By far the most handsome of all the Velasco boys, Jesse got drafted in ’68, was married just weeks to the prettiest girl in Flagstaff. She didn’t mind waiting and no, he didn’t die. Jesse returned with two purple hearts, everyone bragging, “That Jesse sure is something,” still the talk of the town when the truck hit his car head-on.
But Jesse didn’t die. God or some angel or plain dumb chance protected him. Just like the war when no bullet or shrapnel could stop him, though now Jesse’s head hurt real bad and he couldn’t remember how many months he’d been sleeping or how long since his wife stopped coming to visit. Jesse just lay in that hospital bed staring at the door when his mother decided, “It’s been long enough,” and brought him back to the house where he was born. Taught Jesse to hold a fork again, the smell of pozole and steaming tamales slowly awakening his memory of home.
Jesse even got well enough to go outdoors. “A miracle,” everyone whispered. He still got admiring glances except when his right eye would wander away, see something behind him as if returning to the crash site. But before long Jesse’s condition was just more old news, most folks getting restless, even irritated, when he’d forget what he was saying. The simplest words never finding their way out, syllables deserting him, jumping right off their bright neuron tracks into a throaty darkness. There wasn’t enough time to feel sorry anymore, and kids too young to know Jesse’s story got nervous when he’d chuckle without warning, like he was in on a secret he wasn’t going to tell.
Almost fifty now, hardly anyone sees Jesse as he sits with his mom in front of their 60-inch T.V., staying up until 3 AM. He’s all but forgotten except for the neighbors who watch Jesse circle the block at least twice a day, cracking up at some punch line only he can hear then knocking on his front door. Waiting to be let back inside.
—from Rattle #20, Winter 2003