I’ve heard it said that writing is the act of paying attention, engaging my senses, and naming what I see.
I see Rudy.
I first saw Rudy working at AbonOrganico – literally diving into the compost piles, taking temperatures, testing PH levels, churning the mess, creating life from decay. Rudy’s smile and laugh made the hot, dirty, stinky work a bit more bearable.
I next saw Rudy at camp. His sparkling eyes warned me that a water balloon was coming my way. His forehead was smeared with mud as he led his friends to muck war victory. He was fully engaged, alive, molestando, teaching malas palabras to unsuspecting gringos.
When I see Rudy, I don’t see the normal indicators of a young man growing up in extreme poverty and violence. I don’t see the darkness, the anger, the despair, or the empty eyes; no, with Rudy, there is light – he walks with a spring of hope in his step. Please don’t allow yourself to believe that this spring of hope is because Rudy’s life is easy or because he is somehow exempt from the perils of life in Zone 3. Drugs, alcohol, solvente, and gangs all extend their welcoming embrace – They’ve been pulling on Rudy from a young age. It was difficult for him to stay away when he came home from work to an empty 8×8, corrugated metal, dirt floored, ramshackle house. Violence circled Rudy – he’s lost friends and family in the most horrific ways. He moved in with his sister when her husband was murdered and quickly became a father figure to his young nieces and nephew.
Despite all this, Rudy hoped; and, in turn, I knew that I could hope for my friends in Zone 3 because Rudy found a way to hope for himself.
My most vivid vision of Rudy was from a sunny, December afternoon – Rudy trudged his way out of the garbage dump, sack of plastic bottles slung over his shoulder, dirt smeared across his forehead, a huge smile on his face. I happened to be pulling up as he crossed the street, heading toward the asentamiento he called home. Rudy grinned, waved, set his sack down on the dusty pavement and leaned up against the corrugated metal walls that border his community. “Que onda vos? Como estas? Dónde está Joel?”
We chatted about life – his hopes and dreams, his fears, his questions. Should I try to go to the US? That’s too dangerous. To Nicaragua? Not as much opportunity there. Should I find a wife, have a child? Then at least someone would need me. How do I create some sort of meaning out of this mess called life? It was a beautiful conversation – raw, screaming with pain, hungry for meaning, clinging to…hope. I felt privileged for sharing that time and space, those words with Rudy. Who am I that he would confide in me?
I continued to see Rudy here and there for the next year or so. He was always fighting to keep that grin on his face, to not just survive life in zone 3, but to live life fully.
What happened next I can’t see so clearly, but I’ve heard. Rudy was working down by the mine – the river at the bottom of the garbage dump where workers collect metals. It had been raining for days. One second he was there, the next he was gone. The ten people there with him searched frantically, but no luck. Just like that, Rudy was swallowed by the trash that had sustained him for so long.
Five days later, Rudy’s body washed up ten miles down the ravine – battered, decomposing, unrecognizable except for a tattoo.
At his wake, my world stopped. Every anguished wail of his heartbroken nephew seemed to last an eternity. Tears fell slowly. Words were sorrowful, heavy, slow.
But, the world did not stop. It didn’t even slow down. No one knew. There was no article in the Prensa Libre or tribute in the news. All I had was questions, anger, the agonized screams of a family facing one more tragedy, another victim of the stark reality of poverty in this country I call home.
Today, I see a grave marker. A slab of etched marble situated on a wall of niches – each containing a story that deserves to be told. Each a shadow of the life it represents. I never saw this coming. I never imagined that the joyful boy I met would find himself there – unknown and forgotten except by us who know, remember, and are trying to find hope because Rudy hoped.