There is no snow on the Small Uphill Cemetery in Grand Prairie, Texas. Probably from global warming or something. The long-dead grass crunches under your feet like your abuela’s famous Chocos Fritos, or fried cuttlefish will in your mouth. This salty-fried, home-baked thought caused your lips to tremble and your mouth to water. You’d kill for a good cuddle right now.
Your hands are bare and becoming numb, so you cup them around your face and keep trudging beside the graves. The cemetery is empty. Gravestones stand with their porpoise spines arched and when the fog parts, you promise you see their ghosts rising from the dry ground. Your padre swears you’ve inherited his impeccable eyesight. He claims you can see the baby before it’s born and the color of someone’s ligera interna, or inner light and soul.
However, you’re not so sure. It’s nice to have your father respect you for once, but you can clearly see it’s just an afternoon haze.
You do this walk a lot, alone. You think about your familia and debate if tonight is the right time to bring up the name-change. Usually, it’s not. Tonight is different; you can feel it. The trees seem to shake and their roots reach towards you. The sun scrapes its heather fingernails against the sky, resisting the heavy paperweight of nightfall. Texas is your home, is always was and always will be. You know everything about it like an amante prohibida, or forbidden lover.
Texas knows everything about you, too. It kisses your brown skin and sweeps your greasy too-long hair back in the summer. It knows your name, Eloy, and why you chose it. Eloy means “to choose” because you always want to have a choice. Texas knows your other name. It spits on it and hides it in the secret pocket of its jeans, which seem to be where its border meets Mexico.
You look that way, southwest, and wonder how many immigrants are trying to hurl themselves across the border at this very moment. You know you and your familia are lucky. You’ve got a nice home next to a cemetery and parents who are semi-accepting of your gender transition. It’s not all bad, you just need to work with them. Esta noche, tonight, you’ll work with them.
When you come up upon your aforementioned three-bedroom home, you see your padre outside, leaning his worn-down body against the rotting wood and alternating hands to take a cigarette in and out of his mouth. His toothy grin makes you shiver, and he says one of his well-known phrases, “Necesitas mudarte de mi casa y conseguir tu propio lugar.” “You need to move out of my house and get your own place.” You can’t speak Spanish as well as your padre but you can understand it as well as anyone.
You frown, not at him but at the sky, first opening the screen door then the old parchment-colored door to let yourself in. Inside the smell is overwhelming. It seems not like your abuela’s traditional Chocos Fritos but something sweeter, more flavorful. You step through the sitting room and into probably the smallest kitchen on the planet. Your mamá has all the appliances on and wears splashes of some orange sauce on her nose and down the front of her blouse. Your abuela grasps a spatula in her right hand, but she’s sitting at the table with a deck of cards on a glass plate. You know she’s trying to look useful but her limbs just don’t work like that anymore.
“Pequeña visón,” your abuela calls. It’s her little nickname for you, meaning “little mink.” It refers to how you live in solitude and are lazy at all the wrong times. Your abuela still calls you the female version of mink, and it bothers you but you don’t say anything. She’s short for this world anyways. “Ven a ayudarnos a hacer Pisto, no seas aletargado como tu padre.” “Come help us make Pisto, don’t be torpid like your father.”
Pisto. That’s the snap-sweet tomato scent that clogs the room. It’s a dish where vegetables are cooked down, mixed with spices, and served with a fried egg. It’s good, not your favorite, but still has a comfy, childhood nostalgia that accompanies every bite.
Your madre almost knocks over the pot and sets her sleeve on fire but she manages to catch the handle before it spills. “Pon la mesa—” she starts in Spanish but is immediately stumped because she forgets the words. She begins again in English, “Set the table and take the trash out.”
“Ok,” you reply. You know she only gives you the easy jobs because she doesn’t trust you. When you arrange the plates in front of your abuela, she gives you a stern look that reads: I can’t believe your madre is forgetting her Spanish! The silverware is so shiny that you can see your reflection on the back of a spoon. You’ve got a bit of acne on your forehead, but otherwise you’re handsome. Your hair curls around your ears and your broad shoulders make you seem a very proud man. Thankfully, your family was okay with the appearance part of the gender transition. They didn’t cry when you cut your hair or stare when your chest flattened out. They simply ignored you.
Abuela slaps your arm, “Oye.” It startles you into dropping the spoon and beelining for the trashcan just beside the kitchen. You pick it up, tie the bag real quick, and haul it through the house and to the back door.
“¡Ten cuidado!” your madre calls, or “Be careful!”
You slow down when you pass your hermana, Fidelia, in her room. Her feet dangle off her bed while she watches pretty white Youtubers twirl their hair and apply too much makeup to themselves. Her name means “faithful” but she is not.
You keep walking so she doesn’t notice you and pry the back door open. Outside, it smells like cigarette smoke from your padre. If there were any berries on the hackberry trees, it’d smell like them, too. When you were young you used to sneak up the trees, scaring all the birds and squirrels away just to have all the berries for yourself.
The trashcans do not smell as good as berries. You have to hold your nose as you open the lid because flies come tumbling out and you’re sure the food has been there for a month or two. But it always disappears eventually, which makes you think there actually is a service that comes and picks it up—or the critters are just having a feast.
When the trash is successfully emptied, you return inside to see your madre carrying the big steaming pot between mittened hands onto a rubber heat-safe pad. She grins proudly and shouts to the world, “¡Hora de la cena!” “Dinnertime.”
Fidelia comes bounding into the room, eager, like she’s not quince years old. Your padre also comes in, hunched over, his lips still quivering from the joint and addiction. You take your place between Fidelia and your madre, across from your padre and your abuela. Abuela sits at the head of the table and says a little prayer. You wonder if Dios is Texas and Texas is God. Then would they support you like Texas does?
You become aware that your eyes are open during the prayer and you hastily shut them but by then it’s already over. Your familia starts eating, marveling at the taste and how fresh the vegetables seem. Your madre blushes and you slurp the juice, or sauce from your spoon, tasting thyme, rosemary, and cumin above all. But the meal is not what you can focus on. Now or never, now or never.
“Familia,” you interrupt, and they all turn to you. “Me . . . I, uh, I want to change my name.”
There were no gasps, only silence that dripped from people’s mouths like saliva. Your padre is first to speak:
“Pero—” he tries English, “—but you already changed your name.”
“Si,” your madre agrees.
You inhale deep and long. “I want to change it legally. So my correct gender and name is on my passport. I’ll have to come up with a new middle name, too, if that’s okay.”
Your madre and padre carefully place their spoons back into their bowl and glance at your abuela. She doesn’t understand English well so her face remains neutral.
“You cannot do that,” your padre says, his tone almost offended. “Your middle name is after your abuela and you know changing it would make her very upset.”
“Doesn’t she want me to be happy?” you ask. “You already call me Eloy so what’s the difference?”
“Of course we want you to be happy—” your madre practically yells.
She’s cut off sharply by Fidelia. “Solo come,” she says, “Just eat.”
You shoot Fidelia an ugly look. Doesn’t she support you? Isn’t she trying to overcome her own queer struggles? Abuela smacks her lips and burrows her face into her plate. She senses the tension. She doesn’t know it’s about bearing the weight of her name on the curves of my brown shoulders.
You do the same. You don’t look up from your Pisto. You know that after this family dinner Texas will be waiting for you, outside in the Small Uphill Cemetery, to comparte tus secretos. Share your secrets.