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MY MOTHER DOESN’T KNOW MY NAME
I bump into a girl.
She's tall and I'm short,
so where I feel like the back of my head
is going to meet the top of my back
her chin is a centimeter from her chest.
It turns out we went to the same elementary school
but I don't tell her my name
and she doesn't tell me her's.
I guess we want to leave it all behind us
and we only know we know each other
(or used to)
because we felt like it was something worth commenting on,
but it's not something actually worth knowing.
She mentions her mother in passing
something to do with a memory from elementary,
something mundane like the delivery of cupcakes
on her birthday,
or dropping her off in the morning and kissing her temple.
My father tells me she spoiled me,
and I gasp out, You still talk to your father?
I'm laughing, but barely--it's a dumb joke.
We talk about our parents--and her's,
she tells me,
love her dearly. Her father tells her often
that she'd be lost without them, and she
admits that it's true.
They're aging, she says. My mother... she doesn't even know my name anymore.
I'm somewhere distant.
Mine doesn't either, I say.
What I mean is I didn't tell her.
The girl laughs
and the sun glasses on the top of her head slip down
over her eyes,
so I didn't see it long enough to be able to tell
if they were actually glassy but it's not like I would've said anything.
She thinks I'm her grandmother sometimes.
I want to laugh until I cry.
My mother calls me by an old name,
one that used to belong to my abuelita
and I type that wondering if I can pronounce it correctly.
I just repeated what my father said--
Good old padre never bothered to teach me Spanish,
or tell me about his side of the family,
or do anything that involved being around me for too long,
because I guess he would've rather been homesick
by himself on the couch
than give me a home,
and he'd rather mope about his white kids
then give me actual ties to the culture he's denied me.
I met her three times, and I've been told
that she was a lovely woman but I just didn't know her.
My father visited her some time before she died,
and she passed on a necklace with her/my initial in gold to him
to give to me.
My father returned to our madhouse with jewelry
and the knowledge that my abuelita would periodically ask for her
long-deceased brother and when he was visiting.
The initial is tucked between my t-shirt and my zipped leather jacket
and it's gonna stay that way because an initial is close to a name
and I don't want her to know that,
not even my mother knows my name,
even if my hands itch to touch it.
I know she cares about me, the girl says,
the wisdom of a caretaker gracing me,
and I'm not ready to tell her the truth,
the actual truth,
because I'm so sick of coming out of the closet
to enter another closet I need to come out of to someone,
to come out of another
to come out of another.
It gets real tiring,
and I don't want to get into a debate with an essential stranger
about my existence like it just isn't a thing,
like they know more about me than I do,
and if I know jack shit about just who I am,
nobody else does either.
The girl tells me all the sweet things she has to say about her parents,
I've agreed with so much,
I can't tell her that we're living in two different realities,
lasting through two different tragedies.
I saw her this morning, the girl says.
I saw mine too--
in a photo I can't bring myself to throw away.
I bring people home to my apartment
and know I'm never going to have baby pictures or anything for them to see,
they're never going to meet my family.
That ideal my father valued so much,
that I clung to like Saran Wrap,
has failed me completely.
We go out for a drink--and we still don't know each other's names.
I'm dressed so androgynously that when she gets into a conversation with a stranger,
she has to refer to me with they/them pronouns.
She doesn't want to guess and get it wrong,
or maybe she knows.
Three drinks in and she confesses she doesn't know what she's gonna do without her parents.
I didn't either.
It was a completely different reason--but still.
I can't tell her it's gonna be okay,
because family failed me,
and therapy seems to be currently failing me,
and I'm pretty sure the only company I really have in my apartment
Is a mouse that I hear late at night,
and I'm aching for something.
I don't know what--I've tried to find it.
I tried to make tamales by myself,
and the masa came out just as fragile as last time,
And the horchata I put so much research into came out gritty,
and I'm planning on celebrating Dia de los Muertos
by myself. I can't even pronounce it
because I can never shut up,
but I'm talking to myself,
and I've only really seen it written out.
I got a photo of that abuelita to put on an altar or something,
so I can apologize to it for dropping her name
and keeping her necklace.
I'm gonna feel beyond stupid the entire time--
I'm not sure if I believe in an afterlife,
I'm not sure if I was ever close enough to my abuelita to earn
the right to do this,
but if things go super,
I think I'm at least going to have a ghost in my apartment,
and that'd be pretty cool.
I can only grasp the girl's hands,
and wonder about her name.
I can't tell her what's gonna happen to her mother,
I can't say she's gonna remember her name anytime soon,
I can't even say her name.
I say, This will find it's place in your life,
and she squeezes so tight,
I wonder if her grip is gonna leave indents on my fingers
like a crushed tin can.
An aunt tells me I'm the man to call for book recommendations,
Asks why I never visit.
A tia (yes, they're different things in my experience,
no, I can't explain it)
asks why I changed my name,
and they mean my surname,
The girl stares at my chest,
I stare at her eyes,
and I wonder what's in my own.
She comes back to my apartment,
and I wonder if she's gonna comment on the lack of photos,
or just that she knows nothing about me.
I repeat in my head,
This will find it's place in your life,
but my life doesn't seem to have a place here,
even in my place.
Lives used to be joined with mine,
and there's open wounds where I had to cut them off,
and I don't know where mine can be placed among them,
and the act hasn't found it's place.
But it will.
It has to.
She doesn't know what I am,
But I know,
at the bare minimum, that I'm not a liar.
I wonder if my mother at least knows that.
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