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Everything the White Boy Told You
Manuel Muñoz

Tell us, Celio, what the white boy told you that day. Celio at twenty-two, with an unfortunate name, always the pause when you say it. Tell us what he told you, though we already know what he told you because he tells the same story to everyone, all of us–we’ve all met him. Tell us about the town in Maine where he grew up, the small town where it snows until April sometimes, flakes as late as May one year when he was six. You pictured leaves falling, didn’t you–like us–leaves bright red, the way they gleam gold on calendars when you flip to October? Tell us about the family plot where he hopes to be buried someday, no matter who he winds up with, and how he looked at you when he said that. Did you feel the little pull of loss already beginning when he mentioned it? Tell us when exactly he mentioned the family grave–was it after the first drink or the second, or did he wait until you were out of the bar? Tell us if he asked anything about you, where you grew up in Texas–near Corpus Christi or up by Abilene?–and if mattered to him, Texas geography and where your people are buried. We have our guesses.

Celio, we’ve been there, all of us, the befores, the way-back-whens. On the second visit to his apartment, the morning after, while he made you coffee, he handed all of us (most of us) to you in that photo album. Didn’t he? Ask yourself what he was asking you to see, the judgment that was shining in your eyes as you went over each of our faces, this one smiling, this one holding his arm, this one resistant to his clutching. Did you make up a story for some of us, a beginning and a middle and an end? Did you wonder if some of us still hadn’t seen the end, still in his life somehow? Did you ask how anyone can say It’s over to a man like the one in the last picture, the one with the brilliant white shirt and skin as dark as yours, his face beaming back what he can do better than you?

Celio, you know, all of these stories, all of these people–they begin the same way. The introductions, the essential information, where you live and what you do and how old you are. But what happens afterward–what anyone says next–is up in the air. All of us tell our stories in the same way, sitting on the barstool, drink in hand, leaning in to say it louder in the listening ear. Even when we are asked to repeat something, we say it in the exact same way. So we don’t blame him, Celio, for his being so predictable. But here you are so soon after having met him and already we’re traveling with you as the sharp, remembered glimpses of men smiling at a camera. Already you see us in the mirror as you get dressed for dinner with him (dinner! a romantic dinner!) on his invitation, the shirt not quite right, the hair not quite set. We are with you as doubt and distrust, the way we all walk around listening to our own voices (I, me, Celio) or to a snatch of music (heard in the grocery store) that we can’t get rid of. We are there smiling back at you, some of us not yet ended, and we can help if you tell us some more. Tell us some more about what he has told you.

At the dinner at that restaurant where he treated you to wine, did he tell you the story about how he almost went to that park? He had wanted to talk about his first time, didn’t he, but did not ask about yours. And yet you did not mind because the way he talked at length about himself fascinated you, the way he never moved his eyes from yours to search for the right words. Did he tell you about the urge he had at twenty (so late for some people, just the right age for others) to go to that park and how he hadn’t because of what he had read in the newspaper one morning? How did he describe the story of the man beaten to death with a hammer in that park? He said he felt for him; he said he thought that could have been me. And though you closed your eyes in sympathy for that man, you pictured the park, didn’t you? And the hammer–the awl-honed leather handle, the claw hook and the flat shiny head, the latch where it hung in a garage, the lifting of it and the tucking in a jacket–pictured so clearly you could see it being used against him, this white boy treating you to wine in a nice restaurant. You had another jolt of coming loss, Celio–we know, we did too–staring at him across the table and how lucky we were to be with him. You grimaced at which end of the hammer would be worse–the claw hook or the flat shiny head–and you moved your hand to his knee under the table. You started thinking about how passionate you would be later in gratitude to how close he had come and in all of that, you neither told your story of a first time nor heard when his first time really was. Really!–look how crafty he is!

Celio, there’s a point to saving you, just as there is a reason (it’s true!) why you can’t rid yourself of that random song in your head, those days you happen to have one. It is so soon, and already you are thinking of how right things seem–the good job he has, though he is only twenty-four; the fact that other men notice how handsome he is; the tautness of his back when you hold your hands there; his friends each prettier than the next; the button he pushes to roll down the window of his car as you’re driving and your hair flies like in the movies; the calls to say good night if you’re not staying over; the note he leaves on his bedroom nightstand when he goes quietly to work in the morning and trusts you sleepy in his apartment; the pleasure you feel when he introduces you and his pretty friends look back. It’s all there, your heart a spark of lightning. We’re here to tell you something. He is going to tell you (we know) about how your heart is a spark of lightning. Tell him that first. See what he does. See what he does when you tell him that walking down the street with him is like walking with light itself. Say it earnestly. Say it with feeling, like the words came to you because you stared at him so long. Tap your index finger to your temple (the right one) and say You’re getting in here.

We want you to surprise him–sooner than later–to save you, Celio. Because he has told you all that he wants to tell you right now about Maine, about the family you will never meet, about the town you will never see. And he is afraid to ask about where you are from. We have told him things–about houses falling apart in Arizona, in California; about the rotted kitchen counters in a Brownsville apartment and how the snails appeared through the plumbing, the Morton salt canister by the sink; about how two nails and a piece of heavy string made for a lock in houses like ours; about the dog out back dragging a heavy chain around a lemon tree and made mean with a stick; about pink and aqua paint being the cheapest, but still the walls everywhere remained chipped; about the chalky film sticking in our throats from powdered milk; about men living twenty to a house on all corners of our neighborhoods, and that was normal; about our brothers’ rooms out back, the window screens rusting and peeling and letting in the humid night air; about the aunt who made money by selling dolls, crocheted dresses with hidden Coke cans serving as the torsos; about the $90 encyclopedia our mothers bought for nothing, the roaches trapped between the pages; about tea when we were hungry; about lice outbreaks at school two times a year, guaranteed; about how the boys in town still grew impossibly muscular through all of this and we couldn’t have them; about the guilt of having cousins who still live like this in Colorado, in New Mexico; about how we would never go back.

Tell him, Celio, like we told him. Maybe you’re the one. Maybe he will not stop telling you the things he is telling you. Maybe he will not mention one of us to you, how you remind him of one of us, how it is too painful for things to go any further. He will tell you this anyway, sooner or later, because he is not at that point in my life right now. So get in his head, Celio. At least for us. Give us something about Corpus Christi or Abilene or wherever you are from. Give us something about where you think you are headed. We’re all in it–tell him so that he has the whole story, so many pieces–and he will come back to one of us. Because it happens, how we all revisit what we’ve done and been. He is going to look back and reconsider someday and he will have some of the story straight if you do your part. We’re sure of it! Do it, Celio. Give it all up to him, like we did. Tell him your whole story and see which one of us he comes back to.


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