Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Love Stories.

For their fortieth wedding anniversary, el Don y la Doña both dye their graying hair a startling, shiny black.  El Don looks small and fragile in his good white guayabera.   His wife has a good three inches and twenty pounds on him; she’s solid and strong under her pink lace dress.  They both wear the same slightly pained, unreadable faces they wear to wakes, weddings, and the dinner table, even as they walk into the hall to the cheers of their family and friends and the happy welcoming notes from the band: DA-da DA-da da-di-da-di-DA-da!

Their three daughters and one daughter-in-law all wear short fuchsia strapless dresses and silver heels; their son clashes in his light blue guayabera.  Ibis is their extra, honorary son; they took him in when he was a lonely university student in a strange city.    

Their youngest daughter left home at nineteen to marry a man everyone said would be the ruin of her.   Their little girl was born missing a hand.  She’s six years old now, and when her doctor suggested fitting her for a prosthesis so she could have two hands, she said, “But I already have one.”  Tonight she’s wearing an orange and white dress and a cascade of curls, and as her parents dance, she follows her small cousins around, picking them up when they fall. 

The middle daughter, a doctor, dances barefoot, and works her way around the room, making sure she talks to everyone.  Five years ago, she got married in a blue-and-white church.  Eight months later, she got divorced.  Now she says she won’t leave her parents again for any man.  To study maybe, but not to get married---besides, she says, she’s almost thirty, who would want her?  She dances with abandon, laughing, her skirt working its way up her gorgeous legs. 

The oldest daughter only in the past year, in her late thirties, married a man with three teenagers from a previous relationship, and had a baby of her own.  Everyone said, “It’s about time.” Just a few months post-partum, her body is soft and thick in the tight magenta dress.  The next day, looking at photos, she says, “Ay, look at my enormous belly!  It’s that I had just eaten,” and laughs.  She’s never given much of a fuck what people expect.

The daughter-in-law is orbited by her two little boys, who wear magenta guayaberas they picked out themselves.   She and I were married within months of each other, and were pregnant at the same time.  Our husbands are best friends.  Now we sit and chug beers and take turns herding the kids back into the hall when they head for the street.  And she tells me that her husband has a girlfriend on the side.  That he comes home at 2 a.m. or not at all.  Later, an aunt drags them both onto the dance floor and shoves them together.  They each grab one of their sons, and dance without once looking at each other’s eyes. 

In the car on the way home, Ibis asks me, “Why do you think we’ve lasted?”

“Because we’re both such great communicators,” I say.  (We’re not.)  He laughs and punches me lightly on the thigh. 

“No,” I say, “I think it’s because we both believe in our story.  You know?  And we’re both too stubborn to give up on such a great story.”

“Maybe,” he says.  “It’s a good story.” 

We turn onto the dark highway.  The pueblos are webs of light scattered across the black valley.  From here, it’s a straight shot home.    

Friday, April 26, 2013

Out Cold.

These guys.
I passed out cold while I was teaching on Tuesday morning.  (Turns out I’m anemic!  So that’s fun.)  One second I was saying, “Okay, chicos, close your books and go back to your seats,” and the next moment, I wasn’t.  For the time it took to go from standing to lying on the floor with a desk on top of me, there was no I. 

When I opened my eyes, the sun was streaming through the window, and one darling, bossy little girl was shouting at some of her classmates, “Didn’t you even notice that La Teacher fell down?”   No, no they didn’t.  The teacher was gone and life went on. 

I’ve been doing some work at Matador U recently, and one comment I find myself making over and over on student writing is, “The subject of almost every sentence is ‘I’.  See how the focus changes if you go from ‘I notice a bird flying’ to ‘A bird flies’?” 

Soon I won’t be here.  Soon I’ll be somewhere else.  And here, the shadows will still play over the hills.  Chicks will hatch, and some will die, and some will live to peep and scratch and chase bugs.  The chayotal will send tendrils racing up the adobe wall, if the damn rabbit doesn't chew through them first.  The rain clouds will roll in, and sometimes pour and sometimes leave the hard red soil thirsty.  My little students will dance and trade tazos and tell Pepito jokes and learn the English past tense from someone else.  The good folks in immigration will make some other gringa cry.   

I won’t be here to see or notice or observe, and it won’t really matter.    

See how the focus changes, Teresa?  See how everything important goes on, even when you’re unconscious or far away? 

There’s nothing to be scared of.  (I’m so scared.)     

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

El Mangal

In La Colonia nothing seems to change.  The generations slowly shift, but today’s 18-year-olds cook over wood fires and have too many babies, just like their great-grandmothers did.  There’s no cell phone signal—there’s one phone in town, in the centro; if you get a call, they announce it over the loudspeaker and you run.  Everything revolves around corn.  Tortilla is a verb: tortillar.
The mango grove has been there as long as my mother-in-law, the indomitable Doña Charo, can remember, on a remote piece of land that belongs to nobody.  She came here with her brothers and sisters when there was nothing to eat at home.  The huge mango trees rustle and whisper in the breeze just as they must have forty years ago, when Doña Charo was Chayito, a girl with long golden ringlets and an empty belly.  

One thing has changed, on this trip: the road between the town of Cintalapa and La Colonia, which had always been dirt, is paved: a long straight avenue planted up the dividing strip with magueys.  The avenue is named for a rich local man.  It’s a name Doña Charo recognizes: when she was fourteen, and this man was in his thirties, he wanted to marry her.  

She was beautiful, and she had nothing: no money, no father, a step-father who drank and hit, a steady stream of younger brothers and sisters to take care of. 
This wealthy man told fourteen-year-old Chayito that he would set her up like a queen, that she would never want for anything.  She said no.  He spoke to her mother, offered her money.  I imagine Doña Catalina—pregnant, probably, patting out tortillas in the smoky adobe kitchen—saying, “M’ija, marry him, go on.”  Thinking that it sounded like a damn good offer.   Chayito said no, and no again.  “Nunca me voy a casar con un hombre de por acá,” she said.  I’ll never marry a man from here.     

When she had a chance, she left.  She’s not a queen, not even close.  She’s wanted for things, since she left La Colonia.  But her life is her own.

The mango trees reach and moan and whisper.  “I never imagined I would come to this place with my son and my grandson,” Doña Charo says, peeling a green mango.  She’s not blonde anymore, but she’s still beautiful.  The most beautiful. 

“I have such nice memories of these trees,” she says, “but I don’t have a taste for mangoes anymore.”