Just like plants, we inherit some traits from those who came before us, but when I spend time with my siblings I’m amazed by how different we are.
At my brother’s kitchen table I watched my father eat his pear, a tiny cube of white pulp brought to his mouth, the slow laborious movements of his jaw. I enjoy those kinds of moments with my parents. Moments when life decelerates and conversations can drift over a doughnut and large cup of coffee, then a refill, and nothing has to be rushed. Both of my parents have become slower in their movements, my father’s decreased physical abilities more noticeable. “We have to be patient with him,” my mother has told me.
More laborious chewing and slurping. Thin lines of juice dripping down his chin. I glanced at my brother, wondered if he still remembered any of the things I remember from our childhood. My brother is recently divorced and has had serious disagreements with his ex-wife; he’s been struggling to get access to the children. Some of them don’t want to spend time with him. Whenever he tells us of his troubles, my mother’s face contorts. Why, she asks, why are the children behaving that way? What has my brother done to deserve that?
My father continued eating his pear. After a moment my brother stood up and picked up my father’s plate, two pieces of fruit still on it, and took it to the sink. “Let’s do something else,” he said. “We’ve been sitting for too long. Let’s go out.” My father had followed each of my brother’s actions with his eyes. For a moment he didn’t move. What was he feeling, I wondered, and should I ask my brother to slow down? My father wiped his mouth and nodded, stood up and continued nodding. “I’ll just go get my baseball hat.” He’d be very quick, he said. I watched him shuffle to the stairs, noticing the slight limp he has developed. What did he see on our faces back then, standing at the other end of the table and eating a pear, his children gaping at him? And what does he see now? Have we let him down or made him proud?
Sometimes I’m amazed at how differently my brother and I have reacted to my father’s illness. My brother becomes more impatient, less worried about what could happen in the future. The priority of his concerns seem to lie elsewhere. “Maybe it’s because you haven’t had children yet,” a friend told me. “When children arrive, your focus changes. Your parents become secondary, it’s inevitable.” I have no evidence to back his claim, no research I have collected, yet his assertion rings true to me. Children change your life, they rewire your brain. That’s what my friend said.
In “The Behavior of The Hawkweeds,” the narrator’s husband worries that their children might inherit his hexadactyly (six fingers). He feels anxious during each of his wife’s pregnancies, but none of their baby girls exhibit the condition. To his relief, the trait has not been passed on.
Sometimes I’m amazed at how differently my brother and I have reacted to my father’s illness.
When I spend time with my siblings I’m amazed by how different we are. The blend of our parents and our parents’ parents, what has been passed on through generations, all of it manifested in different ways. Do my parents, I wonder, feel pride when they recognize one of their gestures in us, the way of answering the phone, the pitch of our laughter? Are they relieved when they notice we don’t carry a trait they’ve been laughed at for or felt embarrassed about?
When I return to Belgium I go for a walk in the Cinquentenaire park. I see young couples pushing prams, toddlers pointing at dogs then falling to the ground. The leaves are changing color. At the airport in Atlanta I had hugged my parents, reassured them more than once that they had nothing to worry about. I waved as they walked towards the security check, my father shaping his hand like a telephone and bringing it to his ear: “We’ll call you.” My brother stood next to me, often looking down at his phone; he hadn’t received news from any of his children.
In the park, I fill my lungs and look at the sun beyond the treetops, its warmth caressing my face. Whenever my brother tells me about the ways his children hurt him, I think of saying, Do you realize you’ve sometimes done the same with our parents? I think of saying, I love you and it pains me to see you like this, but is it possible that your children resent something you have done to them, something you are neglecting to see and accept? Instead I say, “Perhaps when they grow older they’ll realize they’ve been unfair to you. Remember how difficult I used to be with our parents? It took me some time.”
As a teenager I grew my hair down to my shoulders, went out with friends at night and never called my parents to report where I was. Teachers sent letters complaining about my conduct. The youngest of the children, I was a tyrant with my parents; I knew I could get away with anything. Only when I left Mexico did I understand the kind of sacrifices they had undergone to give me the best life possible, the severe difficulties they experienced, and the lengths they went to hide all that from me. Changes take time, I tell my brother. I had to confront adversity in life before I understood what my parents had done for love. And even if some of those memories from my teenage years will never be erased, I try to let go of the past and cherish every instant I have with them now. All of this I tell my brother, but it doesn’t seem to give him comfort. Perhaps he also needs time to realize why his children behave that way with him.
In the park, I continue my walk and on a bench I see a little girl seated on the lap of an old man. Pigeons are sauntering near them. My friends in Belgium say I am a calm person. “Are you more like your mom or your dad?” they ask. I didn’t used to be this way, I think of saying. I used to have a different temperament, someone whose erratic behavior seems so far from the person I am now. Foreign, yet the same one that writes these words. To my friends I answer, “My mom is patient and my dad is grateful.” That’s all I can say.
In the park I hear the breeze stroking the branches above me and I stop walking. I close my eyes and feel the wind entering my jacket, rubbing itself against my skin. I breathe in and listen to the sounds around me, the creaking of dry grass under someone’s feet, then I open my eyes. The leaves are changing color.
Mauricio is a Mexican writer who's lived in Belgium, Norway and the US. His work has appeared in The Common, The Rumpus, Electric Literature, JMWW, River Teeth, Literal Magazine, among others. He's been shortlisted for the Bridport and Fish prizes, and received fellowships from OMI writers(NY), Société des auteurs(Belgium), Jakob Sande(Norway), Can Serrat(Spain), and the Three Seas' Council (Rhodes). His second collection of stories was published in 2017, and his work has partially been translated into French and Dutch. He's currently looking for representation for his debut novel in Spanish