Like a great religion, my parents conceived me in the desert.
Dad mistook my satisfaction for loneliness. He asked me, “What would make you feel better, a brother…
or a balloon?”
“Whatever,” I scoffed.
Since then, I’ve been careful to be less flip. Mom and Dad went to the desert. Six months later, I embarked on having to share the rest of my childhood with a brother, a sister, and a balloon. The balloon was beautiful. The brother and sister were wormlike.
The hardest part of our foursome was working out an afterschool custody agreement for the remote control. Since I had more upper body strength than my premature twiblings and balloon, I tended to use the remote as a scepter/tenderizer. Our remote was lead-based.
Payback for my tyranny hasn’t come in the form of a bitch. Payback for using my brother and sister as tennis balls has come in the form of Israeli settlements.
My sister, Razel, and her husband, Big Dreidel, practice Chasidic Judaism in the space where I wrote my first love letters to girls.
These two have set up shop in my holy land, my childhood bedroom. They live and pray there.
My childhood portrait hangs, watching them.
Vexed by the situation, it hoards potassium nitrate, a necessary ingredient for amateur explosive-making.
The painting yells, “Allahu Akbar!”
I yell, “Jamás!” at the painting.
In Spanish, jamás means never, but for Palestinian freedom fighters, it means, “Jamal, get your gun!”
Outside my childhood bedroom stretches the Gurbza Strip. It leads to my brother’s former bedroom, also occupied territory.
My brother’s childhood portrait is less militant.
And he doesn’t look like it anymore. He looks like this.
My parents don’t leave cookies out for the Chanukah Chinchilla.
he has risen.
My mom is pretty tight with virgins. Kneeling at her bedside, she talks to them.
At the dinner table, before punctuating grace with the sign of the cross, Dad encourages Jesus to give him lottery numbers. So far, Jesus has only given him duds, but that doesn’t mean someday he won’t kick down the jackpot. If he doesn’t, there’s always Rogelio, our Mexican numerologist.
The occupation banishes TJ and I to the guest room, where another childhood portrait of me hangs beside another virgin.
Growing tense at the thought of my uncle’s impending hospital release, I lose my Obamaesque cool. I get mouthy and curt with TJ. I try to short sheet the bed while she’s in it.
She says, “Quit being so short with me.
“Okay,” I say.
I go outside.
I rub lotion on Mr. T.
“Mr. T,” I whisper, “how do I make it up to Mr. TJ? I was kind of a bitch to s/him.”
Mr. T takes five minutes to make eye contact with me.
“Weeeeeeeeeelllllllllll…” he explains.
I listen to my father’s tortoise’s wisdom, pat him on his shell, and head back indoors. I hear Dad yelling, “Mr. T! Get me a Diet Orange Crush and I want it before the equinox!”
Mom calls me into her room. In Spanish, she says, “Here are the souvenirs from Mexico that didn’t fit in your suitcase.” She hands me a plastic bag. It does not contain drugs.
Carrying it across the Gurbza Strip, I tiptoe to TJ. I tortoise into the guest room.
“Heeeeeeeeellllllooooooooo Teeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeejjaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay,” I say. “Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat’ssssssss neeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeew?”
She squints up at me from her computer. “Just playing Diner Dash.”
I walk toward the bed. “Ooooooooooooohhhhhhh, thaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat’ssssss nnnniiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiicccceeeeeee,” I say.
I stand/lurk beside her.
“Why are you talking like that?”
“Youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiiidddd Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaasssss beeeeeeeeeeeeeeiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing shooooooooooooooooooorrrrrrt.”
“Come here and hug me,” she says.
I do and while we’re holding each other, I think about the guy who was being admitted into psychiatric care the same night as my uncle. In short shorts, he sprawled on a gurney, his junk moose-knuckling as he announced, “I can do looooooooooooooooooooooooooooong division!”
I pull TJ down to the ground and empty our souvenirs across the floor. TJ declares, “Look! It’s our family.”
It’s true. A tableau of what matters to us poses on the carpet.
God is absent from the tableau, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a sense of the supernatural.
I buttress myself against this world’s cruelty with dreams of a paradise named Pozoleville, a place where Republicans lettuce live in hominy, Abuelitas never die, wooden spoons grow on trees, and cover bands get the respect we all deserve.