“Never make a problem more difficult than it needs to be,” the math tutor instructs his bewildered subject. It seems he is blissfully unaware of just how much that is easier said than done. To him, there can be no gray areas, no room for abstractions–not the way there is for Diego, who struggles with math not only because it does not interest him, but because he has never been able to think in such linear, concrete terms.
His trouble with focusing began in his youth, a time of fraught emotionalism during which he grew up amid the natural ambient noise of gunfire and the snip snip sounds of both murder (for the sheer pleasure of it–not just because killing sex workers is the most fun a boy can have, with or without his clothes on) and affordable plastic surgery in Mexico City. His father left early on, fleeing to the border of Texas whereupon he and his mother, Josefina, never heard any further information about him. Josefina told Diego he had not made it, that the American president was known for turning the testicles of illegal immigrants into necklaces for himself, his cabinet members and any women forced to sleep with him for money. But she knew the truth. Arturo had escaped, made it to the other side. And he didn’t want to be weighed down with any element of his past as cause to make him feel the burdens of being Mexican ever again.
She could not say she blamed him. Except that she did. And now she, too, saw absconding as the only means to save Diego from a fate worse than death: life in Mexico City. The travel magazines and blogs could tout how “charming” and “majestic” it was all they wanted to, attracting just enough white tourists to make the milieu seem as though it was “changing for the better” (though why is it the assumption that white skin improves anything other than the eradication of all “character” and “weirdness” in a town?). But Josefina knew Mexico City would always be a purgatory worse than hell for those not simply visiting. Those with the option to return to their luxe, overpriced lives in the U.S., where she now knew she must go. Not for herself, but just to get Diego started anew. To hopefully get him there in time before his memories of Mexico were too cemented.
And she did manage to do just that, for there can be no describing the limitlessness of determination when it comes to a mother desiring to “make” her child successful. To have something more. As opposed to being just one more gaping maw on earth’s shriveled tit. Josefina wanted Diego to a be life-giving maw, not a taking one, at the very least. In summation, she did not want him to be like her: useless, purposeless. If she could at least leave this realm knowing that she had contributed a “serviceable” human being to the planet, she would feel slightly lighter. Less like she had wasted her potential for purpose. This is, to be sure, why so many people choose to procreate. It’s the “easiest” way to pass the buck on contributing something themselves to humanity.
She had managed to finagle her way to “the other side” by the time Diego was six, the cutoff, really, for allowing just enough time for his recollections of Mexico to become hazy later on. They settled in Los Angeles, which she had opted for instead of San Diego because she wanted to be more deeply embedded in the U.S. than that. Wanted to give him, in the back of her mind, a chance at the silver screen–whether that meant acting, writing or directing, she didn’t care. She just wanted prosperity in the most prosaic “American dream” way possible for her Diego.
Josefina was swift in her willingness to take on the most thankless and banal jobs, prostrating herself to various “cleaning woman” and maid positions at private residences as well as a hotel near LAX. It was through her relentless “workhorse mode” that she was able to secure Diego, presently in junior high, that math tutor he was now meeting at a Coffee Bean in Los Feliz where, at the bare minimum, he didn’t feel as embarrassed as the other aspiring screenwriters ought to for so freely “workshopping” their horrendous and uninspired scripts and ideas. It was, however, a distraction to maintaining any sort of focus on the Pythagorean theorem that Graham was trying, in his own white male way, to make “fun.” “Interesting.” But there could never be anything even remotely riveting about any theorem, even if one tried his best to focus on the more potentially salacious aspects of Pythagoras’ life, like the fact that he probably “banged hella women,” as one of Diego’s classmates might say, on his travels to the Near East. Maybe the only time in history when a mathematician could get pussy so easily.
But no, there was nothing about math that could entice Diego to care, therefore be adept at it. And it made him feel all the more inadequate as a result of being saddled with the knowledge that his mother was busting her ovaries to pay for this bullshit, deluding herself into thinking that he was going to go to college and secure some sort of “good job.” He didn’t have the strength just yet (nor would he ever) to tell her that he already knew he had no intention of staying in L.A.–America–for much longer.
Every day, his thoughts were plagued with images and sound effects from his true home. The one he knew he wanted to go back to. He had resented Josefina ever since being plucked from it, loathed that she had somehow taken it upon herself to make such a decision for him. Why was it her right, he began to ask himself each day on the bus to the private school she enrolled him in as the other kids spit at his neck and mocked his skin tone and accent. Why was this the life she had so desperately wanted for him? Things were fine as they were back from whence he came. And he knew that he must return. That the tierra wouldn’t stop beckoning to him until he found his way back. So he would. He must.
It happened when he was sixteen. He had finally secreted enough “allowance money” away to gain passage back with money left over to get his own 21,000 peso a month apartment with a parking space and a pool. What could $1,045 a month in L.A. get you? At this point, a steady diet at In-N-Out. Fuck. This. Country. Diego chanted to himself as he snuck out in the wee hours of the morning to get to the airport. Josefina could have her noble profession and honest day’s work if that’s what it took to help her sleep at night. But it was not for Diego. Mexico, not math and all of its “theoretical propositions,” was in his sangre.
Dos más dos es igual a cinco… si quieres que sea. That was the real takeaway from his time and tutoring in the United States. And it served him well as one of those snip snippers that had haunted him as a youth, murdering for pleasure. For the pure high of having power over human life in such a manner. What could math possibly offer him in the way of any similar joy? It allowed no leeway for interpretation (and certainly not of the moral variety). The kind that Mexico offered in spades, and not just ones for ditch digging purposes.