Translated from the Spanish by HEATHER HOUDE
It’s the last day of school, and I get home with butterflies in my stomach. My mouth already tastes like summer, like heat outside and air conditioning inside, like the darkness of my cave, like cloister and crypt. I turn on the television and change the channel, change the channel, one to the next, discovering the lineup for the beginning of the end of the week, the beginning of my three-month rest, the beginning of a new wave of televised hunger, the same that ensues from another year of school.
I’m used to having my mom home every day, holed up with her romance novels, because she doesn’t have any autistic kids to aid in school. I’m used to my grandfather at his desk, or in the armchair in front of the television, or in the living room glued to the computer for hours on end playing online poker––he’s the youngest-looking old man I know. I’m used to my grandma telling me to shut the air off at ten o’clock every morning, yelling at me to make my bed, or pick up my dishes, or put away the clothes on the floor, picking a fight with me because all I do is watch television, play Wii, look for ungodly things on the internet, which I take care to do at four in the morning without her knowing, when everyone is asleep except for me, with my left hand on my dick, my right on the mouse, and the cockroaches on the walls murmuring.
I get up every day at eight in the morning, seven days a week, to glue myself to Lifetime to watch The Golden Girls, followed by two episodes of Frasier, followed by two hours of The Nanny, followed by two episodes of The Golden Girls, followed by two episodes of Desperate Housewives, followed by two hours of Grey’s Anatomy. The daily hypnotic spiral: the same lineup, the same lines, and the same episodes since I discovered channel 42 (now channel 25) in the fourth grade and found the perfect method for polishing my English thanks to the closed captions, so as to perfect my sarcasm and await the chuckles from the audience, so as to learn to be a destructive-rebel-anarchist teen who cries too much and who locks himself in the bathroom at seven o’clock every night to spew his filth before fading into the steam of the shower.
Then come the slew of languid hours when the afternoon sun blares down, and the grackles start screaming their mating calls, and I melt into my bed with the fan blowing on my face, with my grandma writing down recipes from the Food Network, with my grandpa playing solitaire on the computer, and my mom getting home from the movie theater exhausted (I didn’t want to go with her, didn’t want to get out of bed, didn’t want to brush my teeth) to lock herself in her room to pick up where she left off with some romance novel. I imagine myself surrounded by Brazilian dicks and Black dicks and the Sean Cody models fucking barebacked with little beads of sweat sliding down the hair of their orifices like pearls.
I can’t get on the computer right now, can’t relieve myself—there are too many witnesses. My hand tightens around the remote control, and I listen for changes in my periphery, flicking randomly, channels in English—Spanish—English—English—English—Spanish—English—English—Spanish—Uruguayan-Spanish—Spanish-Spanish—Argentine-Spanish—British-English, and I land on the History Channel and fall into a new documentary, The Universe, and like that I discover the universe, the planet, the Caribbean, the island, San Juan, my bedroom, through the static of the television and the waves bouncing off the four cracked cement walls.
Night comes and I enter Prime-Time territory: Family Guy, American Dad, The Simpsons, South Park, Robot Chicken, Whose Line Is It Anyway?, The Golden Girls, UFC (if it’s Tuesday or Thursday or Friday), and I jerk off to the wrestlers throwing each other to the ground, tangled in embrace, in front of a bloodthirsty crowd. I land on Disney, horror of horrors. What the fuck am I doing still watching this channel? Instantly blocking out all memory of Lizzie McGuire and Raven-Symoné and Kim Possible—I don’t have time for such childishness tonight—the hour has come to take advantage of the tropical silence, of the deep air-conditioned slumber, and I sneak into the living room to hold my shirt between my teeth, drenching it with saliva, to ensure a single drop of cum doesn’t dirty it, so that all of those shining pearls of white land on my stomach, and I feel on my skin the clammy yearning of an adolescent in heat. I’ve never been caught at this hour: I erase the stains, I erase the history, erase every trace of my pubescent must. I heat up some Tyson nuggets in the toaster oven, turn on the television, and it’s still Toonami at four, five, six in the morning, and the static from the television fills the space between my thoughts.
Another Saturday, another Sunday, another Monday night of emptying the freezer and filling my mind with Japanese translated into butchered English, for a Caribbean audience that pays an exorbitant amount for the few channels that come through. No one from school calls to invite me over, and anyway, why would I want to go? If I go out I miss the new Lifetime movie, or the new Comedy Central roast, or the new debut on FX, or whatever new gay show Bravo is premiering. Next summer I’ll get a job. Next month I’ll do my summer reading. Next week I’ll crawl out of my hole. Tomorrow I’ll wash out the stains.
In the summer I acclimate to the condensed humidity in my bones, to the vapor dripping down the walls, the dirty walls of my dirty room, of my mirror covered with the remains of exploded pimples, and the drops of semen that explode out of my reach. Days pass, weeks pass, but the television is eternal, the shows stay the same, the Fourth of July passes, and the barrage of familial visits to Puerto Rico come to pass: My aunt from Denver comes with her husband and my four-year-old cousin to stay in Isla Verde, then my uncle comes from Orlando with my two cousins to stay with my aunt in Isla Verde, then my uncle comes from his apartment in Chelsea to take pictures of the façade of a family that makes the effort to get together even if it’s just once per year, pictures of the daughters that call every Sunday and the sons that call once per week, if that. I bought myself Zelda: Twilight Princess last week and now spend my hours trying to beat the goddamned game, which expands and becomes infinite, infinite pastures that open wider, and wider, and wider, and new worlds, and new dimensions that I can’t control; I can’t control; I can’t pull myself away from the television; I don’t want to go to the beach, I don’t want any barbecue, I don’t want to hand you the remote control, I don’t want to be disturbed ever, by anyone. Fuck, why don’t my cousins go play beach volleyball or something? They’re always nagging at me, and I’m so close to beating this level, soon I’ll be battling Ganondorf and I’m going to fuck him up, I’m going to fuck him up, Link is going to fuck him up with his blond hair and wild eyes, blue eyes like I like them, eyes the color of cobalt burning on the grill… but in comes Ian and unplugs my Wii before I have a chance to hit save. I yell at my four-year-old cousin because he interrupts my most recent mission in this life. The nerve of this kid. I scream, kick, throw the remote control, and I cover my face with a pillow to scream some more and to sink into it with my teeth. My aunt comes into the room because she hears Ian crying and she starts yelling at me, tells me to go fuck off once and for all, you disrespectful self-centered little shit, and when she leaves the next day I can’t muster the will to say goodbye.
Back to my routine: Lifetime, food, Cartoon Network, porn, food, bed. Day after day, summer after summer, the only precious months of rest I get from this life, the life of a kid who cries too much because his parents don’t understand him, who starting in the fourth grade got left alone in his room that did not have a door but did have a television to watch during the day. Now the summer is ending and I feel like it never happened, like the days changed from one to another like flicking channels, one after another, praying the commercial break is brief. Tomorrow I start the eleventh grade, and I refuse to sleep, I refuse. I want to watch television until the sun comes up because I refuse to believe the summer is over… I have done practically nothing except watch television, and school is here again to interrupt my earthly pleasure, back to straight A’s so I can earn the right to lay around for three more months. I won’t be able to see what happens to Andrew on Desperate Housewives, the fag whose mom abandoned him in a gas station while she wept and watched him get smaller and smaller in her rearview mirror—even though I’ve already watched all the seasons like three times, even though I already know the lines by heart, even though I practice the scenes in front of the bathroom mirror; I still yearn for that bowl of cereal, of Zucaritas with chocolate milk in my bed at three in the afternoon with the fan on high, I still tear up at the thought of it, at the depth of emotion it stirs in me.
Gabriel Carle completed a BA in creative writing at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras, and an MFA in creative writing in Spanish at NYU. Their creative and academic research interests center on issues of Queerness, Indigeneity, race, and migration in Caribbean expressive cultures and activism. They have won literary prizes at UPR, Río Piedras, and the University of Houston. In 2018, they published their first short story collection, Mala leche. They are currently pursuing a PhD in Spanish and Portuguese languages and literatures at NYU.
Heather Houde is a Philadelphia-based interdisciplinary artist. Her writings and translations have appeared in A Gathering of the Tribes, Latin American Literature Today, and Southwest Review. She teaches English as a Second Language to adults and is lucky to share her love of reading, writing, and language every day.