English is my first language but other languages were heard in our household, specifically Spanish and the use of American Sign Language. We spoke Spanish in public which felt very strange.
My grandparents loved Spain and Mexico, with their different traditions and culture. I never asked why they loved Spain. I never asked about murals or volumes of books I was too fearful to examine. I was intrigued and rather impressed with their professional bar in the basement with imported liquor and liqueur. I never asked why it was constructed or if other houses had a full bar like it. It’s not as if we were a communicative family. We used language and threw ourselves into culture to fill empty space, deflect attention and scatter harsh truths. We were avoidant. We did not share our inner most thoughts, feelings and desires. Seriously? No!
In my grandmother’s house, I can see the room so clearly and see the wall of bottles the same as if you were in a pub. The bar was just as long, the stools just as tall. You couldn’t help but be drawn to that area because of its mystique. On a wall to the right of the bar was a large needlework, signed art piece of a second stage bullfight. The craftsmanship was amazing as it captured, stitch by tiny stitch, the despicable act of a bull in its long, drawn out, painful murder.
“I do hate Amaretto.”
“There’s a green bottle in the back that no one has ever opened. I bet it’s beautiful.”
One could lounge beneath the art and watch the logs in the fireplace glow then simmer out. There was no music in that area. If you went to the room just beyond it you’d see dancers painted on the wall, a full size Miss Pack-Man game and full size Pinball machines. There was a poker table in the back of the room ready to take on long games with music I never liked or understood. If you went out another door you’d see horseshoes and a lawn that, despite many people, seemed so empty. We were good at faking happiness.
To entertain my grandmother and guests, my aunts and mother stood on the staircase and sang for everyone. Even that was a struggle as one aunt wanted the spotlight. I tell you now, my mother sang like an angel; effortless, clear, a beautiful tone. When I was a child it felt like I could climb in her voice. I’d close my eyes and listen so intently to each note that it felt like I could climb right in. I believe now I was dissociating, but if I could liken it to anything else, I’d liken it to the folklore of mermaids.
My mother is not a mermaid. Never thought I’d have a need to say that. lol. Anyway, the mermaid sang, called in for backup and lured mariners. Their beauty and song resulted in a kiss of death followed by a feeding frenzy of the overpowered mariners. Sometimes though, a mermaid could be captured, removed from her normal and forced to live in someone else’s skin. She spoke a language not her own and pretended to be what she was not. In this way, my mother fit the bill perfectly. She stumbled through family dynamics trying to appease, to fit in. She never, ever achieved that. She had her own brand of massacre that was in constant competition with those of her family.
Still, this family appeared by all rights to be normal except for the fact that when we spoke we used a language not our own and pushed away the normal for a family patriarch of African descent.
Our direct link to a different continent died only 5 years ago. Only two family members ever accepted his culture. I’m now the only living relative to identify myself as African.
it’s me, Jordan