Wednesday, March 4, 2009

On Lies and Mothers: A True Story

To tide you over until I write an original post, I present a piece from my early days. So, as promised in a previous post, a piece of classic Roberto. Well, maybe not classic. Well, maybe not even good. This piece is actually my first foray into creative non-fiction. A few of you (assuming you few actually read this) have already read this. I apologize for the rerun and ask new readers to be kind. It's a bit convoluted and I'm trying too hard to be amusing. Overall, it's not great but a fair first attempt at this genre of writing. I sincerely hope I have improved since writing this piece. You can let me know.


- R


On Lies and Mothers: A True Story

It was a wonderful day, one that began wonderfully and ended wonderfully — birds were melodically chirping, the sun was shining, the warmth mixed perfectly with the cool breeze, it was one of those days when you could accurately say we were having perfect weather, and I swear I could hear a Disney princess singing to the trees as the squirrels helped her to pick berries for a pie; truly a lazy hazy day of summer, in spring. Now if only this story actually began this way. In reality, it all started with a night of drinking. I wouldn’t call it a night of heavy drinking, but rather it was a night of steady, incessant drinking. I would like to say that I had the good company of friends to help me drink away my sorrows and I would also like to say that the night was not spent watching the entire first season of Xena: Warrior Princess. This, however, would make me a liar. So there I sat, nestled between four large and fluffy pillows, atop the green 100% polyester throw that lies upon the green comforter which covers my bed. It took the lucidity that only alcohol can provide to make me realize how much green there is on my bed. It all looked so much better in the catalogue.

I’ll admit that it was a pathetic night; one that my friends won’t soon let me forget. It’s not like I planned for nothing to go right on the exact day that my close friends all decided to go home early for the weekend. To add possible injury to insult, it started to rain. It was exactly what I needed… a cracked skull from slipping on the slick stairs leading up to the dorms. I’m sure it would have been painful if I had tumbled down a flight of stairs, but it would not have compared to the utter shame and humiliation that would have ensued from surviving such a plummet. I wouldn’t call myself a lucky person. Case in point, had I fallen, I would have survived with a scratch and a bruise but would have landed in front of a crowd of cruel creatures commonly known as college students. I am also positive that I wouldn’t have even taken a single one of them down with me. Like I said, I am not a lucky person.

Eventually, I made it up to my dorm room to seek comfort in the warm and gentle arms of the large bottle of Absolut vodka which is conveniently kept in the back of my closet for just such an occasion. Who needs people when you have the company of alcohol, barbeque-style Oberto! beef jerky, animal crackers, and potato chips. I sat there, watching Xena save the world from impending doom and bloodshed over and over again while almost literally drowning my sorrows — the Russian fluid chose to delay its journey down my esophagus by first making a quick detour at my wind pipe. Oddly enough, this sobering (well, almost sobering) near-death experience brought to my attention that I had yet to decide on a topic for the article I must write for my journalism seminar — this being that article.

Despite my thoughts having become a tad bit cloudy on account of the 5th… 6th? … 12th? … well, on account of the alcohol I was currently drinking/unintentionally killing myself with, I searched the dark recesses of my mind; I searched every corner of my soul; I searched around my room; I searched for anything that could be inspirational, stopping just short of digging through the trash can situated next to the toilet whose lid had been left up by one of my suitemates. I either had to find a worthwhile memory or create a new one.

Memory is a funny thing. I’ve always imagined it to be a tiny library inside our heads with a vast collection that spans our entire lives as well as having a record of images and recollections that actually belong to others, — either real people or imaginary (e.g. characters who solely exist on TV, in movies, or in books) — which we unconsciously (or deliberately) claim as our own. My librarian’s name is Steve. Steve is 5’6, blond, of average build, mostly dependable, clean shaven, and has a penchant for checkered shirts and Dockers. He reminds me of Jimmy Olsen from the Superman comics. Not that I have ever read any Superman comic. My knowledge of the Man of Steel is limited to common knowledge like his distaste for kryptonite and what I gathered from the 90s television show, Lois and Clark. Steve prefers to style is hair in the way that gel or pomade is used to flatten the hair against the head, except for a flip at the front. My mother refers to this style as the “statue of liberty” or “sun” cut, which, much to her dismay, her son sported during his junior year of high school.

My mother… an interesting character, to say the least. She has a unique talent — now I do not actually know every mother on the planet nor do I care to know them, but I’m sure my mom is different from all others — for making everything, be it achievement or just change, as in new clothes or a new hairstyle, seem just okay. Mediocre. Different, but certainly not remarkable or special. My mother is just expressive and emotional like that. While one hundred other people were weeping to the point of dehydration from witnessing Leo freeze to death in the Atlantic Ocean, this woman chastised her family, “Why in the world are you crying? It’s a stupid movie.” “I-I-I know, bu-but…. [blows nose into napkin] … I just can’t believe Jack and Rose don’t end up together. They could have had such a beautiful life together. Why, God, why!?” “You and your father better stop crying right now! You two are embarrassing me. From now on I go to the movies alone.”

This is a woman who responded to the news that her son had been admitted to UCLA with an “Oh? That’s good. Now go set the table because we are having lentil soup for dinner….. and please tell your father to stop his hysteric jumping and crying. You aren’t the first person to go to that school and you won’t be the last.” While her husband and two children wept at The Phantom’s fate, — and continued to be saddened about it long after the musical’s conclusion — my mother, being the sentimental fool that she is, said with a laugh, “Are you serious? He was a disfigured psychopath. I would choose the cute rich boy too. I’ll admit it’s flattering to have someone kill for you, but murdering in the name of love can only sustain a relationship for so long; there is no security. Plus, where would they live? Does he expect Christine to give up fame and fortune as an opera singer to go live in a sewer?”

The news could report that a busload of orphans, nuns, kittens, and sick puppies crashed into a hospital, killing numerous blind kids and cancer patients, and she would change the channel to a telenovela. I wouldn’t say my mom is heartless. I don’t think I would even go as far as saying that she was born without any emotions. I just think it has something to do with robots not programmed to be emotive.

My mother is simply a tough woman. Makes sense. My grandmother is an even tougher woman. Seeing as any half-witted lion would choose me as the night’s dinner over the blind and crippled antelope, it becomes apparent that this strength of character is a trait passed on from mother to daughter. I may be my mother’s son (for better or worse), but I certainly didn’t inherit her better traits. Friends, family, and complete strangers mock me for wishing it were possible to serve in the Peace Corps in somewhere nice like France or England, but I do not see it as a sign of weakness; it’s merely a matter of choice. I’m sure there are Parisian bakers who just wish there was an American college graduate who could assist them by dedicating two years of his life to baking croissants and decorating pastries. Likewise, I subscribe to the theory that there could very well be a poet somewhere in England in need of someone to be their muse for two years. People can be so close-minded… as if only underdeveloped and war torn countries with no running water need help.

Still, I wish I had inherited the matrons’ tough as nails temperament. I inherited their attitudes and the family stubbornness, so why couldn’t I have been imbued with everything else? Something must have gone wrong while I was in the womb because my family tree seems to have always bloomed hardy fruit.

There are many stories about my relatives and ancestors. There’s the one about my dad’s mother, Grandma Maria, who heard the cry of La Llorona and bravely went out to face the mythic apparition with a shovel and a crucifix while my grandfather pretended to be asleep. There’s the one about my great-grandmother who served alongside General Santa Anna. More than likely she was a nurse tending to the soldiers’ injuries, but the way my dad tells the story he makes it seems as though she led the siege of the Alamo. I normally don’t listen to the stories because it is usually my grandparents who act as the bards and once my grandparents start talking it is hard to get them to be quiet. Some would call me rude for trying to silence my elders. I would call it a bigger crime for them to interrupt me while I was reading a spider its Miranda Rights for having entered our home without permission. When I do manage to sacrifice a few precious minutes from interrogating intruders, I have noticed that most of those long-winded family stories revolve around women. It’s the women who are out facing ghosts and participating in war. What does that say to me? That I can be proud to say that the women in my family were not oppressed and subjugated individuals. My female ancestors were as tough as any fabled hero. Moreover, it says to me that I come from a long line of inactive men who are found on the sidelines while their wives are scoring touchdowns. I have a bright future ahead of me.

Like my dad, I will be the emotional intellectual who will be constantly reminded that a movie is not worth one’s tears by my future wife. My sister, on the other hand, will inherit that heralded feminine trait and will end up finding herself a passive husband like many others before her. Truly a bright future to look forward to.

I wish I had not been born into such a family. My family is one with a long standing tradition of producing strong, willful women and submissive men that yield to their better halves. This is not something to brag about. Why can’t both the men and women of my family be tough, fearless, and outspoken? I often wished, and occasionally still do so, that the popular childhood dream of being taken home by one’s family by mistake or that one was adopted were true. I still find myself…well, I wouldn’t call it lying per se… um, reinventing my family and its history.

I’ll be perfectly frank; I never considered my family to be all that amazing. One is likely to hear people say they are related to Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Angelina Jolie, or some other impressive historical figure. Not wanting to be left behind, I usually made up a connection to some important or noteworthy figure. Seeing as I come from Mexico, all my peers are forced to accept what I say since they cannot actually verify that there is a relation or that the figure I chose actually exists. So far I have been related to murderous triplets, war heroes, assassins, famed magicians, and countless other men and women who may or may not have existed.

Honestly, I don’t understand why lies have such a bad reputation. The truth is overrated, especially when lies can give you such a good reputation or at least allow you to become accepted by your peers. Acceptance has always been a big issue for me and no amount of denial can deny its veracity.

The most common lie I have told revolves around ownership or possession. In elementary school it was the X-Men trading cards. Kids would bring albums to school which could not fit even one more card. These same kids would gather around trading their precious cargo with other collectors and making or breaking deals. While I have always been an obsessive little fan boy when it comes to the X-Men, my parents never bought me a single trading card. I was a deprived child. There was no reason, however, for my peers and those whom I desired to be my friends to know this sad fact. As far as they knew, I too had as many cards as they but would never part with them. No, I couldn’t bring my cards to school because I was afraid they would be damaged and because my mom said no as I might lose them. She never lets me do anything. Doesn’t she think I can take care of my own things? I’m in elementary school; I’m not a little kid anymore, for crying out loud. Anytime I can’t do or have something I blame my mom.

Mothers are wonderful scapegoats because it is so believable. When you have a robotic mother like I do, it becomes even easier. In my honest opinion, only someone without feelings would senselessly refuse to buy their first born — and as far as I am concerned, her most important child — the item(s) that would make him one of the cool kids. Such a blasphemous act could only be remedied with a wonderful lie which got me compassion from my peers. My mother is weird too, they would say. She sounds like a monster, some would add. Yes, yes, I do have a horrible life and I am glad you understand why I can never bring my huge collection of trading cards to show to anyone.

In middle school it was tickets to the X-Files convention. There was a contest in which the winner would be given two tickets to the event. I saw no harm in saying that I had won said contest and now possessed tickets to this convention. I also saw no possible repercussions from inviting someone to attend the convention with me. I refrained from informing my parents of my plan to attend this convention and that I had volunteered them to drive my guest and me to this event. What could go wrong? The lack of actual tickets I pitifully explained by saying that I was awarded the cash to purchase the tickets at the box office. Pathetic, but then again so were my middle school years. The day of the event had arrived and my guest called me early in the morning to ask at what time I would be picking her up. I said that my mom and I would be at her house around 11 AM. My parents still had no knowledge of their obligations to act as chauffeurs to an event they knew nothing about. Alas, it was time to tell my mom what was expected of her. Why delay it a moment longer?

I waited two more hours before getting the nerve to tell my mom what she had been committed to do. Surprisingly, picking up my date, driving to Santa Ana and back, and hearing about these plans until now were all inconsequential compared to her only major quarrel. And just what would she be doing while this girl and I had fun at this “X thing?” Was she expected to just sit in the car patiently for several hours until we decided we had had our fill of fun? Or perhaps I expected her to sleep in the car and be mistaken for a homeless woman? I don’t see how she could have become upset since I offered many suggestions as to what she could do with her time. She could drop us off, go home, and come back when needed. She could stay in the car and read her favorite magazines. She could use the time I was gracious enough to give her and knit. She could use the free time to learn a new language. She could go somewhere nearby and idle away the hours until her services were once again required. Or she could use her time wisely and think of a great present to give me for my birthday. All were great suggestions only a loving son could give. For some bizarre reason she didn’t seem to think so and instead suggested that I make this day even more momentous by taking the bus to Santa Ana.

It was a response I was not prepared for. Being the clever litigator that I am, I reasoned with her and she agreed to take me. It’s amazing how well excessive whining can work, especially when combined with threats to call child protective services for intentionally putting her child in danger of being kidnapped by making me ride the bus. The only catch was that it would not be until my dad came home from work. This was not until late in the afternoon, so I called my guest to tell her that our plans had become altered as a result of the will of my cruel and thoughtless mother. Great scapegoat. Since no one answered my call, I left a message on her answering machine saying that we would arrive at 4 PM. My father arrived and I once again called the girl, but was once again answered by her answering machine. Not knowing what had become of this girl, I told my parents that it seemed that they were no longer obligated to take anyone anywhere. I arrived at school the next day and discovered that my guest was still upset at having been forgotten by her benefactor. I was told that even her mother was upset with me for going back on my promise to take her daughter to the convention. How could I have just left her there after saying I would take her with me, she scolded. It was shameful and utterly embarrassing.

It was time to tell her the truth and reveal all that had transpired as a result of my grievous lie. Why keep lying? I never won any contest. In fact, I never even entered any contest. I made it all up so as to look cool in front of you. I know I should not have said anything. Yes, I know it was stupid of me to invite you to something that was never going to happen. In my defense, you technically invited yourself and I got caught up in the moment and hastily agreed to take you with me. But the point is that I lied, and I am sorry for making getting your hopes up. I fully understand if you want to tell everyone in our class what a loser I am. I will face the embarrassment and heckling with quite dignity.

Then again, why incriminate myself when my ‘fall-to-scapegoat’ could clear me of any blame and might even earn me some pity. I really should thank my mother and apologize for any trouble I might have caused because she was, and occasionally continues to be, one hell of a scapegoat.

I may never be as assertive and tough like my mom, but I came out with a lovely compensation prize: her infallible ability to lie. Perhaps there is something to be said for having the emotional range of a rock, and that is that you’ll never feel any remorse when you blatantly lie to someone’s face or pretend to be best friends with someone when all the while you gossip about how fat they are getting. Although I may not have inherited her more desirable personality traits, an ability to tell a stone-faced lie has truly come in handy over the years. There are those who see this valuable gift as something that is negative and not something to be proud of. I would call them small-minded fools, though not to their faces. While they are forced to face responsibility for their actions or are stuck playing card games with the boring kid down the hall, I am laughing all the way to whatever life has in store for me next. I always hated being compared to my mother, but age has given me the insight to realize that, in an unconventional way, she did indeed gain me acceptance. It just goes to show that people place too much importance on the truth, and that is no lie.

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