I read a story once of a mixed martial artist fighter who decided to head into the desert on a spiritual quest. He never returned. Perhaps in his quest he simply became a spirit. I remember spending summers as a youth wandering alone in the desert on the Indian reservation. I stayed with my aunt and uncle and two female cousins. They were natives, and I was a mixed blood with pale skin and blond hair. I must have stood out like a vibrantly red cardinal on the frozen tundra of Alaska. Those summers reinforced two things: the reservation was a harsh place to live, and the desert was a great place to get lost.
On occasion, my tio Leon would join me for a walk. Intoxicated even though it was early morning, he would tell me tales about the Moreno family. A long and illustrious lineage that changed depending on the day, the hour, the number of adult beverages he had before 8 a.m. The only story I ever believed was of the Moreno curse. Alcoholism. It was a demon I would fight, and sometimes conquer, later in life. However, most Morenos weren’t so gloriously triumphant. Some danced with the demon for years before succumbing to the inevitable, while others met the demon head on, briefly, violently, losing the fight face down on the tiled floor of a lonely bathroom stall.
Leon’s alcoholism didn’t kill him. The hushed rumor amongst the Moreno clan is that Leon was murdered by my tio Rodolfo, his wife and the two previously mentioned cousins. The harshness of reservation life is real, at least enough so that murdering kin for their paltry monthly benefits is a viable option for survival. However, it could also simply be another Moreno tall tale fueled by cheap beer and interfamily rivalries. The official cause of death was heart failure. Despite family reservations about Leon’s actual cause of death, it really came down to the local police department not caring enough to provide additional resources to investigate another dead, brown body