Monday, January 30, 2006

Good News

I found a note today in my son’s pencil book. It had a drawing of a heart. Granted, if you had seen it, you would have thought it was a drawing of a circle with a dent in it, or a two headed sausage, but I know from experience that it’s a heart. “Oh that’s so cute”, I said to him. Then I added, “But you didn’t finish writing your whole name inside.” I handed him the note back with the heart with the letters JA in it; my son’s name has five letters, JA are the first two. He mumbled something I couldn’t really hear over the water running in the sink so I insisted, “Finish your name” (because in kindergarten, every moment is a teaching moment!).

He mumbled again, looking down at the kitchen table. I turned off the water to hear the mumbling clearly: “It’s not my name. It’s a J and an A inside a heart… an A for Alfonsina.”

Alfonsina Santiago. Listen to that name: built to blaze itself onto a young boy’s memory for all eternity. He is going to be moving on to 9th grade one day, smoking a joint with his boys, thinking I can’t smell it over the incense, blasting some Kanye West “classic hip hop”, musing on how “my first crush in kindergarten was this girl…Alfonsina, man. Alfonsina Santiago. She sat at my table.”

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Some Biographical Notes: Two

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Some Biographical Notes: Two

When my parents were in college, they were together. They were very young and living abroad in Belgium. My dad was about 22 and my mother was 18. They were more best friends than a couple but they were a couple—in that, on account of my highly inappropriate birth, or in anticipation of it, rather, they were forced to marry. I’m not entirely sure how my dad felt about it, but I know my mother felt it was the end of the world—both the wedding and my birth. And for that dear reader, I have paid a premium. I actually do appreciate that all things considered I was not born out of wedlock, not because I am moralistic that way, but just because if I had to add yet another tragicomedic je ne sais quoi to my biography, it would get so damn melodramatic, I would be ashamed to write it. So, no I am not a bastard child! They got married in February of the good year 1976, and I was born that spring, full moon Gemini on the edge of Taurus. That last part I completely made up because I think the zodiac—or rather featuring the zodiac in one’s stories—is very cool.

So the year was, let’s see, if she was 18, the year was 1978. I was still one to two years away from joining my Young Parents in Europe (side note: this means I was living essentially the calm before the storm that made me who I am today, but that’s for Some Biographical Notes: Three). My father had developed this amazing mental trick. The trick was this: since he was best friends with my mother and she was basically his road dog, he felt the need to tell her everything. If you ever had a road dog, like a main friend, a partner in crime, then you understand the compulsion (to this day, I just want to tell my ex about every little silly thing that happens to me—as well as my deepest secrets and all my future aspirations). My dad’s problem was that what he wanted to talk about and brag about most were… his sexual exploits. And obviously, he couldn’t tell my mother all about them. So he devised the mental trick.

He would tell her all the stories, in lurid erotic detail—and of course, he’d say, “Of course I’m kidding!!! If it were true, would I tell you?” And yes, this very intelligent young woman that my mother was would agree: of course it was not true. And so my dad would get away with murder twice: cheating like a dirty dog and telling wife about it. He would tell stories about what happened in the club. How some woman came up to him and proposed to fuck him in the bathroom. Or how some two women offered him a threesome and he took the offer. He would go into details and just when she would start to get scandalized or mad, he’d say “You know I’m teasing.”

(I find this particularly compelling because it is so immature and nonsensical and destructive—it reeks of their youth. For most of my life I was not aware of the meaning of my parents’ youth. I was painfully aware of the consequences of their youth, but, not having been a young adult myself, didn’t understand the meaning of it. I didn’t understand the state of complete and utter lack of common sense masquerading as aptitude for conquering the world which is the main staple of young adulthood. I didn’t know for myself the terrible terror that is ages of 15 and 25—how you become this little monster using this new autonomy to fuck up to your heart’s content. Today looking back on my years and hearing about stories like this, I realize so much about what was and what wasn’t possible, both for them and for me in those early years. So yes, mind tricks: this is what my parents did when married.)

My mother fell ill with tuberculosis. She had to be in the hospital in Leuven, I think, a few miles from where they lived, for about six months. During that time, my father would visit every day. And tell of his escapades with his latest conquest, a ballet teacher. My mother as usual would tell him to stop the nonsense. And just like that, one day he slipped up. My mother can’t recall what it was, but something made it clear that he was not lying. Maybe my father said the name of a real street, or maybe he quoted the right time for a particular event happening—something clicked and my mother thought, “Wait: this motherfucker is telling the truth.” And so behind my father’s back, she investigated, from her sickly bed, and received confirmation that yes, the ballet teacher was real. Many women were real--all the stories were real. Not only was the ballet teacher real, she lived in Leuven too and my father had been staying with her since my mother was in the hospital (shorter commute, he probably thought, being a very practical man). My mother obsessed. Imagine: all the times she had sat through his stories, you know? Made a damn fool for no reason. And so one day, later, when they were in bed, my father told her another story. When he was done with both story and usual disclaimer my mother said:

“Are you done? Because now it’s my turn.” My father rolled over and dismissed her. She insisted. Coldly she said, “No, no, really. I want to tell you the story about how I have been cheating on your with your friend….” And my father said, well he didn’t say anything, he laughed very loudly and said my mother was hilarious. But the laughter did not last. Because my mother did in fact elaborate on a very long, very sexy, very steamy, very fucked up story about how she had been cheating on him with their friend. She told lurid details and was sure to mention that everybody knew this was going on. And so it was. Nobody was fake-telling anymore, everyone was telling the truth. Everyone was cheating.To the best of my knowledge, my parents spent the years between that moment and their separation and eventual divorce trying to outcheat each other: sometimes it was blatant, sometimes not. But from what I have been told, they were always fucking other people. My mother spares little detail and has generally always told me more than I wanted to know—about everything. My father tells nothing if he can deny everything. It makes for inconsistent and unreliable stories. But however they’ve come to me, the stories have been epic.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Ergo, Must Hate Job

Recently overheard in my kitchen. He is my son. Me is me.

He: Stop reading that!
(snatches Harper's)
Me: Hey, gimme my magazine back!
He: It's not a magazine, it's a dumb book full of work that you hate.
Me: It's not, it's a magazine--hey, who told you I hate work?
He: Don't you hate your work?
Me: (Laughing and then lying) No!
He: Well, you're supposed to. Cause it never lets you see me.

Let us thus file this under C, for Check. And under R, for Reality.