The Mixtape to My Life Unused Prologue

Here’s a little treat: the prologue that I originally wrote for The Mixtape to My Life. I was going to use it for The Mixtape to the Real Me, but it after thinking about it, I just decided to post it here. It hasn’t been edited, so please be kind.

Prologue – When the Children Cry

Sometime in the ’80s

I don’t know why, but sometimes I still think about that moment. The time I was late for school and didn’t make it to the bus. My brother and sister made it, but for some reason which I don’t quite remember, I didn’t. All I do remember is that I could hear the bus pulling up while I was brushing my teeth. I normally would have just run out after spitting, but I didn’t have my shirt on yet. So, as I was running out, the bus pulled away, and no one thought to tell them to stop. Not even my siblings.

That meant my mom had to take me to school before work. Which also meant she wasn’t happy about it. I got out of the car as quickly as I could. I was never one to want to listen to someone yelling at me, but I knew I would have to deal with it all later. I hated going to the office. That is where the bad kids went; the ones who always got in trouble and would come back all quiet. I wasn’t a bad kid, at least I didn’t think I was. No one else did too. I was often made fun of for always doing the right thing.

The secretary was on the phone when I walked in. I tried to give her the note my mom wrote in a hurry, but she just pointed to the row of chairs behind me. I really wanted just to run out and get to class, but Mrs. Kerns would have probably just sent me back. So, I sat and waited. And waited. And waited some more.

I hated waiting. I didn’t understand why she wouldn’t just stamp me through. She finally got off the phone and called me over.

“Note please,” she said. She read it over as I looked to the office door. I could hear the principal in her office. She was yelling at someone, but I couldn’t tell if it was a teacher or another student. “Young man, young man. Justin, look over here,” the secretary said while snapping her fingers at me. “Only dogs get their fingers snapped at,” my mom would say. If she were here, she would have let this woman have it.

I looked at her. She handed the note back over to me. “There isn’t a last name on it.” I wasn’t sure what she wanted me to do. “I don’t have a pencil.” The secretary sighed and took the note back.

“Last name.”

“Or-tey-ga,” I said, somewhat sheepishly.

“Excuse me.”

“Or-tey-ga.” I was getting nervous. I didn’t know why, but even at my young age, I felt like this wasn’t going to be a conversation I wanted to have.

She shook her head. “You need to start saying it correctly. You don’t want people making fun of you. Right?”

It was my turn to shake my head. I didn’t want people to make fun of me. They already made fun of me for a lot of things; for being fat, for being smart, for not being able to kick a football far, so I didn’t want another.

She said a few words in Spanish. I knew a few of them, but not the rest. That made it hard to understand what she was trying to tell me. She said a few more but stopped. I knew I was supposed to say something back, but I wasn’t sure. I just smiled and nodded. That would later be a habit that I had to use more than once in my life.

The secretary rolled her eyes and gave me the pass to take to my teacher. She mumbled something under her breath as I left. She didn’t think I heard her, but I did. I kept repeating it the whole way to the classroom.

“Pinche coconut.”

People had given me nicknames before. My abuelito called me “viejito,” because according to him, I acted and talked older than he did. The name stuck, and my mom called me it too. But this, this one I had never heard before.

That was the first time I realized how different I was from some of the others. It, unfortunately, wouldn’t be the last. There would be other times later. I would also hear other words, words that I just like that one, where I wouldn’t know what they meant until years later.

But that wasn’t what really stuck in my mind. As I was walking back to class, staring down at my late pass, (since you know, late passes were one of the worst things an elementary student can carry), I suddenly heard a voice call out to me.

“Hi there,” another kid said as I walked by him. I waved back. Even back then I was awkward and didn’t know how to act around people. The boy was chubby like me, but he had slightly darker skin and very bright green eyes. He waved, smiled big and kept on walking. I would see him again every now and then on the playground. We wouldn’t talk, but we would wave at each other every time. It was weird, but for some reason, I really looked forward to it. I didn’t have a lot of friends, or any for that matter, but when I saw him, it felt like I did. Pathetic, maybe, but at least there was someone out there that was willing to smile and wave at me; that made a lot of difference.

But I didn’t think it would last. This was fifth grade, which meant that in a few months, we would all move on to junior high. That meant the boy (whose name I never asked for) might go to another school. That made me sad. Really sad.

***

I was hoping that sixth grade would be better than fifth grade. I was prepared. I read a lot of books about kids my age moving on to junior high (or middle school as some of them called it) and they all had pretty much the same story: shy kid with no friends doesn’t fit in at first, then finds his place.

I was nervous, but at least now I would finally be able to be in band. Last spring, students from Washington Elementary were invited to Liberty Junior High to find the instrument or activity that interested them the most. At first, I wanted to try the saxophone, but then I saw the percussion area. So many different choices, so many things to try. Xylophones, snares, timpani’s, all of it just pulled me in.

“Are you sure?” my mom asked.

I nodded and signed up. Band was second period, which meant I would have to wait after my first class before I could finally get my hands on one of those precious instruments. I would just have to endure math first. That was another thing I was really excited about. Changing classes, at least to me, was a big deal. It made me feel older, less like a kid, and more like an adult. I liked that feeling.

We didn’t do much that first day. The teacher just talked about what she expected, and we each had stand up and talk about ourselves. I hated that, but since I was working on a new me, I tried to do it

A Few Years Later

It felt like any other day. I was sitting alone at lunch, like I often did, enjoying the peace away from the loud gatherings around me. It’s not that I didn’t want to sit with people, or that they didn’t want me to sit with them, but I just felt awkward about it. I mean, I know people thought of me as a nerd, but so were a lot of other people. There was just something about me that some felt the additional need to make fun of. I was blissfully unaware of why until that day, the day my stomach hurt from eating my pizza too fast, and I really needed to go to the restroom. Sometimes that happened.

Luckily it was still early enough during lunch that hardly anyone was out of the cafeteria. Nothing was worse than being caught doing anything number two related in the bathroom, especially when you were already made fun of for other reasons. I finished up and hurried out of the stall, glad that I was still alone. As I was washing my hands, a guy named Ivan came into the restroom. I knew him from football. My dad had asked me to give being on the team that year a try, and they normally took everyone, so I figured what the hell if it will get him to stop hounding me, I can deal with it. He was one of the assistant coaches at the high school, and I knew one of his dreams was to have me on the team with him. One problem: I was terrible.

Dad wasn’t too crazy about me being in band, though when I chose the drums, he was partially relieved. I heard telling my mom he was worried about me picking the flute or piccolo. My stubborn ass was almost tempted to change just to see what he would say.

Ivan took one look at me then walked right out. I wasn’t sure what was going on exactly, though I made sure to check that I didn’t have any toilet paper stuck to me. I didn’t think anything else of it until I turned off the water. Once it was off, I could hear what was going on outside loud and clear.

“There’s a fag in the guy’s bathroom.” A voice screamed. It was Ivan’s. I could tell because he had a slight accent that was thicker than most people’s in South Texas. Other voices instantly eclipsed him.

“What.”

“What do you mean?”

“Who?”

I was afraid to walk out. But I knew I had to. If I stayed in here, they would be able to corner me. I had never thought of myself as a fag, gay or whatever, and this was undoubtedly the first time I had heard that word used about me. Was there something those guys knew that I didn’t?

My hand was shaking as I opened the door. I almost couldn’t do it, but I forced myself. I walked out of there but kept my eyes close to the ground. I didn’t want them to know I had heard everything. The fact that I was worried might make them think that everything Ivan was screaming about was true.

“Look, there he is.”

“Where?”

“Over there.”

“Quien?”

“I just see Justin.”

“That’s him. Justin.”

“Dude, shut up. He’s not a fag; he’s on the team with us. He’s just quiet.” That last one came from Dominic Mendoza, another guy from the team. A guy with the most perfect pair of green eyes I had ever seen. Sometimes in the locker room, I would take a few peeks at him just to see them. Oh, how I envied those green eyes. Ha, I was green with envy for them.

“No, he’s a fag, I know it. Don’t you see the way he walks.” I stopped. I didn’t want to, but those words felt like it needed my attention.

“Shut up Ivan,” I screamed. “You walk the same way.”

A chorus of ooo’s filled the hallway. Somehow that helped defuse the situation, but not for long. Ivan started charging towards me, like a bull that found a red object. I froze. I had never been in that situation before. I didn’t know what to do. Ivan continued to charge, and I braced myself. I closed my eyes and waited for the impact. But it never came. Ivan was stopped by Dominic, who had him on the ground and pounced on him.

The principal called our parents to the office. That was a first for me. They went in to speak to the principal without us.

“What do you think will happen?” Dominic asked.

“I don’t know.”

We heard yelling but couldn’t make out the words. I kept staring at the floor until I felt something brush up against my hand. It was Dominic. A few more minutes passed, and suddenly Dominic’s dad appeared. His hand was still on mine but not for long.

“And keep your faggot son away from mine.” He yelled back towards the office, then took Dominic by the arm and led him out. Dominic’s mom followed. She didn’t look at me. She just walked out in a hurry.

“Justin, come in here please.”

And just like that, I was off the team. That was a blow to my dad. But the principal and coach (who just happened to be there) felt it was for the best. No distractions were needed. So now I was a coconut, faggot and a distraction.

Dad didn’t say a word on the drive home. That wasn’t a good sign. At least when he was yelling, you could tell something. Later that night my parents would yell in Spanish. Also, not a good sign.

I couldn’t sleep that night. I just kept hearing there’s a fag in the bathroom repeatedly. I shared a room with my brother, so I was trying not to move too much in the bottom bunk since he could feel almost everything in the top bunk. The radio was already on since he couldn’t sleep without music, so I decided to change it to the hard rock station. Late at night they often played hair metal power ballads, which was my secret addiction.

I couldn’t turn on my light, so I fumbled over to the boombox and moved the dial in the direction I knew the station would be. Once I heard a guitar riff, I knew I was on the right one. White’ Lions “When the Children Cry” was the song playing, and it gave me the perfect sound for the way I was feeling.

As I was letting Mike Tramp’s vocals sink in, I couldn’t help but go back to what happened in the bathroom. What if something terrible had happened to me? What if Dominic hadn’t been there? Would the other guys have believed Ivan? Why did Dominic beat up on him?

Then something strange happened. My mind floated away from the other faces and focused only on one: Dominic. I couldn’t believe what he had done. We had never really talked before, and maybe only high-fived a few times at practice, but that was it. I would look at him a few times, but I convinced myself it was because I admired his body and eyes. He caught me a few times but never said anything.

But he stood up for me. He even smiled when he did it. I was smiling now too and eventually drifted off into a deep, sleep. Tomorrow would be another day.

We never spoke again, and he moved after the year was over. Forty-five minutes away. A short drive from my home of McAllen, Texas to Rio Grande City, but still oh so far away to my thirteen-year-old heart. I would never see him again, yet I always had him in my thoughts and dreams.

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