Deutscher Federroter wine kisses my lips as it swifts past my tongue and heads on down my throat. Billie Holiday plays boldly in the foreground.
Albert at the local farmer’s market sold me this young red wine. He proclaims with the glee of a boy who’s just figured out how to use his pillow for the first time, “It’s only eight days old!”
A red wine that is only eight days old? I thought as I swigged his sampler out of a dirty, used glass. I wondered how many lips had suckled at the same rim–this act is the more natural, earthly variant of holy communion; holy communion that I snuck before I was ever twelve or thirteen.
My father thought it would be a good idea to ship my brother and me daily to a catholic school one summer. He had tried this before, tried to tame us boys at the peak of heat in the season, summer. But our sentence to catholic school was only done once, we were banned after my brother was caught groping La Virgen and me with my hand in the alms box–that was after I had lied in order to take holy communion. Yes, I said, Yes mother, I’ve already completed mí primera communion.
Summer: when the heat shows no mercy and everything is forgiven. Summer was the time I would cruelly torture my sister because, even though she cried and ran away, we both enjoyed the heady game of cat and mouse that came every summer. Came in with the warmth, then the heat.
For us, my brother and me, the garage would become a playground–a christened rumpus room full of metal baubles and flammable trifles. Often, with phone books set aflame in the center of the garage, we would jump over the fire, flames licking our payless sneakers; I would follow my brother into the flames in god’s own eyes if he asked me to. I idolized my brother in the same way that all younger brothers do their older brothers: with all the trust and vulnerability available to a boy of eight or nine or ten.
Summers were our season, our season to burn every barbie we could hunt down in our sister’s room; burn them after we styled their hair in entire cans of Aquanet. Hairdo flambeé. Call me Jimmicio.
Summers were endless follow-the-leader games on bikes, the leader continually being outdone by someone more daring and stupid. Riding bikes off curbs, then walls, then roofs. Roofs never worked, though, and it was only Andy, from next next door, that ever tried it. In his attempt, did he receive his first pain in the nuts. But Andy always wanted to look like the boldest of us all. As if his dirt blond hair didn’t make him stand out enough amongst us prietitos. He was always willing to do what no one else dared, and for this we kept him around–he was the enabler in a group of boys looking for any sort of distraction. I would later find out that Andy had a thing going with my sister. That, for some reason, made me mad.
Firecrackers found their way into our crabby hands and we would throw them into the guayaba bushels, naïvely believing that we could explode the whole lot of it up.
We’d dig through our mother’s shoebox collection behind the mirrored wall, in the closet. They stood for different years or phases of her life. They were her archives, and we her secret archivologists.
My brother always looked for the one or two boxes that held her small pornographic collection: books that we would leaf through, never spending as much time on the text as on the steamy covers. (Text required reading, and reading is something only done during the school year.) Other items were, of course, the VHS cassettes that were always met with curious wonder, this wonder always rapidly morphing into our state of agog anticipation. Sometimes so much so that we would somehow lose the cassette tape in the stalagmites of boxes. Later I would secretly believe that my brother would lose them on purpose so that he could later find them, alone. As we would make our way through the boxes to the few that were filled with porn, boxes that were, curiously, never in the same place twice, I would, with some frequency, stumble upon my mother’s wedding box.
Her wedding box was a faded-purple box with “Sears” (in cursive) written on the lid. The corners were only slightly worn, and there was a small square black and white picture of some heels at one end of the box. “Size 4,” the box declared with a degree of feminine modesty. (Size 4 is the perfect size foot for a woman: it says, ‘I’m small and I need saving.’ My sister is a size 10. [Blink, blink.])
‘Sears’ held her wedding picutres, her band, and other commemorative items from that joyous day that would ultimately be a painful memory. A joy turned old. I now wonder if she was registered at Sears, or perhaps if purple is her favorite color. (…I don’t know my mother’s favorite color; sad.) Her pictures, many of them torn in twos or threes, portrayed a young woman, too skinny for her own good, with a glorious smile, and glowing nicaraguan cheeks. She, in her airy blue dress donning an 8-month pregnant belly, seemed so happy there, so full of hope.
Hope: a belief in moments that have not yet come to pass. (And faith is the evidence of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. Or at least that’s what I would have uttered, as a reflex of indoctrination, eight years ago.)
Shortly after my parents were married they separated, for the better (which, in their immaturity, did not play out so well–violence and screaming, like any other kid in eastlos, is what I fondly recall), and then for good. Some years after their marriage, I was born. By my lights all I can figure was that they found their way to each other one sordid and drunken New Year’s Eve. I was born nine months later. Born on their wedding anniversary.
Looking at their torn up pictures and other wedding items I had no idea that this memorabilia betokened my own existence, my own birth. My mother never told me. It was not until I was thirteen and digging my way through her archives yet again–a practice I nurtured throughout my childhood, for which I became known as “El Ratón”)–did I discover her marriage license.
I stared at this document. I stared at both of their names. I looked for my name. Why isn’t my name on here? I thought, as I held the paper in my hands. Surely this was my birth certificate, it had my birth date on it.
I did not know it for they would tell me only two days before, but I was to move out about a week later. I was to move in with my father and his family. My brother was long gone by this point, shipped off, so the practice goes, to Mexico after various run-ins with the pigs, drug abuse, gang banging and failing ninth grade, and, soon thereafter, out of high school.
Shortly before he left I remember hearing him and his friend (female) next door in his room. I was mesmerized by the noises and what flashes of flesh I caught glimpses of through the TV cable outlet that had long been hallowed out–a way we could secretly talk to each other at night when we were supposed to both be asleep, or a way to pass candy to each other and other bullshit when we were both grounded, locked in our respective rooms.
He was gone now and soon I would be too. As I went through the archives one last time I thought of my brother, our summers, those naughty boxes we would so gleefully hold up in triumph when they were finally found–his friend’s visit and their soft grunting came to mind just then. I folded the certificate and placed it back in the drawer, under some junkmail, where I had found it. I turned toward the walled mirror and slid one door open.
I would handle the contents of the archives one last time, window-shopping through my mother’s personal herstory, perusing photos that manifested her relationships over the years, reading-through journals that would only be slightly used; she would write only in the first ten or fifteen pages in the countless journals I found, and handling small trinkets that must have carried some meaning but whose meaning was lost on me.
With tender but faded curiosity I took out boxes, one by one, careful to keep track of the order in which they were excavated. I knew, though, that at this point my mother, long keen on my practice, did not care much about what I did in her closet or drawers. The boxes were no longer her tetris-plaything. They stopped moving, and so my searching their contents became less and less exciting. Until everything would be just where I had left it the day or week before, save for two or three boxes of in-use shoes, which always seemed to rotate or be replaced by another new, crappy pair of Payless shoes. Her own cat and mouse game with us had reached its end; I would later believe that it ended when my brother was sent away. When he was lost to the autonomy and stupidity that comes with the masculine-machismo narrative. He was always her favorite. Since those days, when ever she says my name it is preceded by a pre-fix: the prefix is the first phoentic sound of my brother’s name.
As a result I respond to Dajaime.
Fast forward too many memories and I sit on a faux-wooden floor in Cologne, Germany. I drink Federroter sold to me by a very gleeful Albert from Koblenz, Germany, where the wine flows aplenty and for cheap too. Dinner consists of Raw Sheep’s Milk I acquired in southern Spain, and dried sausage (spicy paprika) from Slagteren ved Kultorvet squirreled all the way from Copenhagen. Holiday turns into Davis and leads into Gallo, forming a quilt of time, gender, and genre.
As I sip my eight day old wine I think on my brother and his life in Torrance and his dreams that he and the man busted open and left for dead. ‘Go ahead and call it what it is folks, white supremacy,’ flows into my mind as I search for someone to hold responsible for my brother failing second and ninth grades, high school, and then, somehow, life. The ‘white supremacy’ argot riffs off a passionate, giant-of-the-mind critical race theory professor at UC Irvine–I’ve never taken a class with him, but I’ve heard stories.
thirty days later and here i am. decidedly not using the caps feature of written language, and certainly on my last twenty.
last night i found myself doing exactly what i am supposed to be doing, being an mini-ambassador of american thought, opinion, diversity, and more. me and my flatemate marcus decided to embark on a heady saturday night adventure; our activities included doing laundry at the local wäscherei (caps be damned!), going to kaiser’s supermarket, and drinking a few beers and a bottle of wine.
all very innocent indeed.
at some point he asked me if i’ve noticed any differences between americans and germans. wow, i thought, such a broad question. how can i answer it? i began by talking about where i’ve lived most recently, santana in my oh-so-beloved oh sea. (no feelings of marginalization there, i promise.) i could not speak for all of america, and i have not met all americans, but for the most part, zee germans and those i’ve cavorted with in santana (holmes) seem pretty similar: cool, open-minded folk who are looking for their own little slice of happiness.
that was my preliminary answer.
the rest of the evening, clear up to 3 in the morning, i spent revising my answer while we talked about bush and obama, world war ii, germany’s history of disunity (up until the 20th century), personal histories, education, working as a layman, immigration, and the building of walls (most notably, he asked why so many americans want to strengthen the wall between mexico and the u.s., instead of pouring those funds into the education system…).
my poor german is slowly improving, and last night i struggled along to express abstract ideas in a coherent and understandable manner. the bier helped.
at seven a.m. i awoke with a start. wondering where i was and why nothing looked familiar, my surroundings–at first slowly, then all at once–congealed into my new room–my small chamber on the third floor of a villa in cologne, germany.
i moved in, finally, five days ago.
five days ago i had just under one hundred and fifty euros.
today i’m on my last twenty and i have two (ahem) notices waiting for me in my online-banking inbox. as if avoiding opening those notices means that i still have a few pennies in that account, i haven’t actually checked the status of how in the red my account is.
my last twenty means that i can’t go to the cafe for a few days and that i can’t buy anything later today at the flohmarkt (caps be damned!) in nippes. the side of me that experiences a rush of endorphins when i hand over money for crap i don’t really need–a bier or coffee, some wearable rags, yet another pack of rice cakes or cigarettes–will have to make do for the next few days. for now, i have the makings of survival at my feet:
at some point, i’ll get paid. not sure when, and not sure how.
for now, my last twenty will have to do.
it turns out i’m brown.
i’m not really sure what that means. some might call me latino. others might say chicano. still other outdated folk might call me hispanic.
i call some aspect of myself brown.
brown. the last discovery of america. that’s what richard rodriguez has called it.
i call it brown. the color that pigments my embodiment.
being in my line of work, i am constantly reminded that i am brown.
i wish that line of work was something obvious, overt. it’s not.
i don’t work in a kitchen making sushi while listening to corridos.
i’m not a gardener, nor a dishwasher, nor a cleaning lady, nor a manos-for-hire.
i don’t work with inner-city kids talking about how we’re all ‘la raza’ and that we should have ‘orgullo’ and stick together and si se puede.
my raza passed me by–i never translated brown into chicano. my father is mexican. my mother is nicaraguan. they were born in their respective lands and came here with little more than some huaraches and the knowledge that they didn’t belong here.
i am reminded of my browndom in a different way than the way that they were reminded that they were brown, and still, in a different way from the manos-for-hire is reminded he is brown… .
through absence of brown people in my field, am i reminded that i am brown.