Editor’s note: Coming-of-age stories are dialogues or internal monologues over action and are often set in the past. This excerpt is that — and much more. It is a beautifully written, visual account of a young Puerto Rican boy and his first encounter with himself. It is the Boricua equivalent of Call Me By Your Name and takes us back to a wonderful time in Puerto Rico — when Lucecita sang Genesis and Marisol Malaret was our ultimate Queen — dazzling in blue-green chiffon. It is the story of a young boy and his first taste of a smile that would change his life. It is only the first installment, to be continued.
If the fog clears
What other passion awaits me?
Will it be calm and pure?
If my fingers could
Defoliate the moon !!
Federico García Lorca
The number 20 is my favorite —it is my birthday. Especially in the summer, the 20th takes me back to the memory of an early morning of July 1969, when history was written with broad strokes in front of my five-year-old eyes while watching on the black and white television set in the living room how a United States astronaut walked on the moon for the first time.
The images were confusing. As if a monster had grabbed me and lifted me off the floor.
One could hardly distinguish what looked like a strange creature amid the thick darkness on the black and white screen. (On the fiftieth anniversary, I saw the restored footage and confirmed what I had seen.) At the same time, a trio of voices resounded in the background: the local reporter, the CBS reporters, and the sound coming directly from the moon. The static from the television, covered with a curtain of frost, distorted the already complicated vision.
“The antennas should point to the moon,” my grandfather Tocayo always said — and now I understand why.
I don’t know, I don’t know. October 9th? Well, that date doesn’t mean anything to me.
Two years after that milestone in human history, maybe on the 20th, I was watching the boys of Calle 4 from my gate, scattered and in positions of war, playing a strange hybrid of soccer and brutality. One of them kicked the ball, two tried to block it, and there was another in the back — that tag-teamed with the kicker — to recover the ball. The rest of them were meshed together, in between screams and bad words, forming a Gordian knot of bestial men that after running around and sweating smelled like the coins my Abuela stored in a coffee tin, under the sink.
The ball landed on the lawn of my house. I picked it up, fast. He came closer to retrieve it.
I knitted and unknitted dreams of being someone during those years, although I didn’t know exactly who. I thought of something immense, like what I saw clearly on Abuelo Tocayo’s television (because he knew how to adjust an antenna): that moment in which Luz Esther Benítez sang an extraordinary Génesis – or the gospel according to Venegas Lloveras— and turned it into an international triumph. Or the day when a twenty-something secretary, with eyes full of the intense green of the Cordillera Central, embodied the First Glorious Mystery: “Marisol Malaret is crowned Queen of the Universe the 11th of July of 1970.” Of course, we saw all of this deferred, thanks to the magic of videotape—probably on the 20th.
No. It must have been on a Saturday. In an empty lot, behind the photographer’s house.
Apart from the religious stamp of the Miraculous Virgin that Mamá placed for us in the corner of that room in that new house that smelled of old, Lucecita and Marisol were already there, as they should be, (secretly) placed in my illuminated altar. Luz Esther won her spot because of her undeniable game with defiance with that androgynous look and that inimitable voice: She would never again be that young girl with gathered hair and mini-skirts, singing silly pop songs on El Show de las Doce. Later on, Marisol would arrive on the scene: first, personified as La Perla del Caribe; then, representing the humble candor of her urban barrio as she swayed the blue-green chiffon of her evening gown, floating all the way to grasp that crown.
Of those two? Marisol. I wanted to do the same as her, but not be like her.
Two other women were also already present in my small altar: even though they were not glamorous, they were equally as fascinating. On one side hung my mother, a being that wandered like a specter, the woman of an ill-humored man, and the mother of three children — the two oldest already learning catechism, and the young one still floating somewhere over an undefined point on the autism scale.
The other corner was balanced by my sister, who I looked at with fascination and suspicion. She had the dolls (as well as the permission to dress them,) and all the attention of my Abuela, my aunts, the cousins, and even the seven neighbors of that new and strange barrio where we now lived, surrounded by people that, instead of talking to each other, they screamed.
How could I find my way to follow those luminaries? I would have to shoot for the moon.
After following the rogue ball with his eyes until it landed on the grass, Waldo looked up and noticed the face of the boy that, from a corner of the cement fence, observed the game. The chubby boy ran over the grass to pick up the ball until he reached it. Noticing the boy at the fence –ball in hand, ready to bump it back– Waldo smiled at him.
Of course, the boy did not know what to do with the smile of a stranger that, suddenly, caught his attention.