Jorge Monterrosa


Me Part 1

“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.
Much of your pain is self-chosen.
It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self.
Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquillity:
For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseen,
And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has moistened with His own sacred tears.”

                                            Khalil Gibran, The Prophet (1923, p. 52)

I never left the beach before the sunset. I was seduced by the prodigious doubloon in the horizon, the way it descended into the dormant mountains like a golden coin slowly sinking into a slot machine, dust and sand whirling in the salty air, the seagulls hovering overhead, plunging down into the earth to rummage the receptacles for scraps, all the vendors and artisans speedily wheeling their merchandise out of the boardwalk at twilight, trying to get away before the freaks came out. Every now and then you’d hear about a Swedish or German tourist in the papers who didn’t know any better and got robbed at the beach hanging out after dark, but I knew better. I lived in the Culver City projects, and that alone could have cost me my life in Venice. Still, it was my favorite place in the world.

Usually I’d ditch school during lunch time. There were about 3,000 students in my high school. No one was gonna miss me. I was at the stage of my life when most of the boys my age were dating, but I was shy and awkward. Besides, I couldn’t imagine that there was another person in the world who could find contentment watching debris wash up on shore. I could sit there for hours.

Most of the artisans and such that hung out at the beach were regulars. Some of them had been there for years. Others were hippie artisans passing through. There was the guy who’d write your name on a grain of rice for three bucks, the guy who sketched a picture of you with stencils for ten, there was the guy who made Native American jewelry—I think he was from Spain. Usually you could bargain with them. There was the Brazilian husband and wife team who sold incense, and the little Japanese woman who gave massages—she had a massage table and everything. There were vendors with kiosks who sold remote control cars, CDs, t-shirts, and postcards.

Also, there were many street performers. There was the Jamaican man who walked on glass, the Nigerian man who’d set himself on fire (all the tourists would gather around him and he’d say, “And nowwww, I’m gonna’ set my black ass on fire, you red necks in the audience are gonna love this shit”). There were the Puerto Rican break dancers, the midget one man band, the Irish river dancer, the guy who could burp anything by the Beatles, and my favorite, the Russian guy who could balance a washing machine on his chin; his calves were like telephone poles. 

The last group was the psychics, which, by the way, included a psychic cat. I generally stayed away from these. At sundown the boardwalk was like a town in the Wild West, with people coming and going. I observed the seagulls with envy, those providential fowls, capable of ascending above this man-made storm. Enraptured by their aerial dance and mindful of not getting shitted on, I always looked to the sky.

And so it was that I bumped into the woman that was walking in front of me.

“Excuse me,” I said.

Noticeably vexed, the blonde woman stopped and took a deep breath, her shoulders slowly heaved up and down as her abdomen inflated with oxygen. She turned her head swiftly, I saw my reflection look back at me through her mirrored sunglasses, her lips were pink heart-shaped raisins, “Don’t go through the Venice Circle,” she said.

“What?” I asked. But the strange woman kept walking; I stood there like a traffic light, perplexed. I wanted to follow her and ask her what she meant, but she was probably some crazy base head. So I dismissed her as such, and watched how with each step she was woven into the blanket of people going this way and that.

“Beto!” I heard someone call me. I looked around but I didn’t see anyone. “Beto!” I heard it again. This time I saw that it was Julio and he was with some guy I didn’t know. He was smoking a cigarette, James Dean like. He was leaning on his left leg like a flamingo, his right foot was dug into the wall. The other guy was standing on the left of him with his hands inside his pockets. The silhouette from the awning cast a slight shadow over their eyes. Julio waved me over. I made my way through the crowd to where they were.

“Wuz up, Beto?”  We slapped hands and pounded fists.


“This is ma homeboy Chava from Pomona.” Chava was built like a football player. His neck was as thick as his head. He had forearms like Popeye.

“Wuz up, dawg?” I said. Chava tipped his head. I looked over at Julio, “What are you guys doing here?”

“Look’n at bitches, what else?” Julio said. The gap in Chava’s front teeth was accentuated when he smiled. 

I smirked and asked incredulously, “How many’d ya get?”

“You pull’n ma card, youngsta? I get mad bitches,” Julio reached in his pocket and pulled out a fistful of phone numbers. He stuffed them back in his pocket and tapped Chava’s belly with the back of his hand, “Tell’m, Dawg!”

Chava laughed lethargically, “Huh huh, mad bitches, youngsta.”

“What about you, Beto? Where’s your bitches?” Julio asked with a little bit of vinegar in his voice. With a delighted look in his eyes, Chava’s upper lip gaped open just enough to highlight the tiny pillars in his mouth.

I stuffed my hands into my pockets and felt my bus fare, “Don’t worry about me, I get mad play,” I said, more to convince myself than anyone else.

Julio slowly put the cigarette to his lips, leaned his head back and exhaled donuts into the atmosphere, then he looked at me crossly, “I bet I get more bitches than you,” he said.

“…Oh shit, dawg, look, that hina’s on fine status” Chava said, squinting his eyes and licking his chops.

“Which one?” Julio asked, turning his head abruptly. “That fat one there?” Usually Julio was very careful not to turn his head abruptly or to let anyone stand on the right side of him. He was very self conscious about his cauliflower ear. Most people were sympathetic and adhered to the unspoken rule. But sometimes out of curiosity, or just down right meanness, somebody would ask, “What happened to your ear?” He’d get into this drawn out story about how it happened back when he was living in Texas. “I used to box at the local Y back home,” he’d say, “and some big ass mayate stuck me in the ear, fucked my whole shit up, but it’s all good, homes,” he’d say with misplaced laughter, realizing no one was buying his story. The truth is Julio’s father was the one who fucked his whole shit up. That’s why his family left Texas.

“Not her, the one next to her,” Chava said, pointing at a bronze-skinned girl who looked like she’d been poured into her jeans. Her hair blew in the wind like a black flame, revealing her smile.

Julio threw his cigarette on the ground and mashed it with his foot; he pulled out his palm comb from his pocket and brushed his hair back. “Damn, she’s fine. Which one of you is gonna’ be ma wingman?” Julio asked. He looked over at me, “Beto?”

“Naw, I’m good,” I said.

“Fuck you then.” He looked over at Chava, “Don’t you rank out on me too, dawg.”

Chava smiled his smile, “Why is it that cute girls always hang out with an ugly friend?” We concurred in an unintelligible chorus, nodding are heads in agreement. Chava pulled out a stick of gum, peeled off a piece and put it in his mouth, he tossed the tiny foil into the wind and said, “Fuck it, sometimes you gotta’ take one for the team.”

I smirked and raised an eyebrow, “I guess.” 

When Julio and Chava came back I could tell they had good news because Julio had a grin from ear to cauliflower.

“What happened?” I asked.

“I’m a muthafuck’n playa, that’s what happened,” Julio said, brushing his hair with his palm comb.

“Yeah, her friend wasn’t even that ugly,” Chava said, trying to console himself.

Julio caught his reflection on the glass behind us and softly patted his hair, grazed his ear and put his hands in his pockets.


“I just stepped to’er and said ‘Wuz happen’n, little mama? Me and ma homeboy Chava wanna’ kick it, are you with it or what?’” Chava stood there smiling his smile.

“And that shit worked?” I asked.

“What do you think,” Julio said, waving the little piece of paper with her number in my face. “Ay, Beto, you know what, playboy? I don’t usually do this, especially considering that you didn’t even put in no work, but you know what homes, this broad is throwing a kick-back at her pad tonight. She said there was gonna’ be mad bitches, blunts, and brews, so wuz up dawg, you wanna’ role or what?”

The sun had gone down and the boardwalk was all but empty now, just a few stragglers and us. “Fuck it,” I said, “let’s go.” We were walking south on the boardwalk, when I started getting this eerie feeling in my stomach. “Ay, Julio, where’s this chick live?” I asked.

“In your ass, what the fuck do you care?”

Chava laughed heartily.

“Ay for real, where does she live, dawg?”

He looked at Chava, “You believe this guy, not only is he getting free tail, but now he’s even harassing me.”

“Ay, Julio, I’m fuck’n serious dawg, where does she live?”

“Dude, relax, she lives by the Venice Circle.”

“You know what, I’m not going,” I said.

“WHAT? Are you fuck’n serious?” Julio asked.

“I’m serious, dawg, I’m not going,” I said.

“What the fuck, dude, why not?” Julio asked.

Chava sucked his teeth, “Man, Julio, you got some lame as friends.”

“Ay, fuck you,” I said.

“FUCK YOU,” Chava retorted with conviction.

Julio held Chava back, “Calm down, dawg, he’s cool.”

“Fuck that lame,” Chava said, “he’s probably scared of pussy anyway.”

I didn’t respond.

“Ay, I’ll catch up with you later on,” Julio said, shoving Chava away.

Chava was walking backwards with his arms up in the air, “WHAT? WHAT?” he kept saying.  

I just shook my head, and said underneath my breath, “Fuck’n retard.”


The whole bus ride home I kept thinking about what Chava said. It rang in my head like a car alarm in the middle of the night. He was right, I was fuck’n lame. I could have finally gotten laid, but not me, I was too concerned about what some fuck’n base head was talking about. Shit, Julio and Chava are probably getting laid right now. Then I got another thought, I should have socked Chava in his fuck’n mouth, I’ve seen his kind before, all talk.

It was nighttime when I got home. My mom was sitting in the dark staring at a blank television. She’d been sitting just like that when I left for school in the morning.

“Hey, mom.”

She raised her eyes, two empty moons, orbiting over a dim sun, “Hola, mijo.”

“Did you take your medicine?”


“I’m gonna’ go to my room, and watch TV, ok?”


Every once in a while I’d find myself looking at an old photograph of my mother that hung over the kitchen sink. I’m not sure why she put it there of all places. But it was a beautiful picture of her. She must have been eighteen; her eyes were full moons then.

My room was such a mess. I had piles of clothes everywhere. My bed was a puddle of blankets, there were caked up dishes on my dresser, not to mention it smelled like a family of skunks had drowned in a pool of rancid milk; the windows were grimy and the walls were smudged. The ceiling had a big yellow stain that looked like a billowing rain cloud; the person who used to sleep in my room must have been a smoker. There were layers of dust on everything and the blinds were broken, but my room was only a reflection of the rest of the apartment, and besides, I liked having my own space.

I’d cut off the lights. The gleam from the lamppost outside would stream in through the busted blinds transforming the room into a sapphire, and I’d lie on my back inside that sapphire, rubbing my crotch like a genie’s lamp, with only one wish on my mind. My toes would curl up like question marks, my breath would drag in and out of my lungs until my penis was a swollen sinewy baby’s arm reaching out from my womb, and I’d take that baby’s arm and caress it. The police sirens blazing through the night seemed another world away as I gently held that baby’s arm in my hand tugging it softly, my face muscles gripped my nose and eyes like a fist. Lying inside the benediction of the sapphire I didn’t have a care in the world, as high caliber bullets ripped through the atmosphere, my body tensed up like a Greek statue. As my mother lived her life like a ghost down stairs my neck arched in anticipation, until there were stringy tassels of cum all over me. 


Third period drawing was the only class I cared about. It wasn’t that I liked drawing, but I felt that the teacher respected my intelligence.

“You’re late again, Merida!”

“Sorry, Mr. Jones, I couldn’t open my stupid locker.”

He’d roll his eyes, “Yeah, yeah, just get inside and try to be on time tomorrow, will ya?”

Mr. Jones had gone to Vietnam and is probably the most patriotic man I’ve ever known. He had this rule: everyday at 10:15a.m. there’d be a chime on the loudspeaker followed by one of those squares on the dean’s list reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. You didn’t have to say the Pledge of Allegiance if you didn’t want to, but you had to stand. That was the rule. We sat at round tables in groups of eight. There were four round tables. He’d set a wooden stool in the center of the class with a rubber ball or a vase on it and tell us to draw it. He’d go around the room looking over people’s shoulders. “That needs more shadowing,” he’d say, or, “That looks good but it’s a little flat.”

Tiny sacks of flesh hung beneath his eyes like movie curtains. The creases on his face spoke volumes of a life lived. “Beto,” he’d say, “how far do you think the human eye can see?”

“A couple of hundred yards, I guess.”

“You know, the stars are millions of miles away,” he’d say, as though passing on wisdom over an open fire the ancient way, “but we can see them because of how bright they are.” He’d let that idea marinate in my head for a while, then he’d lean in over my shoulder, almost whispering in my ear, “If something is bright enough, you can see it, no matter how far away it might seem, you can see it.” 

Julio and his friend from Pomona were the buzz at Nutrition. Apparently they’d been jumped at the Venice Circle. I found out later that Julio got the ear drum in his good ear busted and his front teeth knocked out. Following the incident he dropped out of school. But Julio was the lucky one. As it turns out Chava wasn’t all talk after all. He was holding his own against three guys, when four more jumped in. One of them grabbed a loose rod from an iron fence and struck Chava in the head. When he fell to the ground they stomped him out something fierce and broke three of his ribs. They left him in a coma, he came out of it three days later but was never the same after that. He had to be enrolled in a special school.

I sat on the shore watching the foamy residue from the tide gurgle in the sand as the salty water ebbed back into the ocean. How lucky I am, I thought. If that strange woman had not warned me about going through the Venice Circle that day, I would have shared the same fate as Chava and Julio… But how could she have known? For several days I turned that question inside my head. But everything is so fleeting when you’re sixteen-years-old. After a while I just forgot about it.


“You know, in Alaska they got something like 36 ways to say snow,” Mr. Jones would say,” because in Alaska snow’s important. It doesn’t mean anything to you out here in Southern California,” he’d clear his throat, “but it’s a central part of Eskimo life. You can tell a lot about a people by their language.” His index finger pointing up like some Greek philosopher of old, “That’s what you call cultural competency.” He’d clear his throat again, “For instance, if somebody called your mom a pig you’d be ready to break their face. Because you understand the way we view the pig as a society. You follow me?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“What I’m saying to you is that language is the most important thing human beings have. The second most important thing is books. You’ve got to read, Beto.”

The first book I ever read on my own, outside of school, was The Prophet. Mr. Jones recommended it to me. It was a thin book, which suited me fine; it was very archaic.


Despite the imminent danger, Venice was still my favorite place in the world. Sometimes the throngs of people at dusk coming to and fro seemed like mimes imitating the ocean’s reiteration. Sometimes they just seemed like a whole lot of fuck’n people.

I was having one of those days that can best be characterized by the latter. Wedging through the crowd I noticed a blonde woman on the boardwalk folding a beach towel and stuffing it into her knapsack. I couldn’t put my finger on it but I knew I’d seen her before. With my head turned at a ninety degree angle I stared intently. I know this woman. I dragged forward with the dawdling crowd. It was like a splinter in my mind. Where did I know her from?

She zipped up her knapsack and threw it over her shoulder. Then she put on her sunglasses. The sunglasses….That’s why I hadn’t recognized her. She was going the opposite direction. I turned around and tried weaving through the mass of people, but she was already gone.

At home my mom had cut up all my baby pictures. There were shreds of my first birthday, sprinkled around her feet. “Why did you do that?” I asked, infuriated.

“No te enojes,” she said, “these weren’t good, I’ll take better ones of you.”

I gritted my teeth and went up to my room. I sat on the edge of the bed with my face inside my hands. Why did my mom have to be all fucked up? Nobody’s mom’s fucked up like mine. I slid off the edge of the bed to my knees and started pounding on the floor until my knuckles were raw.

There was a knock at the door, “Estas bien?”

With tears streaming down my cheeks, I said, “I’m fine, can you please go away and leave me alone?” Like my mother, when I was really little I spent a lot of time in front of the television. I’d watch all those TV shows with happy white families eating dinner together and living in those big houses. Between commercials I’d run to the kitchen, open up the refrigerator and stare at the bare shelves. I’m not sure why I did that, having been fully aware that it was empty. Sometimes I’d think that maybe if she died they’d send me off to live with a family like the ones I saw on TV.

“You’re being a bad son, te estas portando muy mal,” she said through the door.

The words cometed out of my mouth with wicked intentions, “FUCK YOU, YOU’RE A BAD MOTHER, DO YOU THINK I COULD EVER FORGIVE WHAT YOU DID TO ME?”  I could hear her tiny sobs on the other side; I turned my fist into a hammer and beat on the door, “GO AWAY, FUCK’N LEAVE ME ALONE.” The boards creaked underneath her as she went back down the stares. I cut off the lights in my room and proceeded to make myself feel better.

I was hoping to see that lady again on the boardwalk but she wasn’t there the next day. I didn’t want to go straight home so I went to Lurock’s house. His real name was Guadalupe, but only one person called him that. His moniker was a fusion of his middle name, Louis, and his occupation. Lurock had the best weed, and he always smoked me out for free, ever since the time I was taking the trash out the back door and he came barreling around the corner like a track star, neurotically handing off a baton to me in the form of crack cocaine. He didn’t say anything, he just handed me the little sack and sprinted away. Soon after, two cops came darting around the corner and tackled him to the ground. I went inside and peeked through the window. They cuffed him but since he didn’t have anything on him they had to let him go. Early the next morning he came knocking, “Ay, dawg you got that thing?”

“Yeah, hold on.” I’d hidden it underneath my bed. I went upstairs to get it. “Here you go.”

“Wuz your name, homie?”


“I’m Lurock,” He had a goatee, and looked a few years older than me; he wasn’t that much taller than I was, but he was stockier. “I appreciate what you did for me. I live in Building 57. Ask anybody around here they’ll tell you who I am. If you ever wanna’ blaze come see me, I got you.” 

Lurock’s apartment was like a church. There were candles and pictures of saints everywhere. Lurock’s mom was a plump little lady with graying hair. She was always in the kitchen cooking something. Anytime I came over it was the same, “No quiere un pastelito o un tamale?” she’d ask. Her gregarious personality invoked a Mexican Betty Crocker. She seemed oblivious to what her son was doing.

“Mijo, no tienes diez dólares?”

He would pull out a wad of bills, “Here, I don’t have nothing smaller than a twenty,” he’d say. Gripping her skull in his two hands he’d lean in and peck her on the forehead. She’d light up and reciprocate the gesture, then she’d smile politely and wave to me. “Guadalupe, no regreses muy tarde, y anda con cuidado,” she’d tell him.

“I’ll be back before ten,” he’d say, blessing himself in front of the picture of his brother that hung over the front door.

We smoked at the creek behind the projects, because it was the one place the housing authority didn’t go. It was to steep and narrow for them to drive the squad car there, and since they’d never walk their lazy asses through, it was safe. The water was still at the creek, as if sleeping, it sparkled in the moon light like a liquid diamond. It was an ideal place to bring a girl except that it smelled like shit, literally. It was an artificial creek that carried sewer water into the ocean. Lurock stripped a thin sheet from a pack of cigarette paper no bigger than a match box. He put it on his lap and carefully sprinkled the herb over it. He grabbed it gingerly from either end and brought it up to his lips. He licked the tiny sheet as if it were a love letter, rolled and sparked it. The smoke rose, slowly whirling through the brisk October night like a spirit.

“Ay, homes you wanna’ see something?”


He pulled out a chrome L-shaped pistol from his waistband, “That shit’s nice, right?”

“Yeah, it’s cool, but you’ll get years if you get caught with that shit,” I said.

He looked at me ardently, “Sabes que loco, the shit’s real out here in the field and I rather be caught with it than caught without it.” As Lurock said this, Julio scampered across my thoughts. Lurock held the pistol in front of him and squinted his left eye, aiming at an invisible target. Then he tucked it away.

“Where’d you get it,” I asked, passing on the joint.

He hawked a loogey into the creek, took a hit and passed it back to me, “You know that black dude who works security at the mall?”

“Who, Martin?”

“Yeah, he gave it to me for a couple of rocks.”  He glanced over at me, “Should I roll another one or you cool?”

My eyes were the beginning of a bloody nose right before the blood starts running down your lip, when it’s still a red bubble poking out of your nostril like a turtle’s head. “Nah, I think I’m good,” I said.

I passed out on my bed and had a strange dream that night that I was running through a cornfield. It seemed that no matter how fast or how far I ran I was surrounded by enormous corn stalks. I yelled out, but only heard my echo in the distance. I paused for a moment to regain my composure, I stood there, breathing heavily and bewildered. Slowly, I turned in a small circle looking for a way out, but there was no way out of this labyrinth. I smacked my hands into my forehead with frustration and yelled some more, AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH and once again I heard my echo call back to me. I stood there yelling into the night as if part wolf, until I shattered the glass vial inside my throat. I could feel the shards scrape my esophagus each time I attempted to speak. Left with no other choice I started running again. When I could no longer run I walked, but with each successive step the chemical compound in my legs turned into lead, until I collapsed to the ground, drenched in sweat. With exhaustion’s boot on my chest I stared into the zenith disconnected from everything. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine myself in a familiar place but was unable to visualize the world outside with precision. Rendered helpless, I tucked my knees into my torso and cried. With no concept of time I lay there for three hours or three minutes. When I got up I felt a surge of rage move through my body, I gritted my teeth and began snatching the giant stems from the earth, violently ripping the flesh from my own hands in the process. I woke up the next morning clenching my blanket.


Jorge Monterrosa had a tough go at it, but in December of 2008 he graduated with a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College. Today Monterrosa lives in Queens and is a New York Teaching Fellow, and has recently completed both his first year as a graduate student at Long Island University and his first year as a teacher at Enterprise Business and Technology High School in Williamsburg Brooklyn. Monterrosa plans to teach for a few year and eventually go back to school for his MFA.


August 2010