My name is Emmanuel Ramos Aponte. I was born in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico to an elegant but poor mother, Aurelia Aponte Pérez, and a belligerent and crass alcoholic of a father, Jorge Ramos Ramos, a product of cousin inbreeding.[i] I am less than a month shy of sixty-two-years-old. I live in the Bronx in an apartment I have lived in since I was seven-years-old. I consider myself a Boricua, but my island relatives call me El Gringo, as I have a heavy accent, light brown hair, and pale skin. Basically, I don’t fit in much anywhere. Never have, for most of my life, except in my small three-bedroom apartment that has been my safe haven since the summer of 1969.
Despite my introversion and inability to integrate into society, I did manage to marry and reproduce. Unlike nowadays, most people did achieve that back when I was in my marrying and reproductive years. I had two sons, Johnathan and Michael Ramos. I did argue for Spanish names (Yonatán and Miguel) and the custom of two apellidos,[ii] but my late Mexican wife, Gabriella, demanded that we make them pure anglophiles. To this day, my eldest, Johnathan, an elegant-looking bachelor of thirty-two, doesn’t know a lick of Spanish. He is also tall, angular, pale and European looking like myself, so I fear that one day I will have grandchildren who won’t even know of their Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage. He is in Australia at the moment, working as a dive master. I might hear from him three times a year. He doesn’t return my calls and has only been back to the United States twice since he left the country seven years ago, just after the Donald Trump fiasco.
My other son, however, not only looks like my Mexican wife, but embraced his latino heritage: a twenty-nine-year-old austere, dark, short, and stocky man with an adorable baby daughter and a conservative wife. He works for a prestigious law firm in Mexico City and- now that his mother is dead- calls me at least four times a week from his work phone during which he refuses to speak in English.
But I like speaking in English. Since I’ve lived in the Bronx for most of my life and was forced by my wife to speak in English at home, it’s the language I can best express myself in. And I’ve always loved words and writing. In fact, my dream has always been to be an author. But my daily life never allowed me much time for that and I was never organized enough with my responsibilities to set aside even a half-hour a day to work on my literary pursuits.
I’m currently a quadriplegic.
I fell through a sidewalk cellar door.
And what I would like to describe to you is the day that occurred.
• • •
I woke up at five in the morning, without the aid of an alarm clock. Ever since my fifties I’ve been waking up early, something that never came naturally to me in the past. In my youth, I was never much of a partier or drinker, but I would often stay up until one or two in the morning playing my cuatro or reading, imagining myself creating something similar to the literary masterpieces of Gabriel Garcia Márquez or the poetic verses of Maya Angelou.
But- to get back to the story- after waking up I did the first thing I do after regaining consciousness and opening my eyes: giving the pillow my wife used just six months ago a hug before raising my torso off the softening mattress. That particular day I huffed up with stiffness. I should have bought a new mattress last year, but with my wife’s pancreatic cancer and all it was hard to get things settled, and I’m not good at organizing and planning. So now I’m stuck with this ratty old thing because it still has her scent and memories, or at least I still imagine it to.
It took me five minutes to swing my aged feet off the side of the bed and stand up. I yawned, gently rocked my head side to side to stretch out the kinks in my neck, and then walked across the hall into the bathroom to relieve myself before making coffee.
Here’s the thing. As I might have told you before (I can’t remember, as my memory isn’t the greatest anymore and I’m speaking this into a tape recorder to be typed down at a later date (although, come to think of it, I might have told you about my eldest son’s tall appearance)) I’ve always been a tall skinny fucker. El flaco is what they called me in my youth. The type of man with knobby knees and elbows whose bones show everywhere. But even still, I could always eat. And I mean really eat to the point of disgusting others. Up until I my forties, a normal eating day for me would consist of two sandwiches for breakfast with a few glasses of juice, an entire pizza or another sandwich or some fried chicken a few hours later, a big lunch of platanos fritos con carne y papas o huevos y arroz (or some leftover alcapurias y mofongo), snack at any time if there was food around, a dinner at my friend’s place who lived near my work (which often consisted of two plates of food), and then a late dinner with my wife and sons. And at 6’3’’ I could never get past 135 pounds until I was forty-five.
Now I’m at about 155. So I’m no longer anorexic looking. But I also no longer have an appetite. It’s like I needed to stop eating in order to grow in width, the opposite of what nutritional science suggests. But I’ve normally been the opposite of everything. You might notice that there was no coffee mentioned in my youthful eating habits above, even though I would only sleep about four or five hours a night for most of my adult life. That’s because caffeine in general used to make me sleepy until the past decade. See, as I told you just a few seconds before, my body does act in strange ways. That is until my old age I guess. Now caffeine wakes me up and eating- when I do want to eat- makes me put on weight.
Anyway, all this talk about my diet and food habits has likely bored you. You’re not here to read or hear about that. You’re here to find out how I was unlucky enough to fall into a cellar. Besides, now that I have a lot of alone time confined to my hospital bed, I’ve finally figured out how to use the internet, and from this service (or however its defined) I’ve been able to read up on some writing tips. Most of these writing gurus explain that you shouldn’t get too particular about details of the character’s day as it bores the reader and drags the pace of the story. But see, I enjoy that. I like to hear about people who eat, walk, work, shit, talk, and do mundane things like myself. It makes them relatable. I don’t care about some superhero protagonist who solves difficult crimes while having unrealistic romantic encounters or reading about people with outlandishly lucky or unlucky lives.
So, reader or listener, you’ll have to suffer through some boring details. But I want to give you a clear picture of who I am and how I live as well as diverge from the unrealistic Hollywood standards that have been sold to us since before my generation even. Also, I guess that cliché is true and the elderly do go on and on and on when telling stories. Maybe it’s due to the fact that we have a lot of memories and a lot to say, but not that many people to say things to once our friends, relatives, and peers start dying off.
But- to refocus this narrative- what I wanted to say before I got into that diatribe about my eating habits is that recently a large cup of black coffee is all I consume in the morning until about one or two in the afternoon when I have a small lunch, which is usually only half-a-sandwich.[iii] So I drink my coffee early on, feel a bit of energy, shower, get dressed, and when the weather is inviting walk my old bones around the neighborhood for ten or twenty minutes or so, or when the weather is uninviting I read a book or the morning newspaper that I still get delivered to my mailbox. I then take some leisurely time getting out of the house and onto the four train, arriving at work around six thirty or seven. Luckily, the construction company I work for is not too far from where I live. And luckily, instead of letting me go (as they have many of us elderly long-term employees) they offered me a managing job in order to spare my aging muscles and bones.
So I spent the first hour of the morning filing paperwork and getting the afternoon projects organized. At eight, I headed off to Yonkers with the crew I manage to develop a new slot of buildings for some college Fordham students whose dress code and manner of speaking I just can’t understand at this point. My body is surprisingly still agile for my age, so I not only gave orders but also helped to operate some of the machinery and I did some careful lifting of supplies. With only staggered sporadic breaks, we worked on the construction project until one when I called it quits for lunch.
Since I was feeling solitary-minded, I waved a hasta luego to my fellow workers and went in search of food and a quiet place to sit, which isn’t so easy to find nowadays that everyone eats on the go. I found a relatively calm bodega with a few tables and chairs where I ordered a Snapple iced tea and a turkey sandwich with mustard and no mayo. I ate half of the sandwich and drank the Snapple iced tea in quiet solitude. When I was done, I wrapped the other half up, threw the glass bottle into the trash as there were no recycling bins present, thanked the clerk and the boy who made my sandwich, and exited through the store’s grimy door.
As I was turning the corner, my phone rang. It was most likely my son in México. I reached into my coat pocket, only to lose my grip on the sandwich. I swore a cabrón under my breath as I watched it fall onto the diamond plate cellar door below me. Just then, a fast-waking, youthful pedestrian accidently pushed me onto the contents of the sandwich. I tripped and landed onto the bent steel surface and- although I’m nothing huge- it gave way and I fell into a dark abyss.
As I was laying on the cold concrete below, I heard the young man scream a sir. I didn’t respond, but figured me falling was payback from the younger generation for how fucked up the world has become.
And then I closed my eyes and fell into an even deeper darkness.
• • •
After listening to and reading the typed manuscript of my written story/letter, I have to say that there might not be much of a point or climatic moment for the reader. But there was one for me. Watching the face of that youthful character contort itself into terror as I fell made me realize that there isn’t much the elderly is doing in this cutthroat culture to help out the youth of our nation. We are simply eating up resources and capitalizing on a system that has worked in our favor. So it made me decide to be euthanized, as I will no longer be of much use to others and will just continue taking young people’s time and require the use of lots of plastic and cotton and drugs and medical supplies and taxpayer’s dollars. And I don’t feel entitled to prolonged life as many of my generation does, although they claim that the younger generation is the more entitled one; which may be the case, but in any respect I have decided to opt out of burdening others in the current state my body is in. Nature made death so that the world can have space for new growth. And at a month shy of sixty-two it’s time I let others experience the world, especially given all the resources I’ve so blindly used up in my relatively long lifetime.
Anyway, I’ll end this long rant from a lonely confined old man by saying that I’m glad the culture has changed its mentality on death and assisted suicide. And I’m also glad to be the first candidate to embrace it in my state.
So long my lovely world,
Emmanuel Ramos Aponte
Emmanuel Ramos Aponte
December 8, 2024
* This story/letter (as the author defines it) has been taken from medical records in New York State to commemorate the 100-year-anniversary of the nationwide legalization of assisted suicide in the United States of America (now part of the Unified Territories of North America) and the 50th anniversary of National Death Awareness Day.
[i] (To clarify, my father is the product of cousin inbreeding, not me)
[ii] (Apellido is the Spanish word for surname.)
[iii] (The half-a-sandwich will play an important part later on in the story.)
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Wow. This was really impressive. I love the confounding style lapsing in and out of soliloquy and descriptions. And your observations are so detailed. The ending really hit me.
Thank you for reading and responding Adam! It’s powerful to know that people resonate with my words! Do you write as well?
I loved this story. I love surprises. Never thought he was going to commit suicide. Emmanual Ramos Aponte is a lovely man and I’m sad he died. But I understood why he felt the way he felt. And he is right. They say not to write the boring stuff, but when it adds to the story it is not boring and it is necessary. Wonderful story!
Thank you for this comment and the insight it brought me. When I hear you mention commit suicide, it sounds jarring. In my head, I was wording the action as assisted suicide. But the nuance in that is most definitely nuanced.
Committing suicide is jarring, but your wording of assisted suicide is absolutely correct. That is what he felt he was doing. For him, he was not committing suicide.
I really like your writing style. Actually it does remind me somewhat of those Latin American greats…
Oh wow. Now that’s a compliment!