I guess, I’ve come to terms with the idea that my youth was tainted. Unfortunately, I have always known heat. Heat—noun—touch. Heat—noun—temperature/weather/chemical or in the air. Much was the heat of California. And much was the heat of my small town.
I grew up in Delano. A portrait of immigrant worker’s rights & Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez and grapes purple & juicy in the mouth. & I was born in 1994, so I missed the golden ages of hard-work and discipline. Though my grandpa was a field worker before he became a landscaper—he taught me the value of rough hands and hard-work sun-heat and being a strong & bad-bitch. (Though those are my words and not his).
Innocent was never in my vocabulary, I grew up with a thorn in my side & a hard man at my back, someone shadowing me at the ripe age of five. There is no ghost I sit with more than the one that’s sexual and cooing and leading me to a bedroom and locking the door behind me.
I used to play with Pokémon cards and run amok in my small neighborhood. Delano was still so small then, before all the booming. It boasts a STARBUCKS! It’s on its way up.
Anyway, before all that—I used to play Fear Factor with my friends, I remember I got in trouble in Kindergarten for making up a game called ‘Killer’ after watching the horror movie, Scream.
My imagination was always a bit too extreme, but it kept me energetic and not so worrisome like I would have been—well as I got older it was bad, but still—before, no.
This is all to say, I was about five when I had my first sexual encounter. I was in a closet, ironic considering I had to come out of one again years later. Before the essential smell of semen and the rawness and pain of a hard penis in the body. I was young and I didn’t know where to put what or I figured it was a game, at least, that’s what the adults were whispering to me.
I saw my innocence or purity snapping & crackling evaporating in the air when every year passed.
I was a tough kid, always in the principal’s office, always staining my life with a new cut or a new bloody hand or bloody knee. I was trapped in a sticky idea of youth. I got my first key in first grade, walking home from school. I learned how to cook myself eggs or make sopa (Mexican soup) so I wouldn’t starve waiting for my mother or my grandma to get home.
Someone was always working so I got caught by the fiends when everyone was busy.
I’ve learned excess is a hand on a little boy’s thigh or being too young to know the difference between affection and erection.
I complained to no one, I learned to shut my mouth.
This is all to say that I’m always hot and I am thankful for rain and snow and winter.
My body is constantly over-heating, the pulse of my veins, boiling with flame and annoyance and bitterness, the list is long.
I still can’t look some men in the eye, I always have a phantom lingering.
I talk so much now I hate myself for being so silent back then.
I used to play baseball with a bunch of straight boys and I hated it.
I would rather look at the sky or play with the ants then catch the flying balls or be on second base and tag someone out.
“I bathe in heat as one would bathe in water, I listen to the purification by fire as my only solution.”
My mom says it’s her fault I turned out gay, I didn’t have a father figure growing up and it made me less of a man.
She didn’t say it quite like that, but I’ve always been good with reading between the lines.
My grandpa was my father figure and he was the only man who ever cared for me correctly.
I still hate many things to this day, tainted by an image, or my babysitter’s nephew in pajamas putting my hand where it should have never been and in my dreams these fingers are knives and I stab every part I ever touched.
I bathe in heat as one would bathe in water, I listen to the purification by fire as my only solution.
I never loved any guy properly, I hate them so much I want to ruin their lives and it’s not their fault.
I grieve for the boy I wasn’t able to be.
I sound pathetic sometimes and whiny, but I when I cried as a child it was for things I thought I deserved, for giving so much away constantly for years, I thought my mom owed me that toy, or I deserved those chicken nuggets from Wendy’s.
I wish I were made of gold and my brown skin had more value. I live by myself now and sit with the possibility of solitude forever.
I don’t think a man could ever love me and I don’t think I could ever let him.
The demons touch me and roast me ember-ing and hazardous.
The sticky years of baseball and middle school and my mom moving me to a private school when I was in 4th grade and I had to make new friends and start all over. The mundane ritual of connection—I’ve always been the most powerful of my friends—I am the supreme, I make the coven. It’s been a tough life, seeing these men in my dreams and knowing I could defend myself in these fantasies but when I wake there is no greater rawness than the actual truth.
I char at the thought of my part in complacency.
I saw my first erect penis at seven. It looked like a piece of fire-wood.
Waiting for a sizzle and a gulp, a true drought.
This is all to say—I never understood what losing a layer meant until I had my first boyfriend and I wanted to hurt him emotionally all the time.
I rose from a place of ashes, an inferno of spite.
I like the quiet ones who do no damage.
Where I’m going is a place of coolness, a chill in my bones that will whip this heat and evaporate my anxiety.
Almost every decision has been based on a memory that skewers me when I speak to boys. I am learning to cool-down the ache. I heard someone say that I should write about my humiliations and what made me—me—I guess this is what havoc turned snow into a lake. I’m constantly torn between the beauty of healing and the scars it leaves behind, the ever-flowing lava of my past inching into the ocean and creating new land and I’m struggling to gleam and not mistake a boy’s care & love for a chance to bite me or set me on fire all over again. I am learning as the years go by and I get older, but I still cry and lament for the boy I was never able to be, the boy I never felt like, the queer I was destined to be, the daughter my mom wanted me to be, the curse and the blessing that I was always chanting to myself that eventually—I would flame-up and become, the good kind of heat, the one that turns the house into a home of tenderness.
Mateo Lara is from Bakersfield, California. He received his B.A. in English at CSU Bakersfield. He is currently working on his M.F.A. in Poetry at Randolph College in Lynchburg, VA. His poems have been featured in Orpheus, EOAGH, Empty Mirror, and The New Engagement. He is an editor for Rabid Oak online literary journal.