(Editor’s note: this is part of an upcoming book called The Fall and Decline of the Pill Generation)
It was a very hard time for me. Not in school, though, it was kinda OK back then, I wasn’t the whipping boy for the rest of the classroom in 1990.
That was Rubén’s job, it seems.
He was the new guy, a position I held back in 1985 and shit, it’s not something you want to be for long. I don’t envy him. His nickname (everyone had one) was Chucky (as in the killer doll) and they usually mocked him with the stupid refrain of “Chucky lo tiene chiquito” (which roughly translates as Chucky has a wee one).
Any ways, I tried not to pick on him as I had been in his position and the one time I did have a problem with him, I shoved him quite hard towards a door. I felt bad about it later, but he was picking on me and I wasn’t going to let the new guy be the one shitting me all over.
I did reconsider, though, when one of my usual bullies told me “nice one on pushing Chucky!”. That moment, in September 1990, I felt I became one of them. One of those fallen ones. One of The Enforcers the Headmaster used to keep our morale down.
The Headmaster. How we loathed him. We called him The Foetus, but you should be afraid to refrain to him at earshot. He enjoyed chastising people, playing mental minds with our fragile little minds. I don’t know who fucked us up more: the psychologist, the Headmaster and his tricks, the Palax doses we had to consume or …The Culling.
Do you remember the avenues?
Sorry, getting sidetracked. Yes, I tried to get along with Chucky, er, Rubén, and, to be honest, he was an OK person. Just another run of the mill, 13 year old confused guy who watched ALF, played Ninja Gaiden on NES and picked Ryu on Street Fighter. We didn’t talk about much and if they picked on him, I wouldn’t intervene. He seemed to be okay with that. I guess he was one of “the guys” and hence, had no problem with being picked on. Guys. I’ll never understand them.
October came and by the end, the crazy Penguins, er, Nuns, decided we had to go to the Sanctuary of Guadalupe in La Villa. I think every year or so, the two branches of the school reconvened to go to the Sanctuary and pray. It was the only time we saw girls, as they studied at the Polanco branch, whereas we were at the Satélite branch, so no chance of seeing them. Dunno, the guys were looking forward.
I was awkward (probably still am) with girls back then, so I didn’t care. Whatever made the guys get distracted and not pick on me, sounds fine and dandy. Oh, well.
So we were there, during mass, and the way we were seated was by height. I was next to Ruben and during the mass I did notice that some of the girls my age were a little sombre faced. The mass continued and when the time came for prayers to be done, one of the girls took the stand.
“We pray to you, God, for Angela, our friend and classmate. It was almost a week ago that she died and we pray for her soul to be with you”.
I was 13. Not the kind of thing you want to hear. It was the 24th, so the date she died was the 18th. What was I doing on that day? I can’t remember. Maybe I’ll never will. But I’ll never forget this moment, this sensation, this tragic loss.
Earlier that year, a friend of ours died of an aneurysm. A year later, someone else would die in my classroom. Oh, well. The mass continued, but I paid no attention. Who was she? What did she die from? How could anyone of us die so young?
Months passed and we never knew why. Nor we dared to ask. I heard a rumour on the schoolyard, but I dunno how true it was. Some were possibilities some were downright speculation. There was one reality: any of us could die, at this age. It destroyed me.
December came. No one talked about her. No one mentioned her. Why? I never brought her out in conversation with anyone I knew, but it stroke me as odd that no one said anything, not even The Penguins.
Every last day of class in December (usually at the end of the first half), the Penguins let us came in plain clothes (thank God , I for one couldn’t stand the fucking crimson and grey uniforms!) It was December 1990 and our clothes were, oh, well, shit.
Strangely enough, the girls from the other branch were all there that day. It was odd to see them around and I didn’t know any of them. I wanted to ask them about Angela, but that would have been a big faux pas.
This guy, Raúl, he was a good dude. He never picked on me and he had a heart of gold. He, another guy called Xavier and a girl with auburn hair and funny face, invited me over to the football pitch. Raúl had a deck of cards and I suggested we play Black Widow, as I prefer it to Poker. A quick lesson over the rules (it’s pretty much Poker, with an extra hand to be exchanged) went easily.
Black Widow it was. They all agreed. We sat in the grass and Xavier had a little ghetto player. He had a mixtape and the music was good. Londonbeat, Technotronic and Depeche Mode. When ‘Enjoy the silence’ played, I was in a winning streak and all my problems and woes were away.
When Dave Gahan was singing “All I wanted, All I needed is here in my arms”, I looked at Xavier (or Raúl’s) girl and I saw her lip-synching.
I thought of Angela. I thought “that’s how she looked”. I imagined her as someone who lip-synched to her favourite songs in a tape she made herself. She was just another of the girls, just living life. Dreams, hopes, homework, candy, glue sticks and sparkle, toys, a diary. And then she died.
I didn’t thought about it again. For a long while that memory was repressed.
One day, in March of 91, it was sunnier and I was looking at a bougainvillea tree that was by the brick wall in the schoolyard. The way the flowers were moving by the wind was somewhat strange. There was no wind and the branches were moving, almost arcing towards me. I was feeling horribly depressed that day, but the movement of the tree soothed me. I touched the bruise in my arm. It didn’t make sense that he kept hurting me. No sense at all. Why would he do that to me?
I didn’t notice that Chucky was around. We both have been suspended in Phys Ed for slacking off, so we were waiting for one of the Penguins to come by with several algebra books. At least, I prayed for algebra books and no rulers. Actually, the rulers would’ve been a better alternative to another boring ass, stern talk by the psychologist. Or another skirmish by The Enforcers.
Chucky and I were doing inane chit chat. He then said “when they said about that girl, last October, I felt really bad”.
From that day on, I always called him Rubén.
Words: Sam J. Valdés López