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I run back home after the school. I can hear the women from outside; my heart is racing fast. I’m greeted by my mom, “go say hi to everyone, and I don’t want you to hang around the table.” She looks beautiful; there’s a unique way boys look at their mother that is just pure. I agree with a smile, and run to the laughing, cheering, and a very smoky game room filled with my mom’s closest friends. I give a kiss to each one of the beautiful ladies. Red lips mark my cheeks. There’s just no space left on my face when I greet my grandma. She calls me son, and she doesn’t wear red lipstick. Grandma is the most beautiful lady in the room; a disease took her melatonin away, so she is very white, hair is short and curly, she dresses in a floral dress, and her admirable elegance. From the movement of her body to the tone of her voice and laugh, it’s all very delicate, very slow but effective. She keeps a handkerchief (small, white, laced) with her all the time; cleaning the edge of her eyes, it looks like she is always crying. I believe it’s just the way she plays the game of being a woman. With one of her movements, she wets the handkerchief with a little bit of saliva, cleaning my face of the red lipstick marks. Then, she gives me a long kiss on the cheek. I check if my mom is around and run under the table. I like to hear those women talking and playing. I like to be around them; I laugh with them, I can spend my life just watching that upside down game. The woman with red marks on the tip of her finger and the tip of her cigarettes is my favorite. She is so loud and competitive. Her feet don’t stop moving from all the anxiousness and the caffeine. She loses the game, uttering a swearing which makes me laugh so hard my grandma notices my presence. I see my mom’s arms reaching my t-shirt collar. She pulls me from the room, and I’m still laughing. She looks at me with a smile on her face, takes me to the kitchen with her, and serves me the delicious food she prepared. I look at her.

Portraits


She enters her parents’ home; looks at a portrait on a table crowded with portraits. It’s just another one standing the test of time. A black and white photo of her parents’ wedding; they are cutting the cake. The groom is lean, tall, a handsome classic look; the mustache is a mistake, she thinks, but it’s her father’s most recognizable signature, a mustache. He refers to it as a standard of the respectable male; it lasted longer than it should. The smile; her father has a smile in this picture. For many years she hasn’t seen photos of him smiling. His grandkids have changed him; soften him, at least on pictures. Her mother dares to wear a mini dress with a hood as her wedding gown; she has always known the reason. That face; the face gets all the attention in the black and white portrait, the hood covering the hair makes it even stronger. She smiles as well; however, she is always smiling and crying, or crying. The perfection of that face, she doesn’t quite understand. She looks at her own profile and can’t see that grace. Mother and daughter are the same, not physically; they don’t even resemble each other. However, they are the same. For years, she has fought against their character’s resemblance. She wants to be smarter; she wants to be independent; nothing like her mother, or at least, nothing like how she sees her. She lingers her gaze at the picture like she hasn’t done in a long time. The portrait – that smile, that face – has haunted her since she was a kid; admiration, yes, but one that was never exposed. Now, she is married, she has kids, one of them is a girl; like them. She looks at the picture and realizes how much she has judged that woman, her mother, that marriage, her father. Never understanding how someone can possibly believe in endless love. The irony in long marriages is how they create a disillusion on “fairy-tale” romances for their children. The kids watch their parents going through the endless ups and downs of a relationship. The pain of routine, the tireless rediscovery of the person that shares the same bed; the disappointments. She remembers how many times she wanted to end her marriage but never could; remembers how many times she condemned her mother for not ending her marriage. The times when she looked at the picture and screamed inside: “liars.” She hears her mother talking to her kids. She looks at her from a distance; say an inaudible “I’m sorry.” Like her mother, she isn’t ready.

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He had a big sister. Through his eyes, she was a most beautiful ballerina. He didn’t want to play football; he wanted to dance with his big sister. Ballet is for girls, they said, he could see as well. No boys allowed. So he kept that to himself. Like many of his thoughts, he never seemed to be like anybody else. The outside world was too trivial. He tried hard to be like everyone else. Like everyone, he wore blue, like everyone he played tough. The slightest attempt to be himself was a disaster. Either with laughers or reprimands, the outside world felt boring and unimportant; the world inside was louder. The world inside was brighter. He could dance as much as he wants and no one would judge him. He wasn’t different because he was himself. Inside there was no difference between what a man can do or what a woman can be. They were different, but they lived as they wished. People could love who they wanted without the fear of being transgressors. They just love each other with no labels; how beautiful that is. They could pray to god, to God, to Allah, to Buddha. Maybe they decided to not pray at all. There was no reason to force beliefs and behaviors. The inside world wasn’t real. It was just a dream. In fact, he searched for that place in many places. But no matter where he was and what he did, the outside world kept showing him people was just what they were told to be, not as they were. As people grew older, they ended up forgetting whom they are. He didn’t want to be part of that anymore. He escaped, but there were nowhere to hide. He did try to live in both worlds, but the outside was the one he needed to be. He couldn’t just be living comfortable inside his mind. He had to face his difference, his desires. He had to be himself not someone else.