The Bad – Part I

I want to tell you about my cousins Jesse and Joey and why they’re both dead now and how my dad saved me from ending up like them. I want to tell you about my cousin Becky and how she was my best friend and why she’s dead now and how my dad saved me from ending up like her. I want to tell you about my tío JoJo and how he lost an eye when he got caught cheating at cards in Texas and how he gave me my first sip of Schlitz Malt Liquor.

I want to tell you all about them, but at fifty-one the memories dance together like a mass of sweaty drunkards tripping balls on X at a rave in a warehouse somewhere in the San Fernando Valley. I have flashing moments of smoking fake weed with Jesse before we got Joey to give us the real shit. There’s that time Jesse landed on his face trying to jump farther than anyone else on the shitty bike ramp we three built. There he was screaming down the hill and onto the 101 on-ramp riding a shitty go cart we slapped together with plywood and wheels we broke off of an abandoned grocery cart.

I don’t want to remember the night Jesse and I walked home from Los Felix to Boyle Heights at one in the morning because his mother refused to come and get us, but also demanded he be home. I don’t really mind remembering the train hopping, or even the homeless guy chasing us with a knife along the L.A. River. But I really love to have the memory of his mother beating the shit out of him for doing something as stupid as walking the streets of L.A. in the middle of the night. But I will always remember that being the first time in my life I felt pure, unmitigated hatred for another human being. I was too young to save my cousin from his personal beast, but I never forgot and never forgave. When his mother dies there is a very good possibility I may actually piss on her grave.

I do want to remember Jesse getting clean and sober and having a family in spite of the drugs and the prison and the fucking bullet holes that ravaged his body. I want to hold onto that moment he got up on stage and absolutely killed it in a play. I want to remember that decades apart had not diminished our joy at being together. I will always remember and cherish our last conversations as grown men about trying to do better for his kids than was done for him; about him forgiving his mother because holding onto that shit is like a cancer, you know?

Yeah, I know, but Imma hold onto it for you because fuck that puta.

Laughing, that’s fucked up, Rudy, but thank you.

Of course. I fucking love you, man.

I know fool, cuz we’re both the same.

We’re both the same.

I want to hold onto those moments of Jesse being happy and sober and whole. So I won’t tell you how his story ends.

I want to tell you about how badly Jesse and I just wanted to be Joey; that everything I could do, Joey could do better and with more panache. But then Joey disappeared into the streets and one day he never made it back.

I want to tell you about the nights Becky spent laying awake with me all night talking about the stars and the shitty people who hurt us; how we swore we would always have each other’s back and look out for one another because we both had moms that were complete shit; how we talked about wishing they had each just aborted us, but if I have to be here I am so glad you are too; how Becky showed up at my second of three middle schools because some eighth grader was threatening me so she let him know she would be waiting for him if he ever touched me; how she survived juvie and smack and got her life together and raised a family and asked me to be the godfather of her first born. I want to tell you all of that except, that last bit isn’t true. She didn’t survive.

I want to tell you their stories, but I don’t want to get them wrong. They deserve better and I love them too much to fuck it up, so I will leave you with those little snippets. I also don’t like remembering the world around them. The mothers – my aunts – that brought them into this world just to, at best, ignore them, and at worst do horrible things to them.

The world around them was the world that made my mother and my aunts. It was a bad world, made worse because the thing a world of neglect and abuse begets is a surfeit of misery and pain.

And if I don’t tell you at least a little of their stories I would be doing them a disservice. They are a part of me and what I am. More than that, though, they are what I would have become were I not so fucking lucky enough to have had the father I did. We’ll talk about Big Rudy later, I promise.

I will tell you that my tío Jojo was born in 1900 and wore a patch like a pirate (I know you just went ARRRRGGGGG and I don’t judge). The story I remember is that he was my maternal grandfather’s brother and he lost the eye after getting caught cheating at cards in the state of Texas. Then he was tossed out of Texas and told never to return. I don’t know how much of that is true, I just know he was an old man by the time I arrived on the scene. His wrinkled, leathery skin always smelled like Pall Malls which always hung off the end of his fingertips, the ash ever growing but never daring to fall. He spent the days playing solitaire, drinking Schlitz, and smoking. He shared his Schlitz with me, but never his cigarettes. Apparently, five is only too young to smoke. He taught me how to play solitaire.

He was a fixture. A tacky piece of decor from a bygone era that always come back around and into fashion again if you wait long enough. I thought he would always be there.

He made it to 93.

He won the race.

Tía Yolanda - Nana - my face getting mushed - Jojo - Jesse
©2024 Rudy Martinez