Feature Section 2Mexico

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By Jessica Gonzalez

________

It was the summer of 1963 and Mexicali was hot as hell. Back then, the streets were dirt roads; only main boulevards were paved. It was a hot, dusty hole of a city, but Dad had learned of the border town’s promise and had moved our family there from Guaymas, Sonora, when I was 4.

Dad never finished grade school. He started working after his father died to help support his mother and siblings. He shined shoes, had a newspaper route and later worked at a candy factory. As an adult he landed a job with a Mexican petroleum company. This would be his ticket to a better life. In Mexicali, he started his own business repairing gasoline pumps. He made frequent trips to Los Angeles to buy parts to resell in Mexicali. Eventually, he worked his way into real estate and bought the land where his shop sat. He became a businessman with an office and secretary, a younger Chinese-Mexican woman he would eventually leave my mother for.

My father left when I was 11 and by summer of 1963, his new family had grown to two girls and a boy in addition to us: Eva, 6; Raul, 9; David, 11; Sam, 15; and me, 16. He visited us weekly to drop money for groceries. But our relationship was strained by my parents’ divorce. I had a strong mind and a rebellious heart, and I resisted his authority. His new family seemed rich compared to how we lived. We resented him for that and much else. In hindsight, though the allowance he provided was modest, at least he didn’t completely abandon us. He could have disappeared, though I could not see that then.

So it was us: mom, the kids and me. As the oldest, I was in charge of the litter and had been for a long time. As far back as I can remember Mom suffered from migraines and often withdrew, spending entire afternoons and evenings lying alone in the dark. She had these episodes a few times a month, for two to three days at a time. I always thought then that mom was devastated by the loss of her husband. But I eventually came to wonder if perhaps her somber moods were part of the reason he left.

I started cooking when I was five. Often, Mom would be in her room while my brothers and I wreaked havoc in the living room, playing around.

“I’m hungry,” they’d start.

So into the kitchen I’d go, climb a chair and make them something to eat. I received frequent criticism from my brothers on my cooking and oddly shaped tortillas.

“They’re too thick.”

“These beans are dry.”

That’s how I learned to cook. Some nights as I prepared for bed I’d hear Raul sobbing. I would find him in his room, books spread out on the bed. He’d confess he had not done his homework—this he worried about at 11 p.m. Still, I always had patience for him and helped him get it done.

I had a boyfriend that summer, Jose, a friend from school. He was a few years older than I; he’d already graduated from the business prep school Dad made me attend. Dad would not allow me to go to a normal high school. He wanted me to study accounting and help him with the business, another point of contention between us. Dad would not have approved of Jose or anyone else for that matter, but he was not involved enough in my personal life to accidentally find out. Secretly, I felt empowered at 16 to take control of a part of my life, to live in one small space for myself. Jose was more than a boyfriend; he was freedom. Mom knew and supported me. On paper he looked great. He was handsome, worked at a bank, dressed well and had a nice car. He offered to take all of us out of the inferno to San Felipe for a weekend, along the coast of the Sea of Cortez. It was a bumpy ride along a narrow road but worth escaping the scalding desert heat. We arrived on a Friday night and slept on the beach. We had no tents, just sleeping bags on the sand, underneath the stars, lulled to sleep by the sweet music of the waves rolling in and out.

The next morning the sun glowed over us. The breeze was cool and I felt a great sense of relief. Mom and Eva and I cooked breakfast as Jose and my brothers dispersed. The teenagers, Sam and Jose, walked in one direction while the kids, Raul and David, scampered behind. They frolicked toward the beach, chasing one another about, buckets in hand. Because the tide was low, it was a great time to explore rocks and tide pools and hunt for baby octopuses. These we would season with lemon and chiles and grill to a crisp over an open fire.

As the morning progressed, the beach grew noisy with families. At some point that morning, news reached the camps of someone drowning. It didn’t strike us at the time that we should worry. We assumed the boys were together, watching over one another. But as the nervous chatter spread, we walked to the beach to see what was happening and found Sam and Jose. They were not with the boys. Panic set in. My eyes scanned the camp and the beach in search of my little brothers. They were nowhere around. A few hours passed and my brothers still had not appeared. By this time a search party had formed. Locals and visitors alike had heard the news and calls for help, “auxilio!” Finally, around 11a.m. a young couple out walking found David bobbing up and down in the water. They pulled him out, exhausted and nearly unconscious. Yet still, no news of Raul. We sat paralyzed, saying nothing, doing nothing, lost in time for hours. The carne asada we were preparing for lunch was left untouched and spoiled. We were numbed with fright.

Raul’s body was found by a group of men in the search party at 4 that afternoon. They loaded him into their fishing boat and returned him to land, where paramedics waited, his little body limp and lifeless. The boys had strayed from the tide pools, going farther out onto the endless shore. At low tide, the water can recede as much as 2 kilometers. As the tide swiftly returned, it caught them off guard and swept them in. Neither of them knew how to swim.

He was taken to the coroner’s office for examination. When that was done, his body, wrapped in a blanket, was carried to Jose’s Cadillac and gently loaded into the back seat. Sam, Mom and Eva traveled home by bus. Jose drove the rest of us back that evening. I rode up front with Jose, David in the back passenger seat, next to Raul.

Dad was waiting when we arrived and had already learned the news. He was furious. He unleashed his wrath on Mom and me, blaming us for Raul’s death, crying that it was my fault for taking us there. I cried and cried.

The day of the funeral I ironed Raul’s little suit, his Sunday best, remembering him with every stroke. The truth was I blamed myself too. I should have gone with them, watched over them. I would blame myself for a long time. Reason may try say it’s not your fault, and you may learn to deal with your grief and accept that you are not the cause but the pain and the memories never fade.

The funeral was held at Dad’s church. Though Dad was raised Christian, he never practiced or worshipped during my childhood; we were raised Catholic. However, now in this new life in which he reinvented himself, he had changed his ways and become a model Cristiano. My siblings went to his Christian church with him and the other family, half-brothers and half-sisters, on Sundays. But I refused to participate. I was bitter about his infidelity and that the fact that he left us. To me this was not an example of a good Christian and I found it all hypocritical. I could not appreciate that he was trying to be a better person. I only saw that his new family ate better, dressed better, had a nicer house and had a full-time father.

After the funeral, life resumed much like it had before. We went back to our lives. Dad went back to his bilateral family routine. It would be many years, until we were grown up, before we’d talk about that day again. My brother Sam named his second son Raul. Our kids would ask about his namesake. What was he like? How did he die? We always explained and shared funny stories about Raul. But we never spoke in detail about that day or the grief we lived.

Years later during a family reunion, when my father was in his twilight years, I found myself sitting alone with him on a park bench. He had summoned all seven of his children for a carne asada. It was an awkward gathering. We knew he sought to unite his children before he was gone, a comfort we indulged him in, though there would never be the kind of union he yearned for.

As we sat in the park in silence watching his grandchildren play, he suddenly turned to me and spoke of the mistakes he had made with us, with me. He told me he loved me and asked me for forgiveness.

“Abuelo!”

My five-year-old niece ran over and handed him a small bunch of white daisies she had picked from the lawn. She laughed and returned to play.

The afternoon sun streaked the sky with ribbons of pink and orange. I reached over and held his hand in both of mine.

________

Jessica Gonzalez is a native of Los Angeles. She received her B.A. in English from California State University, Los Angeles. She enjoys musing on the wonders and pains of life and writing about them. She has a passion for learning, the outdoors and yoga. Contact her at lotuspop@gmail.com.
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By Jasmine De Haro

[dropcap1]I[/dropcap1] never lived in the same home as my father. Or at least, when I did, I was too young to remember. My mom removed my siblings and me from his home when I was 10 months old. What remains of my life with him are bizarre moments.

For example, my father had a safe word when we would go out. He would tell me, “If I’m not around and you’re in danger, yell Abraxas.” I was a child and found this strange. Why Abraxas and what did it mean? I never asked my father. My mother later told me that “Abraxas” was the title of Santana’s second album.

My father never had a sense of humor, at least not one that you would find traditionally funny. He wasn’t good looking; he was short in stature but muscular. He had fair skin and dark black hair.

He looked me straight in the eye that day.

“Say Abraxas and I will know.”

“Okay, Dad.”

I chuckled nervously. He wasn’t amused.

When I was 13 and it was Halloween day, my father came to visit me, as he often did on Fridays after work. He worked in a commercial print shop. I had gone there once. It was this dark cold warehouse, with a giant machine in the middle of it. He turned it on. The noise from the machine radiated throughout the building. We almost had to shout to hear each other. Still, it was a nice moment.

He was later fired from the job, mostly due to his drinking. At the time, he lived in a duplex in Rosemead. This place always gave me the creeps. It was a two-bedroom, one-bath house that seemed frozen in the 1970s. I never wanted to go in one of the bedrooms. It was cold and dark. The difference in temperature was so significant that it would immediately raise the hairs on my arms. When we would play ping pong on the kitchen table, all we needed was a net across the middle and a couple of paddles. I always used the same one. It was red on one side and had a picture of the band Kiss on the other. I owe my moderate ping pong skills to those moments.

After he was fired, he lost his place and moved in with my grandmother. She had abused him when he was younger. She was short and stocky with black hair with a few strains of white throughout. She had a partial mastectomy and chain-smoked. I was unsure if he knew who his father was. If he did, he never mentioned him. Moving in with her seemed to take a toll on him. After that, he graduated from Budweiser to Vodka, and his decline came quickly.

“Do you know what today is?”

I replied that it was Halloween.

“No, this is our day.”

“Okay, Dad.”

He then told me in great detail how I was a witch, my sister was a witch, my mother was a witch and how he and my brothers were warlocks. So the statement “this is our day,” meant something far more than I could have imagined. My father was into the occult and often referred to himself as a Pagan. He had paintings and books with images of devil-like creatures on them and kept a wooden ouija board on his coffee table. So the importance of this day shouldn’t have come as a shock to me.

Still, up to now he hadn’t mentioned we were witches. Why on this particular Halloween day did my father decide to reveal this information? Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. It falls 13 days after my birthday. The leaves change colors, the weather turns cool and I would stay up late nights watching scary movies. This Halloween, I went to school dressed like a hippie with bellbottoms and a peace sign painted on my cheek. Most of my friends decided to dress up like the movie Dead Presidents that year. The film chronicles the life of a young black man before and after his time organizing a group of friends to rob a bank. My friends were dressed in all black, painted white faces with blacked-out eyes and black beanies.

That Halloween day was overcast and continued on that way into the evening. Maybe it was the dark skies, or the fact I was now old enough, but my father went on to say that my mother knew all along; that she didn’t want to recognize that part of her life but she knew of her powers. My mom at one point was a tarot card reader. I guess that’s what he was referring to. He said my brother knew what he was and used it to his advantage. My sister knew, he said, but didn’t believe it to be true and she wasn’t ready to see it for what it can be. As for me, he said, I was now old enough to know the truth. When I was ready to embrace my powers, that I should let him know. We never spoke about it again after that day.

The last week I spent with him consisted of daily visits to the county hospital. The hallways were dark, scary, and quiet. The walls screamed of old memories and death. I hated walking through those halls alone. It was like being in a horror film.

He was sedated for most of the visits. Most of his internal organs had shut down but the blood transfusions and ventilators were keeping him going. He had aged so quickly. His body was now feeble and had a yellow hue. We had to decide the next step. My relationship with my father had been minimal but now, at this moment, his life was in my hands. Before he drifted into the sedation, my father kept talking about a ship. He kept saying, “My ship’s coming in, you’ll see.”

I didn’t understand. I figured it was the morphine talking but during these moments, he believed it was true.

“Okay, Dad.”

It was a Tuesday afternoon in June, another gloomy day. My sister and I walked into that hospital one last time. My grandmother, whom I mostly refer to as “my father’s mother,” was also there. After we made the decision to remove him from the machines keeping him alive, she had banned us from seeing him. She was upset about our decision and thought she should have had a voice in it. The law, however, said otherwise. Nevertheless, she had convinced whoever was in charge that we were upsetting him. She was an old shrew that manipulated her way into my last moment with my father.

He was now in a different room, with no tubes in his throat, no machines or transfusion to keep him going, just a morphine drip to keep him comfortable. But she never let us near him. She tried to shield his body, hugging him around his waist as she told us to get out. He was alert, but he could not speak. He made moaning sounds, as if he was trying to say something. He hated her and now she was with him alone, torturing him in his final moments. We said goodbye.

“I love you,” my sister said, “and we will see you tomorrow.”

She and I walked out of there angry. This old horrible women who used my father up to his very last day was his last memory. He was the only child.

He had never remarried after he and my mother split up. A year before he passed away, I remember that he mentioned a woman to me. He said he met her at a clinic while taking my grandma to her appointments. He told me he really liked her. This was the first time he ever admitted to having feelings for someone other than my mom. He said he would be afraid to admit to her that he was a pagan. She was Catholic. I could see the conflict in his eyes. I told him to tell her how he felt. I never asked him if he did. Besides my grandma wouldn’t have liked his focus on someone new. I believe his only escape was to drink himself to death.

In the middle of the night, the phone rang and I knew. His cousin called to tell us he had passed.

“Okay,” and hung up. I walked to my sister’s room. She never opened the door.

“Is it Dad?”

I just replied “yes” and that was it. I heard her cry out as I walked back to my room.

My father died at 52 years old from cirrhosis of the liver. An alcoholic from before the time I was born. He died when I was 20. I would be a liar if I said we were close.

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By Sarah Alvarado

________

I don’t want to go to my Dad’s house.

I can’t pinpoint why.

I always feel guilty when I don’t want to go. I feel guilty about a lot of things. I am guilt-ridden beyond my years. But I need to be present for Dad. Sometimes I need to be present for Mom. Today it’s Dad.

He called yesterday, and the day before that, and even before that. He confirmed and reconfirmed our plans. He wanted to be certain. We have plans. He’s so excited that we have plans. I’m going to go down there. We are going to see Straight Outta Compton: Me, him and my brother. It’s gonna be great. Our high regard for ’90s rap music is something we can easily talk about. We can remember way back when this song or that came out and where we were living and how great it was.

I liked the ’90s. I was a kid. The world felt amazing, I was born in the best state in the U.S.A. and the U.S.A. was the best country on earth. I liked going to my school, I liked reading, and I liked that our school library had a machine that would dispense a cool pencil for a quarter. I had plans every day after school; there was a solid block of cartoons on TV and I could rotate between channel 11 and channel 5. If Mom said it was okay, a neighborhood kid (there were plenty) could come in and watch TV with me. My family’s video collection was the envy of the block. We had a big TV, a VCR and a rewinder! No waiting to rewind stuff in my house of the future. I had tons of books. I had toys too – a Nintendo! Mom made a real dinner every day. My siblings knew I was the boss because I was the oldest. Life was good.

Rather, life was good most of the time. Every so often the ground underneath me would shift. Like an animal sensing an encroaching natural disaster, I could sense things as I opened the door. Trouble was on the way. Mom would seem that much more nervous. Dad would seem that much more removed. I had seconds to decide; where was I going to hide? Should I stand my ground? Was it going to be fight or flight?

Then it would begin – Dad slurs his words just slightly. Or he keeps repeating what he’s saying. Or he asks you to keep repeating what you’re saying. Then, craaaaap, he’s drunk. I feel the anxiety in me, heartbeat revving. My parents are going to fight right … now. Part of me wishes Mom would pretend he wasn’t drunk. If she could pretend, I could pretend. We can all pretend that this is not going to be the most uncomfortable, sad, ugly situation we will have this week. Then we can make it through the night. It can be over. But no. He stumbles. He laughs. He is the most annoying person in the world when he drinks. Mom is mad. She can’t take it anymore. His drinking is out of his control. He has a problem. If it’s a weekday, he’s probably going to stare at you incredulously as though you’re the crazy one for calling him out on his drinking. If it’s a weekend he might get violent. It’s never quite clear until it’s too late whether I, as the oldest, will be banished or called to the beast. Sometimes I try to keep the peace because I know he won’t hit me.

I would wish my hardest, the way only a child can, that Dad would stop drinking. My heart once crumbled when he bitterly burned the last $20 dollars of his check on the stove while my Mom cried hysterically in the background. That single $20 bill was all that was left to feed a family of four for a week; the rest had been spent in the span of three hours on one drunken Friday payday night. It was terrible on the nights we had to go looking for him, but worse on the nights when we had to run away.

Crap. Now I’m lost. As many times as I have journeyed to my dad’s small domicile in San Bernardino County, the route should be ingrained in my brain. I should be able to drive there instinctively, like a salmon that can drive a car. But I can’t. My mind is swimming in the memories of the ’90s and my mouth is singing along to Boyz-N-The-Hood on K-Day. I have overshot my destination by a great deal. I’m not at the tip of San Bernardino where I should be; I’m en route to the heart of it.

I hate San Bernardino. Driving into it, the landscape fills me with melancholy. The big, dusty roads are sad and barren. The loneliness I feel as I stare at the empty sidewalks burrows into my heart’s center. I have the impression that no one ends up living in San Bernardino by choice. Being banished from Los Angeles is a harsh reality that many people have come to terms with. I hope I am never one of them.

I feel cramped. My thighs are sweaty. Despite the double protection of the windshield and my jeans, my legs are pierced by the heat. The sun burns my forearms. The a/c is on, but the only relief it delivers goes to the exact area at which the vents are pointed. The rest of the vessel is an inferno. The dirt caked onto the windshield adds to the whole Mad Max-ish, dystopian feel that is: Driving To San Bernardino. I’m thirsty. I hate this drought. I hate being lost. And I hate San Bernardino. Everywhere is dusty and alone and sad but here I am, because I love my dad. My dad knows what it is to be San Bernardino. He knows what it is to be alone and sad.

Finally I’m here. Dad isn’t ready; actually Dad’s not here. My brother is.

“Dad’s gone out to the store but he’ll be back.”

Okay. And now I have to wait. Oh. Here’s dad. He seems tired, groggy. It must be the sun, poor Dad has been walking in this goddam heat. Well- let’s get in the car – let’s go to the Ontario Mills Mall – let’s make a day of this!

Dad’s in the front. As I’m easing back onto the freeway, he asks me, “How’s it going?”

Crap.

“Things have been gooood…,” I reply, cautiously.

Too late – I feel it – the anxiety. Fight or flight. I’m trying to give him the benefit of the doubt. It’s hot. People get dehydrated. Now we’re in the ticket line with the NWA fans, the families seeing Inside Out, and others seeing who knows what – we are in the stagnant, hot, ugly San Bernardino sun. It’s more obvious now, in the bold of midday. I can’t ignore this. Dad is drunk. I’m pissed. I don’t know what to do.

He knew we were going to see this movie. He knows I hate when he gets like this. And yet here he is, with no regard for my feelings, my spent gas and money, his health, or movie-going etiquette. This is what addiction does.

I can’t punish my brother for my dad’s terrible judgment. I tell Dad that he’s not fooling anyone. He has to have water and coffee and he has to straighten up. He accepts this. He does not apologize. I feel like I’m being punished because I’m angry as you-know-where and I’m doling out money for coffee and water because he had to drink. He had to drink even though we made a plan. Him having a drink this morning was not part of the plan. I survive the serpentine Starbucks line and make my way back to where I see him slouching in the over-crowded food court. He seems annoyed that I bought him a regular, hot coffee and not a foozy-woozy whipped sugar mess like I bought for my brother, and not a cool ice tea I ordered for me. I bite my tongue. I tell him, “It’s for your own good,” instead of “This is not a goddam treat.”

An hour or so passes by. Dad has sobered up. We file into the theater. The elation that movie-going should bring is absent. I’m just relieved to have a few hours in the a/c and time where I don’t have to look at or talk to him. I’m still mad. The movie starts and I see an era being re-enacted before me. This movie is not about my life …but it feels like it is. I remember the rap music that was playing everywhere when I was a kid. I remember watching Rodney King, and the L.A. Riots that followed, from the safety of my suburban living room. I remember the hairstyles and the clothes, just like those of the people from my old neighborhood, decades ago. So much has changed since then. So much hasn’t.

Walking into the lobby after leaving the theater, I’m haunted by the portrayal of Eazy-E’s death. It’s hard to watch a life be taken by a disease. My thoughts turn to Dad and the recognition that his own disease will also likely be his end; either by accident or by a slow, ugly poisoning of the organs.

In the car, then, we discuss whether we should stop for dinner. Dad teases me for being a vegetarian and I laugh. I ask Dad if he ever had a Taco Bell Bell Beefer and he wonders why it was ever taken off the menu. The Humpty Dance starts to play on the radio and I tell Dad about the time Digital Underground performed said dance on channel 11. Dad starts to tell me about a different Fox performance he saw, a live taping of Married With Children. I smile, because this is one of my favorite stories. I’m glad I came.

by

Sarah Alvarado

Sarah Alvarado is a San Gabriel Valley native who enjoys reading, writing, and embracing the obscure. This is her first published work.

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