For B—the boy you once were. The man you never got a chance to be. I wish you could have been saved.
When I wrote those words at the beginning of my new release, Buried, they were about someone I once knew, someone I had neither seen nor heard about in decades. He was the seed for the character of my hero, Juan, and the inspiration for a story with a gang banger as a hero.
But sometimes, fact and fiction intersect when we least expect it.
I grew up in Albuquerque, NM, an very Latino community, in the middle of a poor border state. Illegal immigrants are common there, and because of that the cost of domestic labor is very inexpensive. Everyone I knew growing up had a Mexican cleaning lady.
We had Yolanda.
Yolanda had made it across the border illegally with her husband and three children. Eventually they all became citizens during one of the Federal amnesty periods, and Yolanda was very proud of her new citizenship.
All of Yolanda’s kids were younger than me by a few years, but close enough in age that I knew them and spent time with them when they were at my house while their mom worked. I saw Yolanda’s children grow up over many years. I saw the oldest—a daughter—succeed in school, become a police officer, get married, have children. I saw her youngest—a son—be the baby of the family, eventually getting a steady job, but never really leaving home.
Then there was B.
B was Yolanda’s middle child, her oldest son, and the greatest sorrow in her life for many years. By the time he was in middle school B was stealing jewelry from my mother’s bedroom. He got into drugs, fights, and a gang. His misdemeanors turned into felonies, and by the time he was in his early twenties he was in and out of jail on a regular basis, finally ending up in prison in California for many years.
Even though B was five years younger than me, I always noticed him. He was a good-looking kid, and a smart one. His anger and rebelliousness were mixed with something more, something deeper that you could sense when you talked to him, and see in his eyes. He had a charisma that couldn’t be disguised by his gangster exterior, and had he lived in a different place or time, or just seen different choices, he could have been something so much better than what he became.
Though Yolanda still works for my parents, I didn’t hear anything about B for many years. He was a constant source of sadness for his mother, and not something she chose to talk about often. Then, last week, two days after Buried was released I opened up an email from my mother.
Yolanda’s son B died Monday, the message read. He was forty-two years old.
Here is the story of what became of B. He was released from prison in California four years ago, and moved to Guadalajara where his mother’s family still lives. He worked in Guadalajara as a tattoo artist. Always living on the edge, he drove a motorcycle, and the night in question he was driving it after drinking. He was involved in a tragic accident that took his life and the leg of his female passenger. Yolanda’s sister in Guadalajara arranged his funeral and Yolanda was very proud that over 600 mourners attended. That charisma B always had never did dissolve, not even after years in prison, the gang life, the drug life, the hardest life.
It pains my heart to know that the man who was the model for my hero died on the very day the book released. But it pains me more to remember B—what he could have been, what he gave up, what he suffered and made those around him suffer. I wrote Juan so that I could give B a different ending. I’ll always wish someone could have given him a different one in real life.
The intersection between fact and fiction can be very significant indeed.