Growing up, Mami and Papi reminded me of the odd New York City sun shower, an unlikely combination. Perplexed by how they orbited the same space at once, I learned to move under the glare of their contrast. Yet, I resolved to attract a light to complement mine. Crushed by insecurities, my light flickered on and off, vowed to really be in love before I married, and certain real love was meant for two people. I set out to find love. What I found was, despite being married, love was not guaranteed. Love had to be worked. Marriage defined as more than the series of clichés used to describe the hardships, or the sappy one-liners. Lately, I have come to realize marriage is more than a relationship of two people, it’s about the relationship each person has with their own self.
Mami bypassed love, as if it were something meant to be avoided, and settled. Papi admired love from a far, as if it were something only found in the lyrics of a romantic vallenato. Nothing either of them admitted to, but like clues I collected them, and pieced together their story.
Like the heroine of an epic, Mami struck out on her own in search for a place to call home, but found it elusive and beyond her grasp. Colombia, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and America: all countries Mami searched in. Lonesome, Mami planted roots in Brooklyn, and watched her married friends with children. Filled with pangs, Mami ached to be called Mama or have an arm placed over her shoulders and introduced as esposa. Meanwhile. Papi, restless for answers, sought for the meaning of life behind an endless stack of books, the study of theology, and later socialism. Empty handed, Papi now drank with greater fervor, as he fought to forget the questions that banged in his mind one sleepless night after another.
But, as a kid I did not see any of this. All I saw was the distance between them.
Mami and Papi never snuck kisses, held hands, or called one another pet names, like mi vida, or gordo, or amorcito. Never dedicated one another ballads or fed each other lines of the lyrics like bits of arepa. Instead Mami hurled other words, like viejo borachon or yo no se porque me case con Ud. Mami swung these insults like fists meant to bruise regardless who heard. Defeated, Papi shrugged his shoulders and stumbled into the kitchen. Then, he struck out at Mami with his indifference and pummeled her with his absence.
Mami pinned all the wrongs of her life on Papi, and reminded him all the time no one wanted her to marry him, not even his drinking buddies. Married against her mother’s wishes and her girlfriends too, but thirty-six and desperate to be a mom Mami accepted Papi’s proposal. Papi, a long life bachelor at forty-three, had no intention of getting married until he set his eyes on what he called una India tan bonita. Papi often referred to Mami this way, a goddess, with long bone straight black hair, high cheekbones, and cashew colored skin. Once smitten, now indifferent, Papi slammed Mami into a corner with words like: imprudente, vulgar, and mal hablada. All Mami heard was uneducated, memories of a childhood of bare-feet, intestinal worms, and black coffee served with a bowl of rice meal after meal.
I think about my Mami and Papi then and now. The distance wedged between them, nothing more than a reflection of the divorce that had occurred between them and self. I can’t help but wonder if Mami and Papi had reconciled their own inner differences, my memories of their marriage would not be tainted by the absence of love.