He came unexpectedly, unannounced, and late in the day. My tio Pablo, one of the prodigal sons, welcomed home always with fanfare and celebration, his years living out of state rendering him special and exotic compared to the likes of Tia Margarita who we visited every week.
We were living with Grandpa then, me and my two little brothers and mom, after the divorce. Us three kids shared a room, beds shoved up against one another, a stew of blankets and stuffed animals on the floor, clothes and toys and school projects in every crevice. Mom had her own bedroom, laundry baskets overflowing and her hand-washed slips and delicates hanging off the shower rod in the adjoining bathroom.
Tio Pablo owned Grandpa’s house, or part of it, or maybe he had loaned Grandpa the down payment all those decades ago? I don’t know exactly, but his claim to ownership was never questioned.
But this visit of his was different. He barreled in like a jefe among peons. The shouts began. He accused mom of taking advantage of Abuelo, of living in filth, of not maintaining the house. I was 12 years old and suddenly saw our messy closet as shameful. Tio barged into the bedroom, old-school VHS video camera in hand, narrating our purported sins (“And here we have a dirty plate, just left out on the TV stand!”) while us kids cringed together in the corner, waves of humiliation washing over me. Why he made that video or what became of it is a mystery.
Word spread quickly, more aunts and uncles showed up, accusations, shouts, mom crying in the hallway, a working single mother of three trying to defend her lack of time to devote to housework, to explain that she did help Abuelo, she did pay rent and utilities.
The verdict remained the same: Tio was kicking us out of Grandpa’s house. We had a week to find a place and get the hell out, to go he-didn’t-care-where, y que importa if Mom didn’t have enough money for apartment application fees or deposits or first month’s rent.
I didn’t know then the years of poverty that were to follow, the empty kitchen cupboards and threadbare secondhand clothes, the repossessed car and digging through couch cushions for bus fare, before the rent-a-furniture was also repo’d.
What I knew was this: you can only depend on yourself in this world. Familia, that supposedly sacred bond of sangre, sometimes doesn’t mean shit.