I haven’t written here much since that murder on the beach, an assassination of a young life guard, that I wrote about several months ago. The “holidays”, that special time of joy and wonderment that I find increasingly depressing as years roll by, robbed me of some inspiration, but more than that, I’m trying to get my head around some of the changes here that seem to flow from that horrific incident. Has this place changed or have I changed, and does it make any difference? As the man said, better to see a single place through a thousand pairs of eyes than to see a thousand places through a single pair of eyes.
The most immediate fall-out from the murder of Mar Tejeda back at the beginning of October is, of course, that he’s not still around. The flowery shrine to him that was set up on the beach the day after the murder stuck around for several weeks. It was odd to watch the beach crowd come and go, passing by the tribute, paying scant attention, as they made their way to and from the shore, but I suppose if we were to stop and contemplate each and every roadside cross we see, surrounded by those plastic flowers, we’d never get to where we’re going. Someone died here, I always think when I see one of those memorials, somebody’s son or father or wife, but the moment is never really poignant.
A few days after the her husband’s death, I took a casserole to the young widow. On the way over I got choked up and had to pace the street for a minute to compose myself. It felt indulgent. I didn’t really know the guy and had never met his wife. I handed the dish off to her sister and beat it back to my apartment.
But there was other fallout as well. Alberto, the personable young security guard at my building was one of two eye witnesses to the assasin as he was escaping up the street from the beach. The building management people were none too happy with Alberto because they thought his involvement might put the residents here at risk. Better, I suppose, to have closed his eyes or turned his back, but he didn’t and was now taking shit from his bosses for even getting involved. He had told me that he’d gone to school with the victim, that they had grown up together. Additionally, Alberto was expected to identify the suspect, who was caught in Tijuana the day after the murder. “Frente a frente”, he described it, face-to-face. Isn’t there some kind of barrier between you and the killer, I asked, 2-way glass, or something? No, he insisted. Isn’t that dangerous, I asked. Yes, he replied. After a few days, Alberto was becoming unhinged, staying out drinking with his friends all night, showing up for work with only an hour or two of sleep, eyes red and swollen, fighting off the flu.
The other witness that I know of was Ismael, a guy who lived up on the next corner, one of the deported men here whom I’ve written about before. I had even made a You Tube video about Ismael. For months he had talked about opening a little taco stand on the corner and when it finally came together, I was there with my video camera, his first customer and chronicler. “You will see” he told me last summer, “I am going to make something of myself.” as if impressing me was somehow important.
The morning of the murder Ismael seemed a bit sanguine about the whole thing. “Life goes on.” he said, but I think that was before the cops got to him. Within a week or so Ismael was a cat on a hot tin roof, flitting around in front of his small apartment and not opening his taco stand for days at at time . When I would encounter him on the street, his attitude veered from obsequity to mild belligerence. Once I walked passed him while he was talking to a friend on the corner and he said to my back “I’m not good enough for you to shake my hand now?” Ismael, like Alberto, was becoming unhinged. One time he disappeared for a few days and I thought he was gone for good, but his friends on the corner told me he was in Mexicali on some errand. When he returned he was more nervous than ever, chasing after me on the street, trying to sell me things I didn’t want. He said he had a chance to cross back into the U.S., that a construction opportunity had opened up in Georgia, but that he needed money for his escape. I slipped him 200 pesos and never saw him again.
Today as I write, and for the past several weeks, private security men are a constant presence in and around my building. At first, it was a few guys in leather jackets loitering in the parking lot , pacing around, chatting among themselves. But that apparently made the residents nervous so lately it’s been off-duty Rosarito cops stationed across the street from the gate. I’m worried that it has something to do with Alberto and the murder, but he insists that it has nothing to do with him. Word has it that a resident here is paranoid that he or his young wife is a potential kidnap victim and has hired private security to watch the building. In fact just yesterday I did see a young well-dressed man bound down the steps to the parking lot, hop into a SUV and head out through the gate, a lead vehicle in front, another behind.
I don’t remember so many Santa Ana’s this late in the year before, or this intense near the coast, but for the past month the wind has howled every other night and the atmosphere has been depleted of feel-good negative ions. I’ve felt ungrounded, my thoughts careening about in my head but never alighting anywhere. The other day there was an earthquake down here near kilometer 88, between La Mision and Ensenada, that collapsed several several hundred feet of the so-called “Scenic Highway”. Mercifully there was only one motorist on that section of road that dropped 60 feet in an instant, a truck driver who survived the plunge. They say that with the detour of trucks over to the “free road” for the next several months, fishermen in Ensenada and farmers in San Quintin will suffer. I did not feel the quake.
A couple weeks ago, Alberto sought me out in the parking garage. He was more desperate than I’d seen him, and the Spanish was coming so fast that I didn’t exactly know what he was so agitated about. But after a while I realized that his recent carousing had gotten him kicked out of the house. After all, he had 3 young children. He had recently met a new girl and was torn about what to do. But the language barrier was too great and at the time all I could muster was a sympathetic smile and a “Buen suerte”. I felt shitty.
But today Alberto is back at home, back with his wife and kids, and seems way more relaxed. Todo es tranquilo, he says. The sadness and confusion seem to have passed. The other day I warned him “No es posible andar dos caballos con uno culo.” It was the first time I’d seen him laugh in weeks. Tomorrow we’re meeting at the public gymnasium and we’re going to shoot some hoops for an hour or two. I think both of us could use the break.