(I had originally put this in my iblog in 2005)
Where's the beginning?
Maybe at one end, the furthest end, where it all seems to start. That end at which I grab my mother's hand as we come out of the house through the rather unkempt front garden with that plant of big shiny leaves of dark green with lighter spots, some of which at some point I had eaten and being very ill as as result. Maybe it could start by me not being quite awake, being carried by my dad to my room, half an eye open under the stars, the smell of tobacco and whiskey from my dad, the distant shiny lights of the 23 de Enero tower blocks on the horizon.
Maybe it starts before I start but then it is difficult to define a point where it all begins. Maybe in the textured black and white photographs of my mum's and my dad's wedding, he looking very stern, she looking... something like frightened. Or is it just hindsight that makes me see that. She was frightened alright, she didn't understand the world, something I can relate to as I am so much like that -I've made myself be able to cope but she never learnt. My memories of her are the chronicle of her slow disintegration, the gradual dissolution of her will and whatever it is that keeps us together and fighting and being ourselves, the slow giving up and surrendering to chaos and entropy.
Maybe the beginning lies elsewhere, in a field in a mountain in Italy, or another, different field in a páramo in the Venezuelan Andes. maybe that one that appeared before our eyes like a vision of a dream, when we turned a bend on the road on the way to La Grita sometime in 1983. Or perhaps much further back, in endless numerous stories of suffering and toiling and dying over many hundreds of years, the stories of many forgotten people who came before me and whose genetic material I carry, but in whom I probably would have difficulty recognising that which I am, whatever it is, other than the toiling and the suffering and the hoping for a better life... perhaps, many times before me, the hope in an afterworld that was better than this one devoid of sense and justice.
I am told many on my maternal family's side out there in the mountains had not worn or possessed proper shoes until very recent times. I met some uncles that were rather on the bumpkin side. Stolid, conservative, Christian, a very small view of a very small world. All the things that I have worked so hard to get rid of in myself. And yet there is something of value in there. I live nagged by doubt. You do not live in doubt when you have a solid foundation of religion and hard work.
There were the spotted green leaves. Also the fish bone -that is probably an earlier memory, as I recall being sat on the kitchen table (which was huge, huge) and holding a chipped enormous enameled mug and being made to drink sips of water and being patted on my back, choking with the sensation of something piercing through my throat. My mum with her deep red hair in plaits, the radio set on top of the General Electric fridge with a big handle and rounded edges, the wooden slat furniture, all those things that I cannot be entirely sure whether I really remember them or my knowing they existed brings them into those snapshot memories.
Then I'm in a dark room. I could be in a cot, or a small bed; there are two other cots in the room, it is fresh and dark and quiet. Outside my mum walks past, with a broom in hand and a long suffering expression.
There is that old sepia photograph in which she is young, has a flower in her hair and is sitting in front of a house in the paramo playing an instrument that looks halfway between a cuatro and a large mandolin. She seems to be singing, she has a happy expression which I seldom, very seldom saw on her face in real life. She had said she'd had a daily radio programme, singing and playing and bringing other people to do that, in a radio station in a city, Cumarebo, where she lived for a while when her family were in their exodus from the Andes towards Caracas. I cannot really imagine that painfully shy woman hosting a live radio programme, but you never know.
I woke up to some counting aloud and grunting on the terrace rood patio. I didn't need to look, I knew it was my mum doing her exercises. She would bend over a hundred times, do other things of that sort, and yet her 'weight' inexorably increased (this is a euphemism, why do we say weight when it is not the weight that concerns us, really, but the volume?). At some point she gave up on that struggle. At around the same time she started to let herself go in other ways, stopped looking after herself, stopped going out, stopped, alas, playing the guitar and singing which was her passion and the justification for her life, one of the few genuine pleasures she had.
Her red hair, arranged with a sort of wave and a roll on the top of her forehead in a style that had been in fashion thirty years before, in a different world that was just about to be shaken by the second world war. She was getting seriously fat and we, her children, were so horrible to her. I now feel so sorry for her, trapped between an inconsiderate heavy drinking loud Italian husband and two untamed savage beastly children. With no way out. Maybe she didn't have a choice other than that slow suicide over ten years, if that is what it was. The escape exit lay through madness and death, there was no other escape conceivable.
We were truly horrible children in a very understated way. Many of the things we said and did are too embarrassing to mention and I would much rather forget. We had no idea about manners or consideration to others.. it is a miracle that we turned ok after all. I don't think it was our parents' fault either. They were, for different reasons, very ill equipped to bring us up and if there was a parenthood certificate they'd never have approved the exams. But it was not their fault. They were victims of their circumstance, and so were we. So much futile, meaningless, unnecessary suffering. And of course you could say there is so much worse in the world and it is true, but this somehow does not make it better, only more poignant and meaningless.
- to be continued.