The Genealogies – Chapter 3: Assimilating

Marcelo wondered where time dissipated.  Or, conversely, why time dug in so doggedly, trickling by in infinitesimally small drops.  Sometimes the week would drag on, day by day, each moment not a moment, but eternally long; the weekend would whiz by in a whir, surely breaking some law of physics.  Or, sometimes, it felt like both workweeks and weekends would fall, one by one, like obedient dominoes, for weeks on end, each one succeeding the other in a blur, nothing quite sticking, every day much like the next, each alike in the rapidity of its passing.  Marcelo didn’t understand time, how it could meander like the stream in Malibu Creek State Park, or rush like the Los Angeles River in flood after a storm, or seem constant like the roil of the Pacific, often simultaneously.  There were times he tried to control his perception of time, to consciously live every moment, inhabit every minute, take in the time and savor it, whatever he happened to be doing.  But time had a way of subverting his attempts, and it would quickly impose its own will with little trouble.  There was, however, one certain feeling he had:  time was inexorably passing him by; whether it did so quickly or slowly didn’t matter; if it did so quickly, he would marvel at the suddenness of it all, of how onrushing flowed the time from awakening to repose; if slowly, he would sense its slow passing, its grinding away like so much wheat being sedately milled into powder.  He was far from old, only in his early thirties; however, each year that passed saw him tacking further away from his youthful goals, his dreams remaining so, and it gnawed at him.  It didn’t gnaw enough at him for him to do anything about it, though.  It gnawed at him just sufficiently for him to feel put upon, and to elicit random, elegiac sighs.

For Marcelo, time was bifurcated, divided into “before” and “after.”  Not before Papá’s death and after Papá’s death, no, but before the family left New York and after they arrived in Los Angeles.  That was the great fissure in his life, the point at which time started over.  A lifetime had passed since the great trek westward—Mamá and Papá and Lexie and Celito and Abuela and Abuelo, catching a redeye like refugees on the last plane out of a disintegrating South American republic.  Carlos was already in Southern California by that time, having decamped for warmer climes, seeking something different, some other experience  than that offered by a cold northern city.  Carlos had hated everything about New York—the noise, the grime, the casual rudeness, the banal brutality, the bitter winters leavened by the humid, insufferable summers.  He had even bought a car—a Dodge Omni, with a barely functioning engine—just to get used to driving, because he knew he would take it one day and drive it across the continent and park it in front of Tía Evelina’s house, with a eucalyptus tree exuding its redolent oily smell, broad-leaved plants sprouting in the back yard forming a wall of green on the white fence, roses blooming in December.  He had always known he would pack up his forlorn little car with all his possessions, and drive west over the George Washington Bridge, west across New Jersey and beyond, and slough off New York’s grit like a heavy, snow-laden woolen overcoat.

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“The Genealogies” – Chapter 2, Mausoleum

Every Sunday right before July 20th—or July 20th itself if it fortuitously fell on a Sunday—Marcelo and Carlos and Lexie would gather at Mamá’s house early in the morning.  They would all bundle into one car and drive the few blocks to her church.  There was always a debate as to who would drive.  As Lexie usually had the worst car, she mercifully was excluded.  Carlos preferred larger SUV’s, so the family normally decided on his car, which he took with a resigned equanimity, being used, as the oldest child, to doing the yeoman’s work in the family.  Marcelo never understood why there was such a hubbub every year.  Oftentimes he would offer to drive, just to keep peace; their mother, however—who had never owned a car nor in fact had ever learned how to drive—always preferred going in Carlos’ truck, both for the roominess, and because customarily he  drove slowly and carefully when she was in the car, figuring that the past of least resistance led to Paradise, or at least to peace with Mamá.  Marcelo, also customarily, though he never drove more speedily than normal, also never changed his driving habits simply because one person or the other was in his car.  This included Mamá.

“You’re going to give me a thrombosis,” she would say almost always when she would get into the car with him.  Marcelo would meet that with the frustrated grunt and the eye-roll he had perfected as a teenager.

On that day, or near about it, they had their yearly appointment to hear a Mass for the dead.  Every year Mamá would arrange for Papá’s name to be mentioned in the Spanish 10 a.m. Mass when the priest asked the congregation to remember the recently and not-so-recently deceased.  Carlos—father, ex-husband, all-around decent fellow despite his torture of Marcelo when younger—would bow his tall, slightly stooped frame when that portion of the Mass would arrive—not so much out of religious conviction, but out of filial duty.  Lexie always glanced discretely at Mamá to make sure that her eyes were cast down, and then allow her gaze to wander, taking in the parishioners, some dressed in Sunday finery, others in backwards baseball caps and shorts reaching down below their knees.  Mamá would let out a phantom sob at the point in the Mass when the priest read Papá’s name.  Marcelo would stare straight ahead throughout most of the service, normally not glancing left or right, his eyes fixed on the priest, the altar-servers—no longer altar boys as they had been as recently as his youth, no, girls could now serve the Mass, which, while he considered it to be commendable, he also considered it to miss the broader point of sexual politics in the Church—the altar, the looming, bloody crucifix that seemed to always exude a pain and suffering that taunted the worshipper, diminishing him or her to the kind of insignificance one sometimes feels upon considering the vastness of the universe and the minuteness of the self.  That morbid iconography always left an impression on him that nothing anyone ever did would quite measure up to that sacrifice on a gnarled tree, and he resented the fruitlessness it suggested.  Of course, that was the point, wasn’t it?  He had concluded that any religion which posited that salvation was available only through adherence to a beaten and bloodied figure was not one for him.  Yet, every year, there he would be, in the pew, kneeling, sitting, standing, genuflecting, even going up to receive the Host.  As with his driving, it was a hard-wired habit.

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The Genealogies: Chapter 1 – “Opening”

Editor’s note: I had published this earlier on the blog, but have revised it since. I await comments.


As a boy, Marcelo often wished he had come from a more illustrious family.  He would spend time, both awake and asleep, imagining a history of audacity, with adventurers in his family tree lighting up the ages.  He would play pretend where he was a conquistador leading a desperate band into dense, impenetrable jungles, questing for gold, silver, precious jewels. (Of course, he would leave out the part of slavery. His heroes would never soil themselves thus.) He quizzed his parents about the family’s history, and aside from finding out that his great-grandparents had been immigrants from Spain—and not very grand ones, at that—he was often left with more questions, unfruitful avenues of inquiry which led him back to a reliance on his imagination to burnish those common, quotidian ancestries.  After school he would spend hours at the library, poring over books of heraldry.  Unfortunately, all the books dealth with English and French heraldry; there was not a page devoted to the Castilians. But that was of no matter, when fancy was rampant. He would invent pedigrees for himself, tracing back his stock ten or fifteen generations, going a bit further with every attempt, accreting layers of eminence.  He even invented a coat of arms for his family, cobbled together from what he found in books: a black lion rampant on a field of crimson, atop a turret of gold.  One could say that he pulled it together completely at random, but for some reason it held meaning to him. He had shown his creation to both Mamá and Papá; they, doting parents, clucked and cooed over his endeavor, hanging it on the refrigerator door; it would hang there for years, always holding a place of honor alongside the magnets gathered from vacations and notes and lists posted to one member of the household or the other.

Nothing pleased him more than reading books about his motherland’s history—his multiple motherlands, for, as a child of the 20th century, he was if nothing else polymorphous, polyglot, a child not of one world but of two or three, all vying for his attention.  Andalusia, Galicia, Marianao, Washington Heights:  the words tripped from his tongue as he imagined them, in waking dreams and dormant reality.  Crusader and Moor; cowboy and Indian; all were the same to him, all part of the skeins of his existence, the convergent, sometimes disparate histories which informed him, swirling around him in a primordial, dreamlike ooze, infecting him with expectations, beliefs, aspirations.  Would he prefer to be the Crusader or the Moor?  At that time, the Crusader; when he grew older, if he were to give thought to his juvenile self, the answer might be different.  Everything met and mixed in him, washing him up on an ocean wave, and the things which thrilled him in boyhood left him with a bad taste in adulthood.

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