Saturday’s Heroes – Julio

Many thanks to my friend MiLo, author of the blog How to Eat an Apple for submitting this guest post. I always enjoy hearing who the everyday heroes of everyday people are. Today’s post is a little different than my usual style of writing, which is okay with me! I thought it was a beautiful tribute to a good man.

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My father was a tight-lipped man of few words. What I remember the most of him during my childhood is his rough, calloused hands. He was a laborer all of his life. My mother was a homemaker. Her lack of communication was her most dominate trait as well. Although she made a slightly greater attempt at telling us she loved us, it was as though affection was a secret only to be made known when the air was clear and nobody was around. It was scarce, if it existed at all. It was never a big secret in my family how much those two fought over the years. They never let their guards down, no matter the day, season, or occasion. One always had a cold remark prepared for the other, ready to hurl it across the room, across the spot on the floor where my brother and I ate our dinners, like a grenade landing on the enemy’s camp and exploding in an orange cloud of fury. Dinners, I assumed, were a time of war. Marriage, I assumed, was a testing ground for individuality; a threat upon one’s personal territory. I never understood the idea of oneness. Perhaps that’s why we never spoke to one another, no matter if all four of us were in the same room. No one, after all, shares the recap of their day with the enemy.

I met a man and married him less than six months later, right before I turned 22. It was a long painful seven years thereafter that ended with two young children, deep scars and the realization that I was just another cut-out in a long chain of paper dolls. I married the same framework of a man my mother married. I followed in her footsteps, but it was more than just her shoes that bothered me. The thought of my daughter reliving the silent screams that I endured for so many years constantly crept into my dreams, taunting me with mirror images of myself in her big brown eyes. She was serenely naïve to the environment that was slowly beginning to encapsulate her, with our reprehensible marriage vows choking her supply of air. On the day that I shattered the mirror and watched the reflection of him packing his bags in the silver pieces falling to the ground, she hugged me for the first time since she was a toddler.

It was not without struggle, mind you. There was struggle. There was blood. There was debt. There were all the elements of a good war story mixed with the sweeping adjectives of a romance novel. The catalyst of my bravery at that point was the man who slipped through the ribbon of light that poured through the closing door of my heart. Like the secondhand of a clock that moves like a ghost towards a thundering announcement of time, a green-eyed, black-haired man named Julio walked into my life when I needed him the most.

He was the vocalist for a punk-metal band by night. He worked beside me in a bakery by day, decorating cakes and spinning buttercream roses on flower nails. The sound of his thick wallet chains banging against the side of his leg always announced his late arrival to his nine o’clock shift. It was December, but his hands were always warm and gummy. He would show his frustration when the chocolate in his hands was too soft to pipe onto parchment paper.

He took me to the fine arts museum for our first casual date. Walking with himthrough corridors that held centuries of thoughts and dreams was like standing on the right side of the mirror for the first time in my life, and I liked what I saw. Through the display cases of artifacts and ancient copper pots, my reflection beside him was perfectly outlined in the realm of reality and not just a wondrous dream. We walked by a painting and he waxed poetical about his love for Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. I knew my fanciful words full of the enigma of enigmas would be suitable for him to love.

I was right. I married him nearly a year to that day.

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I heard once that some birds successfully complete long-distance migrations and return back home with the help of the earth’s electromagnetic field. Younger birds may rely on this for its direction, but on its first journey, it doesn’t know where it’s headed, or how long the journey will be. In somewhat of the same vagabond manner, Julio was left alone for most of his life, never quite having a home. His pants were frayed from never being hemmed; his shoes were stretched and pulled from never being tied. No one really ever took note of his psalmist spirit or the tiny brown splotches in the deep green pools of his eyes. He hid his genius well. He always had a handful of food shoved in hispockets because he never knew when he would sit down for a meal again. For most of his life he wrote backwards, as though he was born somewhere on the other side of the looking glass. He was a brilliant poet. One of the most defining lyrics he wrote was, “Take me, leave me by myself to teach me how to love someone else.” He was always compelled by the absent presence of someone he could love. Sitting in the back corners of closets as a child, he would whisper a name into the dark. “The world is so full of noise that no one hears anything,” he said to me once. “I thought I could find her by whispering her name.”

Even though migratory birds have an unseen force that guides them through the seasons, every compass needs a map. Julio’s whispers, I assume, never let me sleep peacefully through the night. I always knew I could never be happy with a man like my father. I wanted a voice, not just fingerprints. I wanted to speak, not just write my way through life in a posthumous manner. When he gave me his last name, he gave me more than mere whispers as my guide; he gave me a journey on which I could begin. I spoke for myself for the first time in my life, and I realized one thing about the power of the spoken word: Once breathed into the earth, they become the master of your world. My life may end, but the words I leave behind will never cease. I was right about the dissection of words from my thoughts; without thoughts, words have no meaning. Without words, thoughts are buried in a grave that no one will ever know existed. Without the earth’s magnetic field, birds would never find their way to survival. Without Julio and his whispers, I would have never torn myself and my daughter out of the paper doll chain and found our voices.

Sometimes, a king’s crown is unseen, made of only his wife’s admiration and the words she has written of him for all the world to remember.

MiLo, How to Eat an Apple

If you’d like to be featured as a guest blogger for a Saturday’s Hero post, I’d be happy to consider your work. Send me an email (before you write the post!) with both a link to your blog, and a summary of your Saturday’s hero.