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Losing my will to live, and loving Booda

DAVID SILVA

The second of two parts.

I had never noticed before how big a role loud noises played on

Christmas Day. The tearing of wrapping paper, the squeals of

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laughter, the wailing when toys broke beneath our clumsy fingers. For

as long as I could remember, Christmas was a riot of guffaws and

shrieks and honking horns, like a barge full of circus clowns going

over a waterfall.

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Then came the day I was forced to spend Christmas with an 80-

year-old Puerto Rican woman named Booda. And suddenly Christmas was

about numbing silence -- a raft full of mimes adrift on a still lake.

I sat on the far end of an antique couch, pretending not to notice

as Booda gazed contentedly at me from her upholstered rocking chair.

I had been pretending not to notice her quiet stare for about two

hours now, ever since we had finished our breakfast of unsweetened

farina.

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I kept thinking she was preparing to say something, was thinking

up some question to begin a conversation. The whole reason for my

being here, after all, was so the recently widowed woman would have

someone to talk to at Christmas. But eventually it became clear to me

that Booda was content just to stare at me, the way one might

soundlessly meditate on a beloved goldfish or Chia pet.

And just as I thought I would lose my will to live, Booda finally

said something.

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“So. Dahvee. What do you do to have fun? Do you like to play

baseball, or go fishing with your Popi?”

A day earlier, I wouldn’t have understood a word of Booda’s

thickly accented English. But I had quickly caught on to the way her

tongue liked to change vowels to consonants and soft consonants to

hard consonants, and my ears decoded accordingly.

“Um, no, I don’t play sports, really,” I replied, my voice

scratchy from disuse. “Dad takes us fishing sometimes, but I don’t

really like it ‘cause I never catch anything.”

“Huh. So what do you like to do?”

“Well, I’ll tell you, Booda. What I really love to do is collect

comic books. I just love ‘em. I’ve got 500 of ‘em at home.”

“Cah ... meek?” Booda apparently had never heard of a comic book,

and the idea of educating her on the subject suddenly sparked my

interest.

“Yeah! They’re like cartoons, except on paper. My favorite’s

Spiderman! He’s this ordinary guy who got bitten by this radioactive

spider, and he can climb walls and swing from buildings and he’s got

superhu ...”

“Zzzzzz ...”

I stopped chattering. Booda had drifted off to sleep, her head

resting comfortably against the side of her chair.

I sighed, suddenly feeling highly annoyed. Why had my mother made

me come here? She could have sent our dog King and the conversation

would have been as stimulating.

I stood up and walked around Booda’s apartment, a very short trip

in the tiny one-bedroom. I stared at the paintings on the walls. Most

were of the pope and the saints and Jesus, including one in which

Jesus’ eyes opened and closed as you looked at it from different

angles. I leaned this way and that for about 10 minutes, watching

Jesus wink and wink. Finally I grew bored with that and went into

Booda’s bedroom, where I immediately spotted an old phone beside her

bed. A phone!

“Hello?” My brother Michael answered.

“Mickey,” I whispered desperately. “Mickey! It’s Davey!”

“Davey?” Michael asked with feigned incredulity. “Who is this? I

had a brother named Davey once. But Mom made him go live with an old

woman ‘cause he was such a rotten kid.”

“Cut it out, Mickey! You ... you gotta get me out of this, man!

I’m dying over here! Go tell Mom you heard a tidal wave was about to

hit Long Beach so she’ll come ...”

“Look, I don’t know who this is. I have to go now and play with

all my new toys. And Davey’s toys, too, since he’s never coming home

anyway. Goodbyeee!”

“MICKEY!” I shouted. But he had hung up.

“Dahvee!” Booda’s voice called from the next room. “Dahvee! What’s

wrong? Why are you shouting?”

I slouched back into to the room.

“Nothing, Booda,” I said and slumped onto the couch.

Booda sat and watched me in silence. I glanced up at the ceiling

and around the room, feeling her eyes burn in to the side of my head.

Here we go again, I thought. Doesn’t she ever get tired of looking at

me?

I turned and looked at her angrily. I’ll just stare back and see

how she likes it, I fumed. But Booda just gazed back at me, a

softness in her eyes.

“You remind me of your father when he was your age,” she said.

I blinked. I had heard that Booda knew my family for a long time,

but I had no idea it went all the way back to Puerto Rico.

“Oh, yes,” she smiled. “He was so much like you now. He could

never sit still, hated to sit still. And he always up to something,

that boy! He and his friends would steal sugar cane from the stores

and sell it on the street corner. They made such a nuisance the

owners would hire men with guns to keep them away! But he was a good

boy. He just needed something to do.”

“I remind you of my dad?” I asked. No one had ever said that

before. In fact, no one had ever told me anything about my father’s

childhood. As far as I knew, Dad’s life hadn’t begun until he met my

mother at a pizza parlor when they were both in their 20s.

“He was so like you,” Booda said. Then her body suddenly shook

with laughter. “I remember once, when he was just about your age, he

made a bet with his friends that he could climb down a high cliff

near Ponce, on the other side of the island. He made it halfway down

before he became stuck. He couldn’t go up or down, and was trapped

there on a little rock for hours. Finally they had to bring in the

Americans to rescue him. It made all the papers, and for a while your

father was famous.”

I flashed on the face of my father not long ago, angrily

describing what would happen to me if he ever caught me climbing

another tree.

“What else did he do, Booda?” I asked, eyes wide.

“Ay, Dahvee, wait here for me to make some cafe. I’ll tell you all

I know.”

Two hours later, a knock sounded at the door. I opened it, and

there was my mother. She smiled at me guiltily.

“We’re going home, mijo,” she said. “Booda, would you mind if we

brought Davey home a little early? We wanted to open presents with

him.”

A fallen expression crossed Booda’s face, then vanished beneath a

forced smile. “No, of course, Dolores, he should be with you now,”

she said. “Such a good boy you have.”

Booda hugged me close. “Such a good boy!”

“Goodbye, Booda,” I said, kissing her cheek.

Mom walked me out to the car, where my dad waited. I smiled widely

at the sight of him. Then I looked at my mother, and the smile

vanished.

“What’s wrong, mijo?” she asked. “Don’t be mad at me. Wait until

you see all the presents Santa brought you!”

“Why did you have to come now?” I shouted. “You said I could stay

here all day!”

My mother stared at me. “What?” she asked, not believing her ears.

But I had already turned and stormed off toward the car. “I never

get to do anything!”

* DAVID SILVA is a Burbank resident and Times Community News

editor. Reach him at 484-7019, or by e-mail at

david.silva@latimes.com.


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