Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Mi Papa / George's story part 1

I can see the waves crashing, foamy and full of seaweed at my feet. I am three years old. My papa comes through the sea grass and dunes to scoop me up in his arms. His face is angular, with kindness in his dark eyes. My older brother runs along beside us and as we reach the waves, he throws me in. I scramble to pop my head above water and swim back to him. This is my dad. This is how I will remember him.

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.