In December 1986, Carlos Paz Jr., an 18-year-old high school student, shot his mother, father, and 10-year-old sister to death in their Miami Lakes, FL, home. We were friends.
Your last name means peace.
December and the streets are slick with rain that won’t stop. December and you try to buy a handgun. When you are turned away, you buy a rifle. Any gun will do. December and the floors of your home are thick with blood.
The jacarandas, cabbage palms, and gumbo limbos heave outside in the dense air. No break from growing. The teeming tourists are angry— their beach dreams rain delayed. On TV, the newscaster says the words family, murdered, Miami Lakes, looking, Carlos Paz, call, suspect. I defend you to the cool room. I’m alone, and I hear no reply. Even the trees outside are quiet.
It’s 1986, and I’m well-acquainted with anger, but my dreams of death were forged in fire: my mother in her bed or my father in his van.
Carlos, I think the last time I saw you was at our piano teacher’s house. Your sister, Alina, a limp doll asleep in your lap, the scene evoked: a reversed pietà.
You are now the age your mom and dad were when you killed them. At night, in prison, do you dream of being shot by children you’ll never have?
Or maybe the last time we spoke was at the party you threw —your parents and sister out of town or out for the night, all of us drinking, scent of a joint wafting in from outside.
We sat on the couch, smoked cigarettes, while a record played Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.” You told me he wrote it after his friend drowned while someone stood by and watched.
I remember hearing that you killed your sister so she wouldn’t have to live with what you’d done.
My father’s van caught fire soon after I dreamt it would. He wasn’t hurt, but it scared me enough that I went back to only dreaming of escape.
Were you certain you could kill when you bought the rifle or as you pulled the trigger that first time?
And who was first? Your father, the real target of your rage, or your mother who stood by, or the sister
you wanted to protect? And how did it feel, knowing you murdered the man
whose name you carry? The woman who gave birth to you? The sister who looked up to you?
It is just another rainy Friday in December, and the
Paz family is hosting a tree-trimming party.
Carlos and Alina play a Christmas duet on the piano in the living room
and everyone applauds. The guests all comment on how handsome Carlos has
become, ask him about school and his girlfriend. His future plans. They pat
Alina on her head, talk about what a great beauty she’ll be and how smart she
is, just like her mother. They ask the family if they will travel during the
holiday or stay home. The guests gather their raincoats and umbrellas, head out
to their cars. The family of four stands just outside the front door, arms
linked round each other, waving goodbye.
was the night you killed them.
I know from experience the walls of townhouses are thick. No one ever heard my screams, or if they did, they ignored them. I wonder if your neighbors heard or ignored what happened all those years you said you were abused.
Carlos, You were eighteen. Why didn’t you just leave?
Before the Hospitalization
I felt like I was flatlining. Only my heart was still beating its terrible rhythm— that thump like an unbalanced washing machine and no one near to rearrange the soaked fabrics held within its steel drum. I felt flat as Stanley, but I was still fat. Skirts hung off my waist like circus tents, and no one could mail me to that far-away land where depression wouldn’t follow. I’d been flattened beneath the weight of my father’s visits to my bed, the brush my mother wielded before school, the failures I’d racked up. A life made of sinking the eight ball on the first shot. I was flat as a flounder at the bottom of the Atlantic I swam in as a child. My smile, the only camouflage I owned, lay submerged, unable to rise to the surface of my face.
Walking South Beach after Hurricane David, 1979
Sunbaked place of burial and resurrection. Seaweed strewn shoreline glinting with inflated iridescent bladders and trailing tentacles of washed-up Portuguese men-o-war. Scrubbed clean of tourists on this sun blotted September day. Beach snarled with flotsam, sea tangle, razor sharp shells of crabs. Salt water stung palm trees snapped in half. Driftwood daggered in the blonde grit. The stench of rot looming. And seagulls feasting on fish flung from the ocean’s gut, their twisted bodies and unblinking eyes stunned at the sudden fury of home.
Avery M. Guess (@averymguess) received a 2015 NEA Fellowship for Poetry. She’s a PhD student at USD and assistant editor for poetry at South Dakota Review. Recent publications include poems in diode, Rogue Agent, Glass, Tinderbox, and Rust + Moth, and creative non-fiction in Entropy and The Manifest-Station. Her chapbook, The PatientAdmits, is out from dancing girl press, and her full-length collection of poetry, The Truth Is, will be published in April 2019 by Black Lawrence Press. Avery’s website is averymguess.com.