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Unformatted text preview: THE BRIEF WONDROUS LI ‘ I _ a member 0f Penguin Gran}: Inc. New York Christ have mercy on all sleeping things! From that dog rotting down Wrightson Road to when I was a dog on these streets; if loving these islands must be my load, out of corruption my soul takes wings, But they had started to poison my soul with their hig house, big car, big-time hohhohl, coolie, nigger, Syrian, and French Creole, so I leave it for them and their carnival— I taking a sea—hath, I gone down the road. I know these islands from Monos to Nassau, a rusty head sailor with sea—green eyes that they nickname Shahine, the patois for any red nigger, and I, Shahine, saw when these slums of empire was paradise. I’m just a red nigger who love the sea, I had a sound colonial education, I have Dutch, nigger, and English in me, and either I ’m nobody, or I’m a nation. DEREK WALCOTT I hey say it came first fromwAmf’rica, carried in the screams of the enslaved; that it was the death bane of the Tainos, uttered just as one world perished and another began; that it was a demon drawn into Creation through the nightmare door that was cracked open in the Antilles. americanus, or more colloqui— ally, fi1_ku—generally_a£1r_§_e or a doom of some kind; specifically the Curse and the Doom of the New World. Also called the fuku of the Admiral because the Admiral was both its midwife and one of its great European vicu'rns; despite “discovering” the New World the Admiral died miserable and syphilitic, hearing (dique) divine voices. In Santo Domingo, the Land He Loved Best (what Oscar; at the endTwEuld call the Ground Zero of the New Worldfthe Admiral’s very name becomeys‘ynonymous with kinds offuku, little and large; to say his name aloud or even to hear it is to invite calamity on the heads of you and yours. No matter what its name or provenance, it is believed that the arrival of Europeans on Hispaniola unleashed the fuku on the world, and we’ve all been in the shit ever since. Santo THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE qf OSCAR WAO Domingo might be fuku’s Kilometer Zero, its port of entry, but we are all of us its children, whether we know it or not. But the fuku ain’t just ancient history, a ghost story from the past with no power to scare. In my parents’ day the fuku was real as shit, something your everyday person could believe in. Everybody knew someone who’d been eaten by a fuku, just like everybody knew somebody who worked up in the Palacio. It was in the air, you could say, though, like all the most important things on the Island, not something folks really talked about. But in those elder days, fuln’i had it good; it even had a hypeman of sorts, a high priest, you could say. Our then dictator—for—life Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina.’ No one knows whether Trujillo was the Curse’s I. For those of you who missed your mandatory two seconds of Dominican history: Trujillo, one of the twentieth century's most infamous dictators, ruled the Domini- can Republic between 1930 and 1961 with an implacable nithless brutality. A portly, sadistic, pig«eyed mulato who bleached his skin, wore platform shoes, and had a fondness for Napoleon-era haberdashery, Trujillo (also known as ElJefe, the Failed Cattle Thief, and Fuckface) came to control nearly every aspect of the DR’s polit- ical, cultural, social, and economic life through a potent (and familiar) mixture of violence, intimidation, massacre, rape, co-optation, and terror; treated the country like it was a plantation and he was the master. At first glance, he was just your pro— totypical Latin American caudillo, but his power was terminal in ways that few his- torians or writers have ever truly captured or, I would argue, imagined. He was our Sauron, our Arawn, our Darkseid, our Once and Future Dictator, a personaje so outlandish, so perverse, so dreadful that not even a sci-fi writer could have made his ass up. Famous for changing ALL THE NAMES of ALL THE LANDMARKS in the Dominican Republic to honor himself (Pico Duarte became Pico Trujillo, and Santo Domingo de Guzman, the first and oldest city in the New World, be- came Ciudad Trujillo); for making ill monopolies out of every slice of the national patrimony (which quickly made him one of the wealthiest men on the planet); for building one of the largest militaries in the hemisphere (dude had bomber wings, for fuck’s sake); for fucking every hot girl in sight, even the wives of his subordi- nates, thousands upon thousands upon thousands of women; for expecting, no, insisting on absolute veneration from his pueblo (tellingly, the national slogan was servant or its master, its agent or its principal, but it was clear he and it had an understanding, that them two was tigbt. It was be- lieved, even in educated circles, that anyone who plotted against Trujillo would incur most/powe‘rfulgdown to the sev- enth generationwaiidwbeyond. If you even thought a bad thing about Trujillo, fua’, a hurricane would sweep your family out to sea, fim’, a boulder would fall out of a clear sky and squash you, fila‘, the shrimp you ate today was the cramp that killed you tomorrow. Which explains why everyone who tried to assassi— nate him always got done, why those dudes who finally did buck him down all died so horrifically. And what about fuck- ing Kennedy? He was the one who green—lighted the assassi- nation of Trujillo in 1961, who ordered the CIA to deliver arms to the Island. Bad move, cap’n. For what Kennedy’s in- telligence experts failed to tell him was what every single Do— minican, from the richest jabao in Mao to the poorest giiey in El Buey, from the oldest anciano sanmacorisano to the littlest carajito in San Francisco, knew: that whoever killed Trujillo, their family would suffer a fiiku so dreadful it would make the one that attached itself to the Admiral jojote in comparison. “Dios y Trujillo"; for running the country like it was a Marine boot camp; for strip— ping friends and allies of their positions and properties for no reason at all; and for his almost supernatural abilities. . ‘ I Outstanding accomplishments include: the 1937 genocide against the Haitian and Haitian-Dominican community; one of the longest, most damaging OS.— backed dictatorships in the Western Hemisphere (and if we Latin types are skillful at anything it’s tolerating U.S.—backed dictators, so you know'this was a hard— earned victory, the chilenos and the argentinos are still appealing); the creation of the first modern kleptocracy (Trujillo was Mobutu before Mobutu was Mobutu); the systematic bribing of American senators; and, last but not least, the forging of the Dominican peoples into a modern state (did what his Marine trainers, during the Occupation, were unable to do). THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE Oj‘ OSCAR WAO You want a final conclusive answer to the Warren Commis- sion’s question, Who killed JFK? Let me, your humble Watcher, reveal once and for all the God’s Honest Truth: It wasn’t the mob or LB] or the ghost of Marilyn Fucking Monroe. It wasn’t aliens or the KGB or a lone gunman. It wasn’t the Hunt Brothers of Texas or Lee Harvey or the Trilateral Commission. It was Trujillo; it was the film. Where in cofiazo do you think the so- called Curse of the Kennedys comes from?“ How about Vietnam? Why do you think the greatest power in the world lost its first war to a Third World country like Vietnam? I mean, Negro, please. It might interest you that just as the US. was ramping up its involvement in Vietnam, LB] launched an illegal invasion of the Dominican Republic (April 28, 1965). (Santo Domingo was Iraq before Iraq was Iraq.) A smashing military success for the U. S., and many of the same units and intelligence teams that took part in the “democratization” of Santo Domingo were immedi- ately shipped off to Saigon. What do you think these soldiers, technicians, and spooks carried with them, in their tucks, in their suitcases, in their shirt pockets, on the hair inside their nostrils, caked up around their shoes? Just a little from my people to America, a small repayment for an unjust war. That’s right, folks. Fuku. Which is why it’s important to remember fuku doesn’t always strike like lightning. Sometimes it works patiently, drowuing a 2. Here’s one for you conspiracy-minded fools: on the night that John Kennedy,]r., and Carolyn Bessette and her sister Lauren went down in their Piper Saratoga, John-John's father’s favorite domestic, Providencia Parédes, dominicana, was in Martha's Vineyard cooking up for John-John his favorite dish: chicharrén de pollo. But fuku always eats first and it eats alone. g; nigger by degrees, like with the Admiral or the US. in paddies outside of Saigon. Sometimes it’s slow and sometimes it’s fast. It’s doom-ish in that way, makes it harder to put a finger on, to brace yourself against. But be assured: like Darkseid’s Omega Effect, like Morgoth’s bane, 3 no matter how many turns and digressions this shit might take, it always—and I mean always—gets its man. Whether I believe in what many have described as the Great American Doom is not really the point. You live as long as I did in the heart of fuku country, you hear these kinds of tales all the time. Everybody in Santo Domingo has a fuku story knocking around in their family. I have a twelve—daughter un- cle in the Cibao who believed that he’d been cursed by an old lover never to have male children. Fuku. I have a tia who believed she’d been denied happiness because she’d laughed at a rival’s funeral. Fuku. My paternal abuelo believes that dias- pora was Trujillo’s payback to the pueblo that betrayed him. Fuku. Itfsperfectly fine if you don’t believe in these “superstitions.” In fact, it’s better than fine—it’s perfect. Because no matter What Mwmumea. s _ emu txkukava A .3 t , 3. “I am the Elder King: Melkor, first and mightiest of all the Valar, who was before the world and made it. The shadow of my purpose lies upon Arda, and all that is in it bends slowly and surely to my will. But upon all whom you love my thought shall weigh as a cloud of Doom, and it shall bring them down into darkness and despair. Wherever they go, evil shall arise. Whenever they speak, their words shall bring ill counsel. Whatsoever they do shall turn against them. They shall die with— out hope, cursing both life and death." I A B THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE qf OSCAR WAO A couple weeks ago, while I was finishing this book, I posted the thread filku’ on the DRI forum, just out of curiosity. These days I’m nerdy like that. The talkback blew the fl.le up. You should see how many responses I’ve gotten. They just keep coming in. And not just from Domos. The Puertorocks want to talk about fufus, and the Haitians have some shit just like it. There are a zillion of these fuin stories. Even my mother, who almost never talks about Santo Domingo, has started sharing hers with me. As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, I have a fuku story too. I wish I could say it was the best of the lot—fiiku number one— but I can’t. Mine ain’t the scariest, the clearest, the most painful, or the most beautiful. It just happens to be the one that’s got its fingers around my throat. I’m not entirely sure Oscar would have liked this designation. Fuku story. He was a hardcore sci-f1 and fantasy man, believed that that was the kind of story we were all living in. He’d ask: What more sci—fi than the Santo Domingo? What more fantasy than the Antilles? But now that I know how it all turns out, I have to ask, in turn: What more fuku? One final final note, Toto, before Kansas goes bye-bye: tradi— tionally in Santo Domingo anytime you mentioned or overheard the Admiral’s name or anytime a fuku reared its many heads 7 there was only one way to prevent disaster from coiling around you, only one surefire counterspell that would keep you and your family safe. Not surprisingly, it was a word. A simple word (followed usually by a vigorous crossingfof index fingers). \. \\ Frisifl to be more popular in the old days, bigger, so to speak, in Macondo than in McOndo. There are people, though, like my tio Miguel in the Bronx who still zafa everything. He’s old-school like that. If the Yanks commit an error in the late innings it's zafa; if somebody brings shells in from the beach it’s zafa; if you serve a man parcha it’s zafa. Twenty-four-hour zafa in the hope that the bad luck will not have had time to cohere. Even now as I write these words I wonder if this book ain’t a zafa of sorts. My very own counterspell. GhettoNerd at the ,,n.i~n+;~..,.~_r.... “an”? End of the World 1974-1987 : (if; r 2? v f» .. ,a '7 w» // M. M“ 5,13 9a.!- ray THE GOLDEN AGE A??? Our hero was not one of those Dominican cats everybody’s always going on about—he wasn’t no home—run hitter or a fly bachatero, not a playboy with a million hots on his jock. And except for one period early in his life, dude never had much luck with the females (how very un-Dominican of him). He was seven then. In those blessed days of his youth, Oscar was something of a Casanova. One of those preschoo‘lwlpyeflrboys who was always trying to girls, alwaysEm—ing up them during a and them the pelvic pump, the first nigger to learn the perrito and the one who danced it any chance he got. Because in those days he was (still) a “normal” Dominican boy raised in a “typical” Dominican family, his nascent pimp-liness was encouraged by blood and friends alike. During parties— and there were many many parties in those long-ago seventies days, before Washington Heights was Washington Heights, THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE qf OSCAR WAD before the Bergenline became a straight shot of Spanish for almost a hundred blocks—some drunk relative inevitably pushed Oscar onto some little girl and then everyone would howl as boy and girl approximated the hip-motism of the adults. You should have seen him, his mother sighed in her Last Days. He was ourwlifittle Porfigigfigbhosa.‘ : who“... Wm» ,5.” All the other boys his age avoided the like they were a bad case of Captain Trips. Not Oscar. The little guy loved him— self the females, had “girlfriends” galore. (He was a stout kid, heading straight to fat, but his mother kept him nice in haircuts and clothes, and before the proportions of his head changed he’d had these lovely flashing eyes and these cute—ass cheeks, visible in all his pictures.) The girls—his sister Lola’s friends, his mother’s friends, even their neighbor, Mari Colon, a thirty— something postal employee who wore red on her lips and j 4. In the forties and fifties, Porfirio Rubirosa—or Rubi, as he was known in the papers—was the third—most—famous Dominican in the world (first came the Failed Cattle Thief, and then the Cobra Woman herself, Maria Montez). A tall, debonair prettyboy whose “enormous phallus created havoc in Europe and North America," Rubirosa was the quintessential jet—setting car-racing polo-obsessed playboy, the Trujillato's “happy side” (for he was indeed one of Trujillo's best- known minions). A part-time former model and dashing man—about-town, Rubirosa famously married Trujillo’s daughter Flor de Oro in 1932, and even though they were divorced five years later, in the Year of the Haitian Genocide, homeboy managed to remain in E1 Jefe's good graces throughout the regime’s long run. Unlike his exebrother-in-law Ramfis (to whom he was frequently connected), Rubirosa seemed incapable of carrying out many murders; in 1935 he traveled to New York to deliver El Jefe’s death sentence against the exile leader Angel Morales abut fled before the botched assassination could take place. Rubi was the original Dominican Player, fucked all sorts ofwomen—Barbara Hutton, Doris Duke (who happened to be the richest woman in the world), the French actress Danielle Darrieux, and Zsa Zsa Gabor——to name but a few. Like his pal Ramfis, Porfirio died in a car crash, in 1965, his twelve—cylinder Ferrari skidding off a road in the Bois de Boulogne. (Hard to overstate the role cars play in our narrative.) I WW “fir”: , , “mnmlwwqfimmamrw ’3 Walked like she had a bell for an ass—all purportedly fell for him. Ese muchachovesta bueno! (Did it hurt that he was earnest and deniméfidoaQQiéBHQE‘dP Not at all!) In the DR during summer visits to his family digs in Bani he was the worst, would stand in front of Nena Inca’s house and call out to passing women—Tu eres guapa‘. Ta eres guapal—until a SeVenth—day Adventist complained to his grandmother and she shut down the hit parade lickety-split. Muchacho del diablo! This is not a cabaret! f It truly was a Gypldent’ége for Oscar, one that reached its fapotheosis in the fall of his seventh year, when he had two little % girlfriends at the same time, his first and only ménage a trois. e‘With Ohacérr and Olggl’olanco. Mminawwasfola’s friend. Lo‘rig-haired and prissy and so pretty she could have played young Dejah Thoris. Olga, on the other hand, was no friend of the family. She lived in the house at the end of the block that his mother complained about because it was filled with puertoricans who were always hanging out on their porch drinking beer. (What, they couldn’t have done that in Cuamo? Oscar’s mom asked crossly.) Olga had like ninety cousins, all who seemed to be named Hector or Luis or Wanda. And sincc her mother was una maldita borracha (to quote Oscar’s mom), Olga smelled on some days of ass, which is why the kids took to calling her Mrs. Peabody. Mrs. Peabody or not, Oscar liked how quiet she was, how she let him throw her to the ground and wrestle with her, the interest she showed in his Star Trek dolls. Maritza was just plain beautiful, no need for motivation there, always around too, and it was just a stroke of pure genius that convinced him to kick it to THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE qf OSCAR WAD them both at once. At first he pretended that it was his number- one hero, Shazam, who wanted to date them. But after they agreed he dropped all pretense. It wasn’t Shazam—it was Oscar. Those were more innocent days, so their relationship amounted to standing close to each other at the bus stop, some undercover hand-holding, and twice kissing on the cheeks very seriously, first Maritza, then Olga, while they were hidden from the street by some bushes. (Look at that little macho, his mother’s friends said. (lue hombre.) The tluegngpgfllyfilgfipda .singlebeautifultweek. One day after school Maritza cornered Oscar behind the swing set and laid down the law, It’s either her or me! Oscar held Maritza’s hand and talked seriously and at great length about his love for her and reminded her that they had agreed to share, but Maritza wasn’t having any of it. She had three older sisters, knew every- thing she needed to know about the possibilities of sbaring. Don’t talk to me no more unless you get rid of her! Maritza, with her chocolate skin and narrow eyes, already expressing the Ogun energy that she would chop at everybody with for the rest of her life. Oscar went home morose to his pre—Korean—sweatshop—era cartoons—to the Herculm'dr and Space Gbost. What’s wrong with you? his mother asked. She was getting ready to go to her second job, the eczema on her hands looking like a messy meal that had set. When Oscar whimpered, Girls, Moms de Leon nearly exploded. Ta ta llorando por una muchacha? She hauled Oscar to his feet by his ear. Marni, stop it, his sister cried, stop it! She threw him to the floor. Dale un galletazo, she panted, then see if the little puta respects you. E r; i E E: E i E t E i E l E E E 15 If he’d been a different nigger he might have considered the galletazo. It wasn’t just that he didn’t have no kind of father to show him the masculine ropes, he simply lacked all aggressive and” martial tendencies. (Unlike his sister, who fought boys and packs of morena girls who hated her thin nose and straightish hair.) Oscar had like a zero combat rating; even Olga and her toothpick arms could have stomped him silly. Aggression and intimidation out of the question. So he thought it over. Didn’t take him long to decide. After all, Maritza was beautiful and .. www.mwcr 4 Olga was not; Olga sometimes smelledlike pee did ESE." was allowed over their house and Olga was not. \puertorican over here? his mother scoffed. Jarnas!) His logic as close to the yes/no math of insects as a nigger could get. He broke up with Olga the following day on the playground, Maritza at his side, and how Olga had cried! Shaking like a rag in her hand-me—downs and in the shoes that were four sizes too big! Snots pouring out her nose and everything! In later years, after he and Olga had both turned into I...” overweigh runw- «m m». Wags»: aks, Oscar could notyresistifeeling the occasional flxfiwa‘W-Anwavas . on, «ma-em,” flash of guilt when he saw Olga loping across a street or staring blankly out near the New York bus stop, couldn’t stop himself from wondering how much his cold-as—balls breakup had contributed to her present fucked-upness. (Breaking up with her, he would remember, hadn’t felt like anything; even when she started crying, he hadn’t been moved. He’d said, No be a baby.) What bad hurt, however, was when Maritza dumped bim. Monday after he’d fed Olga to the dogs he arrived at the bus stop with his beloved Planet of tbe Ape: lunch box only to THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE qf OSCAR WAO discover beautiful Maritza holding hands with butt—ugly Nelson Pardo. Nelson Pardo who looked like Chaka from Land (f tbe Last! Nelson Pardo who was so stupid he thought the moon was a stain that God had forgotten to clean. (He’ll get to it soon, he assured his whole class.) Nelson Pardo who would become the neighborhood BISCE expert before joining the Marines and losing eight toes in the First Gulf War. At first Oscar thought it a mistake; the sun was in his eyes, he’d not slept enough the night before. He stood next to them and admired his lunch box, how realistic and diabolical Dr. Zaius looked. But Mtg wouldn’t even smile at him! Pretended he wasn’t there. We should get married, she to Nelson, and Nelson grinned up the street to look for the bus. Oscar had been too hurt to speak; he sat down on the curb and felt something overwhelming surge up from his chest, scared the shit out of him, and before he knew it he was crying; when his sister, Lola, walked over and asked him what was the matter he’d shaken his head. Look at the mariconcito, some body snickered. Somebody else kicked his beloved lunch box and scratched it right across General Urko’s face. When he got on the bus, still crying, the driver, a famously reformed PCP addict, had said, Christ, don’t be a fucking baby. How bad tbe briglggp (fitted Olga? What he really was asking was: How bad tbe breakup aficted Oscar? It seemed to Cigar that from the moment @—Sml—ms life started going down the tubes. Over the couple of years he grew fatter and fatter. Early adolescence hit him especially hard, scrambling his face into nothing you could call cute, splotching his skin with zits, making him self—conscious; ’7 and his interest—in Genresl—which nobody had said boo about before, suddenly became synonymous with being a loser with a capital L. Couldn’t make friends for the life of him, too dorky, too shy, and (if the kids from his neighborhood are to be be— lieved) too weird (had a habit of using big words he had memo— rized only the day before). He no longer went anywhere near the girls because at best they ignored him, at worst they shrieked and called him gordo asqueroso! He forgot the perrito, forgot the pride he felt when the women in the family had called him hom— bre. Did not kiss another girl for a long long time. As though almost everything he had in the girl department had burned up that one fucking week. Not that his “girlfriends” fared much better. It seemed that whatever bad no-love karma hit Oscar hit them too. By seventh grade Olga had grown huge and scary, a troll gene in her some- where, started drinking 151 straight out the bottle and was finally taken out of school because she had a habit of screaming NAT/1S! in the middle of homeroom. Even her breasts, when they finally emerged, were floppy and terrifying. Once on the bus Olga had called Oscar a cake eater, and he’d almost said, Look who’s talking, puerca, but he was afraid that she would rear back and trample him; his cool—index, already low, couldn’t have survived that kind of a palgigg, would have put him on par with the handicapped kids and with Joe Locorotundo, who was famous for masturbating in public. And the lovely Maritza Chaco’n? The hypotenuse of our triangle, how had she fared? Well, before you could say Ob M igny Irir, Maritza blew up into the flyest guapa in Patersgn, one of the W Qieens of New Peru. Since they stayed neighbors, Oscar saw THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE 0f OSCAR WAO her plenty, a ghetto Mary Jane, hair as black and lush as a thunderhead, probably the only Peruvian girl on the planet with pelo curlier than his sister's (he hadn’t heard of Afro—Peruvians yet, or of a town called Chincha), body fine enough to make old men forget their infirmities, and from the sixth grade on dating men two, three times her age. (Maritza might not have been good at much—not sports, not school, not work—but she was good at men.) Did that mean she had avoided the curse—that she was happier than Oscar or Olga? That was doubtful. From what Oscar could see, Maritzawwas a who seemed “tog delight in gettinggslappedby her boyfriends. Since it ‘happeriEd to her all tbe time. If a boy hit me, Lola said cockily, I would bite his fizce. See Maritza: French-kissing on the front stoop of her house, getting in or out of some roughneck’s ride, being pushed down onto the sidewalk. Oscar would watch the French-kissing, the getting in and out, the pushing, all through his cheerless, sexless adolescence. What else could he do? His bedroom window looked out over the front of her house, and so he always peeped her while he was painting his D&D miniatures or reading the latest Stephen King. The only things that changed in those years were the models of the cars, the size of Maritza’s ass, and the kind of music volting out the cars’ speakers. First freestyle, then Ill Will—era hiphop, and, right at the very end, for just a little while, Héctor Lavoe and the boys. He said hi to her almost every day, all upbeat and faux- happy, and she said hi back, indifferently, but that was it. He didn’t imagine that she remembered their kissing—but of \ course he could not forget. ., um... “um... I” gs ‘x’ as; This happened in January. Me and Lola were living up in the 3 Heighmparatedepartments—this was before the whitekids started their invasion, when you could walk the entire length of Upper Manhattan and see not a single yoga mat. Me and Lola weren’t doing that great. Plenty I could tell you, but that’s nei- ther here nor there. All you need to know is that if we talked once a week we were lucky, even though we were nominally boyfriend and girlfriend. All my fault, of course. Couldn’t keep my rabo in my pants, even though she was the most beautiful flicking girl in the world. Anyway, I was home that week, no wgall frorrlwtwlniewtemp agency, when Oscar buzzed me from thestreet. Hadn’t seenwliis“ as}? weeks, since the first days of his return. Jesus, Oscar, I said. Come up, come up. I waited for him in the wand when he stepped out of the elevator I put the mitts on him. How are you, bro? I’m copacetic, he said. We sat down and I broke up a dutch while he filled me in. I’m going back to Don Bosco soon. THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE qf OSCAR WAO Word? I said. Word, he said. His face was still fucked up, the left side a little droopy. You wanna smoke? I might partake. Just a little, though. I would not want to cloud my faculties. That last day on our couch he looked like a man at peace 'Jwith himself. A little distracted but. at peace. I would tell Lola ‘ that night that it was because he’d finally decided to live, but the truth would turn out to be a little more complicated. You should have seen him. He was so thin, had lost all the weight and was still, still. What had he been doing? Writing, of course, and reading. Also gettingready to move from sPaterson. Wanting to put the past behind him, start a new life. Was trying to decide what he would take with him. Was allowing himself only ten of his books, the core of his canon (his words), was trying to pare it all down to what was necessary. Only what I can carry. It seemed like another odd Oscar thing, until later we would realize it wasn't. I And then after an inhale he said: Please forgive me, Yunior, but I’m here with an ulterior motive. I wish to know if you could do me a favor. Anything, bro. Just ask it. He needed money for his security deposit, had a line on an apartment in Brooklyn. I should have thought about it—Oscar never asked anybody for money—but I didn’t, fell over myself to \ give it to him. My guilty conscience. We smoked the dutch and talked about the problems me and Lola were having. You should never have had carnal 313 relations with that Paraguayan girl, he pointed out. I know, I said,I know. She loves you. I know that. Why do you cheat on her, then? If I knew that, it wouldn’t be a problem. Maybe you should try to find out. He stood up. You ain’t going to wait for Lola? I must be away to Paterson. I have a date. You’re shitting me? He shook his head, the tricky flick. I asked: Is she beautiful? He smiled. She is. On Saturday he was gone. The Final Voyage Tie list” he flew to Wyomingo he’d been startled when the applause broke out, but was prepged, and when the plane landed he clapped until his hands stung. As soon as he hit the airport exit he called Clives and homeboy picked him up an hour later, found him surrounded by taxistas who were trying to pull him into their cabs. Cristiano, Clives said, what are you doing here? It’s the Ancient Powers, Oscar said grimly. They won’t leave me alone. They parked in front of her house and waited almost seven hours before she returned. Clives tried to talk him out of it but he wouldn’t listen. Then she pulled up in the Pathfinder. She looked thinner. His heart seized like a bad leg and for a moment he thought about letting the whole thing go, about returning to Bosco and getting on with his miserable life, but then she stooped over, as if the whole world was watching, and that settled it. He winched down the window. mfihe said. She stopped, shaded her eyes, and then recognized him. She said his THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE ¢OSCAR WAO name too. Orcar. He popped the door and walked over to where she was standing and embraced her. Her first words? Mi amor, you have to leave right now. In the middle of the street he told her how it was. He told her that he was in love with her and that he’d been hurt but now he was right and if he could just have a week alone with her, one short week, then everything would be fine in him and he would be able to face what he had to face and she said I don’t understand and so he said it again, that he loved her more than the Universe and it wasn’t something that he could shake so please come away with me for a little while, lend me your strength and then it would be over if she wanted. Maybe she did love him a little bit. Maybe in her heart of hearts she left the gym bag on the concrete and got in the taxi with him. But she’d known men like the capitan all her life, had been forced to work in Europe one year straight by niggers like that before she could start earning her own money. Knew also that in the DR they called a cop-divorce a bullet. The gym bag was not left on the street. I’m going to call him, Oscar, she said, misting up a little. So please go before he gets here. arm-«Ev, “.4 I’m not going anywhere, he said. Go, she said. No, he answered. He let himself into his abuela’s house (he still had the key). The capitan showed up an hour later, honked his horn a long time, but Oscar didn’t bother to go out. He had gotten out all of La Inca’s photographs, was going through each and every 3’7 one. When La Inca returned from the bakery she found him scribbling at the kitchen table. Oscar? Yes, Abuela, he said, not looking up. It’s me. It’s hard to explain, he wrote his sister later. I bet it was. CURSE OF THE CARIBBEAN For twenty—seven days he did two things: he researched-wrote Wmunsm m...“ . and he chased her. Sat in front of her house, cafié‘ii‘fié‘f'bfifiéi“ b'égéifwfv‘éiit to the World Famous Riverside, where she worked, walked to the supermarket whenever he saw her truck pull out, just in case she was on her way there. Nine times out of ten she was not. The neighbors, when they saw him on the curb, shook their heads and said, Look at that loco. // At first it was pure terror for her. She didn’t want nothing to 3 do with him; she wouldn’t speak to him, wouldn’t acknowledge him, and the first time she saw him at the club she was so fright— ened her legs buckled under her. He knew he was scaring her shitless, but he couldn’t help it. By day ten, though, even terror was too much effort and when he followed her down an aisle or smiled at her at work she would hiss, Please go home, Oscar. She was miserable when she saw him, and miserable, she would tell him later, when she didn’t, convinced that he’d gotten THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE qf OSCAR WAO ! killed. He slipped long passionate letters under her gate, written in English, and the only response he got was when the capitan and his friends called and threatened to chop him to pieces. lAftCI' each threat he recorded the time and then phoned the iembassy and told them that Officer , kill him, could you please help? had threatened to He had hope, because if she really wanted him gone she could have lured him out in the open and let the capitan destroy him. Because if she wanted to she could have had him banned from the Riverside. But she didn’t. Boy, you can dance good, he wrote in a letter. In another he laid out the plans he had to marry her and take her back to the States. She started scribbling back notes and passed them to him at the club, or had them mailed to his house. Please, Oscar, I haven’t slept in a week. I don’t want you to end up hurt or dead. Go home. But beautiful girl, above all beautiful girls, he wrote back. This is my home. Your real home, mi amor. A erson can’t have two? P Night nineteen, Ybén rang at the gate, and he put down his pen, knew it was her. She leaned over and unlocked the truck door and when he got in he tried to kiss her but she said, Please, stop it. They drove out toward La Romana, where the capitan didn’t have friends supposedly. Nothing new was discussed but he said, I like your new haircut, and she started laughing and crying and said, Really? You don’t think it makes me look cheap? .m..-......_‘ai 3’9 You and cheap do not compute, Ybon. What could we do? Lola flew down to see him, begged him to come home, told him that he was only going to get Ybén and \himself killed; he listened and then said quietly that she didn’t understand what was at stake. I understand perfectly, she yelled. igNo, he said sadly, you don’t. His abuela tried to exert her power, itried to use the Voice, but he was no longer the boy she’d known. Something had changed about him. He had gotten some power of his own. Two weeks into his Final Voyage his mother arrived, and she came loaded for bear. You’re“ coming home, right now. He shook his head. lean’t, him and tried to pull, but he was Unus the Untouchable. softly. You’ll yourself. yourself.-. That’s not what I’m trying to do. Did I fly down? Of course I did. With Lola. Nothing brings a couple together quite like catastrophe. Et tu, Yunior.> he said when he saw me. Nothing worked. THE LAST DAYS OF OSCAR WAO How incredibly short are twenty-seven days! One evening the capitan and his friends stalked into the Riverside and Oscar stared at the man for a good ten seconds and then, whole body shaking, he left. Didn't bother to call Clives, jumped in the first taxi he could find. Once in the parking lot of the Riverside he THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE qf OSCAR WAD tried again to kiss her and she turned away with her head, not her body. Please don't. He’ll kill us. Twenty—seven days. Wrote on each and every one of them, wrote almost three hundred pages if his letters are to be believed. Almost had it too, he said to me one night on the phone, one of the few calls he made to us. What? I wanted to know. What? You’ll see, was all he would say. And then the expected happened. One night he and Clives weremdriving back from the World Famous Riverside and they had to stop at a light and that was where two men got into the cab with them. It was, of course, Gorilla Grod and lSolomon Grundy. Good to see you again, Grod said, and then they beat him as best they could, given the limited space inside ' the cab. This time Oscar didn’t cry when they drove him back to the canefields. Zafra would be here soon, and the cane had grown well and thick and in places you could hear the stalks clack- clack-clacking against each other like triflids and you could hear kr‘iyol voices lost in the night. The smell of the ripening cane was unforgettable, and there was a moon, a beautiful full moon, \Zpd Clives begged the men to spare Oscar, but they laughed. ou should be worrying, Grod said, about yourself. Oscar laughed a little too through his broken mouth. Don’t worry, Clives, he said. They’re too late. Grod disagreed. Actually I would say we’re just in time. They drove past a bus stop and for a second Oscar imagined he saw his whole family getting on a guagua, even his poor dead abuelo and his poor dead abuela, and who is driving the bus but the Mongoose, and who is the 32] cobrador but the Man Without a Face, but it was nothing but a final fantasy, gone as soon as he blinked, and when the car stopped, Oscar sent telepathic messages to his mom (I love you, sefiora), to his tio (Quit, tio, and live), to Lola (I’m so sorry it happened; I will always love you), to all the women he had ever loved—Olga, Maritza, Ana, Jenni, Karen, and all the other ones whose names he’d never known—and of course to Ybon.33 They walked him into the cane and then turned him around. «’He tried tomst‘and bravely. (Clives they‘left tied up in the cab and while they had their backs turned he slipped into the cane, and he would be the one who would deliver Oscar to the family) They looked at Oscar and he looked at them and then he started to speak. The words coming out like they belonged to someone else, his Spanish goodflfgrwonce. He told them that what they were doirigivfa‘srwr'odng, that they were going to take a great love out of the world. Love was a rare thing, easily confused with a million other things, and if anybody knew this to be true it was him. He told them about Ybon and the way he loved her and how much they had risked and that they’d started to dream the same dreams and say the same words. Hefltold them that it wgs g. only because of her lovethat he’d been able torgdo the thing that ihe had done, the thing they could no longer stop, told themif ‘they killed him they would probably feel nothing and their chil— dren would probably feel nothing either, not until they were old and weak or about to be struck by a car and then they would \ sense him waiting for them on the other side and over there he wouldn’t be no fatboy or dork or kid no girl had ever loved; over 1 33. “No matter how far you travel . . . to whatever reaches of this limitless universe . . . you will never be . . . ALONE!" (The Watcher, Fantastir Four #13 May 1963.) l *3 THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE Qf OSCAR WAO there he’d be a hero, an avenger. Because anything you can dream (he put his hand up) you can be. They waited respectfully for him to finish and then they said, their faces slowly disappearing in the gloom, Listen, we’ll“, let you go if you tell us whatfjggo means in English. fl Fire, he blurted out, unable to help himself. H : Oscar— The End of the Story That's pretty much it. Me flew down to claimwthe body. We arranggedthenhineral. an—Mww.,..., No one there but us, not even Al and Miggs. Lola crying. A year later their mother’s cancer returned and this time it dug in and stayed. I visited her in the hospital with Lola. Six times in all. She would live for another ten months, but by then she’d more or less given up. I did all I could. You did enough, Marni, Lola said, but she refused to hear it. Turned her ruined back to us. I did all I could and it still wasn’t enough. They buried her next to her son, and Lola read a poem she had written, and that was it. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Four times the family hired lawyers but no charges were \ ever filed. The embassy didn't help and neither did the govern- l; ment. Ybén, I hear, is still living in Mirador Norte, still dancing at the Riverside but La Inca sold the house a year later, moved back to Bani. THE BRIEF wonnnous LIFE zf OSCAR wao Lola swore she would never return to that terrible country. On one of our last nights as novios she said, Ten million Trujillos is all we are. AS FOR US I wish I could say it worked out, that Oscar’s death brought us together. I was just too much the mess, and after half a year of taking care of her mother Lola had what a lot of females call their Saturn Return. One day she called, asked me where I’d been the night before, and when I didn’t have a good excuse, she said, Good-bye, Yunior, please take good care of yourself, and for about a year I scromfed strange girls and alternated between Fuck Lola and these incredibly narcissitic hopes of reconciliation that I did nothing to achieve. And then in August, after I got back from a trip to Santo Domingo, I heard ,\ from my mother that Lola had met someone in Miami, which was where she had moved, that she was pregnant and was a getting married. I called her. What the fuck, Lola—— But she hung up. ON A SUPER FINAL NOTE Years and years now and I still think about him. The incredi- ble Oscar Wao. I have dreams where he sits on the edge of my 325 bed. We’re back at Rutgers, in Demarest, which is where we’ll always be, it seems. In this particular dream he‘s never thin like at the end, always huge. He wants to talk to me, is anxious to jaw, but most of the time I can never say a word and neither can he. So we just sit there quietly. About five years after he died I started having another kind of dream. About him or someone who looks like him. We’re in some kind of ruined bailey that's filled to the rim with old dusty books. He’s standing in one of the passages, all mysterious-like, wearing a wrathfiil mask that hides his face but behind the eyeholes I see a familiar pair of close—set eyes. Dude is holding up a book, wav— ing for me to take a closer look, and I recognize this scene from one of his crazy movies. I want to run from him, and for a long time that’s what I do. It takes me a while before I notice that \ Oscar’s hands are seamless and the book’s pages are blank. And that behind his mask his eyes are smiling. Zafa. Sometimes, though, I look up at him and he has no face and I wake up screaming. THE DREAMS 110k ten years to the day, went through more lousy shit than you could imagine, was lost for a good long while—no Lola, no me, no nothing—until finally I woke up next to somebody I didn’t give two shits about, my upper lip covered in coke-snot and coke—blood and I said, OK, Wao, OK. You win. THE BRIEF wonnnous LIFE {if OSCAR wao AS FOR ME These days I live in Perth Arnboy, New Jersey, teach composi- tion and creative writing at Middlesex Community College, and even owu a house at the top of Elm Street, not far from the steel mill. Not one of the big ones that the bodega owners buy with their earnings, but not too shabby, either. Most of my colleagues think Perth Amboy is a dump, but I beg to differ. It’s not exactly whatI dreamed about when I was a kid, the teaching, the living in New Jersey, but I make it work as best as I can. I have a wife I adore and who adores me, a negrita from Salcedo whom I do not deserve, and sometimes we even make vague noises about having children. Every now and then I’m OK with the possibility. I don’t run around after girls anymore. Not much, anyway. When I’m not teaching or coaching baseball I or going to the gym or hanging out with the wifey I'm at home, ' writing. These days I write a lot. From can’t see in the morning to can’t see at night. Learned that from Oscar. I’m a new man, you 568, a new man, a new man. AS FOR US Believe it or not, we still see each other. She, Cuban Ruben, and their daughter moved back to Paterson a couple of years back, sold the old house, bought a new one, travel everywhere together (at least that’s what my mother tells me——Lola, being Lola, still visits her). Every now and then when the stars are 327 aligned I run into her, at rallies, at bookstores we used to chill at, on the streets of NYC. Sometimes Cuban Ruben is with her, sometimes not. Her daughter, though, is always there. Eyes of Oscar. Hair of Hypatia. Her gaze watches everything. A little reader too, if Lola is to be believed. Say hi to Yunior, Lola commands. He was your tio’s best friend. i Hi, tio, she says reluctantly. Tio’sfi‘iend, she corrects. Hi, tio’s friend. Lola’s hair is long now and never straightened; she’s heavier and less guileless, but she’s still the ciguapa of my dreams. Always happy to see me, no bad feelings, entiendes. None at all. Yunior, how are you? I’m fine. How are you? Before all hope died I used to have this stupid dream that shit could be saved, that we would be in bed together like the old times, with the fan on, the smoke from our weed drifting above us, and I'd finally try to say words that could have saved us. But before I can shape the vowels I wake up. My face is wet, and that’s how you know it’s never going to come true. Never, ever. It ain't too bad, though. During our run—ins we smile, we laugh, we take turns saying her daughter’s name. I never ask if her daughter has started to dream. I never jmention our past. \All we ever talk about is Oscar. k It’s almost done. Almost over. Only some final things to show you before your Watcher fulfills his cosmic duty and retires at last to the Blue Area of the Moon, not to be heard again until the Last Days. Behold the girl: the beautiful muchachita: Lol‘aE-«daughter. I Dark and blindingly fast: in her great-grandmother La lnca’s words: una jurona. Could have been my daughter if I’d been smart, if I’d been . Makes her no less precious. She climbs trees, she rubs her butt against doorjambs, she practices malapalabras when she thinks nobody is listening. Speaks Spanish and English. Neither Captain America nor Billy Batson, but the lightning. A happy kid, as far as these things go. Happy! 1, But on a string around her neck: three azabaches: the one Wamww ,fthat Oscar wore as a baby, the one that Lola wore as a baby, and the one that Beli was given by La Inca upon reaching Sanctuary. 5' Powerful elder magic. Three barrier shields against the Eye. fi‘é Backed by a six-mile plinth of prayer. (Lola’s not stupid; she made THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE 9f OSCAR WAO both my mother and La Inca the girl’s madrinas.) Powerful wards indeed. /"One day, though, the Circle will fail. / As Circles always do. And for the first time she will hear the word fizku’. And she will have a dream of the No Face Man. Not now, but soon. If she’s her family’s daughter—as I suspect she is—one day she will stop being afraid and she will come looking for answers. Not now, but soon. One day when I’m least expecting, there will be a knock at my door. Soy Isis. Hija de Dolores de Leon. Holy shit! Come in, chica! Come in! (I’ll notice that she still wears her azabaches, that she has her mother’s legs, her uncle’s eyes.) I’ll pour her a drink, and the wife will fry up her special pastelitos; I’ll ask her about her mother as lightly as I can, and I’ll bring out the pictures of the three of us from back in the day, and when it starts getting late I’ll take her down to my basement and open the four refrigerators where I store her brother’s books, his games, his manuscript, his comic books, his papers— refrigerators the best proof against fire, against earthquake, against almost anything. A light, a desk, a cot—I’ve prepared it all. How many nights will she stay with us? As many as it takes. And maybe, just maybe, if she’s as smart and as brave as I’m expecting she’ll be, she’ll take all we’ve done and all 33] we’ve learned and add her own insights and she’ll put an end to it. That is what, on my best days, I hope. What I dream. And yet there are other days, when I’m downtrodden or morose, when I find myself at my desk late at night, unable to sleep, flip- ping through (of all things) Oscar’s dog-cared copy of Watchmen. One of the few things that he took with him on the Final Voyage that we recovered. The original trade. I flip through the book, one of his top three, without question, to the last horrifying chapter: “A Stronger Loving World.” To the only panel he’s circled. Oscar—who never defaced a book in his life—circled one panel three times in the same emphatic pen he used to write his last letters home. The panel where Adrian Veidt and Dr. Manhattan are having their last convo. After the mutant brain has destroyed New York City; after Dr. Manhattan has murdered Rorschach; after Veidt’s plan has succeded in “saving the world.” Veidt says: “I did the right thing, didn't I? It all worked out in the end.” And Manhattan, before fading from our Universe, replies: “In the end? Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends.” The Final Letter He managed to send mail home before the end. A couple of cards with some breezy platitudes on them. Wrote me one, called me Count Fenris. Recommended the beaches of Azua if I hadn’t already visited them. Wrote Lola too; called her My Dear Bene Gesserit Witch. And then, almost eight months after he died, a package [I arrived at the house in Paterson. Talk about Dominican Express. Two manuscripts enclosed. One was more chapters of flaws—ma mm seam-mews. a. never-To-be-completed opus! a fourfbpowki. E. “Dbc” Elmith—esque space opera called the other long (to thing he wroteiiipparently, before he w}; killed. In that letter he talked about his investigations and the new book he was writing, a book that he was sending under another cover. Told her to watch out for a secondnpamek‘age. This w~~wn r U... I contains everything I’ve written on this journey. Everything I think you will need. You’ll understand when you read my conclusions. (It’s the cure to what ails us, he scribbled in the gmargins. The Cosmo DNA.) THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE QfOSCAR WAD Only problem was, the fucking thing never arrived!= Either Fibi'mbKJ2‘t'cmk—4ngW-gu mm ‘ got lost in the mail or he was slain before he put it in the mail, or whoever he trusted to deliver it forgot. Anyway, the package that did arrive had some amazing news. Turns out that toward the end of those twenty-seven ’ days the palomo did get Ybén away from La Capital. For one 3;. whole weekend they hid out on some beach in Barahona while the capitan was away on “business,” and guess what? Ybén actually kissed him. Guess what else? Ybon actually ficked him. Praise be to Jesus! He reported that he’d liked it, and that Ybén’s you~know—what hadn’t tasted the way he had expected. She tastes like Heineken, he observed. He - wrote that every night Ybon had nightmares that the capitan had found them; once she’d woken up and said in the voice of true fear, Oscar, he’s here, really believing he was, and Oscar woke up and threw himself at the capitan, but it turned out only to be a turtleshell the hotel had hung on the wall for decoration. Almost busted my nose! He wrote that Ybon had little hairs coming up to almost her bellybutton and that she crossed her eyes when he entered her but what really got him was not the bam-bam-bam of sex—it was the little intimacies that he’d never in his whole life anticipated, like combing her hair or getting her underwear of? a line or watching her walk naked to the bathroom or the way she would suddenly sit on his lap and put her face into his neck. The intimacies like listening to her tell him about being a little girl and him telling her that he’d been a virgin all his life. He wrote that he couldn’t believe he’d had to wait for 335 this so goddamn long. (ch'm was the one who suggested calling the wait something else. Yeah, like what? Maybe, she said, you could call it life.) He wrote: So this is what everybody’s always talking about! Diablo! If only I’d known. The beauty! The beauty! ...
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