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By C.J. Salgado

It was not what I expected, a day at the beach, waiting for the sunset.

The day before, my grandfather arrived at our front patio after being picked up at the airport, wearing a sheepskin jacket, stubbly faced, looking frail and gaunt, but with a big smile when he heard my voice greet him at the door.

“Hijo, eres tu?” He said, extending his arms out toward my voice.

I responded it was I and asked how he was. Fine, he said, still kicking. He then asked about my mother.

I hadn’t seen him in years. I’d heard he’d been sick in Mexico and thought about asking him what that was all about. Instead, I just accepted he was well enoImage for Storyugh to make the trip like always. Still, he was an old man now, weak, and, unlike the memories of my youth, a shadow of his former self, a horseman from Mexico.

We’d be spending the next day together before he’d have to leave to visit other relatives in California. As we chatted over dinner I asked him what he wanted to do the next day. Picnic at Santa Monica beach, he said. After dinner I rushed to the grocery store to get the snacks he’d asked for. Along the way, as I stared at his shopping list, I puzzled at his requests.

I had trouble picturing this charro from the small village of Caratacua, Mexico, dressed in botas, sarape, sombrero, and tapabalazos, at the beach. He was far from that village where he grew up, where he rode his horse through the hills of the family ranch, Xaratanga, herding sheep or cattle for a good part of the first half of the 20th century.

Early on he took to herding livestock from Mexico’s Tierra Caliente, a wild, remote, and hot corner of the Pacific coast state of Michoacán, back to Caratacua. The Hot Land was a tropical, fertile place that grew avocados and melons. But it was also a dangerous place most would avoid. Extreme heat and drenching humidity halted many travelers, and bandits or jaguars pounced on unsuspecting travelers and livestock.

Yet feeding his growing family pushed him on. To him it became a commute; his travel companion was a Mauser rifle, always at his side. He regularly made the trek of over 50 miles into the Hot Land to buy cheaper livestock that he could sell for a profit in Caratacua.

His branding iron design, a stylized “A,” became a common sight on local livestock, particularly on cattle. He liked to keep the best of the bulls to breed on his ranch, giving them names like “Billete” (money bill) and “Cajera” (cashier).

But breeding cattle wasn’t enough to get by with a large family, so he contracted for temporary farm work in the United States under the Bracero program. He traveled many times back and forth between Caratacua and the United States, leaving his family for months at a time but always returning, bringing gifts, money, and stories.

Perhaps no one more eagerly anticipated his returns to the ranch than my mother. He must have known because he’d faithfully bring dresses, jewelry, and Quaker Oats from the U.S. for his little girl. He discovered many new things in the U.S., which he’d share when back home.

While he was away in the United States, he also sent letters home every three months to the nearby towns of Tiríndaro or Comanja, which had post offices. He included $50 or $100 in a sealed envelope to be picked up by his wife or eldest son. That didn’t sound like much money, but it was hard earned and saved while working the agricultural fields of the United States.

He started working early in life and knew the value of money. When he was a boy, the railroad first came to Caratacua. Surveyors used dynamite to blast a path for the tracks. Local workers were hired to hand-carry away the rocks. Many died. But he worked alongside his father, Papá Camento, his strong arms moving countless stones for 18 cents a day.

So the day after he arrived in Los Angeles I drove him to the beach, and we sat on the sand, side by side staring out into the water. As I unpacked the cooler we took with us to the beach, I wondered how my grandfather could be such a happy man with such a hard life.

In his youth he was known as a handsome man, well dressed, and charismatic. My mother would tell me stories of how, as a little girl, she’d accompany him on walks from the ranch to the nearby town of Comanja for fresh bread. Local girls would soon be abuzz over him, and she’d be red with jealousy that they’d dare to take away his attention.

He wasn’t shy about having fun, too. My mother thought it scandalous that he would dance la botella with Doña Timotea, instead of with his wife, at community dances. Yes, my grandmother was not a dancer but that shouldn’t have been reason for him to dance with others. At least that’s how my mother felt.

You would never think that he was a man who believed the world would end with the coming of the second millennium. However, in the early 1940s, the ParícutinVolcano in the nearby town of Uruapan erupted with a fury not unlike the dynamite blasting of his youth. Although it was not the volcano that ultimately drove him to the U.S., it did change things.

For years, stones, ash, and lava covered the region. Many people left. My grandfather resisted abandoning his ranch. He continued to farm the land. But the volcano left its mark on those who remained. For years to come, he and his older sons would taste the volcano. As they worked the fields, they would collect limillas, a sour fruit from a shrub found in the fields, as a substitute for lemons to mix in their water cans with salt and chili. For years, the fruit was coated with ash from the volcano.

After a bit of just quietly sitting on the beach listening to the surf, I laid out the sandwiches, Twinkies, and Coke cans. I thought of what we’d talk about now, a little worried.

My grandfather took off his hat, closed his eyes, reclined his back, and began to speak unrushed, obviously enjoying the warmth that fell on his calm and smiling face. Relieved, I would ask a question here and there. But mostly he’d talk, stopping occasionally to sip his Coke. I had never really noticed that white “wave” on the Coke can until he held it up that day. He talked about his life in Mexico and his many trips to El Norte, as he called it.

Being a bracero was not easy, he said. Yes, he’d earn a few dollars a day but he was at the mercy of the harvest season, moved from one place to another like a farm implement, as needed. Housed with dozens of other such men, the canvas beds reeked of the sweat of countless bodies too tired after ten to twelve hours of daily labor to care. His back would ache and not want to straighten, a short-handled hoe to blame.

Yet, that he did not regret his travels was evident as he spoke. He provided for his family, left in a ranch in a little village in rural Mexico. Now his family had followed him out to El Norte and spread from coast to coast, he beamed, starting with a bold daughter that he could now visit in his old age.

I remember the calm of his smiling face in the light of that afternoon as the sunset fell so beautifully on the beach. But then I could also picture him an elegant charro on horseback, and as a bracero, working the soil with his strong arms that always carried home gifts to share.

I never saw him again after he returned to Mexico. He died of cancer, peacefully, I’m told. Just before the end of the millennium, he passed. Years later, I went to Mexico to visit his grave, to thank him for our last day and say my goodbye. He is buried in the land of his youth, mixed back into the soil, stones, and ashes upon which he first toiled.

___

 

C.J. Salgado grew up in East Los Angeles. An avid reader, his first job was working for a library. After serving in the military and going to college, he went on to pursue aC. J. Salgado professional
career in radiation physics. His interest include blogging about issues and events affecting the local community; exploring new places near and afar; pondering novel ideas; and watching science fiction and action movies.
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By Milton Alex Chi

It is another sunny day in southern California. While walking down the pier I can feel the cool ocean breeze and smell the hot dogs and cotton candy. I feel thirsty all of a sudden and I crave a tall glass of ice cold orange soda. Kids are running around excited about going on the rides. Along the beach I can see people laying on their towels working on their golden California tans. Beyond the pier I see a few sail boats slowly glide across the blue ocean.

It was late 2009 when I first started to get headaches and started feeling out of sorts.

I figured it was just temporary and it would go away eventually but it did not. Then I noticed a small bump on the right side of my neck, sort of like a pimple, which I thought was strange.Image for Story

The headaches continued and the bump on the right side of my neck kept growing. I was able to feel it now like a small pea. In a few weeks it was the size of a lemon. In February 2010 I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I went to the hospital the following Monday to start chemotherapy.

The first week I felt no side effects but as the treatments increased soon came nausea, vomiting, dizzy spells, joint and body aches, flu-like symptoms, etc. I could no longer work and had to apply for disability. Without work, I couldn’t pay my mortgage and bills. The bank foreclosed on the house and gave me thirty days to vacate the property. My brother lived in a two bedroom apartment so I ended up moving in with him.

Six months later I felt better. The doctor gave me a release letter to go back to work. When I called my employer I was told that my position had been eliminated. I updated my resume and asked my former bosses and co-workers if they heard of any openings. Five months later I started a new job. It was quite a commute but I was thankful to have a job nonetheless.

Then in October, 2013 they again found some tumors, this time under my right arm. A battery of tests showed that the Lymphoma had returned. I started chemotherapy again. The weekend after the last treatment I felt really sick. My head throbbed, my body ached and I had no energy. I wasn’t sure what it was. I drove myself to the hospital and checked my self in; I had a fever of 108.

I was there a few days. They could not give me any antibiotics until they found what type of virus I had. The fever was not going down. They had me in a tub with ice and cold blankets; in the meantime the flu turned into pneumonia. My blood pressure was really high and my body was going through shock. I was having a hard time breathing. They had no choice but to induce a coma in order to connect me to all the machines and to get oxygen to my brain and help me breathe.

While I was in the coma, they determined that I had caught the H1N1 virus; also know as “swine flu,” a human respiratory infection caused by an influenza strain that started in pigs. I was on strong antibiotics and oxygen, had an IV on my arm, a heart monitor, and a tube in my stomach where I was being fed, and a tracheotomy, as well.

My body was shutting down. The doctors were giving up and they were getting ready to unplug me from the respirator. They advised my family and friends to come and say their goodbye as they thought I would not make it through the night.

Everyone came; they made a circle around my bed and as they held hands they thanked God for my life and prayed for my health. I remember then being lifted from the bed. It was like I had wings beneath me and as they flapped they reflected a silver light with a white glow. I felt the air flowing under me as I rose.

I looked down and saw the nurses and my family around my bed. Then all of a sudden everything turned dark. My spirit returned to my body and I was back in bed. Still unconscious, I had a lot of nightmares and sweet dreams during that period. I dreamed I was walking on the Santa Monica Pier and it was a hot summer day, which was something I hadn’t done in years.

At my bedside, my brother didn’t know what to do so he called my oncologist for his opinion. He told my brother to tell the doctors that they should give me a few more days. My body was fighting. Soon the fever started to go down slowly and I improved.

A few days passed. I stabilized. Then I heard voices and I opened my eyes for the first time in weeks. I looked around. I was alone in a room; I had no idea where I was, what day it was or what time it was. I tried to move and could not. My arms where strapped to the bed and I could not speak. I was paralyzed from the neck down. I could only move my head and my eyes. The nurses came in and asked me a few questions. My family arrived and asked if I recognized everyone. All I could do was nod. They told me what had happened and that I had been in a coma for about two months.

I was told that while I was in my coma I had a lot of visitors: my family, friends, church members and co-workers. Some came to read books or the Bible and held my hand in prayer. They told me that my aunt had come to sing to me a hymn -“Because He Lives”- and that by the time she finished tears were rolling down my cheeks. She asked the nurse if she had done something wrong. The nurse said that it was a good sign; I was reacting to her singing and my blood pressure had gone down. Then the nurse asked my aunt if she could go and sing for another patient on the floor and she did.

A couple of friends created a blog for me on “Caringbridge” where they kept everyone informed of my condition. People wrote their comments on this site as well. The last time I checked there were over six thousands hits on this blog.

One of the nurses told me that I might never walk again. After a couple of weeks they sent me to another hospital with a respiratory facility where they helped me breathe on my own. I was transferred to another hospital where they provided physical therapy and speech therapy. Every time my family came to visit they would massage my legs, feet and arms trying to reactivate the nerves. I believe that the massages and prayers really helped my recovery.

Slowly I started to move my fingers, then hands, arms and feet. One day three nurses tried to help me stand from the wheelchair. My legs gave way. I was too weak. But the physical therapy continued and after a while I could move a little. The speech therapist helped me learn to speak again.

So it was that within three months, I had learned to function again as a human being.

When they saw my progress they sent me home; my insurance, they said, would no longer be covering my stay, and I could continue my physical therapy at another hospital. I was released on July 7th,2014; in a wheelchair.

I kept the physical therapy. They taught me how to walk with a cane and how to go up and down stairs. Within five months I was able to walk slowly on my own. My first trip was to Marie Calendar’s for a slice of pie.

Now I walk and talk and drive. I’m looking for a job, and, as you can see, I’m writing. I am staying with my brother until I get back on my feet again. I threw a party for my friends and family who stood by my bed.

But there is one thing left to do.

So today, the forecast calls for highs in the 90’s. I am at the Santa Monica pier. The fresh cool air brushes my face. My shoes are off so I can feel the sand between my toes. I look at the seagulls flying overhead. I will have that ice cold orange soda now.

____

Milton Alex Chi was born in El Salvador, the son of a Salvadoran mother and Chinese-immigrant father, who together ran a store and a restaurant. His family left El Salvador during that country’s civil war and he has resided in the Los Angeles area for more than 40 years. He has always wanted to write and he feels grateful and honored to be able to share his life tale in this book.
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By Sarah Alvarado

________

I don’t want to go to my Dad’s house.

I can’t pinpoint why.

I always feel guilty when I don’t want to go. I feel guilty about a lot of things. I am guilt-ridden beyond my years. But I need to be present for Dad. Sometimes I need to be present for Mom. Today it’s Dad.

He called yesterday, and the day before that, and even before that. He confirmed and reconfirmed our plans. He wanted to be certain. We have plans. He’s so excited that we have plans. I’m going to go down there. We are going to see Straight Outta Compton: Me, him and my brother. It’s gonna be great. Our high regard for ’90s rap music is something we can easily talk about. We can remember way back when this song or that came out and where we were living and how great it was.

I liked the ’90s. I was a kid. The world felt amazing, I was born in the best state in the U.S.A. and the U.S.A. was the best country on earth. I liked going to my school, I liked reading, and I liked that our school library had a machine that would dispense a cool pencil for a quarter. I had plans every day after school; there was a solid block of cartoons on TV and I could rotate between channel 11 and channel 5. If Mom said it was okay, a neighborhood kid (there were plenty) could come in and watch TV with me. My family’s video collection was the envy of the block. We had a big TV, a VCR and a rewinder! No waiting to rewind stuff in my house of the future. I had tons of books. I had toys too – a Nintendo! Mom made a real dinner every day. My siblings knew I was the boss because I was the oldest. Life was good.

Rather, life was good most of the time. Every so often the ground underneath me would shift. Like an animal sensing an encroaching natural disaster, I could sense things as I opened the door. Trouble was on the way. Mom would seem that much more nervous. Dad would seem that much more removed. I had seconds to decide; where was I going to hide? Should I stand my ground? Was it going to be fight or flight?

Then it would begin – Dad slurs his words just slightly. Or he keeps repeating what he’s saying. Or he asks you to keep repeating what you’re saying. Then, craaaaap, he’s drunk. I feel the anxiety in me, heartbeat revving. My parents are going to fight right … now. Part of me wishes Mom would pretend he wasn’t drunk. If she could pretend, I could pretend. We can all pretend that this is not going to be the most uncomfortable, sad, ugly situation we will have this week. Then we can make it through the night. It can be over. But no. He stumbles. He laughs. He is the most annoying person in the world when he drinks. Mom is mad. She can’t take it anymore. His drinking is out of his control. He has a problem. If it’s a weekday, he’s probably going to stare at you incredulously as though you’re the crazy one for calling him out on his drinking. If it’s a weekend he might get violent. It’s never quite clear until it’s too late whether I, as the oldest, will be banished or called to the beast. Sometimes I try to keep the peace because I know he won’t hit me.

I would wish my hardest, the way only a child can, that Dad would stop drinking. My heart once crumbled when he bitterly burned the last $20 dollars of his check on the stove while my Mom cried hysterically in the background. That single $20 bill was all that was left to feed a family of four for a week; the rest had been spent in the span of three hours on one drunken Friday payday night. It was terrible on the nights we had to go looking for him, but worse on the nights when we had to run away.

Crap. Now I’m lost. As many times as I have journeyed to my dad’s small domicile in San Bernardino County, the route should be ingrained in my brain. I should be able to drive there instinctively, like a salmon that can drive a car. But I can’t. My mind is swimming in the memories of the ’90s and my mouth is singing along to Boyz-N-The-Hood on K-Day. I have overshot my destination by a great deal. I’m not at the tip of San Bernardino where I should be; I’m en route to the heart of it.

I hate San Bernardino. Driving into it, the landscape fills me with melancholy. The big, dusty roads are sad and barren. The loneliness I feel as I stare at the empty sidewalks burrows into my heart’s center. I have the impression that no one ends up living in San Bernardino by choice. Being banished from Los Angeles is a harsh reality that many people have come to terms with. I hope I am never one of them.

I feel cramped. My thighs are sweaty. Despite the double protection of the windshield and my jeans, my legs are pierced by the heat. The sun burns my forearms. The a/c is on, but the only relief it delivers goes to the exact area at which the vents are pointed. The rest of the vessel is an inferno. The dirt caked onto the windshield adds to the whole Mad Max-ish, dystopian feel that is: Driving To San Bernardino. I’m thirsty. I hate this drought. I hate being lost. And I hate San Bernardino. Everywhere is dusty and alone and sad but here I am, because I love my dad. My dad knows what it is to be San Bernardino. He knows what it is to be alone and sad.

Finally I’m here. Dad isn’t ready; actually Dad’s not here. My brother is.

“Dad’s gone out to the store but he’ll be back.”

Okay. And now I have to wait. Oh. Here’s dad. He seems tired, groggy. It must be the sun, poor Dad has been walking in this goddam heat. Well- let’s get in the car – let’s go to the Ontario Mills Mall – let’s make a day of this!

Dad’s in the front. As I’m easing back onto the freeway, he asks me, “How’s it going?”

Crap.

“Things have been gooood…,” I reply, cautiously.

Too late – I feel it – the anxiety. Fight or flight. I’m trying to give him the benefit of the doubt. It’s hot. People get dehydrated. Now we’re in the ticket line with the NWA fans, the families seeing Inside Out, and others seeing who knows what – we are in the stagnant, hot, ugly San Bernardino sun. It’s more obvious now, in the bold of midday. I can’t ignore this. Dad is drunk. I’m pissed. I don’t know what to do.

He knew we were going to see this movie. He knows I hate when he gets like this. And yet here he is, with no regard for my feelings, my spent gas and money, his health, or movie-going etiquette. This is what addiction does.

I can’t punish my brother for my dad’s terrible judgment. I tell Dad that he’s not fooling anyone. He has to have water and coffee and he has to straighten up. He accepts this. He does not apologize. I feel like I’m being punished because I’m angry as you-know-where and I’m doling out money for coffee and water because he had to drink. He had to drink even though we made a plan. Him having a drink this morning was not part of the plan. I survive the serpentine Starbucks line and make my way back to where I see him slouching in the over-crowded food court. He seems annoyed that I bought him a regular, hot coffee and not a foozy-woozy whipped sugar mess like I bought for my brother, and not a cool ice tea I ordered for me. I bite my tongue. I tell him, “It’s for your own good,” instead of “This is not a goddam treat.”

An hour or so passes by. Dad has sobered up. We file into the theater. The elation that movie-going should bring is absent. I’m just relieved to have a few hours in the a/c and time where I don’t have to look at or talk to him. I’m still mad. The movie starts and I see an era being re-enacted before me. This movie is not about my life …but it feels like it is. I remember the rap music that was playing everywhere when I was a kid. I remember watching Rodney King, and the L.A. Riots that followed, from the safety of my suburban living room. I remember the hairstyles and the clothes, just like those of the people from my old neighborhood, decades ago. So much has changed since then. So much hasn’t.

Walking into the lobby after leaving the theater, I’m haunted by the portrayal of Eazy-E’s death. It’s hard to watch a life be taken by a disease. My thoughts turn to Dad and the recognition that his own disease will also likely be his end; either by accident or by a slow, ugly poisoning of the organs.

In the car, then, we discuss whether we should stop for dinner. Dad teases me for being a vegetarian and I laugh. I ask Dad if he ever had a Taco Bell Bell Beefer and he wonders why it was ever taken off the menu. The Humpty Dance starts to play on the radio and I tell Dad about the time Digital Underground performed said dance on channel 11. Dad starts to tell me about a different Fox performance he saw, a live taping of Married With Children. I smile, because this is one of my favorite stories. I’m glad I came.

by

Sarah Alvarado

Sarah Alvarado is a San Gabriel Valley native who enjoys reading, writing, and embracing the obscure. This is her first published work.

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By Jacqueline Gonzalez Reyes

The summer of 2009 I spent in Houston working with janitors as they fought to renew a union contract. IMG_6637 - Version 3

That July 4th, local pastors held a press conference supporting the janitors. Several union janitors were asked to attend.

That’s when I met Carmen Sanchez. I picked her up and drove her to the event. Carmen was our shortest member, in her sixties, direct, well groomed. She was from Chihuahua, Mexico. She was always at union events. She’d been a janitor for 12 years.

That afternoon, driving her home, my car got a flat tire. I called AAA, but it was clear that due to the holiday help would be a long time coming.

So it was that I found myself with Carmen Sanchez in the middle of downtown Houston on July 4th.

I thought I’d just get Carmen a cab and have her on her way home. But she refused.

“I don’t have anyone waiting for me at home,” she said.

That day, Houston dripped with humidity. She took out a jug of ground-oatmeal water.

“This water saves lives.”

I smiled and drank.

“Whenever it gets this unbearable, I go to my nearest department store and cool off,” she said. “We’re just blocks away from JC Penney. You want to go?”

Sure, I said. AAA was going to call when their truck was on its way.

We walked to Carmen’s JC Penney. The air conditioning hit us like an arctic blast.

We walked every aisle of that store. Carmen slowed when we came to the makeup. This lipstick is the best, she said. Ruby red. She wore it every day for work.

“In the office where I work, I figure I have thirty minutes where the executives and I exchange eyes. They get dressed up, so why shouldn’t I? If they take time to look good on the job, so do I.”

We walked through the shoes.

“I prefer copper brown shoes when I work,” she said. “That color best matches my work uniform.”

She wore a uniform every day. Shoes and makeup were all that were hers at work.

We passed the Bath and Body Works store and tested the seasonal lotions. Then we talked lady stuff – my favorite lipstick, her favorite recipes, and men she recommended I date.

“Why do you do this type of work?” she asked. “Wouldn’t you prefer to date and be a bit mischievous while you can?”

Before I could speak, she said, “No need to answer now –that’s your homework.”

She began to talk about her life.

When she was young, she had a daughter, then a son. She separated from an abusive husband.

To offer her children a future, she left them with her husband’s sister and took a train to the border and crossed into the United States using a phony ID. That was in 1978. She went first to Washington D.C., but with no Latinos in the capital, she didn’t feel comfortable. She moved to Houston.

Living on minimum wage jobs made it hard to ever get back home. But she wired money to her children in Chihuahua every week.

“One week the money would go to my kids’ necessities; the next week to save for the `coyote,’” who would someday take her children across to join her.

Then one day she called home and no one answered.

She called from different phones. Still no answer. She kept calling. She waited six months and went to Mexico. In her town, her mother told her that her kids now ran away from her when they saw her.

Carmen went to the house and knocked. No answer. She waited outside her children’s school – they were teenagers by now. They saw her and ran away. Carmen broke down crying. She stayed for a month and her children refused to see her. A neighbor sent her a message, No quieren saber nada de ti. No one wants to know anything about you. The coyote fund you were sending money to we used for a family emergency.

Carmen returned to Houston. That was in 1988 and she hadn’t seen or talked to her kids since then – except once. She continued to call the number she had for her children’s aunt. Then one day her daughter answered.

“It’s your mother,” Carmen said. There was no response. Silence.

“Okay, don’t say anything. Just give me a minute and don’t hang up. I just want you to know I love you and never stop loving you.”

A minute later the phone went dead.

Later, they changed their number. She kept calling her mother. Go to the house, Carmen pleaded, bring them cookies.

Tightened security on the border and low wages in Houston kept Carmen from ever traveling back to Mexico. She couldn’t attend her mother’s funeral in 1995 and still wasn’t over that.

But for 20 years, she never stopped wiring money to the same account for her children that she’d always used. Every month the bank told her that the money had been picked up.

She still sends the money, she told me, even though the kids are now adults and they haven’t spoken since they were in elementary school. An older aunt is the only family she has left in Chihuahua who still talks to her.

Perdi todo,” she said. “I lost everything and I don’t know why. My mom, my kids. I even didn’t take the opportunity to getIMG_0280 amnesty.”

In her neighborhood when amnesty for illegal immigrants came around, so did a lot of fraud, and people pretending to be attorneys. Money was tight, too, and she no longer trusted anyone.

“If I can’t trust my own family …” she said, her voice trailing off. “I’m in a foreign land. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.”

Night fell and by then we were sitting on a curb near the parking lot. The AAA guy had finally shown up. We spotted a hot dog vendor and treated ourselves to hot dogs and chips.

As the AAA guy worked, we ate and watched fireworks explode in the distance.

“Ahh, I liked that one, the three-colored firework!” Carmen said. “Now that was worth the wait.”

____

*Jacqueline Gonzalez Reyes was born and raised in Koreatown, Los Angeles. This story first appeared in Tell Your True Tale: East Los Angeles. Contact her at gonzalesreyesj@gmail.com.

 

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By Johnathan Quevedo

I’m 28 and grew up in the Northeast, Southeast, and Midwest — in different states. My mother suffers from severe bipolar disorder. I came out to Los Angeles to get away from her.

You can Google her and understand perfectly why I left. She was a mess and made the news in every state we lived in. Somehow she wrote a book and it’s on Amazon now.

She was a medical doctor for 34 years, originally from Panama and immigrated here in 1984 with my grandmother who was from Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. She was considered “gifted” and graduated medical school at 17. She and my father divorced in 1991, but recently got back together in 2011. He is Chilean, and a cook, an author, and a small restaurant owner in Michigan.

I haven’t seen them in seven years and I’m actually going to visit them tomorrow for the first time since I left for Los Angeles.IMG_3641

But the last time I saw her, in 2006, she was living in a mansion in a gated community in Detroit called Sherwood Forest. I planned on staying a week but she was in full manic mode and people I didn’t recognize were constantly coming and going. I remember the neighbors handing out flyers out front and purposefully avoiding me, which gave me a clear indication that something was going on. The house had also been raided by the D.E.A four days before I arrived.

I love my mother but she constantly treated people badly when she was manic. I was her son but nobody else wanted anything to do with her. Her manic phases didn’t allow her to sleep so she worked at Henry Ford Hospital, ran a medical clinic on the southwest side of town, and hosted a radio program in Spanish about medicine and health.  She did the same thing in Alabama.

Anyway, back to me. I moved here from Detroit with two brothers from Los Angeles who I met when they were living in Michigan with their father. I stayed with them and their father in Michigan for a time. This was common. My mother’s manic phases meant I lived with different people all the time. When I was 15, I lost my virginity to a 46-year-old woman named Gina. I left her place at 16 and stayed with another woman named Maria who was 35 and the same thing happened there. Maria did it to get back at her husband who was cheating with a prostitute, who was an old friend of mine. Now that I look back on it they both took advantage of me knowing I was desperate and had nowhere to go.

It was during this time that my two friends from California helped me out by allowing me to stay with them and their father.  By the time I graduated high school I had credits from schools in four different states: New York, Georgia, Michigan, and California, which I visited with the brothers. During one visit, I met a girl I stayed in touch with.

I fell in love with Los Angeles. The mountains, the deserts, the climate, and the beaches were so different from what I knew growing up back east. When you aren’t from here, the vision of California you have is what Aaron Spelling and Arnold Schwarzenegger show you: Malibu, Hollywood, and Beverly Hills. A lot is overlooked — like all the social tensions within the communities.

When I turned 21, in 2005, I moved here permanently. Anything was better than the on-and-off hell of my mother. I knew something was wrong with her but I didn’t know how to help her. Because I didn’t realize how much it cost to live here, I eventually ended up staying in Skid Row for a while. I slept on benches, in car trunks, in the Panama Hotel and finally the Ford Hotel on 7th St.

I didn’t have any family or support. The girl I met on an earlier trip became my girlfriend and her family helped me. She is Mexican-American and her family moved here from Michoacan, Mexico in 1983. My existence is due to her entirely.

She and I had the idea that since we couldn’t go to school simultaneously, she would go, then I would go. So she finished in 2008 and that was when I returned. Because she was in school at Cal State University, Los Angeles and doing her student teaching and I didn’t have a career job to support us, we decided to move to Compton where her father owns a duplex.

I knew Compton was bad, but I’m not involved in gangs, and I worked, and this was only a temporary thing, so I agreed to live there.

I had two jobs, one working for Evergreen Aviation and the other as a Loss Prevention Officer at the Marriott Hotel in downtown L.A.

Then my car’s transmission went out, so I had to take the train to work: The Blue Line to 7th and from there I’d just walk. I had to be there at 6 am.

One day, I was walking to the Blue Line station in Compton, when an SUV with four Latino gang members passed me as I was at the intersection. The passenger held a gun out the window and said, “Don’t move, motherfucker!”  They were talking directly to me as if they knew me personally.

I ran. They made a U-turn and raced after me. They came up on me. All four of them hopped out, and one of them shot me once, point blank. I just remember not believing I was hit until at the same time I fell face first in the cement and had a concussion. I tried to get up but noticed my equilibrium was off. I remember feeling the blood spread inside my head and grabbing the left side just to see a handful of blood, bone fragments, and pieces of my own brain in my hand. I remember tasting it because it was in my throat.

I remember being carried away by the mechanic and my girlfriend to the back because they thought the gang members might return. As they carried me, a neighbor’s wife was coming home and she helped us also. I was yelling for help. But people there stay out of things even if a life is in jeopardy. I’m pretty sure they heard me.

I stayed conscious for about 30 minutes until the blood started swelling in my head. I still remember seeing pieces of my own brain, mixed with blood and skull fragments in my hand and on the street.

I had never seen these guys before and, as far as I know, they’d never seen me until that moment. They passed everyone and came directly for me and left the rest alone.

I had surgery at St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood and immediately moved to Downey. Physically I was fine but it took me two years to recuperate psychologically. I suffered from massive headaches, seizures, short-term memory loss and post-traumatic stress disorder. I had to learn how to walk, read, write, and socialize all over again.

I wanted to be a stand-up comedian but that ended with the depression and anxiety I began to feel.

Everyone I know believed this happened because, though I’m ethnically Latino, I have black features. The gang members never yelled a racial slur, so it was never counted as a hate crime. But I don’t think it was anything else.

Since then I’ve seen other cases and I’ve listened to people, coworkers, students, teachers, family, and witnessed open encouragement for hatred of blacks on the trains, in these communities, and downtown. This is the city’s very open secret.

The guys were never caught, and the lack of justice sparked my interest in political science. I’m hoping to finish a degree in that soon.

My boss was able to contact my mother later that day. She had been in prison by then for three months.

She was released a month later. Then she remarried my father.

___

*Johnathan Quevedo has remained in Southern California, working full time and studying political science at California State University, Dominguez Hills. This is his first story for Tell Your True Tale.
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By Rachel Kimbrough

Just after I’d turned 18, Crazy Ma pulled another fun-filled fuck-with-your-kid stunt. I got home from work one night to find her sitting on the couch with this weird bemused look on her face. She instructed me to sit on the couch next to her, and then told me that she’d just woken up from a wet dream about me and her only to find a demon on top of her with its mouth over hers.

She said she rebuked it in the name of the LORD and it scampered away. I moved out the next week.

Fast forward to a couple years ago. I grew some balls and told my mother that I’m agnostic. She already knew, but would not acknowledge, that despite her best efforts I had roundly rejected Christianity. I’d sort of held off on officially labeling myself anything not-Christian in order to reflect on the possibility that I might have rejected the religion out of an abundance of young-adult rebellion, a drive to do and be the opposite of my mother.

As it turns out, my initial suspicion was and is the accurate one: I simply do not have the capacity for that sort of faith.

She said to me then, “You’re a Christian, Rachel. You’re just mad at God for taking Emri away.”

Actually, Emri’s death marked the last time I ever regretted being agnostic.

Emri should have been a living, just-woken-up child in the early afternoon February 15, 2008, but instead he was a fresh corpse. I, you know, called an ambulance and performed unsuccessful CPR until medical personnel arrived, and then he was whisked off to the hospital where a doctor and about a dozen nurses attempted to revive him for nearly four hours, no one willing to be the first to say, “It’s no use.” His dad and I sat in folding chairs watching the effort. I wish now I’d just stayed in the waiting room instead of allowing those mental images to solidify in my mind.

After those four hours, they all finally gave up, named it SIDS, swaddled him in a blanket, and handed my dead baby to me. Family entered the ER room, siblings and parents and aunts and uncles. Every so often another person joined us in the room. I held him for the majority of two hours, unable to shake the thought that he might, at any moment, wake up again. He did not.

For the most part everyone was quiet, with a few exceptions. I don’t know what I expected anyone to say, but most of what was said was something summatory. We will miss him dearly. I’m so sorry for your loss. God needed more angels in heaven. Things like that. My stomach wrenched every time someone referred to Emri in the past tense.

But what was said most frequently was something along these lines: “We will see him again in Heaven.”

I searched the face of anyone who expressed such a thought. Being a lady who does not have such faith, it’s difficult for me to imagine what it’s like to truly believe something like that. I looked for facial cues indicating things like deception, guilt, any sort of falsity. I found none.

“We will see him again in Heaven.”

My dad said that. My mom said that, among many other things. My uncle, the pastor Tim, said so, too, and then repeated the sentiment at the funeral service five days later. I watched his face for a full minute after he said so in the ER room and again found only sincerity. I looked from him back to the discolored mass that earlier in the day had been my three-month-old son. And I felt beneath my feet the sickening warp-speed movement of the earth, its rotation around the sun, its inhabitants routinely moving right along, happily ignorant of Emri’s having ever existed at all.

Most of all I was crushed under the unbearable weight of complete isolation at possibly being the only person in the room who did not–could not and cannot–find relief in the knowledge that I will see him again. That he’s happy somewhere. For all I know, he’s something somewhere or nothing nowhere, and you know a mother never stops worrying about her kids. If I could believe it, I would.

I relayed this information to my mother, that day when she told me I’m mad at God for taking Emri. She told me, “You will see him again,” forgetting or ignoring for a moment that my not being a Christian would guarantee my spot in Hell, if it’s a real thing. So I wouldn’t see him anyway. I changed the subject and departed shortly thereafter. I bit my nails bloody on the drive home.

____

*Through now four stories for TYTT, Kansas’s Rachel Kimbrough has displayed herself to be a greatwriter.

 

 

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By Theresa Asiedu*

My phone rang.

”Theresa, I am so sorry.”

I heard my mother’s quivering voice.

”He’s burning everything, all of your belongings.” I let the words digest and hung up.

I stared at myself in the mirror, the red marks around my neck slowly turning blue; my forehead was still bleeding.
I had lost everything within the last twenty-four hours by the same man who had been in my life since I was three; the man who had tormented my family for as long as I could I remember; the father of my two younger siblings and the reason my mother decided to move to the Caribbean from Germany many years ago.
That morning, all I wanted to do was take a jog. It was a morning too beautiful for such ugly things on Dominica — the Caribbean island so often mistaken for the Dominican Republic.
The sun was shining, the fresh mountain breeze was gently touching my skin and I still had the scent of pink blossoming hibiscus flowers in my nose.
My stepfather popped in and out of our lives trying to maintain control of our family. He would yell at everything, from the house that was never tidy enough to the food that didn’t suit his taste. I would find myself holding my breath when he spoke, my body tensing with every word he uttered, his voice leaving goosebumps on my skin.
That day he had come by and ranted and raved as usual. My younger brother and sister were crying terrified by his behavior. ”I will kill all of you and line you up in graves,” he screamed. This man did not need a reason to ignite his rage. The smallest things would make him act like a mad man. Before I knew it I said,”Then kill me!”
I swallowed the lump in my throat, my heart pounded, in my chest and throughout my body. All my sense of sanity must have left me in that moment.
”Kill me, then,” I repeated. ”If that’s what it will take for you to leave this family alone!” I was only fifteen but I felt so strong.
His eyes red filled with rage, shocked at my audacity.
Before I knew it his, hands were around my neck choking me. I felt nauseous, stars appeared. He banged me against the metal gate. My forehead began bleeding profusely. He just left me there lying at the gate.
I managed to get up. I was disoriented, my clothes were torn. I walked down the graveled roads filled with pot holes without looking back, until I found someone who took me to the hospital. I later found out that my mother had run to the neighbor who was five minutes away to call the police after my stepfather had ripped our phone cords from the wall.They didn’t show up, something that wasn’t unusual for such a small island. It wasn’t until after I appeared battered at the station that they finally took action.
Before the police arrived that day to forcefully remove my stepfather, he had enough time to single me out and burn all of my belongings childhood photos, school books, all the clothes I owned.
Unfortunately the Caribbean police tend to be slow and didn’t show up in time. He burned the things right next to our house with my mother watching too scared to do anything, an act of revenge to show me one last time what he was capable of. I was left with the torn shirt on my back, my sweats and a pair of sneakers.
He was gone, though.
____
*Theresa Asiedu, from the island of Dominica, is an international student at San Joaquin Delta College. She is currently finishing her degree in Business. Contact her at theresa_heitz@hotmail.com.

 

 

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By Matthew Garcia

I close the door at work behind me. It’s 2 a.m.

I look up and see a car up ahead. It’s my coworker Cecilie. She got off an hour before I did. I go to the window and say ‘’What are you doing?’’ in the cuntiest voice I can come up with.

She laughs.  ‘You know, just hanging out.’’

I see someone in the back seat; her boyfriend. I roll my eyes. She smiles and then says, sorry, I can’t give you a ride tonight. But come in the car and kick it with us.

I remind myself that I need to be back at work at nine in the morning. I need all the hours I can get.

I look up to the night and feel the breeze as wraps its arms around me. I pull out my CD player and put on my headphones. I start my walk. I only live five blocks away, but five blocks feels like 50 after having to clean most of the store on my own. There are no cars, though.  This is one of the busiest streets in town.

I cross and turn the corner I can see my friend’s house where I am living for now. I am excited because I was given some fruit cups from my store that was set to expire in two days. They were perfectly good but you know how food regulations are. There was a recent Taco Bell outbreak where people got sick from the food, so nobody wanted to take any chances. But to me, food is food and this means one less trip to the dollar store this week.

As I cross the street, I see a car coming and the lights get brighter. I am one step from making it across and the car turns in front of me. Time freezes. I don’t close my eyes. The car hits me and I am on top of the hood. I hear the screech of the tires and the smell of rubber burning. My head then hits the windshield and my sight goes black for a second. My body flip upside down as if I were on a roller coaster. The car isn’t done with me. It is as if the car grows arms and grabs me and spins me around — just as in wrestling where after being spun around you get slammed into the ground. My body is tossed to the side. Silence. The car takes off.

‘’Don’t leave me here I don’t deserve this,’’ I say.

My face is bleeding and I cannot feel my legs and blood is running all over me. My mouth is bleeding but the blood is mixed with saliva. I spit out as much blood as I can. I feel like I am drowning in a pool of my own blood. I try to move my legs and I hear a scrape. My left leg bone is sticking out and scraping against the asphalt. I feel like my legs are being cut open with a hacksaw. I can feel flaps of my skin dangling from my body and bones.

‘’Is someone going to help me or what?’’ I yell.

I cannot stand the pain in my legs. For some reason I think to myself that I need to spread the pain. So I start to scratch the concrete with my nails until they start to bleed. Then I start to bite my hand as hard as I can until I bleed.

I can hear someone running up. My roommate. I know this because I can always tell what his steps sound like.  Andrew is 6’2″ and 200 pounds and a strong person. Growing up with him, he always did the heavy lifting. He was never scared or one to be queasy. In high school a senior hit him in the face with a bat, and he never cried.

“Matt! Oh my God. Oh, my God!”

He sputters his words I can hear them break and crackle like when you sit on an old chair that needs to be thrown out.

“I’m calling 911.”

He runs back to the house but just a few footsteps away I hear him stop and the sound of splashing comes to my ear as he throws up. My best friend comes out with her boyfriend. She is crying and screaming. Her boyfriend who I had just known for only a few weeks is talking to me saying, ‘’Don’t fall asleep.” But it’s too late. I have already invited death to come put me to sleep. The pain is intense. If I can just close my eyes and go to sleep the pain will go away. I feel the cold wrap around me. The breeze gentle before is now a grip on my body. The back of my head starts to feel like there is a drill going inside. I really wish my brain would shut up. I just want to sleep.

I can hear the sirens coming. Within seconds, people are around me asking me questions. I wait for death — even mocking it, saying, ‘’What are you waiting for?’’ People around me stop talking; they think I have lost it. I tell the police officer what happened as I lie on the ground bleeding. His voice is over all the others. I can hear the empathy and his touch is light. His hand is shaking as he puts his arm on my shoulder. I can feel him crying. He says to me ‘’Its okay. We’ll get them. Don’t worry.’’

The chorus of the song I was listening to is in my head and playing over and over.  ‘’It cannot be, it’s not me my heart is weighed down with grief for not being made of stone when the heavens asked me for patience.’’ The song is of two people who fall apart, a memory of my family comes to mind.

I was in a wheelchair for a year and from the waist down my legs are filled with metal. I still have foot-long rods in my hips and legs.

Lying there that night, I didn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel or some stupid shit you hear on Oprah. I was not depressed or feeling upset when I thought I was about to die. I just thought it was my time. At times I feel death was feeling annoyed with me and wanted to see me scared before taking me away.

 

*Matthew Garcia is an honor-roll student at San Joaquin Delta College, working on transferring to San Jose State University in two years. Contact him at Zelkova2297@gmail.com.

 

 

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By Darshay Smith

My mother, Shaun, was about to turn twenty-five in January, 1994.

She had one beautiful daughter, who had just turned one. They were living in Hayward with their aunt’s family. That day, Shaun had worked an eight hour shift at work. She was exhausted and couldn’t wait to get home to see her baby girl.

Driving the dark streets of Hayward alone, Shaun went quickly. It was 1:45 in the morning. She was stopped at the spotlight. To her left, she saw a group of young Mexican men readily to cross the street. Shaun waited.

Next thing she knew, these guys were walking towards her car. Shaun began to panic. Her fingers hit the lock button on the doors. She wanted to speed off.

The guys approached the car with no force or intention to hurt her.

“Excuse me ma’am, do you know what time it is?” one asked.

“It is 1:45 am,” my mom replied.

As she began to drive off, she saw the light. One of the boys had pulled out a gun and shot her. She screamed. Blood poured down her face and all over the inside of the car. Her face was steaming hot. Immediately her whole body grew very hot and she had no control of it.

“My last day on Earth. Shay is going to grow up without a mother,” she thought.

After managing to drive away she picked up her phone and called her sister Jessica.

“I just was shot!” Her sister hung up and called the family.

My mom made it to her aunt’s house and ran in her room. “Call 911! My face is burning!” she screamed. Her aunt and uncle were barely waking up and thought she was hallucinating. They started to scream, and then called 911.

All my family came up to the hospital. They cried and prayed. The doctor later came with the results. The gun had hollow point bullets and the bullet exploded inside her face. It would take more than eighteen months for the bullet fragments to surface to the skin.

“I would then be able to pick them up out of my face like pimples,” she told me later. My mom stayed in the hospital for a while as she went through a serious operation and later had plastic surgery.

Months passed and my mom was back at home. After she was released her face was swollen and in pain. The part where the bullet entered remained very dark. For three months, my mom stayed in the house, afraid to go outside, and replaying the scene in her head.

During recovery, she never went to therapy or counseling. She thought that she could deal with it by just talking to family and close friends. Later she realized she needed counseling.

It has been eighteen years since that incident.

She still replays the scene in her head. When she watches a movie or crime show that has anything to do with guns and killings she catches herself replaying it.

When we go to bed all the televisions are on. It can never be dark in our house because she gets so nervous that something bad is going to happen. When the power goes out, all these thoughts in her head begin to pour out. When my brother and I are out with our friends late at night, she calls often to make sure we are okay. Her nerves are always acting up until we are safely at home because then she knows we are okay.

I ask her how life has been. “I am living and I have a story to tell,” she says. “I am blessed and thanking God every day.”

But I catch her crying sometimes at night when we listen to killings on the news or in a movie.

____

Darshay Smith was born and raised in Oakland, CA. She now attends San Joaquin Delta College as a sophmore student studying to become a registered nurse.

 

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By Jeffrey Scott Hunter

I’d been robbing banks for close to a year when I came to the realization that it wasn’t about the money any more.

I was hooked on the adrenaline rush, the preparation, the recon that went into laying out the perfect score.

When we’d steal the car (the hot box) we’d use, we went as far as getting a set of 150 master keys with which to steal them, so we wouldn’t damage the steering column or the ignition. Sometimes we’d have to leave the hot box in an apartment complex for a few days, and the last thing we needed was to show up armed to the teeth, truculent with adrenaline dripping from our ears, ready to go to war, and the hot box is gone because some do-gooder damaged the steering column and called the cops.

Sometimes I’d be in a car for 10 to 15 minutes trying every key. But in the long run, it was worth it. My partner always had my back. We’d be walkie-talkied up, and he’d be listening to the police scanner. So I was pretty safe.

It was all a big power trip and my ego loved it.

I remember this one time, I’m sitting inside a mall, packing my 9 mm, with lots of cash on me, eating a bag of popcorn and feeling proud of myself. As I watched people move around me, I started to notice that they all looked like drones moving with no real purpose, shuffling along. I began to glance around, taking a harder look. Cashiers mindlessly checking people out. None of these people were living, not like me. I was on a higher plane, experiencing life to its fullest, sticking it to The Man. I was a rebel, unplugged from what society dictated was normal behavior. I was an outlaw.

There were times when we really needed to know certain things about a bank. And there are only two ways to do it. One is to walk inside and have a look, which is out of the question. No way was I getting caught on tape. The second and my personal favorite was to do recon.

(Order Jeffrey Scott Hunter’s crime novel, Paragon, available on Kindle at Amazon.com.)

My partner would drop me off on the side of the road well before dawn. I’d be dressed in camouflage from head to toe. Most banks we did were in rural areas so there was always some vegetation around to lay in. I’d bring my trusty high-powered binoculars, a gallon of water, and some food. Sometimes I’d see how close I could get to the bank, but that really wasn’t necessary. As long as I could see in through a window, I was fine. Most times I’d be fifty to a hundred yards away, watching everyone arrive.

One morning, while laying on this one bank, I watched the manager show up first and go inside. Five minutes lat4er, she removed a plant from the front window. At the time I thought nothing of it. The next day she did the same thing, only this time I was in a different spot getting a better view and saw a cop car sitting across the street in a gas station. After she removed the plant, the cop drove off.

I went back every day the following week, and each morning within a couple minutes of the manager arriving, she’d remove the plant. Sometimes the cop would do a slow drive-by, and it was always at the same time.

That was the whole point of watching the bank in the first place; I needed to know everything. You can’t control everything, but if on Friday at 10:30 a.m. there are no cops around two weeks in a row, chances are good there won’t be any on that third week.

I’d usually watch a place from Wednesday to Friday because that’s when the big money was dropped off. The recon would last maybe three weeks. I’d be hiding for up to 16 hours a day, loving every minute of it.

Another ritual was on the eve of a score, my partner and I would go out to dinner – a nice steak and lobster joint, have a good meal and a few drinks while going over the last details of our plan.

After that he’d drop me off at my girl’s place for some lovin’ and on those nights it was always the best.

My girl wasn’t stupid. She knew I was an adrenaline junkie who liked to carry guns, sometimes disappearing for a month to do a score out of town. She never questioned me. Once I had thirteen grand stuffed in my jacket and when she went to hang it up, she saw it. She only looked at me, not saying a word. And she knew when my partner and I would go out for dinner that the next day something was going to happen. I think that was one of the things the kept our relationship so passionate – a little danger in the uncertainty of not knowing if we’d see each other again. We lived our lives in the moment a lot more than other couples.

After dinner, we’d head over to my partner’s place and get ready to do the score. This was another rush in itself. I’d always have my Walkman, listen to Judas Priest’s Painkiller or an AC DC song called Shoot to Thrill over and over. The combination of cranking those tunes while loading clips to my AK-47 and 9mm, strapping on body armor, making sure the scanner was properly programmed – now that’s exhilarating.

Now here’s where it all started to unravel. It’s a winter day, so it gets dark maybe by 5 p.m. My partner and I were out cruising when I spot a pretty good-sized bank sitting about 30 feet off the road. It’s all lit up with what looks like a few people inside.

“Is that place open?”

My partner glances as we pass. “No, must be cleaning people.” (Back then all the banks closed at 5 p.m.)

“I need confirmation,” I say. “Pull over at that gas station.” I get out and go to a pay phone, call information, then call the bank.

“Hello, Independent Bank. How can I help you?” a girl cheerfully answers.

“Are you still open?” I ask.

“We’re open til six.”

“The drive through?”

“No, you can walk in.”

“Thanks, I’ll be right there,” I say.

I tell my partner the good news, only he’s not as excited as I am at my plan to rob it before it closes. He likes the rush, but he’s more about the money, and we’re out of town. We don’t know the area, have no body armor, no heavy fire power, no scanner, no hot box. Nothing. But I reassure him that this bank will be a walk in the park. I have a 9 mm, a ski mask, gloves. All I need is a pillow case to carry all the cash. Best part is, it’s dark out. He reluctantly goes along.

We drive around. We find a couple of outs for me to run in case the cops chase me, find a place for him to park, and buy a set of sheets to the pillow case, of course. Then I walk up to the bank, take a quick look around, pull down my ski mask and blast off through the door like a Tasmanian Devil. I vault the chest-high counter like an Olympic high jumper.

Two tellers are in shock. They can’t believe what’s happening.

“What are you doing?” one of them manages to say.

“What do you think I’m doing? Open the drawers.”

I clean them out in record time. But before I do, I look at the drive-up teller window and decide to get a little extra cash. So I blast over to her drawer and clean it out, too. This takes maybe 20 seconds, then I fly out of the place and down an alley to the pick-up spot.

Within 30 minutes of coming off my best high ever, I knew that if I didn’t start to control myself I wouldn’t last much longer. I needed to get back to acting like a professional. I had to put my ego in check. But, when you’re getting off like that, it’s hard to control.

It’s like diving into frigid ocean water in the dead of winter. Your heart is pounding harder than you could imagine possible, your vision is clear, hearing impeccable. The raw adrenaline takes control. Suddenly, you’re released from everything, leaving you with a God-like feeling of pure power.

That’s how I felt every time I went charging into a bank.

The feeling should be illegal and in my case it was.

About six months later, the FBI caught up to me and I’ve been locked up every since.

_____

*Jeffrey Scott Hunter is serving a 29-year federal prison sentence for bank robbery. (BOP# 11557-014) This is his second story for Tell Your True Tale.  His initial piece was titled My First Bank Robbery. He is the author of the crime novel, Paragon, available on Kindle at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at Oakdale FCI federal prison.

More fab TYTT stories:

Me and Stan Getz by Jonathan Bellman

Planting Flowers by Betsy Klee

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By Richard Zamora

I was feeling a little car sick as we drove to the Toy-R-Us. A cool chill traveled through my spine.  I pictured myself gliding through the wind, my body rushing against the opposing breeze. I’d been waiting for this for a very long time. Finally, I was going to get my new bike. We pulled up to the Toy-R-Us parking lot trying to find a spot near the entrance.

“You happy?” he asked, with his strong Mexican accent.

“Yeah I’m happy.” I said, actually feeling somewhat joyful for once. We parked and got out the car; I was jumping up and down like a pogo stick.

“Relax.” he said, as he pulled me towards him.

“Come on let’ go!” I said, trying to break free from his grasp. I ran up to an employee.

“Oh, go down aisle nine and when you get there make a right. You can’t miss it.”

I began to walk down the aisle, scoping out the other toys in the store. I made a right and there it was. Bike heaven. They had almost every brand — from Haros to Mongooses; it was quite spectacular.

Cual quieres?”

“That one,” I said, pointing to a Next. It had a shiny, navy blue coat. It came with pegs and a bottle holder. It was perfect.

“Get it,” he said.

I grabbed it and began to walk it to the shortest line. A whole bunch of kids waited; some had action figures, others had scooters. I was standing proud with my new bike. Finally, it was our turn to pay. The total cost was $130.00 and it was all worth it.

We went home. I couldn’t wait to show off my new bike to my friend, Kyle. We arrived and I rode my Next to Kyle’s house. I knocked, hoping he’d answer so we could cruise. His sexy-ass sister opened the door.

“Hey,” I said, eyeing her up and down.

“Hey, how you been?” she asked.

“Good. Is Kyle here?”

“Yeah, he’s inside. Kyle!”

“What?” he moaned.

“Richards here.”

Kyle ran to the door.

“What’s up?” I said, holding my bike.

“That’s your new bike?” he asked, surprised.

“Yeah, you wanna go riding?” I asked, taunting him by pretending my bike was a motorcycle and I was revving my engine with my hands.

“Hell, yeah. Let’s ride.”

I waited till my friend mounted his bicycle. It felt like adrenaline was ready to erupt from within my body.

“Ready. Set. Go!” I yelled, pedaling with full throttle.

“Cheater!” Kyle said.

“Bite me!”

The race began. I was in the lead, smashing and drifting around corners. Kyle was riding on my left side and there was a speed bump approaching. I hit the speed bump and popped an Ollie. As I was soaring in the air, I looked back at Kyle and I saw him in the air as well. I thought to myself, “We must be pros, doing shit like this.”

“I won!” I said.

“No fair. You had a head start.”

“Nuh huh.”

“Yeah huh.”

“Whatever. Let’s cruise for a bit.”

We rode for several hours until it got dark. Then we headed to his house to eat. Kyle was half American and half Asian and was about 5’6” and kinda slim. We met because his sister and my sister, they were friends. The truth was that I had a crush on his older sister, Denise, the one who answered the door earlier.

“ Hey, you guys hungry?” Denise asked.

“I’m starving,” Kyle answered.

“What about you?” I wasn’t paying much attention to what she was saying, I was more interested in her physique.

“Just a little.”

“Sit down and eat,” she said. Denise was so sexy with her long black hair, pretty brown eyes, juicy lips and her stare – man, it was hypnotizing. Anyways, we ate some orange chicken with steamed rice. It was bomb. After we grubbed, I told him I had to leave because my dad would whoop my ass if I came in late. We said our goodbyes and I rode home on my bike. It was nine o’clock and I knew he’d be waiting for me.

He was yelling at my brother. He stood six feet tall, with a husky physique and stomped when he walked. Screaming was normal for him, a trait he and my grandmother shared, and he was my father.

Onde estabas?” he asked, staring me down with his dark, soul-piercing eyes.

“Outside, riding my bike.”

At that moment I was expecting to get hit. Usually my brother would get it first. The hellion would beat him so bad, he would have to wear long sleeves and pants for days. If my mother got in the way, she was beaten as well. I grew to hate the son of a bitch.

“I told you nine o’clock!”

“Sorry,” I said, sensing an evil vibe.

“I don’t give a fuck! You listen to me!” he said, taking off his leather cowboy belt. I was scared, but I knew my mother was horrified because she knew what was about to happen.

“Come over here!” he said, smacking his belt on the wall. If I didn’t come the beating would be ever more severe. The despair combusted and I began to tear.

“Leave him alone!” yelled Tony, my brother.

“Shut the fuck up!”

He began to strike my brother with the metal part of the belt. It made a sound louder than thunder. I dropped my bike and ran towards my mom but he intercepted me, grabbed my right forearm and with his free hand he started whipping me with the belt, slashing my body.

The wounds instantly swelled up. I looked at my brother, watching him explode with rage.

“Fuck you!” my brother hollered as he kicked my father in the balls. My mom grabbed the phone and called the police but I knew the cops wouldn’t understand her broken English.

“Please my sons, help!” That’s the last thing she said before he snatched the phone from her hand. Now my mom was getting beat. Me and my brother tried to stop him but he overpowered us.

Then all of a sudden I heard sirens and in seconds they kicked down the door and rushed in. They caught him red-handed.

“Freeze. Put your hands in the air!” the officer said, pointing a Glock 9 directly at my dad’s forehead.

He didn’t listen to their command so they tackled him to the floor. He tried to resist but he was no match for the brute policeman.

They arrested him and that was the last we saw of him.

____

Richard Zamora is a senior at Spring Valley High School in Las Vegas, Nevada. After graduation, he plans on attending culinary school to fulfill his goal of becoming a chef.

 

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By Rachel Kimbrough

After my three older siblings got fed up and moved out, seventeen-year-old me was the last target standing for my mother’s infantile rage.

She was sure, had a soul-deep conviction, that I was a drug user. She said my pupils were always dilated. She said I smelled bad. She said my eyes were bloodshot. That my grades were suffering.

And she was right. About the evidence, I mean. Not about my being a drug-user. I’m a little afraid of drugs.

I was working full-time as a host at a restaurant. I buddied up with another host there, girl named Alex. We drove around every night after work, going anywhere that wasn’t home.

Like every other member of our disgruntled youth, we thought we were alone in our home-life dissatisfaction. We felt confident we needed to rebel, but we didn’t have the guts to dabble in intoxicants or fornication

One night we drove past a construction site on 119th and Black Bob road in Olathe and saw a strip mall being built there. There was a giant crane parked in the center of one kiosk and what appeared to be a clock tower in the making. There were various construction tools and paint buckets.

We went back to the restaurant and stole some plates and returned to the site.

We weren’t really sure what we wanted. We were giddy midnight schoolgirls, each of us standing there looking across a concrete expanse with plates stacked in our arms like textbooks, not sure what to do next.

I unloaded my stack of plates onto a nearby palette. I picked off the first plate, crouched like I was throwing a Frisbee, and flung the dish across the parking lot.

It skipped six or seven times like a skipping stone across a creek before shattering against the wall of the nearest building, one that was close to completion. Flakes of Stucco rained gently to the ground.

This was an early Christmas gift to Alex and me. We could not have elicited a better response from the plate or from the building. We began hurling plates. One of Alex’s plates ricocheted off a light pole and smashed into the ground, erupting in a lovely fountain of shards glistening in the yellow city light.

We lost control.

We were out of plates within a couple minutes, and so began to climb scaffolding. We reached the roof of what would eventually be the main shopping center. The city below us seemed underwater-distant, cars zipping here and there like a disrupted school of herring, a shimmering sea of shards below us indicating that we were, indeed, someplace far from Olathe. Someplace exotic, no doubt.

The next logical step was to climb the scaffolding that hugged the clock tower in progress.

Alex went before I did because she was much smaller. If she fell I could catch her. If I fell, I would just smash her and we would both fall. That was the plan, see.

So, we ascended slowly, Alex stopping occasionally when fear froze her bones. My trick was to not look around, though I nearly lost my balance several times.

We were both wearing flip flops. As we drew near the platform circling the top of the tower, Alex’s sandal caught on a nail. In theory, I was supposed to catch her, correct her, and continue ever upward.

I caught her, kind of. I gripped the scaffolding with one hand and had the other arm wrapped under one of her armpits, her face unfortunately forced against my bosom. She started laughing about that, scatterbrained at the height of terror, and kicked her feet to try to find the scaffolding. I don’t think she realized she was now dangling just outside the scaffolding, or she would have panicked and fallen.

After a few moments I notice the ladder resting against the side of the tower just a few feet to our right. It was stretched out to its full length, wobbly, bowed in the center from bearing its own weight. But it seemed the last option.

I told Alex try to swing and get her right foot over to a rung of that ladder so I could correct her position on the scaffolding. She did. I nearly dropped her—but I didn’t. She used the ladder for balance, relieving me of her weight for a few moments before I grabbed her and heaved her back onto the scaffolding.

With that, we descended, got in the car and left. For that evening, we lost our motivation to destroy…but only for that evening. Every night for the next six months we visited construction sites: housing developments, banks, strip malls, restaurants, apartment complexes. We sometimes climbed, sometimes broke things, sometimes threw equipment off the roof. We made sure to cruise from suburb to suburb to avoid the attention of local authorities.

We were out late every night. At times we didn’t bother to wash the smell of concrete mix from our hands. We gave every indication we were drug users. That was almost true.

____

Rachel Kimbrough was born in Kansas and raised in various parts of the state. She attends Johnson County Community College and is the culture editor of its newspaper. Contact her at rkimbrou@stumail.jccc.edu

 

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