Chuey and Me

Chuey and Me

Chuey and Me 1920 1520 Elliott Turner

Chuey
doesn’t feel
like playing during
recess, so we sit under one of the plastic jungle gym slides and wait for the bell to ring. It’s kinda chilly and I’m glad my mom made me wear my Darkwing Duck hoodie to school today. Chuey trembles in a white cotton t-shirt; his nose is running. He wipes it with his forearm, then looks at his forearm in disgust. He laughs. I laugh. He looks at me.

His mother and two sisters keep calling me Chuey’s best friend but honestly the “best” dropped off right after high school and the “friend” hasn’t fit for the past two years. That’s the thing about funerals and wakes for the unexpectedly departed: amnesia reigns. Memory turns selective. Nobody wants to stare the recent past in the eye. So I stand among others in my black suit and white dress shirt with my head tilted down, staring at this freshly dug hole among the manicured grass.

Chuey
sits by me
at the lunch table,
but says nothing and eats nothing. He plays this game where he dips chicken nuggets in mashed potatoes and gravy, and slowly pulls them out to see how much gunk they absorb. He is quite skilled at this. I sigh and ask him what’s up. He says he doesn’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to make him talk about it. He ends up talking about it. It’s about his parents.

At the velorio, I search his older sister Marisol’s eyes for traces of the same guilt that has racked me these last few nights. Was this always going to happen? Could I have been a better friend? Could his family have done more? She avoids my gaze. Perhaps to her Chuey had been a weight, a burden to bear for too long. Much later that night, Marisol, a few others, and I go to a neighbor’s house where we share a bottle of wine and play Guitar Hero in some living room. After a few glasses, she finally opens up and we swap tales of Chuey. I suck at Guitar Hero.

Chuey
stands beside
me in the hallway as we wait for our parents to pick us up from school. He reaches into his black mesh backpack and pulls out a deck of Pokémon cards. He asks me if I brought my cards and I lie and say “no” because we don’t have time to play. I know Chuey will want to trade and he is too easily bamboozled and I’ll feel bad after. I’ve traded him good cards before as a favor and he just loses them or trades them away for nothing to somebody else. My mom arrives in a gray Nissan Sentra with a plastic tarp taped over the broken rear passenger window. Chuey’s mom probably won’t arrive until much later.

Chuey rests peacefully on the hospital bed. Tubes stick out of his nose and an IV runs into his arm. I also spot a catheter bag. Ouch. His eyes are closed and I can barely see the rise and fall of his chest. But for the beeping of a machine nearby, you could hardly confuse him for alive. His mom is leaning back in a chair by his side, snoring. Her hair is a tangled mess and her mascara has ran down her face. On her lap rests a closed laptop and on top of that some trashy grocery store romance novel with a rugged cowboy on the cover. Shirtless, of course. Short cropped hair and a jagged jaw.

Chuey’s
frazzled. Me
too. We are squirreled into a bedroom because his dad is stalking around the double-wide, reeking of Corona Light and Mango Swisher Sweets. My mom should come pick me up soon: she hates driving around any colonia at night. Chuey suggests we go outside to play soccer, but he only has a basketball and it’s flat. We pump it up and listen for the hiss and then put duct tape over the hole. We go outside and kick it until I see the dust cloud of my mom’s approaching Sentra rolling over the caliche road. Stray dogs chase the car, barking and growling. But when my mom parks, they whimper and scatter.  

I am alone in my bedroom, reading a book when suddenly my cell phone vibrates. It’s a 956 number I don’t recognize. Since I moved back to Weslaco after college, this happens a lot.  They leave a message, and I ignore it. A minute later, though, comes a flurry of text messages from three different numbers. All 956. It is Chuey’s mom, half sister, and a co-worker. They have not seen Chuey for over a week and are worried about him. They went to his apartment, but nobody answered. His phone is going to voicemail. His Facebook and Instagram have been inactive for days. They ask if I know anything. I don’t.

Chuey’s
dad is long
gone so my mom lets me spend the night at their trailer one Saturday in middle school. We didn’t tell her, but Chuey’s mom is working a double shift at Texas Roadhouse so we have the place all to ourselves. I am sitting on a recliner with a serape blanket over my lap. My pants and boxers are down to my ankles. Chuey is sitting on the couch with a wool blanket over his lap; his shorts and undies are down to his knees. We were watching the original Terminator when we got to the sex scene and Chuey paused the VHS so we can see Sarah Connor’s breasts. A thin blurred line dissects the screen from right to left. I had never masturbated before and Chuey suggested this kinda weird arrangement. I am supposed to have an erection, but do not. I wonder what is wrong with me. I open my eyes a crack to see Chuey’s blanket shake, then he groans, and then he reaches for a box of Kleenex he set on the table. Minutes later, I pretend to groan and also grab some tissues.

Chuey has his own apartment and a serious girlfriend and insists I come visit now that I’m back in the Valley. This white chick is a bit older than him and impressed I went to college and “like, finished.” She’s originally from Cape Girardeau, Missouri, which she describes as near the Ozarks, which only further confuses me. What is a single Ozark, let alone many of them? She constantly grinds her teeth and goes to the bathroom, running the sink, and Chuey pretends not to notice. Chuey himself has a nasty black eye with yellow swelling; he says he got mugged in Reynosa. I step outside on the balcony for a quick smoke and smell something odd, like rotten eggs.

Chuey
says “yo te
watcho” to Drake, a mutual friend, as we depart the school premises. We are cutting sophomore Chemistry to smoke pot. We duck out a back exit and walk along a running trail to this area that is partially obscured by shrubs and a few mesquite trees. Chuey chugs his Dr. Pepper, then squeezes the center of the can, then pulls out a safety pin, and pokes holes in one side of the middle of the can. He rotates the can so that the dented, pricked surface faces upwards, like a bowl. He then places the bud over the small holes, lights underneath, and we take hits. His eyes get red instantly. We sit in silence and I feel the sun on my arms. I wonder if my eyes are red. I wonder if I reek of mota. I can taste the hot, metallic aluminum with each drag. Before, we used a metal pen rigged as a one-hitter, but Chuey’s mom found it.   

Chuey drags me to a field party the summer before I leave for college. On the way to the field near Alton, Chuey has me stop at a CVS. He comes back out with two boxes of Coricidin Cough & Cold. He opens one, pulls out a clear and gray plastic sheet, and pops ten pills into his hand. Then, he swallows them quickly, two-at-a-time, between swigs of Snapple mango tea. I’m driving and decline to take any just then. At the rave, a few people have E and I get a seriously good backrub while enjoying some chillwave EDM. Glowsticks glow and whatnot. Cops never arrive, to our relief. By night’s end, Chuey can barely stand, so we stay there and sleep on blankets with a few other people. In the morning, some older lady brings all of us breakfast tacos from Stripes.

Senior
year of high
school, Chuey basically forces me to go to my first dance. He claims people are saying things, but I don’t really care. I go with this Goth girl named Xochil who is also not really into dances either and we have a decent enough time. Xochil is good friends with Chuey’s date and longtime girlfriend Estefany. Afterwards, we go to a hotel room and start drinking. They turn off the lights and Chuey and his girl get busy on their bed, but I’m nervous. When Xochil sticks her hands down my pants after just a few kisses, she senses me tense up and asks me in a whisper Eres joto ¿o qué? I whisper back o qué and we both giggle. Then, we finish a handle of Jim Beam and, laying on our stomachs, watch an aspiring chef reality TV show. Estefany and then Chuey climax noisily less than five feet away. After a few episodes, Xochil starts to snore and it’s the cutest damn thing.

Sixth grade, nobody showered after gym; they just doused themselves in obnoxious quantities of body spray. In seventh grade, a few guys started to shower, but there were no separate stalls and now, in eighth grade, everybody showers after gym. Except me. I never do, and definitely not today. I sit on a wooden bench and lean forward to conceal my swollen bit as I change out of my gym shorts when two guys come out of the shower, wearing only towels. “Fag, when are you gonna hop in and let me fuck you?” I ignore the first guy, Juan, but feel my face redden. I stare down and hope it’ll just pass. The other guy, Raul, pulls off his towel, rolls it up, and snaps at my face. “Back the fuck off.” Chuey steps to both of them. “Pencil dick…cover that shit up.” Raul steps back and wraps his towel around his waist. “Why’s your boy scared of the shower? He got a pussy down there?” “My man’s dick is just fine. Just got red marks on the side from where you mom sucks too hard.”  

My
last year
of college, I return to the Valley during Spring Break to help my uncle sheetrockiar to earn cash and maybe go to Padre Island if I’m up for it. Chuey comes to my mom’s house when he knows she is out; she told me that not even his family puts up with him anymore. Chuey was always thin, but has lost weight and his eye sockets are really pronounced. He says he needs a little loan, but I rebuff him. He asks a second time, and I say “no.” He says thru clenched teeth that “You want me to fucking grovel or what? Suck you off?” He cough-laughs. I roll my eyes. He grabs the front of my shirt in a fist with his right hand and steps closer. “Come on man, let me suck you off.” My knuckles sting before I even realize I’ve punched him square in the nose. He’s dazed for a second, then he shakes his head and narrows his eyes. “Fuck you.” He leaves without closing the door behind him. We still end up going to Padre Island together the next day. I pay to rent a jetski on the inner bay and Chuey teaches me how to do a 180 jumping on my own wake.

Under the slide, Chuey’s nose is still running and his forearm is a mess of snot. I glance around the playground and nobody seems to be looking our way, so I stick out my arm. Chuey smiles, and then he wipes his nose on the sleeve of my hoodie. We both laugh. I say “gross” and he says “tell me about it.” Then, the bell rings. We go line up with everybody else on the blacktop near the basketball hoop. I assume and fear that everybody saw us and fret that people are going to notice my dirty sleeve, but then I realize: nobody saw us. Back in class, Chuey grabs a Kleenex box near the door and smiles at me.

Header photograph © Christopher Nielsen.

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