There was a knock at the side door of my mother's house, one summer. I was reluctant to go answer, because usually everyone used the front door. I had seen a car pull up to the side of the house, but even then most people, usually the friends of my brothers, would still go use the front door. Even enemies of my brothers would knock on the front door. And then there was of course the occasional cop that would knock at the side door, but more times than not, it was the front door. So I went to the side door not sure who or what to expect. As I opened the door, an aged man stood in front of me, he wore a filthy jacket over a stained shirt, and jeans blotched with a rorschach stain here and there. I wasn't sure what he wanted, as a friend sat in the passenger seat of the car, looking just as haggard. I thought maybe they had gotten off of work from the nearby strawberry fields, and were going to inquire about possibly renting a room in the back or for some other type of assistance, which had been a common occurrence.
The man standing in front of me, smiled, and said my name, "X"? I narrowed my eyes a bit to get a better look at his face, and realized he was my cousin/primo. I smiled back and greeted him, asking him how he was doing. He said he was well, and said, "Man, it's been a while since I've seen you. You look big. What are you up to?" I basically told him I was still in school, and was home for the summer. "Thats cool," he said. Then he asked about one of my brothers, who wasn't home. "Alright, well, tell him I stopped by." It was a short interaction, and then he went on his way. I was stunned to see him, not because of the time that had elapsed since this encounter, but because of how ravaged he looked, which I'll get into further down.
See, the thing is, my cousin had been caught in gang activity since I can remember, probably early on in his teens. There was once a lead pipe taken to his head during a small brawl between his gang and their rivals, back around the time he was in high school, something which made the family gossip rounds. My primo from there was in and out of jail, and rehab programs, because more than being caught up in a gang, he was caught up in drugs. I still remember one year when I was watching television in my grandfather's room, my primo showed up and he sat there watching tv with me. After some time, he pulled out a small sheet of aluminum foil, with a black tar like substance drizzled on top of it (something I'm guessing today was maybe heroin or meth, I still don't know my types of drugs well enough to know what that was, I guess I need to start watching Intervention regularly). He pulled out a lighter, and lit it from underneath, and inhaled. He held his breath, and after he released, looked over at me, and said, "You want to take a hit?" It was a surreal moment, here we were in my grandfather's room watching television, I think maybe even a football game, and my cousin had just quenched his drug habit, but what really stayed in my mind, was that even though he had an addiction, he still had the decency, and common courtesy to offer me a hit, because he was raised in a Mexican family that had always taught him to be amable, and share. "Mi casa, es tu casa," or in this case, "Mi droga, es tu droga." The "Just Say No To Drugs" and McGruff the Crime Dog propaganda from those 80's & 90's tv commercials kicked in, and I had the common courtesy, to say "No thanks," because being from a Mexican family, I was also taught to be courteous when choosing not to eat, or drink something, or you know, when it came to heavy drugs. My drug usage came years later in college, you know when just saying no was lame n'stuff, and my inner voice would say "Shut the fuck up, McGruff and little circle with the line through it, you pendejos . . . Er, who said that?"
I remember at one point being impressed with my cousin, because he ended up in a relationship with one of the girls that I went to junior high with, that all the guy's had a crush on. Eventually he showed up to my grandfather's house with her, and we said hi to each other, having remembered her from back in junior high, but not really having seen her anymore after our freshman year of high school. And here she was around what would have been our junior or senior year of high school with my cousin. I don't know why I veered off into his relationship with that girl, mainly I think, because its one of those memories like the offering of the drugs that sticks in my mind. I would rarely run into my primo here and there whenever I would head back home to visit my family. One of the last times I remember seeing him was at a gas station in Pajaro. He was gassing up his car too, we said hi to each other, made small talk, and then he was off once again. Other than that I'd occasionally hear about what he was getting up to through the family gossip wire.
Having seen him at my doorstep after so many years was nice, and it made me shake my head, but at the same time my thoughts turned to the worst. My primo and brother claim rival gangs. For all I know my primo was looking for my brother to hit him up, jump him, or take him out. Since this was early afternoon, the only person home is usually my brother, but he had taken off with some friends, I was there because it was summer, but who knows what would have happened if my brother would have been the one to answer the door alone. If best friends can turn on each other over gang affiliations (see last week's post), its without a doubt possible for primos to turn on one another. I told my mother about this, and she said that as far as she knew, both my brother and my cousin got along well enough, even though each represented for different groups. If anything, my primo probably showed up to try to sell something to my brother, so he could get some money to support his drug habit.
I told my mom, that upon realizing that it was my primo that stood in front of me, I was stunned, because he looked so aged, practically like a man in his late 40's. My primo is really only a few years (maybe 3-4 years) older than me. I asked her if she knew if he was doing some type of field work or something, because I noticed the state of his clothes, and because he was in our neighborhood, which was kind of out of his way. She said no, not that she knew of, that was the way he looked consistently, because of his drug habit. I didn't recognize that dark face with the wrinkles, or the buzzed down hair. The lengthened dirty fingernails. I didn't know who that was, until he said my name. Then I remembered, he came into view, and I couldn't help but reflect, and feel for him, because of where the drugs had taken him, and how they had morphed him into the old man that stood in front of me. My primo, only a few years older than myself, but so worn, and looking older than he was, because he had become a full blown tecato.