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"NO" Was His Only Answer
By Art Brambila

My father, he was like a giant with all muscles and had a big cowboy hat and a big mustache and boots made of snakeskin. Also, he had a monster chair in the living room that used to go way back and he used to fall asleep in it near the TV. After Daddy left, abandoned-wise, Mama's smile started to go away, too. And she got more sad and even more blue, 'specially when reading letters in my father's old chair. Sometimes I used to sit across an' look at the tears slide down the little face and that's when more headaches would come to me. One night I said, only in Spanish, "Mommy, who writes you so much the letters?" And she told me it was my daddy, "that still loves you, Mijo, but now he's far away," she said, "playing music in a place named San Antonio."

Three years passed, or maybe even two, and Mama an' me got poor. And then poorer. Mama said, only in Spanish, everything's starting to go to a place she called "La Chingada," which I never heard of before. But I guess she knew what she talked, 'cause after that, we got even more poor and some men came to our house to cut off the phone.

Then, pretty soon, the lights.

And then the gas.

Soon Mama collected on the Welfare. Then the Hueros Rancheros walked by our house and pointed and stared and made fun an' said, when it was a man, "Hey, lookie there, Jake," and when a woman, they said "Hey, lookie there, Jodie, those are the poor shabby MezCans."

I din't like it when they said that. But I never cried in front of 'em.

Only in my room.

One day, when the skies turned gray and cold, and when the trees in the orchards were already brown and bare, Mama started to sell everything we used to have. First went the TV from my room. Then the barbecue in the back yard and the trailer, then the microphones and stuff my father forgot in the closet. After a while went my father's big sleeping chair and the big TV. Then the pictures from the wall came tumbling down into cardboard boxes an' all the stuff dis'peared from my mama's kitchen. And then, only in Spanish, she said to me: "We have to make the best of it, Mijo," which means MySon in Spanish, "because from now on, it's only just you and me."

So when most things were sold, we ended up scrappy and hungry and sometimes, at night, sitting on old strawberry boxes on the floor in the empty house. And when the moon was yellow and shined above the Verdugo Hills, and when the wind made noises almost like the coyotes in the dark, Mama and me would snuggle in a blanket and eat Hamburger Helper with the ground-round she bought on credit, and we heard the cowboy music on the little transistor radio she never sold just because of me.

"Tokie, I can't take it no more!" my mama screamed in Spanish in July of 1960. "We wait mucho tiempo for your daddy to come home, pero no viene. We can't wait no more an' we can't live in this house no more. So we gotta move! He's not coming back."

I know this: I hollered loudly, "You mean never?"

"Tokie, who knows about never? Maybe Si, maybe No. These things only Our Lord knows for sure. But we can't live here no more, 'cause I can't pay no more."

"You mean we got to the Chingada?"

Mama's eyes got closer, "Don't talk that way, Tokie, God'll punish you for it!" she charged, and then started more softly, "I said no puedo pagar la renta no more, Mijo. So next week, Saturday, my comadre, Virgie, and her husband Arturo bring the station wagon to move us."

"To move us! To where?"

"To a little house in Los Angeles, you know, where Virgie lives."

"In East Los Angeles! On Clover Street! Near the tracks and the river?" I yelled at my mama for the first time, "I hate Clover Street! There's bad kids there!"

"But Tokie, it's just two doors from Virgie and Arturo, he'll protect you, and God, too." she said.

I hollered again, "He protect me? How he protect me, Mama, you no 'member the time two boys beat me up jus' 'cause I was singing a cowboy song on Arturo's porch!?"

"Tokie, look, una familia just moved out," Mama continued, "and Virgie, thanks to God, she put un deposito for us to the landlord real quick, so we got to move!"

"But we have no furniture!"

"Don't worry, Tokie," she said with her hand at her heart, "Virgie gave us a sofa an' a chair. An' we still have the beds an' everything else we need, Thanks to God."

"Thanks to God!," I screamed angry, "Mama why you always say 'thanks to God,'" when we don' even got a television!"

"Don't worry, Tokie, God will provide," she said, making a cross on her heart. "And besides, I'll work at Virgie's restaurant, you know, across North Main near the Pabst Brewery, and when you go to school, I buy one of those new Philcos on payments at Deardon's. You'll see, they'll give me credit."

I was so very confused. Nothing was no good no more. My own heart always thought my father was coming back and we would be happy again. Whenever I walked to school in the Valley and then ran home, I used to see other Daddies coming home to the yellow-haired kids after work every day. So "Why Not Me?" I used to ask to God.

That night I cried a lot in my bed at least two hours or maybe even a half.
The headaches were killing me, but I got to my knees anyways and by the side of the bed I prayed just like Mama learned me. For a long time I prayed and I begged in English. And even in Spanish, "Why Not Me, God?" I said over an' over cleaning my nose and eyes on the bed sheet.

And I begged Him, and I begged Him: "Why Not Me have a father like everybody else?"

I don't know if God talks in English or in Spanish, all I do know is this:

"No" was His only answer.


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