The 12 Rules of Survival | Episode 21: Fears


Nicholas Belardes is a dual-ethnic Chicano writer. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in the YA-themed edition of The Latinx Archive: Speculative Fiction for Dreamers (Ohio State University Press), Southwestern American Literature (Texas State University), Carve Magazine, Pithead Chapel, Barrelhouse, and others.

He illustrated map drawings for the New York Times best-selling novel West of Here, and is the author of the first twitterature in novel form, Small Places, which has been studied as part of digimodernism in literature by scholars who seek to discover the fusion of art with digital technologies, in specific, electronic fiction as a new literary current.

Sometimes a ghostwriter of contemporary fiction and YA, he currently lives in San Luis Obispo, California with his wife Jane. The 12 Rules of Survival is his first MG novel. You can find him at or on Twitter @nickbelardes

Artist: Timothy Banks or on Twitter  @teabanks


Mom and I have been waiting in the Family Tent for hours. Like everyone else sitting around in here we hope for news of some kind about our trapped and missing family members. But there’s nothing. Just endless silence.

Once in a while TV reporters break the monotony. They set up outside the press tent talking in front of cameras about the “devastating impact the collapse has had on the community and on the High-Speed Rail Project.” Mom says that’s nothing new, that they just need something to talk about, so they blab on about the politics of building, worker and land contracts, federal and state and local monies, and all kinds of stuff I don’t understand. It’s all very surreal as they talk because I can see them on TV and at the same time hear their loud voices.

Peter is here. We’ve made up. He’s in much better spirits knowing his mom is going to get out of the mountain soon. My feelings about it are complicated. I’m happy for him. I really am. But I also can’t help fell that something about it is not fair that his mom is going to be rescued soon while there’s no end in sight for Dad. So, yeah, I’m jealous though I don’t say I’m jealous.

Families of the trapped workers are here. Representatives from six families in all. Some of the women and men help out wherever they can—organizing things in the tent, calling politicians, talking to their own lawyers on their phones outside the tent. I try to ignore most of that chatter. Some just sit and scroll through news apps, check their Facebook and Twitter. Sometimes they shoot video with their phones inside the tent pleading for the safe return of their families. One woman is writing letters to her husband. That’s all she does. She sits and writes them by hand. I think they’re love letters. I hope they’re not goodbye letters. It’s kind of weird, but whatever makes people get through this. Mom says social media makes people do things they wouldn’t normally do. “They want to control their own narratives,” she says. “They don’t want the news to be the only one telling their family’s stories.” Sometimes family members of the victims get in long conversations with each other, talking about how hard this all is for them to be going through this. I understand. I’m having to realize my own rules of survival. And I remind myself it’s not just about me who is suffering. It’s Dad. It’s the other trapped workers. I don’t dare say anything though. And to be honest, sometimes I do forget and feel sorry for myself. Besides, big people do have it rough. Dad once told me that all kids want to be adults, but adults all want to be kids again because they think kids don’t worry as much about the world.

Mom has been quiet. For the first time I take notice that she’s reading a book. How many countless hours have I sat playing checkers with her, or with others and she’s had a book by her side? How long have I sat here at times just staring at the mountain, thinking about Dad, ignoring all my school books? I notice the cover of what she’s reading. The title is very long. Industrial Impacts on the Chicanx Movement: Societal Change and Upheaval Post WW2. I have no idea what it means. Mom is really into it though. She’s been reading and reading today for I don’t know how long. It reminds me how poorly I’ve been doing in school. Most of my homework I’ve ignored. No one is making me do any of it though last night Grandma Benita said that if Dad isn’t rescued soon I will have to start doing my work. She told me she will get me a tutor to help with everything if I need it. She said they might set up a school at the camp, this growing tent city.

Peter and I decide on a round of checkers. While we’re setting up the game he tells me about his Mom being hurt in the tunnel. “I don’t think her arm is cut or anything like that,” he says. I don’t tell him that I’ve seen the video of her on the news. Her arm is in a makeshift sling and the news says she can’t move it. Her face was covered in worry and doubt, though she said she was in good spirits. “I’m thinking of the day I can get out of here,” she’d said, “and see my family, the sun, and have a decent shower.” She said her co-worker had made the splint out of metal rods and a t-shirt, which she showed the camera.

 “She told me she ran as fast as she could when the earthquake came,” Peter says. “But she fell hard against some metal. I asked if bone was poking through the skin or anything—you know, a compound fracture. She said it wasn’t.” He shoves a checker two spaces. “Have you ever broken anything?”

 I tell him I haven’t.

“I did,” he says. “Once. Just a tiny crack like you’d see in a sidewalk.”

“I bet it hurt,” I say moving another checker. “I saw Jimmy Marsh at my school jump from a swing once and break his wrist. He didn’t even cry. He just stared. It was bent all funny.”

“I didn’t cry either,” Peter quickly says. “Mine wasn’t bent though. Just swollen.”

His dad gives him a look, like don’t act so tough. Peter’s eyes turn downward. “I got freaked out at the hospital though,” he admits.

Soon Peter doesn’t want to talk or play checkers anymore. He goes and sits next to his dad. I sit next to Mom. She’s still reading page after page.

“It’s history,” she says, catching me looking at one of the pages she’s reading. “It’s about change in the world for Mexican Americans who have been considered disposable labor, dirty and incapable. It’s about civil rights for brown people at the margins. Most history is about change over time. That’s the definition of culture too—the sum of all learned behavior. Though some things have to be unlearned . . .”

Now I’m quiet.

She continues. “Your uncle teaches Ethnic Studies. He uses a lot of Chicanx history in his classes. This book isn’t just about brown people though, it’s about wealth, and trends, and cultural dependence on the way the world mass-produces so many things, and how some people get pushed further into the margins because of economics, and some find ways to create an identity amid that. It’s cultural and economic history. The world didn’t always make things like Gabby. You’d probably get bored by some of it.”

Mom is talking way above my head. “You’d get along with Mrs. Lucas,” I say. “She loves history.”

“Would I?” Mom seems to like this idea as she goes back to reading her book.

After another hour of silence Krishnankutty enters the tent. He looks a mess from hardly getting any sleep then tells us there won’t be any new information for several hours from Tunnel No. 2 where Dad is trapped.

 “Still?” I whisper. “Why did he even come to tell us that?”

Some of the families are very unhappy about this. They start arguing with him saying he’s all lies and no promises. “When have you said anything to helpful?” says Mrs. Bowser.

“We want answers not lip service,” adds Betty Jimenez.

“I really wish I had answers about Drill Site No. 2,” says Krishnankutty. “We all have to be patient a little longer.”

“Yeah, well where is Mr. Tamaki?” Mrs. Jimenez asks. “I thought he was overseeing this operation? Is he in a hotel somewhere getting room service?”

 Mom says to me, “I think we should leave for a while. Maybe lunch at home? Grandma is cooking pozole for my brother Shaun. He’s the one I was telling you about. We can come back after. Hopefully they will have some news then.” I know pozole. It’s this Mexican stew with hominy, other veggies and meat in it. Dad makes it from a can, adds dollar-store hot sauce, and it’s awful. But what can I do? Peter isn’t really saying anything to me and everyone here is depressing me worse than I already am. Anything sounds better. Even being around my sisters.