When This Man Was Well: Bobby

Detail, painting at Ranchos Plaza Grill

Detail, painting at Ranchos Plaza Grill

Even before Henry and I met him that afternoon we walked to the Salvadoran restaurant on Bridge, we knew him as the guy who lives in the Tough Shed at the tip of his family’s last triangle of divided and subdivided land. He’s usually outside in a pair of flip flops, track pants, and a loose tank top that that hangs on him more like pajamas than workout wear. He sweeps the porch, stands over some neighborhood vato who sits on a lawn chair with a towel around his shoulders to catch the hair Bobby fades with an electric razor. He holds court with a cigarette from one of the fallen cottonwood trunks that separates his house from traffic of Goff.

He knows everyone. Lisa, the borracha who, until she was unfortunate enough to seek overnight shelter in APD’s bait car, used to walk up and down Goff and Five Points without ever swaying her hips or relaxing her shoulders. She and her man passed Bobby’s house on foot at least once a day in each direction, and they were always fighting. Their voices were sand and gravel, the voices of people who were thirsty and would never get enough to drink. (Lisa got hit once before and spent her recovery with a cast up to her knee. For weeks after, the man wheeled her around in the back of a KMart shopping cart, her crutch sticking up like a flag marking their journey between Casa Liquors and a backyard shed off of Five Points where they slept most nights.)

He knows Fred, our next door neighbor, who works construction, has a port-a-potty in his backyard, and once gave us an ofrenda to San Martin de Porres that belonged to his grandmother. “He could walk through walls,” Fred told us as he arranged the santo’s glass case, the size of a jewelry box, on our table.

And like everyone in our neighborhood, Bobby knows Joe, which is how he ended up in our backyard, weeding beds of arugula, two springs ago. He washed salad mix, bundled beets and turnips for market. He’d show up early and rake our yard. The color of his cheeks changed from rust to honey. He wore jeans and tennis shoes. He was moving his body, sleeping, drinking water, eating greens and squash and eggplant he helped to grow. There’s an innocence about Bobby, a sense of awe and wonder at the kindness of people, the beauty of carrots and tomatoes. “A-laaa, I’ve never eaten so many vegetables.”

His fall is always preceded by the appearance of a shadowy guy calling for him from a white truck idling in front of our house. I expect to smell sulfur when the truck pulls away. The first time it happened, we didn’t see Bobby for three days. The white truck stayed parked by the cottonwood trunks. A red truck and green hatchback came and went. The red lipstick, tight jeans woman who spends afternoons swaying her hips from Eucaríz to Bridge and disappearing into men’s cars, hovered at his door.

And then one day, the truck and the woman were gone. Bobby was outside in flip flops, track pants, and a loose tank top. Henry and I stopped. As soon as we got out of the car, Bobby came to us. He wept. Henry held him. He smelled like unwashed hair, dirty dishes, stale Popov, and burnt metal. The lock on his door was busted. He needed twenty bucks. “They came for me.” I put a hand on that flat space between his shoulder blades. “I let you down. I can’t go back.”

“It’s okay,” Henry said. “Come to the house tomorrow. We’ll figure it out.”

He came. Joe fixed the lock. Bobby weeded beds of arugula. He washed salad mix, bundled beets and turnips for market. He’d show up early. The color of his cheeks changed. He brought his daughter and her boyfriend by to meet the crew and show her where he works. He took his nephew fishing, paid his dad back the money he owed him. He wore jeans and bought himself a pair of work boots. He was moving his body, sleeping, drinking water, eating greens and squash and eggplant he helped to grow.

They came for him. They always do.

Published in: on January 15, 2013 at 8:58 am  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. We’re all watching the gestation of a new book, “Life Around Eucariz.”

  2. love your writting Michelle.

  3. Thank you for shining a light into the lives of these familiar neighborhood faces.

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