Journal Entry #4: The Reversal
PART 1: TAKE OFF.
ENTRY #4. YEAR 2013
The old man gave me another shot at a conversation. I wanted to talk, just not about me. So I asked the questions. His name is Rodrigo. He told me about the businesses he owns and how he went to Los Angeles to visit a client. He told me about his trips to Europe and how he owns several houses. He seemed to be fishing for recognition, so I congratulated him on his successes. Sensing that now he was coming off as the spoiled brat, he began telling me about the cost of it all. He took off his glasses and started cleaning them. He told me how he wished to have traveled more when he was my age. He told me how he should have made more time for his family. He didn’t say it directly, but I get the feeling that he was trying to impart advice. He’s now asleep. It’s like four in the morning.
His talk of his family made me think of mine. A few days before this flight, my parents had no clue of the dismantling I had been doing to prepare for this.
My parents met in a small pueblo in Mexico, and when they got married, they moved permanently to Los Angeles, where I was born along with my four siblings. American citizenship was passed down to my dad by his dad, who came to America in the 40s when the US actually wanted Mexicans so they could work the fields. At this time, the US opened its border to Mexico under the Bracero Program, and some of those temporary Mexican workers, including my grandfather, eventually received citizenship.
Like my grandfather, my dad spent the younger part of his life in the US working as a field hand. Later, after several odd jobs, he started a gardening business that I spent most of my early life hating. I was embarrassed by his profession. In my eyes, it was the American stereotype of the uneducated Mexican immigrant, and I didn’t want the association. When he took me to work with him, I hid behind big sunglasses and a low-sitting hat. I was afraid of being recognized in my green stains, mowing lawns and riding in the rusted, thirteen-year-old Toyota pickup with weed-whackers and rakes hanging off the side. When he took me to school, I had him drop me off several blocks away so my friends wouldn’t see the beat-up truck.
The business, although it didn’t make enough money to get us out of the gang-infested city of Inglewood where we grew up, did allow for my siblings and me to attend private Catholic schools. My mom was adamant about this. She didn’t want us to go to the local public schools. She thought we would become gangsters if we did. She also thought the private schools offered a better education, something she valued heavily. She firmly believed that a good education was the best thing parents could pass down to their kids. She would always tell me, “Money comes and goes, but an education lasts forever.” She pinched pennies to get us into good schools, at the cost of other investments, like a better company truck.
Private schooling, though, only made me more insecure about the lifestyle my dad’s profession afforded us. It didn’t help that my high school girlfriend had a house by the beach so big I could sneak in and watch a movie with her, in one of the living rooms, without her parents ever hearing a thing.
My dad knew I was embarrassed by his job. I know because growing up, I never held back from complaining to him about it. But he didn’t seem to have an issue with this. It almost made him happy. He used it to drive his point, to scare us into doing better. “You don’t like mowing lawns? You don’t like getting dirty? Good! That’s why we came to the US, so you guys could have a better life, more opportunities.”
My dad’s right, I arrogantly thought at the time. I can do better than him. So, driven by the insecurities of my upbringing, I channeled my energy into making money in real estate. I’ll buy my way out of this, I figured. And that’s what I did for close to six years. I fed my ego and my false sense of superiority. I moved out of my parents’ house into a better neighborhood, bought the suits, the ties, the Mercedes. I attended wine mixers.
My mom, unlike my dad, came from a well-off family in Mexico. Her parents, while alive, owned several houses throughout Mexico and farmland with far-reaching property lines. So when my mom married my dad and came to the US, she wasn’t motivated by money. She didn’t want to go to the US. Unlike my dad, she had no family there. She once shared with me that the move was so difficult for her that she spent every night of her first year in the US crying. She said she eventually found solace in the idea that the move was best for her kids.
So, in the end, a better life for their kids drove my parents to the US, and now, what I was about to tell them would reverse everything. I would be throwing away my real estate business, which supposedly represented a better life. I would be going back to the country my parents had fled, where I would probably live a lifestyle many times more deprived than anything that had ever embarrassed me about my upbringing. And all of this because I wanted to?
If I were my parents, and I heard this from one of my kids, especially the snobbiest of them all, I would seriously question his sanity or wonder what crime he was running away from.
I had been trying to avoid confronting them and had even thought about just calling them once I was in Mexico, but I figured that at least my mom deserved a proper goodbye. My dad is more detached, less emotional. A phone call would’ve been acceptable for him.
It went down two nights ago. I was in the galley kitchen of my parents’ house. My dad was watching TV from the dining area that opened to the kitchen. Mom was in the kitchen, with her back to me, cooking food that she wanted me to take home. In a moment of silence, while sitting on the kitchen countertops, pretending to be reading a book, I spat out my news in the briefest and least emotional way I could, “Mom, I am going to Mexico City to live.”
“Calm down…” my dad blurted out jokingly with a drag in his voice.
He, along with mom, assumed this was just another one of my crazy talks. I stepped down from the counter. I pulled a piece of paper I had folded in the pages of my book, and I told them, “I just finished my first blog entry. You want to hear it? So you can see that I am not crazy or suffering from psychological problems. I have a purpose and am doing this because I genuinely want to.”
“Well, psychological problems—no. But crazy,” my dad said, still looking at the TV.
“Here we go,” I said, and I locked eyes on the paper and started reading. I shared with them how I already got rid of everything, how I plan to land in Mexico City with three hundred dollars, and build something from scratch and write about it. Over the sound of my voice and the TV, I could feel the silence in the house.
When I finished, I looked up and found my mom in silent tears, helplessly trying to contain her facial muscles from doing what they naturally wanted to do. She tried to talk but couldn’t. I started losing it too. My lips began to quiver. I fought to shut them off. I knew it was my mom’s fault. My emotions then started pushing through my eyes, and tears were about to come out when my dad broke the mood, “Let him go. He’ll back in a week, asking for money.” I looked to catch his voice. He was nonchalantly flipping the channels on the TV. I ran with the levity he brought. With a smile on my face, I looked over at Mom. “Look, he’s not worried,” I said, pointing at dad.
I hugged my mom and continued a sales pitch that lasted some hours. I wasn’t trying to sell her on giving me permission; it was too late for that. I was trying to sell her on why she shouldn’t worry about me, to convince her that I was happy with what I was going to do.
Still not wanting me to leave and with tears in her eyes, she gave me her blessing, saying that if this is what I wanted, she wasn’t going to hold me back. I hugged her and thought of saying, “I love you.” But I didn’t. I can’t remember ever saying these words to her, not because I don’t love her. I do love her. But now didn’t seem like a good time to start.
Things with my siblings, three brothers and one sister, went a lot smoother. I have never really been close to my siblings. Growing up, we all lived very separate lives. Most of our conversations were limited to “Mom said…” and “Hurry up. I need to use the bathroom!” And that’s when we got along. The rest of our conversations were usually tangled up in fights and arguments, which was odd because our parents never argued, at least never in front of us.
It’s a weird relationship with my siblings, mysterious. There’s no reason for us not to get along. There was no torturous childhood, no abusive parents, nothing that I can recall to explain our lack of relationship. My mom used to get on my case: “You’re in the car for almost two hours every day, to and from school, with your little brother, and you can’t have a simple conversation with him? That’s terrible. Brothers should talk…” It got to the point, though, more so with my brother Tony, that my mom preferred that we didn’t talk. After a series of brutal fights, one involving him pointing a fully loaded .357 revolver at my head in our teens, my mom began saying, “If you guys are going to talk just to fight, I prefer a million times more that you guys don’t talk at all.” Tony and I eventually did stop talking. I haven’t exchanged a full sentence with him in over three years.
Maybe saying that parting from my siblings went smoother isn’t right. I don’t remember saying goodbye to any of them, except for one, but that was by chance.
When I left my parents’ house that night, as I was driving home, deep in thought, I received a phone call from my eldest brother. “Are you crazy?” were the first words that came out of his mouth. I knew my mom had told him about my plans. Surely, begged him to call me and convince me to stay. It was the classic elder bother advising the younger.
I responded to my brother’s warm greeting with, “If you could go back in time, to a point when you weren’t married and had kids, wouldn’t you like to travel, to see the world, live another life—or just do some memorably crazy shit?”
“Yeah, you’re right,” He said. “It’s just not the same once you’re married, have a family. Yeah, there is a lot of shit I want to do, or would have liked to have done, but I can’t. Not anymore. I have obligations. I have two kids. So yeah, do what you want now because later you might not be able to. Oh well. Fuck it. I’ll tell mom I tried. See you in a week.”
Rodrigo woke up at the sound of the flight attendant instructing the passengers to prepare for landing. “You still writing? No sleep?” he said, rolling his eyes like my grandfather saying, You're crazy.
END OF PART 1
ABOUT: This is a memoir, structured as a journal, meant to read like a novel. It’s a free book with new entries published regularly. It’s is the story of how I traveled the American continent, from Mexico to Argentina, starting with two-dollars and a string and a button. Subscribe to be notified of new entries. This free publication is a small token of my appreciation to the thousands of people I met in the streets who made my journey possible. I might not be the best person to write this story, but here it is. It’s yours. Thank you. From the USA to Argentina, Thank you!