Pedro Rivera was honestly more of an estranged name to us than a living person. I mean, we knew he existed. Our abuela had consistently warned us to steer clear from his vicinity—and not listening to abuela warranted una gran pela. And truth be told, after that one time my grandma beat me with a hose, a fucking water hose that we used to clean the patio, I took all of her pela threats far more serious than the Word of God. I still don’t know how her old ass was able to lift that thing. But listen, when my brother and I would play vitilla in front of the house, smacking with the palo de escoba the rounded top from the galones de agua, we knew Pedro was watching, or at least listening to us hit and run after the vitilla. We never really knew nor bothered to ask why his parents prohibited him from being kissed by the sun, especially in that scorching heat. I swear, our neighborhood was neighbors with the equator.
That summer, you know went by like every other summer. We played vitilla in front of the house in our bare feet on the dirt carreteras, went to the family parties with the bottles of Brugal that my brother would sneak into our rooms and we would drink with the adults too drunk to notice; and the domino games that resulted in our fathers laughing and joking, yelling capicúa, capicúa, as they hammered the dominos into the table louder than the African drummers forced on ships to the island. Lastly, the women of the family heard in the kitchen, sitting and gossiping about how hard it all is as they gestured with a broom in one hand and the cucharon in the other–letting out the conversations they weren’t allowed to have outside this all women audience; the morning arguments between my mom, step-dad and grandma about why was the coffee not yet set and the yelling—oh, the troublesome yelling that happened every single morning from my uncle Noel to his daughter, yelling “Wash the dishes, sweep the house, dust and wipe the windows,” holding her responsible for whatever mess she had nothing to do with.
Like, the girl was only nine.
Finally, I can’t leave it out— the gradual thoughts that would surface into my mind about Pedro Rivera. Where was he? Who was he? Why was he such an obscured figure? Why was snot-nose-snitch-on-everybody Miguel allowed to play with us but not Pedro?
There was only one person in my family I knew I could ask about Pedro Rivera, my uncle Eduardo, a voracious reader and studious man. Eduardo was what the family called un hombre intelectual, easy to approach with questions about anything, especially headaches-giving Algebra. Contrary to my uncle Noel, known for his large dark strong hands and broad knuckles, and the black belt around his waist that someway somehow in minutes he wrapped around his hands ready to whip that ass.
Well, what Eduardo revealed about Pedro Rivera is something that to this day I have nightmares about and maybe why I have been so reluctant in going back to the island. While I have kept this dark complexion that took so, so long to love, along with a tug of war of belonging both in America and the Dominican Republic, and the experiences on the island—such as the memories of the vitilla games, the running barefoot in the barrio getting small clamps of glass stuck to my feet, the coffee mornings and yelling by uncle Noel, and the evenings spent in the malecon with my cousins by the playa, what my uncle revealed is a story that I have never forgotten and don’t think I will ever forget. See, Pedro Rivera was sixteen years old when he demonstrated a sign of what we on the island link to Satana or el demonio. He demonstrated a sign of being pato. And yet, the thing is, no one can tell you what it was that he did. However, what they can tell you, that is the adults, is the consequence of his behavior, what he suffered and how he was punished. The way Pedro was punished for his satanic act was brutal, horrific, and maybe the reason I lie still awake with what I think he looks like is less because of what happened to him specifically but because of the people around me in the neighborhood, how I had been so oblivious of their capacity to take such grisly actions.
It was his mom who found him in el patio of a house of quien sabra with a broomstick shoved deep into his anus rupturing his rectum. He was found laid out on grassland where yellow chamomile grew wild, with a pool of blood growing behind him; the red flooding the greens and yellows. His pants and Batman tighty-whities at his Achilles and his face in the grass not only hiding his tears but hiding, hiding!
I swear sometimes I can visualize it: my dad, uncles and the other men in the barrio all huddled up together surrounding Pedro. Pedro crying his ass off, fearing for his life, unable to match the force of the muscles of the men, being held down and the palo de escoba that defined our childhood shoved into his anus. A verse from the bible following.
When tio Eduardo told me this he had a faint smile on his face and he concluded with, “Remember Pedro Rivera whenever you want to act como una maldita mujer!”