I walked into the Music-Go-Round in Maple Grove, Minnesota for my first drum lesson, nervous, self-conscious, and telling the voice in my head reminding me that a forty-four year old woman trying to learn to drum is ridiculous to shut the hell up. Michael walked up to me with an extended hand and I stopped dead in my tracks. I’ve seen that tall, lanky boy before in another life time. Only back then, his name was Elote.
There was a time when feeling loved was simple, even while living the realities of a land fraught with civil unrest, and where the plain necessities for sustenance and safety were scarce. A ten year old truly doesn't need much. Starved for food, safety and affection, dreaming filled my heart, and during that time, my dreams were filled with Elote.
Tall and lean --well, as tall as El Salvadorian genetics allow-- Elote was a Marijuano, a “stoner.” He had a full mane of dirty blond locks and hazel eyes; and like any self respecting, Marijuano of the seventies, he was a Led Zeppelin follower and Elote took full advantage of his vague resemblance to Robert Plant. He wore shirts and t-shirts too tight and short for him; and I often wondered how he got the crotch of his tight, bell-bottom, low-ride jeans to fade ever so perfectly. His physique, pale complexion and that unruly mane of dirty, golden hair earned him the nickname of Elote, “Corn Cob.”
Elote was my first love. A friend of my brother, Juan, who was six or seven years my senior; which is pretty significant when one is barely ten. I loved Elote from a distance, fully aware that he was not for me. The first time I saw him, my heart stopped and the entire world disappeared until I was brought back to reality by the heel of brother’s boot as it hit my forehead. Elote was sitting on our forest green, cushioned sofa, with one leg carelessly thrown over the wooden arm rest. He was just sitting there, lost to the world listening to Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” with his head leaned back, cradled over his curls and his eyes closed. He sat upright, awakened by Juan’s laughter inspired by his excellent aim. I dropped my school bag and ran upstairs humiliated, yet elated.
Whenever my brother brought him to the house, I’d spy from the stairwell and was ever at the ready to fetch for my brother hoping I’d get to be noticed. Every time Elote left the house, I would pick up the pieces of my broken heart or rejoice in delight, if when he saw me, he threw me one of those Marijuano nods and “hey’s.” I would spend hours speculating the significance of those “hey’s” or on the length of his acknowledgment of my existence as demonstrated by a slight upward nod. The day he said he liked the freedom of my laughter, led to disastrous displays of, what I’m sure from his perspective, looked like maniacal laughter during consequent visits. He never complimented me again. I began the habit of having a clean dress available, which I would promptly change into when there was a chance he might visit. His visits did wonders to greatly improve my non-existent, personal hygiene as well.
I stopped caring that my brother would use my crush as another excuse to beat me and call me a whore after Elote left. I liked to imagine what his full lips would feel on mine, while my brother made me kneel in front of the crucifix and pray for my sins for hours. With each Hail Mary, Lords Prayer, kick, punch, slap and insult, I would imagine his thin arms around me and dream of what his warm breath would feel like against my skin. Nothing else mattered around me but dreaming of what Elote’s touch would feel like. I didn’t care that the only time I became visible was to be pushed, kicked, slapped and reminded of my worthlessness anymore. That wasn’t the reality which I chose to accept. Seeing Elote, feeling my breath quicken and my palms sweat as my knees weakened when I heard his voice was pure ecstasy for my ten year old heart. And that was the reality I chose. My days were counted by the possibility of a simple glimpse. Oh, and how my dreams were filled with him! The day my brother tried to drown me in the water barrel was the happiest day of my life. That day Elote told my brother, “Don’t talk to your sister like that man, she’s not a dog.” Aside from the fact that this is the longest sequence of words I had ever heard him speak, they were about ME. Not only did he see me, he knew I walked upright! So, when my brother pushed my head down under the water I didn’t care. My last thought before the world went dark was that nothing mattered because Elote saw me!
Two years later, when my brothers were sent back to Father in Spain, I feared I would never see Elote again. But fantasies of him still sustained me while El Salvador became the hell on earth most of us can only dream of. The civil unrest in El Salvador escalated. Countless people suspected of being “revolucionarios” were disappeared, though no one would say that word out loud. “Disappeared” was simply a commonly understood state of being. There was a look in the eye, a special way pain manifested itself on the face of a loved one, a sudden drop of the gaze to the ground when the name of a disappeared came up in conversation. One just knew that the person was taken. His or her beaten, dismembered, unrecognizable body would eventually turn up in a “barranco” buried with the mountains of trash that threatened to fill the canyons, or floating down a river, or simply tossed on the side of a road. At least that was always the silent hope. Most disappeared were never found. Fear began to affect how people interacted with one another for fear of being associated with whatever caused being disappeared. It was as if the cautionary folk tales to keep children from wondering into danger had become a reality. El Zipitillo, La Llorona and now “La descalza” began making the rounds in most neighborhoods looking for “subversives.” There was no clear indication what a “subversive” looked like, so indiscriminately chosen the “disappeared’ were. All I knew is that if I saw two unknown “campesino” looking men walking after dark, I best find a tree to climb and hide during the routinely imposed martial law and curfews because coming back home after venturing out was no longer guaranteed. It was also during this time that Mother discovered she was a feminist, which to her meant she could party with the boys - one at a time or in multiples. At first, there were overnight outings. With time, days turned into weeks and eventually, I stopped counting and waiting for her return and focused my energy into keeping myself alive. Little details of leaving me with food, or means to obtain nourishment were inconsequential details that weren’t included in whatever feminist manifesto she had adopted. Besides, I was old enough to understand the sacrifices she had made her entire life for her children, as she liked to remind me whenever I asked when she would return.
How does an eleven or twelve year old girl feed and keep herself safe during a militarily oppressive period? By capitalizing in her most valuable asset: her body, of course. I soon found the company of Don Rosales. A widower, father of two teenage daughters who took a liking to me. He fed me, protected me, nurtured me, gave me loose change, and let me play with his daughters’ old dolls in exchange for letting him touch me and helping him fulfill his “manly” needs. It wasn’t a terrible arrangement. He never hurt me. He never beat me. He never raped me. His touch was always gentle and kind. Besides, It was impossible to not think of Elote as Don Rosales buried his head between my legs. Unfortunately, this only encouraged Don Rosales as he attributed my pleasure exclusively to his skills. I would squirm and cry out in pleasure replacing this new reality with my default fantasy.
I didn’t entirely hate his touch. I found it perturbing that he oddly enough only had one nipple. I asked him about it once. Apparently, he was born that way. I never believed him. If anything about the experience truly bothered me, it was his eyes. They always looked sad, distant, and full of torment. I reached out to him once to caress his face, as he began to take off my clothes, hoping I could ease the torment in his eyes. He dropped to his knees, hugged me and cried like a child. All I could do was hold him while he sobbed against my naked belly. “Shhh... esta bien... shhh.” Empty comforts to a drowning man.
Luckily, I soon learned that one of the advantages of being invisible to Mother and a burden to her newly found freedom as a woman of the 70’s, was that it provided me with lack of supervision, which meant that my house became the place stoners could come and safely party. My house was a hub of clandestine and illegal activity. There were drug deals made in the living room and at any random moment, the bedrooms would be taken by young couples who needed privacy. It was a haven and heaven to many, regardless of what hell those walls encased at other times in my young life. It was during one of these clandestine soirees that I learned that dreams are possible to achieve.
Sitting on the front steps, looking down at the ants wondering were they had found the scarce crumbs they were meticulously carrying, I heard that old familiar “Hey.” I looked up to those droopy hazel eyes and felt my quivering smile cover my face. He sat next to me and it seemed like hours before he uttered another word. After an eternity of uncomfortable silence, while I tried to stop my body from betraying me by making visible how nervous I was, he stood and asked if he could go inside to smoke. “Sure.” I answered, trying to appear nonchalant. While I was busy trying to keep my heart from beating out of my chest, he stood and went in the house. I leaned my forehead on my knees trying to re-learn how to breathe. A few seconds later, he came back out asking, “coming in or what?” He held out his hand to me to help me up. I thought the pressure in my head would make me pass out, so I took his extended, warm hand as I prayed my legs would not fail me. He went straight upstairs to my brother’s old bedroom, which was now mine. He walked in the room, hesitated for a second and sat on the floor with his back leaning against the bed. Unsure of what to do, I sat next to him as he pulled out a joint out of his shirt packet and lit it. He gave me a confused look and shrugged when I turned it down, but I wanted nothing to interfere with this moment. I could feel the warmth of his right arm on mine and I focused on that. We just sat there in silence until he, out of nowhere said, “your brother was an asshole.” I couldn't disagree, so I shrugged. “My brother was an asshole like that too. I was glad when la descalza took him” and he looked at me. I could feel him study my face and I had to turn away as I felt the tears well up in my eyes. I remember the old guilt for the many times I’d prayed that la descalza would take Juan too. He reached out, trailed a tear that ran down my cheek, and kissed me. His lips were soft and sweet. His breath warm on my face. My heart was caught in my throat. He kissed my lips, my cheeks, my neck and buried his face there. I held him and for some unfathomable reason we sobbed. We cried as we locked in a tight embrace. When we ran out of tears, we kissed again. This time desperately, as if our very lives depended on this connection. He held my head tight against him. His hands began to travel hastily over my shoulders, to my budding breasts and down my waist. He reached down and roughly caressed my legs and tried to pull them apart. To this day, I don’t know why I stopped him when he got higher than my knees. Laying on top of me, he looked in my eyes and asked with a mischievous smile, “just a little higher? Just a little touch?” I shook my head and he surprisingly respected that simple gesture.
We spent the afternoon talking about our lives, my asshole brother, his asshole brother, his plans for the future. I learned that his real name was Jorge and that he hated being called Elote. He dreamed of becoming an engineer and hoped to be able to attend the University next year, he said. He had a plan. He’d saved the money he made from selling pot to buy his books. “Unfortunately, I won’t be able to grow much longer because it’s getting too dangerous out in the fields. La descalza has been making the rounds and ‘El Pato’ is gone now.” We both knew what that meant and we didn’t need to elaborate. A sudden panic invaded my heart. I looked at him and threw my arms around him. “Don’t worry.” He laughed. “I’m always careful and I’ll only be going up there once, maybe twice more.” The afternoon turned into evening and much to my disappointment, he had to leave. I wanted to tell him how much I feared the dark. That the dark brought Mother’s men into the house looking for me in her absence and I had to leave, which meant I had to go hide in the forest waiting for daylight to come back home. I wanted him to take me away with him. But I was too embarrassed to let the words leave my lips. I walked him to the door and waited for him to be gone from sight before I followed out the door to find a tree to climb and hide in.
That was the last time I saw Elote alive. Months later, I ran into some friends of my brother who also knew him. I walked up to them slowly because I already knew the answer. Before I saw them look away from me and stare at the ground as they answered, “he’s gone.” I knew. I knew that his beautiful, lean body had been beaten and desecrated until dead. I knew that there was no novena for him, no nine days, no chuco and tamales, no wailing Mother at his casket, no funeral. He was disappeared. The dream that had kept me alive had been erased from existence.
“So, what do you think?” Michael asked.
“Yeah, sounds good.” I agreed without knowing to what. All I could do was stare at Michael’s mane wishing I could touch it to see if it felt like Elote’s.