Purgatorio High School, a Short Story

"Time is like a sheet of music. You have the power to control how much you get of it. You can make it go faster. You can slow down the tempo. And if you write a fermata over it, can make it stand still."

"What's a fermata?" yelled Geoffrey. His body slouched against the fold up chair that acted as the only constraint from him and the other 99 students leaving the auditorium.

"A fermata is a symbol you write on top of a note. It means that you have to hold it out until the music director tells you not to."

"And whose the musical direc -- whatever you said."

"The music director Geoffrey, is you."

He got up swiftly.

"I don't know who you think you are bata, but you ain't gonna come up to our side of town and tells us that we're some music shi-"

"That's enough!" yelled Elena. Elena, or Ms. Bush as the kids knew her, was the daughter-in-law of Kenneth O' Shea Bush, head of Express Publications and my boss.

It had been six months since my mother had passed away from breast cancer and only three since I had gotten my book deal. I had vouched to never return to Purgatorio but was asked to speak at Purgatorio High School, my old high school, at Kenneth's request.

Everything up to that moment had had some form of beautiful structure to it.

After graduating in the top of our class from Austin College, Samuel and I had agreed to move from the small streets of Texas to the big city of New York together. Kenneth however, had this idea that I held on to the fact that I was no longer working at Atlantica Press and the fact that Samuel had left me for his daughter Elena, more than the loss of my mother.

"You need to learn how to forgive, Raquel, and realize that life has no structure to it. It is there where you will truly find yourself," he told me as I boarded the plane from La Guardia Airport.

"So what do you expect me to tell these kids then?"

"That life gets some structure when we realize that it doesn't have any."

Up to that moment I had believed that everything had its own destiny. Samuel had not only been my college sweetheart, but my physical companion in running away from the lust of our hometowns. He had promised to build the second coming of the Brooklyn bridge and I had promised to rise to the top of Atlantica Press. After my mother got sick I resigned from my position at Atlantica and brought her to live with us in New York. Once she moved in Samuel moved out. Her death came only two months afterwards.

Writing my book, oddly enough, came easily. I was angry and wrote in a state of apathy. It was lethargic, scandalous, and self-empowering all at the same time. The things that had happened in my life were slowly self-deprecating when I realized that they would always have life to them.

"I can't control what happens in my life 'cause there will never be any control over it ..." My voice slowly began to whisper through the microphone.

"Ms. Martinez?" asked Elena.

"... until I start to take control."

The kids eyes scattered through the room.

"Seeeeee," said Geoffrey, echoing his voice from the back of the room. "I told you this chick was loca."

It didn't help that I was addressing these kids in a Louis Vuitton trench coat and knee high Cavalli rain boots. How were they going to listen to me? I still very much had considered myself a product of this city, but after leaving its poverty stricken streets and crime driven culture, knew I was no longer a part of it.

"Because of the money?" I asked myself.

As a kid, greed had been my greatest conviction. My mother and father had immigrated from Mexico at the ages of 25 and 32 chasing the American dream, as so many refer to it, in envy.

Their goal, even if they didn't speak the language, was to give their three kids the three things that had never been given to them: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

But it was at this moment that I realized these kids had achieved it before any of us.

They could easily join a gang, or quit school, They could easily find a way to get money, power, or even out of Purgatorio, Texas. Those weren't their main priorities, though.

"I just want to learn English better," said Geoffrey. "The money will come when it should come."

"I just want to find the prom dress I saw online. Prom is only a week away."

"My brains only on beating Candy Crush."

One by one I invited each of the 100 students to come onto the podium to say what was on their mind.

"You're from Purgatorio also?" asked Monica, the last student in line.

I took off my boots, exposing my mix matched socks, and took of my trench coat, throwing it on the ground.

"Now I am, Monica. Now I am."