The One My Mother Would Have Wanted

He wasn’t odd.

He spent his childhood running and jumping, and didn’t stop to look under rocks or at flowers. He was rough and physical and incurious. When he climbed trees, he didn’t notice if they were oaks or melaleucas. He got his first broken bone roughhousing with his interchangeable friends and didn’t notice until two days later.

He got good grades as a matter of course. There was no passion to it. There was nothing special about his interests, no subject that excited him more than others. The only enthusiasm he showed was about sports, food, or some pre-approved attractive woman on Hispanic television. Later, he would add home-improvement visions and dollar signs to that list.

He entered instant communion with the rest of the family. They had a slot ready for him, and he fit into it without squeezing or twisting. When they all shouted about politics, it was to trade callous right-wing witticisms in a contest with no winner. He never corrected them or argued with them, because he always agreed. He never had an interest to bore them or a personal problem to worry them. He picked up the ever-shifting family domino rules like someone had ever bothered to explain them. He wrestled with family army brats and roared insults and cheers at the family television during baseball games.

He never thought enough about religion to have questions. Roman Catholicism was his, and it was a non-negotiable fact of his being, just like his eye color. He would grow to hate what Catholics hated with the core of his being, but loving what they loved was optional.

He was indifferent to dogs and cats, but still liked dogs better.

He dated girls, but they never lasted. They could tell they were hobbies at best.

He spoke Spanish with their accent. He listened to more music in Spanish than English. Mastering Latin dance forms was his only concession to grace over brawn, and he made it early and well. In a million and one little ways, from his preferred cologne to his haircut to his English idioms to his taste in dress shoes, he made his cultural allegiance impossible to miss.

He took up home construction projects with aplomb, following his father’s and grandfather’s leads. His hands grew rough enough that he could ignore splinters and knife them out later, and big enough to palm an orange. He found his way back to hammers and saws whenever there wasn’t a football to throw or sporting event to cheer, anticipating a future where making and remaking his home’s interior was his only real pastime.

As school worked its way out and parents started applying pressure to start his future, he surprised them by not choosing one of the only two acceptable careers for an educated Hispanic man. He would not be a medical doctor or a lawyer. He pointed himself at a Master’s in Business Administration, with an eye on real estate. His father could scarcely process the joy he felt at the footsteps he’d laid out being so neatly followed.

He dated women. They were always Hispanic women, always on the lighter end of our range, always just thickset enough to look appropriately motherly in an apron. They had careers, and most of them assumed that those careers were a placeholder for their real calling: babies. They valued family, and would not countenance career or school moves that took him far from his parents. They pushed him to make money. They pushed him harder to always consider his parents’ wishes, on any and every subject. They kept him involved in church even when he’d rather have been getting a little more Sunday morning sleep. They pushed him to have children he’d never really thought about before, even though his suburban vision always assumed they’d be around, somehow. They pressured him to bury and suppress any part of himself that didn’t fit the image they shared with his parents. He complied. He always complied.

His friends from before lingered in a half-life, grown apart but never really letting themselves see it. His friendships were superficial, based only on shared activities and adrenaline. He shared no emotional intimacy with them, and only a little more with his girlfriends, and an amount those girlfriends ultimately found weird and unsettling with his parents. Old ones fell away and new ones drifted in from work, but the shouting at baseball games never sounded any different.

He didn’t move out until after he was married. No one thought this was odd.

The house was always a whirlwind. The renovations never stopped, moving from one part of the house to another as soon as a project finished. The kitchen was gutted and redone once every four or five years, and the house sprawled over more and more of its lot. Newer and fancier amenities sprang up with every new success at work, gathering dust thereafter. The goal was to be seen to own them, and for the act of installing them to keep the darkness at bay.

Was he actually happy? They didn’t know, and they didn’t care. He had the status they wanted, he was the status they wanted, and they could brag about him to their own associates no matter what signs they pretended they didn’t see.

He dulled the empty ache in his heart with a lot of beer, and buried his boredom under a lot of television. No one noticed. He wasn’t any more distant than before toward his children, his wife knew she was more adopting a man-child and his paycheck than establishing a partnership, his relatives saw all the same right-wing grandstanding and applauded his obvious markers of success, and his friends were all in exactly the same situation, shouting at the television to drown out their own unrest. They didn’t know, and they didn’t care.

When he grew old, the only thing that changed was that the last half-finished additional sunroom stayed just as it was at the exact moment that his knees gave out under him.

When he died, not one eulogy mentioned his inner life or gave sign that he cared about anything other than being exactly the person his parents wanted him to be. Every one of them mentioned that he was his father’s spitting image.

But most of all,

He wasn’t awkward. He wasn’t small. He wasn’t nerdy. He wasn’t determined. He wasn’t quiet. He wasn’t soft. He wasn’t curious. He wasn’t a scientist. He didn’t date white women. He didn’t date brown women. He wasn’t anti-racist. He wasn’t a leftist.  He didn’t have weird hobbies. He didn’t have a complicated relationship with his heritage. He wasn’t emotionally intimate with his friends. He wasn’t strong enough to be distant. He wasn’t strong enough to lie. He wasn’t smart enough to hide. He wasn’t cunning enough to get away. He wasn’t resourceful enough to stay away.

He wasn’t an introvert. He wasn’t autistic. He wasn’t a lesbian. He wasn’t transgender.

And he wasn’t me.

Garnet, Steven, and Pearl from Steven Universe speaking in the background. In the darkened foreground, Amethyst is sitting on the ground clutching her knees with her head down.

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The One My Mother Would Have Wanted
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