Life is dull. You are born, you plant a tree, you have a kid, you buy a house. But me, I was born and that was it. I haven’t done much, and, truth be told, my life is dull. The problem is that I don’t have a problem with that; I am the kind of bastard who likes dullness—I don’t have the kidneys for surprises. But truth be told, you can bear a dull life if you have a little—just a little—entertainment. As for myself, that came twelve years ago when I got an email that wasn’t meant for me.
I’m Jesse. Jesse Martinez. My sister and my mother call me “Don” because of “donuts”. Jesse “donuts” Martinez. I like them glazed. But that’s another story, probably. My email is email@example.com.
Everything started on August 15th, the day of my ex-platonic love’s birthday and the day the restraining order came through. A freaking Leo. I swear I’m not a creep, but she wasn’t having me following her around. I cannot blame her; she’s smart as they come. I just wanted to look at her, nothing else. I know she was way out of my league, and, personally, I don’t consider myself a dreamer.
That day, besides my mother’s anger—because of the restraining thing, because of all the noise lawyers and visits to the court made—was pretty dull. I was clicking around without any agenda, really, and suddenly, The Sound—the sound my computer makes when I get a new email. I’m used to the rush being totally unfounded because of all the trash people send: offers, offers, offers. And sometimes I’d send myself an email and I’d still feel excited about The Sound, until I remember I’m just dumb as fuck. But this time, it really was a new email, the kind of email Jesus would send, that is: low-key life changing.
The email read like this. Or not. Now that I think about it I’d rather start with: on that August 15th, years of confusion, entertainment, and complications started. Job offers, love complaints, high-school reunions and party invitations sent to the wrong person. Everything sent to another Jesse “donuts” Martinez, one from Columbia, a place so remote, so unknown, that I had to use the map. It turned out to be a South American country, very small, dark and dangerous. Although with the hottest, kinkiest women in the world, according to the site.
Now, the email. The email was written in Spanish. I get a lot of emails, in a lot of languages, Russian mainly, with malware links hoping to reach some stupid American that would click on them. I’m not saying I’m smart, but this is my job, or kind of. Anyways, this was special because it seemed personal; it started with “Hola hermano”.
I don’t speak Spanish but I know the word. When I was little I used to say “hola” just to please my mom. And “hermano”, well, I remember that Arrested Development episode: Gob thinking Hermano is a name, a man, andbelieving he’s sleeping with Martha. At the end Gob looks like an ass—as usual—because hermano turned out to mean brother, in Spanish.
Nobody calls me brother, and nobody speaks to me in Spanish. I have this thing, though, this creative, too-positive-for-my-own-good mind. I’m always making up these scenarios in my head and for a moment I thought that that email was going to be one of those of Latinas looking for an American husband. People say they don’t care about looks; they only care about coming to this country and having opportunities—the opportunity to be lazy wives.
My mom speaks Spanish. You can guess that from my last name, right? I have hers since my father never cared to appear even once in my life. I called her and she came to my room—always with that gesture. She disapproves of the naked ladies in posters around my room; she’s all like you’re too old for that, but she’s always saying men are children that will never grow up. And she’s super attentive to me, and I love her for that and I would die for her. She came in and I said I was sorry for the whole court shit and she asked if that was it and I nodded. She left no less angry, but she’s angry even when she’s happy.
I translated the thing online. It was an email from a guy that met the “Hermano” guy that wasn’t me. I quickly realized that. He was talking about “a party” where they “found each other after all these years.” He was talking about how “school was so cool”—that one was difficult because he wrote “bacano” and the translator couldn’t work that word out. But a man of computers always finds his ways—and you probably don’t know this, but I am a man of computers. The message was about a guy that found another guy with whom he went to school. He was “saying hello” and “hoped to stay in touch” just like they seemed to have promised at the party. Signed: Marcelo.
I sent the email to Trash. Wow, another confusion, another human being looking for a person that wasn’t me. Another mistake. Life, man, so repetitive.
During that time I used to think of her. How she’d be celebrating the restraining order from the judge. She had expensive taste; she was always drinking champagne in pictures. And McCallan. I didn’t know what McCallan was, but thanks to her I did my research and now I’m a more knowledgeable man. I haven’t met anybody, but if I do, first thing I would do on a date: order her a McCallan. It sounds bossy and luxurious, like a man who knows what’s up.
The time I’m referring to is the time in between emails. Every six months—or year—I received an email meant for this guy. Invitations, reunions, offers, reminders, whatever—nothing too personal, nothing exceptional. I didn’t say anything to the senders because then what? They would have been sorry and that would have been it. They were one-time senders because they didn’t care enough, or because suddenly the mistake on the email address was corrected, or because they felt attacked by the response that never came from their client, or friend, Juan Domingo Martinez.
The time I’m referring to was ten years. Ten years of believing that it wasn’t more than a random thing, a random thing that repeated itself once in while. The once in a while was too long, so I couldn’t think of it as something beyond what it was: an error. I preferred making myself busy thinking of her. I wasn’t obsessed but at nights I would wonder the reasons why she called the cops on me.
In a dull life ten years are not that much. I won’t say that nothing happened, but what happened wasn’t amusing. The only thing that really changed was my belly; it went from big to huge; it went from I-can-barely-see-my-penis to Idon’t-know-if-I’m-a-man-anymore. Life is mainly dull, but there are times when it’s cruel too.
In any case, after ten years you start to wonder about time and about age, and after those years I didn’t feel the same. I was slower and my mom was getting older and at the end of the ten years she was in a wheel chair. My sister got divorced and when mom got sick moved back here to take care of her and to complain about her life and have an audience. I wasn’t her audience because I spent all the time in my room, with my girls, and my thoughts on getting older and fatter.
But ten years also make you realize when something is not a coincidence anymore. And maybe it was, but you start seeing the supernatural side.
I started to look at this sad mistake differently when someone sent an email with a couple of pictures of the other Don; underwater photos of him in Riviera Maya. The pictures were sent by a photographer who charged him 25 dollars each. He also offered other services like weddings or pictures with dolphins and invited him to visit his web page and to follow his company’s social networks.
In my defense, I must say that I stared at the pictures for half a day, trying to understand why all of this happened to me. How many people receive emails that are not meant for them? Probably thousands, millions, what do I know; but how many people get those emails with the consistency with which I got them? I know everyone is trying to appear exceptional all the time, I know that, okay? And maybe a lot of people are just as inept and dumb as the other Don, but ten years? Really? Didn’t you miss those 25-dollar pictures, Don? I bet he didn’t because the pictures portrayed a man that didn’t care: very slim, very fit, all tanned, with nice eyebrows and expensive white teeth. Also he had 50 dollars to pay for underwater pictures in Mexico.
If I were like this Don, she wouldn’t have called the police and made such a show because an ugly, fat man was looking at her. I’m just saying.
On November 22nd of 2014, eleven years after the first email, The Sound emerged again with a brand new wrong message. This time was a flower supplier sending the invoice of some flower arrangements for Juan Domingo Martinez’s wedding.
Perhaps he was a dyslexic. Perhaps his email was firstname.lastname@example.org. Maybe he says M but people understand N. You never know with those weird accents. Or maybe it was just people doing what they do best: everything wrong.
So, Mr. Fancy Pants was going to get married and there was going to be a lot of flowers: calla lillies, yellow chrysanthemus, something called Coxcomb in crimson, and a lot of Cosmos in pale pink. Also a “designer bouquet” that cost what not. During dinner I asked my sister and mother about the flowers and they started joking and asking if I was turning gay. I didn’t finish my food and went back to my room to take another look at the list. I discovered that the flower supplier was in Pretoria, South Africa, where the wedding, I imagined, was going to take place. Pretoria? You son of a bitch.
They got married on February 14th, 2015. How fucking predictable. Our Don is the type of guy that gets married on Saint Valentine’s Day, and what’s more, his wife is into that bullshit too. Maybe chicks dig those ridiculous things but they never tell you that; they are just going to keep looking cool, worrying over their careers, not wanting to have children, laughing at men while drinking.
It was a non-religious wedding. Mother’s opinion is that non-religious weddings are not weddings it all. She was always saying that that was the first mistake she made with my father—after that the relationship was doomed. He left her with my sister and me. In a lot of ways we are the walking proof that non-religious weddings are not weddings at all.
I pictured the other Don’s girlfriend like Charlize Theron. Blonde, tall, golden, a total cunt, the sort of cunt that if you call her cunt would leave slamming the door shut.
A whole year passed by without any signal of his life. I entertained the idea that something happened to him or that he just learned how to give his email address right. Whew. It only took him more than a decade.
Except that… false alarm: The Sound again. So many years—all these years—and still I find myself believing that The Sound is going to be the announcement of a good email, a lucky email, something like the Leo is back and ashamed, asking for my forgiveness; or someone else, someone that saw my comments on forums and liked them and wanted to meet me. All these years and that is the first thing that pops into my mind when hearing The Sound. All these years but it hasn’t been an exception. Not once. After a while I resign myself over to the fact that the most I can aspire to is to get an email meant for Juan Domingo and see what has happened in his life. And that’s the closest I’m going to be seeing how a winner has it.
It was a bill. A bill from Puerto Rico’s Autoridad de Acueductos y Alcantarillados. Aren’t you a rich, annoying “globe-trotter,” motherfucker? Everyone wants to become like you nowadays. I see that people always want to be moving. Why? Everything you need is here in the United States of Amazon.
Mother is at the hospital now because of her arthritis and my sister is with her. I have a confession to make. I’ve been using some fake accounts to see what’s going on with the Leo’s life. She’s not entirely a social media girl, not anymore. She just posts pictures of food, and vacations, and with friends. Gay friends. Lesbians, mainly. Not the hot kind, the other: ugly, fat, unshaved. She declares herself a feminist now, and she’s not married, or she doesn’t look married. She doesn’t have kids, but does have this super big office in Chicago where she moved to a year ago or so. She doesn’t post champagne and party photos anymore. Nobody sends her roses, it seems. I’m glad her life is that boring; I’m glad life caught up with her like that.
She’s still hot, though. That pains me. I look way worse than how I looked fourteen years ago. I was kind of hoping the same for her, and she has changed and everything, but still looks very hot. Is she unhappy? I get the feeling she isn’t but I’d like to think she is; I’d like to think that her life got worse since she took me to court.
Mom calls. She’s in a lot of pain but wants to know if I’ve been eating well. I love my mom. I lie. I’ve been on a diet of chips and Coke. I lie saying “salad and chicken”. “What kind of chicken Donnie?” I don’t know what to answer, so I look for healthy chicken recipes and tell her: “just, um… grilled”.
If I eat enough grilled chicken with steamed green stuff would I be like the man in the underwater pictures? Probably not. Men like him don’t live with their mothers and sisters, they don’t get restraining orders. Men like him play sports but don’t care if they are popular among women because they are. They play sports because they want to, because that day they just wanted to throw a ball but wow, they are exceptional and don’t even trying. They read, they earn money with their smiles, they shake hands with yuppies, they buy women drinks at bars. They dream in color, and deep down they feel their dreams can become real, that’s the only danger. They don’t care who pays the check, they don’t look at fat people because they live in a world that only registers men like them. They travel, they do ordinary things in other languages because they learn fast, they conquer easily. Men like the man in the underwater picture in Riviera Maya are not worried about not receiving an email; they have enough social contact for them not to miss that. They go with their international wives to pick out the flowers for the wedding that is going to be celebrated wherever their wives want because they live up to the image of men like him and they are chivalrous—mommy taught them good. My mom? She says she’s going to tell my sister to cook something for me. Their sisters will never cook something for them. Their moms would never ask.
Tomorrow, April 4th of 2016, Mr. Martinez has a doctor’s appointment. The email confirmation says 1:20 PM with Dr. Gerard Blanco de Campos Junior, an anesthesiologist. Is it because of a surgery? Life comes at you fast, doesn’t it, Juan? Now that we both have grown older it was just about time that you realized that the world isn’t playground for men like you—or me, for what it’s worth.
Is it your kidneys? Your pancreas? Your heart? He’s still in Puerto Rico.
Mom came back home but she spends her days lying down on her bed, watching that Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck movie over and over. My sister had to start working a third job to be able to pay for the 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM nurse. She called me a loser, a fucking useless piece of flesh, a motherfucking waste of space, a copy of that shitty man our dad was. She’s not talking to me, and I’m not talking to her. And this is how it’s going to be: my mom dies and my sister kicks me out of this house and eventually she’ll be another bitter woman hating me. Should I start a list? An Excel spreadsheet?
Man, years go fast when you’re in front of a computer. Next thing you know, the person I am being mistaken with on emails is having a child. Today I received the reminder of Mrs. Martinez’s ultrasound on June 10th, 2016 with Dr. Fabio Da Silva Wan-Meyl. “Dads are extremely encouraged to come.” I already feel the child like mine. The Internet is a lonely place and I swear I don’t want to be this moved, but give me a break, I’ve known the guy for fifteen years now.
Today, mom died. Last thing she said to me? “Don, you look fat”. And then I left her bedroom. At night she started to whimper really loudly. What did I think in that moment? This fucking lady complains too much, I’m not getting up. Turned the pillow over and fell back to sleep. I woke up in the morning and saw what the Leo had been posting: “Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn”, an image with pink background. That’s when I hear my sister’s cries and I knew then that I am a bastard, and that I’m going to be one forever.
Funny how suddenly it was all clear. It is really stupid when people put things that way: I suddenly got it, I suddenly could see it. But suddenly it was all clear. Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn… and the illusion was broken. The Leo was really stupid, she was. I thought of her as a smart person because I was too hurt to see that she wasn’t anything more than a goodlooking human being. I have a lot of those for free on the Internet. And on the walls, hanging.
I think my sister had her things packed before my mom died because she left really soon. She didn’t say goodbye, just wrote a note with the time and place of the funeral. We saw each other there. It was all very sad, but not even for a moment did I have the desire to talk to her. She wanted to act like the type of woman she’s not? Okay, but don’t waste my time, I have a mom to mourn, things to regret. She was a very good mom, I remember her with the gesture, opening a can of beer, washing her hands three times after smoking a cigarette and acting like she’s not smelling like nicotine.
The landlord let me know that I had to be out of the house soon if I wasn’t going to keep paying the rent. Landlords gotta eat and I’m not selling my computer to pay for this shithole. I’m selling it to buy a laptop—it’d be easier to carry.
After more than a year, on July 30th, 2017, I got an email from Don’s son’s daycare in London. Yes, he’s in England and he had a boy. I’m making time to do the check-in at the shelter. I had to walk for fifty minutes to get here. They already know me at the closer Starbucks and nobody wants to have a bum in their almost-fancy cafeterias. In here they don’t know me yet; they cannot decide if I’m a bum or just some Californian-cult guy.
The Sound rang. It almost felt like a miracle. Except for the content: The Don wasn’t dead, or terminally ill, he was in a new city, with his new son, and God knows what new things else. A car, a house, a fucking million dollar painting. He wasn’t waiting for 5:00 PM to arrive to get a bed and a hot meal. I was.
When I was in school I used to sit in the back of the classroom. Everyday, for twelve years. I wasn’t picked on, but I wasn’t there either. I saw the big guys beat the shit out of the small guys, the small guys who sat where people could still see them. I saw that and thought that I was smart, that I found the way to survive the infernal regions of school without sweating it, and for years I thought that sitting on the back was the kind of thing that will make me a great man. I felt special. I felt superior. It seems pretty ridiculous now, how easily I fell into the I’m-destined-to-great-things pit. I didn’t choose to sit in the back of the class; I was the back of the class, you fucking moron.
The daycare email included an invitation for the kid, Fortunato, and parents, Juan Domingo and Maria Sie Martinez to a Teddy Bear Picnic. Fortunato. How much more do I have to take? Aren’t you dressed in enough gold you fucking piece of shit? On Sunday 9th July from 10:30 until 3:30 at The Hampton and Kempton Waterworks Steam Railway. Everyone is welcome. Children bringing a Teddy Bear travel free. Otherwise the charge is £1 per child aged 5 and over, under 5’s are free, and adults pay only £2.50. The railway is in the grounds of Kempton Park Waterworks, access from Snakey Lane in Hanworth. Postcode TW13 6XH. Further details in our website www.hamptonkemptonrailway.org.uk
I can’t go back to the 50-minute walk Starbucks. They asked nicely last time, but the nicer they ask the more aggressive they get if I come back. I’m so unfortunato, that I got a pretty bad cold. Every time I cough I feel I’m going to spit out my lungs. Right now I have to wait outside but hey, at least it’s summer and isn’t raining that much. Before I left I was looking at Mrs. Martinez’s Facebook for the first time. She is blonde, and golden, but she looked like a nice person, like my mother. Some people make it really hard to hate them.
Today July 23rd, 2017, a woman just sent our fortunate guy more than a dozen nudes. Estou com saudades do meu xodó, she wrote. Needless to say, she’s not his South African wife. Our golden boy is tempting his luck… weird thing, right? Having everything and still willing to risk that for the little pump in the heart after ejaculation. This is where the back of the class and the front meet and nobody is better than anyone, and everybody’s presence is acknowledged.
While life is dull, and cruel—it takes your mother and gives you endless reminders of your loserness—, life also gives you lemons. And you happen to be so damn thirsty.
I, too, am trying my luck. I bet it starts with guessing what the right email is; I bet it starts with: Juan Domingo Martinez, you slippery motherfucker. You are not going to believe this story, I’m homeless and I have these pictures. I was kind of hoping that you’d help me, bros before hoes, isn’t that right?
Valentina Calvache is a bilingual writer. Her most recent work has appeared in Vice Latinoamerica, Rio Grande Review and the anthology Cuerpos: 20 formas de habitar el mundo, from Planeta. She holds an MFA in Writing from UCSD. Her first novel is coming in 2020. Image: Dolphin fresco at Knossos, restored by the artist Piet de Jong, 1922-1930, Wikimedia commons