One of the advantages of being the living dead is that you don’t have to worry about getting sick. As I was growing up and began to have friends my age, I noticed that many of them would catch a cold, or get a toothache, or have stomach flue. Being a zombie, I never had any of these problems.
The drawback, of course, was that my mom was paranoid about exposing me to any kind of doctor or nurse–anyone who might have occasion to take my pulse or listen to my heart beat and discover that I had neither.
The first crisis came in the third grade when I returned home one Friday with a note from school explaining that all children enrolled in the Los Angeles Unified School District were required to get a vaccination for whooping cough. No student would be allowed to attend school unless they took the free pertussis vaccine or showed proof that their family doctor had given it to them. The free vaccines would be administered beginning the following week.
“Hay, mijo,” my ‘ama said, reading the notice over and over again. “what are we doing to do? What if they discover you don’t have a pulse when they give you the vaccine?.”
My mom agonized for a whole afternoon on how to deal with this new challenge to my identity. Finally, she hit on a brilliant idea. She went to the doctor that attended to her for diabetes and stole some of his stationary. She had old prescriptions from the same doctor so she could copy his signature. She wrote me a note saying that I had been given the pertussis vaccine by the doctor and she signed it with the doctor’s signature.
It worked perfectly and I played my part complaining about how the shot had hurt so much. From then on ‘ama kept the doctor’s stationary handy. In later years, she branched out and stole stationary and prescription slips from other doctors to vary it up. That’s how I got through not having to take a physical during my brief stint as a Boy Scout, and other physicals required at school when I got to junior high.
The next crisis, at least for me, came later that year.
Someone asked my third grade teacher, Mrs. Alvarez, why we placed our right hand over our heart when we recited the pledge of allegiance. Mrs. Alvarez explained that it was a salute to our flag, attesting to our heartfelt sincerity. She then went on to talk at some length about how the heart was not only an important human muscle, but was also a symbol for human love, compassion and commitment.She explained about phrases like, “I give you my heart,” and “he has real heart,” and how some things were “heartfelt.”
“Just feel your heart beating,” she said. And everyone put their hand on their heart. I followed the example though, of course, I could feel nothing, being dead and all.
“Just think,” she continued, “without this heart, you couldn’t love anyone. And what a sad world that would be.”
Well that did it. I went home that afternoon really bummed out. Since I didn’t have a heart, did that mean I couldn’t love anyone? I mean, I felt like I loved my ‘ama and I thought I had fallen in love with Pearl Gonzalez before she moved away.
But maybe it wasn’t love at all. Maybe I was just kidding myself.
Could a zombie without a heartbeat still love someone? I asked my mom about this.
“Hay, mijo,” she said, “it’s just an expression! Of course you can love. Love doesn’t come from the heart, mijo, it comes from here.” She pointed an index finger to the top of her head.
“I feel like I love you ‘ama. Really I do!”
“I know mijito, I know that you love me. And you should know that I love you too. Even though your dead and don’t have a heartbeat.”
I gave my mom a big hug and she held me for a long time.
Copyright 2012 by Lazaro De La Tierra and Barrio dog Productions Inc.