My name is Pete. Pedro. Peter.
My record code is R-7C-B/USMC/63.
Charles gave me this apostle’s name.
Why a traitor’s name?, I asked several times.
Why not, he answered with pride, he was the best of them all.
I would’ve liked to be called a different way.
Even though I can’t really think of another name.
We arrived at the U. S. on 44, during the climax of the second great war. In those days, Anaheim was an uninviting ranch and not this city engulfed by riches and idiotic tourists. Our first days were spent with my father’s uncle. The old man had a large family, a chubby wife and several children full of shit due to the days spent working the fields. Within a week we moved to the beach into a hovel made from rotten wood, where my mom, my dad and three brothers fit to perfection. Two weeks later we were going to a school for children of illegal immigrants that was ran by Christian pastors. It was an ample classroom where all the grades were stuffed together; we learned slowly, sometimes I think we didn’t even learn. The sunset on that virgin beach was different than those I had seen before. In Tampico the sun never fell, it was born from the water. On this side of the world the sun sank already tired from its long journey.
My father was the first to change his name: from Carlos to Charles, to make things easier he said, then my mother and brothers followed suit. Now, after so many years, I guess it was amusing for the rednecks to see our brown skin with saxon names and a marked mexican accent when we said: Mom and Dad. Mi father spoke about dollars and not about pesos, of seasons and not of temporadas. Most times he didn’t even hang out with the rest of the mexicans that worked at the plant where he did, he said that most of them where beasts maladjusted to society. We are not beasts, he screamed, we are not.
We didn’t get amnesty of the second war. This worried Charles because, as illegal immigrants, we couldn’t aspire to a good life. He and my mother worked a couple of weeks harvesting grapes. Months later my dad found a job at a factory where they sealed tin cans in which they sent food to the soldiers in Europe. My mother, eternally engrossed in everything, besides the harvest, didn’t take care of anything, she left the worries to the man of the house. Charles earned 17 cents an hour, it didn’t go very far, he said he felt proud; never, he said, would I have felt so much pride being a farmhand collecting sorghum in Tamaulipas. For several weeks he saved to buy himself a cap with USA stitched on. Then he got an olive green jacket with his name sown to his breast and he learned to say: God I love this country, phrase that he would repeat on and on. God I love this country.
I was nineteen when JFK was murdered, I turned twenty at the ARMY barracks. You remember that the gringos where inflamed by the death of their president and the Vietnam war. People scattered everywhere worried by an alleged nuclear attack or the sudden invasion of the commies. Neither thing happened, but it was necessary to discipline us, give us fear. A couple of days after the president’s murder, there was a news bulletin that said that all of the illegal residents that enlisted voluntarily would be naturalized US Citizens, after finishing their tour. My father went crazy with the news and a day later he ordered me to enlist. It isn’t even my country, I said. We argued and after a kick in the kidneys, I enrolled in the Army. Next morning he helped me pack some of my clothes; walked me to the doors of the military base where he hugged me and then he left. The MP’s welcomed me with supposed happiness; they opened the doors of the barracks, let me in and immediately led me to the barber. Dinner was fun, there was everything except caucasians, those, they said, are faggs.
A week later I was at Fort Pol, Louisiana. They called this patch of dead forests brimming with small rivers <<Tigerland>>; the closest thing to Nam, used to say the infantry instructors. Here we all had labels: the latinos were dogs, the african-american shit and one or two orientals were yellows. They made us go hungry, humiliated us with screams, we fought amongst ourselves, there were days that ended with us kneeling with a rifle in our hands without knowing what to do.; tears trickled down leaving a trace on our faces. Not even the battles where as miserable as the training on that field. During my stay in tigerland I couldn’t stop thinking that my brothers were home, eating just fine, planning on where to go on the weekend with Mon and Dad. Two months later they sent us to the war.
I was the only one with a light skin in that universe of blacks and latinos trained like common dogs. There wasn’t an order we couldn’t carry out. Our company captain was a Jew that had survived the extermination camps in Poland. He was a freckled blonde, racist in every way, he always used sunglasses because he said he had delicate eyes, full of times gone by. I never knew what he meant with that. We’re going to win, he bellowed at us, win, win. Yes, yes, yes, we answered yelling back and laughing. The jungle was wet and pungent. In the sky the birds had given way to helicopters that flew dropping off infantry platoons on the heart of the jungle. As long as there was no battle, we seemed to be having a party covered in sweat and drowsiness.
There was no set time for the offensives. We could spend weeks listening to far of explosives that didn’t have specific targets. Shoot to kill, anything that moves, was our order. We could see how the companies became smaller with the weeks going by. It was normal to hear the yells of the men that had fallen in the skirmishes. Even the Jew cried in the middle of all the shit. He ended up dying tied to a palm tree close to the beach. While I ate, after an encounter, I imagined Charles sitting after his work shift talking with his friends about my job in Vietnam; surely he told stories about my supposed engagement with the enemy, always closing with his imbecile phrase. God, god, god… I love this country.
Battles make you vile.
With a single shot they blew away my member and my balls.
You lose your bearings, and listen to your body forfeit air.
You stop hearing noises.
Then you loose consciousness.
I felt a blow between my thighs, I fell in the helicopter’s floor. The tactics used by Charlie was to let the hawks land to shoot them down easier.
It didn’t hurt, at least that’s what I think now.
When I tried to touch my wound I couldn’t find anything, only blood, and blood clots that went down my pants until they smeared the floor.
I woke up in Saigon.
My first days at the clinic I kept my eyes shut, I could only hear voices that got lost along the hallways of the place, voices of those who cared for me, yells of the other wounded.
Each morning the doctor asked me to open my eyes.
I said no. He didn’t insist.
I learned how deaf people dream.
The sounds that made it to me during daytime, were the same as the ones at night. The screams always mingling with the sweet nurse’s words.
Dreaming with sounds, but no images.
Dreaming echoes, only.
After a week of being in this place I raised my head a little, opened my eyes and saw my toes, then the legs and lastly the bandages that were covering my abdomen. I didn’t give the tears time. I dropped my eyelids. A month later I got the courage to see the light again
I was hospitalized six months.
The fucking war didn’t end. On the contrary, the ranks of the privates got bigger because of the draft. New wounded arrived. They gave me a plastic member, excuse me, a yellowish tube which my piss used to exit, and some cellulose testicles that they put in a plastic bag inside the little that was left of my scrotum. The doctor said that I wouldn’t go crazy that way. You have a long life ahead of you and you should make the most of it, he commented like any protestant pastor in his Sunday TV show. With the help of two black nurses I sat up on bed and they washed my body being careful not to hurt me. They pretended not to pay attention to my wounds, but they couldn’t deny that they had a castrated body in front of them. I turned my head, saw the rest of the wounded, a great valley of mutilateds I thought. I stood up and walked slowly till I reached the immense windows to the street. The day’s smells brought back the longing to go back to my old town, that faraway place lost in memory.
On the evenings the nurses were called by those that said to be feeling bad. Later you would hear the screams of pleasure. When this happened, they gave us the tiniest amount of morphine, smiling at us saying that we were in luck. Laying on the stretcher I could imagine myself as a dog on the sidewalk waiting for someone to drop some food. The smells that came into the clinic lost their way between the sheets of the stricken. As well as those the stench of patriotism that the jeeps brought with them. The smells reminded you that you were still alive.
It was usual to read somebody else’s letters. They left them on the floor or every which way. In those pages you could read their mother’s petitions: take care son; I love you. Come back soon, we miss you. The boy is already walking. In my case letters were few and far apart. And when they got here, I never read them. I let their envelope turn yellowish before giving them back to the postman to return to the sender. I just wished to stay looking at the light that came through the windows; I dreamt in turning into a ray that crossed the plain and never returned. I missed the small pain that you feel in your member when it begins to wake up. No I just felt how that draining tube froze my crotch. The cold forever there.
Army Commendation Medal.
From Corporal to Sergeant.
A tourist class flight home.
Spit from activists.
Beautiful women at my side.
I didn’t tell anybody that I was coming back.
When I got back to LA I stayed a couple of days at a dingy hotel. I went down to the street to eat anything. Then I took in a matinee. Afternoons were spent at the beach in Santa Monica, seeing people on the sand resting. Neither the Jew or the others were with me. I don’t know what happened to them.
The sand burns, but the cold doesn’t leave me.
I can’t complain, they made me a citizen and in direct line all of my family became US citizens.
They give me twelve hundred dollars a month.
We are all very happy, right, son, said Charles in front of the family when I finally got home. I kept quiet, then I grimaced and everybody took it as a frustrated smile. They made a large party in my honor full of people that I didn’t know. They congratulated me. Gave me gifts and hugs. They introduced me to Ursula, a whale of a woman that looked like an idiot, daughter of the uncle that took us in when we first arrived to this country. God I love this country, Charles yells and urges the party onward. Minutes later he takes me by the arm and walks me to the front porch. The evening is hot, Charles looks at me steadfast, he approaches and gives me a hug; it’s your turn to be happy, he whispers in my ear. Ursula is a good woman, he continued saying, it has been arranged, wedding in three months. You can’t say no, he said bluntly, after all your uncle welcomed with open arms when we first arrived to this country, you can’t deny him this favor, then after a while, you may even fall in love. My mother was looking at me from through the windows from the other side of the house. She smiled, raising her hand with a little fright and waved at me.
Three months later I married the walrus.
It was a great wedding, I can’t deny it.
There was beer and good food.
Before the party ended Charles took me to the bedroom and left me sitting on the bed. Good luck, he said and left. Minutes later Ursula walked in with a salmon colored bathrobe that appeared smeared on her bulging body. She undressed me ceremoniously, then she laid by my side, we stayed still. I fell on my chest her large sweated tits. The closest I had ever been to a woman had been back at the hospital; the nurses would let us touch their ass for a couple of dollars. Ursula bit one of my nipples, took my hand, stretched my fingers and plunged deep within her. I heard her whisper that she loved me. Minutes later she gave squeals similar to those of a pig caught in a trench. When she was done, she kneeled at my side, she said sweetly that it was my turn. She looked for my penis with desperation until she found the draining tube, there were a couple of seconds of silence, then she began tugging on that piece of latex. When she got tired she didn’t say speak, she sat at the edge of the bed and then she said she was sorry. I didn’t hear anything else, I fell asleep.
Next, morning, when I woke up, she had left already. I dressed slowly and came out of the room to find Charles sitting in front of the TV. Everybody went to have breakfast at the beach, he said before I asked anything. I sat beside him, he gave me a beer: drink it, Pete, it tastes better if you haven’t had any breakfast, he said. The people on TV think we are idiots, don’t you agree, he commented without any real interest. I don’t know, I answered, maybe. Have you picked up your immigration papers? I asked. No, he answered and took another drink. The beach’s sounds came softly form outside.
At least it was a good lay that chick I got for you, right? He repeated, a good lay. He took another drink from his beer, the he turned to look at me and echoed, a good lay. He finish by saying that I shouldn’t worry, Ursula was not going to come back. That’s ok, I said. I stood up and went to the bathroom, I emptied my pissed-filled bag. I look at myself in the mirror, my face is spoiled due to the long insomniac nights. The screams from the people swimming can be heard far off, but screams after all. I could go back to my father and cross examine him as to why he sent me over to hell, but I now he won’t say anything, he won’t even utter an apology. He is an idiot, I think, a word so week that it seems to be used in a couple’s squabble. An idiot. I went back to the living room, he was still sitting there without paying any attention to anything. I went out of the house, I’ll come back later, I yelled back.
I went to the veteran’s psychiatric ward that is in Long Beach, I walked in alleging post-war schizophrenia. They admitted me with no problems. Now I spend my afternoons sitting on the patio watching the sun go down. I imagine myself in the sea, feeling waves coming over me; I think in the arrival of my father to this country, then I see myself next to him jumping around and asking for things that he can’t give me. Then he transforms into an old man sitting alone in his house. When the surf finally finishes devouring me I can still see some words coming out of his mouth that I can’t understand. God I love this country.
The other day I dreamt about Ursula. I imagined her naked on the beach. In the dream Ron Jeremy, the porn actor, arrived and fucked her until she cried. I felt happy for her.
Most of the people here with me are idiots. They spend most of the time crying because they didn’t make anything out of their lives and now they are a bunch of mediocre people locked away in a sanitarium. I tell them not to worry, after all, we have somebody that nobody else has. When they ask what is that thing that nobody else has, I smile, and touch my chin. Figure it out, God I love this country, I finish saying.
It’s time to empty my piss bag, I wonder where is that obese woman.
I haven’t gotten a divorce.
I don’t think it matters.
I’m going to change my name.
I love teasing that crazy woman in front… she loves oral sex.
I’m going to give my father a huge drain tube with its proper piss bag so that he doesn’t have to stand up to go to the bathroom on Sundays.
I can’t believe they killed the other Kennedy, I hope that Charles doesn’t hear that news.
Hugo Alfredo Hinojosa is a playwright, fiction writer and essayist, he won the National Fine Arts Award for Literature, in Mexico; his dramatic work has been performed in the United States, India, Mexico, New Zealand and Chile. He was a member of the Royal Court Theatre in London, and was a scholarship holder of the Foundation for Mexican Writers as a playwright. He is currently preparing his first book of short stories.