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Forgotten Memories REVISED: Growing up in San Jose, California, Arturo Rodriguez and his brothers and sister endured an abusive father, their parents' unhappy marriage, and their father's absence after he returned to Mexico. Rodriguez coped as best he could, but his drinking and drug use, hanging out with friends, fighting, and being in the wrong places at the wrong times led to his incarceration…. He writes about childhood pranks and misdeeds, his mother’s near fatal illness, his parent’s divorce, the birth of his first child, and how his parents eventually become friends.
“Ay, Mijo, thank you for coming. You are so good, and I love you so much.” Hearing those few words, I fought back my tears.
The writing here is unpolished but sincere in tone, and the reminiscences and descriptions are vivid and true to life. Neither didactic nor preachy, this memoir explains how he grew to understand his father and other relatives whom he loved despite their flaws. His message for young readers is clear. It is possible to survive and over come injustices and hardships.
I walked to my mother’s side, bent down, and held her tightly. Usually I gave her a kiss and a nice hug; however, on this day I wanted to hold my mother longer. I hugged her tight and wouldn’t release her. She felt the hug and sensed how I felt.
She whispered in my ear as I was holding her, “I love you, Arturito.”
“I love you too, Mom.”
That night I lay in my bed and knew I wasn’t going to sleep very well, thinking of those forgotten memories. I saw my mother when she was young and all the problems she was having with my father and with life. I thought back to when my buddy Phillip came over with good news on a particular day.
I was sound asleep when I heard a voice call out in a whisper, “Arthur! Arthur, wake up!” Then I heard a tap on the window.
Waking up, I thought, “Who in the heck is calling me so early in the morning?” I could see the sun had just risen. It was going to be a warm summer morning in San Jose, California.
During this time my mother and father had been having a lot of trouble in their marriage. On the weekends my father had been staying out with his friends. My poor mother was left alone too long without her husband. She didn’t like his staying out with friends at the bar, not knowing where else he would go; however, she had little to say about it. He did what he wanted, and that was it. On the other hand my mother had grown tired of waiting up for my father; she no longer waited. In fact, in the past year she had been going out without my father knowing about it.
Mom had befriended the Lopez girls’ mother who lived down the street. Sarah, the Lopez’s mother came from a large family. Sarah’s sisters were also now close to Mom. My father thought she was spending time at Sarah’s home when, in fact, she was hanging out with their group of friends and going out to the clubs alot.
“Arthur! Arthur, are you there?” shouted Phillip.
I stepped out of bed and walked to the window, a window that was high for me to reach. Under it was a nightstand that I could stand on to look out or to climb out if I had to do so. In no way did I want my friend to wake up my father. Dad would be very upset with me if he knew I had a friend over so early on a Sunday morning.
As I was opening the window, I saw Phillip standing outside, waiting in anticipation with the good news he had brought me. He was smiling like a cat who caught a mouse. Phillip was holding two large Coke bottles, but the bottles didn’t contain Coke. The liquid in the bottles was a yellowish color.
I pushed the window up; it was tight and made a noise. I looked behind me, hoping I didn’t wake up anyone. Looking back at Phillip and raising my finger to my lips, I indicated for him to be very quiet. Phillip knew the way my father was and didn’t want to make any trouble, even though that was why he came. Trouble to us was fun.
“Hey, Arthur, my mother and Manuel had a party last night and left all this beer,” he said with a big smile. Phillip had one of those large jaws that made his smile really big. Phillip continued, “They have a big keg of beer and left about a fourth of it. They’re still sleeping!” he said happily, holding up two Coke bottles, ready to have a good time and wanting me to join him.
“Really? Cool, man!” I said excitedly. During this time my friends and I would try to find ways to buy beer on the weekends, even though we were only fourteen years old.
“Come on, man! Let’s go! What are you waiting for? Manuel and my mother are going to get up pretty soon. I already got two bottles, but we need to get more bottles if it’s going to last all day!”
Manuel was Phillip’s stepfather. He was a good man and really tried to work with Phillip and his brother Jerry. Jerry accepted the goodness and love Manuel was trying to give him; however, Phillip never wanted to befriend his stepfather. He felt no one could love him as his real father had. Phillip wanted his real father to come home and live with them again; he would do anything if he could only have that relationship back.
“OK, wait. I’ll be right back. I have to get dressed. Just wait. I’ll try not to take long,” I said as I closed the window, turned around to get my clothes, and started to dress. It was going to be a fun day with all that beer. “Phillip and I are going to party!” I thought.
“Arthur, where you going? Who’s that outside?” my older brother Eddie asked.
Eddie was two years older than I. On the weekends I would fix my bed with my pillows to make it seem as if I were asleep. Then I would crawl out the window and go out. When I returned, I would crawl back into the window and go to bed. This was a very dangerous thing. If my father had ever caught me, it would mean really big trouble for me, maybe even death!
“I’m going with Phillip, Eddie. I’ll be back later. I should be back before everybody’s up,” I replied, knowing that was probably not true.
Eddie sat up on the top bunk as he said, still waking up, “Man, Arthur, if Dad finds out you’re gone, he is going to be really mad! Did he come home last night? You better check before you go. Because if he’s here and he sees you left without asking, you’re going to be in big trouble!”
As I was buckling my pants, I thought about what my brother said. I knew Eddie was right. He always made sense when it came to things like this. “Yeah, your right. I’ll go check.”
“Good. Be careful. Don’t wake him up, or you aren’t going anywhere!” Eddie exclaimed as he lay back down on his bed.
If my father were to hear me, he would yell out, “WHO IS UP? ARTURO, IS THAT YOU?” I never understood how he always knew it was me. If he were to yell out for me, I had better answer and fast! If he did call, he would want to know what I was doing up so early. He would then send me back to bed and tell me I was not to get up until the house was alive with activity. When my father said something, I would always comply, knowing he meant business.
During this time my father and I were not getting along. When I was younger, I would always be beaten with the belt on a regular basis. Now that he was going out a lot and I was getting older, he wouldn’t hit me with the belt.
I stepped into the kitchen as quietly as possible. I thought I heard someone, but I wasn’t sure. Everything was quiet. If Dad was home and I made the slightest noise, I would wake him. It would then be as Eddie had said; I wouldn’t be going anywhere. If he wasn’t home, I would be able to do whatever I wanted. My mother was so nice; she would say OK to anything I would ask, not knowing I was really up to no good.
Our father was the kind of man who required us, Eddie and me, to finish at least one hour of work in the yard when we arrived home from school, believing it would make us responsible workers when we became older. We didn’t like it very much because all of our friends on Virginia Place played in the street as soon as they arrived home from school, but we had to pull weeds. On Saturday we were required to start our work in the yard from sunup until sundown. During this time my father was becoming lax. He was going out all the time and this was creating problems with my mother.
Once I was sure no one was up, I stepped into the living room very slowly. I didn’t want to give my father a reason to tell me I couldn’t leave. If I went with Phillip after my father told me I couldn’t, I knew what the consequences would be. If he didn’t tell me anything and I went, it wouldn’t be as bad.
In the living room we had a big window facing the street. It had light green drapes that hung down to the floor. The drapes were closed. I had to put my knees on the sofa in order to see if my father’s Cadillac was in the driveway. As my knee pressed on the sofa, the sofa squeaked. It wasn’t loud; however, because the house was so quiet, I felt as if it could be heard in every room.
I froze, hoping my father didn’t hear the noise. I hoped he had drank a lot the night before. If he had, it would be difficult to wake him. Even though my father stayed out all night, at times he would still get out of bed early, turn on his music, and spend the day in the living room, reading and watching TV.
I didn’t hear anything, feeling glad I didn’t wake him. I pulled the drapes back and hoped his car was gone. If it was, I no longer had to be so careful. I wished! I wished! It was there! I was very disappointed.
What was I going to do? If I left the house without asking permission, I knew I was in for it when I returned. My father would have a fit knowing I left without asking.
Because my mother and father were having so much trouble in their marriage, my mother had been sleeping in my sister Tita’s bedroom. In years past my mother was always submissive to my father. She was now tiring of his going out and staying out all night, sometimes leaving on Friday after work and not coming home until Sunday. In this case he only returned on Sunday because he had to go to work the following day.
My father had been planning on returning to Mexico. He had been saying that as soon as American Can Company closed down he was leaving. I never understood if he was planning on taking all of us with him or if he was planning on leaving us and going alone.
I thought it would be better if I asked my mother’s permission to go with Phillip. In order to do that, however, I had to get to her room and pass in front of my father’s bedroom.
I hoped the door was closed, as it was most of the time. If my father was awake, he would see me and ask what I was doing. If I told him I was going to speak to my mother, he would tell me to go to my bedroom because I was going to wake up everybody in the house.
As I approached his room, I saw that his bedroom door was open. My stomach felt as if it had butterflies. It was a feeling of great nervousness. I didn’t want to step in front of the bedroom door and take a chance. I knew if my father saw me, my plans of having a cool Sunday would be impossible. Maybe I should just leave and take my chances on the consequences when I returned. I thought, “Maybe if I go with Phillip, I can return in a little while, as soon as we fill more bottles and save them for later. Then I can ask my mother when she is up and around.”
I had an idea! I could get to my mother’s bedroom if I crawled on my stomach. My father wouldn’t be able to see me, and it would save me from his yelling and name calling if I had her permission.
I lowered my body to the floor and started to move across the hall into Tita and Mom’s bedroom. As I reached the front of my father’s doorway, I heard him make a sound with his throat, indicating to me that he wasn’t asleep. I didn’t move for a second. I looked over and saw him under the covers, holding his arms up as if he were looking at something. If he were to hear me and sit up, I would be done for it. He would give me the third degree and try to find out what I was doing.
Once I knew he didn’t see me, I continued moving slowly across the hallway. My mother’s door was shut, but not all the way. There was a two-inch opening. I reached forward and pushed the door open very slowly, hoping it didn’t squeak and get my father’s attention. I dragged myself a little more, reaching the bedroom where my mother was sleeping.
My mother slept with my sister in her twin-size bed. I bent down on one knee next to her bed and whispered, “Mom. Mom.” I didn’t want to call too loudly and let my father hear me. The second time I called a little louder and shook her a bit.
My mother opened her eyes and saw me looking down over her. “What, Mijo? What happened?”
I whispered, “Nothing happened, Mom. I want to ask you if it’s all right if I go with my friend Phillip. I’ll be back in awhile.”
“Where are you going, Mijo?” my mother asked as she was waking up. My mother was speaking very low. She also didn’t want to wake my father.
“I want to go to his house, and then we’re going to the flea market for awhile.”
The flea market was a market where people went to sell their things; some called it a swap meet. Stands were set up, and both new and used items were sold. We had a friend whose father had a tire shop at the flea market.
“OK, Arthur, but be careful,” my mother said softly as she reached up and stroked my hair. She ran her hand down my cheek.
I bent down and gave my mother a kiss and a hug. “Bye, Mom. Thank you.”
“Bye, Mijo. Be careful,” she repeated as she smiled and moved her hand across my hair again. Mother appeared very sad. She had an expression I had never before observed. Something wasn’t right. I wanted to lie down with her and have her hold me in her arms. Bending over, I gave my mother another kiss. She reached up and pulled me down to her, squeezing me tightly for a few seconds.
“I love you, Arthur. Always remember that. I love you so much,” she whispered as she held me tighter.
“I love you too, Mom. Mom, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing, Mijo. I just love you and wanted to tell you.”
As she held me, I felt her face wet with tears. “Are you sure you’re all right, Mom?”
“I’m OK, Arthur. Be careful. All right?” she asked as she let go of me. I stood up and sat on her bed next to her, holding her hand. I didn’t say anything and neither did she. Wishing to stay and knowing something was definitely wrong with Mom, I knew she was either sick or sad. Whatever it was, I hurt for her. I had grown really close to Mom now that I was a teenager.
“Mom?” I asked.
“What is it? What’s wrong? Is there anything I can do?”
“No, Arthur. It’s all right. You go with your friend Phillip; and be good, OK?” Mom said as she tried not to cry. She now spoke in a more composed manner, not wanting to alarm me.
“I will, Mom,” I answered as I pulled away. I wanted to stay and lie next to her for a little while, but I thought of Phillip waiting outside for me. Still holding her hand, I said, “Bye, Mom.”
“Bye, Mijo. See you later.”
I turned and stepped to the doorway. Again I lowered my body to the floor and crawled, this time a little quicker, knowing my father didn’t see me the first time. I heard my father make another noise and knew it was just a matter of time before he would get up and leave his room. I had to leave fast. Once I was across the hallway, I stood and made my way back to my bedroom.
Back in my bedroom I closed the door very slowly. “Arthur, is Dad home?” Eddie asked, hoping I had come to my senses if he were home.
“Yeah, he is,” I answered as I opened the window.
“What are you doing? Are you still going even though he’s here? Are you crazy? Man, Arthur, you’re really going to get it if you take off.”
When I had the window open, I stuck my head out and looked for Phillip. He was sitting against the house and waiting.
“Hey, Phillip, I’ll be right out. Let me put on my shoes.”
“OK, don’t take too long. Manuel might get up, and then we won’t be able to get the beer.”
“OK, I won’t,” I answered as I turned and sat on the bottom bunk.
“You’re crazy, Arthur,” Eddie said as he leaned over the bunk. “When Dad gets up and you’re not here, he’s going to be really mad!”
“I don’t care. I asked Mom, and she said it was OK.”
Eddie didn’t say anything for a few seconds. He probably was thinking of all the problems our parents were having.
I also was having a very difficult time with him. I even ran away not long before this.
A Kid’s Headache
Every morning my mother rose early to make my father’s breakfast before he left for work. She would also prepare burritos for his lunch. My father was always irritated with my mother for one reason or another. When he became upset with her, he wouldn’t leave a subject alone but continued to nag her.
I was seven years old at this time. My mother wouldn’t say much, knowing it would make things worse. She started cooking while my father took his shower. The shower was in the back part of the house, down the hallway. Our bedroom was next to the bathroom. As soon as my father was finished with his shower, he would go into the kitchen and continue his nagging where he left off. Speaking in Spanish he harped, “Millie, I told you what I wanted; and you did not do it! I told you to do it right, and see what you did? Ay, Millie!”
My mother wouldn’t respond. She knew if she did, it would make things worse. She listened and continued her cooking. I held my blankets over my head, hoping it would stop. He continued speaking roughly, “Millie, did I not tell you? Answer me! I said answer me! Now look what happened! You really messed things up! Millie! Millie! Millie!” On and on he went.
My mother was tired of it. Nonetheless, she was scared to reply. “Joe, I forgot. I’m sorry.”
“You forgot? What do you mean you forgot? How do you forget something like that?” My father raised his voice even more because my mother said something to defend herself.
She served him his food as he sat in his customary place. “Ay, Millie! ¿Qué pasa (what’s happening)? Look at my frijoles (beans)! They are dry! How do you expect me to eat this? Ay, mujer (woman), what is wrong with you, ¡estupida!”
With the dry frijoles he had something else to be angry about before he left for work. On and on it went through his whole meal. I held my hands over my ears, not wanting to hear it anymore. Now he was upset over his food not being cooked to his liking. My mother was a good cook, but trying to cook for her husband under these conditions was very trying. I hated every second of it. Every morning it was the same. Once in a while my father would wake up in a good mood, but this didn’t happen very often.
It was still dark outside. My father went out the front door. I was relieved he was gone and stayed in my bed, hoping he would go to the bar after work and not come home until late. The house was quiet. My mother went into the bathroom.
I heard the front door open. “Oh, no!” I thought, “He’s back!”
“Millie!” he yelled. “Millie! ¿Donde esta (Where are you?) Millie?”
My mother raced out of the bathroom and answered, “What, Joe? What is it now?” She knew my father found or thought of another reason to be upset.
“¡Tu hijo (Your son), Arturo! ¡Estupido! ¡Huevon (Egghead)! He left the water on all night!” my father yelled, adding some obscene words. I knew he was really angry. As he stomped toward my bedroom door, he was swearing in Spanish.
I recalled the evening before my father had called me from my bedroom, telling me to go turn the water off on the front lawn. I was on the way to the front yard when a friend came around the side of the house to visit. I met him, and we talked for a while. Then I went back into the house and forgot about turning off the water.
“Oh, no!” I sat up in my bed, terrified. “What did I do? What should I say to stop this?” I felt my life was going to end in just a few seconds. I wanted to cry right there, but I thought maybe there was something else I could do to save myself.
“Joe, don’t wake him up! He’s asleep!” my mom exclaimed, following closely as he headed toward my bedroom. She knew my father usually didn’t like waking us. For some reason he always had a compassionate feeling for us when we were sleeping.
I lay back down on my bed and closed my eyes just as my father opened the door, making sure not to move. I knew if I did move, I was going to receive a beating right that second.
My father stood at the door for what seemed to be a long time. He called in a low voice, “Arturo!” I knew he wanted me to be awake. “Arturo!” he called again. Then a third time, “Arturo!” I knew I should answer, but I didn’t want to respond.
Are you having difficult teenage years? Does life go on? Travel with Art Rodriguez as he takes you through his teen years. You will see that life does get better, even though it appears confusing and harsh at times. You will enjoy his stories of growing up in San Jose, California. He will take you for a walk; as he does, you will experience with him fun times and hard times. You will enjoy this sequel to East Side Dreams.