Translated by Marvin Najarro
The last time I saw him, my Tatoj said to me: “Prieto, I’m going to die,” cold and straightforward as it is natural in me, unruffled, I answered him: “Tatoj, don’t scare the hell out of yourself, we’re all going to die.” Almost a month after that conversation my Tatoj died, the news found us in a distant land, in the diaspora, thousands of kilometers from Guatemala, just 5 days ago.
I am the daughter who since her teenage years cuddled and caressed him less; I am the most hurt daughter, the only impassioned one. However of his four offsprings I am the one who enjoyed him the most, and it happened in my first years of childhood; that relationship gave deep and strong roots to my life.
I have the privilege that I don’t need to see my dad in a photograph, it is just enough to look at myself in the mirror because I am physically identical to him. I have his gestures, the shape of his eyes, his lips, his eyebrows, his skin color and his plump legs. I smile like him. From him I inherited my love for sports and outdoor activities, love for the land and the bush. And I even stand erect like him. Poetry and my affinity for the arts are also his. I have even the privilege of having inherited his madness. What else do I need? Nothing.
To my father I celebrate the life, because he lived with intensity. I do not dress in black because I don’t believe in those things, neither in prayers nor in lighting white candles for the resting of his soul. Much less in covering his tomb with flowers as a way to relieve the guilt, ¿why now when he is already dead? You will not see them. I am one of those who think that it should be done when ones is still alive, the rest is hypocrisy or guilt. I also think that there is no afterlife, heaven or hell. Everything is here in one’s lifetime, that death is a deep sleep from which one never awake, it is an eternal rest.
Two things changed my life forever, the first was to know the misery in which my parents were born and raised, that kind of cruelty of slaving away and forsaking their dreams in the cotton fields when being just children, the second one was to know the land where both my Nanoj and I were born. That kind of poverty that tears apart anyone’s soul hurt me for life.
To find out that my father together with his brothers spent the first years of his life sleeping in the streets because his parents had separated and my grandmother left them with my alcoholic grandfather (a natural poet) who would spend the nights in the town’s bars. A pariah worn out by the hard work of a day laborer, enduring the misery and exclusion, someone his father did not want to recognize because he was born out of wedlock. And he grew up away from his brothers, a well to do family in the village.
And there in the street and under the ox cart his children, whom he would take along with him all day while taming horses, used to sleep. Besides picking tobacco leaves in farms, taming horses was one of his jobs. They say that my paternal grandfather used to make poems to flowers, rivers and trees; he would memorize them because he didn’t know how to read or write. The first and only poem I know by heart was taught to me by my dad when I was a fourth grade student; it is the poetry of his rural hometown.
My grandparents were illiterate. My uncles and my parents who did not even get a third grade of elementary school, because school was a luxury they couldn’t afford, started working at a young age to help raise their little brothers, just as both my older sister and I did.
The poverty in which we grew up was a luxury compared to the misery with which my parents and uncles grew up. My childhood of work and scarcity and knowing my roots through the lives of my parents and grandparents, from a very young age, made me see life differently: without filter, at close range and raw. Since that awakening to reality, I promised to rule my life with the dignity of my ancestral heritage, that everything I’d do and wherever I went would be to honor my parents’ childhood, my grandparents and great-grandparents. By having understood my reality, I decided not to have children so that our history would not be repeated with them.
From age 8 to 23 (age at which I emigrated) I have few memories with my father because he started to work as a truck trailer driver and we saw him once or twice a month, he would come just for a couple days to change clothes and then left. What holds me tight to him, to his skin scent, to his hugs, is my early childhood. When he left I missed him so much because I was so closely attached to him, I’d put on his shoes and plaid shirts, that made me feel him close to me. The years passed and the wounds came, realizing that my father was also human and a man and that he had flaws, changed forever my way of seeing and feeling him. I learned to love him in a different manner.
I remember playing soccer with him, making kites together, chopping wood, making adobes, and going to The Terminal market together. And thanks to that early childhood, and as an expression of reverence and gratitude to my father, I eat pineapple every day, and that because at the marketplace we would eat pineapple near the papaya and watermelon stands; a ritual that belonged to us only. Because I also inherited his eyebrows, I do not wax my own, seeing them alike to his own makes my life happy and has been my way of having him close.
A memory that I keep intact was at the time when my Tatoj was out of work and was called to go to a publishing house and load a few boxes of books, I was about 7 years old and I came along with him, that man was drenched in sweat loading boxes up to the truck. When he finished the job he was asked if he wanted to be paid in money or a box of books. My dad who completed second grade and had no notion of what the books were about, preferred the box of books, which turned out to be the complete collection of José Milla y Vidaurre. We came home with the box of books and no money, we ate tortillas with salt, but my father had books for his daughters. At that time we were only my older sister and I, the little siblings had not been born yet. The moment when my dad changed money for books despite the need for food, changed my life, it marked me forever, at that time neither he nor I could understand it, I understood it over the years. What else does a daughter need from a father? Nothing, nothing else.
I have never been able to see my parents as what they are, I see them as brothers, not even like older brothers, because as a resistance to life they decided to keep the mental age of adolescence, and it is something that I understand very well and I don’t question them because everyone faces life as he can. they were fortunate to manage to raise themselves and raise us, from an early age they threw us to life, like someone throwing a stone into the void from a cliff; enough expression of love, because with that they gave us the freedom of decision and action and the unshakable strength of the outcasts.
The most intimate memories I have with my father I’ll take them with me to the grave. They are his and mine.
My Tatoj is now resting, he lived his life as he could and as he wanted within his emotional and economic shortcomings, in the same way that I am trying to live mine. Deep root of my life, he leaves me the honesty and the dignity of holding my head high, of not cowering in the face of adversity and meeting the challenges that lie ahead. I appreciate the notion of family with which we were raised and the emotional and economic instability that in the end has given us the strength to face what is there in the outside world, that which no university teaches, but the product of ancestral heritage.
With my life I honor my Tatoj, with my every day actions, that’s all, it is that or nothing. I’m proud to be the daughter of two pariahs, peasants, day laborers who challenged adversity by forming a family (jerry- built) with which they filled with hope the misfortune of misery.
To my Tatoj, wherever he is, he is surely riding his white-footed horse! Any day I catch you up.
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Ilka Oliva Corado