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Marlboro Man

I was holding them when I heard my mother's voice again, heightening the pitch of blame with poetry-jam emphasis, knotting my twisted nerves tighter.

"Because you did not listen to me!" My mother's familiar mantra, rehearsed by habit, decisive, stressed. Eating pan de sal beside her was my father, ready for work. But the "you" could also be the motherland in her, accusing the Philippines of being itself, for sending its own away to work, worshipping those dollar-peso remittance receipts. She was ironing some clothes, and then folding them neatly, as she would her exclamations. The spoken words were always hers, blames, prayers, welcomes, in native tongue; time and assimilation translates her to my memory now. His tongue didn't require any translation, Marlboro Man silence, individualist, assimilated, American. And so the culprit just listened, for misplacing something in the refrigerator, slowly disappearing into an apparition, of guilt. I was in the kitchen and saw him, chewing his bread forever, awaiting forgiveness.

Castration? Or just two portraits of masculinity in my family.

Years later, they'd sit together at night, in the dark, connecting the stars with their gray hairs, beside a humming freeway, to forget their arthritis, to remember what was in a different land. He must've been just a guilt junkie, loving her accusations. And I, today, still single, living alone, mouse-click groupie at night, loyal employee by day, a cowboy on a tie, with frontiers to digitize.

Misplaced something? Hardly anything was in the fridge: two beers, some expired pancit , a bag of chips, half gallon of milk. The extent of our family's still-life. I hoped for breakfast before going to school that day. Two eggs left in the egg container! I could scramble those. I was holding them when I heard my mother's voice again, heightening the pitch of blame with poetry-jam emphasis, knotting my twisted nerves tighter. Later, that same pitch would course into the guitar riffs, screams, and throaty renditions in my walkman on my bus ride to school, accelerating the city on the Hollywood Freeway to nowhere, beyond freeways, barbed wires, oceans, spitting at Santa Ana winds.

After, I closed the fridge door carefully. The eggs were now dripping, both crushed. My hand had squeezed them. I felt a familiar stickiness oozing through my fingers. That morning, coming of cautious, it was not my intent to ape the Marlboro Man.

© Michael Caylo-Baradi

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