A Eulogy For the Boy I Don’t Love
by Katherine Serna
Miguel is the least interesting person I know. He’s 5’7 with almost black hair and barely eyes. Miguel is Mexican, the type of Mexican produced in South Texas. He’s the type of boy who goes hunting and drinks illegally with his uncles (though in Texas it’s legal to drink with your parents at the age of 18) while they skin the deer they killed earlier that day and uses pictures of him holding it by the antlers on Tinder and still wonders why he doesn’t get any matches. His two front teeth are crooked and his eyes droop a little sad. His fingernails are very short with a little bit of dirt underneath them, but I pretend not to notice. The most entertaining thing about Miguel is that when he was 13 he dislocated his shoulder playing basketball and can now pop it in and out of place. There is nothing particularly interesting about Miguel.
We spent most of our time at my house. I don’t have a game console, but Miguel loves playing, so he always brought his. The first time, he brought three games with him.
“Pick one,” he said.
I am not a video game kind of girl. I tried to be, mostly because I wanted to be the type of girl boys liked, and I thought the video game girl was the kind of girl boys liked. I didn’t recognize anything about two of the games, but the third one had Mario and Princess Peach and the yellow guy with the turtle shell and the red mohawk. So I picked that one.
“Good choice,” he said.
I watched him plug the console into my living room TV and set up the game. My TV was small, so we pushed the couches closer to it to see better. It sat on top of a brown shelf that used to be my grandma’s. He sat on the couch and I thought about sitting next to him. Instead I sat on the love seat. He passed me a red controller and asked me to pick a character. I picked the little red mushroom.
“Toad?” he said with a laugh. “You would pick that one.”
I’m not sure what he meant by that.
I met him when I was 14 and he was a year older. We were both in band in high school. He played the trombone. He wasn’t very good, but he always pretended that he wasn’t very good on purpose. He said things like, “I haven’t practiced, but if I did I’d sound great, I just don’t care enough.” You know, the types of things you say so that people think you’re cool, like you’re bad on purpose, like you don’t care about being good.
I played the clarinet, and I wasn’t very good at it either. But the difference between Miguel and I was that I tried really hard to be good and never succeeded.
We had our District competitions in October every year. All the band kids from all the schools in the city, Laredo, gathered at one high school and played for random band directors from other schools in other cities. We all played the same three etudes, and everyone was ranked from best to worst. The top fifteen clarinet players made the District band, and there were 5 other alternates. The top ten clarinet players moved on to the Region solo competitions. I’d been competing since I was in the 8th grade.
“I used to think I would be really good,” I told him.
“At the clarinet?” he said.
“Yeah,” I responded. “I was an alternate as an 8th grader. That was supposed to mean I would eventually be good enough to make it. It was supposed to mean that I was right on track.”
“It’s not that big of a deal.”
“I practiced so much this year,” I said, because I did. There were so many times Miguel wanted to hang out, and I said no because I had to practice, because I had to make District that year.
“A lot of people do,” he said. “But only fifteen people can make it. If it makes you feel better, think of the other hundred clarinet players you did better than.” He lightly tapped my leg to make me feel better, and I chuckled a little.
“It’s not good enough to be just an alternate anymore. I’m supposed to be the person who does really well.”
“What do you mean why?”
“Why does it have to be you? Why are you the one who has to be really good?” he asked. I didn’t have an answer. “Do you even like the clarinet anymore? Or are you just trying to prove to someone that you’re really good?” Again, I didn’t have an answer.
In May, when Miguel graduated, I decided that was my last year in band, too. I liked the clarinet, but not enough.
The best thing about Miguel is that he was kind to me. When we sat in his car, Miguel let me pick the music. I didn’t like the way his car smelled, but I’ve never told him that. He kept coins in the cupholder, and napkins in the glove compartment and an extra t-shirt, whether it was clean or not was uncertain, on the floor of the passenger side. His car smelled the way salt water tastes when you’re sitting in the ocean and a wave knocks you over. It smelled like the back of my little brother’s closet. Other than that and the way I don’t love either of them, Miguel and my brother have nothing in common.
Miguel goes to the vocational school. He’s in a 10 month program to be an electrician. His dad runs a construction company that he already works for, but this would be his way up.
“It’s perfect,” he said. “I can continue working for my dad while I’m in school, and when I finish, he’ll have to hire me as an electrical partner, because why wouldn’t he? And then he’ll be forced to pay me.”
“He doesn’t pay you now?”
“Well no,” he started. “He always says that if he paid me, I’d have to pay rent, and help with bills. He always says, ‘Vives aqui por gratis. Te visto, y te doy de comer, nomas falta que te bano a la verga, y ahora quieres que te pague también?’ It’s so funny.” He didn’t finish his sentence because he started to laugh a little bit, clutching onto the steering wheel as his body leaned forward. His eyes always get so small when he smiles.
I like when Miguel spoke Spanish. His voice changed. He sounded happy, and his words rolled out of his mouth slick, like they’re only meant to come from him. Spanish is my second language, so I don’t have such grace with my tongue.
I dreamt about Miguel naked once. I’ve never told anyone about it. I’m still embarrassed. I could never imagine being naked with Miguel in real life. He’s so skinny. The most I’ve seen of him is his stomach, just when his shirt rose up while he played basket. I quickly turned away every time that happened. His veins stuck out on his hands and wrists on the steering wheel when he drove me home. His hands were bigger than mine. Disproportionally big. They would’ve been awkward to hold in my own, and I didn’t want to. But sometimes I’ve thought about what they’d feel like on my thigh when he drives.
What I wear is really important to me. Miguel always made fun of me for that. “Nobody else in town dresses like you do,” he said.
“In a good way?”
“Maybe. You dress like those girls on Instagram.”
“Maybe I wasn’t made for this town.”
“Is that what you’re going to study? When you go to college?”
“Yeah, probably fashion design.” I’d told him that a few times before, but he always forgot. “Or something similar to it. I mean, assuming I get into a good college.”
“Why does it have to be a good college? Why not just a college.”
“Oh, I don’t know, I-”
“Don’t think about it too hard, I’m messing with you.”
“You will, get into a good college, I mean. I believe in you.”
My little brother likes Miguel. He always wanted to come to the park with us so that Miguel could teach him to play basket. Before Miguel, he never had any interest in the sport. I didn’t mind, or at least I tried not to. Miguel and I were just friends, anyway, I didn’t have to be alone with him.
“Miguel, how tall are you?” he asked. My brother was 10, and just reached 5’.
“Will I be that tall one day?”
“I hope for your sake that you’re much taller,” Miguel said. “But looking at your sister, you don’t have much luck.”
My brother laughed, and I punched his shoulder. “He’s making fun of you, too, you know!” I half-yelled.
“I know, but it’s funny when you’re the punch line.”
I wish Miguel and my brother didn’t get along so well. It only made things harder. I don’t think that my brother misses me very much now that I’m gone. But I think he misses Miguel.
Laredo is hot and dry and the sun shines really bright. Miguel always liked Laredo. He said he didn’t want to leave and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. I’ve always wanted to go. I wanted to go somewhere cold.
“I want to see the snow.”
“Why? It’d mess up your hair, and your pretty makeup.” He’d never called me pretty before.
“I can wear a hat. And I don’t have to wear makeup.”
“But you’ll want to. And what about your outfits? You won’t be able to show off your nice clothes under a coat.”
“People will see them when I’m inside.”
“Is that the same though?”
“I don’t like sweating.”
“I don’t mind it. Every building here has air conditioning.”
“Outside doesn’t have air conditioning.”
“You’ll probably get sweaty under that coat.”
“So then I’ll be warm.”
“You’d be warm here, though.”
“What if we lived on the sun?”
“I think you’re pretty close now.”
Miguel didn’t mind when I played Taylor Swift in the car. Or at least he didn’t tell me that he did mind. Miguel didn’t say much about the things that I liked, and he didn’t ask me about what I minded. Once, though, he asked if I wanted mayo or mustard for my sandwich. I told him I didn’t have a preference, and he gave me neither.
In November, I applied to NYU, early decision. Miguel encouraged me.
“That’s gonna be so exciting for you.”
“I’ll send you pictures.”
“You don’t have to do that,” he said, and we were both quiet for a moment. “I don’t want you to do that.”
In January, I submitted an application to Texas A&M International University, the school in our city. When I was fifteen years old I told my school counselor that I’d never apply to go there. I told her it was a fine school, but I knew it wasn’t for me. I didn’t think then that I could grow much if I stayed home. I think that was rather elitist of me.
“It’s a safety choice. There’s no guarantee I’ll get into NYU. I just want to make sure I have a backup plan,” I said to my mom, and to my counselor the next morning, and to Miguel the day after that.
“There’s plenty of other schools that could be safety choices,” he said. “I thought you wanted to study fashion.”
“I didn’t think you’d remember that.” “Why wouldn’t I?”
“Maybe I want to stay.”
“You shouldn’t. You’re too good for that.”
My mom invited Miguel for dinner a few times. Once, she made fideo con carne picada, without knowing that it was Miguel’s favorite. She also gave us tostadas con frijoles y queso y aguacate. She knew those were my favorite.
“This is so good, Ms.Villarreal,” he told her.
“No need to be so formal, Miguel. You can call me Lorena.”
“Okay. This is very good, Ms.Lorena.”
After that she always asked about him. She’d say, “How’s your friend?” But she never talked about him by his name when he wasn’t around.
Miguel isn’t the type for long-time friendships. We’d only gotten close the year that he graduated, after I’d accidentally swiped up on one of his instagram stories and left a fire emoji on a video of him skinning a deer. I met his mom a few times. It made me nervous every time. She really only spoke Spanish.
“Te entiendo muy bien!” she’d said to make me feel better about my broken Spanish. I’d smile and nod, and still try to talk as little as possible.
But still, we didn’t spend much time at his house.
“I mean, wouldn’t it be weird if you got to know my family, and then you just left one day? For college or wherever,” he suggested.
“I mean, I guess,” I responded. “I thought your mom liked me, though.”
“She does, she knows you’re a good friend. But I know that you’re leaving.”
“You don’t know that yet.”
“We both know that you are.”
“But you know my brother, and my mom.”
“That’s different,” he said. “I’m not the one that’s going to leave.”
Miguel told me once about a friend he had in middle school. They were really close, and went over to each other’s houses all the time. They played Mario Kart, and played basketball together, and learned the trombone at the same time.
“My mom loved him,” he said.
He told me that after his friend moved away, he had a really hard time. He didn’t like the trombone anymore, and he didn’t have anyone to play Mario Kart with, and he stopped playing basket for a while. They had said that they would stay in touch, and they memorized each other’s phone numbers. They were really good about it for the first few weeks, but they talked less and less every month, until they didn’t at all. He said the way that his mom always asked how his friend was only made the whole thing harder.
I secretly hope his mom will ask about me, too.
The worst part about Miguel is that he was a good listener. The worst part about me is that I love talking about myself. Actually, the worst part about Miguel was that he didn’t mind when I talk about myself. My mom hates when I go on and on about the thoughts in my head. But Miguel didn’t mind. We’d pick up some fast food and sit in the park and he’d eat his food while I talked about some random event from my childhood that I remembered in a dream the night before. I’d tell him about how a lady bug peed on my brother’s hand once and now they’re my favorite bug, or how my mom was the type to let us touch the stove, or how I always wanted to learn to rollerskate but have always had a deathly fear of falling. Then he’d eat my leftovers.
I liked when we sat in Miguel’s car. I liked it so much that for Christmas, I got him a pack of air fresheners he could hang from his rearview mirror. They were Mario Kart themed. He was using one cut into the shape of Toad, the red mushroom. I hoped he’d done that on purpose.
He liked when I played Tejano music on the aux. I’d never listened to it on my own accord before him. I never appreciated it like that. They were the songs my grandparents loved; I always rolled my eyes when they got excited about finding the Tejano radio station.
“What if I’m just a diversity ticket?”
“Like, what if I only get into NYU because I’m Mexican. What if they only accept me to meet their diversity quota?”
“I mean, at least you would’ve gotten in, no?”
I rolled my eyes. “I want to get in because I’m talented, and qualified, not because I’m Mexican, or from a border town, or because I don’t have a dad.”
“Well can you tell them that you’re barely Mexican?” he chuckled. I whipped around and punched him in the arm.
“So am I! Tell them that you don’t like Tejano music. Tell them Taylor Swift is your favorite. They’ll know.”
“You’re the worst.”
“And you’re the best.”
Miguel and I didn’t text very much, except to figure out the next time we’d hang out again.
When I received the letter from NYU, I didn’t know whether to text him or not. Maybe a call would be better. Maybe I’d wait until I saw him next. Maybe I wouldn’t tell him at all.
I didn’t recognize the song that was playing from my phone, but I remembered Miguel played it in the car the night before. I knew he wouldn’t be sad that I got in, or sad that I’d be leaving. And why would he be? We were just friends, anyway.
My mom walked in. “What does it say?” She walked to my bed and reached for the letter before I could answer. “I told you, you were worried for nothing.”
Being around Miguel felt like dancing. We had a rhythm to us that was constant, and comfortable. Once, he invited me to his family barbecue. They’d gone hunting that morning and gotten a really good kill. He had posted the picture on his instagram. When I got there, they were dancing. Miguel with his mom, his dad with his sister, his uncle with a bottle of tequila.
“Mija, you made it!” his mom said. Her accent was heavy, and I thought about how different our moms were, and how different it sounded when my mom called me mija. His mom always sounded excited to see me.
He hugged me when I got through the gate. He hadn’t done that before. And then Miguel and I were actually dancing. His left hand sat on the small of my back and his right hand held mine. It wasn’t as awkward as I thought it’d be. I didn’t put my head on his chest the way his mom was earlier, instead I tensed from the neck up and tightened my jaw. But he wasn’t tense at all, his head hung back a little, and the hoods of his eyes drooped low. He hummed the melody of the music really low, his voice like a piano. It was a love song.
He danced the way he drove, smooth. We moved across the driveway with ease, like the wind led us there. We were coasting.
When the meat was done, his mom asked me to follow her to the kitchen to make a plate for Miguel.
“She doesn’t have to do that, ma,” he said.
“No, it’s okay,” I placed a hand on his arm to reassure him. I’d never touched him like that before. I tried not to over think the look in his eyes before I walked away.
I followed his mom to the kitchen. She made a plate for her husband, and I made one identical for Miguel. Then she made one for herself, and I made one identical for me.
“You will be good for Miguel. And he will be good to you.” Her accent was like my grandma’s.
“Oh, no. Solo somos amigos,” I said slowly. Miguel didn’t like me like that, and I didn’t either.
“Oh,” she seemed disappointed, and I was sort of honored. “Maybe you feel that way now, but things change. I can tell.”
“Me voy a Nueva York en unos meses,” I told her, and I didn’t know why. “Miguel doesn’t know I’m leaving yet.”
“He’ll be very happy for you.”
In April, my new favorite thing about Miguel was that he believed in me, and I guess he still does. He didn’t mind when I talked about all the things I was excited to do at NYU. He asked every week if I’d heard anything back yet. I told him I hadn’t, even when I did.
He gave me a keychain. It was tiny, the keyring was bigger than the charm, but I liked that. It was Toad, the little red mushroom.
“I saw it and thought about you,” he said. I didn’t think he thought about me when we weren’t together.
“It’s cute, thank you. I really like it.”
“Yeah, I thought maybe you could put it on your dorm key, or your apartment key or wherever.” I wasn’t sure if I liked the idea of having something that would make me think about him everyday.
“I’m not going to get in.” I was lying. “You don’t know that.”
“And you don’t know that I will.”
“Shouldn’t you have heard back by now?”
“Exactly,” but I had, months before.
“You don’t have to go to NYU to go to New York, you know.”
“What would I do instead of NYU?”
“Anything. The city deserves to meet you.”
“Doesn’t Laredo deserve to keep me?”
“No,” he said. “You’re too good.”
Miguel is boring. He doesn’t have many hobbies except for hunting and playing video games and listening to corridos in his car in the middle of the night when he’s drunk. He came over to my house in the middle of the night once in the summer. He’d been drinking, and his eyes were puffy like he’d been crying, but I didn’t ask about it.
“You’re going to leave.”
“Maybe I won’t.”
“You’re going to leave and I’m going to be here. In vocational school. You’re going to go somewhere amazing and be someone amazing.”
“Maybe I won’t go anywhere.”
“And I’m going to be here. I’m just going to be an electrician.”
“Don’t say just.”
“I am just going to be an electrician.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“You’re so good.”
“And I am just an electrician.”
I left Laredo on a Tuesday morning. Miguel didn’t come to say goodbye, I told him not to, I told him it’d be too hard. I’d hoped he’d disobey me.
“I thought your friend would come?” Mom asked.
“No, but it’s okay.” Miguel is boring, and has crooked teeth, and he’s an electrician. I don’t like him like that anyway.
I hugged my mom and then my brother outside of the airport. Neither of them felt like hugging Miguel. That was fine.
I thought about texting Miguel when I got through the gate. I didn’t. I wanted to, but not enough.