When the day is long

And the night, the night is yours alone

When you’re sure you’ve had enough

Of this life, well hang on

R.E.M. Everybody Hurts

Carlos watched his mamá read the chaplain’s card. Her face softened as she read, then she looked up at him with moistened eyes. He smiled, a small smile, for he was tired.

“Really, mamá. It’s okay.”

She nodded, stood, and patted his covered foot. “I will be back,” she promised, smiling through her tears. This was a good, good day, and she would go to the chapel to thank God for this gift of life, for her boy opening his eyes.

Carlos nodded, too, then winced. Moving his head even a little, he realized he was sore. He glanced over at the IV bag hanging on its rack, the tubes going in and out of his body, the monitors with their glowing lines and blips. Then he closed his eyes as his mamá slipped quietly out the door, bringing it half-closed behind her.

He could feel himself drifting as his thoughts went back.

He had been so proud of his bike. Black and chrome, with double exhaust pipes and a throaty growl. The nose went low, the seat high, like a racer. He had gone to Wilson’s Leather in the mall, his rubber-banded wad of tips from the past few months making a round bulge in his pocket. An hour later, he had the finest fitted black leather jacket he could afford, and leather chaps to match. He had felt so good in them, his boots making that satisfying click as he walked, the soft leather swishing, his shoulders strong and broad.

He remembered the wind in his face. His mamá working her fingers together, worrying, You will get hurt! If you could have just waited. But he had laughed, and patted her, oh mamá, it’s okay, it’s okay, he had reassured her. But still she worried, so she had taken him into her bedroom, opened up her jewelry chest. Here, she said, take this. ‘For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways’. (Psalm 91:11) It was her crucifix, the one she had been given for her first communion. No, mamá, he had protested, but in the end, he had taken it.

He had been so eager to show off that afternoon, taking his bike over to his lover’s place. He could feel his face grow hot with the shame of it, his chest begin to ache. He had been unexpected, it had been a whim, he thought for sure his lover would grin with pleasure, they would go for a long ride, maybe even race that night, over to the 110 freeway.

He plucked at the covers. He could feel the sheets baggy and wrinkled at his feet, but wrapped around his middle, and he could not seem to loosen them. His pillow felt as though it were pushing his head forward, there was nothing he could do to get comfortable. And the memories would not stop.

He had caught the door as someone left, and let himself into the lobby of his lover’s apartment complex. It was such a nice place, community pool in the back, porch for every unit. It’s Carlos! he had called out as he came down the hall, then he was knocking on the door. But now, his lover, tousled and half-dressed, was looking at him with wide eyes. What are you doing here? And in the background, another man’s voice, Who is that, at the door?

How could he not have known? Why had he thought he was the only one? All he had wanted to do then was run hard, kick the starter on his bike with all his strength, gun it and speed away, far away.

He opened his eyes, as his body began to remember what happened next, flying through the air, slamming to the ground, his leathers saving him in the end. He glanced down at his hand, turning it over so he could see where the gravel had gauged long marks across his palm. Remembering made everything hurt, so he searched for distraction, anything at all, and his eyes fell on the t.v. remote. Good. He had to lift himself up to reach it, when he saw something glinting next to it. A golden crucifix. Then he remembered. I know you don’t believe, mi hijo, but God is with you, his mamá had said, as she folded his fingers over it.

[Crucifix | Ankit nauwag / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

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