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In the first three years living in this country, I’ve met more people that I can remember. Some of them have given me headaches, heartaches, and one or two pieces of advice I can’t believe I’m still using today. One of those people was Ester, a woman who happened to think I was a great person and advised me to ‘keep up the good work.’ What was she talking about? I’ll never know.

A while back, when I was working at Staples, she offered me a job at Bagel Café in Isla Vista, a place that specialized in exotic bagel combinations with names that could only come to mind if you were on drugs or drunk out of your mind. For example, Hanna Banana, Slammin’ Salmon, and Sex on a Bagel, a tasty, mouthwatering Cinnamon Glaze Bagel with melted butter and cinnamon sugar.

And yes, the latter was my favorite.

I was at a laundromat a block away from the bagel place, getting the McD’s stain off my clothes while thinking about sex…on a bagel. So I went there, hoping to see Ester as well, say hi, catch up, the usual shenanigans. But, I was surprised to find out she wasn’t there at that moment. Nevertheless, there was a new bagel on the menu with her name on it: The Pinche Ester.

I squinted, unsure if she would be happy to see her name next to such an offensive adjective.

Behind the counter, there was a clueless and forgettable girl who was ferociously typing on her phone, sending a message, while this poor, almost invisible Mexican, was trying to get her attention. Unsuccessfully. I emitted that sound with my throat, the one you make when the promise of phlegm attempts to make an appearance.

She looked at me now, condescendingly, while images of me spreading phlegm and cream cheese all over her face were so lucid I could almost touch the bubble on top of my head, the one where my thoughts take place.

“How can I help you?” she said, but still keeping an eye on her phone, waiting for a response that may never come.

“Sex on a Bagel and coffee,” I said, as patronizing as she was.

Of course, she didn’t like my attitude.

Then, while Clueless and Forgettable Girl took the money away from me ($5.75), a white man in his forties with a ponytail and gray shorts and a white polo shirt came from the back door. I remembered him. He was Ester’s boss. Something that characterized him was how eloquent he was when speaking Spanish. Rumor had it he’d traveled all over Mexico and South America (even Spain) to be able to master such an intricate and complicated language.

He looked at me; a sincere smile lit up his face. “Hey! Como estas?” he said.

Estoy bien,” I said, unsure how to follow up with the conversation.

Then, he asked, all in Spanish, if I was still working at Super Cuca’s, while Clueless and Forgettable Girl poured my coffee out of a brewer that was on the other side of the counter. She then proceeded to read from a laminated paper that was Velcroed to the wall, probably trying to figure out how to do a fucking Sex on a Bagel.

“No,” I said, looking at him this time. “It’s been around seven months since I quit.” I lied. For some reason, I thought it was a good idea if I just kept it to myself that my own cousin had fired me. Besides, I also wanted to follow Arturo’s advice and avoid telling the truth all the time.

Y que estas haciendo ahora?” he asked, wondering what I was doing at that moment, other than waiting for a girl to experiment on my bagel before she was able to give it to me!

“I work at McDonald’s,” I said. By now the girl gave me my coffee and put my bagel in the toaster… with butter.

Apparently, she didn’t know cinnamon sugar and butter were added after! “I just got that job, actually, and I’m looking for another one,” I said all of this while eyeing the girl.

He noticed my brief restlessness. “Is there something wrong?”

“I don’t think she knows what she’s doing,” I snitched. She thought that what she did was a minor peccadillo, but to me, it might as well have been the end of the world.

He decided to do my bagel himself, and the girl apologized several times. I said it was cool. But it wasn’t. He sent her away, to grab a towel and clean the tables outside. He then told me, “It looks like you know the menu better.”

I smirked. “When you order the same thing repeatedly, it is bound to get stuck in your head against you own will.”

The grin on his face suggested he liked my observation. He gave me my bagel and said. “If you want, you can start working here next week.”

I didn’t think he was serious. I only wanted a bagel and coffee at that moment. Then, The Voice inside my head spoke again: I told you, just keep walking, and you’re gonna find the answer.

Then I asked about Ester.

“She’s not longer working with us. That’s why I need someone at this moment.”

I thought about my debts, Amway, and the few hours I had at McDonald’s. I thought about school and how much I wanted to go back and study; reading books on a daily basis was a good idea, but I needed more. To me, going to school was as important as porn is to a serial masturbator. But this was still not the time to study. This was the time to pay back the money I’d borrowed. This was the time to be a man, in the responsible sense of the word.

“What do you say?” He asked again, the grin on his face was like a tattoo. It never went away.

I couldn’t say no. I started working there the next week.

The last two weeks of September were beginning to look a lot more promising than August. There was another woman who appeared in my life, seemingly out of nowhere, but I had a strong feeling I had seen her before, maybe walking down the street, taking the bus, or even buying a pizza across the street from the liquor store where I had bought my first beer the previous year. I saw her again working at McDonald’s, her black, piercing eyes revealed things I gradually started to understand.

She probably witnessed how I used to look at Marlen (who was now my boss), and how the flame of a possible affair was beginning to fade away, like the smoke that hovered on top of the fryers. Her name was Maria, but in my memoirs, she is mainly known as The First Maria.

I’ll explain why later.

She appeared in my life like a persistent sneeze, staying around for a while, and leaving me alone once she satisfied her sexual urges; I can’t say I felt used, for I also enjoyed the brief and furtive moment of passion we had. You know what they say, you can’t forget your first, and in my life as an illegal Immigrant, she was the first woman I slept with.

Insidiously, she positioned herself inside my head. Somehow I stopped thinking about my debts to focus exclusively on the rhythm and sway of her hips, every time she walked up and down the kitchen, handling buns, ketchup, mustard, beef patties, tomatoes, pickles and onions with the same finesse a conductor dominates the orchestra.

And those piercing eyes, the way they used to look at me.

I was still going to church with Jose, El cristianito, but I wasn’t sure why I was doing that. Nobody wanted to do the Amway business with me, and I was not even considering becoming a Christian.

God Forbid.

Between you and I, sometimes I think Satan Himself sent The First Maria to me, just to make sure I kept playing for the right team.

The thought of that makes me smile.

“What are you thinking about?” She asked this particular time I walked her home. We happened to live a block away from each other, making it way easier for us to establish and keep a conversation. As we walked, I was holding her bike, rolling it down the street.

“Jose,” I said. “Lidia’s dad. He invited me to something they call el matutino.”

“What is that?”

“A morning prayer. Men only. Apparently when you pray on an empty stomach at 5:00 am, you have more chances to be touched by the Holy Spirit.”

She thought that was weird.

I did too.

“Are you going?” She wanted to know.

“I’m thinking about it. It’s tomorrow morning.”

“You don’t strike as the religious type.”

I smiled. One thing I liked about this woman is that she could see right through me. “True,” I admitted. “I honestly don’t know why I’m still going to church.”

At that moment, while the sun was going down right behind us and the buses and cars past speeding by, she said something I could’ve never thought on my own. “Maybe you are really trying to look for God without knowing it.”

I shook my head. “I don’t think so. I have read the Bible before and, while I admit some of the stories are interesting, I don’t think I will ever take it as seriously as most people do.”

Maria moved her head to the sides, something she did when paying close attention to the one-penny doses of wisdom I sometimes came up with. “Interesting,” she said, while we turned right on Embarcadero St.

Then the awkward moment of silence came. I could’ve asked her out; since I was 99% percent sure that’s what she wanted me to do. I say 99% percent because you can’t be completely sure of anything when it comes to women.

Whoever says otherwise is a fucking idiot.

“There’s something I have to tell you,” she said, right when we stood outside her house. I leaned her bike next to the front door and stood there in front of her.

Come on now, I thought, I haven’t even asked you out, and you’re ready to blow me off.

“What is it?”

“I think it’s pretty obvious, right?” She said, her hand going deep into her purse, fishing out her keys. She started to play with the keys while waiting for me to say something.”

Talk, you asswipe! The Voice made its appearance.

“What is pretty obvious?” I asked, and the look on her face was the one you make when someone asks a stupid question.

She tilted her head to the left while undressing me with her eyes. I’ve never thought of myself as an attractive man, but hell, if that was what she thought, who was I to contradict her? She kept playing with her keys, while I looked into her eyes.

Then she kissed me, rubbed her toned body against mine, and the release of chemistry and emotions and sweat made their appearance, too. I could feel those legs against mine. God! They were strong! Biking to work every day really pays off! I don’t know how long the kiss lasted; it could’ve been an hour and felt like one second. Who knows, right?

After finishing, she said, trying to catch her breath. “I always wanted to do this,” the smile on her face was as mischievous as they come. “But all this time you’ve been drooling over Marlen, it was getting annoying!”

I frowned. “Am I that obvious?”

She nodded. “You’re kind of transparent.”

I smirked. “Marlen and I are just friends.”

“I know,” her mischievousness still on display.

Then I asked what looked like another stupid (or unnecessary question). “How did you know?”

“She told me.”

I didn’t see that coming.

Sep 25th, 2007. 4:15 am

The alarm clock woke me up. It was on top of the refrigerator. I was sleeping on the sofa and had to stand up and hurry across the living room to enter the small kitchen and hit the damned clock to make it stop.

I know. It’s time to wake up.

The events of last night kept dancing around in my head. Part of me thought it had been a dream, but then I fished out of my pocket the Starbucks receipt I got for the coffee we had last night, proving that at least that was not only in my imagination. After that we made out behind a dumpster, while I remembered I needed to buy condoms, in case I went the whole nine yards with her. It didn’t happen, but as soon as I left her home, I went back to a liquor store to buy some Trojans, just in case.

I was smiling about all of these while wondering what in Lucifer’s name was I doing awake at his ungodly hour. Then it hit me. I had to go pray with a bunch of Christians at the Nueva Vida church. Don Jose had somehow convinced me to do that, even if all I wanted was to have sex with Maria.

Jose came and picked me up. A bunch of men were already waiting at the church. We went into the chapel. The whole atmosphere felt so dark and clandestine I thought a priest dressed in black was going to show up with a dagger in his hand, while all the brothers held me tight and put me on a shrine as an offering to God. The dark priest would then stab me right in the chest, open it up and rip my heart out and drink my blood and_

“How you doing, Gabriel?” someone said behind me, almost making me pee in terror.

It was the pastor, same guy I’d met earlier that year when Celia had brought me to church for the first time. And yes, the guy looked scary, but I had a feeling he didn’t want to drink my blood.

“I’m doing well,” I said.

He nodded without smiling. His equanimity was a bit terrifying.

We prayed. Well, not really. I was just moving my lips like Milli Vanilli, lip singing to a tune I’ve heard many times before.

By 6:00 am I was back home. Jose offered to take me to work at Bagel Café, but that day I only worked at McD’s at four o’clock. Getting home, I slumped on the couch, trying to recuperate the hours I wasted at the church, trying to be touched by the Holy Spirit.

That sounded deeply disturbing if you ask me.

Then, a text message came.

It was Maria. “Are you done playing Christian?”

I smiled, while texting. “Yep. I think I suck at it.”

“I suck, too,” she answered, but my dirty imagination felt like she meant something else.

“Good to know ;)” I texted with a wink.

She took a little while to answer that message, which made me think I probably wrote something stupid. I waited five minutes. I was even eyeing the time on my phone, feeling how the seconds dragged by. The anticipation was killing me.

You fucked up, The Voice said.

I looked up, wondering why I always did that. Nobody was ever going to be there, anyway.

Five more minutes went by, I had already lost the willingness to sleep. Should I text and say I was sorry? Maybe she was offended?


I put my phone away while waiting for a response that may never come. I suddenly felt sorry for the bagel girl. Karma is a bitch. I made fun of her, and now I self-sabotage my chances of sex for saying something that was probably stup__

Bip Bip Bip

A message just arrived.

It was Maria. “Come. I’m alone.”

I read it three times. I know, it was a short message, but I wanted to make sure it didn’t say something else such as “don’t come, you’re dumb!” I read it a fourth time, just to be sure. I answered, “On my way,” while walking to the restroom to brush my teeth and fix my hair and grab the condoms.

“I don’t think she wants sex,” The Voice said, louder this time. “It’s 6:30 in the morning!”

The voice was probably right.

Fuck it. Better safe than sorry.

I walked out of the apartment and in less than a minute I was knocking on her door. She opened it, looked at me in that playful way I was beginning to yearn for, and pulled me in. We kissed, my hands already inside her pajamas, feeling that hard and smooth ass of hers. She wasn’t wearing any underwear. We kissed and walked, our mouths glued together; our saliva might’ve been made out of Krazy Glue because we couldn’t get unstuck.

We didn’t want to either.

She dragged me to her room, while her hands were already taking my belt off and unzipping my pants. I had to ask a stupid question. “Who do you live with?”

She stopped kissing me and looked at me, annoyed.


I got the point, kissed her and tried as hard as I could to stop asking questions. Then, I remember something important. Something that needed to be said but I wondered if saying it would kill my chances of getting laid!

I haven’t had sex in three years, I remembered.

The last woman I slept with was Rosa, before coming to this country, and it was so long ago I was afraid I forgot how to do it.

Stop overthinking it, The Voice said. Yes, the fucking voice was there even when I needed to have some privacy!

But I listened to it. The Voice was right. Before I knew it, all my clothes littered the bedroom floor. Maria was eating me up, and I didn’t have any complaints. I wanted to return the favor, you know, be a gentleman, but I was afraid I wasn’t going to know how to do it! I didn’t want to open my mouth anymore, I was nervous. If I did, she was just going to stop and give me the boot.

So I thought about it, went back into my head to old porn movies I’d watched as a teenager, as well as the anatomy class I took back in school. Ok, I thought, I think I know what to do. I have to take the initiative, be creative. How hard can this be?

I did it. I took the initiative. I acted like a gentleman (probably not the kind my mother thought of but fuck it) and made her go to heaven. This time I was 100% sure I did a good job, I had her nectar all over my face to prove it. She went to heaven again, but this time I was with her, inside of her, and the trip was so fucking awesome! We were definitely touched by the Holy Spirit this time.

I guess that was my version of the Morning Prayer.

However, like everything else in my life, this moment of happiness was doomed to end sooner than I expected.

Sep 30th, 2007

I saw her five days later at work. I heard she had gone out of town. I texted her, but she never answered. I wasn’t going to make a big deal. It was not easy to hide my feelings, though. Pretending to be a Christian wasn’t taking me anywhere, and she would still look at me from afar, as if expecting me to run to the kitchen and have crazy sex with her, right there, on top of the big macs and quarter pounders.

We didn’t do that, exactly, but something similar.

When there was time to take a break, Maria and I kissed in the break room. I smiled, she did too. “Sorry I didn’t answer your messages,” she said.

“It’s cool. I know you have things to do.”

Silence. There was a sentence somewhere in there, trying to stay away. “I have to tell you something,” she said. I remained quiet, waiting for her to continue. “I think I’m going back to Mexico. My mom is sick, and she needs us.”


“My dad and me. We live here.” She smiled while thinking about our last encounter. “Actually, he was just leaving that day I texted you to come over.”

I smiled, too, but we had to go back to the conversation.

“Are you thinking about coming back?” I asked.


“I don’t know,” she said.

Marlen sent me home early that night. It was a Sunday. I went to the theater. Hatchet was playing, a slasher horror film I’d heard good things about. I wasn’t focused on the movie, though. I looked at my phone too often, waiting to see if she would send a message. She never did. I had a feeling that was it, maybe she told me she was leaving because there was a second, hidden meaning to what she said.

Maybe it was time for us to stop seeing each other. That could’ve been what Maria was saying between the lines.

The next day I didn’t work. I was off in both places. I wasn’t going to work at the bagel cafe until Wednesday morning. I sent Maria more messages. She never answered. I was beginning to feel pathetic, writing poems, not focusing on Amway or anything else for that matter. I hadn’t had that feeling in so long, the one in your chest that feels like there is this emptiness as if the guts, heart and even the bones had somehow vanished and you were now this lifeless bag of flesh. What do you call that? Love?

But then, Tuesday morning came. Her dad left for work, she called me and said, “Come. I’m alone.” I went. And it happened again.

Wednesday morning at the bagel café, I had this smile on my face, even after realizing that working here wasn’t such a good idea. I’d been there for two weeks and already hated it. Who gives a fuck? I got laid, that was all that mattered. I was off at three and went to play soccer with Celestino and Joel, another co-worker who was in charge of the kitchen at McD’s. The same way I infiltrated the church, I infiltrated their soccer team to get people into Amway. They both sign up. I sucked at soccer, but at least I had them in my business team.

I went to McD’s that night to write down these lines, while glancing at Maria every now and then. She was at the register this time, trying her best to ignore my presence. Marlen was teaching her how to work the front counter. Apparently, she hadn’t told them she was planning to leave.

While I was writing and looking at Maria, another co-worker walked by. A girl who had a prominent place in my life.

But that’s a story for another day.

I walked Maria home that night. We talked about our feelings. She apologized for being cold and warm at the same time. I said it was ok and that I understood.

But I didn’t.

The next day I went to one of the Amway meetings. Celestino and Joel were there. Felizardo Quiroz, Margarita and Juan Carlos. I was there but was not focused. I could see my ‘partners’ weren’t focused, either. I don’t know what they were thinking about. I was thinking about Maria, that was a fact, and the messages I’d sent her. Sometimes she would answer, sometimes she wouldn’t.

Was I too pushy? Maybe. I didn’t know what to feel anymore. Anger? No. Sadness? No. Maybe pity, for falling this quickly for the first person that offer me some love. Once I was home, at around 12:00 ready to go to sleep, she sent me a message. “I miss you.”

I smirked, part of me thinking it was not possible to understand a woman. Well, we’re not supposed to do that. We are supposed to love them.

That weekend we did our best to ignore each other. It wasn’t easy, the people around us had a feeling there was something there. Even Marlen asked me once. I said no. But she was not stupid. She knew I was hiding something.

Monday came, and before I could walk into the bagel cafe to work, Maria sent me a message, wishing me a great day. I didn’t know what to think of it.

Maybe it was best not to think anything.

Later, she had decided to stop this, whatever ‘this’ was. But it wasn’t that easy. We had sex one last time that week. On a Wednesday, after the Morning Prayer. We didn’t think about the future. The present was a lot more exciting.


Maria had left. Unexpectedly. She said December but changed her mind and left sooner. I was surprised, somehow thinking this never happened, The First Maria was just a figment of my imagination, something I’d made up because I was just too bored. But she was real. I couldn’t have come up with such an interesting tale on my own.

I kept playing soccer with Celestino and Joel. We weren’t doing the business as passionately as we were kicking the ball. We got bored to pretend we were like the people in suits as well. Now that I was gradually giving the business the middle finger, I wanted to focus on paying my debts, as planned. Maria wasn’t around, so there was no need for romance. I wasn’t a businessman, so it was not necessary to do Amway either.

When I told Margarita that I was planning to quit, Quiroz showed his true colors and demanded I pay him his money. I did. It was his money anyway. I decided not to have a chip on my shoulder because of his attitude. My partners and I stopped doing Amway after I told them about Quiroz’ outburst. I guess they needed an excuse to quit and I facilitated that.

And just when I was getting rid of the idea of romance and business, a woman at the church (her name was Ruth) talked to me about another “business opportunity ” called Melaleuca. For some reason I decided to go to a meeting, just to check it out but realized it was the same as Amway. Ruth was urging me to sign up. I decided not to.

“We’re way better than Amway!” She would insist.

I looked at her, smirked, “Everybody says that.”

Just like Celestino and Joel needed an excuse to get out of Amway, I thought this was a good reason for me to leave the church and stay away from wishful churchgoers who couldn’t see the world as it was and kept blindly believing in a heaven and hell located all the way in the afterlife. What they didn’t know is that heaven and hell are here.

You make your own heaven and hell.


One day, after clocking out at the bagel place and walking home, I thought of these last days of 2007 as a moment of cleansing. I’d held onto things and people who were clearly not going to stick around for the years to come but had also successfully gotten rid of them. There were also people I missed. And I got a call from one of them.

“Hey! Pitiful piece of shit! How are you?” A male voice said from the other side of the phone. It didn’t take me long to recognize him.

“Arturo Breton,” I said.

“Oh, you still have my number?”

“No,” I said. “I recognize you by the stinky smell of your breath. I mean, it’s so intense it came all the way from whatever hole you’re hiding.”

“I’m hiding in your mother’s hole, you piece of shit!”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. Nice to hear from you again,” I said, unable to come back with a better insult.

“I want you back, motherfucker,” he said, as charming as he’s always been.

And I liked that. In fact, I wasn’t happy at the bagel place, anymore, and going back to the moment of cleansing I was talking about earlier, this was a great opportunity for me to also get away from this job and go back to Staples.

“Hey!” he yelled. “Are you fucking deaf, or what?”

“No, well, yes, but I heard what you said.”


“I’m touched.”

“Touched?” he said, “I always knew you were queer.”

“Do you have full time or part time?”

“Full time.”

“Great! When can I start?”

“Asap,” he said. “There is one problem, though.”


“The position I want you for.”

“Which is?”


I had to think for a second while picturing myself unclogging toilets, taking shit and toilet paper and seat covers with my bare hands and putting them in a trashcan and puking afterward. What a superb picture that was.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” He said, annoyed by the silence.

“I just imagined myself as a janitor.”

“Oh, trust me. It’s not that hard.”

It was not an exciting job. But beggars can’t be choosers.

“I’ll take it,” I said.


The next day I gave my two-week notice at the bagel place. The plan now was to work at Staples in the morning and McD’s in the afternoon. I was almost done paying my debts. December came, but it was no different for me. I went to a Christmas gathering with people from work at Marlen’s house.

Everyone was there: Blanca, Omar and Brenda, Cesar and Lidia, Celestino and Joel, and even some girls from the kitchen I almost never talked to because I was too focused on The First Maria. One of those girls was the one I briefly mentioned in this chapter, the one who walked by when I was looking at Maria work the front register. 2008 was an intense year. And that girl had a lot to do with it.


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