The 12 Rules of Survival | Episode 36: I Know Who You Are

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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 nicholasbelardes.com or on Twitter @nickbelardes

Artist: Timothy Banks timothybanks.com or on Twitter  @teabanks

I Know Who You Are

Our first stop is the Family Tent. It’s awash in floodlights, not to mention people are everywhere. Husbands, wives, cousins, mothers, children, uncles, aunts, grandparents, police, fire crews, and ambulance personnel. News vans surround the place. Journalists scribble on notepads. This is an entire people swarm.

I see Alex is already here, wide-eyed at everything. “You came here everyday?” he says.

“It’s not usually this crazy,” I say.

Janelly is nearby. She and my sisters take care of the dogs, which are a huge hit with everyone until one of the security guards sees them. The guard wears all black and has a big security badge on the arm of his coat.

“You’re going to have to take your dogs out of the camp,” he says to Mom.

Mom starts arguing with him outside the tent. “We got in here with them. We’ll take them to the rescue site too.”

“I don’t think that’s going to be allowed, ma’am.” After they argue a little more I hear someone say the governor is here, then Grandma Benita say, “Who? My goodness . . . Mr. Governor? Pleased to meet you . . .”

There’s a really big commotion. I can’t tell who is talking to whom but suddenly a man with thick grey hair and eyebrows is right in front of me. He wears a dark suit and blue-print tie. Two policemen guard either side of him.

“Are you that boy who went in the tunnel?” he asks. Before I can answer, he says, “Those your dogs, huh? I bet they’ve been a big help.” He pets Snapers. “I would have taken this one in with me.” Bella snorts. My sisters and Janelly blush.

Before I can tell him Snapers is my dog, that more than anything I want him here, he says, “You take care of them. I’m sure they’ll be a fine welcome when your father comes up. You’ll tell him I said hello, won’t you?”

“Yes, sir,” I say, out of breath, still nervous and uncomfortable about everything.

Someone snaps our photo and the governor is off to talk to someone else. Before he does I hear him say, “That’s a brave boy right there. Foolish, but brave. Don’t let anyone take those dogs away.”

“Thank you,” I hear Mom say.

“I just love that man,” Grandma Benita says. “I could cook for him,” she winks.

“Snapers should be a rescue dog,” Alex leans over and says.

I gulp air, not really sure what to say.

After that I see my uncles and aunt heading through the crowded tent. Before I’m overrun with more of Mom’s family and everyone else, I slip between several grown-ups and disappear around the side of the tent. Not far away are the bathrooms.

I run there and climb the steps to the bathroom trailers. No one is inside so I hang up my coat and lock the door. At the sink I splash water in my face, then wash my hands, trying to catch my breath, trying to take my mind off the crazy rhythm of my heartbeats thumping through my chest.

This rescue is nuts. Everyone and everything is insane. I’m glad to get away for a minute and now peer at myself in the mirror. My image is dark and blurry but I can see I’ve changed somehow. I wonder if Dad will notice. He probably just thinks I’m a little kid who can’t do anything. Maybe he’s right. Maybe I haven’t done much. But I have done something. I’ve made it through just about every rule.

I also know that if anything, I might add a new rule of survival: Understanding. It’s been important to understand that I have power over how I react to the good and bad things that are beyond my control.

I take a deep breath. This. Right now. This is what I can control. How I feel.

Out there? All that chaos? I can’t control any of it. But I do have power over how I behave, and that has already made me a different person: someone who is scared, sure, but also someone who feels a little more grown up.

I turn the cold-water faucet turns on again. Then the hot. Water pours into the sink and I sigh. “Marina,” I say, thinking of the story Mom told me of the two girls on a bike. I feel like I can see that truck bearing down on them. It must have been so awful. Mom must have taken it so hard. How could she ever be the same?

Just then someone shakes the door handle to the bathroom.

“Cameron?” comes Mom’s impatient voice from the other side of the door. “You in there? It’s time. The bus is going to head up to the drill site.” After a second, her voice softens. “You know, it’s okay. We’re all scared.” I can hear her breathing. “We’re all scared. But we have to do this.” I want to tell her that I already know. “I’ll be right there,” I say. Now that I know what she’s been through, I have so much to ask, so much to say.

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