January 12, 2011

Value Speaking

Joseph Walker
To tell you the truth, I don’t remember all of the reasons why Ernesto came to live withus. As I recall, my brother, who was living in Chile at the time, told us Ernesto needed a place tostay in the United States. Inviting him to stay with us seemed like the right thing to do.
And for a while, things worked out really well. Ernesto was a gracious guest. It was funteaching him American customs and helping him expand his English vocabulary and grammar.He had a pleasant personality, and his Latin good looks and charm were . . . well . . . charming.
Then the teasing started.
At first, it was occasional and playful. But gradually it became his way ofcommunicating with my sister and I, and it became hurtful. Kathy was going through a gawky,insecure stage, and Ernesto was relentless in pointing out what he thought were personality andfigure flaws. I, on the other hand, was a chunky child, and was painfully aware of how muchlarger I was than the other kids my age. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had started into the firststages of bulimia. I would skip lunch at school because I was embarrassed to eat in front ofpeople, and then I would take my lunch money to 7-11 to buy as much junk food as I could get.
It wasn’t much of a diet, especially since all of those empty calories only made meheavier. To their everlasting credit, my friends didn’t say much about my weight, and even whena thoughtless comment slipped out I tended to laugh it off. But Ernesto wouldn’t let it go.
“Hey, Gordo,” he would say, replacing my name with the Spanish word for fat. “Whenare you going to start sleeping with the rest of the pigs?” Then he would grab the layer of fataround my middle and pinch — hard — until I started to cry, as much from the humiliation asfrom the pain.
“Pobre cito,” he would say in mock sympathy. “Pobre bebé gordito.”
My parents asked him to stop teasing us — several times, as I recall. But he didn’t stop;he was just more careful about when he did it. Dad asked us to try to be forgiving.
“Maybe this is how people show affection in Chile,” he reasoned. “We just need to bepatient until he understands that hurting people isn’t acceptable here.”
But Ernesto saw our attempts at tolerance as weakness, which prompted him to press hisadvantage, threatening to make things even worse for us if we told Mom or Dad.
One night when I was taking a bath Mom inadvertently walked in on me. For the firsttime she saw the purplish bruises on my sides.
“How did you do that?” she asked.
“That’s where Ernesto pinches me,” I said.
By the time I got home from school the next day Ernesto was gone, and I don’t rememberever seeing him again. It was some time before I asked my Dad about what happened.
“Well,” he said carefully, “things just didn’t work out.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I guess it wasn’t such a good idea to have him come and live with us.”
“No,” Dad said, “it was a good idea. It was the right thing to do. It just didn’t work out.Maybe it was his fault; maybe it was ours. Probably we all could have handled things better.”
Then he taught me an important lesson: “Sometimes we do the right thing and it turns outwrong,” he said. “Maybe somebody makes a mistake or handles something poorly, or maybethings just don’t work out like we thought they should. That doesn’t mean it was wrong. It justmeans that you tried to do what’s right, and you did the best you could.”
And that’s the right thing to do — no matter how it turns out.

1 comment:

anna. said...

umm...not all chileans are crazy mean.

just FYI ( :