A serialized novel and podcast by Andrew Leo Lovato
The following is Chapter Twenty of a serialized novel and podcast. Start the story of Elvis Romero at Chapter One.
I couldn’t help but feel a little bit of anticipation on the day marking my twentieth birthday in late July, 1975. It seemed like a significant milestone to have been on this earth for two full decades.
My buddies Rudy, Angie and Lyle, had taken it upon themselves to help me celebrate the event by organizing a party in Aspen Meadows up in the Santa Fe National Forest. Aspen Meadows was a beautiful, isolated campground where Santa Fe teenagers could hang out without fear of being busted by parents or the local police for having a keg of beer or smoking a little pot.
A gentle stream ran through stands of aspens. One big advantage of this place was that it could be accessed through only one steep, narrow road, making a surprise entrance impossible. Even if an adult caught wind of any questionable teen activity, a scout was always assigned to the entryway. He quickly signaled to the party goers to scatter into the mountains and take any traces of evidence with them if danger approached. The countless mountain trails and hidden clearings made tracking virtually impossible. This isolation also made Aspen Meadows the ideal romantic rendezvous for young lovers. It would be difficult to underestimate the number of relationships that were consummated on rustling aspen leaves on warm summer nights.
The sun was setting when Rudy’s yellow Ford Mustang convertible pulled up to my house. Angie handed me a crudely wrapped square that was in the unmistakable shape of a record album. I tore off the blue wrapping paper with the white stars and it exposed a copy of Led Zeppelin’s LP “Physical Graffiti.” I put it on the turntable and turned the volume up until the windows rattled. Then we piled into Rudy’s car and drove up toward Aspen Meadows. The air was warm and fragrant as we climbed into the forest. We passed a joint around as we entered the forest and laughed for no other reason than it felt good to be young and alive.
We finally made it to our destination and there were a few kids bullshitting and drinking beer. They were mostly guys and chicks I knew from high school or from around town. Everybody was in a good mood and high-fived me or gave me the vato handshake and said stuff like “Happy birthday bro” or gave me a hard time about being an old man now that I was twenty.
The sun was setting on the late afternoon and cars full of kids continued to arrive. It was soon obvious that not everyone was here to wish me a happy birthday. Many kids had heard about a party through the ”chollo” grapevine and they were coming to check out the action. Still it felt good to be in the company of so many people sharing quality vibes. After a couple of beers and a joint, I had a nice buzz and life was fine.
I was shooting the breeze with a guy named Tony when he nudged me in the back and motioned for me to follow him with a sly look on his face. He pointed to a bonfire that had been started and whispered,
“Hey, “Ese,” you see that chick over there in the black pants with the tight little ass? She was asking about you, man. I think she digs you. She wants to wish you a happy birthday if you know what I mean.”
I walked over feeling full of my stuff and Tony was right on. She was all over me, telling me how cool I was and going on about how she couldn’t believe I didn’t have an old lady. She thought all of my jokes were hilarious and she kept touching me on the arm and stuff the way chicks do when they dig you. A skinny cholo with a blue bandana around his head kept giving me the evil eye the whole time. I asked her about him but she told me not to worry about it. He was her “ex” and she had broken up with him a long time ago.
Anyway, we carried on like this for a while until a couple of guitars appeared and I started jamming with some guys on twelve-bar blues. Man, I was feeling about as good as a vato could.
Then in an instant my whole world turned upside-down.
I laid down the guitar to get a refill from the keg when the skinny cabron came out of the dark and punched me hard in the stomach. At least that’s what it felt like until I looked down and saw my shirt was dripping wet. It took me a second to realize what was going down. It was my own blood that was drenching my shirt. I’d been stabbed!
Everything started to spin around me and I gasped, “What’s happening?”
I remember chicks screaming and Rudy and Lyle lifting me and carrying me to the back seat of the Mustang. I lay on the sticky leather wondering if I was gonna die. Inside I was strangely calm and I didn’t feel any pain. I thought that it was so ironic that I might die on one of the best damn days of my life. I was worried about how Rudy was going to get the blood out of his back seat. Angie sat beside me and laid my head on her lap and stroked my hair as she kept whispering for me to hold on, and that we’d be at St. Vincent’s Hospital in a few minutes. I repeated the mantra “Baba Nam Keva Lam” over and over again in my mind.
That’s when everything went black.
What happened next is hard to fathom. If you find it hard to believe, I have no problem with that. It’s pretty hard for me to come to terms with it myself. I had some wild dreams or whatever you want to call them in the intensive care unit, fighting for my life.
I did a lot of flying.
In fact I spent most of my time in the air traveling to places and past times that I remembered in intricate detail. I hovered above these scenes as a dispassionate observer. I saw myself having an ice cream cone with Angelo and my parents when I was ten years old. I watched as I played in my grandma’s house at Christmas with all of my cousins. I saw my mom as a young, beautiful women puffing and pushing as I emerged from her at my birth. I was touched by the love I had shared with everyone around me. I had been very blessed.
I hovered above my hospital bed and looked down at my mom and dad and my heart broke at the sight of their grief. I wanted to tell them not to worry, I was okay and everything would be alright.
That night I was changed in a fundamental way. For the first time, I realized that I existed outside of my body and this transcended my concept of who I was. It was an indescribably liberating feeling. It felt so amazing to be unrestrained by the weight of arms and legs. All of the cares and worries that had seemed so important before fell away effortlessly. I was somewhat curious whether or not Elvis would pull through but only in a distant way.
For the next several days I soared above oceans, forests and great cities. I could travel anywhere simply by willing myself there. I ascended up into the dark, open recesses of space, my eyes filled with shimmering galaxies that spread across the horizon like millions of sparkling diamonds. Everywhere I went, I felt a loving, benevolent energy that I innately knew was the force that kept the universe spinning in its perfect symmetry. I felt happier than I ever could have possibly imagined.
Slowly, I began to feel a little heavier and flying required more effort. I felt like a weight was pulling me down toward the earth with an irresistible force. I realized that my brief gift of total freedom was coming to an end. I descended from the stars and the bright, blue earth grew larger and larger. Soon I could make out the outline of North America and the United States. As I neared what I recognized as New Mexico, I observed the hills and pinion trees rushing toward me. Finally, I could identify the walls of St. Vincent’s Hospital and I passed through them as if they were made out of vapor. I floated suspended above my still body for a few moments and then I instinctively merged with my physical essence and I was whole again.
The sensation was jarring as I was suddenly enveloped by the weight and suffering I had completely forgotten. It felt excruciatingly claustrophobic but I knew that my time had not yet come to escape the chains of this earth. I gulped hard and I felt a burning sensation in the back of my throat. With great effort I lifted my eyelids and the scene around me slowly transformed from a blurred canvas of light and dark shapes into a room with a bright florescent light and white-pocked ceiling tiles. I heard a gasp as I slowly turned my head and looked at the face of my mother. Tears ran down her cheeks and landed softly on my pillow case.
I managed a thin smile and she whispered, “Thank you Jesus.”
She gently squeezed my hand and I drifted back to sleep with the realization that I still had more work to do in this lifetime and God was not yet ready for me to perfect my cosmic flight patterns.