Love and violence have their own intimacies. I have nibbled both. I learned to love my father through understanding both. Both give birth to the context of the human condition. They form the Yes and No of our life. Love affirms. Violence negates. What is hate but the desire for the other’s negation? Human experience either negates God like Adam and Eve, or negates our fellow human like Cain and Abel. Either way, the negation aims a destroying relationship to control life.
Love and violence: many of the human narratives turn on this simply dichotomy. Birth becomes the first yes. Death converts our energy into the last no. We cannot choose either, they choose us, destroying our illusion of control. Even with suicide, we only choose when we will die and not if we will die. Birth and death define us, and yet they remain beyond us
Yet, I am convinced in the triumphant of love. It is yes and love that form the structure of life. A man among other humans, both my father and I are strung up on life’s crossbar of Yes and No, waiting for rebirth. How do I respond to my birth? How do I respond to the reality of my death? These questions weave the strands of my life into a story with a known and unknown destination.
In the middle of a July desert day in 1964, I made my way into the world. I glimpsed out into a violent world still reeling from the assassination of a young US president. Born in Mexico under a dusty sun, I can only picture my birthplace in my imagination. The town has been lost from my memory. I first saw light within its limits, and its shapes and colors are missing, although, I know the town’s name, Parrel.
I know that my family name was well known within the town. They knew the scandals and riches of the Tinajeros more than I did growing up. To them my last name made folklore and rumors, even as it was just what came after my first name to me. One side of my family history was lost with my father’s abandonment. Like a tombstone with the name of family no longer living in town, I wore my last name without a history. “Tinajero” could conjure up myths, tales and gossip for an entire Mexican region. I knew my last name as a word mispronounced by my teachers.
Mexico fell from my memories. I long to remember her and the old women slapping corn meal into tortillas slap, slap, slap. I recognize your words as they pass me on the city streets. I speak your words but not your fables. I live in the United States. There I found love. The Tinajero name found recognition in Tucson; a town I have only been a tourist. America’s dreams inspire me, although they remain an untouchable mystery. Pulling-myself-up-by-my-bootstraps idea eludes me, hiding as violation of nature. My heart aches for a home, and a nation where I can belong. I grew up on the border of each culture. I see both as I look across to the different riverbanks. I move along the river only touching down each bank for a short stay. We travel through the lost worlds in each phase: baby becomes a child, who becomes an adult, then old age and death. Each become a disappearing world. The movement of time keeps me from belonging.
The world at my infancy was busy confronting its own possible demise in a field of atom-splitting clouds. I tasted, in the desert’s heat, the flavor of life within my mother’s milk. She held me tight as I cried in my first bits of air. A world that I could barely make out in its various shapes was pretending innocent for a generation of postwar kids. My birth was last gasp of those hopeful idealists. The early sixties hopefulness played against violence present in all ages. Those times bathed in fresh blood: murder, genocide, and war. Just a few decades before my birth, the Nazis made factories dedicated to murder. Martin Luther King Jr. was leading a movement to free the US from a generations old blind stupidity. As my mother caressed my small head American’s were just learning to pronounce, “Vietnam.” I cried with my first breath, while a generation of intellectuals shouted at each other in numerous conversations about death: the death of the novel, the death of Art, the death of poetry, the death of God, the death of love, and the death of man.
Uncle Sam and the Red Bear did battle on a global scale for domination over ideology. Even as my mother showed me off to the rest of our family, the Peace Corp sent out it first young idealists committed to changing the world. Bomb-shelters, and youthful idealism created the era’s adaptation of human paradox. Yes and no continues to play with the destiny of humans. I was unaware of the human condition with my first burping; I knew only strange sights, sounds, smells, touches and tastes I could yet name. This world passed on, and we moved to different problems. I had to learn my first and second language s. The time of navy blue suits, thin ties, beehive hairdos did not last, but the context of violence still remains. The poison of nostalgia lays in forgetting the river of blood flows through each period and culture. Love moves beyond nostalgia.
I live still in a moving river with competing cultures on ether side of me. My family shares both the Mexican and American culture. Most of the members have found a place in one or the other. Some of my family can go into two both without struggle. I continued to live on the edge of them. One culture claimed the mantel of greatness, and the other complained about how the other oppressed its land, its people, and even its pride. I learn to make peace with both, while never belonging to either. Both are proud nations filled with their own histories and myths. I am uncomfortable on the border of both. Mine is the shifting ground of a fault line between the two lands crashing into each other.
My mother held citizenship in both Mexico and United States as I would until the age of eighteen. Selective Service then forced me to choose. I lost the feel of the Mexican culture long before that moment, so the choice was automatic. I chose prosperity and English. Spanish has mystery and poetry. My mother was different. She found comfort in the crevices between the two worlds. She could speak in both cultures. She would marry both a Mexican and an immigrant who pass through New York.
My father was a proud Mexican, who tolerated the American culture. He, after I turned seven, would disappear from my life for three decades. My parents spilt when I was barely able to walk, but my father continued with the occasional visits until he fought with my mother. They argued about something doing between adults, and after this, my father’s pride would not allow him to visit his first brood of children. If he could not have his terms, then he refused to have his first family of two girls and me. He was too proud for that. I can hear his pride through his twenty-five year silence. His pride leads to violence of abandonment. It was not until later that I learn the reasons of the fight. My mother’s pride stopped any explanation. My father just disappeared.
Soon, no one spoke about him as if he was dead, or never existed. I was left to myself to make up reasons as to why he vanished from my life. A pride has no room for others and lives alone even if the bed contains another. Pride chokes love. We live in a proud world, which in turn creates the ground of who we will be.
Yet, I longed for yes and for love. When I made it into my third decade, I felt an urge to transcend my pride. I wanted to make contact to the man who had given me genes. My first great myth to go beyond was how was I to track him down. It took just two phone calls to get his number.
Then... the fear.
What if he would reject me? His number sat by my phone as I search myself for the courage to face him. Would he say that he wanted nothing to do with me? The week was horrible. I was a catering manager in Vail. The week that his phone number stood vigil on my nightstand, the people I managed thought me a jerk. Finally, I took a deep breath and slowly dialed the ten digits, hoping for an answering machine.
“Yes, you may not who I am, but I am your son, Tito. I just wanted to say that I love you and miss you.”
Then ... Silence.
All my fears cam rushing back. I braced for the rejection, the validation of my own negation, and for the click of being hung up.
“Me Hijito.” he said, reverting to his first language to call me his little son.
There two moments in a relationship with a father that defines us. The first is when you realize your father is human. He is not the powerfu all knowing being, but he fails us. I had this moment early when he abandon my sisters and me.
The second us when you realize you father is human. When you understand that your father is like you, searching for love in an uncertain world. That he too fears rejection and uses pride to shield himself from the fear of violence. We talk for an hour. He told me how he stop seeing us because he was mad at my mother, then because he feared what we would think. I shared my life with him.
Love has its own time line.