Here is the second story in a series of stories I am writing based on the individuals profiled in the nonfiction book The Lives They Left Behind. I will admit that when I finished this story, I was not as happy with it as I was the first one about Lawrence. I felt the language didn’t have any artistry to it. I would be interested in knowing what all of you think. So, without further ado, here is Rodrigo Lagon’s story.
Rodrigo Lagon stood in the courtroom alongside his employer, Mrs. Maycock in Buffalo, New York. It was fall 1917 and Roderigo was 18 years of age. He’d begun work for the Maycocks two months prior upon moving to Buffalo in pursuit of Grace Smith, the woman he had already fancied as his wife. He had planned for the big surprise to tell her of his love for her, but things hadn’t gone as expected. Now here was another woman professing something of a completely different nature. She was here to make the case for his insanity. He knew it wouldn’t be difficult, that there was nothing to fight. Her husband was a prominent physician and he was a mere Filipino immigrant. He bowed his head, listening carefully as Mrs. Maycock made her case.
“You see, your honor, he just hasn’t been right from the beginning. He seems much depressed, complaining of aches and pains varied in nature. He even told me spirit voices are telling him he has sinned and must confess to a priest. My husband and I are most concerned over the matter. The patient needs care that we are not equipped to give,” she finished.
Judge Avery listened, hands resting under his chin as she spoke. He wondered what had happened to Rodrigo, how he ended up here, how much English he understood, and when his symptoms started. Inevitably, he would have to send him to an institution even though he hated the places. There was nothing else he could do with someone who claimed to hear voices.
Head still bowed, Rodrigo began to think of life in Mumbasao, which he now barely remembered. He’d been in the United States for 10 years even as he fought with other Filipino-Americans for the Philippine Islands’ independence from the same country he lived in. He had fond memories of both countries and try as he might, he just couldn’t come to hate the country that raised him. It was his home and the home of the woman he loved.
He startled a bit as he let his mind wander to Grace. The judge paused momentarily, coughed, and carried on with his pronouncement and signing of the committal papers. He was to go to Buffalo State Hospital. What would she think of him living at an asylum? Just like his father. It was better this way. She would never need to know. He would just disappear from her life and she probably wouldn’t even miss him. He fought back tears as the last thought drifted through his mind. There was nothing left for him now. Just this asylum place. He wondered what they were like here. It had to be better than…he couldn’t bear to think about it anymore. It brought too much shame.
As he exited the courtroom and boarded a bus, he wondered what his room would be like. He remembered an essay he’d written for school once about how he would have furnished his room. He remembered he wanted a well-ventilated, well-lit room with pennants from his schools and portraits of the people he admired. Not much had changed since he wrote that. He still longed for the same things, plus the added touch of the feminine. His face reddened. It angered him that he couldn’t not think of her and be happy any longer. He could only remember their last conversation. If only time travel was possible that he might take that night back.
Roderigo had been bold, maybe too bold, he admitted to himself. He had approached her home after dinner. The dishes were put away and everyone was sitting in the front room talking. He tried to think about where it all went wrong. Maybe it was Mrs. Henson’s “nerve tonic.” It was through Rev. and Mrs. Henson’s church that Rodrigo had met Grace. Mrs. Henson was just trying to help, said it was harmless. He couldn’t remember moving any differently. He just remembered feeling calmer about the whole thing. He thought it was working. He wondered what was in it.
Grace had answered the door when he knocked, much to his delight. He had her all to himself on the front steps in the dusky twilight. He felt like he could say anything. He did say anything. He asked her to marry him and told her he had syphilis all in the same sentence. Why had he said it that way? There had to have been a better way to tell her of his love and his indiscretion in Chicago. One night with a fellow Filipino immigrant at an independence rally. She had seduced him, said all the things he wished Grace would say, and left the next morning without a word. That one night had ruined his entire life.
He would never be able to blot out the horrified look on Grace’s face, followed by her hand across his face, followed by her slamming the door shut and locking it. He could hear her incensed conversation with her family, their laughter, and finally her laughter. Why did he ever think a girl like her would go for an immigrant, especially an immigrant who had contracted a venereal disease in a moment of idiotic passion?
He would have 2 years at Buffalo State Hospital and another 62 at Willard State Hospital to think about it. Rodrigo would never see Grace or anyone else he cared about again. He would die of cancer at age 83 in the hospital he spent most of his life in. By the time he was in his sixties he didn’t even hear voices anymore, yet he remained there until his death. In his trunk were letters to uncles, pastors, and a few friends. It also contained invitations to events in Chicago and publications about Filipino independence as well as lots of photographs.
He thought often of the folly of his youth, how he went from being born to bankers and politicians to working as a servant to living in an asylum. He was no better than his father, a man he never looked up to. As he stared out the window of the bus, he couldn’t help but think this was only the beginning of a very long ending.
I am thinking of taking these short pieces of flash fiction and titling them under one title as one longer short story. I may try to publish them that way. What do you think? Also, how does this story compare to Lawrence Marek’s? I would appreciate any comments you have. Until next week!