Filed under: Uncategorized
Blondes week is over. Non-fiction week begins!
I Do Not Outwardly Share This Affliction
by Andrew Zornoza
My grandfather died in August of 2005. I flew right out there (to Spain) because in that country the body can be interred for no more than two days. I have heard it is the same in Italy.
My grandfather was a Brigadier General in the Spanish Air Force. He looked tremendously like Picasso, though his stare had a little less youth in it.
He was harsh and uncompromising, but all that I gathered from second hand sources. Because my Spanish was primitive we only talked about basketball and, occasionally, about Real Madrid—he was a socio, a vested member of the club. Once he came to visit us in the United States. We went to an art show in Providence that my sister was a part of . . . I don’t think any of the art registered with my grandparents—towering, 20 foot ogres beating the floor with chains; videos of rats decomposing; a tree house with a ceiling made of cymbals, pulleys dangled through the windows that sent the cymbals
crashing into one another—and we specifically did not visit my sister’s art, because of the graphic violence in it.
Page 356 of The Art of Modern Rock depicts a piece of hers that was on display that day . . . in resplendent silver, a unicorn has ripped its horn off from its forehead and is smoking it. The horn is stuffed with marijuana and the unicorn is bleeding from its eye. My grandparents and I said nothing to one another as we walked through the gallery. We had a long walk back to the car, parked down by the restaurant.
My grandfather was very old at that point in time and had a habit of stopping when he spoke. My parents and sister continued ahead while he stopped in front of a shop on Thayer Street. He told me then that his father had run a textile shop on Paseo Castellano in Madrid. Textiles did not provide enough profits, so they moved onto selling
women’s undergarments and little accessories, buttons, zippers, ribbons and pockets. He then told me that he used to paint and that he would have like to have become a painter.
My grandfather served in the Spanish Civil War and he killed several people. This was never spoken outright, but somehow was impressed upon me when I tried to bring back a cheap reproduction of Guernica from the artsellers outside the Prado—and had a brief conversation with the portero outside their apartment. When my grandfather died, he was dressed in all his military whites.
Because I am the eldest grandson, certain things have always been expected from me and before the body was brought into the hearse, I was brought into a little room with my grandmother and father (also the eldest of his generation). I was told to kiss the body, and did so on the forehead.
I am not terribly superstitious, or sensitive, but, later, at the funeral I felt something had been transferred to me, to my lips specifically— there was a smell, I could smell the death of my grandfather and I could not get rid of it, I wiped at my lips in the front seat of the hearse, which had a little mirror on the underside of the passenger seat sun visor. For the next months, I was plagued by dreams where my Grandfather had sent me some notebooks of his military history. These notebooks inspired great dread in my subconscious state, but did little else. Eventually, to try to relive this agitation, I began to write about these imaginary notebooks. I had written page one of Soldiers, Dandelions, Accordions, when a
package arrived. It was three notebooks (not seven) sent to me by my uncle. I was actually sitting at my desk editing the first page when I opened these for the first time. The interruptive page two in my story, that is the first page I turned to.
The notebooks were written by military secretaries attached to the various regiments and eventually the battalion of which my Grandfather served with, and later commanded. They are coldly written, they often simply catalog the movement of the troops from front to front, from leave and back to the war. If you read closely enough….
Unlike the narrator of Soldiers, Dandelion, Accordions, I never served in the military. And for reasons which I can elucidate, but still do not seem sufficient, this has always left me feeling guilty. When I was a child, I built models of ships and airplanes out of toothpaste tubes and toothpicks.
When I was 22 I worked as a trail boss for work-release inmates at Ashe County Correctional. One of the Forest Rangers there, at the park, stopped me one day—he told me that my face resembled a helicopter pilot who had picked him up at Au Shau Valley in Vietnam. Later that same day, one of the inmates quizzed me, he thought I had served in the forces at Kuwait. A year later, the first day I set foot in San Francisco a homeless man refused to believe I was not a
part of his platoon.
When I was seventeen, I received a letter from the Spanish Ejercitio with a self addressed and stamped paper—the paper was a form for me to sign. If I wanted to remain a Spanish citizen I would have to serve in that country’s armed forces. I decided to remain in America. Why I feel guilty for never joining the military (either country’s), for causes I don’t believe in—and I have always abhorred any group mentality, to the point where
I struggled to go to class in college, for the fear of being lumped in with everyone else, for being part of some herd—is something I cannot fully fathom. But, I think it has to do with a sense of purpose…having lived an itinerant life, having worked in restaurants, correctional facilities, slingshot factories, inevitably I walk by the Reservist office window thinking, ‘This would give me a career, this would be an adventure, (and most strange) this was what I was meant to do….
I researched some of my Grandfather’s story; I found out that Pio Baroja’s father shared our last name. The coincidences between my imagination, the stories of my relatives, and what I myself had written (originally, before I discovered that there was no military base on Goa, I has set the origin of my father’s notebooks there—the location of Saint Francis Xavier’s body) well, it is tedious to list all these strange parallels, they are tedious enough in the story! I had asked my uncle to research the connection between the Zornoza and Baroja families, he told me to travel to the genealogy library run by the mormons in Salt Lake City: I had put that library in the story prior to that conversation.
Mental illness runs rampant through the family. In fact I have always felt a slight resentment, a xenophobia directed towards me because I do not outwardly share this affliction. My sister attempted suicide when I was seventeen.
In 1997 I won a merit scholarship to go to college in New Jersey. After my first semester at college, I returned home and worked a graveyard shift at the local Mobil station while sleeping on a couch in my parent’s basement. My father was stern, a quality he has completely abandoned in his old age, and I still cannot understand why, but almost immediately into my stay, he had reached the end of his tether with me.
It seems so trivial—I forgot one day to go the muffler shop and get the family car fixed. It occurs to me now that my father had, years before, attempted to open a Meinike with one of the fathers of a schoolmate of mine, and lost all his money in that venture, while the friend’s father walked away cleanly—the other father’s name was Mr. Porter. But there was more,
my father, his name is Jesus, he had also had several affairs which I was the only one in the family privy to witnessing first hand; also I had always fought with my sister, things between us were still cool years after her botched suicide and this was something he could never forgive me of and she was daddy’s little girl; also when I was seven I pushed my mother off the bed in a fit of rage (because she was doting on my sister) and she fell on a stack of books and broke one rib. These
things, and my going to college, to become a good citizen of society, yet only working at a gas station and not doing the family chores adequately, these led to us staring at each other, the vein in his head pounding and my father taking my house keys away and kicking me out of the home.
I went first to my Mormon friend living in New Jersey. And from there I jetted with him in a plane to their annual Mormon picnic near the Teton Mountains. From there I hitchhiked to Dubois, Wyoming where I got a job washing dishes. And from there four years of more hitchhiking, more jobs, drug use, shelters, colllege…all that made up the text of Where I Stay.
It is true that I had a spot at Craters of the Moon National Park to hide certain objects. Most everything in that story is true, as a matter of fact. But I did leave out certain things. Like that for two years I lived in a van I nicknamed Senor Feo in the
back parking lot of the factory where I worked. And my problems with that story are twofold, one of which led me to write the story, the second of which causes it to fail.
Salt Lake City. I went to Salt Lake City quite often. First of all I visited the Mormons every year, sadly enough, I had no where else to go. They fed me. I had a medal I wore around my neck that they gave me, it had the olympic rings on it and said, “best loved hitchhiker.” And occasionally I needed money, companionship with normal people.
Yesterday I made a pot roast stuffed with veal sausage—how far this is from shooting heroin! How far from searching ashtrays for the nubs of cigarettes… having no memory of where I was the day before…. And these are just simple fractures I see in retrospect: how did I manage to go to college at all, how did I find a beautiful wife. It is not an either or, I shuttled back and forth between geographies….
Now my parents are my best friends.
I heard an interview with Townes Van Zant, the country singer. He has no memory of eleven years of his life. It is not like that for me. For me I have several distinct people I cannot integrate into myself.
This is why I wrote Where I Stay the way I did.
The American West was a subconscious backwater.
You ain’t gonna git it that way, says the man, tugging at my sleeve and with a stick scraping the inside of one dusty window. It ain’t out there, he says. It ain’t out there, he says, it’s gone…
Before September 11th the American West was a place of the imagination, and if you set yourself in the middle of it with a
muddled mind, with no money, a Beckettian character crawling through Sam Shepard’s cranium…not that I set myself there, but there was something regardless, something to reckon with, a void, a future—but today there are places we cannot go. The vague and deadly wonderland has been replaced by a concrete one. The Garden of Adonis is in Iraq
now, in the Interzone, it is regressive to talk of the American West in the old way of the Beats, in the way I have done in my book. I thought I was writing an elegy, I wrote a eulogy.
Andrew Zornoza, the noted short story writer and essayist, lives in Carroll Gardens, NY.
R.I.P. Anna Nicole Smith and Meredith Grey and Gertrude Stein.
“Clear Day” — Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions (of my longtime favorite sleep songs)
1 Comment so far
Leave a comment