Friday, August 17, 2007

untitled, part I

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My mother grew up in a far more humid town somewhere in the Tropics, with pigs, cows, and over-grown water buffalos. Everyday was like summer days there, except in late July and August, when the air began to smell like rain. And it was rain accompanied by lightning, thunder and strong winds that howled and made the windowsills creek. The house she lived in was built on dirt and gravel, the walls were concrete that had slim and curved lines drawn in them as the cement was settling in. Whereas the first floor had concrete walls, the second had walls made out of strong tree wood. They provided a sharp contrast with the dryness of the concrete, as if to describe the people that lived within them—a family of eight children, all have diverse and conflicting personalities. She had a wonderful childhood, filled with summers lying on riverbanks, splashing cool water against hot flesh, stolen kisses, and other forgotten memories now etched in her face.

An aspiring writer paints a portrait of an unknown past. She discovers both the challenge and the excitement of feeling the edges of a finished novel. Until she reaches the last period on the last page, she anticipates a future of blank sheets.
For Selene Montoya, blank sheets signified new beginnings and so she welcomed them with uninhibited ease. She preferred the color white, naturally, and so she chooses to decorate her one-bedroom apartment with clean lines of white, solid pastel colors, and beige tones. When she first saw the apartment she had been apprehensive—though it was located in a questionable district in the city, the flamboyant district as they described it, she fell in love with its wooden floors, granite kitchen tops, and its classic white bathtub that stood on four legs. Her mother had been completely against it based on its location, while her father only smiled, white teeth exposed and all. He said, “Whatever makes you happy.” And happy she had been. Right away, she drew a long, hot bubble bath on her bathtub, the first of many.
She spends most of her time staring out her balcony, watching raindrops and lovers hop on puddles. On days that she worked on her novel, she would drink coffee from an oversized and round mug she bought from a novelty shop in San Francisco. It was her thinking mug. Armed with this mug, a pair of white Chanel glasses she would feel the mood to write—it was necessary to have all three, and she preferred it because it worked. There was something about their presence that made her feel up to the task.
Today was not one of those days.
On her hand was a lukewarm cappuccino that she had purchased from the Starbucks downstairs. Over her years at the university, she had developed an affinity for over-priced coffee drinks: white mocha, caramel macchiato, vanilla bean frappucino, and her favorite, non-fat, extra hot, chai latte. Their overrated novelty undermined her ‘fix’ for anything caffeinated. Easy ‘fixes’ would expedite and fuel her work ethic. She’d type furiously on her laptop, only blinking once, and breathing quick and uneasy. But as she discovered later, the caffeine rush went as quickly as it came. Now, her eyes wandered to the couple outside her window, kissing under the rain before she hesitantly went back to work.

My mother met a young lawyer in the capital. He was tall, and he carried a briefcase as easily as he carried a smile. She had just graduated from the college and was then teaching at the nearby high school. It was not love-at-first-sight. The moment they met, my mother instantly singled him out as a brownnoser, while the lawyer saw my mother as a bore as well as prude and he was not about to spend more than a few dates to be in bed with her. They saw each other more than once, to each of their annoyance, for he worked as an assistant to the mayor at City Hall, which was only two blocks away from the high school she taught at.

“How fucking convenient,” she put her cup down, staring out of her laptop screen and out the window, only to find her muses absent from the scene. Even though she had heard this story a billion times, she still could not believe how her parents eventually married, let alone separate after so many years. The convenience of their first jobs should have been a clue as to how fate worked in their lives. They had separated two years ago after thirty-five years of marriage, but not a step closer to a divorce, for they were both strictly Catholic.

“So what are you going to do, sleep on separate beds?” Selene remembers asking her father. “Just get a fucking divorce and get it over with.”
“Watch your language, when you’re talking to your Papa.” Her mother stood next to him as she spoke to Selene. “Where did you learn how to speak like that? Just because you’re in college—“
“But Ma, why are you separating in the first place?” Junior, Selene’s younger brother, interjected, who was clearly uncomfortable with the news. Of the three siblings, he spent the least with their parents, having been raised by grandparents who lived in San Francisco. The reason behind this arrangement was unknown to Selene, although she did not mind it at all. She had the freedom to do as she wished, ask for everything (and she often did), and she got it. Junior, on the other hand, had been independent as a result of this arrangement. Even at nineteen, he had already saved up enough money to buy a car and pay it in cash. He always asked questions, though saying very little, and would contribute less once he pieced together the answers.
“You two have been together for so many years, so I just do not understand why. All of a sudden, you just got tired of each other?”
“Just don’t do it!” Selene and Junior’s younger sister was crying. Andrea seemed to be the only one who approached the situation with emotion, and it put Selene at ease. Her parents, Junior and herself approached the situation with obvious constraint. Andrea’s sobbing gave the room its livelihood, no matter how somber. “What’s going to happen to our family? It’s going to fall apart!”
“Like it hasn’t already,” Selene earned a reprimanding look from her mother that she nonchalantly ignored.
“We just need time apart,” Selene’s father spoke, “nothing is going to change between us because we love each other very much.” He looked at their mother as if to prove the point.

Now that she looked back on it, Selene would never admit the news had been a surprise to her. Growing up, she prided herself for being aware of her surroundings: she knew everything and about everyone. Whether the surprise, or a numbness she tried to supplant within her, became the cause of her bitterness, she did not know. She took pride in her ability to brush it off so easily to avoid Junior’s concerned looks, to show courage for Andrea, but most of all, to preserve her own sanity.