“In the case of the Commonwealth vs. Josue Vega. How do you plead?”
“Not guilty,” I hear our father say in his thick Spanish accent.
The cameras begin to flash and I hear reporters talking into their microphones, although I can’t understand what they are saying.
“Order in the court,” the judge speaks loudly as his gavel hits the desk; making my little brother, Jason, jump.
“It’s ok, Jase, we’re safe now,” I say, trying to comfort him. The two of us sit quietly in the second row of the hot, crowded courtroom as we watch our father plead ‘Not guilty’ to the murder of our mother. I’m just as scared as he is but I don’t want him to know that. I’m his older brother and he looks up to me, so I am trying to be brave.
“Your Honor, my client asks to be released on bail. He has two little boys he needs to care for while the trial is ongoing,” says the tall man who is standing next to our father.
I eyeball our father and notice how disheveled he looks. His hair is a mess and his clothes are the same ones he’d been wearing two nights ago. Jase and I were awoken this morning by a loud banging on our door. It was the police and they were looking for our father, but we hadn’t seen him in almost two days.
The last time I’d seen our father was the night he and our mother had gotten into an argument. They were yelling so loudly that they actually woke me from a sound sleep. I could hear our mother screaming, “How could you? He’s just a little boy…” and that was the last time I heard our mother’s voice.
“Your Honor, the Defendant is being charged with murder. I insist he be remanded to the county jail for the duration of his trial,” a voice says loudly from the other side of the courtroom.
The judge looks over at us and I can see the pity in his eyes.
“Mr. Vega, I have to agree with the District Attorney,” the judge’s voice is stern. “You’re standing trial for the murder of your wife. Bail is denied, and you’re to return to the county jail for the remainder of your trial. Bailiff, please remove the Defendant and have him taken into custody.”
I hear chatter erupt from the back of the courtroom. I turn around and see the reporters talking and the cameras flashing again. Spinning back around, I see a man in what looks like a police uniform handcuffing my father, then leading him out of the courtroom. Jase covers his face with his hands and begins to cry, “Why are they taking Papi?”
“It’s okay, Jase,” I whisper. “We have each other. Remember, we’re Blood Brothers.” Jase wipes his tears away with his hand and forces a smile.
“Blood Brothers” was something I’d come up with when we were out playing on the playground. It was one of the few times our father had actually offered to take us somewhere. We’d been cooped up in our small, dingy apartment all winter long, and it was finally a pleasant Spring day. Jase and I were running around playing tag. Our father had told us several times to stop running, but lo and behold, right after his final warning Jase fell and skinned both of his knees. Our father glared at us, just waiting to hear Jase cry. I knew what was coming next, he’d ‘give him something to cry about.’ That had been one of our father’s favorite lines; especially to Jase, who was extremely sensitive and cried over almost everything.
“Come on Jase, don’t cry,” I whispered to him, as I looked anxiously over my shoulder at our father. Jase’s body began to shake as he tried to hold his tears back and the blood from both his knees began to run down his shins. I glanced back at our father, who was now standing up, and I knew I had to act fast.
I reached into my back pocket and pulled out an old pocket knife that I had found lying on the sidewalk one day after school. I’d been keeping it a secret from Jase because I knew he’d want to play with it and would end up hurting himself.
“Hey Jase, look what I found a few days ago,” I said, showing him the knife.
His eyes grew wide, “Woah, where did you get that?” He said in awe.
“I found it a couple of days ago.”
“What are you two doing over there?” Our father said loudly, making Jase jump.
“Nothing Papi. I’m just tying Jase’s shoes,” I answered back.
“Hurry up! I’m ready to leave,” he snapped in response.
Opening up the blade as fast as I could, I took the tip and pressed it down onto the pad of my thumb.
“Gabriel,” Jase gasped. “What are you doing?”
“I wanna show you that you don’t have to cry every time you bleed,” I explained as blood began to pool up on my thumb. “See, I’m bleeding and I’m not crying.”
“It’s like we’re Blood Brothers,” Jase smiled at me as he blinked back his tears.
“Yes. Exactly, Jase, we’re Blood Brothers,” I smiled back at him.
I look over at Jase now and notice that he’s trying his hardest to hold back his tears. The two of us sit quietly as we watch our father being taken away. I finally feel safe. He and our mother are out of our lives forever; they can’t hurt us anymore. I’ve actually dreamed of this day; Jase and me, living with parents who actually love us. I saw it in a movie once; a little girl who didn’t have any parents was living in an orphanage and some rich guy adopted her. They lived happily ever after and I’m hoping that’s what’s going to happen to us.
“Gabriel? Jason?” I hear a kind voice say. “I’m Debbie and this is Dave, we’re going to take you to where you’re going to be staying.”
They’re dressed up in fancy suits and I wonder if they’re going to be our new parents. I can’t help but smile at the thought. They look so nice; they can give us a happy life. I know they can.
“Jase, shhhhh…stop crying,” I nudge him. “Look, I think this is our new Mom and Dad,” I whisper.
The last thing I want is for them to think Jase is a crybaby. He is, but I don’t want them changing their minds about us.
“Come on boys, we’re going to get you situated in your new homes,” Dave says.
I look up at him, confused, “Homes?”
“Yes, you and Jason are being placed in foster homes,” Debbie replies.
“You’re not our new Mom and Dad?” Jase asks sadly, through his tears.
“Oh no, Jason,” Debbie says sincerely as she crouches down in front of Jase. “We work for the Department of Social Services and we’ve been sent to bring you to your new homes.”
Debbie’s words make Jase cry even harder and I feel so sorry for him. In his five years of life, he’s never known a parent’s love. Sometimes at night, when we can’t fall asleep, I tell him about movies I’ve seen on television; how the families are so happy. The mom makes the family dinner, and the dad comes home from work and plays baseball with the kids. Jase always gets excited as I tell him about the movies. I promised him that someday it will be like that for us; that one day Mami’s medicine will eventually make her better. I didn’t mean it to be a lie.
When Mami was sick, she either slept all day or she was throwing up in the bathroom. Every morning, I heard her making a phone call for more medicine. About twenty minutes after she got off the phone, there was a knock at the door. It was usually a man dressed in dark, baggy clothes that brought her medicine. After that, she disappeared into the bathroom. Sometimes she came right out, while other times, she stayed in there for close to an hour.
Most mornings, it was me who got us ready for school. Some days, if we were lucky, there was actually food in the house; but only if Mami had felt well enough to go grocery shopping. Other days, we went to school hungry. Mrs. Gibbons, my teacher, occasionally brought fruit in for us. She slipped it to us in the hallway and always reminded us not to tell anyone.
Mrs. Gibbons was the nicest teacher in the school. She always asked about Jase and me and she made sure we ate lunch every day. Sometimes during class, I’d daydream that Mrs. Gibbons was our mom. But then the dismissal bell would ring, snapping me back into reality. I always hated the end of the day; that meant that school was over and it was time for us to go home.
Jase and I would take our time walking home from school because we never knew what we were walking into when we got there. Was our father going to be there? If he was home, what kind of mood would he be in? Would he and Mami be fighting? More often than not, they’d be fighting. Papi would be yelling at Mami because the house was a mess and dinner was not made; it was always for the same reason. “I work all fuckin’ day, the least you can do is clean this fuckin’ pigsty and make dinner,” he’d yell, raising his hand to her.
Depending on his mood after hitting our mother, sometimes he’d take his anger out on us next. The two of us would huddle in our room, trying to keep quiet, but he’d burst through the door yelling, “And you two! All you two ever do around here is make messes and eat! It’s about time you start helping out.”
Some nights we were lucky and he’d just leave after he yelled at us; while others, he’d physically pick us up, drag us into the living room, and make us start cleaning. “And get me a fuckin’ beer too, you little piece of shit!” He’d yell at me. “I don’t know why your mother even wanted you in the first place. You’re nothing but a waste of space and money.”
I’d encourage Jase to clean as quickly as he could so that we could go back into our room and wait for our father to pass out on the couch. This had become an almost daily occurrence for us.
“Gabriel and Jason, it’s time to go,” a voice says, snapping me out of my memory. “Gabriel, you’ll be coming with me and Jason will be going with Dave.”
“What do you mean I’m going with you and Jase is going with Dave?” My voice begins to tremble. Once I realize what’s happening, I begin to scream at the top of my lungs, “You’re not taking my brother from me. I’m all he has!”
Debbie tries to soothe and calm me down, but this only makes matters worse. I begin kicking and punching her as I yell in Spanish, “No me puedes quitar a mi hermano, puta estúpida!”
Before I know it, I’m taken away kicking and screaming. Dave grabs a hold of my feet while another man has my torso. Jase is crying hysterically and there is nothing I can do. I watch Debbie escort him out of the courtroom and realize that everything that I’ve ever known is gone.