6 years old
It was Tuesday and Mario's mom and dad picked him up early from school. He couldn't believe his luck as they drove all the way to Metro Zoo. Once inside he kept his head down, following the white painted alligators on the ground. They led to the special exhibit, albino alligators. The alligators were rare because they couldn't hide from predators, he learned. Mom and dad took photos everywhere, and he laughed when he grabbed their hands and swung between them.
On Saturday he was up early to watch cartoons and eat Trix. He didn't like it when his mom mixed it with the healthy cereals, but she didn't this time. He picked up the bowl and drank the sweet milk. It was his favorite part. After the cartoons he took out his Legos to play before his sister Michelle woke up. She was one and looked just like the girl from Monster's Inc, and would bang on his door and say "Mah-yo, Mah-yo." He built his Lego house and cried when it broke apart. He sulked and went to the bathroom, where he crashed his Hotwheels off the tile into the wall.
A bit later it was noon, and Daniel called asking if he could play. Mom said ok, and he put on his Superman cape. He took note of the time on the microwave and timed how long it took him to run to Daniel's house. He always ran faster with it on. They played in the backyard by the lake. The small blue fishnet was perfect for catching tadpoles. When they got bored of that they trapped red ants in red plastic cups. The Florida skies a were light bright blue. The clouds were clean cotton white.
"Bye Mario!" His dad's voice was metallic and loud from the speakers of the police car. The siren WHOOPED and the blue and red lights flashed.
Mario turned around smiling, jumping and waving and yelling goodbye as dad drove away with one last WHOOP.
In school that day he wrote in his journal and turned it in to his teacher. She called his parents that night.
Next morning he sat in the cafeteria and scooped a sporkful of Apple Jacks into his mouth. Not soggy enough yet. He poked the floating cereal for a bit, and when he looked up he smiled.
"Hi Dad!" he said, waving.
There he was, standing tall with his silver badge shining on his heart.
"Mario, who's the kid who's been bothering you?"
He looked around and pointed to a boy with his head hiding in his lunch-box.
"Oooooh you're in trouble!" the boy's friend said.
The bully never bothered him again.
Wednesday night he was in his yellow jersey chasing the soccer ball. The team's name was The Bombers and he was on defense. A boy in a blue jersey was about to kick the ball at the goal. Raul ran straight towards him. The boy kicked the ball, hitting Raul hard on his left thigh. He got to the ball before the other boy and started dribbling upfield before passing to his teammate.
"Good play! Good D!" Dad yelled.
The whistle blew. The little kids stopped running and looked around at each other.
"Penalty kick for yellow," said the ref. The kids all ran to their spots on the white box. The ref put the ball in the middle of the box as the kids stared. Raul was rubbing his thigh, frowning with his eyebrows furrowed.
"Mario, you take the kick!" yelled coach from the sidelines.
His eyes lit up and he got in the box. He looked at the goalie, then down at the ball and backed up. He ran and kicked the ball as hard as he could. The ball rolled to right of the goalie and into the net. The Bombers jumped and hugged each other. They ended up winning the game. Afterwards at McDonald's dad bought him extra chicken nuggets and gave him a dollar for scoring. It was his first goal. He was happy back at home when he told mom. Dad laughed and rubbed his head.
Dad never missed a game.
He rode his bike to and from school. This time he saw Andres walking as he entered the neighborhood. Andres was holding a magnifying glass. Raul got off his bike and they walked together.
"Want to light some ants on fire?" Andres asked.
"OK." He had never lit ants on fire before. An hour later he got on his bike and rode home.
He opened the door and saw Mom standing above the stairs leading to the second floor. She was sobbing.
"Why didn't you come back home!" she yelled at him, tears pouring down her face. "Don't do that again!"
He started crying and ran up the stairs and hugged her tight.
He almost threw up when they remembered his report card. "Where is it?" Mom shouted. He was caught. He was shaking as he grabbed the crumpled report card from his closet. A D in American history, and mom screamed at him until dad sent him to his room. He lied down and hugged his pillow, thinking about the knife in the kitchen. He fantasized about Dad slamming himself against the door and busting it open a moment too late, and of the both of them crying over his body. Maybe when he died they'd realize how much they love him. He slept and the next day no one talked.
Two months later he asked his parents for $600 for the field-trip to Boston. They said yes, like always, and gave him money in case he wanted to buy anything. He brought them back a silver tea spoon with the Boston "B" on it, and a deck of playing cards.
"Thank you, Mario," said dad, smiling.
"That's all you brought back?" asked Mom.
Sitting on the long brown lunch tables at school a few weeks later he laughed when his friend Chris told him that he made his mom cry the last time they fought. Good for him, he thought. She probably deserved it.
It was a hot summer day, light blue skies and white clouds. Raul and five other friends were smoking weed in the patio.
"Ima get us some hotpockets," Raul said. He went inside, grabbed ten hotpockets out of the freezer and put them in the microwave. As they were heating up he called Mom to make sure when Dad was coming home. "He's coming home early."
His gut sank. "Ok Mom." He hung up and sprinted to the patio. "Break out!"
But there he was, six-foot-three and sweating in his brown uniform, gun hanging by his waist.
"What the fuck is this?" Dad yelled, grabbing the bong and hurling it into the lake. "Get the fuck out." All his friends left.
"Wait until your mother hears about this," he smirked.
Raul went to his room and fell asleep. He woke up when mom came home. She was screaming and crying as she hit his face, and made him take off his shoes.
"You don't deserve them."
She told him to leave. A day later he was home. Laying in bed he thought about the knife in the kitchen. His door opened and he saw Marie standing there. "I'm glad you're home," she said. No one had ever told him that before.
It was a quiet summer.
He was grateful when school started, happy to be back in newspaper class. Mrs. Culpepper told him he was good, and wanted him to compete in states. It was a weekend-long event a few hours north in a nice hotel. He asked his parents if he could go. They said yes.
Mrs. Culpepper signed him up for the news feature contest. He'd only ever covered sports. It was time to start. He sat down, leg shaking as the instructor went over the rules. The competition began and he was lost in his words. Time flew and before he knew it there were five minutes left. His heart pounded and his chest and breath were tight. His eyes darted all over the paper, his hand slashing words and rewriting sentences with zealous intent. Playing soccer tournaments never made him feel this alive.
Later that night he sat with his class in the hotel's dining room, looking down, his leg still shaking. It was time to announce the winners. He didn't think he could win, but maybe he was as good as Mrs. Culpepper said he was.
"Third place, from Lee County High School, Alejandra Bonisse."
His throat was tight.
"Second place, from Coral Gates High School, Peter Moreno."
His chest was wrapped tight around his jackhammer heart.
"And first place, from South Plantation High School, Mario Stone." He heart leaped to the sky and he jumped after it, eyes alive and shining. You couldn't cut the smile from his face. It was the first prize he'd ever won on his own. The first thing he did was call mom and dad. Maybe they would be proud of him. He never believed in himself.
"What's it like?" he asked Alex. He'd never taken LSD. "Man, just make sure you're at peace with the universe, because if there's something wrong with you... you're gonna figure it out," Alex told him, taking another swig of the 32 oz Old English.
"Pass that back," Mario said, taking the bottle. Summer was coming and he had no worries. He was already accepted into college with a full-ride scholarship, and in the honors program to boot. Life was too easy.
He crushed the Xanax bars and snorted a line. It was bitter on the back of his tongue and made his nose drip. The rest of it went into red plastic cups filled with beer. The last thing he remembered was covering the weed with the crushed bars and taking a hit.
"He's not breathing," Ren said.
"Shut up, he is," Turner said, walking over to Mario and shaking him. Mario's head lolled like a puppet's.
"We should call 911."
"Fuck that," said Turner, and shook him harder. No response. Turner reached back and slapped Raul hard across the face, multiple times.
"What the fuck?" Mario mumbled, blinking his eyes. "Let me sleep."
The next day Mario laughed at Ren. "You were really gonna call the ambulance, huh?"
Latin night at Adobo. He wore his favorite faded jeans, and his purple shirt was unbuttoned to the chest, sleeves rolled up to just below the elbows. He grabbed another drink, he'd ask the girls to dance after just one more. One more, again and again.
He woke up on impact. A bright white light hovered over him.
"I need you to take a breathalyzer," said a voice beside the light.
"No I dun wanna."
"You have to."
"Promise it's gon be ok?"
"Yes, I promise."
He was too hurt to blow hard, so the paramedics took his blood. The next day mom told him she had cancer. The next day he told her about the accident. They found him a good lawyer, and he promised not to drink anymore.
New Year's Eve with Victora at Cafe Iguana. Latin night. They took shots before leaving, and at the club he took many more. The last thing he remembered was tripping over his feet as they danced.
He came to sitting down with his hands behind him, wrists aching. Ahead of him was a counter. The officers behind the counter were looking his way, talking to each other.
"Yeah, that's him."
His stomach churned, and he took a deep breath to hold it down. After a few breaths he stood up, the handcuffs tight and scratching his wrists, and walked over to the officer nearest him.
"Sir," he said, looking down, "what happened?"
"You hit a woman," one of the men said. "You punched her face and fought the officers who went to help her. No. Stop that shit. Stop crying."
The jail cell was empty when he woke up. The handcuffs were off, and he was dressed in baggy blue inmate clothes. He sat down on the bed and stared at the ground. Many minutes later he looked at his wrists. They were red from the cuffs. He looked around, finding nothing, then held his left wrist to his mouth and sucked. He caught the skin with his teeth. He started to bite when he remembered Michelle.
"I'm glad you're home."
He lied down and tried to fall back asleep.
It was June 12 when the five small white tabs came in the mail, taped to the back of a CD case. He thought of what Alex had told him years back. "If there's something wrong with you..." He slid two under his tongue and waited to find out. Fifteen minutes later anxiety crept into his arms and nausea buzzed throughout his body. Ropes carved into the carpet and flowed like a river of snakes. He closed his eyes and in the darkness became aware of silence. No thoughts to fill his head, no words or order to give meaning to, just silence and awareness of the vastness behind his eyes.
Images form and he sees himself with his sister. He's pushing the drink towards Marie as she tries to turn away. He keeps pushing and she looks down and finally accepts, drinking it all. He hands her more and she But this never drinks them happened. He's giving her the keys. She shakes her head no, swaying a little, and he puts another drink in her hands. She looks worried, scared. He yells at her and she drinks it, and he grabs her I'd never hand and puts the car keys in them do that to her and walks her to the car.
The two vanish and a young man appears, his face blurry. He's wearing faded jeans and a purple shirt rolled up to just below the elbows. He's drunk and stumbling. There's a car behind him, front end smashed. The young man's jeans Then why did I do that are bloody and torn to myself? The image faded and Mario fell to his knees, shaking as tears streamed down his face.
"It's ok," said a voice in his head. "It's ok. It's ok," She repeated. "Today is a new day," She said to him, and he knew it was true.
"Don't be afraid," She told him. "I'm always with you." The walls inside the police wagon were moving and he could see armies forming in them. He looked out the window and saw generals holding dollar signs in their fists, drunken kings with greed in their eyes, and a mass of slaves with muzzles like gas-masks over their mouths.
At the mental hospital he smiled at the guards as he read their thoughts, written freely across their bodies. He turned away and stared at the evolving patterns on the wall. "I'm not high," he said, telling them the truth. The next day the psychiatrist called for him. Raul sat down with legs crossed in front of the psychiatrist and answered all the questions. I'll see you again he read on the doctor's face, and he was dismissed from the hospital.
A week later his mom came to visit him. For a week they stayed together, and she asked him to get help, to go to rehab. The week was up and she dropped him off at home. Within an hour he was arrested. Possession of paraphernalia.
In jail the walls were moving again, and made a promise. A few hours later he was back home. He picked up his cell phone.
"Mom, I need help."
5 years old
Grandpa sat with him and told him to put his palms together. Every night they prayed together in Spanish.
"Ahora repite, 'Padre nuestro"
"-que estás en los cielos,'"
"-que estás en los cielos,"
"santificado sea tu nombre"
"santificado sea tu nombre..."
"Thank you God for another day sober."
He hugs his pillow, closes his eyes, and sleeps soundly.