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"No" Was His Only Answer
By Art Brambila

First thing to know is this: when I was seven years old my father ran over my head with his pickup truck. I was lying sideways in the driveway getting out the little black ants in the cracks with an ice cream stick when my daddy used my head like a speed bump. I don' know why he ran over my head 'cause I always used to think he loved me.

Or thought.

But that was in the summer, way back in 1957. Afterward everyone said I never was the same, the way I think and I talk. My mama, she said I almost half died. And the doctors said it was only for the surgery, that I lived. My head ended up with a cave-in on the right side, and I kinda looked goofy, but the credit goes to the plastic surgery. It's not a big cave-in, mind you, jus' kinda like a dent on a can of Coke when you step on it when walking home from school.

Or running.

I always had to run home from school 'cause the kids didn't like me. Or they made fun. So I ran. We lived in the San Fernando Valley and the kids there used to say they were the rebels with no cause, like the movie, so that's why they used to wear black leather jackets with crossed bones and skeletons painted white in the back. They used to go in their little hot rods to the drive-in and kiss the girls and then they used to listen to KFWB for Elvis Presley and Ricky Nelson and Brenda Lee. But I din't like that. I liked Ray Price and Wanda Jackson and Lefty Frizzel better.

That's one more reason they said I was diff'rent.

Anyways, after my head was changed, accident-wise, my mama turned out diff'rent too. But it went double for her 'cause after my daddy ran over my head he never came back. So now I have two empty holes where there used to be just one. The one in my head and the one in my heart.

It was hard for my mama after my father went 'cause she never stopped loving him an' so she cried for at least three years, or maybe two. I never was the type who don't hold no grudge, so, by and by, when I looked in the mirror, I din't care too much no more. Except for headaches. They never went away.

Which is more than I can say for my daddy.

We were the Mexicans an' we used to live happy in the San Fernando Valley with the yellow-haired ranchers and farmers that Daddy used to call the Hueros Rancheros. We were the only ones that talked Spanish an' we were 'llowed to live there 'cause my daddy took care of the horses for the ranchers even tho' they never liked us too much. My father, he made money training the horses in the daytime an' in the night, he used to get drunk and mean with beer an' tequila. Sometimes he would fight with my mama for no reason then go with his mariachi band, Los Reyes de America, to the Tapatio Bar on the Ventura street to sing with his friends.

Our house was a big one near the little airport. I liked it all 'cept for the airplanes, noise-wise, and the no friends that I never had in school. I was like the fish in the wrong water over in the San Fernando Valley. I always din't fit in too good with the kids there, color-wise. My mama used to say it was only 'cause maybe my hair was not yellow like them. But she used to say, "It's OK, Tokie." She always used to call me Tokie, even before I was born, because my daddy, he used to call me Tocayo, which in Spanish means "people that have the same name." In this case we were both Felix Figueroa, only I was the junior. Anyways, Mama used to say, "You look nice, Tokie, 'cause you have your father's black Aztec hair and your mama's Yaqui green eyes." She all the time used to say nice things to me.

There was lots of space in the Valley in those days. The houses were far apart an' the horses used to walk in the streets with the cowboys on the saddles. There was no cement where you're 'spose to walk in those days and there was many corrals made of wood that were always painted white, which sometimes ran all around long flat fields with barns 'n haystacks, some of 'em.

Also, too, there was lots of beautiful trees in the Valley. I used to climb all 'ov 'em. Sometimes I sat on the branches to think for 15 minutes or at least an hour. Trees were my favorite 'cause they were big an' strong, but never got mad, or drunk. I was happy in the San Fernando Valley. I had everything a boy could need when Mama an' my papa were there.

I had a Schwinn bike -- candy-apple red with fat balloon tires and it had a yellow head of Donald Duck in a blue sailor coat on the handlebars. Also, too, I had my own television and a red Hula Hoop and a giant telescope in my bedroom. And I had a guitar my father gave me before I was even born, or one. Mama was young and tiny and pretty like the dolls they drew in the back pages of the magazines. She had black-black hair with a white streak, like lightening, running down it, in the front. An' her green eyes were very much like the color of the avocados down the road in Mr. Fairfield's farm.

We had a big kitchen that always smelled fresh an' delicious an' there was two sinks with only one faucet for hot and cold, and a hole in one sink to dispose the garbage. All those things made my mama smile. But what made her smile most was the tall room near the 'fridge that had lots ov' shelves an' lots ov' stuff. She used to say that it was her major pantry. And there was a monster window near it to spy me when, after my homework, I rode my bike along the lonely strawberry fields.

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