DANCING WITH THE BLACK BULL
It makes a long time since I was the bullfighter known as Brujita (little sorceress). I was born Duenda de la Cruz in Tijuana, Mexico. You would be surprised how long ago it was. I laugh because a woman still does not tell.
My family was not poor but my mother and my father were very possessive and strict with my sisters and me. They had dry plans for all of us. So as a young girl who felt herself about to blossom I ran away to the United States but only because my great-grandparents still lived there and I had heard stories about them all my life. My mother feared them so I was determined to love them.
I did not know what could not be done and so I ran away with a headstrong bliss. I then was not surprised when I encountered some graduate students from UCSD at the Tijuana Plaza de Playa and they directed me to a free pay phone in which they had installed a Skype system. I told them that my family had been killed by drug lords and that I wanted to get to my great-grandparents in El Toro, California. The graduate students helped me to download the Transborder Immigrant Tool application that would guide me to safe transportation, food, water, and shelter. The graduate students took up a collection for me and gave me many dollars with which to travel. I was young enough to feel that my fate was a red carpet, as you say.
El Toro was a community near the city of Irvine, Southern California, built upon a piece of land sold by the great Irvine Ranch. El Toro had been only a portion of the great ranch where magnificent bulls were raised. In the stories that my parents told, my great-grandfather had been a vaquero (cowboy) for Mister Irvine. The home of my great-grandparents had once been a way-station for the vaqueros on the great ranchlands. When my great-grandfather retired, Mister Irvine made a gift to him of the way-station and allowed my great-grandparents to live there forever. When Mr. Irvine sold the El Toro land he made it part of the contract that my great-grandparents would own their homestead no matter what was developed on the rest of the purchase. The Irvine Ranch fence now ran a hundred yards to the north of the homestead. Below my great-grandparent’s homestead a modern suburban community of small homes and condominiums was created.
And so, near the end of my journey I walked tired and smelly up the hill through the manicured El Toro community. I must have looked like a crow among the white swan children who circled me on their bikes and skateboards. Parents who saw me from behind their window curtains called away their children.
One young girl my age said hello to me. That was Rubia Diosa who would become my best friend. She was my opposite with long blonde curls, blue eyes and a complexion like cream. Her family was Hispanic but they had been breeding in America so long that only their name gave them away. You would never have thought that we could become friends. I knew that she continued to watch me as I passed up the street.
I passed through the community of El Toro and the hillside became untamed grasses and oak and sycamore trees and the road became unpaved. I reminded me of the roads in the countryside of Tijuana with wagon ruts and rain erosion. Near the top of the hill did I at last see the little grey homestead as it had been described to me many times. I was exhausted from my journey and I had begun to feel my first doubts, to wonder if my great-grandparents might no longer be there. This was the end of my exodus and it would be either my promised land or it would be a dead end for me.
But I quickly saw an old couple just outside the doorway. It was as if they knew I was coming. They were short and stocky and they were dressed just like my 19th century-style dolls. Their clothes were dark and the woman’s head was covered in a bonnet. Their complexions were like the dark red bark of old Manzanita wood. But their eyes shined like distant stars.
I asked first, “Doña de la Cruz, Don de la Cruz?” and they nodded imperceptibly. I introduced myself, bowing for some reason, “I am your great-granddaughter Duenda.”
They looked at each other and my great-grandfather said to my great-grandmother, “It looks like a coyote.”
I thought I had misunderstood.
My great-grandmother scowled at him and said, “Be serious, Bisabuelo (great-grandfather),” then asking him, “Have you ever known a coyote to be so polite?”
My mouth fell open.
My great-grandfather replied, “You are right, Bisabuela (great-grandmother). This coyote did say she was a duende (goblin, a pun on my name, Duenda).”
My great-grandmother Adoncia then motioned me forward, saying, “Come along then, Duende. You are welcome to wash the coyote off of yourself here.”
My great-grandfather Damaso said sternly, raising a finger and tapping against his nose, “But then we are going to keep a very close eye on you.”
I stared at them both and although they were smiling I shook my head slowly and I hesitated. I was exhausted and now I was disoriented. My parents and sisters had no such sense of humor.
Their house, that former ranch way-station, still had floors of hard dirt, although they were clean swept. There was a large kitchen area. Out of the big square metal sink rose a pump handle from a well. My great-grandfather Damaso said that well was once the entire “way station” when he was a young vaquero. Years later the house was built around that well.
Adjacent to that kitchen area in an enclosed back porch there was a cast iron bathing tub and a gabinete de ir al baño (potty cabinet).
There was a living room with parlor furniture.
There were two small bedrooms each with a small bed and a wooden dresser closet and a table.
Upon the wall of one of the bedrooms were hanging intricate weavings of strange symbols, símbolos indios (Native American symbols). Those tapestries surrounded a large painting of The Holy Virgin Mary. This was obviously the bedroom of my Bisabuela.
Upon the wall of the other bedroom were hanging beautiful ropes which Bisabuelo told me were, “Horse mane-hair mecates (ropes)”. On his table, under a large painting of Jesus, was a very old rifle and branded into the stock of that rifle were the words Mano de Dios (Hand of God).
And so my Bisabuela Adoncia and my Bisabuelo Damaso slept in those separate bedrooms. I found that to be surprising because they looked like twin dolls and they seemed to move together.
In all the rooms were candle fixtures for the evenings. On every wall there was a religious picture and a crucifix. I remembered that my father had told me that when the Spaniards came to California, the Indians had no last names and so the Padres gave them such last names as “de la Cruz (of the Cross)”.
Allowing no debate my Bisabuela surrendered her room to me and moved an armful of her belongings into the adjacent room of my Bisabuelo.
Bisabuela reminded me again of the offer “to wash the coyote off” of myself and asked me to help in the kitchen, pumping water to boil and with which to fill the cast iron bath tub. I muttered, “So, I will cook myself like soup.”
Bisabuela nodded, saying, “Yes, my little sweet potato.”
I scrubbed myself with a big bar of crude soap and Bisabuela helped to wash my back and she helped to pour hot water over my long hair so I could wash it. I vowed to cut my hair short if this was to be my fate. When I was finished Bisabuela gave me one of her nightgowns. I then helped to bail out the bathwater and to fling it outside into the sunset and onto the dirt beyond the porch.
I came into the living room with my long hair wet and straight. On the parlor couch in front of the fireplace Bisabuela was reading Bible Scripture to Bisabuelo by firelight. They both looked up at me and their eyes glinted like embers.
Bisabuelo Damaso said to Bisabuela Adoncia, “Our Duende (goblin) has taken the appearance of you, Adoncia, as a young woman.”
Bisabuela said, “So our Duende will need new clothing.”
Bisabuelo added, “And new religion.”
Bisabuela asked, “Damaso, what do you mean?”
Instead of wondering further how Bisabuelo could know my avant-garde attitude toward religion I gave my little speech, “I just don’t believe in the Church anymore. It doesn’t make any sense to me, and I don’t feel right anymore acting like it does.”
They both crossed themselves.
Bisabuelo said to me plainly, “The Catholic Church we attend in the El Toro community has a school. The priest is sympathetic to coyote children like you. You will be able to attend school there, Duende, if we ask it of the priest.”
Bisabuela continued firmly, “So you will wear their uniform.”
Bisabuelo concluded firmly, “And so you will wear their religion.”
On my first day of that school I wore the blouse and skirt and shoes that were provided for me by the donations of the church congregation. I was wondering how long before I ran away from these new dry constrictions. I saw in my classroom the blonde girl, Rubia Diosa, who had been the only one to say hello to me when I first arrived tired and smelly. She beamed at me and waved and gestured for me to sit at the desk beside her. She was as shiny as a doll. I thought that, well, I would bide my time for awhile before I ran away again and I would see what I could get from my sojourn.
The nuns introduced me simply, saying, “We wish to welcome Miss Duenda de la Cruz who is new to our school,” but they watched me with sharpened narrow eyes. I thought, “Screw you moldy virgins,” and I secretly and swiftly passed notes to Rubia even though I had nothing to say, really. Rubia seemed to be amused at my daring antics. After class we walked homeward together.
Rubia said to me with respect, “Duenda, I think it is amazing what you did. I could never do such a thing.”
I was surprised, “I did it to show those nuns just who it is that runs my life. What could they have done to us anyway?”
Rubia was confused for a moment and then, enlightened, she said, “No, no. I mean about how you had the courage to come here all by yourself from Mexico.”
I felt oddly exposed and I asked, “Is there a sign on my back that says so?”
Rubia quickly apologized, “I am sorry. My parents know Don Damaso and Doña Adoncia from church. My mother buys groceries for them. And my mother has interviewed them for her Oral History of Orange County class at UC Irvine. When I first saw you that day I followed you and I saw you go to the old house.”
I was annoyed, “Rubia, just remember that I did not enroll you for the ‘Oral History of Duenda de la Cruz’ class at El Toro.”
Rubia was embarrassed and desperately apologetic to me instead of saying “fuck you, bitch” as I would have, and she touched my arm and pleaded, saying, “Please forgive me, Duenda. I never meant to upset you. It won’t happen again. I think Duenda is a beautiful name. It means ‘Gentle’, right? I think that is a beautiful name for a girl.”
I could not stay annoyed and I joked, “Is it also a beautiful name for a coyote?”
Rubia looked into my eyes earnestly, “Duenda, don’t’ say that. You are not a coyote. You are a brave and beautiful soul and you inspire me.”
It was my turn to feel embarrassment, and I said, “Rubia, you need to get out of El Toro once and awhile, believe me.”
Rubia did not relinquish, saying finally, “Me mostrarás como ser un espíritu libre. Did I say that right? (You will show me how to be a free spirit)”
I said good-bye to Rubia at her house and then I continued up the street, holding my schoolbooks against my breasts with both arms; up the street to where the street turned back into the dirt and grass and trees that it had been a hundred years ago.
In the ranchland beyond the great fence I could see upon a little meseta (plateau) the steel water tank, a big round open reservoir for rainwater that was about five feet high and shaped like the above ground swimming pools I had seen in the El Toro neighborhood. I wondered idly how many children had sneaked through that fence to swim in that tank when it was hot.
And then I saw the magnificent black bull.
I thought at first it was the shadow of a cloud upon the hillside but there were no clouds above me and I looked toward him again. I walked in a trance past the home of my Bisabuelos and on toward the fenced ranchland a hundred yards beyond. This black bull as he was, he was majestuoso (majestic), a black king with a crown of horns, grazing upon his verdant kingdom.
I stood against the wooden fence at last and beheld him. He raised his head and looked towards me and then he began to move down the hillside towards me. I was not afraid. But I was transfixed when he at last stood on the other side of the fence before me, his shoulders rising like a black peak above me and his head nodding slowly up and down as he considered my presence. He lowered his head close to the fence where I stood. His damp nostrils were the size of dinner plates. His nostrils flared and contracted as he breathed me. He was snorting his humid exhale again and again across my bare legs and I began to feel elated, dizzy, and frivolous. I lowered my head behind the schoolbooks held now in my right hand and I slowly raised my skirt with my left hand. The black bull began to snort even more rapid thrusts of impudent hot breath. I became euphoric.
I was then startled as the black bull raised both of his front legs and hopped to his right and then sprang back on his hind legs and hopped back to his left, once, twice, three times. Then he stopped and leaned toward me, still breathing hard. I reached through the fence and laid my hand upon his broad, damp nose. He pulled his head away and returned to his hillside as if my intimacy was enough indignity for such a king. I felt then strangely abandoned.
I came back away from the fence dreamy and distracted.
Then, passing in front of me, I saw a big sleek black cat with a limp little rabbit in his jaws. I stopped and watched the cat carrying the still rabbit. I chose to follow him. The cat turned and growled at me over his shoulder a couple of times yet he continued on to a shady cluster of bushes wherein I saw two dead rabbits lying neatly side-by-side. I realized that this must be the cat’s larder. But within the shadow of that larder I also saw a black crow stabbing at one of the dead rabbits. The black cat also saw the crow and then dropped the limp rabbit from his jaws and charged at the crow with a yowl. The limp rabbit scrambled to life and fled into the wild weeds.
The crow popped up from the bushes with his wings spread and I saw that half of one wing was missing. And then it was over. The big sleek black cat sauntered over to me and he let me scratch his head. Maybe he once belonged to my Bisabuelos? The crow had alighted high on a bush and was watching us. I turned to continue on back to my Bisabuelos’ house and the black cat followed me. I turned to say silly things to the cat and I noticed that the crow dropped back into the cat’s larder. The cat was no longer concerned. I arrived back at the house and I went inside and I entered my room to find that big sleek black cat perched on my open windowsill waiting for me. I named him Picaro (Rascal). Bisabuela told me later that the cat was not theirs and that the cat and that crippled crow were an odd pair of vagabonds who roamed the hillside together. I named the crow Zorro (Fox).
Later that evening when I was trying to sleep I saw Picaro leave through my window and then I watched with amused revulsion as Picaro come back in with a dead rabbit that he placed on the floor beside my bed. Picaro then climbed onto my pillow beside me and curled there to sleep with me. Moments later I saw Zorro flap up onto the windowsill and cock his head at Picaro. Zorro hopped to the floor of my bedroom and waddled over to the dead rabbit and then took the rabbit and exited the way he had come in. I whispered, “Thank you, Zorro.”
My Bisabuelos slept. I could not sleep thinking about the black bull. I went to the windowsill and I gazed outside to see in the moonlight the silhouette of the great black bull kneeling beside the water tank. A fever came over me. I was suffocating. I pulled Bisabuela’s nightgown off over my head and unveiled my naked body. I climbed out of my window. I stood outside naked in the moonlight cathedral and I felt my own holy spirit burning. I began to run. I ran to the wooden fence. I ducked through the fence and I ran up the hill toward the black bull and the water tank.
I was euphoric again. I ran to the black bull and he snorted with alarm and arose to face me. I kept running. I ran in a circle around the great black bull. The bull turned in a circle to face me. I began to leap and prance and I was laughing. The great black bull began to dance as he had before, raising both of his front legs and hopping and then springing back on his hind legs. I danced and twirled and I was giddy with unearthly delight. At last I sought to quench my madness and so I jumped up onto my belly upon the edge of the water tank and then I teetered head first into the cold water. I burst back up crying out to the distant stars. The black bull galloped around the water tank snorting and leaping. I swam on my back the diameter of the water tank several times until my holy spirit no longer burned. At last I pulled myself up and sat on the edge of the water tank to drop back onto the grass. The black bull was gone. I trotted to the fence and ducked through it and continued to jog back down the hill in the moonlight to the house. Picaro and Zorro were on the windowsill of the open window. I climbed back into my bedroom and there stood my Bisabuela in the moonlit doorway, looking upon my nakedness.
Bisabuela said to me, “Be very careful, my Brujita (little sorceress),” and from then on she would call me Brujita.
I was not quenched. I was undaunted. And I was not ashamed so I was not penitent. I wanted to share my euphoria with Rubia. Yet I could not just tell Rubia exactly what had happened; she would not understand. I was not sure what it was that I, myself, had understood. So I invited her to spend the night with me at my Bisabuelos’ home. I promised mysteriously that I would show her how to be a free spirit. Rubia accepted innocently and affirmed to her parents that it would be good girl fun.
So that very next day Rubia and I ate a dinner of roasted chicken and rice and beans and my Bisabuelos let the two of us eat in the kitchen alone. After cleaning our plates Rubia and I went outside to walk in the garden at sunset. I introduced Rubia to Picaro who fed upon our attention and I pointed to Zorro who hopped a safe distance behind the rest of us. Rubia was amused by Picaro and gently squeezed his tail which sent him bounding away to hide and then to ambush us from behind the cornstalks. Zorro thumped the peppers and summer squash with his beak, “Probing for luck,” Rubia laughed.
At nightfall Rubia and I went into the bedroom that was now mine. Picaro sat upon the bed with us. Zorro stayed on the windowsill. Rubia and I made up stories to reveal our bawdy fortunes from the symbols on the hanging weavings. The painting of the Holy Virgin Mary averted her eyes demurely.
At last, when the house was dark and I was assured that my Bisabuelos were asleep, I sat facing Rubia on the bed and I whispered portentously, “It is time to be free.”
I stood up and stepped back and I undressed completely letting my clothes fall to the floor. Rubia covered her mouth and giggled.
I said, “Now you, Rubia, come on.”
With a suppressed squeal Rubia stood up and removed the clothes from her porcelain body but she placed them neatly upon the bed which made me laugh even as I admired her flesh.
I pointed to the open window and said, “Now, follow me,” and Zorro fled with a squawk as I put my leg over the windowsill. Rubia covered her mouth with both hands and whispered, “Oh, My, God.” I hopped out to the moonlit earth below. Rubia scrambled out behind me, snickering and looking all around and asked with concern, “Duenda, you are so bad. What will happen now?”
I gestured and began to trot up the hill toward the fence, looking over my shoulder to draw Rubia with my will. Rubia trotted after me, fluttering her hands nervously and still giggling.
We both ducked through the fence and continued up the hill toward the water tank.
I stood beside the water tank as Rubia caught up with me and I said, “Well?” and I extended an inviting palm to her.
Rubia squealed softly, “No way.”
I admonished her playfully, “OK, but this way to be free,” and again I jumped up onto my belly upon the edge of the water tank and then I teetered head first into the cold water. Rubia shrieked with laughter. She then mimicked my entry into the water. We both waded and splashed and laughed loudly.
Then the great black bull appeared from over the hill looking even more massive as he trod his exaggerated moon shadow. Rubia was startled and cried out. I quickly reassured her, “Don’t be afraid. I have stood with this bull. It is amazing. Don’t be afraid, you will see.”
I pulled myself up and sat on the edge of the water tank to drop back onto the grass. Rubia cried, “Duenda! Don’t! Please don’t! Don’t leave me!”
I cried back, “Watch!” and I commenced prancing and jumping. The black bull began to gallop down the hill toward me. Rubia shrieked. The black bull halted before me and bounced on his forelegs and snorted. I ran a circle around him and as before he turned in a circle to face me, hopping from forelegs to hind legs. I squealed with the delight of this dance.
Rubia stood chest deep in the tank of water with her hands clasped in fervent prayer before her lips.
Then the black bull turned and danced away back over the glowing hill whence he came. I watched him dance away and I breathed hard. I turned around and Rubia was exiting the water tank clumsily and almost fell flat onto the grass. She amended herself and then stood there and stared wide-eyed at me and I saw her chest heaving. I approached her and said soothingly, “We are free. Together. We are free.”
I stood before Rubia and she didn’t speak. I saw that her skin was goose flesh and she started to shiver. And then I reached and I hugged her. And then I kissed her lips. And then I slid my hands over her breasts and hips. And then I kissed her mouth and pried her open to me. I leaned my head back breathing hard again and I stared into her perfect face but Rubia was staring past me into the distant stars.
Rubia whispered, “I want to go home.”
I felt her shiver harder.
She said again, louder, “I want to go home. Now.”
I said, “OK, OK, Rubia. Don’t be afraid. We did nothing wrong.”
But Rubia moved past me and walked quickly down the hill leaving me behind and she ducked through the fence and she began to run back to Bisabuelos’ house.
I followed her, trying to catch up, calling to her, “Rubia. Rubia.” and I wondered if I had shared too much. My Bisabuela’s words rang back at me, “Be very careful, Brujita.”
Rubia climbed back into my bedroom and dressed with a severe determination. I stood there in the room beside her in the searing moon light trying to gather my clothes from the floor and I began to hear myself say, “I am sorry, Rubia. I’m sorry.” But Rubia said nothing to me. She would not look at me. She left through the front door and did not look back, walking on down the dirt road back to the paved streets, back to the streetlights that smothered the distant stars, back to the shelter of her mother and father’s home. I did not follow.
At school that Monday Rubia did not speak to me. There was another girl sitting in my desk next to Rubia. The nuns made me sit in the very front row. I felt the stabbing of all their eyes. I knew that Rubia had told her mother everything. I was angry. I was angry and afraid because now I felt ashamed for the first time in my life and that made me a stranger to myself. I started to cry and those moldy nuns said I should go home.
I went home alright. I did not go up the hill to my Bisabuelos’ house. I went down the hill crying and I fled El Toro on fire with thorns of shame being pressed into my head. I begged a ride from a bus driver and I rode the bus to the Amtrak Station where I hid on a train going to San Diego. From San Diego I sneaked back into Tijuana as if I was awakening from a dream and I expected to find myself whole again if I could just get to my home. I knocked upon my family’s door and my mother would not open the door.
I could see that I was no longer here.