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Iam not, by my family’s standards, illegitimate. But, really now, what are the standards? Whose standards anyway? I bear my father’s last name, and this fact, my mother convinced me once, pulls me up a notch or two in the hierarchy of bastardom. I may know nothing about my father’s family and can only imagine vague scenarios inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s dictum that “every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I wish them luck. My birth rankled some nerves, or so I am told, but since then, it’s all been silence. Dead silence of past sins unspoken. The main players are by now dead, and only the product of such a sin—well, myself—lives. Geography plays a part—and proves a formidable barrier—in my current state of ignorance, but in the eight years I lived in Santiago as a child, in the same city and a short bus ride from him, I never met my father. If I was spared the sibling rivalries and the posturing for paternal attention along with the weddings, baptisms, and inevitable marital strife, I was also not expected at my father’s funeral. I was not exactly invited. But to be fair, I was in the United States by then. In retrospect, the fact that I never saw my father wither away in his early fifties of leukemia left me unprepared to confront my mother’s cancer later in life. I was spared the pain, but was robbed of the grieving process. I was informed of my father’s death long after the fact. I stumbled into it due to complications with Chilean bureaucracy that allowed me to obtain, if little else from my father, a death certificate (more on this amusingly morbid matter later). 16 1 Love Child 17 Love Child Unbeknownst to the paternal branch of the family, an offshoot of them has established roots in the United States, but does it matter to those folks at all? I could be one of many of such children, and who would know? The legitimate branch of the family does not owe me any favors, and I don’t owe them mine. I lived in the United States with my mother more than three decades. I sit here as a more or less well-adjusted adult in the office that houses my Arizona State University professorship, writing in an adopted language that, for the most part, obeys my inclination toward rhetorical overkill. My native tongue appears to have exiled me along with my native country. I can express myself in Spanish to a certain extent, but it’s a childhood language, monosyllables and childhood rhymes, all innocence and no technique, no rhetorical flourishes, just the facts ma’am, and the bare sounds of the child, the moo-cow of a Joycean infanthood. I’ve no patience with Romance language accents, and I don’t buy the Latin American proclivity toward heavily formal diction that hides bureaucratic insincerity. I like the modern, journalistic clarity of the contemporary Yankee idiom. The grammar in all my rejection letters as a writer has been plain and dry, nothing fancy and overworked. I’ve known rejection, but at least I’ve gotten it straight. Perhaps I’ve attempted too hard to shed my background and adopt that tilt of the head of the San Fernando Valley dude while speaking in a lingo that has become, like, a joke to most people, but which is for me part of the acculturation process. I was—I’ve been—that Valley dude who says “you know” a lot and who could converse in that “gag me with a spoon” type of redundancy. It is one of my masks, one of my many rhetorical skills. Overkill, as well. I can be an excessive personality, even when I strike people as “reserved.” An excessive man trapped in a reserved personality? How have I managed that? A paradox, and a mystery, the legacy of a murky background I can’t easily explain. In the United States, my mother and I became, for lack of a better word, middle class. For at least a while anyway, before our debts caught up with us. Mother kept up her mortgage payments for her house in the San Fernando Valley and held out until 1998, when she could no longer pay them. Her life as a Valley nanny had started with a successful transition from low-paid immigrant to...


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MARC Record
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