Wednesday, January 28, 2015
Wednesday, January 21, 2015
I must say that I put most of the awful words I hear into a box with a lock on it. What are these awful words, you ask? They are strings of misguided, misplaced, and misinformed letters that string themselves together ever so incoherently, with religious thread to hold it tighter.
I started paying attention to them back when Bush and Gore battled it out with all the ridiculous posturings of the hanging chad drama. I listened to talk radio and was drawn into Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck's show. I tuned in everyday as my kids went to school or were playing in the other room. I became frenzied in watching the news shows, hanging on every word, and letting those words soak into my blood. They became part of me and my rhetoric and anyone who disagreed with me was the worst kind of uninformed. **silently tucks away the fact that I nearly voted for Clinton in 92** I mean, it was Rock the Vote!
When the 2008 election came around and Barack Obama became the Democratic candidate I was still in this frame of mind. My mind was a vast diorama of soundbites, from TV and radio, plus social media that would echo hollowly through my head.
He's not really a citizen.
He's from Kenya.
We demand his birth certificate.
He's a Muslim.
He's a socialist. A marxist. A communist.
He's a n****r.
Most of all, he's a n****r.
When he won and the celebrations happened in front of our eyes,on national TV, all I could hear was, "Those people celebrating like he's their God. Like he's going to give everything to them. They need to get over their past and move on." For a people not allowed to vote, even in the early 60's, wouldn't this be cause for celebration? Isn't this a win for them having a voice in the highest held office in the land? The bitterness stuck deep and hard in the people and Obama became a person worthy of the worst kind of hate.
Four years gone. And then came the next election.
If there ever was a time I wanted to close my FB page, this was it. Although I never put much on my wall about political vibes, I carefully watched people and what they posted. The most vile, putrid, and outright lies that were posted day after ever-living day. Posts that simply took my breath away with the evil the words contained. People that live 'Godly' lives.
I saw a different side to so-called 'religion' and what it meant in the political arena. Over time, I had little thoughts and words poking me in the back saying, "Missy, love is what is needed. Hate and taking sides only serves to divide us." I read books, I read the Book, I read and pored over articles that talked about why the religious right has changed over the years. I had an awakening, if you will, that called me to be accountable to what was in my heart and the political arena. Blindly being led by what we've "always done" is not the way and only served to make my heart deaf and dumb.
I may have nearly had a breakdown from all that was said during that election. My husband would tell me to stop reading the posts, stop letting it in. But when people you know let you down by calling our President a n****r, a Muslim, and someone 'other' than who should hold that office, my eyes couldn't be torn away and the veil was torn. I would never again see people through the same eyes.
The Kenyan lib-tard.
This is how people I knew described Obama. And hated him. The pure and rancid taste that was left in my mouth became a bitter taste on my tongue - one that wouldn't soon be washed away. I was left with my head in my hands day after day after day and election day couldn't come soon enough. But not soon enough to affirm my belief that he was never to be accepted because he was 'other', he was different, he was black and not white. I believe the vitriol would never have been quite as ugly and festering if he was just another white democrat.
Last night I watched the 2015 State of the Union address. I saw a great speech filled with things every President says on this day. They talk about accomplishments, things left to do, unemployment, healthcare, minimum wage, and personal stories that bring the points home. I was moved by it. I live-tweeted it, I took it in - just like I did for every other president that's been in office while I've been alive. As Americans we ALL need to watch the SOTU address, not reject it because you hate the man in office. The office of the President is one to be respected, even though we live in a country where we have freedom of speech. I like spirited debate and joking about his suit or how gray his hair is.
Instead, what I saw on social media was hate-filled rancor that made my skin fill with goosebumps:
"I won't watch that BS."
"He's a liar and a twister of words."
"He only talks about himself."
**Insert whatever Bible verse talks about someone evil**
When Obama leaves office, and all the nonsensical remarks people make about him end, what will be left? What candidate/President will we have that will be everything you need? Or will you be left with no words in your mouth because the racial epithets won't fit? What will you say then?
Did you hate Bill Clinton this much, a democrat, who served two terms?
How about Jimmy Carter? Or maybe JFK? How about FDR, a democrat, who served for twelve years as president during WW2. All democrats. Does the political affiliation even matter?
I live my life, whoever is in the Oval office, and I live it well. I love, use kind words, and push back a bit when needed. Hate doesn't fill my heart over one person and what he was able to accomplish with all the negativity and hatred pointed toward him. I see a man who broke barriers and stayed poised while shit was thrown at him from all sides. ALL SIDES including a Christianity whom I thought could never hate that much. May God forgive us from our hate. I for one, choose to love. We can disagree on issues, we don't have to side with his policies, but the hate must stop.
the hate must stop
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Blood into ink.
Those words evoke a vivid picture in my mind of scratching onto paper the words flowing from a bleeding heart. This is what I am attempting to do as I turn my husband's life into words.
It is hard.
The encouragement I've received after posting the initial six stories has been overwhelming and heart-wrenching. I am mightily heartened and lifted up by your words. So many of us fight to do what we're meant to do. Daily we battle demons in our push to be who we are. The devil is not above using the dirtiest tricks to keep us off base and he's worked very hard on me. His tricks and traps are ones I've fallen into many times over the years.
He's used my own vices and failings on me over and over to keep me from the keyboard. I've felt the presence of his lurking demons when I even attempted to write one word. Their hot breath shivering down my back. I don't say this lightly....but I do say it because it's true. The devil wants us to fail. He delights in bickering, procrastination, and the setting upon the shelf of aspirations not realized. Giving up means he wins and I hear him cackling every time he tries to make us stop.
Last week, before I posted the blogs, I had the most severe moment or attack, if you will, I've ever experienced in attempting this novel. Mind you, I've been "trying" to write this book for years. As I hovered over the blank word document my hands were unable to type a single word. Tears sprung from the depths and outright sobbing took over. I shook from within and with every part of my soul. I could feel the darkness sitting with me...right next to me.
I cried out and yelled, "Why Lord? Why can't I write the words I have in my heart?"
In my haze of tears I picked up my bible, a new bible I received as a gift this Christmas, and I opened it. I couldn't even see because of the tears so I held it close to my eyes and this is what I my eyes fell upon:
|Isaiah 32: 3-4|
My entire life I've been a receiver of words and verses. God has communicated with me this way, always giving me a verse that to me, is a promise. The demons fled and I knew that my stammering tongue would become fluent and clear, and those who read my words would listen and their eyes open. It also promised me that my fearful heart would understand.
I opened up my word document and started typing.
I'm only one thousand words in with 99,000 to go. To be categorized as a novel I need that many words. One of my fears has always been how I will have enough words to fill this story. I know now that I needn't fear. The words will come and be poured out of my fingertips.
Thank you to those who said I am making a difference by writing this book, those of you said I am being obedient, and those who simply cried with me. It will be an ongoing battle and why the project and his story is so persecuted I haven't quite figured out yet. I've left a job in the past year, and readied myself for this writing. There must be something big in the future yet for him that the evil doesn't want to happen. He is an amazing man and has amazing things to share.
And I write.
Monday, January 12, 2015
Home is a place in your mind where you go when you want to escape. Home, for me, had been non-existent in the three long years I had been lost to it. For most, a homecoming such as mine should have been like the prodigal son. But where love and warmth had always been, was now replaced by fear and made bleary by alcohol. My mom and brother, when my stepdad was gone, let me know how much they had missed me. These times were meaningful, but brief - fear of him returning was greater than anything.
I had two more siblings upon my return, so my mom was busier than ever. I knew she loved me, but I soon discovered that nothing was to be spoken of my time spent lost. It was better to forget it, and tuck it away into the history of my heart. I did not fit in. My home and mom, as I remembered them, had ceased to exist. I tamped down the memories of my real dad and brought them out stingily, to be savored one at a time.
My stepdad was a mason. Hard, heavy work – when he had it – filled his days. His mind was very intelligent, and he had lots of knowledge of things unknown to me. His passion was the violent history of Mexico and everything it entailed. He could recite story after story of Cauhtemoc, Pancho Villa, and the Oaxacan-born president Benito Juarez.
Mexico is a land bred with the warrior-like spirits of its ancestors. The blood-thirsty Aztecs took no mercy on their prisoners, but fought for their land against the equally blood-thirsty Spaniards. My stepdad, although born and bred a blood Aztec, had none of their fierce spirit. Instead, cowardice ran through his veins and came out his pores smelling of alcohol. He was drowning in it.
I tried to live my days as a carefree 9 year old should, but I was no longer carefree. My time lost had hardened me to a fine point and I would never be that little boy again. We didn't have much money, and my mom suffered trying to make sure we had enough to eat. When my stepdad would be paid for a job, he would disappear. Days later we would go out searching, only to find him passed out in a ditch or lying on a sidewalk. The money we needed for food gone, already coursing through his veins. The liquor permeated every inch of him. Still drunk, my brother and I would pick him up and half drag him through the streets to home. Alcoholism is rampant in Mexico, but the eyes of everyone still bore into me. It was a sad walk home, his feet dragging in between us.
To help my mom, my brother and I would sell popsicles out of a box. We would run to the Piramides de Teotihuacan where the magnificent Pyramid of the Sun and Moon resided. These were located approximately two miles from my house. Tourists flocked there and money was to be made. The art of selling something came very easy to me. The sun was hot, we were hungry, and the popsicles would melt if we didn't sell them quickly. We would scamper up the steep steps of the pyramids peddling our wares. Down the Avenue of the Dead to the Pyramid of the Moon we ran, making money in the process from tourists near and far. When finished, we patted the wad of cash in our pockets and smiled. I would give most of it to mom, and bury the rest. I still believe I have buried money in Mexico.
Day turned to night and soon we realized we had stayed out too long. Rushing for home, we ran at top speed. I let Chucho run ahead of me so he reached the house first. As I ran in the house, breathless, a swift blow to the head knocked me to the floor. "Where did you get this money?" my stepdad screamed. "We earned it selling popsicles," I said, "I was going to give the money to mom." A fist to my ear sent me sprawling.
When you are abused, the world stops spinning and you are the center of it. I willed myself to an empty room that contained nothing but silence. The room became a vacuum as his blows rained down on me, but I heard nothing. My head was silent save for my mom's screams as she tried to pull him off of me. Her head went back in a whiplash motion as he backhanded her to the floor. Blood poured out of her nose as she tried to stand up to help me. I saw the helplessness on my mom’s face and all the pain and anger she was feeling. She wanted to help me, just like she had wanted to find me when I was lost. I could no longer hear as I was punched broadside on the head, but my eyes stayed on my mom’s as my dad raged on.
Suddenly he grabbed me and dragged me outside to a room that was unfinished. The darkness in his eyes was tangible - I could taste it and feel his hatred. I was not his son. I was born of another man to his woman. It mattered not that he had left my mom pregnant and alone with my older brother. Nothing mattered except that I, the one he wanted rid of, had suddenly come back to life after being found. He had willed me dead.
He stripped me of my clothes, and shivering, I stood there in the corner of the half-built room. My eyes, proud and unwilling to show fear, stared back at him. "Hold your arms out," he said. My arms went up quickly as I bore into his eyes. Heavy cement bricks were placed in each of my palms. "You will stand here until I say you can move." It's at these times that your mind will wander and you will think you won't make it. I thought of my dad and of how much he loved me. The memories of him throwing me into the ocean and learning to swim. The times he would come home and I would throw myself into his arms and he would hold me. I thought of the nights I spent on the streets and how I longed to come home. I knew now, that I could never come home. He would never let me. My arms burned with a fire so deep, and blood from the cuts on my face slowly made their way down my body. Like so many red little rivers flowing freely. He sat in the corner of the room just watching me and waiting for me to break. Abusers revel in the pain they are inflicting, and I vowed then, that he would never, ever see that pain reflected in my eyes.
Hours passed until he passed out in a drunken stupor. I dropped the bricks and ran out. I ran into the night to where I could breathe air not laced with the sourness of alcohol. I ran to where I could stand and stare at the horizon, now blooming with tendrils of pink and orange. The sun meant a new day and a new chance. I had been home a mere six months and had endured unending horror at the hands of a man who was weak in spirit. Nights spent outside our door because I was five minutes late. Blows to the head and gut so hard it took your breath away. My mom had endured these blows, and had endured them for years. This was her choice – but not mine.
I went to her in the early morning hours and sat quietly beside her. She brushed the hair from my face, and together, we wept tears of what was lost. What she had lost – a husband and children, buried and gone. I knew, at almost 10 years old that I had lost the rest of my childhood. It was gone, and the only thing to do now was move on. I told her I was leaving and she knew, down inside, that it was the only way for me to live. If I stayed here, he might eventually kill me.
I left that day with a few clothes in a bag, my heart filled with sadness, but my spirit soaring because I felt free. I headed to the bus station a little older and wiser. I asked the man behind the counter what bus went to the beach. I found myself traveling along a palm-lined road that led to Acapulco. The bus deposited me beach side. It didn't take me long to meet up with others traveling along, because Mexico is a land filled with people always moving - trying to get somewhere. I found myself around a fire on the beach with other young kids who had left home for various reasons. The stories poured out of each runaway, every one of them teary-eyed telling stories of abuse, neglect and rape – boys and girls alike. I felt connected to this weary band of travelers. I spent several weeks here with the sun on my face and oysters in my stomach. It felt like a reprieve from the violence my dad had bestowed on me. Talk soon turned of travel and moving on and my ears perked up. I asked what they were talking about.
"Do you want to hitch-hike with us to el norte?" they asked.
I rolled this around on my tongue. The north. The United States. Little did I know what this simple question would mean and how it would change my life. I pondered this, thought of everything I had been through in my 10 years and simply looked at them and said, "Yes, I'll go."
Sunday, January 11, 2015
The boy sat quietly on the pavement. Christmas lights twinkled in the trees around him. It was that time of year again. He could smell the churros being fried, sugar-dipped and heavenly tasting. Tamales were being steamed, cozy in their nests of moistened corn husks. The sights and sounds were all around him, but this year they meant nothing. He was lost.
Two months before, his family had moved to a new town. His brother and him had been walking to school. He was only six and school didn’t sound that appealing to him. He had wandered off; ready to explore the new town they lived in.
At the train station, the train cars had looked so fascinating. Before he knew what had happened, the train had taken off – with him in it. Now he was in this town, this town where he knew no one. In the time that he’d been here, he had wandered the streets not knowing where to go. He couldn’t go to the police; he was afraid they put him in jail. They would think he’d run away; that he was a bad boy. Sometimes, he would stand on the street corner and cry.
One time someone had given him money when he was crying. So now, for money, he would do this every night on a different street corner. No one gave him a second thought. He would take a small portion of this money and go to the church. There, he would put this money in the alms container that was located in the foyer of the church. He would pray, “God, I will always give you this money if you just let me find my way home.”
As the Christmas season approached, he felt sure that Santa would come and bring him gifts, then take him home. The streets were filled with activities, people rushing and laughing. The 12 days of posadas were beginning. These were parties that were held in the days leading up to Christmas. They sang to the baby Jesus, and passed out warm drinks. The boy went to these parties, just wanting to be part of something and perhaps get something to eat. He stuffed his pockets with oranges and whatever else fell out of the piñatas. A lot of the time, they shooed him away, for he was dirty and disheveled. He walked back to the outside market where he stayed. He could see happy faces inside the windows of houses. Glimpses of gifts and food tantalized him. With a hope still in his chest, he crawled under the table in the market and pulled the newspapers over him for warmth. Surely Santa wouldn’t forget him…
But Santa did forget him. For three years the boy lived on the streets. Sometimes people would take him in for a few days, but he would always run away. They only wanted him to work in their houses. Though he had grown used to life on the streets alone, at 9 years old, he was still a boy. He dreamed of going home, but it was getting hard to picture his mama’s face. It had slowly faded into the past.
His third Christmas away was fast approaching. Sitting on the same slab of pavement, he looked up at the twinkling lights. My family has forgotten me, he thought.
The next day he met a man who wanted to take him in to live with his family for a while. He never said no; always went because he knew for a few days he would have food and be warm. When they arrived at the house, the man told him he would have to sleep in the shed behind the house. He had four other children and there was no room in the house. The family also had a few farm animals, so they also stayed in the small shed. The boy knew it was better than sleeping under a table outside, so he decided to stay until Christmas was over. This family was nicer than most. He had to do chores, but at least he had food. On Christmas Eve as he lay down to sleep, the hope he had always had in him slowly died. He would never be with a family who loved him like his own. No one would ever wrap their arms around him with the same love and comfort as his mama had. He fell asleep with tears glistening on his face.
The next morning he woke up; it was Christmas morning. The animals snorted in their stalls, and the boy lay and didn’t want to move. He was warm and just wanted to wrap himself in a cocoon and never get up. He glanced over and there lying beside was a gift. A gift? A Christmas gift? It was a small package, and trembling, he picked it up. Sure enough, there was his name on it. He carefully opened the package, and inside lay a brand new blue t-shirt. A simple blue shirt. Tears started down his cheeks. Nobody had gotten him anything in three years. He slipped off his dirty and matted old shirt and put on the new one. Pleasure was bursting through his whole heart. Someone had thought about him. Someone had cared. He felt a tiny part of his hardened heart soften.
Maybe he would find his way home, and maybe his mom was still looking for him. He had to hope, because without hope what is there? He stepped out of his shed and looked at the Christmas morning. He thanked God for not forgetting about him.
Saturday, January 10, 2015
Bam. I opened one eye to peer out from the newspapers that were my blanket for
the night. Click click wham! Two purple high heels were swinging in front of my
face as I lay under the table in the deserted market. It was late at night, and
I had burrowed under this market table to sleep for the night. Discarded
newspapers were wrapped tightly around me, forming a mummy-like cocoon. I
wanted to sleep, and whoever was sitting on top of my table would soon be sorry
for waking me up. With a deft hand I took one purple heel and flung it across
the deserted street in front of the market. I heard a scream of fear, and then
a questioning voice called out, "Who's under that table?"
|Dark streets of Oaxaca City.|
I poked my head out and her look of fear turned soft in a second. What are you doing under there, she wanted to know. I shrugged, knowing if I told her I was lost that she would turn me in. The policia were the last people I wanted to see. "Are you hungry?" My grumbling belly betrayed me and she took my hand. I didn't know her, only knew that she was going to get food for me. Since I had been rudely deposited on the streets of Oaxaca, food had been a rare commodity. I hung around the markets and pilfered the remains of food sitting on people's plates. Not much goes to waste in Mexico, so you had to be quicker than lightning when taking the food. As we walked down the dim street, her face flashed garishly in each streetlight we passed under. Heavy make-up adorned her face. It made her look older than her twenty-some years.
We reached the street corner where a lone taco stand was still serving. Steaming corn tortillas filled with finely chopped steak, cilantro, and onions filled my belly. She looked at me and said she would need to work for awhile now. I walked with her up and down the street. A man came up to her and soon they were walking to where she lived. She went with a series of men in and out of her bedroom. She told me to sit on the stoop and wait for her. "If anyone asks you who you are, just tell them you're my brother," she said. I sat on the steps and heard sounds coming from inside that I simply didn't understand. Prostitute wasn't in my vocabulary as a six year old, but little eyes sometimes see things they shouldn't. Things that become seared into the sub-conscience.
As the men would leave, they would pat me on the head and throw me a few pesos. Around 2 a.m. she finally laid down to sleep with me curled up on the floor beside her bed. I awoke abruptly to the sound of arguing. I heard a loud male voice asking heatedly why a little boy was sleeping by her bed. He was her pimp, I later found out. He didn't like me.
But she was the kindest person to me in the whole three years I was lost. I stayed with her sporadically for weeks, with her customers coming and going. She had many friends, all sharing the same occupation. These women of the street became my family. They fed me, took me to the movies, and made me feel loved. I still didn't know where home was, and why the train had brought me to this city. I must have had an innate sense of how to survive, because I soon became accustomed to the sights and sounds this lush city of Oaxaca provided. The arguments, though, between the woman and her pimp became more and more heated. He didn't want her spending any more money on me. One morning, while she was still sleeping, I simply left. I didn't want her to get into trouble. Leaving became a part of my life.
|Lots of vendors on the street corners.|
Looking back, it's horrifying to think of a 6 year old being lost on the streets of a big city. Crying on the corner and invoking sympathy from people became easy as breathing. As scary and awful as it was, beautiful memories still wash up on the shores of my mind. Adventures that I relive are vivid, yet faded – almost like watching an old 8mm movie reel. It plays raggedly and makes my chest tighten to see the images flash by in my mind. I was 7, and had been lost almost a year. I had survived by sleeping underneath, in and around tight spaces where no one could find me. I probably looked like the dirtiest street urchin, yet made sure I washed my face and combed my hair each day. Pride in my appearance, seemed to me, the best way to fit in somewhere. To find someone that would eventually help me. I gravitated towards the nicest hotels in the city. I would linger on the edges of the outdoor restaurants, hoping to catch the eye of a fancy tourist who would give me money or food. I tried to remain inconspicuous, yet learned to use my charm to wile my way into their good graces. To me, this meant eating the rich, sumptuous food that was prepared for those who could afford it. I sometimes found myself sitting at a fancy table eating leftover bagels, jam, and cream cheese. I began to make it an adventure, a place in time that consisted only of me and what I could do to make myself happy. I didn't look at it as surviving – I was living it. As I was trying not to remember the family I had been torn from.
Faces file slowly through my mind's eye of everyone who had a role in helping me. There were, in fact, several different families who took me in over these three years. How I came to live with them, I don't remember. Their faces all blend together after all these years. One family that stands out in my mind was a family of four. The mom and dad were kind to me. They let me sleep in the house, but in exchange I had to work to be able to eat. The sister was particularly mean to me. As soon as the mom would leave the house, she always made me do her share of the work so she could spend time with her boyfriend. I resented this and after awhile I left. While living with another family, this first family found me and produced so-called "court papers" that said I belonged to them. While the two families were fighting over me, I slipped out the door never to return. My restlessness was untamed.
Though there were often tears in the night, during the day I ruled the streets. I had made friends with some of the local kids, and hung out with some whose parents owned market and taco stands. We would run through the stalls of the market and out into the streets. In my mind, I was the hero saving the damsel in distress. I had packs of dogs that roamed the streets, and I made them into my own little band. I would herd them all around, making an incredible nuisance of myself.
Back in early '70s Mexico, there were still stories being told on the radio. Everyday around 3 p.m., they would broadcast an episode of Kaliman. My friends and I would sit outside the radio station where they would air the episodes over speakers. I would raptly listen to every brave thing Kaliman did to save someone. We would re-enact these episodes, lost in a world only children can get lost in. Kaliman had a saying that went like this, "Quien domina la mente, domina todo…" - If you can dominate your mind, you can dominate anything. This saying pulsated through my brain and to this day, I believe helped me through times when I wanted to give up.
|Kaliman was someone George looked up to as a child.|
As these carefree days would draw to an end, my friends headed home to their families and a warm bed. I would curl up under my table, and wrap the newspapers around me. I thought about my mom. The image of her face was slowly fading from my head, and try as I might I couldn't conjure up her image. At times, I let my mind be awash in fantasy. I imagined my mom coming to find me in a huge helicopter. She would land in the middle of the street and hop out with her arms wide open to me. "Mijo! Where have you been? I've been looking for you…" I would run to her and bury my head in her chest.
My mom had been looking for me, but it wasn't as simple as you might think. My stepfather didn't let her look for me as he should have. He didn't care whether I was lost or found. She was able to post pictures on walls, and they had even gotten as far as Oaxaca. Relatives from there had known I was missing, but were not sure of what I looked like anymore. My brother Chucho, whose proper name is Jesus, missed me with an unparalleled fierceness. He blamed himself for my disappearance. My stepfather would tell him to shut up - Tono is not coming home. There is a legend in Mexico called "La Llorona." Simply translated, she's called the White Lady Who Cries. The legend goes that she drowned her two children in a stream, and was doomed to walk the earth for the rest of her days looking for her children. They say in Mexico if you see La Llorona walking in the darkness at night, do not look at her. Her face is beautiful at first glance, but turns to a terrifyingly twisted ugliness. She also imitates the voices of people. One night, my brother was sleeping in the white house we lived in by the river. He awoke with a fright. "Mom, wake up! Tono is outside! I can hear him crying!" My mom woke up, along with my stepfather, and they went to the door to peer out. Whether you believe their story or not, what they saw caused the hair on their necks to stand up. Standing at the edge of the river was a lady, swathed in robes of white. Her voice was a broken cry that for all the world sounded like mine. She started to turn her head, but before they could see her face my parents slammed the door. Chucho cried unceasingly, because for the rest of the night all they could hear was my voice crying outside the door.
|La Llorona (Crying woman)|
Legends are deep and well-rooted in lush, beautiful Mexico. As for me, I never gave up my faith. By 1976, I was 9 years old and I felt my family was lost to me. Each day I would make my way to one of the lovely old churches and drop a coin in the plate. I made a deal with God that if I gave him all I had, that please could I just go home? God never left me. He held me in his arms each night, and walked with me each step I took on those dusty streets of Oaxaca. He marked each tear that traveled down my little face and carried what I could not carry myself.
I didn't know that I had aunts and cousins that lived there on the outskirts of the town. One of them stopped in front of the picture tacked on a post and stared at it intently. Very unsure, and yet slightly intrigued by it, she decided to write my mom that she had possibly seen her son. He might be here in Oaxaca. On a late dusky afternoon, I had just parked myself on the street corner to begin my crying game. People always stopped and gave me a peso or two. This was a night like every other night, and I had my head in my hands pretending to cry. I looked out from underneath my arms and saw a woman walking towards me. A shiver went up my spine, as she looked vaguely familiar. I kept watching her come closer and closer, and when she was almost upon me I knew. I took my hands from my eyes and stood up slowly. It was my mom. I flew into her arms and the tears came silently down both of our faces.
I was going home - a word that I hadn't uttered in three years. She had barely recognized me, she said. My hair was long and I was older, but in the end it was my eyes. She had known the minute she looked into them. The train wound itself through the lushness of Oaxaca and made its way into the town of San Juan, Teotihuacan. The town I had taken off from three long years ago. I still didn't realize how far away I had been. As we neared the house, I became excited, yet nervous at the same time. Chucho raced out of the house and hugged me – the pain and suffering there to see in his eyes. There was a new baby sister to meet, and another brother on the way. I was so glad to be there in that square white adobe house. Out of the corner of my eye, though, I saw a stern figure make its way towards me. I knew it was my stepfather. All the joy drained from my face as the first words he said to me were these, "I thought you were dead."
Friday, January 9, 2015
We arrived in that city in southern Mexico with nothing but the clothes on our backs. Alone, we straggled off the bus and stopped to look around. We were together, but struggling to know which way to turn. I'm sure the most pressing thing for my mom was to find a place for us to live. I don't remember the ins and outs of how we found a room to lay our head, but I do remember that it was concrete and held absolutely nothing. It was emptier than a wind-swept desert, but also a place we could lie down and sleep. A blissful dreamlessness cleared our minds, if only for a time, of all the tragedy that had befallen us.
The days drifted together and I felt a sense of normalcy. Oaxaca is a beautiful city full of the sights and sounds that are Mexico. The mercados are full of lush produce, and the sellers are all indigenous to the area. The lilting sound of many different dialects blended together to form a heady mix pleasant to the ears. There are more Indian languages in Mexico than you can count. Avocados were piled high, with mangoes and mysterious tropical fruits as their neighbors. Deep brown-skinned women patted out clayudas (huge blue corn tortillas) to fill with frijoles and queso. I was with my mom and brother, and in my childish mind, it was all I needed.
|My step dad 2014|
One afternoon mom took us out for malteadas (malts). She struggled to find small amounts of work and it was hard for a woman alone. When she did get money, she tried to treat us. I was happy, sitting at the small wooden table in the market sipping on my malt. I can still see the man coming up behind my mom and scaring her. She took one look at him and a puzzling look crossed her face. Chucho and I looked at each other. We didn't know the man, but my mom did. We started walking down the street, my mom and him talking. I knew right away I didn't like him. I tried to walk beside my mom, but he pushed me away and told me to walk with my brother. I trudged behind them, fuming inside. Secrets are tied up tight in Mexico. It's nearly impossible to get people to talk about things better left hidden in the past. Within weeks we had moved in with this man, this man who simply appeared and had captured my mom's attention and took her away from me. What I didn't know, and what took me many months to find out, was that my mom knew this man from her small village. He wasn't just anyone either. He was my older brother Chucho's father – and he hated me.
Fairness is not always served in Mexico. Although much has changed, sometimes men have the upper hand. My mom had become pregnant with my brother by this man, whose name was Rutilio. When he found out she was pregnant, he left her. She was alone and with child when my dad Maximo came along -- who loved her as she was. Now, that whole family was lost to her – and I was the only one left from it. My dad, my sister, and my brother were all dead. Even though my stepfather had left my mom when she was pregnant, I was a pariah in his eyes. It was inconceivable to him that she had found someone else, married, and had kids. My mind works over this now and wonders if the anger to come was because I existed. Because my mom had dared to love someone else, no matter that he had left her. We never spoke of my dad again.
As adults, we wonder what children hear. I can tell you that I heard a lot. Mysterious noises would come from the kitchen. Arguing, and sometimes screaming drifted through the door. My stepfather became more hateful as time passed. He had a job when he found us, but had lost it. He began drinking with a vengeance. He wasn't your typical alcoholic. When he drank, he drank to forget anything other than that his mescal existed. Mescal is like moonshine here. There were times we had to go find him in the mornings, laying facedown in the gutter curled in a ball. His bottle of mescal, lay dirty and empty beside him. We would drag him home, never once regaining any semblance of consciousness. When he sobered up is when he became like a mad dog. He would grab my ear with his fingernails, and knock me on the head with his big knuckles until I felt faint. With each successive day, events escalated. I hated him with all my heart. Maybe because I was close to five years old now, he held back. These episodes I remember faintly, it was the violence that occurred when I was a bit older that will never leave me.
|The state of Oaxaca is several states away from where we lived.|
When I was six, we moved from Oaxaca to San Juan, Teotihuacan in the state of Mexico. Close to Los Piramides de Teotihuacan, we moved into a small white adobe block house. I call it the white house. It sat in the middle of a pasture, and we moved here so my stepfather could tend a flock of 300 sheep. We settled in, but uneasily, always wary of my stepfather. We moved here right in time for Chucho and I to start school. It was to be my first year in school, and I was not interested in going. We got up that morning, and my mom packed us tortas of bolillos, frijoles, and queso. That is, a crusty bread roll with beans and cheese. We waved goodbye to my mom and took off down the wooded trail that led to town that followed a small river. As we got closer to the school the path divided. Chucho headed for the school and had already made some friends, but I yelled to him that I wasn't going to go. He told me I had better follow him, but I told him no, I don't want to go to school. He just shook his head and kept walking. My headstrong ways have never left me. I took my six-year-old self and walked it into town. I meandered around for awhile, reveling in this bit of freedom from the heartache at home. Your mind becomes tense and fragile when you're always watching out for what you say and do. A blow can come from the tiniest of things. I saw a bus parked in the town square, and decided to climb on and sing for some change. My stepdad had forced us to sell gum and shine shoes when we lived in Oaxaca, so I knew all about hustling a crowd for money. I started singing in the aisles of the bus, and soon had a nice handful of change. What I hadn't realized was that the bus had been moving. The scenery flashed by and soon the bus stopped – in Mexico City. I didn't know then that I was only 45 minutes from home, but I wasn't scared. I hopped off the bus and decided to explore. I somehow found myself at the zoo, and made a day of wandering around checking out the animals. I tried out the paddle boats too, and was having a splendid day all around. I knew it was getting late, and didn't want to get home too late. Bad things would happen if I was late. As I was walking, I came to the train station. I knew we had traveled on the train when we moved to San Juan, so I figured the train would take me home. There was a station in my town. I snuck on the train, and wedged myself underneath a seat. It soon chugged its way out of the station, and I was lulled to sleep with the swaying motion.
I woke up with a start, and crawled out to look out the window. It was already the next day, I had slept through the night, but the train had never stopped. I spent the rest of the day hiding from the conductor, because I had no ticket. This train stopped at little villages, and I saw vendors with food steaming outside the window. My stomach lurched with hunger, but I figured if I got off I would never get home. I quickly dashed off and bought café con leche and sweet bread. I still had change from my singing the day before. The train chugged on, while verdant green hills turned into a lush canopy of semi-tropical jungle. Why wasn't I arriving back home? Fear crept into my mouth, and I could taste it. We finally stopped and pulled in with a whoosh and a clang of the bell at a station. "Everyone off," yelled the conductor. I jumped out of the door and ran onto the platform. I stood and looked around. Nothing was recognizable to me, and my heart did a flip. Shivering, I realized I didn't know where home was. Little did I know that the train had taken me three states away. I was six years old and lost in a big city. I would remain lost, living on the streets for the next three years.
Thursday, January 8, 2015
|George's Dad, Maximo, is on the right.|
I'm still four and I'm sitting at a chair by our table. Only a few weeks have slipped by since pa's death. I smell the delicious aroma of tamales being cooked in a large pot. Ma has a strange look in her eye and is quickly and hurriedly assembling the tamales to take out into the streets to sell. We have been given some money by the military, because of pa's death. We are strangely alone, though. No one comes by our cottage anymore and it feels swept of all emotion. The joy my pa brought to our house has been stripped away, and the stigma of "suicide" remains. I'm sure my older brother was at the house this particular day, but he remains on the fringes of my memory. My ma called out that she was leaving with the tamales. "Take care of your little sister," she said. I look at my sister Maura, who is laid out on the kitchen table. I climb onto the table and sit beside her. She is 3 years old. I stare at her face and notice something white coming out of her nose. All I know is that I'm supposed to be taking care of her, so I pull that white thing clean out of there. It is a long white worm. My sister is dead.
You might be thinking that I'm too little to remember. This segment of my life is choppy and disjointed, and my ma had slipped into an irretrievable world from which we couldn't pull her back from. Within another two weeks, my baby brother Porfirio is also dead. In a span of a months my pa, and my little sister and brother were dead. Chucho and I were the only ones that remained. My ma, who is and was the most devoted mother to Chucho, myself and the four siblings she would have in the future – was lost in a haze of misery. She had buried a husband and two children. Mexico is a land of aching beauty, but filled with endless superstition. There were many whispers of what had actually happened to my pa and siblings. Dark rumors of unmentionable things, things that could hurt and inflict harm and even death were being spoken on quiet street corners. To this day nothing has been proved or disproved. My mom can't remember how they died. The next set of memories comes quickly. We were taken from our ma.
|George and his mom summer 2014|
My feet trod carefully under the cactus archway that led into the cool interior of my abuelita's home. My dad's parents Fausto and Elisa had taken us away from my mom and whisked us to Valdeflores, Oaxaca. They never had approved of my ma and pa's marriage. When they met, my mom already had Chucho by a man who had left her alone and pregnant. This man later becomes my stepfather. My ma is a full Aztec Indian. She speaks mixtec, a language that curves itself over the tongue. Spanish is her second language and one she had to learn. The warrior-like vibrancy of the Aztec Indians of Mexico are a book unto themselves. My ma was small, with shiny long black hair. Smooth dark skin complemented her high cheekbones and her smile was infectious. My pa's parents disliked her. They were, for lack of a better term, highborn, and an Indian girl with another man's child was not good enough for their son. My pa didn't care, and he married her. I envision him as strong as his given name, Maximo. He cared for Chucho as his son and soon I followed along with my two younger siblings. Information is sketchy, but after all the deaths occurred, my grandparents stepped in and took us away from my mom. This left her all alone with the grief she was enduring, no sympathy from those who should have given it to her. Once past the cool interior of the cactus-surrounded courtyard, I don't remember much of my grandparents' home. It was big, much bigger than our tiny beach house had been. I didn't know where my mom was and I missed her. We were wild with the emotions of death and how it had pervaded our wonderful existence. My four-year-old mind wanted things back to normal. My grandparents tried to make me feel at home, but for Chucho it was harder. He wasn't their grandson and they let him feel that. Bribery works when a small child is mourning for a lost father and a mother who's been taken away from you. Toys were purchased, candy was given, but it didn't really work because worst of all, my ma was not allowed to step foot in that house.
The cool terracotta tile felt good underneath my feet. I was playing in the courtyard, my four-year-old mind trying to find an escape from all that was pressing in on me. Weeks had gone by since we had come to live there. My brother came in and abruptly pinned me to the wall with his hand. "I just talked to ma," he whispered, "She said she's going away and if we want to go with her we have to be at the bus stop by 2. When I say it's time to run, you better follow me. If you don't, you'll be left behind." My heart started beating rapidly. My brother was six and he knew everything. How or where he talked to my mom I'll never know. I just knew I didn't want to be left behind. We had lunch inside the warm adobe walls of my grandma's kitchen. I couldn't look her in the eye because I was afraid. I thought she could see right through my soul and find out what we were planning. I felt the minutes ticking by and soon became absorbed in the game I had been playing. As an adult, I replay the next minutes and sometimes let them run through my mind. All of a sudden Chucho was running out the door and into the street. I saw his dark eyes flash by the cactus fence and saw him mouth the words "RUN"! My heart swelled up in my chest, and it was if my body couldn't get up. My legs were fumbling beneath me, but the desire to run was stronger. I was closest to the fence and knew I wouldn't make it to the entryway or my grandma would catch me.
|Ma, Chucho, and I.|
Wednesday, January 7, 2015
They say I look exactly like him. My memories are sharp, but slightly faded at the edges, like an old curling photograph. I see him there, driving up in the olive green army jeep to our house at the edge of the shore. I would be waiting for him and could see his wide smile and wavy dark hair over the wheel. We lived in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca (Mexico) and he was stationed there at the military base. It was 1970. My memories start very young, most say too young to remember. I comb gingerly over my time spent with him, sorting through each image. My mama, in these memories, was young and beautiful with her dark braid gently swaying down her back, her skirts always there for me to grab on to. Her face would crinkle into a smile when I put my hands on her cheeks. My older brother Chucho, two years my elder, was my constant companion. Trouble found us easily. A fire was always burning outside the house to boil water or whatever necessary. We found a box of bullets my dad kept for his military-issue gun. Chucho always tried to keep me from getting in trouble, but I never listened. It was my bright idea to put some bullets into the fire. The ensuing explosion sent our little feet running quickly to the other side of the house to hide. When my dad came home, we could hear our mom telling him what had happened. He came looking for us and found us quaking with fear. Smiling, he swung us up into his arms. Punishment never came.
Simple meals of shrimp and lentils, corn tortillas gently patted out in my mama's firm hands by the fire and toasted to perfection, still linger on my tongue. Much laughter was at our table. My little sister Maura, and my tiny baby brother Porfirio rounded out our family. I could see the love my mom had for my dad. That look can't be disguised, and I felt warm inside and loved. These memories are firmly planted in my heart, not even to be erased by the anguish to come.
Most days, mama would pack a lunch for my dad and we would make the trek to the Ejercito (military base). I would usually be in the lead, swinging the tin pail that held the food. As if in slow motion, the events of this day unfold, bit by bit. They tantalize me now at forty-three years of age, and what my then four-year old mind could fathom. I was far ahead of everyone else. Going to the base was a highlight of my day, and I ran as fast as my body could carry me. I knew the others would get there, but I wanted to be the first to get to my dad. I remember rounding the corner into the hallway and down, down to the room he was in. As I sped around the door, my feet skidded to a halt. "Papa?" I said, frozen by what lay before me. In my dreams, I'll always see the blood. It's what has always stayed with me. It was spreading by inches in a glossy red pool, my eyes unfocused by its glare. Mi papa, whom I loved more than anything, was lying on his stomach in the center of it, a bullet wound gaping raggedly. His eyes were still open, and he looked at me, a fragile connection. His lips tried to move, and even now, thirty-nine years later I'm tormented by what he tried to say. I will never know. His eyes closed, and he was gone. Dead on the cold cement floor. All I could hear behind me were the screams of my mom, which still echo in my head to this day.
Tuesday, January 6, 2015
January swept in with a cold clarity that brought out all the yearning for heavy, succulent dishes. Aren't we supposed to be eating 'clean' this time of year? Instead, my longing to eat well butts up against the need to cook things that will be eaten with gusto. Why can't we salivate at the thought of a cool, crisp salad? Maybe in July when sweat is trickling down my back just by stepping outdoors...but in January? I wish.