Tristes Recuerdos: At Your Own Risk

*Story first published in 2011

Perhaps sitting here in the middle of a dark and noisy tejano bar isn’t necessarily the best place for me to gather my thoughts, but this is one of the most difficult things I have ever tried to do. I’ve thought about it for a while, how I should begin this conversation, and I really don’t think I can. Speaking about Raul’s death doesn’t come naturally as everyone tells me it should by now.

Let’s suppose the reason I reminisce about him is because of the music the jukebox keeps playing. Raul sure did love his cumbias. A bit of Michael Salgado and Ramon Ayala would fill his soul and have him buying up a round of tequila for everyone at our table. Maybe the music reminds me of the last conversation I had with him. When he dared me to take the mic for some karaoke. I laughed at how nervous I was, and he laughed right with me. I thought we were happy. I thought he was fine.

I don’t know. I can’t say I was right, and I can’t say I was wrong. Feelings, I’ve learned, can change in a matter of seconds.

Couples dancing to the spirit of good-ol’-Friday-night whiz right past my table as if I don’t even exist. That’s the way keeping this entire situation a secret makes me feel sometimes.

When Raul died, nobody told me it was my fault. Nobody blamed me. Nobody blamed anybody else but him. But, eventually, they asked questions I misunderstood as accusations. That made me defensive and made me shut down.

I don’t know why I put the burden on myself to keep hushed about his death. It only makes me silence his memory, because how can I talk about him without risking being asked where he is now? Not talking about him, and not talking about these feelings, makes me sense our story doesn’t exist when I can’t share who I am without fearing I share too much.

Trust me, I know how crazy I will sound if I keep babbling on like this.

But how can I not?

This I talk about is a mess that’s taken me years to accept, even if I held it inside and pretended there was nothing tugging at my chest. Raul’s death by suicide was a big old mess left behind for his family, his friends, and me to clean up. Sure I’d love to let you in, but it’s at your own risk. In big, bold letters: “AT YOUR OWN RISK!”

Why did he do this, and what did I have to do with it? His family? Was he in some kind of trouble? These must be questions you are asking yourself, trying to find a reason for what happened. If I knew, I would have told you by now.

People are naturally curious, and the intuition of knowing this urged me to keep everything so secretive. I had no explanation, just guilt. Why hadn’t I seen the signs? There must’ve been signs, but why didn’t I notice them? I remember so many things that could’ve maybe-possibly-somehow-just-maybe been signs, but how was I supposed to know?

I can feel a tingle on my skin as I think about our last dance together. It was more of twisting and shouting than dancing, but it was our last dance. I can hear him singing in the silliest tone that always made me laugh, more of embarrassment than amusement. I think about how I could have changed his life, my life as well, if I’d seen signs. I sit here trying to be a strong person, trying not to ask myself the same redundant question, “Could I have saved him?”

I clearly remember the phone call I received to tell me of his death, but I can’t remember who told me it was wrong to cry. Nor who told me it was wrong to speak out about how I felt over his death. I think it was the stereotype society has put on the victims of suicide. I don’t know what to tell you about the blame that comes with losing a loved one like this. Who wants to deal with that?

For me, there was so much hate at first. I remember often feeling so many wanting to blame his death on me. Then, after the hate and blaming, came the denial. Then came the forgiveness: him, his family, those who snicker behind my back about his suicide, myself. The denial part took me longer than I’ve been told it should have. But this is my process, and this is my healing. I go at my own pace. Healing involves time and patience, and everyone heals at a different rate. Speaking out about it, they say, is a key ingredient to breaking out from the grasp of guilt.

I’m not an idiot to think I can guide you through the healing process when I am halfway there, but I can tell you that you are not alone. You are not alone.

I sit here in a bar full of living and cheerful people, remembering Raul and bearing the look from my friends asking me, “Why don’t you just move on?”

Why should I move on?

Why should I forget?

Forgetting would be pretending nothing ever happened. And I’ve been there, done that.

Forgetting would be not having grown from my experience.

Forgetting would mean turning my back on Raul.

Name That Brings Back a Memory: Timbiriche

Timbiriche is the name of a popular 80’s Mexican pop group with the likes of Paulina Rubio, Eduardo Capetillo, Sasha Sokol, and Thalia having been members of it.  Their music still has a great influence on mainstream pop culture.

They remind me of being a kid, visiting Tia Chuy and ‘buelita Linda in Reynosa.  Of the coca-cola bottles fresh outta the ice box and dulces I could buy for a peso from the tiendita near tia’s house.

More specifically, Timbiriche reminds me of my flower girl days and of mi primo Pilarin, a teenage noviero with the hugest celeb crush on Thalia.

Timbiriche reminds of one particular flower girl dress my mother had to put away.  Of being 7 years old and taking a cruise down the streets of Reynosa, being coerced by a handsome primo to sing ‘Si no es Ahora’ as we pretended to be running mandados with the extra time it took us to get back home.  Of his secret novias I could tell nobody about.  Of the Gansitos he bribed me with so I could ask tía to let him take me de paseo, when all it was really for was to visit a new girl he wanted to pay a visit to.

The Quinceañera song reminds me of his silent goodbyes.  Of the news nobody expected as we prepared for his sister’s wedding.  Timbiriche reminds me of those days before his mother’s forever grief.

I can picture her still, sitting in her rocking chair in the wee morning hours as she prepared last minute details for her eldest daughter’s wedding.  I can hear her impatience, knowing something was wrong when her son wouldn’t come home as the morning hours passed. I wasn’t there but I can hear her shrieks when police walked up to her as she sat in that rocking chair, telling her of her only son’s death in a freak car accident.

Timbiriche reminds me of that morning when we learned that instead of a wedding, we should dress for a funeral.

Tristes Recuerdos: My Primo Eddie

There is something about primos in my family that embraces all aspects of my life. They are my best friends. My worst enemies. My sidekicks and my lifelines. They have been the bad influences and have given me the greatest heartaches.

The idea is that we will grow old together and be tíos and tías to each other’s kids, our kids being each other’s primos. We want for them to experience the essence of belonging to a big Mexican family – or, Tex-Mex, in their case.

Our favorite memories seem to include one primo or another, and a tejano, corrido, or norteño song. For us, that has to include Ramon Ayala. Ramon has been there with us from since I can remember.

At Christmas, he’s there in the newspapers with his ever famous party and toy drives. At parties and bailes, he’s there with his Tragos Amargos and what not. Boots stomping a tipsy step, step. Hats waiving in the air. Voices belting out the tune – if not tipsy yet, drunk because of the song. He was there at my quinceañera with his verses coming from a band that played an imitation of his song. Not cheap, the emotions were all there. Maybe just not original.

Ramon Ayala is there all those times mis primos and I are together, enjoying what has been more than a friendship and a blood bond. My family, mis primos, they aren’t just my best friends. They’re keepers of my past and the backbone that’s there any time I’ve needed them.

Ramon Ayala, he has been there to witness everything, and to make it all more emotional. He was there the day Eddie died, with his Tragos Amargos. He was there the day we buried my primo, with his Un Rinconcito en el Cielo. Ramon was there all those days afterwards that we mourned his death and had only each other, primos and primas, dealing with the greatest loss we’d ever dealt with.

That is the roughest part of listening to Ramon Ayala when I tune in to his music while trying to get work done. The ambient is always there reminding me of my primo Eddie. Of his young life taken without giving us a chance say goodbye. Of all those signs that could’ve been read beforehand, the superstitious nuts we are. The mirror falling when he touched it a couple of days before he died in that horrible car accident. Him asking his mother what death was like just a few days before. Him trying to get us together one last time. It was always him. And it is him that I’ll always remember with the Tristes Recuerdos that Ramon sings.

I swear to you, that day we buried him, when the mariachis played Eddie’s favorite music – Ramon’s music – I swear to you that we all felt him there. Maybe kicking back his legs a little, stomping down his boots. With a step, step. A black hat flying in the air, chiflando and singing. His bootie shaking just a little.

And a vuelta here.

And a vuelta there.