Fear Ain't All That
For some, learning to exist without fear is an option. For twelve-year old Miguel Estes, it’s a necessity. Miguel happens to live with a fatal form of the skin-blistering disease E.B., yet believing he’ll have a future is what sustains him. “The longer you keep your To Do list, the longer you’ll have to hang around to get everything done,” says Miguel’s Aunt Shirley.
Through his insightful aunt, through his dreams about his brother Jorge in heaven, and through the challenging lessons he’s chosen to learn, Miguel is able to eliminate nearly every fear within him—all that’s left is his mighty power of belief. In the end, Miguel is the ultimate victor; he realizes he’s living life the way it was meant to be lived…without fear.
A great summer read! September 25, 2006
Is it possible to overcome all of your fears? What do you think? Fear ain’t all that is a fiction novel that tells about a 13 year old boy, Miguelito, who suffers with Epidermolysis Bullosa. E.B. is a skin disease that forces him to bandage himself together every morning, because without the bandages he is too weak to move. For most of the book, Miguelito’s dad, whom he is very close to, is in jail in El Salvador. Meanwhile, his mother runs off to get married to a Hollywood producer. The only people that are there for him are his nurse, Khadijah, who’s a very dear friend, and his Aunt Shirley who tries to teach him the life-long lesson of overcoming fear. Will he realize that no matter how many obstacles are in his path, everyone’s life is worth living? Will he, can he eliminate all of his fears? This fascinating first of two novels shows how someone can be so weak yet so strong at the same time. Clint Adams is from San Francisco, CA, but is currently based in Italy. I had the great pleasure of being able to meet him and getting to know him as an author and a friend. I think it’s so smart that he uses his surroundings together with his imagination to capture the character’s setting. Adams uses detailed description to grab the reader’s attention into feeling Miguelito’s pain. He does this by creating a setting in which it is difficult for Miguelito to handle what life has thrown at him. I can just imagine the difficulty he has each day, bathing and bandaging himself so that his skin doesn’t blister. I thought as he did when he said... “If god gave us life to live why did so many people on earth have diseases? We should either live or die.”
I was very touched by this novel because it pulled me, as a reader, into the book. If you can handle sadness, but are looking for an experience of a lifetime, then this is the book for you. You have to be a patient and committed reader because the first few pages may not be what you usually enjoy. I was personally drawn into this book because eager to understand other’s viewpoints. I can relate to the setting because it takes place in San Francisco, where I live. It is about a person’s battle with a severe disease, which would usually not appeal to me as a must-read book, but rather a sad one. Once I got into the story, there was no way you could make me put down the book, even for chocolate, and boy do I love chocolate! This novel can be read by all ages, and makes for a great discussion book! If this were to be made into a movie, it would not be your stereotype chick flick, that’s for sure, because this is a real one of a kind novel. If you’re silly enough to not pick up this book, then it’s your loss!
I also enjoyed the sequel, 'Don't be afraid of heaven'
--A Kid's Review
Don't give fear a chance, September 29, 2005
12-year old Miguel is suffering from Epidermolysis Bullosa (E.B.), a severe genetic skin disease. Although the boy has to face serious difficulties nearly every day, he's always trying to develop positive aspects for his future. On the one hand, always slowed down by his anxious and nervous mother, and on the other hand encouraged by his strong Aunt Shirley, Miguel is finally able to overcome fears and troubles and to find his own view of life, even being an example for others......
Clint Adams analyzes the different characters in his novel in a very sensitive way so they become "real" persons in the reader's imagination. This story could be a lesson how to eliminate fears and troubles, and is suitable for both kids and adults.
-- Dr. Gernot Reisner from Ardning, Styria Austria
chapter one: excerpt
“Mom, do you think Aunt Shirley changed her hair again?” I asked.
“My goodness, Miguel, I certainly hope not. I think she changes hairstyles as often as she changes clothes.”
“I kind of like that she does that. It always makes me wonder what she’s going to look like next.”
“Well, try not to say anything rude when you see her.”
“I won’t, Mom.” As soon as I was picturing my aunt with short-spiked orange and black hair, I noticed that Mom had missed the turn to go south on Highway 101. “Mom, we should have stayed straight, to get to the airport.”
“Oh, I know. This will take us there just the same.”
“But the airport is right off 101.”
“280 connects to 101 in San Bruno, Miguel. We’ll be there in plenty of time. Her flight might even be a little bit late. Not to worry.”
“It just seems like 280 takes us more out of the way.”
“There are just too many accidents on 101. Remember how those two people died in that horrible pile up last week? That was awful. Highway 101 is much too dangerous. Is your seat belt fastened? Make sure your door is locked.”
Mom always reminded me to lock my door whenever I was in a car. She said that if your car door is locked, your body won’t drag on the ground if you’re thrown out during an accident. Mom was real good at thinking about things other people forgot.
In just about an hour we were going to see Aunt Shirley for the first time in over a year. Aunt Shirley was my mom’s sister, but they’re definitely like night and day. Sometimes it’s hard to think that they’re related at all. They didn’t even look the same. Mom's thirty-six, tall, with blond hair and blue eyes. Aunt Shirley's twenty-nine, with brown hair most of the time, and about five-three. But the absolute major difference is the way they lived their lives.
My mom always used to say that Aunt Shirley was unique and one of a kind. And I guess that’s true. She wasn’t just different from Mom, she was different from anyone I’d ever known. Aunt Shirley’s the only person who ever told me I was going to survive.
“Drink your water, Miguel. It’s a warm day and you don’t want to become dehydrated.”
“How long is Aunt Shirley going to stay with us, Mom?”
“It could be for a while. She thinks she’ll be moving to Berkeley soon, but we’ll see. I don’t know how she got it in her head that she’d be able to buy that house. I admire her efforts though. It’ll be fun having her with us.”
“Yeah. She’s heck’a cool.” But Aunt Shirley was way more than cool, and her moving to the Bay Area was something I always dreamed would happen. Mom warned me not to get too excited, but I couldn’t help it. It was the middle of June, school was over, and Aunt Shirley and I were going to have lots of time to spend together. I couldn’t wait. What would she teach me next? What new place would she take me to? Would she remind me of all her ways to make myself well? I hoped so.
Aunt Shirley said that Boston was like the east coast version of San Francisco, but San Francisco was still better. I was glad she thought that, so that way she wouldn’t want to go back to Boston anymore since they’re kind of the same. Plus, I don’t think Boston ever had any cool things like the Exploratorium or the model of the bay that has its own wave-making machine.
“How long does it take to get a doctor degree again?” I asked Mom.
“Doctoral degree. It should take her a few years to complete. Shirley is very goal-oriented though. I don’t imagine she’ll take more time than is required. Did you bring your cap with you?” Mom asked as we got closer to the short-term parking at the airport.
“Yes, Mom,” I said as I put my Giants cap on. Mainly I did that to cover some of the mask bandage I had to wear on my face. My skin had to be protected all the time because that’s what my disease is, a skin disease. It’s called Epidermolysis Bullosa, and that means that the skin blisters. I think Epidermolysis and Bullosa are Latin words, but that’s what it’s called in America too. The exact kind I have is called recessive dystrophic Epidermolysis Bullosa, and way too bad for me, that’s the worst kind. The main thing about E.B. was that I always had to be real careful, and because of my mom, I learned how to be extra cautious about everything I did. Mom was totally protective of me because she loved me so much. I loved her too.
We found a parking space and had plenty of time to spare, even after taking the wrong freeway. Before we got out of the car, Mom, like she always did, looked into the car mirror to fix up her face. It never looked that messed up to begin with, but it was just her habit to do a few things to it just to make sure. One thing she always did was comb her eyebrows up because that’s what she saw Cindy Crawford do once at a fashion show at Fort Mason. Next was her hair that she fluffed up, and the way she did it actually made it look more messy. So, it was like it was the opposite of combing. “I’ll open your door,” she said.
“No. I can do it. Let me do it.” Sometimes I struggled a little bit, but it made me feel good to make the door handle open even though I didn’t really have fingers anymore. “I can, let me,” I told Mom. I didn’t like it when she would watch me do it my way because then I got real nervous. Our car had like a hook that you’ve got to get your finger into to pull the door open. My way was to use both hands pressed together with a pen in between them. Then, most of the time, I could pull the hook towards me and get the door open. “Wait, I can do it.” This time it was taking extra long. Mom was staring at me, waiting. She was looking around to see if other people were looking at us. That made me even more nervous.
I tried a lot of times, but either the pen was slipping too much, or it was just too skinny to try to grab onto the hook. I couldn’t do it.
I looked at Mom, and without saying anything she just opened the door from the outside and I got out. When she opened it, the look on her face was like she felt sorry for me. But I was hoping that she was glad for me that I at least tried to do it on my own. The minute we started walking to the terminal she said, “Why don’t you lead the way to the gate. You’re so much better at figuring out those monitors than I am.” It didn’t happen very often, but I really liked it when Mom believed in me and what I could do.
To be honest there were so many screens and they all looked alike. They all said Arrivals, but I wanted to show Mom that I knew what I was doing. I wanted to look extra confident even if I really wasn’t. Some of the flights were in red, some in blue, some in green. It was real pretty the way they did it, but what did all those colors mean? I didn’t get it. Then I saw the word Boston, and I knew it had to be Aunt Shirley’s flight. Right next to the flight number was the word “LATE” in bold, big letters. “Mom, it’s late. What time is it now?”
“It’s almost two-thirty.”
“Well, this says the flight’s not coming in until four-twenty-three.” That meant that we’d have to hang around the airport for another two hours. And, hanging out anywhere meant that there would be more people to stare at me. Aunt Shirley had always told me that people stared because they were curious, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Whenever I didn’t feel like explaining to them I’d say, “The Mummy’s my favorite movie, and I’m just trying out my costume before Halloween gets here.” I never said that in front of Mom though. She’d freak. Just because I always had to wear bandages all over my body most of the time she still never liked me calling myself a mummy. Not even as a joke. “Those bandages are protecting your skin. They’re keeping you healthy. And that's no laughing matter,” she had always told me.
Not looking too discouraged about having to wait more time than she thought, Mom took me to a close by gift shop. Looking for magazines to read was something we both liked to do. In the gift shop the customers were too busy looking for the thing they were going to buy, but the girl at the counter was the first one to stare at me. It’s like I had just arrived at the airport on a flight from another planet. Was I imagining this? Is this what she was thinking? Or was she thinking, “Does that boy have E.B.? I wonder what that must be like?”
Then some businessman paid for a dark chocolate Milky Way and the girl stopped looking. So did I as soon as I saw a People magazine with Britney Spears on the cover. I liked her a lot, but not as much as Christina Aquillera or Ricky Martin. It was always my dream to go to one of their concerts. The last time I saw Aunt Shirley she even made me put that on my To Do list. That’s a list she made up for me to write in every day. She had told me that as long as I have things I have to do, the longer I will be around. “It’s only the people who forget about all the things they have left to do, all the things they want to do, are the ones who die too early,” Aunt Shirley had said.
Wow. I wondered if she was going to get pissed at me for not writing in my list lately. And lots of the things I had already written down I hadn’t done yet. Was she going to ask me about that? Probably. Bummer. She even told me that every time I had to go to the hospital for treatment was because my list wasn’t full enough. “When your mind stops working your body takes over,” she always told me.
Eventually Mom and I walked out of the gift shop, but we hadn’t bought anything. We couldn’t go right up to the flight gate because we didn’t have a ticket, so we waited inside one of the restaurants. It was a place that had crabs. I guess mostly just tourists ate there because that’s what they think San Francisco people eat all the time, crabs and Rice-a-Roni. As long as I could eat Jell-O, or cheese, or something soft I was fine.
Where we sat was right at the window, and both my mom and I were real quiet. I just looked out at all the different planes. “Mom, how come that airline is called Virgin?”
Mom looked kind of surprised, and it took her extra long to answer me. “Miguel, I’m not sure. Because it’s owned by the same man who owns the Virgin Superstore on Market Street. He wanted the names to be the same.”
That answer totally wasn’t good enough for me. I knew what a virgin was, but that answer wasn’t logical and didn’t make too much sense. What’s up with that? Oh well. “Can we go to someplace way different for vacation this time?”
“Where? Where would you like to go?”
“I don’t know. How about Africa? So we can see all those kinds of animals close up that are just in zoos.”
“Oh, Miguel. I’m not so sure about Africa. I think that may be too dangerous. Did you know that nearly twenty-five million people have died there from AIDS? Just in the central and southern portions alone.”
“But that doesn’t mean we would get AIDS by visiting there.”
“How about thinking of somewhere else? I’m sure there are many more fascinating places that are far less risky to visit.”
“Well, what about Peru? To see those cool Inca pyramids that are way high up in the mountains?”
“I’m not so sure that’s such a good idea either. South America seems so prone to massive earthquakes. Who’s to say they won’t have another at exactly the same time we’re there.”
After Mom said that I told her I’d think about more places, but I didn’t. I figured that whatever else I would come up with Mom would have another reason for us not to go there. I just looked out at the planes and didn’t think about too much at all. Then I remembered about what Aunt Shirley always kept telling me about the f-word. She said that that was the dirtiest word ever invented, the absolute worst word in our vocabulary. She said God didn’t invent that word, people did, and it never should have ever existed in the first place.
There was another f-word God did invent though, a word called faith. It’s the opposite of the other one. Aunt Shirley told me that I would never get well, ever, until I can get rid of the first f-word completely, a word called fear. “It’s a killer,” she used to tell me.
After remembering what Aunt Shirley taught me about the two f-words, I looked over at Mom. She always, always looked afraid of something. “What are you thinking about, Mom?” I asked.
“Shirley. She’s going to be so disappointed when she doesn’t get that house. We’ll have to think of something fun to do to cheer her up.”
“How do you know for sure she won’t get that house?”
“She just won’t. She’ll never be able to qualify for a loan. You have to have lots of money in the bank in order to buy a house these days. Especially in the Bay Area.”
When I watched Aunt Shirley coming towards us I couldn’t believe it. She looked just the same as always, except for her new hair. It was red this time, and it looked like she forgot to fix it up after she fell asleep on her plane pillow. Half of her shirt was tucked back into her pants, and the other half wasn’t. I noticed her first. “Mom, there she is. Hey, Aunt Shirley! Over here!”
“Not so loud, Miguel. She’ll see us.”
Aunt Shirley started running over to us. She was more excited than we were. She almost knocked over a man on her way to get to us, but it looked like she didn’t care. And, one of the paper bags she was carrying fell, tore, and some of her clothes spilled out onto the ground. “Shit,” she yelled out. But soon she was right in front of us. She hugged me right away, and it felt so good.
“Not too tight, Shirley.”
“Hey, Sharon. Don’t start with me. Get over here.” Then Aunt Shirley hugged Mom real, real tight. No one else ever hugged Mom like that. I wondered if Mom liked it as much as I did. Mom and Shirley loved each other a lot. They were like the way my brother Jorge and I were before he died. Kind of like twins, but not really.
“I can’t believe I’m here. I can’t believe I live here now. It’s so great to see you two,” Aunt Shirley said.
“Guess what, Aunt Shirley? Mom drove us all the way here. We didn’t have to take a limo.”
“Get out! Well, good for you, girl.”
“It’s no big deal. Stop,” Mom said.
“Sure it is, Sharon. Little steps. That’s what they are…little steps.” Aunt Shirley was talking about Mom and her fears, and how she needed to finally get rid of them. I knew I was next. Was she going to ask how I was doing? That was always the first thing she wanted to know, if I’ve gotten rid of all my fears yet. “And, Mr. Miguelito man, what’s up with you? How’s your To Do list coming?” I just knew she was going to ask me that. “Are you remembering to say ‘I will’ instead of ‘I want’? You’re the one who makes things happen...not some other goomer. Don’t forget it, bub.”
“Well, sometimes,” I said, in sort of a wimpy voice.
“Uh oh. I have the feeling sometimes means never.” Aunt Shirley had an impatient and determined look on her face. She turned right over to Mom and said, “Let’s hit the road, sis. I can see I’ve got some work to do here.”
Faster than usual we all walked to get Aunt Shirley’s luggage, ran to our car, left the airport, and drove home. Mom and I were too afraid to interrupt Aunt Shirley who was talking the whole time, but we didn’t seem to mind. We were glad she was with us. I had the feeling Aunt Shirley’s visit was somehow way more important this time. I had no idea though I was going to learn something from her that would change my life forever.
My mom told me that Yoko Ono lived in our building, on the very top floor. She’s supposed to be somebody famous, but I didn’t really know what for. I saw her once in the elevator with her glasses off, and I liked that she didn’t glare at me the way most everybody did.
To me our apartment was definitely the coolest. The best part about it was all the awesome places to see from out of the windows. Every day I looked for something new, something I had never seen before. Being in front of each window made me feel like I was in another world. Some places I’d make up from the map in my head, but other ones were real. My favorite real place was the Campanile building across the bay at UC Berkeley. I looked at it all the time since I found out Aunt Shirley was going to go there.
Whenever I wanted to feel good I took my binoculars out of its case and looked to the East Bay. It took a while, but when I focused it just right I could see the massive gray bricks that the Campanile’s built with. I always wished I could hear the bells ring from it, but that’s too much to ask for from binoculars. That way I would know when it’s time for class. I thought maybe I’d go there someday, get real smart, and discover a cure for E.B. Then, for sure, that would make me real famous and people would talk about me in a real good way. But, even better, it’s a way I could keep myself alive, instead of waiting for someone else to do it.
After the tall Campanile building, my next favorite thing to look at from my window was the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s really not gold though. That would be too expensive and people would try to steal parts of it. The real color it’s painted is brownish-red and it’s not even shiny. I’m so glad the terrorists didn’t bomb it like they were supposed to. That would have been totally bad. Plus, how would I get to Sausalito? Sometimes I heard people call the Golden Gate Bridge the “Gateway of the West.” I never thought it really was though because most people probably come in from the airport.
Khadijah said she’s from New York, but her name’s from Egypt. She was my new at-home nurse who I just met, Khadijah Parker. After she got done talking to Mom in the kitchen she came back into my room by herself and said, “It sounds like both of us have names no one can pronounce.”
“I know. You mean my mom didn’t know how to say your name right?” I asked.
“No. Not really, Mig-hiul-ito.”
“You know what? That’s still not right. Why don’t you just say Mikey. That’s what Miguelito’s close to in English, Mikey.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. I get that all the time. People just never seem to get it right. I don’t care, Khadijah. Just say Mikey.”
“OK. As long as you’re comfortable with that.”
We both looked at each other at the same time not knowing what to say next, so then I took my turn and asked, “So do you know a lot about E.B.?”
“Well, yes. I’ve never worked with anyone who has E.B., but I’ve been trained very well. I know that it’s an inherited disease. You’ll be requiring daily care, and your mother told me that I’ll be needing to dress you every morning.”
“That’s right. You know what I tell strangers what E.B. is? The easiest way to make them understand?”
“I tell them, ‘Did you know that there’s a kind of glue that holds the layers of skin together? Well, I don’t have that. My body doesn’t make it. So that’s why I have to be extra careful all the time. It’s the same way on my insides too. I can only eat certain things. Like no potato chips, no cookies. That would be like cutting the inside of my stomach with razor blades.’ After I tell them all that they get kind of grossed out and don’t ask me anything else.”
Khadijah liked my story. I didn’t know if she got grossed out by what I just said, but she walked right over to the huge bay window in my room to check out the bay. “Wow, you must have the best view in the whole building. This is incredible. Gosh, you can see the entire East Bay from here. That’s where I live.”
“No kidding? Wow, that’s amazing. You know what? You didn’t get to meet my Aunt Shirley because she just went for a run through Crissy Field. But she’s moving there real soon, to Berkeley. And she’s going to go to school there too. Do you go to school there? Or do you just live there?”
“Yes, I go to Cal. I’m in their dance program. I want to be a professional dancer someday. What’s your aunt studying?”
“Acting. I mean, the kind of acting that’s not really acting.” I couldn’t think of the right word right away, then I remembered. “Drama, but not the acting part. She’s getting her doctor degree there. You know, the kind that’s not a hospital doctor. She just wants to write plays but not be in them.”
“Are you serious? I can’t believe this. The dance program is part of the drama school there.”
“Well, she’ll be back in about an hour. You’ll get to meet her when she gets back. She’ll be pretty sweaty though, if that’s OK. But she’s way cool.”
“Oh, sure. I can’t wait.”
Having Khadijah as my newest at-home nurse made me feel like something special was going on, mainly because I found out she’s kind of connected to my favorite person, Aunt Shirley. Maybe they’d become friends. Maybe we could all be friends. I should have known Khadijah was a dancer from the start. Her black, curly hair was kind of big, and her chest was too. She definitely looked like she could be in the videos on MTV. Not like the Beyonce or TLC videos, but more like the Janet Jackson ones. She’s real pretty like Janet Jackson, even though her really tiny nose is more like LaToya’s or Michael’s.
Out of nowhere it was nobody’s turn to say anything. Khadijah was still standing at my bay window and it got real quiet again. Then as soon as she turned to see the picture on my special glass table near my bed she asked, “Who’s this?”
I was caught off guard, and all of the sudden I didn’t really feel like talking about anything personal. But she asked about it again. “A friend of yours?”
“Um, he was...I mean, he’s my brother,” I answered.
“Oh, your mother didn’t mention that you have a brother. Where’s he? Does he live with your father?”
“Well, no. Um, he’s dead. Jorge had E.B. too.”
“Oh, wow. I’m so sorry, Mikey.” She looked totally embarrassed for asking about Jorge in the picture.
“It’s OK. I like to have that picture there so I can look at it a lot. I like to remember him every day. He’d probably like it that you asked about him, even though he doesn’t know who you are. He’d definitely think you were real cute, you know, ‘cause you look like a movie star.”
“A movie star? Oh, my. Well then, I’m flattered. He’s pretty cute too.”
“Oh, he’d really like to hear you say that. Jorge never had a chance to have any girlfriends. He probably would have if he’d have lived longer. I miss him a lot. He was my best friend. He was smart too, he taught me lots of important things.”
“That’s great that he was able to do that…be your brother and your teacher.”
“Yeah, it definitely was. I know I don’t know you too well, but I’ll show you how smart he was. He gave me something real special right before he died. It’s kind of private. I keep it under my mattress so it won’t ever get wrinkled.” With all my strength I reached for it, but it was farther back than I thought. “Can you help me? Maybe you can lift this corner part up, so I can get to it.”
“Sure. No problem.”
“In case you didn’t know my hands are what they call, ‘mittened.’ All the skin has grown over my fingers, so it’s like they’re not there anymore. The only time when it’s the most uncool is whenever I’ve got to use the keyboard on my computer. But I got over it.”
“What are you two up to?” my mom interrupted, as she stood in the doorway staring.
Khadijah began answering. “Mikey was going to—”
“We were just adjusting the mattress. It’s good to do that once in a while, so it won’t wear out in the wrong places,” I answered quickly, as I immediately let go of what I was grabbing for.
“Well, that certainly is efficient of you both. How are things going? Is Miguel filling you in on everything you need to know?”
“Yes, ma’am. He’s been great.”
“You know, I think Miguel knows more about E.B. than most medical experts.”
“Mom, guess what? Khadijah’s goes to Berkeley, just like Aunt Shirley. And, not only that, they’re in the same compartment.”
“Yeah, whatever. Can you believe it?”
“Well, that truly is a coincidence. Isn’t it?” my mom said, while looking a little shocked.
“Khadijah, when you meet Aunt Shirley she’ll tell you that it’s not a coincidence. She’ll say there’s a reason why you two are in the same department. Aunt Shirley says there’s reasons for everything.”
“Miguel, don’t confuse Khadijah about your Aunt Shirley. You’ll be able to meet her soon. I know you’ll get along just fine. Maybe you’ll be able to help her along. She’s starting up there this fall.”
“Oh, of course. I can’t wait to meet her,” Khadijah said.
As Khadijah and I were making tuna sandwiches in the kitchen, Aunt Shirley almost broke the front door down with her pounding. Mom had gone to Union Square to do some shopping, and she wasn’t coming back until a lot later in the afternoon. “Oh my God. These hills are killers. Whew!” Aunt Shirley yelled out as she opened our front door after realizing she had her own key.
I ran into the living room and greeted her immediately, “Hey, Aunt Shirley, guess what? Come in here, Khadijah.” Khadijah walked in, and I introduced them both.
“You ran up Nob Hill?” Khadijah asked.
“You better believe it. I first ran from here, down Jones Street, through Fort Mason to Crissy Field, then to the Bridge, and back up again. But I tell you, there’s nothing like a good challenge first thing in the morning. That makes the rest of the day a piece of cake. Even if it does leave you a little breathless…running uphill.”
“Aunt Shirley, Khadijah’s in the drama department at Berkeley. I mean, the dance department, they’re the same.”
“Get outta here. Well then, let’s get right to it. Spill the beans.”
“What do you mean?” Khadijah asked.
“We were meant to tell each other something, or learn something from each other. Or maybe our meeting has something to do with this guy right here. I guess we’ll find out sooner or later.”
I knew Aunt Shirley would say that they were meant to meet. Right off Khadijah looked confused and kind of afraid. But all three of us ended up hanging out for a while until it was time for Khadijah to head back home to the East Bay. She seemed to fit right in, and I was so glad she was my new nurse. The classes she was taking that summer were at different times from when she needed to take care of me in the city, so everything was totally convenient.
The weather outside was real sunny, but not too warm. It was just right. More like in-between weather. No more rain, but just before the foggy summer. And way before the earthquake weather that happens during Indian summer. Maybe the nice weather made Mom extra happy because when she came home she was smiling all the time. She was really happy to see Aunt Shirley there. Mom looked full instead of empty. Seeing Mom so happy made me feel the same way.
“Shirley, is there any way you could stay here with us while you attend your classes? You’re more than welcome to stay as long as you want.”
“Yeah. That way you could just take BART to get there. No biggie,” I said.
“BART? What the...? Is that your T?” she asked.
“Yes. It’s the same as the T.”
I definitely didn’t know what the T was. A dirty word they had to spell instead of saying out loud? Whatever. I didn’t want to look dumb, so I just asked, “Are you going to, Aunt Shirley?”
“What are you talking about, guys? You know I’m buying that house in the hills. Escrow closes in about two weeks now. I can’t wait for you both to spend lots of time with me there.”
Mom’s face turned to me and looked real skeptical, like right when those psychic infomercials come on TV and Mom always says, “I can’t believe people believe in this nonsense.”
“You’re for sure going to move there then?” I asked.
“Oh, yes. Absolutely. I can’t wait. It’s going to be my own private haven.”
“Well, what about the financing? Has that come through yet?” Mom asked.
“What about the down payment? Were you able to come up with that?”
“Did someone tell you you’ll be able to get the financing? A mortgage broker?”
“I don’t understand then. Why don’t you just plan on staying here with us until you’re able to—”
“Oh. Thank you. But I am buying that house. I’ve worked hard to make it happen, and it will.”
“What exactly makes you think you can though?”
“Because I believe.”
“You believe what?”
“I believe I can make this happen. By believing it will happen...it will. I believe the financing will come through exactly when it’s supposed to. I have no reason to believe I won’t be moving into that house. None. I have no fear whatsoever. And what do I have instead, folks? I have absolute faith it will all come about.”
“Oh, my. Fear. ‘Have no fear.’ That’s your beloved credo.”
As usual Mom and Aunt Shirley talked again about a subject that always came up, fear vs. faith, so I went into my room to check my e-mail. When I was there I wasn’t sure if they were done or not because I couldn’t hear anything. They’ve had this talk about a million times before and I always got real tired of listening to it. It was the one topic that usually got Aunt Shirley really fired up, you know, pissed.
By the time I was deleting my last junk message about trampy teen vixens Aunt Shirley came up to me at my desk. She looked real calm, but it was like she was just forcing her face to be that way. It didn’t look natural at all. She said, “Miguelito, I’ve decided that it’s better for me to stay in the East Bay until my house is ready.”
“Why? You don’t like it here? Is it me?”
“Of course not. I love you. This has nothing to do with you. It’s just better this way.”
“So then it’s Mom. Is it because of the fight you just had?”
“No. We weren’t having a fight. We’re just completely different. I love your mother a lot. She’s my sister. I’d do anything for her.”
“I don’t really get it then. If you stay here with us it doesn’t cost anything.”
“I just have to go. It’s not...really good for me to be here. I have to protect myself.”
“From E.B.? You know it’s not contagious, right?”
“I know that, you jughead. I told you, this has nothing to do with you. I love you more than sugar, and you’ll visit me often in Berkeley. We’ll have a terrific time. Keep that one in your head, doll.”
“OK. Yeah, that’ll be good.”
Then Aunt Shirley’s eyes were trying to tell me something, and I had to wonder what until she said, “Someday you’ll know exactly why I’ve had to leave. I know it’ll all be so clear to you, you’ll see. And when it does your whole life will change. Someday.”
Even though Aunt Shirley told me I would know someday, I already did. The minute she walked out of my room all I could think about was something I heard a couple of months before. “You’ve got to destroy all the fears you’ve learned…,” Aunt Shirley told me out loud. Then her eyes said, “…or you’ll never survive.”
“Wait a minute. How do you say it again?” Mom’s new boyfriend asked. His name was Hunt Manly and he was some kind of movie person from L.A. I didn’t know if he was for real or not, but I acted like he was because he’s Mom’s friend.
“It’s Mee-gehl-eee-toe. Or, you can call me Mee-gehl.”
“No. That’s still not right. But, I don’t care. Just say Mikey. That’s cool.”
I could tell he tried his best, so that’s OK. This was the first time I met this guy my mom was going out with. They’d been together for two or three months already, but for some reason I’d never met him before. Mom wanted the night to be special so the boyfriend decided we’d all have dinner at the Fairmont Hotel. It’s only a block from our apartment, directly through Huntington Park. Mom was still getting ready in her room, so Hunt and I were alone in the living room talking.
He looked kind of like an actor-type ‘cause he had gel in his hair. San Francisco people don’t do that. And since he looked that way I figured that’s how he got his name. “Is your name real?” I asked.
“Is it real? Of course.”
“I just meant that it sounds like a made-up name. No offense. You know, like somebody from The Young & the Restless or something.”
“I know. I’ve heard that before. And, I guess you could say that Mih-gwel-eee-no sounds like a name straight out of some Mayan village in the Yucatan,” he said with a hard look right back at me. At first I was going to apologize because I didn’t mean to insult him, but then, after what he said, I didn’t care.
“How much longer, Sharon?” the guy shouted towards Mom’s room.
“I’m nearly ready, Hunt. Two more minutes.”
The boyfriend and I didn’t say anything during those two minutes that turned into ten. Then, just trying to be friendly, I said, “You probably already know they filmed Hotel at the Fairmont. That’s a really cool TV show because they show so much of the city in it. Except when they did all that I wasn’t born yet. But at least I can watch it now on SoapNet.”
“Well, they didn’t actually film it there. I’m sure they just shot exteriors and some second-team stuff.”
“Oh, yeah. That’s right.” I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t even know TV people were on teams. “But there was lots of other stuff that was filmed here in the city. Do get to be with a lot of famous actors?”
“I don’t really get to know them. They just work for me. I’m their boss. I’m a producer. Sharon, do you think you can you speed it up a little?”
Mom walked out and from that moment on the boyfriend really didn’t listen to mostly anything I had to say. He was totally focused on Mom. And Mom was focused on him. As we left our building he and Mom walked in front of me, and I walked behind. The boyfriend made a weird look to my mom after they walked by one of the regular homeless people in the park. “Hey, Charlie. What’s up?” I said as I passed by.
“Are you staying out of trouble, young man?” Charlie asked.
I nodded yes, and didn’t really answer because I didn’t want the boyfriend to give me that same weird look he gave to Charlie.
“Mom, can I have the dim sum? That should be OK, right?” I usually couldn’t eat the kind of food everybody else got to eat, but I thought dim sum would be perfect. Not spicy. Not sharp. Easy to digest. Just perfect.
“It should. Just make sure not to dip them in the sauce,” she answered.
We were at a restaurant in the Fairmont I had never been to before, the Tonga Room. It was way cool, but I didn’t get it. The whole place looked like Gilligan’s Island but without Gilligan, Ginger, Mr. Howell, or anyone else from the show. And, there were tons of strange sounds too. “How come this place has so many weird noises?” I asked.
“Ambience. Rainstorms and hurricanes are common in Polynesia,” the guy said. He answered my question by not looking at me. He was looking at his menu when he spoke to me. I guess he thought I must have been invisible.
“I think this is all heck’a cool though. I’ve never seen outdoor palm trees inside before, and that pond too. Whoa. I hope there’s no birds in those trees up there, or else we’ll all end up with bird poop in our dinners.”
“Miguel, please. That’s disgusting,” Mom said.
I mainly said the thing about the bird poop to see if anyone was really listening to me. When the dinners came, all the food smelled pineappley. Yum. I just ate and let Mom and her boyfriend do most of the talking.
“So, when are you coming down again? There’s plenty of restaurants we haven’t tried yet. And don’t forget all that shopping,” the boyfriend said.
“Well, I’m not exactly sure. My sister just came out here, and I want to spend time with her,” Mom said.
“Bring her down with you. I’d love to meet her.”
“Oh, I think she’s too busy right now. She’s got a lot on her mind.”
“Instead of calling it Los Angeles, Aunt Shirley calls it the city of lost angels. Get it? She kind of hates it. She said she’d never go there even if you paid her a million dollars.”
“Miguel, dear. Finish your dim sum,” Mom said.
I could tell that I didn’t really need to say that to the boyfriend, but I also knew how important it was to tell the truth. Maybe Aunt Shirley was wrong though. Maybe there were good parts about L.A., and about the people who lived there. Maybe the best sides of who the boyfriend really was just didn’t show yet.
“Sharon, you know, I’m going to be needing someone who has experience putting together fund-raisers soon. For a big event at the Beverly Hilton. And, it’s going to be tied into promoting one of my films that’s due to come out soon.”
“The one about the e-mail slasher?”
“Yes, that one. Do you think you’d be interested in working for us?”
“In L.A.? What’s the cause? The event will raise funds for…?”
“I’m not really sure. Something about AIDS or rape. One of those. I forget.”
“But, Hunt. Would I have to be there for just a few weeks? Or a few months? About how long?”
“We’d probably need you for a few months. You could do some of the work from here I’m sure. You’d be able to meet a lot of celebrities. Lots of important people. It’s a good opportunity for us both.”
“Well, I’m not so sure I’ve got the time right now. Miguel and I are right in the middle of planning our fall vacation. And, he has to be near Stanford for treatment. Plus, Shirley and her new home. I know she’ll need me to help her decorate. If you truly need someone right now, I’m not sure I’m the one.”
“Why don’t you bring Mikey down with you. And, as far as your sister goes, I think you and she probably have very different tastes. Mikey, what do you think about that? How would you feel about meeting some of Hollywood’s top dogs? Tom Cruise? Ben Affleck? Erik Estrada?”
“Wow. You know those people?” I asked.
“Well, no. Not exactly. But I know people who do.”
“Yeah. That would be way cool. Definitely. How about Ricky Martin?”
“Sure. Why not. I’m sure we can track him down.”
“Mom, is that OK? Can we go? I don’t have any school. And, if I don’t get sick I don’t have to go back to Stanford for another month.”
Mom looked worried, but I bet she was glad to see me so excited about something. She had a grin on her face, and she liked it when I was really happy. I knew she would say yes because if she said no I’d be totally sad. Mom wasn’t the kind of person to just say “What the hell?” She had to think about things real hard before she ever said OK to anything.
Finally it was the fourth of July, a day my dad and I always used to celebrate together. I missed him so much. After he and Mom got their divorce two years before, I only got to see him once in a while. My dad’s from El Salvador, so that’s where my name came from – it’s Spanish. Dad picked it out when I was a baby, and he got real mad at people who couldn’t pronounce Miguelito.
Even though I didn’t get to see him too much, Dad used to write me letters all the time. I liked that. My mom always used to say that he kind of sounded like Ricky Ricardo. I thought of Dad a lot when I looked out my window to see ships going past the Golden Gate Bridge and out into the ocean. When I got real lonely I pretended I was on one of those ships that was going to El Salvador. And that way I could surprise my dad. He would have been glad to see me for sure. The last time I had seen him was at my apartment on Halloween almost a year ago, three days after my twelfth birthday.
Dad had lots of presents for me on that visit, and they all came from El Salvador. “I know you’re going to like this one,” my dad had said to me, “but you’re going to have to read the directions in Spanish. No problem, right?”
“Right, Dad. No problema,” I answered.
“Joe, I’m not so sure that speaking Spanish is such a good idea. It’ll confuse Miguel,” my mom had said. She called my dad “Joe,” but his name is really Joaquin. Mom kind of did that once in a while, turning anything Spanish into something American, just so she could pronounce it right.
Dad gave Mom a weird look, but then quickly asked me, “So, are you going to open it? Or what?”
“Duh yes, Dad.” With the way my hands were, I had to tear the paper kind of slow so it wouldn’t scratch me. But, when I finally ripped it all off, and lifted up the lid of this huge box I couldn’t believe it. “Oh my God!!! Are you for real, Dad? I’ve been wanting one of these forever.” It was an absolutely awesome digital camera. They were a totally new thing then. “Now I can take pictures of everything, and send them all over the world along with my e-mails. Thanks, Dad. This is way cool.”
“I want to have lots of pictures of you when you write to me, OK? And you better be smiling in them. Got it?”
Dad knew I didn’t like to smile too much because E.B. kind of messed up my teeth pretty bad. They were sort of stained and gross. “Of course, Dad. I’ll send you pictures all the time,” I had told him. Then I walked over to him at the couch and hugged him. Somehow he knew exactly what I wanted more than anything.
I was going to ask him how to work the camera, but my mom interrupted by asking me, “Now, do you really think you’ll be able to manipulate all those complicated mechanisms? It looks so menacing. Maybe there’s an easier one for you to use.”
“How are you going to push all those buttons? How are you going to focus that lens? I mean, it’s a nice camera. But your hands can only do so much.”
“But, Mom, I can still do lots of things with my hands. I’ll make it work. You’ll see.”
“Joe, this was a great idea. But I don’t really know if it was so practical.”
I could almost tell that a fight might happen soon, so I went over to a chair on the other side of the room, sat down, and pretended to read those Spanish directions to myself.
“Sharon, give the kid a chance. Let him try it out. Then, if it doesn’t work, I’ll get him another.”
“I’m just trying to minimize the disappointments in his life. Letting him get excited over something he will never be able to use is a health risk.”
“I believe the more opportunities Miguel has, the healthier he’ll become.”
“But it’s not just his health that concerns me. It’ll be so awkward for him. I just know he’ll become so self-conscious of other people looking at his hands. You know, when he tries to use it in public. That’s all I’m saying.”
“Sharon, I don’t get it. Why don’t you let Miguel live his life? He’s a resourceful kid. What are you so afraid of?”
“Well, I don’t know, Joe. My goodness, your rose-colored visions. I just don’t want to let Miguel get his hopes up. I’m only thinking of what’s best for him. You should do the same.”
“There’s no way I will ever not let Miguel get his hopes up. I won’t do that. Miguel is going to survive and live a happy life. I’m certain of it!” My dad yelled out, as he pounded his fist down on one of our glass tables. They’ve had discussions like this before, so it wasn’t ever new for me. But this time Dad looked so determined, so definite, like he had some sort of plan in his head. Whenever he would visit it was because Mom invited him. She had sole-custody of me, so Dad really had no say in my life. He was just a visitor.
Dad looked over at me sitting across the room, and gently grabbed my mom’s arm. He took her into the kitchen so I couldn’t hear anything. I just stayed in my chair, glanced at the rest of my presents I got that I really didn’t care about, and thought of what my mom and dad could be saying.
Was my mom going to make him take the camera back? What was Dad going to do? Was he going to maybe kidnap me and take me back to El Salvador with him? Was my mom going to make it so I could never see Dad again? Were we all going to have to go back to court another time to see who gets me?
Before long everything got still. My dad came out of the kitchen, but Mom stayed in there. Dad and I never discussed any of the questions that were in my mind, so we couldn’t talk about any of the answers either. Maybe I didn’t want to know.
Dad came back out and said it was time for him to go. So he and I left my apartment and walked to the elevator outside my front door, and there we waited.
“These elevators sure are taking a long time today,” my dad had said.
I was glad it took so long because the longer it took to get to our floor, the more time we had to spend together. “Yeah. Well, maybe somebody’s moving today. That happens a lot.” We got in, and down we went to the garage. Twenty-Nine, Twenty-Eight, Twenty-Seven, Twenty-Six. Now the elevator was going too fast for me.
“El Señor Miguelito, you know I’ll be back for you someday, right?”
“Really? I thought you had to stay in San Salvador for a while.” Nineteen, Eighteen, Seventeen.
“Miguel, I promise you. Whatever it takes I’ll be back for you. I will work it out somehow so you’ll be able to live with me part of the time. Whenever you need me I’ll be here for you, to take care of you...always.”
When he had said that he held my hand and it didn’t hurt. I knew what he just said was special and true. Eleven, Ten, Nine. Then, a man and woman slowly got on at the eighth floor. They were dressed up like Regis and Kelly. And they were both carrying microphones which was kind of dumb because on their TV show they never really do that. The Regis-man couldn’t stop looking at me. He was a little drunk or high and said, “That costume is far out, kid. You look like you’re straight out of a Frankenstein flick.”
“No. Not Frankenstein, more like The Mummy, the Kelly-woman, who was also a little high, said to the Regis-man.
Before I could say anything my dad looked at me and made his eyes roll around in a circle. His look to me automatically erased what the man and the lady had just said. I’ve heard things like that so many times before, that I looked like a mummy, but my dad was never around to do anything about it.
“My son wears these bandages every day of his life. And at age twelve he’s learned more than you’ll ever know in your lifetime. He’s first class.” Lobby.
“Hey...look, sir. I had no idea,” the man said to my dad, while looking kind of dumb. Then he said to me, “I’m sorry, kid. I didn’t know.”
“That’s OK. It happens all the time.” The elevator doors opened, the two people got out, then the doors closed quickly. Garage 1, Garage 2, Garage 3. Dad and I walked over to his rental car without saying anything.
When we got to it we stood there and Dad talked first, “For the rest of my life I will never be more proud of you than I am right now. You amaze me.”
“What do you mean, Dad?”
“There won’t ever be another kid alive who has what you have. Always remember how special you are. Remember it every day. Remember me telling you this. You are truly good, Miguel. The respect you come up with for others is incredible. You are powerful. I know you have the ability to make yourself well. I’m sure of it.”
“You crazy burro. Of course you do, you know that. And I’m going to keep writing to you, and I’ll be expecting responses too. Responses with pictures taken from your new camera.”
“OK. I will, Dad. I’ll write to you, and I’ll definitely send some pictures. But, when am I going to see you again?”
“Soon, I hope. And I’ll always be thinking of you. I love you, Miguelito,” Dad said, as he hugged me hard enough so I could feel it, but not enough so it would hurt. I could see him try not to cry, but I could still tell. He got in his car and so did I.
He gave me a ride to where the elevators were, and I said, “I love you too, Dad. And thanks for all my cool presents. Especially for my camera.”
“Good-bye, my Miguel,” Dad said after he stopped the car. Then we both got out and hugged each other.
Right before Dad got back in I said “good-bye,” but I couldn’t see his face. While I got onto the elevator I turned around, pressed Thirty, and as the doors were closing I saw Dad say, “M-a-k-e...y-o-u-r-s-e-l-f...w-e-l-l,” through the car window.
I wasn’t sure why he had said than then, but I shook my head to say “OK.”
Many months went by before I ever saw him again.