I want to tell you about something that happened to me today, a realization I had right in the midst of avoiding writing. The truth is that writing a book about the biggest unresolved emotional reality of your life is more daunting than I’d thought. Each chapter represents a moment of realization. Each chapter represents a moment of resolution. As the chapter closes on each character, I must make peace with the person that character represents. But I'm not ready to make peace with Don Chingon (or the person he represents, my dad), and he has a will of his own - he never wants his chapter to end. So, like all the ghost people I've always been surrounded by, he stifled my ability to cleanly move forward - all I have ever imagined I wanted to do.
Much like Don Chingon, when my dad was alive he was always talking, always gesturing and yet he never let anyone see him. There was never any skin in the game. The stakes were too high. I am a lot like him. He wanted intimacy and closeness more than anything, but all he could ever eek out were material representations of his love.
Every time I called home, I never wanted to speak to him. He always offered me money, asked me if I needed anything. Each time I knew he was offering love, and each time I said no. There was too much at stake for me too. So we went on like this for years and years, talking around ourselves and our feelings, an estranged relationship between two people who only knew how to hurt each other because at the core we didn’t believe we deserved any better.
Yesterday I was cooking eggs on the gas stove. I had bought this bag of stir fry vegetables in the frozen section at Safeway. I had made a stirfry the night before with steak I had also bought at Safeway. I always like to pick the cheapest pack of sliced up stirfry-ready steak, but this time the cheapest package hadn’t been sealed well and some of the meat had oxidized. I checked the expiration date. At least 5 days away from today, my brain registered.
I thought of my grandmother who would think I was being picky or snobbish for finding this meat suspicious. She made me that way, but she also doesn’t like that I use it to impose superiority, the kind of superiority that reminds her of her family and of living in the US. She also taught me how to be a penny-pincher, and she doesn’t know how much it hurts to have to put that slightly browned, still likely totally fine meat back and finding another, fresher but more expensive package. I hadn’t used all the vegetables the night before, and I felt bad, knowing that half-used bags of low-grade broccoli and cauliflower mixes don’t get used. They get taken over by the Father Christmas ice fingers in my freezer. They become undifferentiated globs of ice-vegetables.
I was proud of myself for not letting my anxiety force to me go out hunting for muffins in the streets of the Sunset, and rather make the perfectly good eggs I had right in my house. I decided that even though carrots and cauliflower are not excellent mixers for egg scrambles, that I could win the extra double proud-of-myself bonus points if I used them. So I put the vegetables on the pan with some oil.
I remembered something. I remembered something that he thought was funny. Like when I wore ridiculous hats or when I got excessively angry at my white boyfriend. And I thought about seeing him laugh the next time I went home, and then I remembered that he wasn’t home anymore. That his laugh only existed in my memory. His gold-tooth flashy laugh inspired by my cruelty and strangeness. People like him couldn’t afford not to be cruel. The whole world would end. He would die. The earth would swallow him up and he wouldn’t be able to claw his way out, not ever again.
And this brings us to white boys. The bane of my existence. The metaphor that never entirely made sense until today while I was putting on my sandals, after dousing myself with marshmallow-scented body spray from Bath and Body Works. The scent is called “Summer Marshmallow.” It was $5 and I bought the accompanying body wash and lotion in hopes of making my dreams come true. I realized that spraying myself 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 times was an homage to my grandparents. They love perfuming themselves up. It’s a marker of class mobility and importance – the idea that you can smell heavily of roses or musk or fruit or gelatin desserts rather than shit, piss, dirt, or motor oil. It is completely antithetical to the subtlety that permeates middle class scent expectations, and putting that much marshmallow scented liquid on my body reminded me of them. That I can stand out. That I can make an impression. That I can smell like all my teenage dreams of being the biggest ho of all.
I had just talked to my therapist, and she had asked me “what is normal?” after I’d admitted to her that I torture myself about not being close enough to it.
“Normal is white collar privileged whiteness,” I tell her. It’s succinct. It’s clear.
“Are there grades of normal?”
“No, either you have a white husband and a half-white baby and a home you own in a reputable neighborhood or you have nothing. You lose the game.”
As I was writing this it felt both like my truth and also not mine. One thing that continued to befuddle me was how I could be so strongly anti-racist, a hardcore feminist – the kind who would kick a man or spit in his face (both things I have actually done). How could I be so clear on where I stand and yet allow some outside force to determine the grounds upon which all this standing was taking place. And who was this outside force?
And I realized in that moment as I bent over to put on my sandal – my fatness moving up closer to my face – my thighs pushing up my stomach, my stomach pushing up my breasts, my breasts pushing into my double chin – what it was. It was my family. It was all the hopes and dreams I’d wanted to put into them, but didn’t. I couldn’t show them I loved them, not the way I wanted, but I could succeed at this thing that mattered to them. I could let whiteness dictate my life because then I could show them that I was good, that I didn’t take them for granted, that I didn’t refuse to see their gift. I could unconditionally and loyally commit to the things that mattered most to the nation they chose as a way of showing them that they mattered to me, that I couldn’t hug them the right way or show up for Sunday lunch all the time, but that I could give up my life, that I could put myself second, that I could allow myself to be eaten alive.
It became clear that it was an intimate gesture of longing that was for them – not for white boys or for Martha Stewart but for these Mexicans who smelled like too much perfume.
I could both be something and not be that same thing because that is the depth of my love for them, a love that cuts them and me too. The very reason behind our distance – the fact that I rejected them in favor of a world that promised the kind of safety an anesthasized operating room does. Nothingness. A chance to never have been hurt. A chance never to have to feel anything ever again. A chance to bury myself in a dream, an idea, rather than a person, rather than myself.
All that to say, I'm not sure if Don Chingon will resurface (He might be too precious to give away), but imagine him chattering away for the remainder of this story. Remember the way he sucks his teeth, his nails, his urgent ferocious fear.