Memory/Character Essay: Thirteen Examples
A Living Contradiction
It’s weird to look at yourself from the exterior while remaining inside. Throughout our lives humans perceive the world from the little man in our heads controlling the show. He gathers all the information within the range of your pupils’ sight, vacuums the scents of circumstance, tastes the flavors of now, translates every vibration flowing into the ear’s canal, and recycles the energy of physical and emotional encounters. There’s a strangeness of sharing this world with the others. The many other protagonists we establish as secondary and impartial to this movie of life. Frame by frame we intersect and cross-pollinate realities affecting the trends of decision. What’s amazing to me are the screens we use to separate the big picture. A mass collection of individual filters, perpetually blurring and masking an original image of collective experience. How weird is this? I’m trying to explain the obvious when really I’ve just made it more obscure. My human being lives a daily flux of contradiction. Yeah, I’d say this is a good place to start.
In the midst of fall in 1994, my mother passed away. She was thirty-four years old. Shortly after my younger sister Michelle was born, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Actually, she had been diagnosed during the pregnancy. The doctor had given her the option of starting chemotherapy while it was still early, but such a decision would mean giving up my yet-to-be-born sister. For my mother, this was a no-brainer. A few months later Michelle would be born, but the odds for my mother’s life consequently favored the opposite. Her funeral was held at her place of birth, upbringing, and final farewell, Puerto Rico.
Her name was Irma Doris Gomez. She grew up in a large family on the countryside of Puerto Rico, Guayama. When she was 22, she came to East New York to visit her sister, Maria, as a graduation present. She had just received her bachelor’s degree in communication at the University of Puerto Rico. Then she met my dad. At the time, my mother hadn’t yet learned English and my dad couldn’t speak a word of Spanish, so naturally it was love at first sight. For months my mom and dad communicated via Maria, until they both had established a common ground of communication. My dad describes her as one of the smartest, most beautiful people he’s ever come across. Needless to say, my mother decided to stay in New York and start a life with him.
We moved to Puerto Rico when my mom started her treatment. A paradise it was indeed; I look back and think about how she always just smiled through it all. Early mornings of waking up and running into her room just so we could lie next to her. My memories of her paint an image of soft joy. She loved her munchkin offspring and never once wore a face of discontent when we were around. She was wonderful for that.
At age 4, your understanding for the world is fantastic. Everything is the greatest thing ever and all you have to do is look, point, smile, and run to get there. The sun shines for you. The wind runs and laughs with you. After she had gone, it all seemed to look at me with sympathy rather than adventure. I didn’t know what this thing was that I was feeling. It wasn’t sadness. I’d been sad before. Sad is walking into a toy store to find the greatest of the most awesome Marvel superheroes pristinely packaged, ready to start adventures with its potential new owner, only to be told “no, you can’t have it.” Sadness is that passing feeling you experience while watching the evening news of tragic school shootings and an impending tropical storm that’ll surely ruin your three-wee- planned Saturday night out. This thing that was happening to me was different. It was too close to fade away, too real to let go of. I had lost the person who made it all happen for me. The woman who held me close with genuine warmth and wiped my tears with whispers that said, “It’s okay, I’m here.”
I don’t remember crying during it at all. I remember the silence. Everyone had left the cemetery after the burial. The sun was teasing dawn and the wind made the leaves dance. There he was, my father standing a few feet away from her gravestone, holding my sister in a trance. I remember the stare he wore, the void he had fallen into. I can’t even begin to imagine how he felt. Such heavy eyes had played many games with life already, had lost more times than won, but wore everything with pride. Today there was no lion of a man, just a shell of hollow echoes. My older brother Steven kicked rocks around him, head down as he slumped his shoulders into his pockets. His cheeks were moist and his eyes drained of tears. Something had changed in us all. A connection had scrambled. White noise replaced the frequency of a mother’s kinetic nurture. I don’t know how long we stood there, but we longed for a sense of admittance to leave her. We didn’t want to go anywhere, do anything, but be there. She was gone and we began missing her forever.
Growing up, I still didn’t understand exactly how her death had affected me. We moved back to New York and picked life back up from where we left it. Although Michelle, Steven, and I had been staying in Puerto Rico, my other siblings, Mark, Josh, Christal, and Nadia, were still in the city. They had a different mother than we did, but they welcomed us back with open arms and headlocks.
In a house where a moment alone didn’t exist, boredom was a rarity and everyone cared for one another, you’d figure there would be a lot of consolation and openness to talk with someone about how you were feeling. But at that age, I just didn’t know how. From early on as far as I can remember, I’ve always kept to myself. My father taught me that a man should always be headstrong and ready to do anything and everything himself, because it would always fall on just you to decide how your life will unfold. At age seventeen, my dad immigrated from everything he ever knew in his home of Guyana and moved to Canada on his own. His only possessions were will and desire to start a new life in a new world. Hands down, I consider my dad to be the strongest, wisest man I know. And it’s because of this that I always wanted to be just as strong and ambitious as him.
My father would be gone most of the day, due to singlehandedly trying to maintain a household of seven children, and left our care to my older sisters. They worked as well, and when they didn’t, they worked at home. So since I was a kid, I developed an early sense of independence. Some days we would be left home entirely to watch over ourselves, and of course on these days we would have the most fun. The outside world instantly became a distraction and foreground to the realm of my inside life. Nothing can ever replace the allure of my childhood shenanigans. I would spend hours on end outside just running around, losing myself in imagination and play. This allowed me to express myself and sedate the emotions that slept at the base of my heart. I had created a duality with the physical, manipulative nature of life, the world I could change and assimilate into, and the intangible, sensual repressions of my mind, the inner feelings and desires I was scared of embracing.
Such a relationship between me, myself, and I gave way for insecurities to develop. In order to preserve and keep secret what was happening inside of me, I became all too conscious of my actions and surroundings. I always monitored myself, constantly checking to ensure that I didn’t give away too much information or say anything that might trigger concern in someone. If I was feeling a certain way, I did my best to conceal it. I didn’t want anyone to give me any more attention than I was comfortable with. This is something that has been with me through the entirety of my life. One of my mottos for this thing called living is not to influence and not to be influenced. I think in terms of how I affect other people and catalyze their course of action. People tend to emotionally burden themselves with the dilemmas and personal happenings of another when it isn’t needed or rather consensual, and this causes turbulence for all involved. With this kind of rationale, however, you inadvertently push people away. The more I kept to myself and steered shy of letting other people in, the easier it became for people to look past me and not want to involve themselves. It’s funny because at a young age I didn’t realize I was causing that result. I didn’t realize how much I actually wanted to open myself up to other people. I didn’t and couldn’t relate my personal experience with someone else’s because I didn’t allow it. I made myself a lone stranger with alien feelings when really I was a lonely, embarrassed child seeking the approval to let it all go. It’s taken all that’s happened and everything I’ve dealt with up until now for me to honestly grip the complexity of my person.
So let’s attempt to sum up this person I’ve introduced as a living contradiction. I bottle up and cope with lingering emotions inside of myself to not appear weak or bestow stress onto someone else. Through this I’ve developed a demeanor of nonchalance and indifference, in turn coming off cold to those around me. People get a feeling that I’ve got it figured it out somehow for myself and they leave me be. But then I ask myself, why don’t people want to get to know me? If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that no one will ever know who you are, until you get to know yourself.
- Why would somebody want to read this piece (the “Who cares?” factor)?
- Can you clearly identify the author’s intention for the piece?
- How well does the author support the intention of the piece? Cite specific details that support or take away from the author’s intention.
- Is there information missing from this piece that would make its intention clearer? What else would you like to know?
- Does the author portray herself as a round character? How does she do this?
- Do you trust the author of this piece? Why or why not?
- How clearly does the author establish a sense of setting/space in this piece? Cite specific details that support your claim.
- How clearly does the author establish characters other than the self in this piece? Cite specific details that support your claim.
- Did you learn anything new from reading this piece? If so, what?
- Are there particular passages with engaging language/description that stood out to you? Describe the appeal of these passages.
- Would you read more writing from this author? Why or why not?