Silent Xmas (1996 Version)


The text below captures my first work of autobiographical storytelling, developed about fifteen years ago as part of a performance art workshop taught by Holly Hughes. The photo above is one of my Gramma Tita, with my father Richard, taken a year or two before the events recounted in this story.

* * * * * *

Two days before Christmas
I’m lying on the couch watching Scarecrow & Mrs King
and I’m having a hard time understanding the story
of Scarecrow and Mrs King
I thought I was over this flu
this flue two days before Christmas
no shopping done
college applications piled
untouched by the flu or by me
due in
…8 days
haven’t even started the essay
damn flu
can’t even follow Scarecrow and Mrs King

December 23 1985
hijito is richard is your dad there
gramma nellie
is that my flu or is she on a pay phone?
hijito is your dad there is richard where is richard
I don’t know gramma in town maybe
gramma what’s wrong
hijito your gramma gramma tita’s got she’s got hit a car she’s bleeding ohhh
where’s the helicopter ohh there’s so much blood where is your dad where is richard

My great grandmother Tita Trujillo
My grandma Tita’s favorite things
besides Salem Menthol 100s
church and bingo and cooking
now I know she liked church and bingo cuz I went with her every chance I got
and you could just feel the ‘lectricity when we walked through the door
to church or to bingo
but cooking
good as she was
i think she cooked just to keep her teensy apartment all toasty warm
plus she knew my Gramma Nellie could barely cook beans
so somebody had to keep all the kids fed
my gramma Tita and my gramma Nellie
more like sisters than mother and daughter
only fourteen years apart
always laughing and gossiping and smoking
every day together

DECEMBER 23 1985
Monday night bingo at the VFW
Special Christmas Bingo
Bonus Bingo Prize
Twenty Five Pound Butterball
The Butterball Bonus Bingo was the last one before the half-time break
Ever the envy of all Las Vegas New Mexico’s bingo playing elite
my gramma tita
the Bingo Bonanza
My gramma Tita BINGO’s the Butterball Bonus!
At the break she got her Butterball and carried it to the door
A VFW man offered to carry her Butterball home for her
My gramma Tita she refused her house was right across the street
anyway Gramma Tita she knew could do it quicker without that VFW man
and gramma Tita she wanted to do it before it got dark
My gramma Tita and her Butterball Bonus
crossed Mills Street just fifty feet in front of her house

My gramma Tita got run over by a doctor driving an oldsmobile
Gunning at twice the legal speed limit
At four times the legal alcohol limit
the helicopter choppered from Las Vegas to Albuquerque
a whirlybird of mercy
My gramma Tita died in the sky
The turkey on the ground was unharmed
No one knows what happened to the Butterball

* * * * *

Two days after Christmas
standing above a hole in the ground
a hole with square walls
lotsa plastic flowers
i kinda like the plastic flowers better than the real
they don’t get sad so quick
sad flowers

standing at one end of the square hole near the priest and the Spanish guy
one in English one in Spanish
that’s what the family wanted
the family wanted on from the family one from the community
one in English one in Spanish
I’m the one in English the one from the family

standing next to the priest he’s talktalktalking
Grandma Tita’s coffin with her body inside already in the square hole
that mechanical thing to lower it real slow — broken
no way to fix it so close to Christmas
she’s in the ground already in her copper colored coffin
copper that’s the color they say it is those funeral men
I don’t believe them but I don’t wanna risk getting close
to the square edge of the hol
honestly scared I might
don’t wanna fall in while the priest is talking
so I try to make my eyes go like a periscope over the edge and into the square hole
can see just the corner of the supposedly copper colored coffin
its metallic bubble top squinting back at me
a stray sun speck that made it through the clouds and down to the coffin
it ricochets back up to me
no not copper not copper at all
burnt sienna
burnt sienna from the Crayola 64 Count box but made metallic
metallic burnt sienna bubble top coffin
burnt sienna not copper not copper colored at all

standing above the square hole as the Spanish guy starts speaking Spanish
I’m amazed at how much I understand
and then again how much I don’t
trying to remember who the hell this Spanish guy is
they told me but I forgot
damn flu

standing at the edge of the square hole my turn to speak
eulogy #2, the english one from the family
at the edge of square hole I don’t know where to look
can’t look down might fall in
can’t look at nobody might lose it
I pick the ridge of a mountain
it runs right along on top of everybody’s heads
I trace the mountain ridge with my eyes
and I start to talking about Gramma Tita
Gramma Tita’s purse
the smell the mystery the feeling
of her little body next to my bigger body as she sat down on the couch
the magic of the click as her purse opened and she reached in
for a piece of gum for us to share

All of a sudden my brain leaves my mouth
and I’m going I don’t know where
I don’t know what’s happening
my mouth’s still going still moving still saying what it’s sposed to say
but i’m like so far away
like on the mountain ridge my eyes have been tracing
and I’m remembering
Gramma Tita
the smell of her the mystery of her the feeling
of her little body next to my little body as she sat on the foot of her bed
me on my stomach to one side of her
watching her in the mirror
her at her mirror
her in her half slip no shirt
wearing not a bra a camisole maybe
taking the tiny curls from the little curls tight on her scalp
dusting herself with pink powder
pulling on the end of her long white cigarette
opening her lipstick as she looks at me
her watching me watching her in her mirror
why bother with lipstick if it’s not red eh jito

standing above the square hole that is my Gramma Tita’s grave
my brain has come back to my mouth
i thank all the people come to pay their respects
i for the first time really look down into the hole with square walls
the metallic burnt sienna bubble coffin was shining
glistening glittering glimmering
glowing glowing glowing
I fill my fist full of dirt

plastic flowers really can be beautiful


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