When I started going to school at Santa Barbara City College, I moved out of Saul’s house. He’d come back from Mexico and needed his room, which was understandable, and said I could sleep in the living room if I wanted to. I decided to leave and had two simple reasons: I had already looked for apartments in Isla Vista because I wanted to be closer to my job and wanted to mingle with the students. Since I was serious about learning English, living in a house where Spanish was prominent didn’t seem like a good idea. SBCC was twenty minutes away, but that wasn’t a problem because I could take the city bus; and what was even better, it was free for students.
Nevertheless, the living conditions in my new apartment were bad, and I almost wanted to change my mind and go back to Saul’s place. But I didn’t. The reason why I had seconds thoughts was that I wasn’t even living in the apartment. I was outside the apartment, in the small backyard. They were renting a small, uninhabitable wooden box, big enough for one person to sit or stand in it.
I entered the box, and the smell of wet wood struck my nose at once. It had rained the previous night, and the cloudy sky still threatened us with fine drizzles now and then. And to try and keep it as dry as possible, there was blue, thick nylon on top of it. It didn’t help much. Everything about it was bad.
Except for one thing.
There was a small, brown wooden desk in the front and an old, white desktop computer on top of it. A tall, empty bookshelf to my right, a small grey bureau to my left, and a chair under the desk.
The woman who rented the box was behind me. She interpreted my prolonged moment of silence for hesitation. She would’ve never guessed I was overcome with admiration. Let’s face it; the place was a shithole, but it featured exactly what I needed at that moment in time. I was about to start living college life. I needed a place to study, do my homework, and keep my books.
“All this stuff,” I said. “Are they yours?”
“My husband’s,” she said, “I send him here when he pisses me off.” She winked, suggesting that was a joke. “But if you want, I can take them out.”
“I’ll take it,” I said. “The only thing I have to buy is a desk lamp.”
She was speechless, still thinking this was all a dream, or I was pulling her leg. “Are you serious?” She finally asked. “Is it ok if I leave it as it is?”
“Yes,” I said.
She smiled. “Good. Don’t worry. I also have a desk lamp. I’m going to let you have it!”
It was a lot more comfortable to write on a desk. It just felt as if everything I had in my head came out way easier. Even if what I always wrote was my journal, I still needed to make it interesting. There was even a time I went back to writing poetry like I did when I was a kid. Eventually, I started to make a small and steady transition from Spanish to English. After all, that was the plan all along.
The night of January 25th I was working like usual. I was off at 4 in the morning and wasn’t even tired. I was anxious. I wanted to go to school, see how learning and studying a whole new language would be. Briefly, and for the second time in that week, I went back in time and reminisced on the moment when I’d gone to school for the very first time in my life and realized I had the same feeling of anticipation when I was almost twenty-one years old.
Yes, I felt like a fucking kid. And that was awesome.
I woke up at eight the next morning, had slept about three hours, but was so happy to worry about it. When I arrived at school, I noticed many of the students who walked around were just like me, happy to be there. Others, however, wished they could’ve been anywhere else; yes, school is just like anything else.
I was quick to make friends that first day at the cafeteria. There was Raul from Mexico City, Jorge from Durango, Cristal from Guanajuato, Teresita, and Maripaula from Cuba. I spent a month studying with them.
It was fun. I will always remember these people with fondness.
Unfortunately, my cousin Jenaro decided I should not study in the morning and work at night. “Sleeping three or four hours at night is gonna make you stupid!” he said.
He advised me to work in the morning, which had its pros and cons. The con was the salary; it dropped a hurtful fifty percent. However, the pro made all the difference; I had a lot more time to study, do homework, and even practice reading and talking in English with random people on the streets.
After all, that was the plan all along.
A month later, my passion for learning only increased, and I wanted to absorb as much as possible. Even if I only went to school four hours a day, I always took a step forward and studied and practiced even more. In fact, the change in my schedule that would keep me from being stupid didn’t really matter because I was still sleeping three or four hours every night.
I’ve always thought that people who sleep less dare to dream more.
One day, I decided to take my learning process up a notch when I met a charming Japanese girl who seemed to have come out of a manga. I mean, she was hot. I’m not even kidding. I asked her out. We went to Palazzio, a fancy Italian restaurant on State Street. But of course, because we both still sucked at English and were unable to form a coherent, well-structured sentence, the chemistry was suddenly gone. I went home and had to calm my urges with a cold shower.
When spring left the 2006 calendar, summer came bearing gifts. I did great in school, tried to date three more girls but had equally shitty results, and my twenty-first birthday was the greatest celebration. At least for me, of course. Like always, my mother was the first person to call; that woman never misses a birthday. I wonder why.
I was still alone but had come to like that about me. Both my families were still there, waiting for me to visit someday. I barely did that.
According to Uncle Sam, what made this birthday interesting was that now I was old enough to drink. I went to a liquor store, bought a Miller Light, showed my ID, and left. I downed it, didn’t even savor it, and lit up a Marlboro Light after that.
I guess I only wanted to feel like an adult.
A weird and strange adult.
One thing that was weird and strange about me –still is, actually- is that I’ve always seemed to be living more than one personality or character at a time. What do you call that? Multiple Personality Disorder? Nobody liked me at my job because I was a pain in the ass –and I know I was- but everyone in school seemed to think I was awesome, charismatic, and even friendly. My cousins always said I was a two-faced kind of person.
Since I didn’t go to school that summer, my thirst for knowledge decreased. I spent my days playing basketball, hanging out with a few friends who didn’t speak English, and gradually throwing into the trash all I learned during the spring.
I guess they were right. I was a bit of a two-faced person.
When fall came, I started to go to school again. I focused on my books, did my homework, and practiced like a maniac. I needed to be congruent. I needed to keep at it. Even if I didn’t see my family as often, I always followed their advice. I was in school because I wanted to accomplish something. Being a writer was still what I had in mind.
However, by the end of 2006, someone came into my life, bringing ideas that made me change my mind for a moment.
Photo by Foundry.