A bullshit terrorist threat that’s all over the news made me realize I have something in common with the Underwear Bomber. The image of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s untidy unwhities transports me back in time to an emergency room in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I sat there covered in blood with my nose on one side of my face while my aunt sobbed and hugged me. She would get up from her seat and out-act Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment, trying to get the nurses to admit me. “PUT BACK MY NIECE’S NOSE TO THE PROPER PLACE ON HER FACE!” I don’t remember what I felt—it wasn’t pain. I just wanted my face to get fixed so I could go home. I looked around the room and saw horrified, open-mouthed faces. I know I looked scary because I remember the expressions my broken face generated.
I used to ride horses. By ride I mean sat on them while they jumped over fences. That day I was given a great opportunity that didn’t end well. I arrived at the equestrian center and Bertie, my coach, told me to ride the most expensive horse in the place—a six-figure, muscular, black Stallion whose owner had broken her leg riding him. Two weeks ago he had taken off running, like all horses do if you ride long enough, and she couldn’t stay on. Too much horse for too little rider. She was the young wife of a rich man and rode not because she enjoyed it, but because rich people are supposed to do rich people sports. I wasn’t rich then. My parents had already lost their money and that’s why I was in Puerto Rico. I called it finding myself. Finding myself while still living beyond our means.
My parents couldn’t afford it but, as they always did, pretended it was possible and found a way to pay for it. Our first day at the equestrian center we ran a tab at the tack shop. I finished picking every piece of equipment I needed except for the riding pants. They didn’t have my size so I tried on the largest size they had—two sizes too small. There was no way I was leaving that tack shop without riding pants. We hadn’t been in the island very long and I hated life there—the heat, the humidity, the helicopter-sized mosquitoes, the talkative happy people, everything. I was told Puerto Rico was just like the U.S. except with more palm trees and piña coladas. It was a lie. I needed this to be able to cope because my parents refused to fly me back to Southern California.
I went into the dressing room and enlisted my aunt’s help. I spread out on the floor, sucked in my gut and writhed like a dying fish while trying to make the zipper go up. It didn’t work. I got up and jumped up and down while my aunt held on to the zipper. We jumped up and down around the tack shop until the zipper gave in. I won. I was going to ride that day.
Eventually, my parents bought me a horse but I also rode whatever I could. I didn’t care. I would have mounted a donkey or a Great Dane if they could jump over a fence. A lot of Bertie’s students were kamikaze riders, including myself. He was an irresponsible teacher who took advantage of his students’ desire to jump at any cost. He sold me one of his horses, Joey, a stubborn thoroughbred/Percheron mix who could clear over six feet of fence. Joey was a great jumper, but because of his huge size the landing sent most riders flying off the saddle. Bertie and I were the only ones that could stay on him. Most of the time. Riding Joey made riding other horses a breeze. He turned my inner thighs into steel and he taught me to feel comfortable flying through the air and landing hard and often. I learned to bounce.
I was about to ride a Stallion who hadn’t exercised in over a week, during feeding time, on a windy evening. It made no difference to me. I wasn’t afraid. Moreover, I was still high on a great jumping session I had two days before. People even congratulated me on my improvement. I hadn’t improved. I wasn’t riding Joey and I guess people were impressed I didn’t fall off once. Now that I think about it, it must have been hard for spectators to watch me ride Joey. So, I was feeling strong and confident. I sprayed extra strength mosquito repellent all over my riding pants, shirt, arms and face. I was set and eager.
There were a couple of mares around so I took the horny Stallion to the far end of the enclosure away from the fences to get him tired before starting our jumping work out. He didn’t like that all. He also didn’t like that I was riding him. It was as if he knew I didn’t deserve to be on him—that I was an impostor pretending to be rich. He’d take off from our gallop and make a sudden stop at the fence. No biggie. All horses do that when they’re feeling bratty. His owner couldn’t handle it but I could. I had to show him who was in charge and I galloped in a tight circle until he started cooperating. I thought I had him beaten because he fooled me into it.
I took him around to take our first jump and when he came to the first fence, he accelerated and then stopped , refusing to jump. I clenched my inner thighs and stayed on. I could tell that made him mad. I had proven that I was smarter. I “punished” him by running him in a tight circle again until he cooperated. Again, I took him around and he stopped. He got so angry I didn’t fall off that he stood up on his hind legs to throw me off. I stayed on and he tried again and again. He lost his balance and we both fell back, separating in the air. On the ground, confused but mostly embarrassed, I turned to my left and saw the Stallion next to me looking befuddled and stupid. He was no longer a cocky son-of-a-bitch but a disoriented pony eating dirt.
The horse stood up and I heard a click. Then I saw two straight gushes of blood emanating straight out from my face. He ran away and abandoned me to figure out what had happened to me. I saw a few people running towards me and I bounced back on my feet to show them I was fine. Just fine. He had kicked me on the face and left arm as he got up to run away to the stables. I stood up straight and noticed I was still holding on tight to the crop I never used. I dusted myself off and then marched like General Patton towards the spectator area, ignoring everyone who approached me with concern. I tried to hold on to my dignity and pride while pretending there wasn’t a stream of blood running down my neck. People saw and gasped. Bertie almost fainted. It turned out Mr. Kamikaze was a pussy when it came to the sight of blood. I then noticed that my vision on the left was getting impaired. I continued on to the bathroom and took off my riding hat in front of the mirror. The left side of my face was swollen and deformed. The Elephant Woman was staring back at me, angry, disgraced, and saying, “You didn’t belong on that horse and you don’t belong here.”
After I finally got admitted they put me in an examination room. My aunt walked in and out. Then, I remembered. I could not believe I was in that situation again. Again. How could this happen twice? Was I not one of those people who learned things the first time and then acquired wisdom? No, I wasn’t. I remembered that time when I put my sneakers in the dryer and the soles melted. The store replaced them for free and then, just to be sure, I put them in the dryer again. The store wouldn’t give me a third pair. I peeked out the curtain and hissed at my aunt to come over.
The first time it happened had been three years ago. I was getting ready to go to the gym with my sister when I opened my underwear drawer and discovered I had no clean panties. The only ones I could find were a pair of granny panties that I couldn’t bring myself to throw away. I have no idea why, but to this day, I have trouble throwing away tattered panties. Yes, like everyone on earth, my grandmother had given me the warning: Always wear nice, clean underwear because you might get in an accident. I ignored the Universal Chones Oracle of Granny and decided it was no big deal to wear them to the gym because it was only for a couple of hours, I was going to sweat on them and the gym was less than a mile away. I might as well had not worn them because the knickers had two huge holes on each butt cheek. They were held together by hope and a prayer and I vowed to throw them away as soon as I got back from the gym.
I waited at an intersection three blocks away from our house and decided the incoming car was far away enough for me to make it to the other side. I was wrong and, seconds after my second bad decision of the day, I felt the force of a car crash into my left side. The firemen had to use the Jaws of Life to pry the door that was lodged on my left hip. My sister hit her head somewhere and although she was fine, she claims she had a concussion. This claim was never confirmed by the doctors.
I didn’t pass out but because of the shock the next thing I remember was in the emergency room. I was on a gurney and I could hear the nurses in the room. They had kind voices and were taking off my clothes with great care. I still didn’t feel any pain from the fracture in my hip. They removed my t-shirt, my sports bra, my spandex work out pants, my socks and then one of them gasped, “Oh my God. The impact must have been terrible. It tore her underwear.” The other one asked me, “Were they like this already or was it the impa–” “No! They weren’t torn before the accident!” I interrupted, indignant at her incredulity and believing my own lie. They cut off what was left of the offending delicates with scissors and then, just like that, the pain hit. The nurse held them up and I tried my hardest to look flabbergasted.
The blood was already dry and my clothes were crusty. My aunt helped me remove my riding boots and then she turned around while I undressed and put on the hospital gown. I took off the tattered panties and rolled them into a ball. I handed it to my aunt and she put it in her purse. “What the hell, Teresita. Why did you wear these?” BECAUSE THEY WERE THE ONLY CLEAN ONES, MKAY?! I told her to leave the room and dispose of them far, far away. I felt relieved as she left the room. The next time I saw her she had somehow sneaked into the post-op recovery room, still sobbing. I spotted her and yelled for the nurse. “I’m going to throw – “ and then I did. I puked all the black blood inside me right on my chest.
Shortly after I recovered I went back to riding but it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t that I feared getting hurt again. That Stallion left his stamp on me twofold: a crooked nose and a scar on my forearm and, worse, every time I rode I felt his rejection under my seat. Every horse, even Joey, became him under me and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I didn’t belong in that world anymore. Further down the line, after being introduced to Noam Chomsky’s writings in my foreign policy class, I didn’t want to be in that world anymore anyway. I had found myself and soon thereafter I began to love my new life in San Juan. I got off the horses and went back into the darkroom.
The last time I saw Bertie he told me that after the accident the Stallion became a model horse, docile and cooperative. I think he was just trying to reel me in and get me back on the saddle, but the possibility that I had left a mark on the Stallion as well made me smile.
I’d like to say I learned my lesson about tempting fate, but I didn’t. Despite being accident prone, right now there are 3-4 thongs in my drawer that should be thrown away. My problem is that I hate doing laundry and I put it off until there’s no other choice for me. After I’ve exhausted every option, like buying more underwear or wearing unacceptable lingerie while crossing my fingers I don’t get in an accident, then I do laundry. Big deal. We all have socks with holes and we all pick our noses when no one is looking, right? Right?
Chones, short for calzones, Spanish for underwear.
Definition: clothing worn under outerwear
Synonyms: BVDs, G-string, bikini, boxer shorts, boxers, bra, briefs, corset, drawers, intimate things, jockey shorts, jockeys, lingerie, loincloth, long johns, panties, shorts, skivvies, smallclothes, underclothes, underclothing, undergarment, underpants, undershirt, underthings, undies