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Everyone has more than one story to tell. In my case, many of my stories carry so much fiction sometimes I have a hard time trying to remember what is true and what is only a product of my imagination. But not the next story I’m about to tell, about my father, the man who gave me this life. This story is true, or so my mother told me.

My father was a small-time drug dealer who hung out with the wrong crowd, and that got himself killed when I was merely six months old. That’s right. I don’t remember anything about him. And according to those who did meet him, he and I had a lot in common.

I don’t know about that. I don’t know anything about drug trafficking.

He’d been born in my home state, Michoacan, but moved with his family to another state up north, called Nayarit. Later, as a teenager, he and his siblings moved to California, and he was the only one who’d sometimes come and visit the old neighborhood and then go back to America.

Sounds familiar?

Well, I guess that part of my life isn’t anything special because there always seems to be a wanderer in every family.

A wanderer: maybe that’s the only thing he and I have in common.

In one of those visits he made to Mexico back in the early 80’s he met my mother, asked her out, and you know the rest. I was born in 1985, had a vanishing twin –that’s a different story- and according to the doctor, I was healthy, and there was nothing wrong with me; of course, the doctor never had a chance to look inside my brain.

My parents brought me into this unholy world rather quickly and unplanned, which caused me not to meet my father’s side of the family. They didn’t know my mother either.

Yes, I was unlucky from the fucking start.

Unfortunately, in those early days, Mark Zuckerberg had barely been born, and Facebook was nowhere in people’s imagination. So, my father died, and those who did have the displeasure to meet me started what looked like word-of-mouth marketing; they talked about me from Michoacan up to California. That’s how my father’s family found out about me.

Do you know how long that took? Twenty fucking years.

An imminent first meeting with the family was in place. Before I came to America, an aunt on my mother’s side of the family said to me, “Mijo, I went to California and met Silvestre, your uncle.”

We had been in my mother’s kitchen at the time, and I had to look away from a delicious plate of beans and warm tortillas to ask, “Who’s Silvestre?”

My mother was near the stove. She had to answer the question because my aunt had a mouthful of beans. “Silvestre is your dad’s oldest brother.”

My aunt was able to talk now. “No, your dad was the oldest.”

See? Not even my mother knew those simple facts.

My aunt fished a folded napkin out of her purse; there was a smear of beans on her fingers, and I thought she wanted to clean it up. Instead, she gave me the napkin and said. “Open it. Your uncle’s number is in there.”

Back in Santa Barbara, I enjoyed another day off while looking at myself in front of the mirror. Even if I was already twenty years old, I had never shaven my face because there was nothing, absolutely nothing, growing there. And just when I was about to say that at least I had enough hair on my head, I realized I was starting to lose it. I never paid attention to that because I always used either a hat or a beanie.

One day I’m going to go bald, I thought.

I exited the restroom, headed for the bed, and looked for my wallet. It was on top of the nightstand. I know it was a simple wallet, but what caught my eye was the small phone directory I had in it. I reached for the wallet, took it, and the paper napkin my aunt had given me a year ago fell on the bed.

I had called my uncle Silvestre the night I got his number, and we promised to see each other one day. He even asked if I ever planned to come to California. I said I was thinking about it.

But it’d been a year since I came here and never called him again. I don’t want to say I was shy because I am not. Maybe I overthought it because I didn’t know how things would be if I ever met him and the rest of the family. I decided to man up, cut the self-destructive monologue, and make the damned phone call.

I walked out of the room. Nobody was in the house. I opened the front door and sat on one of the chairs on the patio. I took the phone out of my pocket and called my uncle Silvestre. You can imagine how happy he was to hear the voice of his nephew, the one he’d never met before.

“You are not in Mexico, are you?” He asked after having recognized the area code.

“No,” I confessed. “I’m here in Santa Barbara. Near Los Angeles. Where did you tell me you live?”

“Palo Alto,” he said. “Up north, mijo.”

There was an awkward moment of silence. I sure had questions but wondered if I wanted to have the answers, too. The tired tone on his voice suggested he was probably older, and the only thing he wanted to do was rest.

Maybe not. Talking to me could be what he wanted to do.

“Listen,” he said, “two of my brothers and one sister live in Los Angeles. When do you think is a good time for us to go and meet you?”

That was an important question. I could’ve said anything, told him to take his time, waited twenty more years, and that I was in no hurry to meet them. But that was all bullshit, of course. I wanted to meet them. I wanted to be in touch with that side of the family I’d never met before. I wanted to know everything about them.

“The sooner, the better,” I said.

I met them in November 2005, before thanksgiving. That morning, as I waited for them outside of the restaurant with my cousin Jenaro, I could only feel two things: the burning heat of the morning sun on my skin and the unpleasant weight of anticipation.

Would they come? I asked myself. I’ve had more phone conversations with my uncle Silvestre, who promised to be there with Pedro and Max, my other two uncles. Jenaro asked me if I were happy to finally meet the rest of the family. I nodded. I didn’t know what to say.

A green, recent model Ford Expedition pulled over. Three older men stepped out and walked toward me. I was the only youngster in the parking lot. Jenaro had walked into the restaurant for a moment.

There was no need for introductions. They knew who I was. There was something in my eyes that told them what they needed to know. I didn’t even have a picture of my father, so I had no idea what to expect. The youngest of the three hugged me immediately. His name was Pedro, and, according to the legend, he is the one who looks a lot more like my father. He was five nine, just like me. He had green eyes and white skin.

Yeah, he looked like an American. They all did. Fair skin and colored eyes seem to run in the family. Well, I was the only one who got a bit toasted while I was in the oven. Like I said, unlucky from the fucking start.

Max was next. He hugged me so tight I almost lost my breath for a second. It felt good to be loved. I’m not going to lie. The problem was I didn’t know how to show I was happy. And yes, I was happy. But I was also flabbergasted.

Silvestre was the last one to hug me. The tiredness I heard on the phone was apparent, but so was the happiness oozing from his eyes. Yes, he was also feeling the weight of anticipation.

We walked into the restaurant, slid into one of the booths, and had a moment to talk. Ok, they did most of the talking. I still didn’t know what to say. They all agreed I looked like my father. One thing I found out we had in common was the somewhat angry look in the eyes.

See? The truth is always in the eyes.

They drove me to LA that same day to meet the rest of the family. I met my aunt Gloria, who gave me the only picture I have of my father. It was then when I saw that dead look in his eyes for the first time. The eyes, and the fact that we both like to wander around, are the only two things my father and I have in common.

I also met Pedro and Max’s wives. Silvestre’s wife couldn’t make it that day. They all treated me with so much love and warmth I was about to cry a couple of times. Max’s wife, in particular, asked me what my favorite dish was.

“Lasagna,” I said.

Can you believe she still remembers that? She cooks lasagna every time I visit.

Everyone else who saw me that day made me feel welcomed. Cousins, family friends all talked good things about my father; he did have good attributes I didn’t know. I thought about my cousin Juan for a second and the way he and his family also welcomed me to their home the first time I came to Santa Barbara.

While everyone was talking, having a good time, I had a brief moment to drift into my head and think about the whole thing. I felt like one of those bottles that are thrown into the sea with a paper inside and a cork, keeping the water away from the fragile message. A message that took twenty years to reach its final destination.

That was one of the few happy days I’ve had so far. Although I’m content with living in America, I still feel like I’m missing something. I’ve been lost and found, and that’s ok. But I cannot say that I am completely happy.

 

Photo by Atlantios.

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