Friday, January 03, 2014

Cuento de Mi Id

“The Living”

They were talking again. Talking about the damned story. Morales knew he should say something, but he was tired. He had been working extra shifts at Great Lake Steel again and he really did not have the patience to sit here and listen to silly chatter while his whole body cried out for sleep. It was a quarter to nine and already he was hoping that the class would end early so that he could go home and catch a few moments of slumber before he had to start the graveyard shift. His mother would probably still be up when he got home; she usually was, no matter how late he came home. But with luck, he would be able to catch a quick nap, regardless.

And yet the voices kept yammering.

Morales felt the need to scream but he knew that if he gave in, he would never hear the end of it from his guidance counselor. Besides, if he said something, he might get into trouble, and he already had enough problems at home without seeking them here at school as well.

So instead he forced himself to listen.

“The ending,” said the blonde girl ahead of him. “It was so sad.”

“Yeah,” said a red-headed guy across from her. “Just think about it. That poor boy just singing in the snow. Just dying for want of love.”

You think that's sad, Morales thought, try listening to some of the real-life stories I could tell you. The father who died of a heart attack when his youngest son turned thirteen. The older brother who died of appendicitis because there was no money to take him to a doctor until it was too late. The other older brother whose first wife and son died of tuberculosis while he was at work.

But the people in the classroom didn't want to hear stories like that. They wanted to hear happy stories about people just like them. People who had no real problems save philosophical ones. Sad, rich people who had a hundred servants to do their bidding and yet wept quite frequently because they lived in such a sad, sad world.

He knew he was being unfair now. He knew that some of his fellow students were on scholarships too, and probably came from families just as poor as his.

But he was too tired to be fair. He just wanted to go home so that he could grab a few hours of sleep.

The teacher was talking now. Talking about the difference between dying young and not dying young. As if that issue really required a lot of thought.

To deliberately die young like the boy did in the story was stupid. A smart person avoids it if he can and he is certainly not dumb enough to go out and seek it on purpose.

Only the well-off glamorize death, he thought. Only the rich could afford to cry crocodile tears over cute young Irish lads who die way before their time because they're too stupid to come in out of the snow. Only the rich could afford to spit on those who are not dumb enough to die young and who prefer to show their love by staying healthy and sharing their good fortune with their beloved for many years instead of offering one brief and stupid romantic gesture for the sum of one night.

Such folk were never appreciated by the rich because the rich do not want to appreciate such folk. They hate being reminded of what it's like to be poor -- actually poor -- and while they will weep forever over some imaginary person's troubles, they generally could be counted on to do damned little to help out a real person.

But then they have no real idea what it is like to be not rich. To not have money. To have to work so hard and to earn so little and to never have enough of anything.

He thought of his widowed mother who was waiting at home this very moment and the many times she had reminded him and his siblings about the life she had known before she had been dispossessed by the Revolution. Whenever one of them would bring home a bottle of wine to celebrate a birthday, their mother would say, “When I was a little girl, we used to celebrate with champagne, not wine.” And then she would say nothing else.

Somehow he got the feeling that she would have liked the story the class was talking about.

But he never would.

The yammering was continuing and he tried to ignore it by telling himself that it was just a story. No more important than the stories his co-workers would tell on lunch break or even the stories his mother would tell of her own girlhood. He did not have to agree with the others about it. In fact, he was better off ignoring it.

Then he noticed the silence.

“Anything to add, Mr. Morales?” the teacher asked.

Morales blinked. The class was looking at him and the teacher kept staring at him as if expecting something. Morales knew he should say something neutral but instead he said, “This story is stupid.”

He relished the shocked look on his classmates' faces as they cried “What?” in unison and then he continued.

“The woman in the story -- she spent all those years in love with this dead guy she didn't even like at first and yet she had no love for the spouse who had worked for years to put food on her table and a roof over her head. In my mind, that's a stupid story.”

The teacher just smiled. “I'm sorry you have so little appreciation for great literature, Mr. Morales. Perhaps when you're older and you know more about life, you will appreciate it more.”

There was so much more Morales could have said at that moment yet he stayed silent. Somehow he didn't see himself having the words to make either the teacher or the class understand. Perhaps no one had such words. But especially not him.

Instead he just waited silently for the dismissal bell to ring. When it did, he quietly gathered up his books and walked out into the winter cold.

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