Image by Sofia Coeli c/o nappy.co
Juliana Josephine Marquez. Julie. Julie la chula. Bendita Julie. Sweet Jules, the Mayan Princess, lingers stubbornly on the edge of my lips, a smoldering kiss beneath the layers of my nascent love life.
Among her many vice-like virtues, and virtuous vices, was sticking around long enough to lightning strike the trifecta of narciso, pendejo, and miedoso right out of me. Julie, a swirling 22 year old mess of Hondureña beauty colliding headfirst into a swirling mass of Latina hipsterhood; narcisa, pendeja, miedosa. We were perfect for each other: disastrously perfect. Two little storms clumping together to make the perfect shitstorm. Perfect.
Overnight, I’d followed her call, into her chamber, wondering who the real disciple was. Taking my hand, she took me down, deep down toward unfathomable depths. I see us now: two snakes delightfully lost, tongues tipped in a venom-sweet maraña of fangs and flesh. She just happened to have been eating forbidden fruits a bit longer. My first lesson: there weren’t any floors in the temple of lust, or ceilings, just entrances. There, in the settled heat and quiet of our bedside passions, she’d brought along her Mexican daddy issues. Traded them for my stories from the Popol Vuh, the Mayan bible. She loved to hear the tales of the ancient gods and goddesses, of the Maya: the earth tone rich people of the corn that looked just like her. But her favorites were always the ones about Ofelia, sweet and plain Feli, who with child-like hands and seven months of diligent, light-vanilla love, managed to midwife me and my manhood out of a protracted virgin’s coma and into a world of carnal pleasures. We can’t speak of who emerged from those first gropings into the sensuous nether regions of the world but of what and what emerged was not quite a hero and not quite a villain, not quite substance and not quite void; the most definite description had to be the feeling it gave off, like that of a huracán, a force of nature swirling around an epicenter of competing contradictions and desires. And when that huracán was at its fiercest, came the tragedy: looking into Feli’s eyes one day through the eye of my storm, I no longer saw Feli, not even Ofelia, not even Fel. Just “someone” I used to know.
There would never be enough of the feverish, pulsing world for me in “someone’s” innocent, girlish features. So I slithered out of her life carrying away the snake in my loins and the storm swirling around my unripe coco only the week before meeting Juliana. And let me tell you, Juliana was nothing like that girl “Someone.” Survivors? Depends on your definition. Witnesses? Just one.
A ratchet party in an overcrowded living room made for ten people. I’ve seen this scene before, plenty of times. This is the epitome of a college party, complete with chicas falling over themselves in hot bunched clusters and bp balls swishing into plastic red cups. Anything can happen in the ratchet zone: the apartment walls may either defy the laws of physics when thirty more people swarm in, or you may even meet a Juliana with your thoughts and eyes descending deeper and deeper past the curvaceous orbit of her thighs, down to her beautiful, brown knockout legs.
“My sister calls me rompe corazones,” she says as her lips pinch into a devilish half smile that makes me want her even more. And only for a split second does the rising pulse buried in my chest flicker off beat. It’s that jolty feeling: the one you get when you wake up bolting out of bed from a dream where you’re free falling from space. She glides back over to the dance floor trailing a wispy, red-nailed hand like a bird of prey over the flaming plane of my stomach.
Stylish: a true Latina hipster in her Urban Outfitters apparel. Fuck what the other Chicano students say about my neocolonial hipster shit, she says, and looks damn good while she dances. Tall, copper-brown, and long, flowing black hair. Honduran goddess. And my carne, my huesos, all of my nerves, are rioting. Esta chica knows what she’s doing. She’s played this game before and will always be one step ahead of me.
Confession: I’m something of a late bloomer.
Disclaimer: A voracious diet of books, books, more books, and video games since the age of 10 may put you on the fast track to being muy educado but mami chula central runs in the opposite direction.
We are the only Latinos at this gabacho college party and her voice doesn’t have a trace of Spanish in it. She talks like a white girl in a ditzy, high-pitched, nasally voice, but moves her hips suavecito, so it’s excusable. I follow her through the bedroom door. The walls of her room are littered with posters of indie bands. Right above her bed is a poster of a painting she later tells me is Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss; my heart is racing as she straddles me. Beneath the moonbeams coming through the curtains, hers is a body sculpted for love by Coyolxauhqui’s moonbeams.
“So, how many hearts have you sacrificed, mijita?”
“I’ll never tell, if you won’t,”
I put two fingers to her moist lips. She’s wearing a pair of panties with two little boxes stitched into the center labeled naughty and nice; there’s a big red check mark in the first. The lights are off, a dark dimension of pure pleasure envelops all of my senses. She looks like a Mayan princess staring down at me, her little black dress falling from her brown, sinful skin of cinnamon.
Don’t fall in love.
Her almond-shaped, india eyes have their own gravitational pull. I move forward falling fast and far beyond the speed of doubt.
Don’t fall in love.
In the morning, she says she likes my poetry. Switches the velvet in her voice on and begs me to stay a while longer.
Don’t fall in love.
She says she wants to be me when she grows up someday.
I’m late for class.
To hell with it.
Four times a week for the next three months, passion and poetry become my second part-time job; whenever I’m not in class, I teach her a thing or two about writing. She teaches me the carnal geography of her body. I leave campus and get home later and later each day.
She admires my writing. Says I’ll be a great writer someday while my grades in English 152: The Latter Works of Shakespeare, plummet. I don’t seem to care. I have everything I need in Julie’s room, beneath the poster of perennial lovers draped in gold and suspended in primal ecstasy over her bed. If passion and drama are at the heart of every great Shakespearean work, then who better to teach than the Julianas of the world?
All I can think about lately are the red flags she keeps throwing my way along with her kisses: the tinder app she jokes about having, the sancho she likes to tease me about. She feeds off of my jealousy; it makes her grow strong with a force I can only begin to fathom. I don’t read for class, not even for fun, on the train anymore. It’s those damn ojitos de almendra I want to write poems about; they keep taunting me, whispering to me, “Danger, Lane Ends up Ahead.” If I had to pick between loving a woman’s heart and her body, I think, after spending several eternities making up my mind, I’d end up splitting in two and bursting like an atom bomb, taking everything within a 50 mile radius with me. Each half, if either survived, would go for a completely different thing.
Commuting between her dorm at UCLA and home is like traveling between two distant ends of the same galaxy: Westwood and Planet Pobre. Three buses and one train every day: my ghetto wormhole generator. Most of the time, when I’m not chasing after the bus before the train or the one after, it works just fine.
Westwood makes me think of the snowfields on planet Hoth, frosty white and disorienting to outsiders, the same star system as Bel Air and Beverly Hills. Planet Pobre, on the other hand, makes me think of Earth in Elysium, except Matt Damon isn’t around to save the POC from economic terrorism in Christ-like martyrdom. Sometimes I feel like I belong more to the trains and buses than to either of these places, like a perpetual interstellar nomad. Planet Pobre wears three names like three moons. City officials call it South Park. The inhabitants of Westwood call it South Los Angeles. The people who live here know it as Sur Central/South Central. For better or worse, I call it home. The 110 freeway lumbers across the skyline just two blocks to the west of my neighborhood. Walking past the roaming bands of rogue chickens, cactus rich Mexican gardens, Guatemalan bakeries, and Salvadoran Pupuserias, I live where Macondo meets Metropolis.
Homeless people are not an uncommon sight around the train station, but the old homeless latino man with a shopping cart full of books always turns a head whenever he comes up the platform. He calls out book titles and their prices in English and Spanish. Now and then I catch him saying snippets of things in a language that is neither. He has the same indio eyes as Juliana.
Today I approach him and ask if he’s from Honduras. He smiles before telling me in Spanish that his name is Gustavo, that he is from Guatemala.
“De donde eres, vos?” He asks me. He wants to know if I have family in Honduras.
“No, I just have a Honduran friend,” I say. “I thought you might also be Honduran.”
“Don’t worry about it. It’s because your friend and I have the same roots.”
He rummages in his cart for a moment and then retrieves a thick black tome with a spanish title: El Popol Vuh.
“This is the Mayan bible. Can you read in Spanish?” he asks.
“It’s what I’m studying at school,” I say.
“Perfect. I’ll let you have it for just five dollars. Share it with your friend.”
I grab the book, thumb through the dusty pages and see illustrations of Mayan gods and heroes. I ask him why he sells books out of a shopping cart every morning at a train station.
“Because I can’t eat them, the books. You need money to buy food around here don’t you?” He laughs. I pull a wrinkled five dollar bill from my pocket and hand it to him.
Every week, Gustavo is reading a different book. Most are old and musty. Some are swollen and faded from years spent soaking up the rain. Cien Años de Soledad, Hemingway, Jorge Luis Borges, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: he has all of the classics of the English and Spanish speaking worlds.
Some mornings, over a cigarette or a cup of coffee, we discuss the stories in the Popol Vuh while I wait for the train. Gustavo tells me that for the ancient Maya, the universe was full of cycles and seasons but history never completely repeated itself. The gods’ five attempts to create humanity proved this; the birds, the monkeys, the beasts of the forest, with each different result, with each failure, new life was brought into the world and unique episodes unfolded between the cycles of creation and destruction.
“Do you understand Rudolfo?” he asks. “The faint whispers of the past in the present, that is what we must look for in order to trace the divine movements in our lives. If you don’t, you might end up like the wooden people who forgot the gods and were turned into the monkeys who now swing through the trees.” He says this with a smile, a laugh, half joking and half serious.
I started thinking about that girl “Someone” again recently. She’s there in the room with us as Juliana strokes my cheek and massages my bare chest. The perennial lovers are there looking down on me knowingly, while Juliana’s hands glide southward in a slow, feather like sweep.
“Someone,” I picture her listening to me garble the jumbled train wreck of my break up words over the phone and into her ear at the speed of sound. Crash. Her breath stops unexpectedly and I find myself past the tracks on the other side of the damage.
“Look, maybe I felt a little guilty, a little remorseful,” I tell Julie,” but the fact is there was no way for me to share her pain.”
Every second I spent in the silence of “Someone’s” hurt felt like being trapped forever with the damn phone glued to my ear. I was dying for that moment, that will live on forever, to be dead and buried. But then I realized something awful, something monstrously true about myself; it was lodged at the back of my throat like a rock, like a bomb, like a storm: I never really loved her. Boom. Just like that and the myth of love I’d worked so hard to believe in for “Someone” crumbles.
I didn’t want to break the convenient illusion, though. if I’m being honest here, Julie, it wasn’t out of concern for “Someone’s” feelings. I was afraid of looking like a heartless asshole. If I were being really honest, I was terrified of the chisme: the horde of gossiping aunts, primas and amigas out for blood who would’ve tarred and feathered me before her papi, who had just started showing the vaguest signs of liking me, could have driven over to shove his pointy Mexican cowboy botas up my ass.
“Wow Rudy. You are an asshole,” Julie says playfully. “But you're a sensitive asshole, an honest asshole, and maybe that's why I like you.”
I start to hear about Juliana’s daddy issues little by little. How the old paisa had left her, her mother, and her little sister to start another Mexican family. How he’d been an alcoholic machista, the usual deal. He’d recently come back into her life a born again christian, a changed man facing full flack from his enraged Mexican wife for promising to support his once upon a time family. She shows me her father’s last text. The screen reads: I hate you and your sister. I want you out of my life. “Sounds like a woman’s scorn,” Julie says, and I agree. I sweep the phone out of her hands and slide mine up and down the smooth, electric underside of her dress. I’m not thinking with the right head. We never do which means I’m going to be cursed by Honduran girls for the rest of my life. Ni modo.
For Valentine’s day, I spend about 2 hours a week before planning the most original date I can think of and end up shelling out over $100 to make the damn thing happen: an indoor carnival at the classy hotel Figueroa complete with games, cotton candy, music, and an open bar. This is what too much love poetry does to you. It’s toxic. I’ve made her my temple; she will come and go as she pleases and I will always have an offering ready for her.
“So you’re my girl, right?”
“Do we really need labels?”
“But that’s so high school. Labels make things complicated, trust me.”
By the end of the night, the mayan princess convinces me that it’s best for us to take an uber to my house in South Central. It’s 2 a.m. and I don’t have the cash to uber it back to the west side. Hard to argue with her since I only live 10 minutes away from downtown but there’s been one red flag too many. Some unpleasant truths finally start sinking in. I start to feel anxious.
“Come on, Rudy. I want to see your house. Are you worried your mami will catch us?” she snickers.
She can see I’m not amused.
“No te aguites,” she says. She’s been picking up my mexicanisms lately. I’m thoroughly annoyed.
But there’s not much I can do, especially under the onslaught of those powerful lust rays beaming from her india eyes. The next minute I’m helping her out of the uber and sending the driver on his way.
But she’s right. I’ve always been something of a mama’s boy. Chiqueado. My defiance feels forced as she leads me up the front steps while telling me about her Honduran mother and the tiny apartment they live in on the east side. She’s no stranger to these nighttime escapades and I’ve heard her stories of meeting past amantes at the park long after sundown. At the same time, I was too hooked on video games and books to feel a single rebellious bone in my body.
When we get to the door, I realize I’ve misplaced my keys. I don’t know whether to feel relieved or more anxious.
“What’s the matter?”
“Nothing, except I’m going to have to break into my own house now since I forgot my keys.”
She’s thoroughly amused. I can hear my mother snoring peacefully as I gently pull the screen from one of the windows on the side of the house. I’m like a ghetto ninja when I hop onto the garbage cans to reach the window ledge. Then the window screen foils me; it takes me a million years to move it since every creak sounds loud enough to set off all the dogs in the neighborhood plus a couple dozen police sirens while I wait for a floodlight and megaphone to stop me dead in my tracks.
I manage to pull it away, wipe the sweat from my brow, and in one fluid motion hop through the open window and off to the front door. We have to make a pilgrimage on our tiptoes to reach my grandparents’ empty room at the far end of the house. Mama Rosales seems to snore in time to the beat of our footfalls every step of the way.
There was very little, even then, in my “mister college” years that could get a chiqueado like me to do something as crazy as breaking into my mother’s house at 2 a.m to have vigorous, unbridled sex in my abuelos’ abandoned bedroom. But Juliana, her wild, messy way of living, the parties and all night sex-athons in the crook of her devilish smile take me far beyond poetic conceits and idle memories.
“I’m so sorry, Señora Rosales, but your hijo is too busy with me, inside me, to say his prayers before bedtime,” Juliana croons sarcastically, trying to lighten the mood but there’s something nauseating about the way she says it. The feeling lingers just for a moment. I lock the door behind us gently because my mother’s image of her hijo lindo que estudia en UCLA depends on her not waking up right now. I am now the long repressed loquillo I may have always been. We snuggle into each other. She’s been waiting for this, right here and right now in abuelo’s room. Up until now, I thought I was too. This shocks the hell out of me because it means I might actually be thinking with the right head for once.
Many times and then for a long time, not at all, I’d thought about that old Mexican man, an huracan from another time and place lost in a long night of corridos and cantinas. On this night, I feel him stirring in my bones and in my blood, lost in the swirling black silk of Julie’s hair. I’m getting ready to drown my self-loathing in a hail of sweet lustful release, then I gaze into her eyes and see the ghost of his madness: abuelo, 67 years old, a flask of tequila in his hands, a hole in his heart, and a knife tucked into the folds of his norteno suit; my grandmother sits alone in their room, telling me with her tears of his wild, erratic, hard as tequila love; I gaze dreamily through the crack in the door from the darkened hallway, 8 years old and the night wears on. Abuela’s been dead several years; the tequila and the heartache took her. She cried alone. Abuelo’s alive somewhere in Guadalajara; my parents say they sent him there for rehab, but somehow I don’t think that’s where he’s been going since he got there.
I watch Juliana watching me, wanting me now more than ever. But this is where it should end. No more stories, no more fate and desire; I’m sick of those two embittered lovers. I gently nudge her away. I can’t believe what I’m doing but the thought of being intimate in this room unsettles me, deeply.
“What’s wrong, Rudy?” She looks genuinely concerned. I’ve never rejected her advances before.
“Nothing, I just don’t feel like doing this right now. We might wake someone up. I’m kind of tired. It’s late.”
“Fine, I’ll let you rest but I really want to.”
“Tough,” I say and shut my eyes.
We wake up to the sound of my mother making coffee just outside the bedroom door. This was so spontaneous, I keep praying that she doesn’t barge in to clean the room or something. In all likelihood she’d probably faint for about a minute. Then her eyes would snap open and she’d be shoving a broom and dustpan into my princesa’s hands commanding her to make herself useful and do some chores if she’s gonna be hanging around like a good for nothing malcriada.
But she’s perfectly unaware. I come up with a plan on the spot; I’ve already made it onto the top of my father’s parked car just beneath the open bedroom window when la princesa is having serious doubts that we’ll be getting out of this one. It takes like 20 maddening minutes before I get her to come down. By some continuous miracle, my mother still hasn’t barged in.
“I can’t believe we just did that,” she says.
I’m just about to agree with her when I realize that I forgot to put all the window screens back in place. There’s no helping it. We have to go back.
I knocked on the front door. When my mother answers I introduce la princesa as a classmate who happens to be helping me with a research project. Mama Rosales buys it and lets us in. I explain how I’m going to be grabbing some things from my room and then heading off. I can feel some tension between the two women. It’s as if they both know exactly what’s going on and no amount of cunning on my part is enough to conceal it.
We linger awkwardly for several minutes before my mother leaves to take care of some errands. Then la princesa seizes her chance. One look into her almond eyes is always enough for me. I lead her into my room. It’s the last time we will ever lay for rotten love. I know this as soon as I utter, in a breath that pierces the dank wetness of the room, words more obscene to her ears than lust or fuck. She hesitates before responding and her discomfort is palpable.
“Really? Me too. I love you, too,” she says, as if each word were a barbed minefield.
We spend 15 minutes walking in total silence toward the expo line station. The rift between us seems to widen with every second. She hugs me, holds on for a whole minute, but it’s no use. It doesn’t feel right anymore. I don’t think it ever will. Something deep inside me is ripe and on fire. She takes a piece of it with her when she boards the train without looking back.
I didn’t believe in karma then. I only believed that I’d quietly forget about Juliana, that of the two kinds of lovers, the forgiving type would always forgive, and the second type, the type I thought I was, would always forget. It’s too bad I read somewhere that the half-life of love is forever. No mames, güey.
Guess what? Punching walls hurts, a lot. I’m an idiot and I look crazier than the old homeless men around the station who are always talking to themselves by the entrance. But I’m so lost in the moment as I punch the concrete wall, I don’t notice the screech of the incoming train or the shocked looks of the people on the platform. For three good full-force strikes, I’m a man possessed. I feel free, liberated from the throbbing pain between my burning lungs by the crunch of my knuckles against cold, unfeeling concrete. It feels like an instinct. Hell of a rush. I have the surgical precision of a caveman. When the train pulls in, everyone snaps out of it, including me.
I feel brittle. Too many things have broken inside me. I start to crave raw masa. I can taste the thick, doughy corn paste on the tip of my tongue. Masa, that’s what hearts should be made of. A sacrifice of corn hearts for those husks of unfeeling shells we call lovers. A sanctified commerce of karma and hearts. Little do we know what they really are: the vengeful gods and goddesses of past loves, coming to reckon with us for the hearts we ourselves have taken or have yet to take. And so we lie and create stories about them so we can keep on lying to ourselves that it's not at all about them, that it's not at all so that we can keep on loving them, long after they're gone.
My fist is crimson and crumpled. It looks like a mangled, bleeding heart. There’s blood all over my clothes.The dirty ground beneath my feet laps up the scarlet drops running off my fingertips. I hear the creak of a grocery cart being pushed across the platform. I can see Gustavo’s ragged shoes before me now.
“If you’re going to sacrifice so much blood and tears, it better be for the gods. Otherwise nothing will come of it,” he says, offering me a newspaper and bottled water to clean myself up.
He parks his cart near me and the blood stained wall, reaches into his tattered overcoat and offers me a cigarette. I take it in my good hand and bring it to my lips.
Gustavo’s face is solemn. An angular face with high indian cheekbones. Graying hair near the temples. He leans right up against the wall, near the blood stain.
“I saw the girl. Was that your friend? She looks beautiful,” he says, “but also dangerous.”
I take a deep drag and exhale a puff of smoke. “Yeah,” I say, pocketing my bleeding heart.
“I lived through the war in Guatemala, fought against the soldiers who came from the capital to slaughter us: first my family, then the rest of the village. Saw them shot before my eyes as I hid in the bushes. Some of those men, the soldiers, were Maya just like us sent from far away towns.”
I look at the blood stain on the wall, at my bloody hands and clothes and smile half heartedly. I feel ridiculous and relieved at the same time.
“Life is too short, Rudolfo. Make your sacrifices count.” He pats me on the back before moving past the wall and across the street mumbling to himself in a language that is neither English nor Spanish.
As I headed down the platform for home, I remember how “Someone” used to call me just to hear the sound of my voice, how she said It helped her sleep better at night. Then I see it all at once, the divine movement between Juliana, “Someone,” and myself: love is a traveler with no permanent home, one that wanders freely through the overwhelming expanse of space and time, never promising to return but returning, sometimes, when least expected.
Ofelia. Feli. She was “Someone” I could never forget and it feels strange when I realize I haven’t said her name out loud for nearly a year.
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