags of grocery stores like Fiesta and Krogers, pushing each other, fighting, laughing, and finally racing back to Pera and her van to hold our bags up in the air, measuring to see who had gotten the most candies.  On the drive back my brothers and I would stuff ourselves with as many sweets as we could before my father would make us sit on the dining room table, sifting out even the most partially-opened candies.

You see, every year the noticias would report that kids were dying, or at risk of dying, from eating sweets layered or injected with poison.  For my parents that meant anyone of us could drop to the floor and become unconscious, maybe even die, at any given moment: Ay Dios mio! Socorro! Auxilio! Alguien ayudenos por favor!  They’d tell us that we might not be able to go trick or treating this year, but we’d beg and plead until they conceded, under the strict condition that we not place any of the candy in our mouths until we made it back and let them make sure it was okay to eat.  We weren’t kids anymore – we were in middle school now, my youngest brother about to finish his elementary education – and we had never heard of any kids dying from eating Halloween candy, so what they didn’t know couldn’t hurt them, we thought.  That became our excuse for everything: hurry up, we’re almost there; let me have one of those; I’ll trade you for this one; hurry up before we get home! 

Money was the only way to make it to the other side of poor.  That’s what I’d always seen, and it did appear the grass was much greener on the other side, at least from my perspective as a guerco tonto too big-mouthed and closed-minded for my own good.

When we’d go to The Galleria, people with money, even those from Mexico who barely spoke a lick of English, blonde and blue eyed, not brown and dark, even a few dark ones who were wealthy, were treated with respect, waited on, hand and foot, greeted at the entrance of boutiques, showered with compliments, spoken to with dignity.  No dirty looks, no being chased around stores, no feeling less than equal.  My clothes by comparison were ratty and old.  Whitewashed jeans, Payless shoes, scruffy hair, shirts and pants too tight for my growing body, both up and sideways.  After three years in our new lives, we still had nothing.  Our apartment number was different, but the furniture and everything else inside it, including our family, was still the same, the only thing that had changed was our view of our world.  The innocent kid who’d lie in bed promising my mother a shiny new dress and house to go along with it was gone, in his place a shoplifting son who everyday became more a criminal.  I’d tired of seeing them struggle, depending on faith to see us through, angry at the world, I’d decided the things I wanted would be mine.  And they were!  Only I hadn’t realized what the cost of them would be, or how just being me would get in the way of taking stuff.

One day I just couldn’t do it anymore.  My day never came, it still hasn’t, but we did make it out of Bali Hai Apartments.  By then, I’d seen enough, lived enough, struggled enough, to know whatever I had, or did not have, was not enough to change who I am.

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