By | 23 September 2001

In Los Angeles, 1974, the fire alarm
would go off in the 7th Grade. Our teacher
told us to hit the floor, hide under
the desks. I didn't understand because
I didn't speak English. Me, who'd recently
arrived from Cuba, via Miami, via Spain.
David, my Mexican friend, would look at
me from his own little space under his desk,
and he'd translate what the teacher told us,
to cover our heads, stay still, he said:
'terremoto,' earthquake, and the first
time I did think I felt a rumbling below
the ground, below my hands. I thought:
This is it, I'm going to die under a fallen roof,
in the rubble, my parents will have
to come identify my remains
. I thought
I saw the floor move underneath my cold,
sweaty hands. I left wet prints on
the linoleum floor, cracks etched red
lines on my knees. My neck ached,
my temples throbbed. Dizzy, I felt
my elbows go weak. David kept
asking: 'Estás bien? Estás bien?' Suddenly
I dreamt of a roof top in Havana, this flash-
back of a clear blue sky, a squadron of jet
fighters screaming across, over us, their sonic
boom an echo… Los Yanquis Imperialistas,
I thought, invading Havana. They
are bombing the city. Lost, I heard
someone call my name, our teacher
Mrs. Brown, bent at the knees, looking
down at me. 'Mr. Suarez?' she was saying.
'You can get up now, it is only a drill,
only a drill.' The class breaks out in laughter.
My hands and knees ached, my face pulsed
red with pain and embarrassment. How would
I ever get used to all of this? Here, in English.

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