My Cousin Yiyo
I don’t remember exactly when I was introduced to my cousin Yiyo. Some people exist in your mind from your beginning—we are only aware of their end. If it comes before ours, that is. My cousin is still alive and kicking in Sosúa. And perhaps unaware of how much he’d influenced my childhood.
Yiyo and I were inseparable. He’s about two years older than me and definitely the one who always had a plan. We went all over Sosúa, snatching fruits (tamarindos, mangos, limoncillos) from the trees of unsuspecting neighbors. People in small towns are very possessive of their trees. The ridiculousness of the concept of owning plants, trees, things does not escape me. Capitalism has really done a number on humanity.
Anyway, we didn’t steal much, as we were kids, but sometimes it was enough to get a neighbor flying out of their house, like a bat out of hell, yelling at us to skedaddle. One night, while I looked out, like I usually did, and he was climbing a tree, one lady came out to sweep right under it and he remained up there for an entire hour—until she left. We were terrified during that time, but laughed our heads off while we ran to his house with various racimos de limoncillos. We ran like the wind despite my occasional asthma attacks. I remember vividly how I preferred toe-running regardless of its efficacy, but it made me feel like I was flying. Feeling like I was flying was especially useful when I had to fight or flight.
Speaking of fighting, Yiyo set up numerous fights for me to be in—like a little Dominican Don King. He had a fantastical faith in my abilities to beat other people up. Especially other kids who either towered over me or were less naïve. One time, he put a pebble over this kid’s head—he was a couple of inches taller than me—and one on mine. He said that whoever knocked it off first from the other’s head was insulting their mother. I never had the desire in me to fight anyone, but whenever it came looking for me, my dukes were ready . The kid went first and I couldn’t believe his audacity. The only advantage I had was rage. A blinding rage that had me thrashing that lanky kid around like he was a rag doll. I could’ve sworn he was going to beat my ass into a pulp, but I won. That perhaps gave Yiyo more reasons to keep telling kids around the neighborhood that I could beat them. And beat them I did the times they had the courage to prove him wrong.
It was weird because I tended to be quiet and too obedient for my own good, but I’m reckoning he was keenly aware I had a green monster, suppressed in my tiny body, angry for being awaken from his slumber. If anyone was way too big and tried to bully me, he’d intervene, though. I remember this one kid, who for whatever reason had it out for me, Yiyo challenged to a fight in my grandmother’s backyard. The kid lost and left him with a dire warning—that he won the battle but not the war. Preteen boys can be ridiculous caricatures.
The first time I went to a discoteca, a matinée for unchaperoned kids, it was with him. He gave me a run-down before we went in because he knew I was a hick. I find it funny now, but he was trying to save us both from embarrassment, as I had a natural tendency to do just that. He told me not to look up at the flashing lights once we were in—I did anyway. He also told me that we should separate here and there—I never did. It’s a miracle he still hung out with me. I was too socially torpid. When we accidentally hit someone with a softball while we were playing at playa Sosúa, we all fled, but I was the slowest one, so the man who ran after us caught me. For some divine reason, I gathered my senses and told the man I didn’t know the other kids when he interrogated me about them. He let me go, shaken, but without a scratch. I’m sure he smelled I was too much of a good kid to hurt anyone intentionally.
My cousin Yiyo was my main source of information about New York City. He’d gone several times before Americans even considered giving me a Green Card. My vision of the place was completely warped—from streets paved with gold to people living in skyscrapers. I mean, he wasn’t lying about the skyscrapers, but we weren’t the kind to live in them, let alone be greeted with gold. Imagine my disappointment when I was dropped in the middle of the ‘hood, seeing four-to-five stories buildings, connected to each other, and knowing I’d live in them instead. It was cold as hell when I arrived to Bed-Stuy, but colder was my disappointment. It’s like waiting all your life expecting flying cars and hoverboards to appear during the early 2000s, only to be smacked with the reality that we’re still driving gas-guzzlers and at the brink of a climate disaster—beyond the collapse of civilization—that’s to bring extinction to humanity and millions of other living creatures. His New York City was not mine. I saw an entirely different world and that naïve boy that once lived inside of me was going to unceremoniously be killed by a new culture, a new country, a new life.
We would no longer raise hamsters together, go to the playa on weekends, madly thrust ourselves against the waves whenever the sea was angry, party at clubs for kids, and roam the friendly streets of Sosúa—at least the ones that didn’t know we moonlighted as fruit thieves.
Years later, I shared a picture of my childhood—during those years we used to spend a lot of time together—on Facebook and he commented that those were the best years of our lives. He was right. We were young, wild, adventurous little terrors. Cousins are magical beings.
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