This story is by Yvonne Garcia Zaher and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It was 1973 and the height of the gang wars in Southern California. Before I was 15, a dozen or more of my friends were already dead. My name is Anthony Roberto Garza, I live in the “Hills” as everyone calls it. Lomas was the name of the gang in our barrio, which means the hills in Spanish.
I was born and raised in the “Hills.” I was constantly getting pressure from everyone to join, especially form my two best friends, Rafael aka Joker and Joey aka Gumby. I was fifteen and hadn’t joined Lomas yet. Rafa, that is what I called him, and I had lived next door to each other our whole lives. We were like brothers, like brothers we did not always agree on things.
Rafa and Joey joined Lomas when they turned 12. They liked the prestige and protection that came from being from Lomas, I on the other hand was not interested or impressed with the gangster life. Too many enemies, in our case Sangra.
Sangra was the gang on the other side of the tracks. They were Lomas’ arch enemies. They had been in war off and on for decades. Sangra kills someone from Lomas, Lomas kill someone from Sangra, on and on it goes.
There have been no gang killings lately, but you never know when shit could happen. You or one of your friends could be gone in an instant. No, that was not for me. I was going to be a journalist and travel all over the world, I needed to fly and be free of this kind of life! I was not going to be a generational homeboy from Lomas as is the fate of many. The “Hills” had a way of swallowing up whole families. No way. I will not let that be my fate! The “Hills” would not have me.
I still liked hanging out with Rafa and Joey. They were my friends; they were all I knew. I was always careful not to go with them when they were doing gang shit, like tagging, jumping people—things like that.
Tonight, was a wedding. Gato one of the older homeboys was getting married. Rafa, Joey and I were going to go to the dance reception. Even though I was not officially in Lomas. I was generally accepted by most of the homeboys since they had known me my whole life, plus they also believed I would eventually join their ranks.
The wedding was going to be at the American Legion Hall in Monterey Park, a city in between Lomas and Sangra. It was kind of neutral territory—most of the time.
Standard dress code was starched creased khakis and an equally starched Pendleton Shirt. I particularly liked wearing green colors because it would accentuate my hazel green eyes and the girls would always fawn all over me. I was hoping for the attention of one girl in particular, Lisette. She was a small petite girl with a beautiful light brown complexion and honey brown eyes. Her straight long black hair fell all the way down to her tiny waist. I thought she was beautiful. We have flirted before but have never really been together. I had high hopes that tonight would be the night.
We arrived at the wedding reception around 10 PM when the party was already in full swing. Everything looked cool. People were dancing to both Mexican and English songs, mostly oldies. I spotted Lisette and noticed she was standing alone. Her friends were on the dance floor dancing. This was my lucky night. I walked over to her. “How are you doing? Having fun?” She looked up at me with her flirty honey brown eye.
“Well, I was waiting for you”, she replied with a half-smile.
“Okay then, let’s dance.”
I said it more of a statement than a question. I was lucky that a slow song was now playing. I took her hand and led her onto the dance floor. Slowly I put my arms around her waist and drew her close to me as we started to move in perfect unison together to the music. In this moment in time, life seemed perfect. I did not want it to end.
Just as I was really starting to believe that tonight was the night, I heard a loud sound—like gunshots! Everyone started to scream and scramble. I immediately started to panic,
“Where is Rafa, where is Joey?” I yelled.
She looked up at me horrified and scared “I don’t know, but we have to get out of here. Someone is shooting!” She grabbed my hand pulling me to follow her out the back door, but I yanked it free. “You go with your friends out the back, I have to go find my friends. I can’t just leave them.”
“Please” she pleaded as she looked up at me with tears in her eyes. It was almost as if she knew something I didn’t. I should have listened. I gave her a look that told her I just could not go with her and turned and ran the other way.
I ran to the front of the building, and what I saw, was chaos. Two cars with four guys in each had already passed by once and shot at the guys that were standing in front of the hall. From what I could see, no one was hit. By now there were a couple guys shooting back.
To my horror, I saw the cars were making a U-turn to come back! I frantically looked for Rafa and Joey, repeatedly yelling at no one in particular.
“Anyone see Joker and Gumby?” Even louder.
“Anyone see Joker and Gumby?”
I had this dreadful sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, something was terribly wrong. Finally, I heard someone yell.
“Someone got shot around the corner!”
Somehow, I instinctively knew what I was about to see. Everything was happening so fast now. I didn’t have time to think of my safety or the consequences. I ran as fast as I could around the corner. There was Rafa and Joey lying on the sidewalk. I ran over to them and Joey was crying hugging Rafa.
Rafa my friend, my brother was lying on the cold sidewalk dead. Joey was hit and bleeding. When he saw me, he looked up at me with a look of such sorrow and sadness, then he just Passed out.
I fell to my knees beside them. I was going to check to see how hurt Joey was. Just then to my horror I saw the car coming around the corner. Without thinking I picked up the gun in Joey’s hand and pointed it at the passing car that had just killed my closest friend and possibly my other friend. Without thinking I impulsively fired it.
The car almost immediately swerved and crashed into a light post across the street. I don’t know what would’ve happened if the cops had not showed up in droves at this precise moment. The rest of the night is a blur.
Months later sitting in the courtroom waiting to hear my fate, I looked up and saw my family. My mother was devastated; the look on her face broke my heart. My father could not even look at me. What had I done?
When I think back to that night, I wonder—did I shoot that gun out of fear for my life? Or was it anger because they had just killed my beloved friend and I wanted revenge? Which was it? Was I even sorry I did it? I do not know.
What I do know is this—I must live with what I have done. I killed another human being. He was also someone son, brother, and boyfriend. What kind of man was I? In that one moment I lost my freedom and my dreams. I wished it had been me that died that night.
Interrupting my thoughts, the judge spoke, “Anthony Roberto Garza you are here remanded to the California State Youth Authority till you reach the age of 25 for the voluntary manslaughter of Ernesto Ortega.” The judge looked straight at me, “Do you have anything to say?”
I shook my head no. What could I say? Should I say I was sorry to the parents of the man I killed? That seemed kind of empty to me. Should I apologize to my parents for the devastation I had created in their lives? I couldn’t in that moment. So, I said nothing. “Please escort Mr. Garza to the holding cell.”
That night when the cell door closed and I was alone with my thoughts in my new “home,” I realized, that the “HILLS” had won. They had claimed me. I really thought I could beat that fate and fly. I was wrong. I am from LOMAS.