In the United States, I realized I was a bit different from the people I spent time with. My first job was at a construction site, with people who were friends of the family; most of them were illegals, like me, and came from small towns I’d heard of before when living back in Mexico. They were building one of Rodolfo’s houses on Quinto and De La Vina, and my main chore was to sweep up cigarette butts, burrito wrappers, as well as any other trash you can imagine. Employees would throw shit on the floor. They were too lazy to use the blue and bright trashcans, even though they were all over the site.
I only worked there for fifteen days, mostly because I wasn’t too fond of the people and their weird ways; ass-grabbing and name-calling were two of their main pastimes. In fact, I had been nicknamed El Primo just because I was related to the boss. Fuck this, I thought. People noticed I was not what they call ‘a team-player,’ which was definitely true, and that didn’t bother me. I did have a bad temper and will only allow a woman to nickname me and grab my ass from time to time.
But another dude? No fucking way.
After discovering the problems I had, my primo Rodolfo took me outside and had a serious talk with me. “You have to learn how to get along with these people,” he said.
All of the brothers had similar features: black wavy hair, oval, good-looking, clean-shaven faces, and brown eyes that seemed to shoot bullets every time they were mad. The only difference between him and his brothers was that he had a thick, well-groomed mustache and an even thicker bank account.
“I don’t like how they are,” I retaliated. And I was right. Nobody has to walk through the mud if they don’t like to get their shoes dirty.
“I see the type of person you are,” Rodolfo said. “You don’t like to fit in.”
He managed to get my attention. “I guess.”
“But sometimes you have to do it to get what you want.”
I thought about it. Someday I would understand what Rodolfo meant. “Guess I’m gonna have to look for another job,” I said.
Rodolfo smiled. “You already have another job.”
There were three Mexican restaurants in the city named ‘Super Cucas.’ Rodolfo owned the one (and most successful) on the Westside, at a walking distance from where I lived. Rodolfo gave me a job there, washing dishes and helping out at the carniceria, the meat market adjacent to the restaurant.
I worked there for five months and tried as hard as I could to get along with other employees, who were more or less like the people at the construction site. Washing dishes and scraping guts and blood from plastic containers wasn’t educational, but I learned some things in the process. One, I learned that people wouldn’t really give a fuck, and they would call me whatever they wanted to, even when they knew for a fact what my Goddamned name was. And second, I learned that some people would at least try to call me by my name only because I was the owner’s cousin.
Well, that’s how life was in the workplace, and in general, other things had changed in my life. First, my long-distance girlfriend and I had mutually broken up because she was honest enough to confess that she had cheated on me and admitted that she wouldn’t be able to wait until I was ready to go back. I couldn’t blame her, mainly because I wasn’t sure when I was going to return.
Also, I was able to pay Juan the money he spent to get me into the country, and once again, I let Juan know how grateful I was to have had his help. And finally, I wasn’t living on Robbins and Pedregosa anymore. I moved in with Agustin, a way-too-cheerful friend of the family I met at one of the many barbecues and get-togethers they all had from time to time.
“Sure!” Agustin said the day I asked if I could move in with him. Agustin had a Bud Light on his left, and his right rested strangely on his waist. His high-pitched voice and feminine manners prompted me to have questions about his sexual orientation. “And why are you moving out?”
“Juan and his wife are moving to Goleta, and he says it’s best if I stay here, so I don’t have to take the bus all the time.”
“Ah. That’s smart,” he said, pursing his lips and lifting his eyebrows. A Hispanic, good-looking woman with black and long curly hair approached us and gave Agustin a furtive kiss in the mouth. “This is Lily. My girlfriend.”
“Nice to meet you,” Lily and I said in unison.
That kiss answered my throbbing questions.
Some other things happened during my first six months living in a foreign country. I had my first birthday, which was silent and depressing. Obviously, my mother was the only person who called me, which made me feel ok for a moment. I was only twenty years old, and while it did seem as if I had my whole future ahead of me, I knew the road wasn’t going to be as smooth as a baby’s ass.
Furthermore, I became so used to this solitude that I began to call it ‘my girlfriend.’ Solitude was a loyal ally in my times of tears and sadness, but she was also a whore, because I wasn’t the only sad and homesick fucker who wanted to spend time with her. But that was ok. I made no judgments. I did have a real, flesh-and-bone friend whose name was Saul; he was also another good friend of the family, which made me wonder if they had any enemies. Apparently, everyone was a ‘friend’ around here.
What I found interesting about Saul was his intellect. Undoubtedly, he was smarter than anyone else. He was an avid reader, and his Spanish was not like what you normally heard at the construction site and the restaurant. There was an aura of sophistication that made him look different, perhaps larger than life. Even the way he stood, while holding a Bud Light on his left hand and having a conversation: back straight, chest out, eyes fixed on the speaker. He even had a propensity to say ‘excuse me’ every time he wanted to say something.
Besides Saul, I made two or three sporadic friendships with people I never saw again. And if I did, I wouldn’t remember. The reason why I was unable to keep friends was because of Solitude’s jealousy. It was as if ‘she’ didn’t want me to socialize. To avoid going crazy, I did what Esmeralda suggested back in Tucson.
I began to write down the story of my life.