Dreams in Spanish with English Subtitles

If I told you the lives of my parents in completion, you’d think I was reciting Lorca or Cortazar.

I don’t even know if I have that type of agency because sometimes I forget I speak Spanish. When someone tries to speak Spanish with me, sometimes it feels as if a bird is stuck in my throat, pushing its wings upward in my larynx until I let out a chirp. It feels like I’m Elizabeth Burgos translating for two Rigoberta Menchus. Thus to stifle this feeling I recount a shared memory of our past.

On the weekends my mother would throw Tupperware and Avon Parties with the rest of the women in the neighborhood. There were colorful plastic containers, lipsticks, shoes, apparel, all packaged into sealed company bags. All the goods breathed with consumerism. I often watched these gatherings while eating quesadillas full of government cheese. The cheese was the color of Garfield the Cat’s fur dripping onto my fingertips. It felt like Christmas in June every time these intimate pyramid schemes took place in our living room, but my body told me otherwise. My mother and her friends used to sell these products to each other, but eventually ended up selling them to the missionaries from Newport who did rounds around the neighborhood and gave us holiday baskets as their form of community service. These baskets were always nice, but at that time nobody in my family knew what to do with gouda cheese or salami, so these ingredients inevitably too became a quesadilla.

On one occasion at one of these meetings, because my mother has never been private about my life, the women discussed the latest episode in my life — my period. “Happens to the best of us” they’d say. They ogled my puny breasts at the time and made bets as to how big they’d get, when I’d get a boyfriend, when I’d get married, and how many children I might end up producing measuring my hips with the width of their thumbs. My mother humored them but only to a degree. On another occasion my friend Victor’s mother came by herself without the company of the other women to ask my mother if she would allow me to date her son. She had brought a gift for me: two blue silky underwear, the ones on page 42 in the Avon Catalogue that summer. I had admired them in privacy, the catalogue hidden between the pages of the Encyclopedia Letter L, definition leprosy. (My parents couldn’t afford to pay for the rest of the encyclopedias, so we only had 12 volumes.) My mother’s sense of gratitude transformed itself into disdain. She looked violently offended, her cheeks two peaks of Kilimanjaro melting onto her chin like a surrealist painting. She gave her the same look she gave me when I sat with my legs open while wearing a skirt, or sold my barbies for a Green Day album. Recognizing that stare personally I knew what was to come next. She yelled at Victor’s mom, shooed her out of the house, got the broom to sweep her out all while saying that I had catechism classes to attend, violin lessons to practice for, and a bundle of other things that I actually didn’t partake in like cross country. For many weeks in the summer Victor used to come to my window to chat about the new bands he was listening to and the new job he was trying to get at the warehouse. Finally my mother caught me, shooed him, and sat me down in the living room to tell me that she didn’t want my life to be like hers: married at a young age and uneducated.

In the other room my father was watching “Fist of Fury” with my younger siblings. Watching the film very closely entwined my brothers were sticky with sweat on my father’s belly and chest. They looked like golden gummy bears after they’ve sat in one’s pocket for a couple hours. My brothers were always eager to emulate Bruce Lee’s moves so my father humored them and threw them up into the air like shiny golden satellites looking down at the only world they knew, my father and his mustache. They can see it from space the way you can see the Great Wall of China. Their barbarism was salvaged by familiarity.

There are few things that deter my father’s movie watching habit and my delinquencies were one of those things because I was rarely a delinquent. “There are so many movies to watch and so many things to learn,” he said hugging me. In that embrace I too felt like a golden satellite looking beyond our bedroom and our living room. Now a decade later my antenna is pointing home longing for the smell of the perfume sample pages in the Avon magazines, the summer heat that made my thighs chafe, my father’s mustache, and my mother’s cheeks. I long to have dreams in Spanish with English Subtitles.