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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My Mother’s Unspectacular Affair*

We had lived in the “Gashouse” for a few months when my brother was born. He was born in October of 1985; I was 10 years old. We’d been back in the States less than a year. My brother’s an anchor baby! When he turned three, he wanted nothing but to be outside, in the weeds, the dirt, mud, and hazardous materials, poisons, and sharp objects that populated the surrounding area around the house—we lived in the middle of a working agricultural farm, after all. My father was gone most of the day—starting at about 5 a.m.—and he would stop by once in a while throughout the morning just to see his youngest boy. I was at school. After lunch, he wouldn’t be seen until he was off work, at around 7 or 8 p.m.

My mother never left the house. She would take my brother out for walks around the God Trees, but she was tethered to the house by the gas leak. My father’s supervisor, the Foreman, began stopping by the house sometime after my brother turned 2 or 3—he got a kick out of him, his cheeks, and his penguin-like way of waddling about. He would chat it up with my mom and bring them treats…ice cream, chips, sodas. After a while, the Foreman would take my brother with him as he did his supervisory things around the ranch. He would take him to see my dad. My brother would ride on the Foreman’s truck—he loved nothing more! The bouncing and the dirt, the speed—it made him laugh and giggle. The Foreman would bring him back after a few hours and the boy would fall asleep on the couch, exhausted. This made my mother very happy.

A few months passed. That the Foreman would take my brother and tire him out was routine. My father expected to see him; my mother expected the break. At some point—I don’t know when—the Foreman began the ritual of waiting for my mother to put my brother down and hanging out with her, in the front steps of the house, talking. He was an average sized Mexican man with a Pancho Villa-mustache that made him look authoritative and elegant. He wore a baseball hat and his pants were never as muddy as my father’s. He smelled like Old Spice and Spearmint gum. He didn’t smoke or drink. He later died of testicular cancer. It was the first of many deaths for that group.

They became closer as they talked. I don’t know what they talked about most of the time. I wasn’t there. I would see him leave when I got home from school. I became jealous once and asked my mom about it. She said she was just talking. She seemed happy. Relaxed. She walked with purpose. I had never seen her like that before. When she argued with my father, it was easier to tune him out. She did. He screamed, but she didn’t care. She walked confidently through the terror.

After a night of violence, my mother pulled me into the bathroom and told me that she was leaving with the Foreman. That he had asked to go with him—where, I don’t know—and that she was ready to do it. That she had a real chance at happiness, and she was going to go for it. That I would see her later…when things with my father calmed down. I asked her if she was having an affair with the Foreman. She said no. But that the long afternoon conversations where enough reason to follow him to the ends of the earth. I don’t know what he told her, but it must’ve been promising.

She didn’t leave that night. She never left. But she knew she could…or she believed she could. The Foreman was married. They had no children. He lived in a trailer with his wife. She was pushy and overbearing. He was ready to leave. My mother’s imagination took over from there—anything was possible with the Foreman. My father, whom she had never agreed to marry in the first place, didn’t appreciate her like he did. The spectacular affair lasted months. He never crossed the threshold of the house. He never climbed a step. He just made gestures with words which glided out of his mouth, filtered through his Pancho Villa-mustache, and punctured holes in my mother’s reality.

My uncle, my father’s brother, found out about the affair one day when he was coming to the house to pester my mother. He told her that if she didn’t sleep with him, he would tell my father, his brother, about the goings-ons with the Foreman. My mother said nothing was going on with the Foreman. He cornered her and insisted. I came home just as he was making his move and kicked him out of the house. I think I threatened to kill him. I was about 13, but I think I would’ve tried. Dejected, my uncle told my father about the affair. I corroborated my mother’s innocence and my uncle’s perversions. My father, for once, believed us. But the affair was over. The opportunity had passed. The Foreman died a year later, and so did my mom’s imagination.

*By writing this “memory” down, I am crossing a very thin line that I had drawn for myself a while back. I had deemed certain things un-writeable, and, some, un-recallable. Their sanctity lies in their silence: no one has ever spoken of them before, leaving them repressed in my memory to fester and make me ill. But I near the end of this blog-adventure, and I want to get some things out for myself…just to see them laid out in public, to insert them into the American narrative, if only in this narrative I’m creating and which I’m calling “American.”

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