It’s the first time I’ve ever seen this picture. And although I’m pretty sure I know this place the real truth is that I’m one hundred percent certain I have never been there.
It reminds me of an Auntie and Uncle I never had. It is the home of my Uncle Vic. Tio Victor, to be precise, who lived on the ground floor. And my Auntie Vicky, upstairs. As a kid I was sure they were twins. My mother, however, always corrected me and said they were not. My father, their big brother, never wanted to talk about them.
Uncle Vic was a wiry suntanned man who worked odd construction jobs to get by. He would sing the meanest wrist-cutting ballads unprovoked after the crew had had their lunch. And if you were to put a guitar in his hands he would make it wail, cry, moan, and laugh. I would sometimes see Uncle on weekends after Sunday school. He would offer me lunch, and then try to teach me, fruitlessly I have to add, how to play the guitar. Not that he was a bad teacher, but I just never learned.
Auntie Vicky was kind of a recluse, I only ever saw her at night. Unlike the hermits in the fantastic stories I used to read, she was always well put. Sometimes with a scarf to cover her hair and her perm. But with perennial red lipstick on her lips that were very quick with a smile. Like Uncle, she had a lovely voice too. Almost the twin of my Uncle’s. Almost.
As a wee kid I used to run around the barrio on my bike with the rest of the neighborhood kids. Boys and girls rode together through the barrio streets. Amongst them there was the cutest girl, with the cutest bike. Everyday I saw her and secretly swooned, and would daydream of us riding alone together and kissing.
One day, we were out playing till very late, and most of the neighborhood kids had gone on home. Seizing the opportunity, I gathered all my courage, and told this cute girl about my daydreams. And no sooner I had I told her so…
“That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard”, came back her reply.
My first broken heart at 10 years old. I walked my bike home. All the while trying to contain tears. I happened to pass by Uncle’s house on the way. Uncle must have been sleeping from hard work, but Auntie Vicky saw me from the second floor. She was talking to a gentleman who I didn’t recognize through watery eyes and the red lights in her balcony. The lights making their figures seem larger than they were.
“Aníbal what’s wrong, did you get in a fight with one of the boys?”, shouted Auntie.
“No, I’m fine!”, I tried to shout but felt like only whimper came out. I kept thinking that I was a stupid kid for having stupid thoughts about kissing a cute girl on a bike and started crying. And I didn’t want Auntie to see me crying, and felt embarrassed. And I didn’t want the man in the balcony to see me crying and felt even more embarrassed. Pushing the bike still, I tried to run. To hide my tears.
But Auntie Vicky swooped down the stairs. And stood in front of me, impeding my path. She grabbed my face. And with the smell of cigarette heavy in her breath asked me again. Warning me with her eyes to tell her the truth…
“If one of those big boys has done something to you…”, her face, her eyes, her voice seemed infinitely harder than nails just then.
But I told her the truth… And her face seemed to soften…
“Oh, Aníbal, there’s plenty of fish in the sea, but the heart wants the fish that flies!”
“I can practically guarantee that next week you won’t even remember this pain. And I can assure you that you will feel it a dozen times more. And more, and more.”
“But you know what? You did the right thing! If you love someone never keep it to yourself. Always say it. If it’s true the love it will come back to you. And if it’s not then you don’t need it, and something better will come. C’mon, I’ll walk you the rest of the way home.”
I wasn’t listening, not then, not really, a broken heart makes you deaf in certain ways. But I started walking home with Auntie Vicky all the same. And she started singing a ballad while we walked down the barrio. When we got home Auntie Vicky talked to my mother who went to meet her on the street in front of the house. I went inside and my father had taken a glance at his sister, scoffed, and resumed drinking his whiskey.
Many years later, as the AIDS epidemic was winding down, my Uncle Victor suddenly got it and was abruptly dead. He was buried on a closed casket. People were still fearful of the disease. I told my mother how sad it was that Auntie Vicky would be al alone by herself in that house.
“I’m so sorry, honey… But your Auntie is dead too…”
I loved both my Uncle and my Auntie, perhaps more than I loved the rest of my uncles and aunties. And it was a few years more until I finally connected the dots about who they had to be… to be who they wanted to be.
Photo Source, Carly Rabalais Photography, used with permission: https://www.tumblr.com/carly-rab/82058752348/photo-by-carly-rabalais