I've looked at this picture a thousand times and every time I cry. I have other pictures, a picture of my daughter smiling, one of me dressed as a princess for halloween and others equally nostalgic.
But certain moments never fade into the fabric of memory. Time finds no pathway to send them away to rest in peace, to only come forth when whispered. It isn't one of those fond memories where perhaps, one night, a plaintive train whistle carries a sweet kiss to my neglected lips. A song, a summer rain or the way the sun sets in early August … those are memories that come and go from my mind, forming like figures in clouds only to become clouds again.
Some memories aren’t triggered sweetly. Some memories pervade and invade constantly forcing my mind, heart and soul to live and relive the same events over and over again. This picture and the tears it brings is such a memory.
I don’t need the picture I always carry to remind me of a night eight years ago. A night never fading, always alive and invading my everything.
I know the girl in this picture, of course I do. I know the boy too. Well, I knew him then, the boy who the girl in the picture hurt, the boy whose life shattered. He’s the boy who found the girl of his dreams. She morphed into a ghost to haunt him.
I am the girl in the picture.
I am Fortunada Victoriana Consuelo Annunciata. They called me thus when baptized. It seems like it would’ve been a considerable mouthful. My family went only by Consuelo and called me Victoriana Consuelo--everyone else called me Vicki Consuelo.
Frankie Cardenas called me Boo. I called him Blade. Kind of cute, don’t ya think? Blade and Boo.
Back then and to this day I’ve always been a good girl. My persona and its perception by the world is ‘good girl’. Murderer crisscrossed no one’s mind and the mere mention of the word in connection with me would provoke laughter.
Frankie had a different reputation altogether. Rumours ran rampant throughout the neighborhood concerning his criminal behavior. If a crime occurred, his name came up. Murderer certainly found ready believers in Frankie’s case. Blade proved a well-earned moniker. He expertly wielded a knife and did so as leader of the Nineteens, a local street gang of fierce reputation, but only within the confines of El Sereno, California. Nineteen was Frankie’s address, I knew that, no one else did. The rest of the world had no clue why the Nineteens rolled as the Nineteens. No one had the nerve to ask Frankie, and that amused him. Nineteen Willow Lane doesn’t sound fierce, not fierce by any standard.
I got together with Frankie through Tony, my first boyfriend. Tony got me out of the house. I can't say my parents abused me, they didn't. I wanted to live and live right then. They kept me down and wanted me to be a little girl it felt like, forever.
Tony knew Frankie Cardenas, the leader of the Nineteens. I'd always had my eye on Frankie from the earliest days in grammar school. In the meantime, Tony sure made for a nice break in my boring life. He treated me well and we had a lot of fun together. And, of course, I got to see Frankie.
I guess you could say I liked the bad boy in Tony. Typical, I suppose. The good girl, church going perceived to be a virgin, pure as the driven snow. Yes, I let the perception continue after its veracity had been compromised in the back seat of Tony Anton's 69 Ford Falcon. Not exactly good girl activity, though I'm sure Tony would beg to differ.
Like many girls, I wish I could say I lost my virginity in a meadow of wildflowers to the love of my life and soulmate for eternity. But, Tony Anton certainly didn't come close to being the love of my life and the back seat of his 69 Ford Falcon had no flowers in sight.
Tony happened to be my boyfriend and I had reached the age of seventeen. I had no special dreams about my first time. I just wanted to get it over with. It didn't traumatize me, in fact, I enjoyed it and it became a semi-regular activity for us.
Frankie Cardenas put an end to the love making trysts between Tony and me. He didn't, however, put an end to the love making trysts. No, they continued in earnest with the love of my life, Frankie Cardenas. It turns out Frankie had been eyeing me all those years too.
Tony had no options in the matter. Frankie led the Nineteens and Tony counted himself a loyal member. Loyal members didn't question, El Jefe, the leader of the gang. Tony would hold a grudge for a long time, but he couldn't do a damn thing about it. Frankie loved me and the feeling couldn't be more mutual.
Honestly, nothing of the kind existed between me and Tony, but it still stung and it still ate away at him. He let me know it too. He'd make dirty gestures towards me and lewd remarks when Frankie wasn't around. I never mentioned it because I didn't want the trouble. Frankie would've kicked his ass or worse; I knew it.
I have not seen Frankie in eight years. That’s a long time; daughters grow from infants to little girls in eight years. Inmates become animals, or maybe they grow to become human beings. Solitary’s a damnable place for an innocent man. Gang bangers spent most of their time in solitary to control them.
There is plenty of time to think and little time for anything else. Maybe resentment found a resting place within him. Understanding found quarter in my heart, hell, we were kids on that fateful day. The kid had eight years to develop the resentment of a man, an innocent man.
Frankie didn't deserve to be in prison. No one associated with the event did.
~~~~~~~~~~~Eight Years Ago---"The Crime"
“Frankie ain’t gonna know, Vickie. You know you want it. Just a quickie, mamasita. In and out, baby. C’mon now. Old times sake. I can always tell him you've been doing me regular, you know. I just need relief, baby. Look at this, baby, I’m aching here. I'll be quick.”
“Dammit, Tony, Frankie could easily kill you if he knew you were even asking. This ain't funny, now. Put that damn thing away. You're on your own, Fool. Those days are over. Just drop it, huh? It’s not happening. Tony, no! I mean it. No! I swear, man, Frankie's gonna kill you if you don't ...”
The knife was in his back pocket. It always was. The bastard had my skirt up and my panties ripped off viciously. The son-of-a-bitch was raping me. I couldn’t believe it. My hand hit that knife and … I don’t know, instinct, survival, whatever you want to call it, took control. I pulled it from his pocket and across his throat nearly in one quick move.
“For God’s sake, Vicki, what …“ Tony tried to say something sounding similar, but fell to the floor. He made no more attempts at forming words. He didn’t move. I knew dead when I saw it.
“Tony. Tony. Tony, please, man. What did you expect? You, bastard, you were raping me. Come on now, get up.”
Frankie walked in and saw the scenario, but didn’t speak. He took the knife from my hand and kissed me grabbing my hand, pulling me from the house. I could hear the sirens getting louder and louder, knowing they were for me. Frankie stopped and pushed me up against the old Endicott building.
“There’s no justice in this world for us, Boo. You keep quiet. I’ve got to do this. If you can’t wait for me, I’ll understand. I’m gonna end up in jail someday, why not today? No sense in both of us going there.”
I turned my head as the flash of a camera’s lightbulb exploded. A reporter must have had a police scanner. That’s the origin of the picture I always carry.
I guess someone had called the police, whatever, they were here and had Frankie in cuffs.
“No, it was me,” I tried to tell them. Frankie silenced me with a quick stare. I didn’t realize what he was doing. Hell, I felt innocent; I acted in self-defense.
The few times I could talk to Frankie he explained, there’s no such thing as self-defense for poor people. He wasn’t going to let me go to jail. My God, he took the rap for me.
~~~~~~~~~~~Frankie at East Max, LA County Jail
"Count. Count time. Everybody up. Count time."
22784 slipped off the top bunk and onto the ice cold cement floor. He slipped on his prison issue canvas shoes and stood at attention.
Count time, counting the inmates to make sure no one's escaped. Four o'clock in the morning, good a time as any. Then, sleep for forty-five minutes and get up for "Chow time, Chow time." County Jails version of breakfast.
For Frances Alberto Cardenas, it all seemed perfectly normal. After almost eight years, any routine is going to seem normal.
As Frankie stood by his bunk, Chucko, one of the inmates slipped over. "It goes down right at the end of lunch today." Frankie nodded his head in agreement.
That meant the hispanic prison population would attack the black population at exactly twelve fifteen PM, the close of lunchtime. No one knew the reason for the attack and no one cared. To not participate made you the next target, so everyone gladly volunteered their services.
Frankie would have to work fast to get thrown into solitary confinement. Participating in a riot would extend his sentence and certainly delay his parole for a substantial amount of time.
Frankie surveyed the poplulation in the pod. He spotted a new guy, Cisco. Perfect. An arrogant newcomer.
Frankie slipped up by Cisco. "Got any coffee, homie?"
"Naw. Lo siento, homie. I've got nothing. No canteen until my money hits the books." Cisco seemed pretty care free for new meat.
"What? Lo siento. You dissing me, bro. I didn't stop by to cause trouble, but I ain't backing down from it either. What's with the attitude?"
"No attitude, homey. I was just sayin', my money ain't hit the books yet. I got no canteen at all, bro. No dissing. Just the way it is. I'm not trying to start anything. I'm not backing down though if you are. We cool then?"
"Backing down? I wasn't threatening you. You sound like you're looking to get down here, homes. Is that what it is, you want to see if the OG gots anything in the tank?" Frankie had already decided his next move. He leaped forward and clocked Cisco on the side of his head flush with his temple. Cisco dropped to the ground like an unconcious inmate who'd been knocked silly by a fellow inmate.
Frankie had his ticket to solitary or as everyone called it, "the hole".
~~~~~~~~~~~Frankie in the hole
"Well, welcome home there, Cardenas. Been up to no good I see."
"Yep, Murdoch, I can't get better accomodations anywhere in the greater LA area. The view is what I dig the most. And the cuisine, AHH, bon apetite!" Frankie laughed and then stopped laughing and put on a poker face.
"How much time ya got left here, Frankie?"
"Two weeks. Two weeks until I see my beautiful girl."
"Shit, home bucket, you think that young thing be stayin' for the likes of you? Been smugglin' drugs in here? Is that it? I could bring in Officer Drumbowsky for a cavity search, she's been asking about you."
"Now you're talkin'. But, you know I got a lady, as enticing as Deathstar Drumbowsky is."
"Well I gotta tell ya, Romeo, that's just about enough to make me puke up last year's Christmas Turkey. The thought of you fawning over that gal like some chick romance novel, is an affront to every penis toting man in America. Now, what form of criminal activity do you plan taking up to feed her?"
"Not me, Murdoch. I'm educated, I learned auto mechanics. I know everything about cars, inside and out. I've got a job waiting for me. I'm walking the straight and narrow, boss man. Straight as an arrow."
"Well, Jesus P Christ in a Yacht going down a water spout. Don't tell you're going to try and rejoin the real world are you? I'm tip-toeing out on a limb here, I give you eight days until you're back here entertaining the help."
"Not a chance, Murdoch. I'd do anything for my girl. My uncle owns a shop. When he sees I've straightened out, he'll hire me. I've learned how to take an engine completely apart and put it back together, a trany too. If she's there, I'm never looking back."
That was eight years ago. I’ve spoken to him maybe five times. I haven’t told him he fathered a daughter. Why tell him? I can’t predict who’s walking out of that prison. My Frankie may have died up against that wall eight years ago to keep me alive.
Dios por favor ayudame, I can’t breathe. He’s so much bigger than I remember. He’s a … a man. Why didn’t I consider he’d be a man? Don’t run, Vicki. Walk.
“Blade, I … I …”
As he puts his arms around me I can sense the power in his body and I can absorb the love deep into my soul. He doesn’t have to speak. I waited for him. He waited for me.
“You have a daughter, Blade.”
“It’s Frank, Vicki. It’s Frank now. Daughters don’t have fathers named Blade.”
Whatever needed to be worked out, would be worked out. I knew it.
I am the girl in the picture and this is the boy.