8 Years Old
My ears hurt as Mom’s and Dad’s screams echo around the tiny apartment. My tummy rumbles and aches in the hollow. I look down the hallway both ways before darting to the kitchen. Everything is empty. The light in the fridge dims, but I can make out a case of Dad’s favorite beer. A silver wrapper on the counter gets my attention. I reach for it to see a solo Pop-Tart in it. I grab it and sprint back to my room.
I get cozy in the back of my closet before taking the food out of the package. It’s gone before I realize, and my tummy still aches and groans for more. I pick the crumbs off the floor and on my knees until they all disappear.
Booms. Cracks. Screams. I cover my ears, all thoughts of being hungry long forgotten. I swear I can smell her blood from my hiding spot. It goes on forever until there’s only silence lingering around us. I don’t move. I never do. I close my eyes and pray in my head that he would die. I want him gone forever. Mom isn’t much better, but she never hurts me with her balled-up fists, only her open hands.
“José! Get the hell out here, boy.” Feet stomp down the hall.
My heart thunders with each beat. My lips tremble and chin quivers as I rapidly blink, praying so hard he won’t find me. The cracking of the door crashing into the wall startles me. I press my back further into the wall, wishing I’d magically fade away. It never works.
“You dumb little fucker!” The door to the closet flies open.
A red-faced monster with bulging veins in his neck stares back at me for a tick before hoisting me up to him by the collar of my shirt. I hate his smell. Evil, alcohol, and my worst nightmare; it’s the scent that makes me sick every single time.
“I’m so goddamn tired of you and your momma ruining everything. All I ever do is fucking work and come home to this shit hole.” He shakes me. “I’m so fucking tired of it, José.”
I know better than to talk or try to smooth anything over, so I take every single thing the devil has to hand over. I’m flying through the air. When my back hits the hardwood floor, all the air leaves my body as my spine rattles my teeth. It’s just the beginning. A fist full of knuckles connects to my ribs, then my chest, and finally my collarbone. He stumbles on his feet, swaying back and forth. The alcohol I hate so much is about to become my savior. My dad crumbles to the floor. His head bounces off the wood, and he’s passed out for the night.
I scramble to my feet and run. I don’t bother to check on my mom since she’ll claim it was all my fault in the morning. It’s still daylight out. God, I can’t wait for school to start again. At least then I’ll have eight safe hours away from my home. I race down the street until my legs wobble. I slow down but don’t stop. I’ll never be able to get far enough away.
“Hey there.” A large hand lands on top of my shoulder, making me wince. “Where you going in such a hurry?”
I look up and then cower back when the giant comes into view.
“Papí.” A new voice chimes in.
I look to the side to see a little girl holding the giant’s other hand. She’s really pretty with curls and a yellow dress.
“You okay, son?” The man kneels down in front of me.
My eyes go wide, and I nod my head.
“Are you sure?” He gazes at my neck.
I look down to see my shirt collar tugged to the side and a bruise already forming. I nod faster, suddenly scared out of my little head.
The kind eyes of the man soothe me even though he’s two times the size of my dad. I should be scared, but there’s something special about him.
“My daughter, Layla, and I are going for dinner. Would you like to join us?”
I shake my head.
“What’s your name, son?”
I shake my head again.
He turns to his daughter and talks to her in Spanish. I know enough to pick up on the gist of it.
“Go upstairs and get tamales from Abuela.”
The little girl nods and races off with her yellow skirt flowing in the breeze. She’s so careless like the other kids at school. I’ve never known what that feels like. The man eases himself down on the sidewalk. His large sneakers rest on the pavement. He waves his hand for me to sit down. So I do.
“My name is Dexter, little man. Lots of people call me Boss.” He gives me a downward sideways glance. “I fight for a living. The good kind of fighting.”
I scoot away from him, panicked all of a sudden.
“I use my fist in a good way. It’s all disciplined.”
I nod and continue to listen to the man talk about what he does for a living. Before long, the little girl comes back with a Ziploc bag of tamales. Boss doesn’t hesitate pulling open the bag and handing me one. I have it unwrapped and eaten before he starts on his. He hands me another, along with a cold Coca-Cola. The three of us sit and eat until the sun goes down. And I never went back home that night. Before he took me to a safe place and promised my dad would go to jail, I found a piece of paper to write a note to the Boss.
Thank you for the fode. Thank you for talkin to me. I will only fight for good to.
PS- I like my nu name.
13 Years Old
I know what being scared feels like. I’ve been there time after time, and what I’m experiencing now is so much worse. I’ve let down everyone who believes in me, and that’s more painful than anything my parents inflicted. Boss got me out of there and into a good foster home, and now it’s going to all go away.
My head bounces on the wall behind me once, twice, and three times. I let my eyes flutter shut and remember the day Boss told me I’d jab my way back to life and be someone. It was the same day he fed me tamales and took pity on a boy he didn’t even know from a stranger on the street. He nicknamed me Jab like a punch that night, but I couldn’t spell it right and signed the note Jag, and it’s stuck ever since.
The door to the suffocating interrogation room bursts open, and Boss steps in. My heart sinks when I see his scrunched eyebrows and worry lines across his forehead. He clenches his fists, and his neck tightens in strain.
“I’m sorry, Boss. I’m so sorry.”
Boss places his palms on the top of the green metal table in front of me, getting in my face. “Don’t be telling me sorry, boy. You best better be fixing to pull your head out of your ass.”
“Jag, I love you like a son, and this is your last chance. Hope your stunt of robbing a convenience store with a group of assholes was worth it. One more chance when you get out of juvie. Show up at the gym the minute you get out.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll be there.” I stand up from the chair and without thinking wrap my arms around his neck. Boss doesn’t hesitate before he wraps me up in a hug. Thought my life changed the day he saved me, but I was so very wrong. This is the moment.