74 Christie Street was my first American Address, moving here from Puerto Rico. I remember the small house, and the neighbors, the Portuguese family that lived above us (Maria Barca broke my toe in a tragic rope jumping mishap) and the mixed race young couple, and the first black man I ever met. His white wife had a way of always being angry with him, and he had a way of making learning the language rather easily, sitting in the back stoop, staring at the dead garden in the back, by which he would teach me a word daily.
The apartment was small, and I had no bedroom, back then, I slept in the living room. I suppose this is why I love my aloness now. My early life was a life of constant traffic.
Besides a few roaches, the apartment was bare of anything but a stove and the refrigerator that my father had gotten for the family. In the pantry, there was one book, Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot.
The softcover curiosity was black, with what appeared to be a protruding woman’s face and a single drop of blood dripping from its lower lip; and the tagline, “a town possessed by unspeakable evil.” I had no idea what that meant.
And it was through that book that my journey into English began. I remember how I would keep the book hidden between the couch cushions of the couch that doubled as my bed, and when everyone went to sleep, I would sit there with a flashlight and a Spanish to English dictionary; taking me days to do a few pages, word by word. Even more so because the work had to be do in darkness, and because Mark Petrie was approximately my age. Mark Petrie was my first American friend.
The horror of that translation paralleled the horrors of my immigration story, leaving a safe, beautiful island, swimming in the rivers after school, the lushness of the Puerto Rican plant life (who itself carried its own monsters.) to the soulless empty parking lot that was Newark, NJ.
In my depression and solitude, I doubled down on the book. I had to get to the end of the chilling tale, and I must grasp its meaning. Through this novel, I got my first lesson of what America was, a country in constant battle with its demons. I also fell in love with the story-telling medium.
I recently read Salem’s Lot again, and it was just as exhilarating as the first time. The action scenes were much more effective, of course, now they moved at the speed they were always intended to and not at every three words per translation.
Then there is Ben, Ben is also a vampire, an emotional one that drains the life out of love. He’s in such need of love, as a writer, as a man, that he would latch on to anyone who gives him just the little bit of attention and then, well, then they end up dead.
That Mark Petrie is not dead at the end of the book, well, it is because that relationship had barely started when they set the woods ablaze.
Finally, I’m going to call out Ben and Mark on one inhuman action, when they ran, they didn’t stop by the church to pick up Mrs. Curless, Father Callahan’s secretary, she was praying at the church. No doubt, the woman would be safe and could leave on her own accord, but something about abandoning a woman of God in a town where she would no doubt be entombed in the only place that was safe, made me feel incredibly sad. A Puerto Rican would never do that, those praying ladies are the things that keep us alive.
This edition of the book came “with previously unpublished material and a new introduction by the author.”
Came with two stories, One for the Road, a terrifying little story that takes place shortly after the events of the novel, which let us know that Mark and Ben’s actions did not stem the growth of darkness, but it is the story Jerusalem’s Lot, that really excited me. This short could be its own movie, a period piece King Tale that I would be excited to either adapt for the screen or direct, all on its own.
It was that story that kept me up at night, for several nights. I have read it three times, and delight on the way it scares me. Sending me back in time to that little boy, learning English by reading the Master of Terror.
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