I'm currently writing a historical fiction piece titled "Blood Lines" which follows a family's trajectory, based in Central America in the late 1960's - early 1970's. Below is an excerpt chapter titled "Quime", which introduces one of the characters at a young age.
The dirt path behind the house led straight to the creek. The tiny body of shallow water served as the main artery pumping life through the village. Every morning, the neighboring women would carry piles of dirty clothes in broken plastic buckets on top of their heads and congregate to wash on the smooth stones. They would talk about who stopped by for dinner last night, the severe need for rain in these parts, which crop their husband was working on in the field. The piles of clothes and the over sharing of their mundane details never seemed to end. Their chubby little babies would bathe next to the pile of wet clothes or follow each other, waddling in the shallow water. Picking at little algae and thwarting attempts to put it in their mouth. Quime knew to come after the women had washed their clothes. He didn’t like all their questions:
How’s your mother?
Why aren’t you at school right now?
When is your grandmother going to stop by for lunch?
So he took extra long to do his daily chores that morning before heading to the creek. The first thing he did every morning was feed the chickens and count them to ensure none had gone missing overnight. He found a lazy few still roosting on the tree branches, nestled among the leaves. He joined his younger sister Lena to the well and brought back four containers of fresh water to use for the day. That way the younger kids and their mother wouldn’t have to make an extra trip at noon, the hottest and most crowded part of the day. Lastly, he swept the front porch from all the dirt kicked up from last evening’s winds. The winter rains were delayed this time of year and every wind without precipitation felt like another empty promise from a disappointing lover. Even the earth began to crack open from the drought. Quime found a new tiny canyon to jump over every morning.
From the porch, he could hear the women’s retreating flip-flop steps back to their adobe houses. The babies cooed in the broken plastic bins full of clean clothes, both worn out from their time in the water. This was finally his moment. Quime put the broom back in the kitchen corner and grabbed his bucket. Excited by having the creek to himself, he jumped onto the dirt path broken in by so much foot traffic behind the house. He knew which part of the barbed wire between the wooden post would bend the easiest to pass through. The path had its own clearing from the surrounding trees and plants. They all knew to move to the left or to the right to let the humans through.
Quime held his bucket and patted the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. His dark hair was beginning to stick to his forehead from all the sweat. The immediate heat from the overhead sun told him of the approaching noon time. He didn’t have much time until the younger kids came home from school for lunchtime, as if the growling in his stomach was not enough of an alert. Quime quickly walked over to his lucky boulder. He wiped the dry leaves from the top and walked around to make sure nothing had changed from the day before. Satisfied with his inspection, he sat down and waited. The water was clear enough to see the bottom and the speed was quick enough to wash down all the soap bubbles from the previous visitors.
The water’s surface reflected the sun’s perpendicular position. The blinding sunlight made sure everyone who saw it would know who was on top. Squinting, Quime kept a close eye to the water. The tropical birds called out like old neighbors to each other. The wind moved through their feathers and whispered in Quime’s ears. The creek’s baby rapids hushed collectively past him. With his bucket in hand, Quime was ready. He saw the first wiggle a few meters away. He stood up to get a closer look at the source. Water splashed around the spot. Quime walked over, taking position to launch. A little chumpa was grazing the nearby rocks. Finally! Overly taken by the immediate prospect of lunch, Quime grabbed his bucket and dove in. Despite the small brain and puny eyes of the chumpa, it moved too quickly for Quime and sent him crashing knee first onto the smooth wet stones. Hot flashes of emotions and river water washed over the 10 year-old and his scraped knee. “How can this fish be so small and so fast? All this time I waited for nothing! I can’t go home with an empty bucket. What are the kids going to eat? Why didn’t I wait longer to jump? Wasn’t my lucky rock supposed to protect me for me from this? What kind of luck is this, anyway? It didn’t make any sense!” Grabbing his sore knee, the rhetorical questions throbbed all over him.
Quime finally got up and sat on the formerly lucky, now boring, boulder to soak in all his feels. He saw his prize so clearly in front of him and despite all best effort, the chumpa got away. Quime will remember this as his first time feeling a deep set failure. That no matter how hard he works, how meticulous his timing is, how high his hopes are, how small his goals are, they can all be spat upon for no reason. And life will continue to go on without caring how you feel, like a chumpa swimming along the stream.
It started off as a joke. The last novela I got into was in 2009. And again, Fernando Colunga was the lead hottie. As he has been for the last 20 years. My Mom was in town visiting and immediately asked if we had a TV so she wouldn't miss her novela that night. "Sorry Ma, no cable but we have the Internet," I replied. After a quick search, "Pasion y Poder" was on Hulu. And the most recent episode too! Relief. Thank you, Latino Marketing Departments.
In the first 30 minutes of the episode, I'm cracking jokes like a culturally relevant Mystery Science Theater robot.
“Can you believe her outfit? Who wears tight dresses to work in an orphanage?”
“Who are they fooling with that wig?”
“Why does that dude always have crazy eyes when he dramatically takes off his glasses?”
I'm live tweeting for my own amusement with #PasionPoder, as watermarked on every scene by the network. My rational brain pulls apart the synthetic drama fibers one by one. Lodging my thoughts in the non sequitur Twitterverse.
"Tengo que ir a la oficina" Is Franco code for Marintia's apartment #PasionPoder
"I didn't tell you because you're dumb, Gaby" is what Franco is saying #PasionPoder #WTF
< So many perfect reaction gifs. >
The novela tweetfam validates this. We become united to the mockery and loyal to the drama. This is how we connect. Live tweeting becomes my cultural melding of irony spiced with emotional investment. It’s more than just the “likes”. It’s more of like, helll yeahhhh!
Then, the irony fades dramatically. A genuine interest in the drama encircles as the ridiculously good looking actors drive further into my innate chismosa genes.
“How are they related?”
“Do they love each other?”
Mom's laser focus promptly answers all my toddler questions. She fills me in with all the backstory I have missed. She leaves no plot stone unturned.
“Julia must decide between Eladio, her husband who lied to her for 20 years about his child out-of-wedlock, and Arturo, her former fiancee who fathered a child outside of their union? And that’s just the start…”
"Damn... I'm hooked," I sigh deeply. The last time I sighed this deeply was when I caught the feels for a Tinder dude. This can't end well.
Over 2,000 miles away, Dad sighs at a scene with the protagonist and his daughter. Arturo disapproves of Regina’s boyfriend David because his mother is the former fiancee who dumped him when she discovered his illegitimate son. Now the children of the former couple are in love, and no one understands why. What a drama bomb, I tell you.
It's an emotionally loaded scene. "Fake tears on fake eyelashes" real. Dad sighs at the huge display of televised affection. There is no irony here. There are only projections of all his feels. It's the Dad equivalent of me ugly crying at every episode of Jane The Virgin. I don't know this though; he hasn't called me. The abyss that's carving between the TV dad and his daughter is mirroring ours. Will Regina listen to her father? Will Arturo accept his daughter's choices? Am I going to call first or will he? He’s not too disappointed in me, right? We're too similar and too stubborn to be in this nuclear family Cold War.
If only we are made aware of our character flaws as clearly as these novela characters. If only things were as consistent as the way Eladio knots his ties or the way Justino loves Clara. Where in this novela world, we are guaranteed a happy ending because one is not promised in ours. Give the people what they want. Give them poetic justice. Let the bad people lose and good people win. Let Death be as predictable as rolling down a staircase. Give them a catchy theme song at every make out scene. Give them the love they are missing in their lives. And wrap it up in an hour. Dinner is waiting.
Nostalgia has always been another member of the family. It sits with us at every meal, chomping away with its mouth open. It joins conversations without an invitation “...because it brings me back to that one time...” It comes in heavy doses around the holidays. “What year did we stop having a turkey? The same year Tia moved away.” It can infuriate me because it reminds me of the person that I was in any frozen juncture. “Remember when you were small and powerless?” it mocks in its crystal clear form. There’s no logic that my adult brain can break through that iceberg of time. “Yeah, I remember,” as I concede, forever wishing to give my younger self a sip of my adult confidence.
When I was younger, I loathed memory. It angered me to know that there were places I would never visit with people I would never meet. This quandary created an insatiable yearning for what could have been. "You really should have been there," it says in the same subtle elitism as someone who just came back from a semester of studying abroad. "It's not the same trying to explain it," ze says in a souvenir accent. My deceased uncle seemed like an charismatic personality if only his illness didn't end his life 9 years before my birth. My dead greatgrandfather could have told me the story of us, the one that set on fire with all the other historical documents during the Salvadoran civil war. The innate nature of the past didn’t allow me meet them. All this knowledge out there and I'm stuck here in the 90's with all these poopy feelings and no internet/social skills to commiserate with strangers. This created in me a resentment for the past.
As adolescence raged on, I learn to take the yearning and morph it into an affinity for all things vintage. Vintage clothes and vintage sounds. Digging into the past was my way to reclaim all the things that were lost upon my generation. I was determined to make up for lost time. This also was encouraged by my impoverished childhood, repurposing vintage clothes as an aesthetic choice versus the distressing financial reality that I could not afford “cool” mass produced clothes. Those Doc Marten boots and I were never meant to be.
By that time, the world wide web began to bloom in its full dialup beauty. My Dad brought home a found computer by the dumpster and I found the internet. Those modem sounds are forever etched into my subconscious like Mana’s “Sueños Liquidos” because my sister kept replaying it every single damn bedtime. The internet represented this anonymous network of people and places I’ll never meet, all a click away. Anything I ever wondered was within reach and I never had to remember anything again. LiveJournal blog posts carved my identity. Cryptic AIM away messages called my true form. The “cool” way to arrange my top 8 on Myspace was a mantle of who I cared about. I didn’t need memory. I had the internet. All these login accounts were my horcruxes: pieces of me scattered over the http://.
Fast forward to my early twenties when anxiety grows into a new useless organ in my body. The novelty of the internet wore off and I retreat into myself. I deactive my public accounts. I grow insecure. Fixating on the past becomes a need to confirm the present. Did I say the right thing? Am I reading nonverbal cues correctly? Retracing steps so clearly where the mind becomes blurred with imaginary reactions and a million drafts of every message ever sent. The present tense made me tense. The emotionally abusive relationship of my early 20’s was rocket fuel to this anxious combustion. Nostalgia stuck by me, for better or for worse, to remind me of who I used to be to in contrast who I wasn’t at that moment. After the nuclear holocaust of that breakup, memory served to remind me of what use to grow organically on these scorched fields. Which condiments do I like again? What used to be my favorite movie? I took back the power to make my new self, from the ashes of the old one.
Now in the infinite wisdom of 29, I embrace memory for all its faults and for reminding me of who I used to be, for who I am now. I embrace all my former version of myself like humble Salvadoran Matryoshka dolls. I am the sum of my decisionmaking, the product of the previous generation’s risktaking, the difference between here and there. I listen more intently to what my older Tios have to say. I soak in every anecdote from my parents. After years of selfwork, I no longer cringe at the past. I can sit all my little muñequitas peacefully. Who I am now is enough. I even lay out a table setting for nostalgia at the dinner table now. I welcome it with open arms even if it didn’t call before arriving. “Remember when you were obsessed with Gloria Trevi’s ‘Pelo Suelto? You were so cute when you danced it with messy hair” it starts. “Ay... Yes, I do. But I’m not doing the “Sopa de Caracol” dance,” I smile.
Published in Chiflada Zine, October 2015