Miguel, Mabelle and Me

Submitted into Contest #170 in response to: Fly by the seat of your pants and write a story without a plan.... view prompt

12 comments

Creative Nonfiction Drama American

A blank page. Every life starts as one. Or does it? If a newborn is born with programs to grow, to cry when upset, to laugh when happy, to eventually speak, to eventually walk, what’s to say it isn’t born with programs to become a scholar, a criminal, a painter, a poet, a writer? Did you, in your mother’s womb, already possess the coding that predestined you to be a generally well-behaved child, to have a passion for music, to excel in school, to end up incarcerated, to put pigment on canvas, to compose verse, to write words such as the ones on this page? Was your descent into schizophrenic madness, a condition you are trying desperately to recover from foreordained, or is there a silver lining hiding in the penumbra that obscures all hope at the present moment?

Astrology maintains that the arrangement of the stars influences us throughout our life trajectories. Some astrologers believe the fabric of our lives our determined by the configuration of the cosmos, the positions of the various constellations the year we are born.   

Every life story begins somewhere. Yours starts the year the moon was first occupied by humanity and the year of Woodstock, the first modern rock festival after which most of today’s major music events are modelled. In 1969, when you are born at Lincoln Hospital in Los Angeles, the average cost of a house in the United States is $15,550, gas costs thirty-five cents a gallon, and militant black students at Cornell University in New York use force to demand a black studies program.  

Your mother’s family immigrates to the United States from Argentina in 1968. Your mother, Mabelle, is pregnant with you when she leaves her natal country and her growing belly is a cause of consternation to your maternal grandparents, who are concerned about a child growing up fatherless in this new, strange country they now inhabit, a country engaged in a questionable war, a country where many young men wear their hair long, where young adults smoke marijuana, an illegal drug, recreationally. In 1969 California, their adoptive homeland, is a dreamscape, but also a hallucinatory realm where a charismatic, yet deranged, young man named Charles Manson who has long hair and smokes marijuana is able to convince his followers to murder for him.

Although it is not one of your conscious memories, your mother has a recollection. You are not of walking age yet. She takes you to a friend’s place on the bus. During the bus ride you give her a scare. Argentines are fond of frightening children with tales of the “cuco,” or bogey man, and she maintains that one of your relatives must have been inflicting you with this fear, because on the bus you begin pointing at a black man and crying, “Cuco, cuuuuco.” Did you have a child’s intuition about this particular black man, or is it natural to project fantasies onto others who you don’t resemble?

After a year in Los Angeles, Mabelle decides to return to Argentina to fetch her child’s father. When you are eleven months old, you meet Miguel, your missing progenitor. Even though you are barely a toddler, his presence brings you solace. As you wait in your mother’s embrace for immigration, you cry inconsolably, but stop when Miguel takes you into his arms at the arrival gate. There is something in the way he looks that you admire. He is 20 years old, and except for a space between his two front teeth, he is Hollywood handsome. His hair is reddish and long, but not unreasonably so, and he has never smoked marijuana. You are taken by his appearance, but you are also consoled by his hands, strong and calloused from a life of hard work in Argentine agricultural fields and wholesale produce markets. Many years later your mother will praise the strength of his hands and you will take ironic pride in sharing with certain friends how your father was a sharecropper back home, sharecropping being the means by which many blacks after the Civil War made a living. You will also take pride in how several acquaintances say your mother looks black, but this is long after the “cuco” incident on the bus. 

Less than a year after they are reunited in their native city of Mendoza, Mabelle and Miguel return to California. Miguel makes the difficult decision to leave his own family behind, prompted by Mabelle who complains that while her husband does the lion’s share of work for his father, Vicente, the older man fails to provide enough pay for the newly reunited couple to have a decent meal out. The newly formed family heads back to California, where Mabelle and Miguel attempt to make ends meet working menial jobs.

Mabelle, affectionately known as “la negrita” to her family members, is a fiercely protective mother, and Miguel, called “gringo” by friends, is a provident father. When it comes to finding affordable housing, you are a liability. Your parents teach you to hide in the car when they go apartment hunting, they also teach you to conceal yourself when the landlord comes snooping around in a successfully rented apartment where no children are allowed. 

One night when you are not yet three years old, Mabelle has a difference of opinion with your father which results in an argument. In a fit of anger, she leaves the apartment, bringing you along. It is the late afternoon, and the movie Deliverance happens to be playing at the Cinerama Dome theater on Sunset Boulevard, not far from where you and your parents live. Mabelle buys tickets and takes you inside the iconic structure with no real interest in seeing the film, more in finding somewhere to cool off from the dispute with Miguel. She watches the movie, which is about some friends from the city who go hunting and rafting in the backwoods of South Carolina and are terrorized by locals who transform the friends’ casual trip into a fight for survival. During several scenes, one in particular where one of the principal characters is violently sodomized, your mother covers your eyes and reconsiders why she ever left the apartment. After the spectacle is over, Miguel finds the two of you, much to his and your mother’s relief. In your father’s apologetic arms, Mabelle repeats, “That movie was so horrible.” The instrumental “Dueling Banjos” that was popularized by the film results in no noticeable discomfort when you now watch it on Youtube. Perhaps the soul does have the capacity to recover from trauma. Perhaps we’re not doomed from the start. We may not begin as tabulae rasae, but perhaps we can will to change the inscriptions we are born with if we receive the right care and put ourselves in the hands of the right people and in salubrious environments. If we were all doomed to gloomy programming, what incentive would humans have to reproduce? Why would have Mabelle and Miguel decided to conceive you? 

November 01, 2022 19:02

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12 comments

Kendall Defoe
23:48 Nov 10, 2022

I really like this one (and why didn't I touch this prompt?)

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Mike Panasitti
00:23 Nov 11, 2022

Thanks for the read, Kendall. You could probably combine this prompt with a future one for a focused fly by the pants story.

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Jim Firth
15:00 Nov 05, 2022

It's great to have a Mike story to read! 'Perhaps the soul does have the capacity to recover from trauma'--I love that. I'm a firm believer that we can retrain our BRAINS because they're so neuro-plastic throughout life, but perhaps the soul is also malleable? I'm still not sure I believe in a soul, but there is definitely something that the word connotes that feels real. Anyway, I'm getting off track here. It was great to read your non-fiction :-)

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Mike Panasitti
15:42 Nov 05, 2022

Jim, I also believe humans are neuro-plastic throughout their lives. Whether the brain, or perhaps better, the mind, and soul have any relation is subject to discussion. Maybe if we have a "life essence," spirit or soul, it is the product of all the memories we possess. Whether those memories endure after death in some dream realm or in the collective unconscious is matter for speculation. Thanks for reading this foray into memoir territory.

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Graham Kinross
11:59 Nov 03, 2022

“is able to convince his followers to murder for him,” sadly not the first or last. Deliverance is a traumatising film to watch at any age. I like the bit on the bus. Kids cut through bullshit like a hot knife. People who say they’re ‘colourblind’ aren’t being noble, people are different which isn’t a bad thing but pretending you can’t see it doesn’t help people who suffer at the hands and words of racists. I’ve seen so many kids do similar things. When adults do it, that’s when it’s really awkward. The nature or nurture question has a lo...

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Mike Panasitti
16:05 Nov 03, 2022

Your comments, as always, are heartfelt. Thanks for reading.

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Graham Kinross
21:02 Nov 03, 2022

You’re welcome .

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Michał Przywara
21:24 Nov 02, 2022

This one comes running out the gate with a powerful question: is our life preordained? Or: do we have free will? A question I enjoy struggling with. The conclusion here is that change is possible, in the right conditions and with the right mindset. I think anyone who has overcome something would agree, myself included. Nevertheless I like that it's hedged by "perhaps" as well, as that would be a mighty assertion otherwise. Will-to-change makes sense because we experience it, but if everything is written in the stars, then perhaps we are "d...

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Mike Panasitti
01:49 Nov 03, 2022

I appreciate your critical thoughtfulness and editorial eagle's eye, as always, Michal. It was my pleasure to share this with you. Thank you for reading.

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Aoi Yamato
03:37 Jun 12, 2023

good story.

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Mike Panasitti
22:32 Jun 12, 2023

All factual.

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Aoi Yamato
03:00 Jun 13, 2023

wow.

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