Because Jimmy Wore It
"Pop quiz," he said. He sat back on the living room sofa, the TV remote in one hand and a Budweiser in the other. He still had his work boots and pants on, and his hair lay flat against a small black fishnet.
"C'mon, ask me any question about Jimmy. I bet you my dick and balls I know the answer."
He would keep going like this until one of us -- either me, my older sister Gina, or anyone else who happened to be around -- answered him. Gary was Gina's husband and he loved Jim Morrison. Often, we were subjected to more Jim Morrison trivia than any of us cared for. It usually came from when he was drunk, which was every day. But really, it came from anything: an ad on TV, a car from the shop he worked on, the leather jacket he hung delicately in the hallway closet. His "secret jacket," I used to call it. Because he wore it only when he thought he was alone. The jacket, Gary claimed, was Jimmy's. Stolen right under the nose of a thrift store owner off of Santa Monica Boulevard back in 1977. Gary would always say how the store owner was "dumber than a donkey's dick." How he didn't even know it was Jimmy's jacket, but that Gary was smart enough to have recognized it from when he first saw The Doors at the Whisky A-Go-Go back in 1968. The jacket was all fine and good. I always wished it would end there, with the "secret jacket" hanging on a special wooden hanger. But it was only a decoration to the elaborate Jimmy obsession that Gary harbored for almost twenty years.
"Ana," he would say to me, "Ask me a question, chica. If I get it wrong I'll give you five bucks. But if I'm right, and you know I'm always right, you gotta rub my feet, on your knees."
"Gary, don't make her do that," my sister would say.
"Spshh -- shut up Gina, you ain't playin' today. Now Ana, pop quiz, chica."
"Okay," I'd say, my sigh of annoyance always invisible to him, "In what year did The Doors first play at the now historic Whisky A-Go-Go?"
"Oh dammit, girl! You ain't even tryin' to challenge me!"
He took a big sip of his beer and answered, "1967, you fucking losers! It was 1967 -- now rub my feet."
I knelt down and began to take his boots off. I had spent much of my sleepover time at my sister's rubbing Gary's feet, kneeling below him. I never knew if any of the answers to the questions were true. But I didn't know anything about The Doors or Jimmy or the 60s in general. I figured if he was crazy enough to steal some cheap-ass jacket from the thrift store, then he must know the answers to every question. And I would be his little foot slave for as long as he could milk it.
"Stop doing that to her, Gary. I'm serious."
"Hey, dumb-ass," he yelled back at my sister, "mind your own fucking business. And get me another beer."
His feet were long, and his toes always curled under my fingertips as I rubbed.
The Doors movie came out on a Friday night. Gary got off work two hours early so that he could be the first in line for the six o'clock show. My sister, myself, and my tiny niece and nephews piled into the cargo van Gary drove from the shop and headed to the movie theater.
"Gary, I don't think it's safe for me to hold Little Gary in my lap," Gina said. My youngest nephew was only eight months, his chubby body squirming against my sister in the front seat. The rest of us sat on the floor of the van, no seat belts, our asses hitting every bump and curve the van encountered.
"Gina, don't bother me with this shit right now! We're gonna be late."
Gary's van was a Jimmy shrine. Pictures of Jim Morrison in concert or in only a beaded necklace found themselves plastered against the interior of the van, while every song was a Doors song from the radio. Right now Jimmy was crooning out "Riders of the Storm." Every time it came to the part where Jimmy said, Gotta love your man, girl you gotta love your man; love him the best way that you can, gotta love your man, Gary would turn to Gina and say, "See -- you see that? Jimmy knew what he was fucking talking about right there. That's some deep, true shit right there, Gina. You could learn a few things from this song."
But this time, Jimmy was just the soundtrack to their arguing.
"Gary, what if a cop pulls us over?"
"Dammit, Gina! We're almost there! Just shut up about the god damn car seat!"
"Gary, we could get arrested."
"I said shut up about it!"
And that's when he smacked my sister across the mouth. He used the back of his hand, and the blow was so quick it barely missed the baby in my sister's lap. I sat with my niece, Justine, and nephew, Jonathan, in the back of the van. They huddled against me, like usual, and kept quiet. Little Gary was crying, and I couldn't tell if it was from the yelling, my sister's bloody lip, or Jimmy coming out of the loud radio. My sister sat still, put her hand to her mouth, and fell back into the front seat, her legs bouncing to try and calm the baby.
"You get it now, Gina! You see why I always have to do this shit to you? You just never know when to shut up! Now you're bleeding, and we're gonna be late to see Jimmy!"
We continued down the 405 freeway, approaching the exit to the movie theater. My niece began sucking her thumb while my other nephew curled into my chest, my arms around them both. I stared straight ahead.
"Now we're almost there and when we get there, you better stop bleeding. You fuckin' hear me, Gina? Take care of your shit! You're not gonna ruin this day for me."
We exited the freeway and turned into the parking lot of the shopping mall where my mother bought me my flower girl dress for Gary and Gina's wedding. He jerked the van into the space, then turned to the back of the van.
"Get out," he said to us.
Justine and Jonathan quickly got up and headed towards the van door. Gary came around the other side.
"Not you," he said to me, "you stay and deal with your fucking sister. Tell her she better stop bleeding or I'm leaving you all in the fucking van, you got that?"
He grabbed Justine and Jonathan's hands and ran across the parking lot to the ticket window. I found some napkins in the glove box and placed them to my sister's lip,
"Thank you, mija," she said. I held them in place, remembered that applying pressure to any wound would help it stop the bleeding. The sun fell against the buildings of Sears and Mervyn's, while Jimmy's voice stay stuck in my head: Riders of the storm, Riders of the storm.
"Pop quiz," he said. He put the bottle down long enough to look in my direction, "I said pop quiz, chica," he repeated, "go on, ask me a question."
My sister stood, hiding into the dishes. I knew how many nights her tears mixed with the dishwater, me never asking her, never wanting to cause trouble. But as I watched her wash the same plate for the third time, I finally allowed myself to feel what had been building in my small chest all those nights.
"Okay," I said, "Pop quiz -- what is my sister's favorite color?"
My question wiped the smirk off his face for at least a few seconds.
"I said, what's my sister's favorite color?"
He took a swig from the bottle, turned to my sister,
"What the fuck is she talking about, Gina?"
My sister fell deeper into the water, "I don't know Gary. I don't know."
"Look," he said, "ask me questions about Jimmy. If you're not gonna play the game right, then I'm not gonna play with you, stupid."
"Just answer the question and I will."
I stood up from the table and stood next to my sister. I wasn't counting on her for protection. I just wanted to be near her, to hear his answer with me.
"Maybe you didn't hear me -- I said what's my sister's favorite fucking color?"
"Gina, she's yelling at me. You better tell her to lower her voice."
"Just answer the question!" I screamed, "or how about this: what's her favorite cereal, her middle name, her favorite anything!"
Gary stood up and threw the bottle against the wall, "You see, Gina! You see! This is exactly what happens when you raise a child in a pocho house. If she was raised in a real Mexican house, like me, she would have gotten her ass kicked for talking to me like that."
"Just answer the question -- you know what happens when you don't answer," I said.
He stood from the table, threw his chair, and came towards me. He stopped just short of my face. And he stood, the whisky from this breath between us. He was trying to make me flinch. I didn't. But my sister broke a dish. I was waiting to see who would throw the first punch.
"It's purple," I said, "her favorite color is purple. Her favorite cereal is Rice Krispies, with brown sugar. And her middle name is Marie, after our mother."
I was fighting back tears because I would never let him see me cry. I know this too was my sister's daily victory, crying in the dark bathroom or hallway or backyard when she thought no one was looking. But I was always looking, always listening. Gary still stood before me. I was the one who threw the first punch. And he knew I beat him. And then my sister's voice came into the kitchen.
Her face still in the sink, clutching the broken plate, "If you do anything to her, I'm telling my dad."
It was my sister's second blow that stung him the most. I felt glorious. We were a team, the team I always knew could take him on. I waited for war, for my sister to take a flag, put it to her chest, and claim herself. I waited for her to tell him we were leaving and never coming back. But the script changed. Right when I thought it was over, Gary said, staring at me, "Gina, take this little bitch home. And when you come back, clean up this fucking mess."
He walked away into the darkness of the hallway, then slammed the bedroom door. I turned to my sister. I wanted her to know that none of that mattered, because tonight we won. She went into the living room and got her purse.
The car ride home was long, even though the drive was only ten minutes. It was two in the morning, and I was wondering how we were going to explain my coming home so late.
"Don't talk, mija. Please, shut up."
"I just want to know what we're going to tell mom and dad. About my coming home."
"You're sick," she said, "you don't feel well."
When we reached the driveway, I cried. I thought she would cry with me, but she just said, "See you later, alligator."
As I entered the house and slid into my bed I worried about what my sister might come home to. I later found out that he left and spent the night at his girlfriend's house. My sister slept in the big bed, her three children wrapped around her. I wasn't allowed to sleep over anymore. Gary demanded. And though he shut me out all those other nights, I still remember the one night I rode the storm.