I have a fascination for true stories of love-gone-wrong. The more gruesomely gone wrong, the more horrid and appalling, the more likely I am to latch onto the tale and try to understand it. What happened? What caused love, that primordial flutter, to flit from joy to anguish?
The saga of Enrique Zambrano is one of my all time favorites. Mr.Z was a regular guy. He had a devoted wife. He had two bright kids attending a pricey, private elementary school. He was a self-employed contractor making big bucks remodeling homes in the Berkeley hills and he was an upstanding citizen, albeit notoriously short tempered, serving on the Berkeley Waterfront Commission.
One day while building a deck for some neighbors Mr.Z got it into his head that these folks were the ones who had told his wife about an extramarital affair he was having. So he did what any regular guy would do–took a meat-tenderizer from their kitchen drawer and bludgeoned them to within an inch of their lives.
Mr.Z went on about his life with no one the wiser until the day he gave a boasting confession to his friend, Luis Reyna. Luis also served on the Berkeley Waterfront Commission. (Oddly enough, so did my husband.) It was a well-known secret that Luis had a romantic crush on Mr.Z, one might even call it an obsession. Mr.Z’s avowal of violence apparently frightened and repulsed Luis but also made a special intimacy between them. It took awhile before Luis told the police. The police arrested Mr.Z.
Obviously, Mr.Z doesn’t take well to blabbermouths. And it’s impossible to know what Luis was thinking when, on the very night Mr.Z. made bail, Luis agreed to meet with him at the Berkeley waterfront. How Luis got shot remains murky. What is known is that it was with his own gun.
Remarkably, Mr.Z. loads Luis into the bed of his pick-up truck and drives quickly to the nearest hospital…then, in a moment of panic, decides it would be better to take Luis out to the Lafayette reservoir, sever his head and hands, scatter them around a field, and then try and get some rest before morning when he was due to pick up his kids and drop them off at summer school.
This is where I play my small role.
I was one of those mommies who volunteered to help get the school’s children -safely- from car to class. That morning, as I did most mornings, I opened Mr.Z’s truck passenger door and guided his kids to the curb. “Have a nice day,” I chirped before pushing the heavy door closed.
From there Mr.Z drove a few blocks over to the Whole Earth Access where he picked up some camping supplies and his lover, Linda “Celebration” Oberman. They headed south. Years later they were featured on America’s Most Wanted. A viewer recognized Mr.Z to be his pool cleaner and called the show. On September 8, 1993 Enrique Zambrono was sentenced to death and sent to San Quentin State Prison.
Love went wrong for many in this story and from what I can tell it started when Enrique Zambrano stepped out on his adoring wife. Why? Why didn’t he just keep his dick in his pants? It went wrong for Celebration too. Imagine her plight. She may have been shocked to discover her lover was a married man. Plus, she was convicted for aiding and abetting a fugitive.
But love went seriously wrong for poor Luis, whose heart wouldn’t let him believe the man he loved would kill him.
This year on Valentine’s Day I happened upon a love-gone-wrong artifact. At the entrance of the north Berkeley BART station lay three red roses. Seeing them there, apparently dashed to the cement by heartbreak or disappointment, evoked a sigh from my friend and I. We wondered aloud about the story behind these roses.
Maybe “He” had surprised “Her” with roses and a public marriage proposal … to which she said, “No.” Either one of them could have tossed the roses.
Or, perhaps a teen-aged girl had bought them to give to a boy she had been dating for three months; the boy she planned to give her virginity along with the roses and just before she bought a ticket for their rendezvous in Daly City she got a text from him: [its over][don’t come].
Possibly, these roses were accidentally dropped by a woman in haste to catch the train to El Cerrito del Norte from where she would catch the #42 bus that makes a once-a-day trip to San Quentin, where after all these years and all the pain of a heartbreak she once thought she wouldn’t survive; the love of her life, father of her children, mate to her soul, was waiting.