I still remember the days living in the city of Chicago in an apartment on Kedzie and Montrose. It was a one-bedroom apartment, and we squeezed the bunk bed and my parent’s bed into one room. I remember how fascinated I was by the hanging beads of assorted colors that separated the kitchen from the livingroom. I remember the station wagon that took us everywhere: to school during the weekday, to Sunday school on Sunday morning, and even once to Mexico.
I still remember the day my parents bought our home in Cicero. The emptiness; the new glass dining table that represented a different kind of living, and I even got my own room. That must have been the happiest day of my life. The walls fresh with white paint and the face of achievement on my parents’ faces. We ordered pizza because we didn’t know the neighborhood. We slept on the floor that night because we didn’t want to go back to the apartment; after all, we were finally home.
So many sacrifices! I still remember … I still remember my dad waking me up to go to my piano class on Saturday afternoon. My house was filled with music. We had a drum set, acoustic and electric guitars, a keyboard, saxophone, and my dad, the ‘singer’. I had my own taste in music and spent most of my time listening to the radio with my index finger ready to press REC/PLAY whenever my favorite songs came on the radio. I had so many tapes and even figured out that if you covered the holes on the ends of the cassette with a piece of tape that you could record over them, which of course upset my father whenever he discovered his favorite Mexican band was now a new mix of Prince, Madonna, and Mariah Carey.
I still remember … I remember plastic covers on our furniture, the refrigerator full of avocados, tomatoes, limes, and that Tupperware container full of jalapenos! I remember my mom coming home with bags of clothes from the thrift store and going into her bedroom and laying it all out on her bed and having our own private fashion show. Taking off the stapled price tags that read ’50 cents’—nothing was ever over a dollar. My mom wouldn’t let me wear anything I liked until we ran it through our laundry in the basement. I still remember the smell of the clothes drying in the back yard because that’s where the vent was. I remember having the talk with my parents about them not being able to pick me up before and after school anymore. I was so confident to ride the city train.
There were times when my brother and I were left alone, and on one particular day, my mom’s birthday, we decided to bake her a cake. We were so excited about the surprise that as soon as the cake was done baking we punctured it with blue candles that quickly began to melt. The lights out and the glow of candles illuminated our faces as my mom walked into our house after a long day at work. She didn’t even put her bag down when she began to cry. I still remember … I remember brushing my moms long black hair it was so silky and soft … she was my Mexican Cher. I would untangle the ends and tell her she was beautiful. My mom’s fingernails were always black on the edges from the grease on the metal tools she worked on at a factory out in the middle of who knows where.
And how could I forget the day my sister was born, my reign as prince was over and I was promoted to big brother! I remember holding her for the first time in my arms and telling her how different of a big brother I would be. I couldn’t help but carry her when she woke up in tears in the middle of the night. My parents where always rotating from one to the other—my father in the mornings and my mother with us in the evenings. We had huge walk-in closets, and in my parents’ closet hung 10 identical janitor shirts with my father’s name patched on. How cool, I thought, for everyone to know your name.
I still remember hearing my mom call us into her bedroom before she went to bed, and we instantly knew that it was time for us to pray. We would get on our knees and I would have one eye open and one eye closed watching my brother make silly faces, as my mom’s face would stain her dry skin from the tears rolling down her face. I could hear her prayers to God and somehow felt like I was not supposed to listen … after all they were mostly about my brother and me. Although we didn’t believe in the virgin, I swear I saw my mother turn into her whenever I saw her praying with a veil covering her long black hair. Just watching her made me feel born again.
I loved Birthdays … one in particular when my mom asked me what my favorite food was, and I was undecided because we didn’t really have much of a variety of meals at home. I said BBQ ribs because I had never tasted them. She made them and invited all of the kids from church to celebrate. I could see the ice cream melting in between the layers of cake and how happy I was to see the two numbered candles glowing: one and three.
My mom would always tell the story about why she named me Emmanuel. She would start off with a little sadness in her tone, and say ‘see the doctors said you weren’t going to be born! You were going to have a hole in your stomach!’ I knew that story by heart because I had heard it since the time I could make sense of what her lips were saying! ‘But I asked the pastor at church to say a special prayer and the day I went into labor you were perfect and healthy! So we named you Emmanuel, which means God With Us. Your name is very special, and you have to represent it properly.’ I always felt a little pressure when she said that, but I was still confident that I would do a good job. This feeling always presented itself when I told my parents I would get baptized, plunged into water by our church pastor or when I graduated high school and could see the smiles on their faces from the stage.
I have images of all the different places we used to live, the many things we have accumulated in time … I imagine that house empty one day … the paint fresh, and a new table to represent a different kind of living.
Rich in Spirit by Emmanuel Garcia was originally published in the August 2004 edition of En La Vida.