Sunday, December 21, 2008

An Ysleta Christmas

I arrived in El Paso, Texas yesterday, my hometown. For Christmas. To visit with my mother, and to see my brothers and their kids. Laura and my kids have always relished this holiday visit, a trek we have made since we have been married. It releases Laura's inner shopper, and for a week before Christmas she gets to pump prime the economy at El Paso’s bustling malls. Aaron and Isaac love their cousins --they are similar ages-- and they have spent the first two days playing New Yorkers against Texans (their version of Cowboys and Indians) and exploring the irrigation canal behind my parents’ house.

For the past three years, however, this visit has been an awkward one for me. Three Christmases ago, I had a vicious argument with my father, ostensibly over something trivial, but in reality over old, deep resentments and that bitterness that can sometimes build between a prideful and headstrong father and a son with the same blood in his veins. For three years, my father would not speak to me whenever I called from New York. Instead, at the moment he heard my voice, he would pass the phone to my mother. For three years, even after I apologized for my harsh words to him, my father would not forgive me, and he would not say hello or goodbye whenever I saw him at Christmastime.

I thought about so many things during those three years. I thought about the argument, and why it happened, and even wrote an essay about it, which I called, “This Wicked Patch of Dust.” I thought about how I had hated my father’s macho personality as a child, his domineering control over my mother throughout the years, his bad decisions made by fiat. I thought about how I hated my own temper, and why I did not roll my eyes behind my father’s back, as my brothers did, but instead confronted my father, challenging him to a fight. I thought about how my mother agonized over our family's rift, my mother the avid reader, my mother who is relentlessly curious about the world, my mother whom I have always believed deserves to stop sacrificing for others, and do more for herself. I thought about my father’s deteriorating body, how he cannot walk more than six feet at a time and is now totally dependent on my mother, and how he cannot stand to be so weak when throughout his life he was indefatigably strong.

Indeed, my father was a good father. Yes, he was tough and occasionally mean. But he did push us to work hard for our family, for ourselves. In Ysleta, my father was there to help me make posters when I ran for Sophomore Class President in high school, to fashion an intricate puppet theater for a play I wrote for an English class, and to teach me how to handle the stick shift of our Volkswagen Beetle. He had to compromise in his life, primarily by adopting a country in which he could speak the language, but with an accent that still embarrasses him. My father truly loved Mexico, but he knew his family would have a better life in the United States. He gained the possibility of a better future, but he relinquished his voice. He cannot stand how his beloved hometown of Juarez, which he visited with my mother every week for decades, has descended into an orgy of drug violence in 2008. Their loss: they have not crossed the border all year.

So as Laura, Aaron, Isaac, and I arrived in Ysleta yesterday, I expected, again, just to make the best of another awkward Christmas. But my father surprised me. As soon as I stumbled through the door with suitcases in both hands, he reached up from his chair --he can’t easily stand without his walker anymore-- and hugged me. At the kitchen table, we talked for a precious forty-five minutes, exchanging news, before I finished bringing in our luggage. I thought perhaps this was a first-day aberration, a momentarily lapse in his anger at his prodigal son. But today, again, my father and I have talked, and we have even laughed together, and although we have not yet uttered the words to each other, we have finally forgiven each other for being Troncosos.