The heist was all planned out.
My brother and I knew what we needed to do:
Steal as many toys from our cousin as we could carry
We devised the strategy
On our way to visit Dad’s brother
Venus in Sacramento, California.
My cousin Jose had more toys
Than any 8-year-old could ever dream of wanting.
We had already stolen smaller items from him,
Mostly Happy-Meal-sized toys,
But this time, we wanted to score big,
The heist that, if caught, would get us
A leather-belt-on-bare-butt-cheeks spanking.
The sound of finely-crafted Mexican calf leather
Stone-skipping red on tightly squeezed flesh
Splashed in my ears,
Dousing shivers down my spine.
At first, we thought Jose
Was oblivious to our
Sequestering of his action figures
Like acorns into our coat pockets.
But just as stalked prey
Continues to forage
As to not startle its hunter into action,
Gently considering its options,
Jose chose the right time
To let out a loud yelp that brought
Our dads into the room.
Uncle Venus yelled at Jose to be a man
And stop crying;
Dad pulled me aside
And told me that we weren’t going to visit
My cousin if we were going to steal.
Little did he know that I wouldn’t
See Jose again until his hair
Was long and silky— dark and lustrous—
Cascading between his shoulder blades
Down to his mid-lower back.
The light mustache and goatee
On his upper lip and chin,
Along with the sharp cheekbones
Still bore vestiges of his boyish face.
He had a timid smile
And as soon as he became aware of my presence,
He remembered me.
I wanted to mirror his calm and collected energy,
But I didn’t really know how to approach him
Without looking 22-years-old and weak.
We each attempted to wear
Our newly hatched maturity
But failed to act like men
As boys wearing their father’s clothes.
Since we last saw each other,
His dad remarried and had two kids
With his new wife.
Uncle Venus used to pick us up from school
And as Jose stood quietly,
I knew my siblings and I
Had seen him more often than he had.
Even though I gave him my address
And exchanged a few letters,
The silence between us began to sediment once again.
One that took another 10 years to pass.
I didn’t know what to expect:
Was he the incorrigible wild kid
Who used to nosh on bright red radishes
As we lusted over a young Sofia Vergara—
Breasts bouncing in the foamy waves—
Kissing the warm, bulbous television screen?
Or, was he the elegantly poised young man
With whom I had a brief, dreamlike conversation
About nothing in particular,
But everything we didn’t have the courage to say?
The closer I got to Volunteer Park in Seattle,
Where we agreed to meet,
I kept looking around to see
If I could spot him.
Did he even wear his hair in a ponytail anymore?
The part of me that wanted to turn around
And run away said, “Maybe it’s better this way”;
There was a reason why we hadn’t made the effort.
As I began to walk,
There he was,
A deer lost in the forest:
The boy and the young man
I met on two separate occasions,
Two lifetimes ago— the yin and yang—
As one man standing before me.
We embraced as if not a single day
Had passed since we last saw each other;
No longer 32 and 31-years-old, but 9 and 8 again,
When stealing made us fight
And time was our plaything—
We were like two falling leaves,
Helpless in the air,
Finally coming to rest on the shaded grass.
As we closed another window into the past
And opened one in the future,
I invited him to visit me in LA sometime,
Doubting my one bedroom apartment
Would accommodate his family of 5.
But I assumed that by the time
We saw each other again—
If we were to respect
The zodiac we were dealt—
I would be 42, and he 41.
Hopefully, by then, I’d be a man.
Jose Oseguera is an LA-based writer of poetry, short fiction and literary nonfiction. Having grown up in a primarily immigrant, urban environment, Jose has always been interested in the people and places around him, and the stories that each of these has to share. He seeks to write about the accounts in marginalized people’s lives that often go untold and the beauty in the urban landscapes that goes overseen. His writing has been featured in Meat for Tea, Sky Island Journal, The Esthetic Apostle, The McNeese Review, and The Main Street Rag. His work has also been nominated for the “Best of the Net” award and the “Pushcart Prize.”