Tumble Down by Luis Rosario
There is something at the core of this city, that remains the same no matter how much it changes. I occupy a strange place in it; a place where my soul is old but the new and novel things are vitally important. I remember when trolleys hooked to cables ran down Merrimack street, ringing bells and connecting the department stores and shops to the otherwise unconnected limbs of our city. There are so many differing and far flung neighborhoods and areas with their own stories and their own fears and worries.
I grew up in the Acre. It started as the home for immigrants and continued to be the place where those who did not belong in the bright white and wealthy neighborhoods ended up. My neighbors were murderers and criminals, violent in word and deed. I grew up under the thumb of that threat of violence, a threat that never quite manifested itself in the world outside my home.
Inside my home things were different. My parents spoke Spanish and pushed us to do the same, ignoring requests in English until we could dredge up the words we needed to ask for more food or for help with homework. I resented it then but it pushed my brain to remember the words of my forefathers and it heavily defined who I have become. More than the Spanish words though, my home taught me that anger and violence were normal. I learned that a slap was as persuasive as a teachable moment and that the sound of leather hitting leather was a sign to become small and non-threatening.
I lacked pure love as I grew from boy to man and every expression of kindness was viewed with distrust and uncertainty. Women were a special mystery to me, elusive and frightening because I had not been taught to love them without fear. The walls of my heart were closed and I was sure that behind my impenetrable fortress I would remain safe and untouched.
Is it any wonder that she broke through and took me by storm?
I don’t want you to think that I didn’t know love in my life, I had felt deep feelings for many people in my relatively short life. But they stayed at arms length, signs of their returned affections ignore until it was far too late. Natalie, sultry and languid like a hunting snake, taught me a healthy respect for the power of female sexuality. Millie set my mind ablaze, showing me the secrets hiding in a packed bowl and forcing me to examine how I fit in a world where that didn’t care about God and faith. I even got married and learned that I desperately did not want to be tied down to anyone, especially someone who hated who I was and got rid of me when they finished changing me into something else.
All of these lessons were learned the hard way and paid for in blood, sweat, and tears. But there were lessons that I hadn’t yet discovered. I hadn’t touched upon the dark sticky places where people keep the pain they’ve saved up. Delve too deep there and you will find yourself drowning in the worst that people create to torment themselves.
That’s really what it all came down to when I met her, we were both waiting to be given the torture we thought we deserved. The person I became when I loved her can never be erased, it’s a mask I made and nailed to my skull. No matter how I scrape away at the edges, part of it will remain. I’ve earned every bit of Hell she gave me and I’ll always be the devil that she created.
My father worked for most of his life in the kinds of jobs that destroyed you physically and stole from you emotionally. Each day he struggled to provide enough for his family and if you think that made him a good man, then you never had to live under the fist of a man who lived that way. For a man like that, the struggle to survive becomes everything and each surge of emotion, justified or not, becomes another weapon to lash out with.
His willful son became an enemy to subdue and his religion became a sword. I remember times where I listened to him give impassioned sermons about the value of family and love, knowing that when I got home I would have to tread lightly to not suffer his violence. He was more than anything the product of his upbringing and I the product of mine.
I think that as difficult as he had it, I had it much worse. He lived day to day in the visible trappings of the fires that forged him. His poverty hung about him like chains and he would sometimes see something that would remind him of those days and he would whisper stories to me. He would tell me about his crimes and his times where the only option was to fight. He told me about his family life and how it was often a literal battleground. He often avoided discussing his childhood because he was ashamed of it, preferring to live in the new face he’d grown as a caring member of a church that had no reason to doubt him.
But me? I had to suffer under the hidden violence. People saw my clothes and my toys and saw that I was intelligent and charming. They never knew that I was those things in spite of how I was raised, not because of it. They never knew that I desperately clung to my intelligence and mental acuity as my only sanctuary in a world that was pain and loss. Is it any wonder that I became who I did? For me, the same mouth that spoke “I love you’s” before bed, was the one that turned me into nothing each day when I woke up.
She was a taste of that bad air that I’d been breathing for song long before I met her. Do you know how you get used to a bad smell in your home? Like when something in the fridge goes bad and you forget to throw it out? You get used to breathing the scent in until you finally clean things out and realize how bad they were. I’d just cleaned out my fridge but she was there to remind me that I kinda missed it.
She didn’t even do anything. She just sat there with headphones in and music blaring loud enough to be heard from three tables away. It was angry music, crashing drums and guitars shredding haphazardly. It was music that drew poison up from your blood and fed back to you a drop at a time. There was a passive danger to her every move, as if she was waiting for the world to give her an excuse to draw blood. I love every second of her and for the first time I was choosing to expose myself for a stranger.
I saw her sitting there alone and I assumed she was lonely. I pushed much of myself into my impressions of her in that first meeting and she let me. I was struggling to find myself, working a dead end job and casually bedding a girl who would move on to much better. I don’t even remember her name but she was a leggy brunette who threw herself at whoever welcomed her because she knew she could get away with it. The last time I saw her we had both revealed too much too soon and she moved on to better. I’ll never see snow on the sand without thinking of her.
This girl though, this girl was fire and I had to burn myself. I try to remember know what she looked like and it’s hard not to be overcome by how much she set my libido burning. What description would do her justice? Every feature, every time our eyes met, every moment of sexual tension, would taint the view until she became someone else’s dream. She was small, she was thin, she had eyes that danced, and dimples that just didn’t seem fair. She spoke with a voice too big for a mouth so small and she often tripped over her words. She loved music that spoke to the feelings she was feeling, aggressive notes that crashed and tumbled over your ears. There are more words to describe the way she listened to music than to tell you how I saw her. She lived inside her music and when she opened the windows to her house, it screamed.
We didn’t say many words that day. I asked her name and gave her mine. She didn’t look me in the eyes and despite how hard I tried to keep her there, she walked away without a second glance. It was the first time a spark had grown into a bonfire from so little. I knew I would see her again. No fire burns so painfully without leaving embers.
Luis Rosario is a 31 year old Puerto Rican from Lowell, MA. You can find him on tumblr: here.
Illustration by Van Hong (website).