Deliver Me: A Pocho’s Accidental Guide to College, Love, and Pizza Delivery

In Issue 57 by Tomas Baiza

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Photo by Cameron Venti on Unsplash
Synopsis

Set in the early 1990s, Deliver Me tells the story of Daniel Joaquín Corriente, a college senior who unexpectedly finds himself at the intersection of seemingly incompatible identities (Mexican/Chicano/Anglo, straight/queer, thug/intellectual). As his college career winds down and '"adult life" looms, Daniel staggers into his future with the help of a variety of characters including a past therapist, professors with conflicting interests, a racist boss, a persistent junkie, a former love, and an old woman obsessed with Daniel's character flaws and the green pepper pizzas he delivers to her. Along the way, Daniel gains insight into his own privileges and responsibilities even as he struggles with the hurdles he must clear to move forward. Daniel must ultimately determine which path to his authentic self he will take: the safer path towards stability and respectability, or a riskier journey that promises only uncertainty.

Escape

Giangrande getting on me for my lack of ambition still stings. Even here, with what I am about to do, I can’t completely pry it out of my head.

The weather is uncommonly pleasant for mid-November. Crissy Field is bustling with people playing frisbee, walking their dogs, enjoying picnics in their sweaters, some even wading into the cold water of San Francisco Bay with their pant legs rolled up. Lara and I walk arm in arm, sipping the coffees we got at Ghirardelli Square. Behind us, seagulls flock over Alcatraz Island.

Lara huddles close to me as we pass over Fort Point and onto the Golden Gate. The wind swirls up here, and you can’t tell which direction it’s coming from, the Pacific side or the Bay. Every now and then, the massive cables that hold us aloft hum and pop, the pavement shifting almost imperceptibly beneath our feet. Not enough to make you stumble, but to where you’re reminded that the “ground” you think you’re walking on is actually a thin ribbon of reality suspended in the inconceivable. I’m not afraid of heights, but the farther out we go, the more obvious it is to me that walking on the Golden Gate Bridge is an exercise in denial.

This is only my second time on the bridge. The first was when I had just turned sixteen, and I took it upon myself to drive to Santa Rosa to see Bill for the first time since the ear-piercing incident. I had an address from an envelope in which he had sent my mother the third of exactly three child-support checks he ever bothered to write. What the hell? I thought. I’ll drive to bumfuck Egypt and see if I can’t find my old man.

To this day, I’m not sure if I did it because I missed my father or to pick a fight. I guess it’s possible for both to be true.

That day, the south end of the bridge glowed a bright vermilion in the morning sun. But, halfway across the span, my mom’s sputtering Ford Pinto and I disappeared into a wall of cottony fog pushing in from the Pacific. In the mist, I lost my nerve. I turned around at the vista point on the north end and never came back until today.

“Dani, you are a million miles away,” Lara says.

I kiss the top of her head and look north. Today the entire bridge is clear from Fort Point to the Marin Headlands.

“I was just remembering the first time I was here,” I tell her. “Pretty different now.”

“Was it with some other girl? The one whose happiness you destroyed for me?” Lara laughs. She knows there was no one else when we met.

“That’s right,” I say. “I brought her out here. Figured if I was going to ruin her life, I at least owed her the perfect backdrop.”

“Did this poor girl cry, Dani? Did she weep bitter tears when you did it?” Lara tries to stifle her giggling.

I place my palm on the small of her back. “Yup, all the way down until she hit the water,” I say as I give Lara a nudge toward the railing.

“Aaaah! You ass!” Lara jumps away from the edge and hits me in the ribs. Her laugh is contagious and pretty soon we’re both cracking up. We start again toward the middle of the span, holding hands and huddling close against the gusts that toss Lara’s blonde hair wildly about her face.

“How many times have you had your nose broken?” she says.

“What?”

She reaches up and gently taps the bridge of my nose. “Right there, it’s raised and displaced slightly. I bet you have a deviated septum, too.”

“What are you, a doctor?” I laugh.

“Bet you didn’t know that we learn a lot about the bone and muscular structure of the face in cosmetology school,” she says. “I’ve wondered for a long time how your nose got broken. Was it an accident or something?”

Farther out on the span, the water below takes on a dream-like quality, its features hazed slightly by the subtle layers of mist that pass between the bridge and the surface. Across the Bay, the small waves catch rays of sun and throw them back at us, sparking like perfect diamonds. One particular flash reaches my eyes and I hear the cracking sound and see the blinding white flash in my brain when my face hit the floor in Bill’s apartment, years ago.

“Dani?”

“I fell when I was a kid,” I say, trying to sound casual. “It wasn’t a big deal.” I tell myself it’s okay to lie at a moment like this, considering what I’m about to do.

Lara smiles, kisses her finger and touches the side of my nose again. “It’s alright,” she says. “I actually like it. It makes you look kind of Mediterranean.”

“Interesting,” I say.

She laughs and now her fingers are sliding tenderly over the bite scar on my wrist. “And this!” she says, holding up my right hand. “How in the world did this happen?”

“It’s really not important.”

“Oh, hell no,” Lara says playfully. “I think it’s time I knew more about this. There’s a story here.”

I close my eyes and let her lead me farther out toward the middle of the bridge. I tell myself that the illusion of safety, stability, and permanence beneath our feet is necessary to keep everything from falling apart.

“A girl,” I say, congratulating myself that it’s not a lie.

“I knew it!” She holds my wrist up to her face, her eyes a little wild. “Dani Corriente and girl-drama. I never see that side of you. Sounds really messed up. Details, please.”

“It wasn’t like that. It was more like a disagreement,” I say. “We were driving. Alcohol was involved.”

“Wow,” Lara says, her voice tinged with awe. “Some tough chick sank her teeth into you. I’d love to meet this girl. Do you still know her?”

A sudden blast of wind hits us and we have to steady ourselves. I shake my head no. “It was a long time ago, in high school. Don’t worry,” I say, “you’re the only female in my life now.”

Lara loops her arm in mine and pulls me close. “I can think of another who looms pretty large with you.”

I frown for a second and then roll my eyes. “Do you mean my mother?”

“Uh-huh,” she says. “Talk about tough. I would probably admire her if she bothered to try and like me.”

“She doesn’t handle change well, that’s all.”

Lara’s hair swirls upward in the wind. “Change!” she says, smiling. “Your mom knows her little boy is a man, right? All grown up with an adult-sized dick and a girlfriend who knows how to use it.”

“Stop!” I say, laughing so hard I have to bend over. “You are so gross. Never in my life have my mother and my cock come up in the same conversation.”

Lara is smiling, but the look in her eye is sharp and focused. “I’m kind of not joking, Dani. This is about what you get to do with your life.”

The laughs catch in my throat and I just stare at her. “What do you mean?”

“She can’t let you go,” Lara says. “I don’t love saying it, but the fact is that I’m the one who’s going to take that strong woman’s baby away from her.”

We start walking again. “Damn, you don’t play, do you?”

“No,” she says, gazing out over the water, toward Alcatraz. “I do not.”

The island prison is to our right, almost exactly three miles due East. The myths of its inescapability are legion: the Bay’s currents are impossible to swim; the waters are too cold to survive; the sharks will get you before the hypothermia. Every school child in the Bay Area learns that no one ever escaped from Alcatraz.

But library stacks have been my babysitter since I could read, and I know from my after-school, latchkey kid wanderings that it’s not true.

In 1962, three mean-looking white dudes did the impossible. Frank Morris, and the brothers, Clarence and John Anglin, made papier-mâché likenesses of themselves to fool the guards at bed check, snuck through an abandoned corridor, shimmied down fifty feet of vent pipe, jumped two barbed wire fences, and set sail for freedom on a jerry-rigged raft that they inflated using a fucking accordion. The raft was eventually found, but they disappeared without a trace.

Among the few who know anything about this feat, the debate still rages. Some say the currents that time of year would have made it impossible for the trio to reach the shore. Others claim that there was a massive increase in great white shark sightings that June, thus dooming the inmates’ chances of survival when their raft inevitably sank. The most sensible just point out the obvious: Three desperate prisoners, out of shape, lightly dressed, navigating open water at night, simply drowned.

I stop and lean against the railing. The wind gusts into my face and my eyes water as I gaze out at the prison. My hand brushes the felt box in my jacket pocket.

They probably died, I think. But I can’t help but hope that one of them didn’t, that the wretch managed to escape the future that had been imposed on him—that many would argue that he’d chosen for himself—and started a different life. Maybe right now, an ancient gringo, sunburnt and half lucid, is sitting in a bar in a fishing village in Baja California, drinking mezcal and laughing about how he pulled himself from the waves so long ago and ran into the night, purged and reborn into a new existence better than the last.

“One of you bastards made it,” I mumble.

“Huh?” Lara says, huddling next to me against the wind.

I look into her eyes. “Sometimes you scare the living crap out of me.”

Lara winks and my heart skips a beat. “A little fear is good. Keeps you on your toes.”

I drape my arm over her shoulders, and together we lean against the railing and listen to the gulls and low groans of the suspension cables that keep the massive bridge from plunging into the Bay, two hundred and fifty feet below.

I don’t realize I’m crying until the cold wind chills the tears on my face.

“Dani,” Lara says, “what’s wrong?”

I look down at her, at the two perfect, wheat-colored brows that frame her deep blue eyes, her crown of blonde hair quivering in the wind. There might be no woman on earth less like my mother than her.

In my jacket pocket, I fumble for the felt box that Reza thought would make the best impression. I turn Lara to face me and get down on one knee.

“Oh my God,” Lara gasps.

Passing cars begin to honk as I open the box. The diamonds might as well have lights inside them.

“Lara, would you marry me?”

About the Author

Tomas Baiza

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Tomas Baiza is originally from San José, California, and now lives in Boise, Idaho, where he studies Creative Writing and serves as a staff editor for The Idaho Review. He is a Pushcart-nominated writer whose fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in various print and online journals. Tomas's first novel, Deliver Me: A Pocho's Accidental Guide to College, Love, and Pizza Delivery, and his short-fiction collection, A Purpose To Our Savagery: Stories and Poems, are forthcoming on Running Wild/RIZE Press.