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The Chosen One
Ever since I was little I’ve heard my mother tell the story, more than once, that when they presented me at church, barely forty days old, the preacher predicted that I would not be like other boys, that every step I took would be a step toward Jehovah. I grew up with the certainty of being anointed.
My brothers and father were opposed to this idea. Papi swore to my mother that they weren’t bringing me up right, that all the church and religion was going to ruin me. My brothers, backed by Papi, never went to church. They made sure I had something to talk about in Bible class when we’d discuss Job and his trials. They’d hide my Bible and my neckties. They’d spray me with the hose minutes before the bus arrived to take Mami and me to worship. If I cried, Papi would make me fight them and would shout at me:
“Defend yourself like a man, goddamn it!”
I felt comfortable at church. They’d take me from town to town as a child preacher. The adults would ask my advice; the women would beg me for visions. One night during a vigil, I went out to the bathroom. The only light outside was the one on the toilet. When I entered, I heard a noise and as I approached the urinal stall I saw sister Paca’s son doing brother Pabón’s son from behind.
At that moment I had my first true revelation. My whole body was telling me that I wanted to be in the place where brother Pabón’s son was. When they noticed me they got scared, but I was able to calm them down when I started to lower my pants. I wasn’t able to touch them, though, because at that very same moment brother Samuel came in and caught us.
The news reached Papi through my brothers, who were eager for the beating that would follow. With the eyes of a Pharisee, while Mami turned up the volume on the radio that was playing the evangelical station, Papi grabbed my whole face with one hand and crushed it like a ball of paper in his fist. He took off his belt and whipped my back. When he saw that I wasn’t crying, that I didn’t make a peep, he whipped my face with the buckle until the little choir on the radio stopped singing. He left both of my eyes swollen and my nose broken. After the swelling went down my face was transformed. It looked like the faces of the saints in those little prayer cards my grandmother, the Catholic, kept in her house. For the other boys it was irresistible. They all wanted to be my boyfriend.
The preacher’s son gave me an illustrated Bible on Valentine’s Day. I liked to look at the pictures: Adam covered with a big fig leaf, ashamed to notice his private parts for the first time, and me with him; Lot’s wife turned to salt, looking toward the burning city because you just had to; David’s torso, strong and magnificent; Goliath’s legs, with him being a giant and all, my imagination soared.
My father decided to go to church too to see if he could change me by force of prayer. He was tired of giving me beatings every time he caught me making out with a male cousin or walked in on me when I was modeling in front of the family mirror. He’d drag me out of the bathroom at the supermarket where I’d hook up with meat packers. He’d slap me hard or punch me with his clenched fist, and I just took it. Beatings with leather belts, belt buckles, flip-flops, wooden switches from tamarind or gandules trees that my grandmother sent from Arroyo, or pulled off the lemon tree that we had in the yard. I hated the lemon tree. One time my brothers and I claimed we had seen the Virgin appear on top of it. The news upset Mami and, fearing that the house would be filled with Catholics, she cut it down and there were no more switches.
When I turned fifteen it was my turn to be baptized. I didn’t let Mami buy my outfit at Barrio Obrero. I made her give me the money and I went to the mall instead. The clothes had to be white. I bought a pair of linen trousers and combined them with a white guayabera shirt and leather women’s sandals that really looked like they were for men. Nobody would notice the difference.
I took the bus and felt happy when I saw the driver. “Thank you, Father,” I said to the Almighty. We already knew each other. Every once in a while he called me and waited for me at Parada 20 to take me to a motel on Highway 1. I sat where he could see me through the rear view mirror and where I could see him perfectly. He told me, when I was about to get off, to go to the end of the route with him, that it was his last trip for the day. From there he took me to a motel in Caguas.
Since we got out early I decided to run by the house to leave the bag of clothes I bought before going to church, where there was a fritter sale going on to raise money. When I got home, there was the preacher’s son. He had come to find out why I hadn’t gone to church. Nobody was home and I invited him in while I took a bath. He came in, nervously. I took him to my room. He sat on my bed and I stripped naked in front of him to go into the bathroom. I let the water run before getting in so it could get hot. I hated cold water. When I got in, the preacher’s son stripped naked and got in with me.
Afterward he went off to church and I stayed home. I called Mami to tell her I was staying home and to bring me fritters. Two and a diet coke. Mami said she’d be back much later since they had to take a sister to Humacao and that was far away. I went out on the balcony and started to smoke a cigarette.
I learned to smoke with a Christian singer who once played a show at my church. When I noticed him he was flirting with a group of young sisters, talking about the Word. I watched him from afar and noticed how he got distracted whenever he looked at me. He didn’t take his eyes off me while he sang a Christian bachata and read a psalm. When the concert was over he greeted me with a trembling voice.
“Do you sing ?” he asked.
He invited me to join his choir. I gave him my number, but before that he spoke with my parents and told them that being in the choir was a good service, a special calling. The preacher agreed and my parents gave me permission.
I was on tour for a whole summer and all that summer we were lovers. He loved me in an obsessive way. When he’d light a cigarette he’d give me one and I’ve smoked ever since, secretly and all the time. He’d say the smoke made his voice hoarse and that that turned on the sisters. He’d tell me that when he crossed over to worldly music he was going to take me with him so we could live together. We’d make love every night and sometimes in the morning. But I got tired of my calling and went back home.
While I was finishing my cigarette sister Dalia’s husband was walking by. He works in Acueductos and has strayed from the Word.
“That’s bad for you,” he said to me, and stopped, not before looking around on all sides. “Are you all alone?”
“You always seem so quiet and I’m surprised to see you smoking. Maybe you ain’t such a little saint after all.”
In Mami’s room—to keep an eye out through the window—he pulled me by the hair and possessed me, salivating and telling me how delicious it was to do it with me. When we finished, sister Dalia’s husband left. I lay down, picked up the Bible the preacher’s son had given me, and read a psalm to put myself to sleep. The next day was my baptism.
Mami was furious when she saw the sandals before we started out for the baptism in the Yunque. “You look like a damn fag,” she said to me. “You’re not going anywhere dressed like that.” I didn’t change. She hit me in the face with the tambourine, she pulled my hair and kept slapping me but I didn’t change. I was going to the baptism in that outfit. After she got tired of beating me, she said to me:
“You’re the one they’re going to call fag.”
Once we got there, Mami grabbed her Bible and left me. I went over to sister Evelyn, who was in charge, and signed in. Then I walked toward a place a little farther away, where the church buses were parked. I sat on a rock, still swollen from Mami’s beating. I looked at the sky and told God I needed to talk to him. God spoke to me with a voice that came down from heaven but that I felt right in my ear. “Thou art proud and of a mind that thou canst do whatever thou wouldst.” “But Father,” I said to him, “if I’m a chosen one and I can’t do what I want, what’s the point? Besides, forgive me, as you are God, but I remind you that I also have free will.” He fell silent, but I listened to him think.
“It’s up to you,” he finally said. “Go thou with my blessing.”
I was satisfied when the meeting ended. I had made my point. From the rock I saw one of the bus drivers sitting in his driver’s seat, looking at me. He gestured for me to come over. I climbed into the bus and he had already pulled it out of his pants. We continued in the last row. I liked him because he talked dirty and, grabbing my face amid all those dirty words, he said he’d never seen anything like it. I left the bus in a sweat, dying for the baptism to start so I could cool myself off in the water.
I got in line and they gave me a candle. Papi, who had gone earlier to help the pastor set up, was with Mami. They watched from the riverbank with desperate looks on their faces. They wanted them to put me under the water already to see if the Holy Spirit would enter and change me. I was the third in line and soon it was my turn.
The pastor looked at me with that prophet-look he knew how to put on. I saw him look at me with anger and then his eyes saw my slutty face. Full of pleasure upon seeing me look at him that way, he revealed his rage to me. I saw his dark thick body through his damp white clothes. I saw the hairs on his wet arms, close to his skin. I saw that he saw that I saw what he saw. I saw through his white pants how inside his white cotton jockey shorts, he grew large. I saw the brothers on the shore fascinated with my beauty, looking at me. I saw Papi’s face in the distance, looking at me look. This boy is a monster, his face said. I saw Mami look at my monstrosity in Papi’s face. I turned my back on my father and my mother and looked again at that thing that was already curving over the preacher’s thigh when he immersed me in the water.
The sound of the water pressed against my ears. Among the rocks there was a beer can. Some river shrimp clung to an old tennis shoe. I saw the preacher’s feet in his blue rubber flip-flops. Then he took me out of the water and held me for a second in his arms. “You are clean,” he said to me, and winked.
A while later, when they were taking photos of me with my parents, he announced that I would go back with him, alone to the church, because we had things to talk about. My parents gave me permission.
He couldn’t wait until we got to a motel: he made me touch him on the way there. I caressed it and looked at it (identical to his son’s).
“I felt something divine,” he confessed still exhausted on the bed. “You’re a mystery to me.”
He hugged me and cried. He took me in his arms like the day of his prophecy and told me that he loved me. I promised to love him forever and to go live with him in Orlando and to found a church there, but I didn’t want him to take me home in his car. I asked him to leave me near the church. I wanted to be alone for a while and clear my head a little. And feel the cool night air on my face. And why not see besides if I might find some guy on the way home. Then I’d lie down, read a psalm, and fall straight to sleep.
The Vampire of Moca
Let’s put this story in context. Santurce, Puerto Rico, once known as Cangrejos, meaning Crabs, but no longer. Santurce. Blocks and blocks full of doctor’s offices and temples—Catholic, Evangelical, Mormon, Rosicrucian, Espiritista, Jewish, and yoga-ist, if that’s what you call it. The stench of sewers 24/7. Unbearable heat. Reggaeton, old school salsa, boleros, bachatas, jukeboxes, pool halls, slot machines. Topless bars, Dominican bars, gay bars. Catholic schools, beauty schools, vocational schools, and schools where you get a professional degree in just one year and without much homework. Fabric stores, arts and crafts stores, no-prescription drugstores, barbershops and hair salons. But the mecca is the 7-Eleven, which is like saying Santurce’s Plaza las Américas. That’s where I met him.
I look out the window and in my mind I still see him coming. His loose, low-hanging jeans showing quite a bit of those boxer shorts that didn’t fall off thanks to those beautiful buttocks guarding his back. His sneakers, always neat and clean, not a thread in his shoelaces out of place, not the slightest stain on the sides of his soles. His striped polo shirts, his silvery watchband dangling on his wrist: I sigh because that’s all I can do. His place, the 7-Eleven, I tell myself.
Let’s go to the beginning of the story because I’m in no mood for games. I have a house in Santurce, behind the old General Committee Headquarters of the Pro-Statehood Party. (I should explain that it’s by pure chance that I live there since, like almost all the protagonists of Puerto Rican literature, I question the US presence.) At the rear of my house I rent out a studio. It’s little, but very comfortable. A year ago I rented it out to a couple of lesbians. I’ll admit this was a bit sudden on my part, since when I agreed to it the gay parade had just happened and I felt a sense of solidarity. Horrible mistake. Every Saturday, without fail, there was an endless line of women entering my house. They’d begin by turning on the barbecue and playing Ana Gabriel and Shakira, and then pay-per-view boxing, and finally, being folkloric like they were, they’d bring out the tambourines and cowbells to sing along to Lucecita’s plenas CD. As soon as the lease was over I told them I needed the apartment empty. “No problem, man,” one of them said to me, and they moved.
It was then that I made little signs announcing the apartment for rent. Naturally I stuck them in the gyms and near the pretty boy bars with the hope of renting out the studio and landing a hunk at the same time. And as the saying goes: “Be careful what you wish for; it might come true.” That same night I got a call from a guy who worked at the 7-Eleven and was looking for an apartment. I liked his voice. It sounded real macho. No slouch myself, I went right over to Fernández Juncos to meet him. When I saw him I was almost struck dumb. He asked me how much the rent was and I managed to answer him as best I could after giving him a substantial discount. He asked me about the deposit and I told him to forget about it. I didn’t give him the key right then and there because I didn’t have a copy. We arranged to see each other the next day.
When I got out of there, Santurce was suddenly transformed into the dream of every urban planner: an Eden with Adam standing behind the counter of a store that—like me after that day—never sleeps.
The next day I didn’t go to work. With the help of a Dominican boy, who by the way was also a hunk, I devoted myself to cleaning and painting the studio. I put in an air conditioner, a television, and even an illegal connection to my cable TV, which costs me almost fifty bucks a month. I put new sheets in there and a radio Mami left behind when she went with my sister to Orlando. I mean, what didn’t I do.
He arrived around 9:00pm and when he went in and saw the place he said to me:
“Damn papi, this is nice. With AC and everything.”
He took it right away and told me that if it was okay with me he’d move in the next day. And that’s what he did.
The night of the move—two plastic bags full of clothes, a box filled with sneakers, and a videogame sys-tem—I made him a delicious dinner. The poor thing, he brought beers from work and a box of cigarettes for each of us. He told me that he came to the city because he couldn’t find any work in Moca, his hometown, and that a guy he met in Isabela offered to pull some strings and get him a job in a store. The guy brought him home but then wanted to fuck and he—and I quote—“had respect for everyone but wasn’t into that shit.” I felt so embarrassed for the other guy that I blushed, but he immediately added, “Bro, no worries, I know not all of you are like that. You’ve done right by me and you’re not gonna regret it.” Good God, he saw right through me! But how could he not? I’d put curtains in the studio for him for heaven’s sake. I excused myself at that point and went to my room thinking that it was time to develop a little self-respect and to stop acting like a ’60s fag, that we were now in the twenty-first century and love wasn’t something you bought.
I was so alert to the silence coming from the studio I almost didn’t fall asleep.
The next day, determined to stop all the tricks and shenanigans, I went over to bring the boy some breakfast, not to take him to bed, but to feed a human being. The night before I had said to myself, “Enough of this, going nuts for a man.” I knocked on the metallic door and he opened right away. Good God. He was in boxer shorts that were all snug around his thighs and he had a hard-on. He had a bit of a beer belly from standing on that corner so much and drinking cold beers, adjusting his package every time a hot mami passed by. He had a tattoo of the name Yomaira crossing his chest and sticking out from his armpits were some blond hairs, which really turn me on. I forgot my plan, called in sick at work for the second day in a row, and invited him to the Plaza Mall to buy him whatever he needed.
And so the days passed. My friends in the bar gave me up for dead. Then la Carlos came by to visit. I was with the boy on the balcony when I see him park across the street. He gets out, opening the door and looking at the young hunk and looking at me says as fruity as she can be:
“Can I come in, or are you busy?”
The boy excused himself and the queen looked me up and down with a straight face and said to me: “Girl, what are you doing with that macho?”
La Carlos never changes, I thought and was happy to see him. We laughed our heads off that night and he convinced me to go with him to Tía María.
Tía María, my second home. And I say this honestly. I love that bar. The two pool tables, the jukebox playing Lissette, Lucecita, Yolandita, and la Lupe. I hadn’t gone back there since the boy had moved into the studio. It was really good to see the usual queens, especially since I hadn’t been there for a while. I felt like fresh meat and in that trade that was a plus. Everyone found me thinner.
And then a little macho hustler, a bit like my tenant, came by and la Carlos looks at me and says:
“And the kid? Does he fuck?”
I said no—real serious-like—that I had rented the apartment to him, that he was from Moca, that he had a daughter named Yomaira and was easygoing and a hard worker. I said besides that he didn’t interest me as a man. La Carlos, who doesn’t waste any time, interrupted me:
“So then, I have carte blanche, right?”
“I don’t care. . .” I lied, shrugging my shoulders and feeling that icy sensation in my bones that we call “jealousy.”
One night I was on double shift and when I get home I see, parked right in front of the house, Carlos’s car. I go and peek in the studio and there was Carlos with the guy, eating pizza and smoking pot. Fucking queen, I thought, but I put on a serious face and said to the kid:
“Dude, I don’t want any trouble with the neighbors. If you’re going to smoke, fine, but with the door closed.”
The motherfuckers laughed right in my face, high as kites. La Carlos hugged me around the neck and said:
“You jealous, papi? Look, he’s yours, no worries, right, papi?”
“Course, man, sure. All yours,” the kid said, humoring me.
Those words remained engraved in my brain like Bergman’s movies: “All yours, papi, all yours.” But “all yours” was that he was friends with la Carlos and they went everywhere together.
I did what everyone would have done: I called my ex, the one who cheated on me in Santo Domingo, so that he’d tell me that, after me, he never met anyone as special. That’s why it’s good to stay on good terms with one’s exes, especially if they treated you bad.
Time passed and Santurce went back to being its usual paradise lost. The same calm from Monday to Wednesday and the same hyped enthusiasm of its publicized weekends. I took advantage of all this and went to the museums—MAC, MAPR, Bellas Artes—and to all the movies they were showing at the Fine Arts and the Metro, except the one with Mel Gibson, who I can’t stand because he’s homophobic.
I felt defeated. If there’s one thing I am and have always been it’s a sore loser. It makes me angry and even makes me feel invisible, incapable of entertaining any delusions. Now Carlos no longer even bothered to greet me when he’d come to the studio, and from my balcony I’d watch my Adam come and go looking more and more handsome and more and more distant. One night I had one too many beers at the bar and as two hustlers came over to offer me their eight and nine inches, respectively, I quickly came down from my high spirits. I always get depressed when a trick propositions me: I feel old, or what’s worse, I feel I must look old and pathetic for these creatures to consider themselves objects of my desire. I said to myself “fuck this” and went home. Once there I saw la Carlos’s Tercel and I went over to the studio and looked in the window. The kid and Carlos naked in the bed I had bought, with the air conditioner I had bought, and between the sheets I had bought. And that was the stud of studs, the big macho, I said to myself totally pissed, and suddenly the kid gets up and I step back from the window. After a short while I look again and when I see what I see I start to add up all my expenses and I realize that this little Adam of Moca owes me and plenty: Carlos was fucking him.
I sat on the balcony to laugh at myself and Carlos and all of us gays, eternal denizens of Santurce, who have polished these sidewalks like crabs back and forth and sideways looking for machos, watching out for machos, or simply drunk out of our minds, out late, arm in arm, laughing jubilantly at the cars passing, shouting at us: fags! And us, raising our arms up high like beauty queens, shouting back at them: cocksuckers! And off we go to oblivion, holding hands, swishing all along Ponce de León. And I laugh at Carlos, who spent so much gas, the poor thing, coming and going from Moca, buying pizza and fried rice, and bumming reefers in La Colectora. La Carlos, like me, was thinking “now this is a real man,” and as far as I could tell he’s the kind who’d bend over in bed. Not that it’s bad that he gave him his ass; it’s just that us chumps give anything to charm them and to put them on a pedestal: handsome, male, virile, and one 100 percent tops. And I say to myself: “When that big queen Carlos comes out I’ll invite her to Junior’s Bar ’cause tonight there are strippers and I changed twenty bucks into one dollar bills. ’Cause there’s always more fish in the sea.