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By Fabiola Manriquez

She took her time walking across the room, scanning the computer lab as though preparing for battle. When she finally reached my desk, she handed me a referral from a government program she was forced to enroll in and said, in a low voice, “Hey Miss. I’m here to get help with my Math and English, so what do I do”?

I was recruited into the tutoring program by my trigonometry professor at East Los Angeles College since I often enjoyed assisting classmates. I remember Flaca sitting in front of the computer simply staring at the screen. I thought she was struggling with the operation of the computer. I learned later that she would come to class intoxicated and brought her happy juice. It was a thirty- two ounce soda mug with alcohol but because it had no aroma of alcohol I didn’t know. It was also a little strange that she preferred wearing her slick shades in class. I thought the computer screen was too bright for her. In reality, she was loaded and she hid behind them.

I had a feeling that she wanted to improve her life since she was attending this class. As she behaved, I continued to assist her and in time we became friends. We talked. I asked what her favorite drink was? With a naughty smile she looked straight into my eyes and confessed that she enjoyed her alcoholic beverage while she worked on her lessons. This situation was new to me, so I said nothing. Over the weeks, we talked a little about college studies and concerns about the weather as I tried to figure out what to do.

When I felt more comfortable with her, I finally addressed the issue of coming to class loaded and bringing her happy juice. I could have lost my job if my boss found out that she was drinking in class, but my heart told me to stay quiet. I told her that I needed her help. We would work as a team in order for her to stay in the class since it was mandated by her program. I asked her to pretend as though she was doing her work by hitting the computer keys every few minutes. I also asked her to stay awake because her snoring might disturb other students and attract attention. I suggested she refrain from bringing her favorite drink to class, which was better enjoyed outside class.

With time she stopped bringing her mug and, eventually, began to complete her lessons. But she kept her shades on.

Flaca was raised by both her parents as an only child for a decade, followed by a brother ten years younger and by a sister four years after that. Before the arrival of her siblings, she and her parents had money and time enough to take camping trips, go bowling and to the movies. Her father worked in the roofing industry and she was his assistant for a while. However, he always wanted a son and he taught her to work and play sports as if she were so.

But she reached her teenage years as her parents were occupied changing diapers, and working harder than ever. “I felt as though my brother and sister stole my father from me,” she told me.

At fifteen, she was searching for attention and began to hang out with the neighborhood gang. After school, she and her comrades would put their lunch money together and would pay a local wino to buy them a six pack, which led to a twelve pack, and eventually to cases of beer. They began breaking into newspaper vending machines. From there, she began using drugs. She even smoked Angel Dust on the lawn outside the East Los Angeles Sheriff station.

Her parents talked with her about her mischief, beat her, threw her out of the house, but gave her chances to return home. Her troubles kept growing. She would behave for a while but it didn’t last long, and her defiance would intensify.

She was expelled from Schurr High School, attended Vail Continuation High School and was expelled for fighting. She was in and out of juvenile detention and jail. Eventually, she was sent to the Mira Loma detention facility in Lancaster which gave her much needed structure. There she completed her G.E.D.

Once on the outside, she worked at the Sears Warehouse, then as a mail clerk at Wells Fargo Bank, followed by a printing shop. Then

in her mid-twenties, she began using heroin. She met Sheila at a party and grew as addicted to her as she was to the drug. They became lovers and sold heroin together. Addicts, called Sheila with their orders; Flaca made the deliveries. “It was just like delivering pizza- like a franchise, in a way,” she said. Sheila was her immediate boss, but there were other distributors above her.

Flaca and Sheila shared the upkeep of the house and expenses for about a year. Then one night, Flaca stayed out all night. Sheila and she argued. The next time Flaca stayed out all night, Sheila kicked her out. That proved lucky, as a few days later cops raided the house and arrested Sheila.

Flaca moved back with her parents. At this point, longing for children, she decided to take a break from women. Her next door neighbor, Smokey, was a longtime friend and they kind of messed around when she was younger. He was eleven years her senior, had a good heart, was handsome, masculine and was right on the other side of the fence. He had also served in the Vietnam War. The proposition was simple, she told him: I need your help to have my children. He would not have any responsibility or claim to them, but he could see them from next door. With time, he fathered her two sons. He also was in and out of jail and survived working odd jobs, then died from a bleeding ulcer soon after the birth of her second child. He was found on the lawn of what is now the East Los Angeles Library.

Meanwhile, Flaca continued making poor choices. She was stabbed twice, took part in drive-by shootings, kept drinking and using drugs, and was in and out of jail. She was respected in the gangster community since she did bad things in a big way.

Years of abuse wore her down so that she lost her eye sight for a year. Consequently she was unable to work and went on government aid known as SSI in 1991 at the age of 31. Her parents didn’t condone her behavior, but they loved her and cared for her two sons.

After a year of therapy she regained her eyesight. One morning while visiting a friend, she realized that she had not drunk or used drugs the night before. For the first time in decades she was able to think with a clear mind. Because she qualified for a free bus pass, she got on the bus after visiting with this friend to be alone and think. For a week, she left her parents’ home early and rode the bus all day. Those bus rides were a turning point.

She began to attend Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and tried to stay clean and sober. She relapsed several times, but eventually held to it.

As years passed, she learned a more structured lifestyle. She began by taking her sons to school regularly and picking them up afterwards. As time went on, she befriended the principal of the same school as he later invited her to enroll in parenting classes. Flaca learned how to kneel down and look her children in the eyes when she spoke to them. She became skilled in establishing parameters when giving her boys a choice when selecting things. She was taught the value of punctuality, whether it was to arrive at school on time regularly or returning library materials by the due date.

When her sons were toddlers, she entered them in baby contests and won several times. Later, she enrolled her boys in baseball, soccer, karate, and taught them to bowl. The year that her sons played peewee baseball was the first time in the league’s history that both the coach and the assistant coach were women. Flaca was the head coach as the team made it to the playoffs.

She learned to use the libraries, and showed her boys how to do the same. In the annual school fundraiser she sold candy for her sons and was the top seller for three consecutive years. The first year as the top seller they won tickets to Knott’s Berry Farm and the second year, tickets to Disneyland. Flaca already had experience selling things. Candy sales came easy to her and it was legal. “No one was shot. No one got killed,” she said. “It made me feel like I was a real mother.”

I remember the year she first came in for tutoring telling me about selling enough candy to win bicycles for her sons.

Two weeks before her father died, he told her to go back to school and become a rehabilitation drug counselor. She’s doing that now, working on her degree at East Los Angeles College.

It’s been 21 years since she first showed up in my class. I have watched her all that time.

I see her on campus now, an adult finally, and no longer in her sunglasses and khaki shorts that meet her tube socks at the knees. She is usually with one of her sons, who is also a student. I see them after class, walking together slowly toward the parking lot.

___

Fabiola Manriquez grew up in East L.A., where she still resides. She loves to teach Math and English, and hopes to complete a Master’s this year. Through the TYTT workshop, she discovered a deeper joy and beauty in the formation of storytelling.
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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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