My dad has been married to my stepmother for almost 20 years. My stepmother has four sisters. I share a first name with one of them. This other Maria is such a personality she makes me look like a wallflower. I am “la otra Maria” and I accept this because she’s 70-something and is in better shape than I am. It’s not even like she’s in another league. It’s like she’s playing a different sport entirely.
Anyway. We’re Facebook friends and whenever she comments on my photos she does so IN ALL CAPS and invariably ends with I AM MARIA YOUR FATHER’S SISTER IN LOW [sic].
I love her but one of these days I am going to get sassy and respond GODDAMMIT TITI I HAVE KNOWN EXACTLY WHO YOU ARE SINCE 1994.
I didn’t go with them because I know that my energy would not be helpful to anyone. I signed a letter that my mother is allowed to make decisions regarding his medical treatment. It’s not the first time in the last year I’ve signed such a letter. There’s also one on file at his school and his pediatrician. I don’t enjoy that. I’m certainly not proud of it. But I am sincerely incapable of doing everything. In Grenada, they’d say my mom is like my husband, and although she is obviously not literally my husband, she - with my brother’s help - takes care of things regarding Bean that I find overwhelming. I don’t feel guilty about it because it’s definitely better for Bean. My brother and I are both over 30 and we live with our mom and my son and it’s not always ideal but in my gut it’s the rightest move we’ve ever made. I don’t care to imagine where we’d be without the two of them.
That’s why my grandfather never spoke Spanish to his children or grandchildren. It’s why he let everyone outside the family call him Joe instead of José. I say “let”, but it’s not like he had a choice. He was fair-skinned enough to pass for white but the moment he spoke? Not so much. He suffered and struggled for years, but eventually found a grudging acceptance. The kind of acceptance where he was alright once he was less “other”. This was in the early 1950s in the rural midwest.
We all do what we need to survive.
My dad just called to tell me he only just checked his email for the first time in 12 days, because they only just now go the wi-fi set up at their campsite (I know; I can’t). (They also have cable.) (I know; I can’t.)
To sum up, he called to say that he’d only just seen the ser v. estar joke my brother made the other day. He enjoyed it very much. I’m sure my stepmother, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, enjoyed it even more.
(If I could find it I’d post the link to the original exchange which was - and I’m leaving out the set up - that yo estoy normal pero no soy normal. When I finally finished laughing, I told him that was a great way to demonstrated the difference between ser and estar.)
And then we explained the joke to my mom.
[ETA: ‘Twas she who called me “normal” in the first place. I like it when things come full circle.]
We’re not. We are laughing throughout. And they helped me figure out how to handle the computer issue. (I suggested something, we picked it apart for half an hour, considered several other approaches, and then decided that my original idea was the way to go.)
My brother is my second favorite person in the world. He held the #1 spot for nearly three decades, until I had Bean.
The other day Bob and I were talking about the difference between assassinations and just plain getting shot and if the difference is who the players are, or how the killing unfolds. Typical Santiago dinner table discussion. (We tabled the question and decided someone who is neither of us should write a book about it.)
Bean was three years old the day Michael Jackson died, so he’s going to learn about Michael exactly the same way I learned about John Lennon.
Well. Perhaps not exactly. Because with me and my dad it was all about sitting cross-legged on the living room floor, listening to Beautiful Boy with our eyes closed. I peeked once; may have seen a tear.
Recently I screened Thriller for Bean. He was mesmerized. So we found more videos to watch, which was not impossible but not as easy as it should have been.
Me: “When Mommy was your age there was a WHOLE CHANNEL that only showed things like this - people singing and dancing.”
HE: “Reeeeeeaaaallly?” (Here he sounds just like Donkey in Shrek 4 when he finds out he’s married to a dragon.)
"So what happened," he asked? "Pearl Jam," I answered.
So we watched Michael as the baby of the 5, Michael moonwalking on stage for the first time, Michael with his glittery outfits and killer, killer smile. Finally, we got to Smooth Criminal. I remember watching the MTV WORLD PREMIERE of this video with my brother, back when such things were possible.
And then it was over. No more videos for Bean to watch There’s later Michael, of course, but something changed. Course, tone, something. The video for Leave Me Alone left me profoundly sad in a way I could not articulate at the time. Now I realize seeing Michael dwarfed by that enormous roller coaster frightened me. I don’t care who’s driving. The machine wants to eat him alive.
Maybe that’s when the metaphor became literal.
I had to explain to my son that there would never be another real Michael Jackson video again, because he was gone, and if after death the legends continue to record, they are surely not allowed to share it with us. So Bean cried and I held him and remembered with aching nearness how sick my heart felt the day I realized John Lennon had been shot before I’d been old enough to be truly aware of him and his music, and what a loss that was, in a selfish, personal way, to me, and a in a grander, bigger way, to the world, and so Bean and I cried together.
He doesn’t use it year-round. It would be too cold and also dangerous in the winter, especially here in New England, with our extra servings of ice and snow.
But in milder weather it saves him both gas and trouble finding a parking space on campus. It’s an environmentally-sound choice, a statement here in a community where he dares not be seen wearing his leather jacket.
The weather has just recently turned warm enough for the moped.
A couple of days ago, early in the afternoon, he rode it to work.
Less than an hour later, Bean and I drove into town. There was traffic, unusual traffic, the kind we just don’t see up here in university-town-middle-ish-of-nowhere. After sitting there for a few minutes, fully stopped, I realized that cars ahead of me, several hundred feet further down the road, were turning around. Making illegal u-turns in order to go back the way they came.
That’s when I saw the flashing lights of the ambulance.
My heart seized. My brother would’ve passed down this road, should’ve been just ahead of us. I swallowed my panic, and I’m certain Bean didn’t see anything on my face. I waited for a break in the oncoming cars, turned around and went back towards home. Took an alternate route to Target.
I’m good at swallowing panic. I wasn’t always, but being Bean’s mother requires that skill. If I were to indulge myself in a full-blown freakout every time he disappeared full tilt around a corner, or snuck out of the house to walk down to the bus stop, I’d spend the next few decades stewing in my own cortisol, and that wouldn’t be good for either of us. So I squash it. I make like a yogi and force myself to calm the fuck down, lady.
My brother, of course, is fine, or I wouldn’t be telling the story this way. I did spend the rest of the afternoon with worry tickling the back of my neck. I couldn’t call him, you see, because we’re not really getting along these days. We haven’t really spoken in months and the last time we had a civil conversation we were talking about Tim Burton movies, yet still. It got snippy. Tense.
I waited until Bean was sleeping to cry about it. Maybe it sounds stupid, selfish, to cry about something terrible that didn’t happen, but here’s the thing: My brother has been an insufferable prick to me for more than half a year now, and has said some words that are borderline unforgivable, yes. But he’s my second favorite person in the universe and if anything happened to him I’d be destroyed. I imagined the possibility of him injured, and it hit me forcefully, the realization that if he died today I wouldn’t be able to remember the last time we smiled at each other, or hugged, or laughed. And that’s not right.
I can continue to be angry and tough with him every day for the rest of my life. I’m really good at both of those masks. Good? No. Expert. But it’s bullshit. I don’t want to fight anymore. I’m tired of walking on eggshells. I want to stop. But I don’t know how.