Laura Creste '13
My father has flown back from the funeral in Spain because his brother has died in exile. There was a service in an old church in Valencia.
In an email my father said it looked like a church for rich people, and we were happy
with the line. A few days later he returns with the ashes of Enrique,
a plastic bag inside his leather carry-on. Some of the ashes were sunk
into the Mediterranean, some remained with the family in Spain.
He was lucky the last two years of his life were peaceful.
If you call him lucky, it isn’t meant to be ironic. You think of luck as reprieve from something imminent and worse. Luck is always edged on misfortune.
Lucky that the son he abandoned came to rescue him. Lucas is a very good person, my father and Marie de Enrique keep saying.
Enrique was killing himself in Argentina, drinking on top of his meds, and starting bar fights with the provocation You live in a third-world country; this is fucking Africa.
Lucas is a very good person. Enrique left him at two, came to America to stay forever, and did not call or write to him.
Lucas became a cop. He flew to Buenos Aires and rescued his father, so that he could die in a country he did not hate.
In Spain, Lucas’s mother, Maria Jose took him back after thirty years and was satisfied.
The only women they would love were named Marie.
When the abuelos were alive, Christmas presents were marked Marie de Enrique (my aunt) y Marie de Esteban (my mother).
For the memorial in New York we meet his wife in the West Village.
My father drives like an asshole through the Christmas week traffic.
It is my sister’s car and in the backseat, she clenches her palms against
the idea of a crash.
I tell him to slow down and my sister is angry. The decorations on lawns
are misplaced. I hate the warmth of a world not yet green.
We meet Marie de Enrique at Our Lady of Pompeii on Carmine Street, around the corner
from where she and Qui Que once lived.
The happiest years of his life were in that apartment, they say.
We are waiting on my other uncle; my father and Marie de Enrique smoke cigarettes.
My sister and I are full of sympathetic faces and deep pauses, because we
are impersonally sad. When Enrique was deported in 2002 we were twelve and nine.
Marie says she would tell him we don’t like this city, this country anymore. You aren’t missing anything, baby. New York isn’t the same.
But if New York isn’t the place, than the world isn’t. Not wanting to live
in New York sounds like not wanting to live.
This was Qui Que’s church, Marie says. Even after we broke up he liked to come here.
He wasn’t religious, my father qualifies, lest we think badly of him.
Oh he was open to everything, my mother says, he wanted all the help he could get.
His wife asks is he here? Do you have him? She sounds choked when my father pulls out the plastic bag.
She tells us that Jim Carroll’s funeral was in this church, and Patti Smith comes in to pray sometimes. Marie gives walking tours of the village.
I am shocked at the beauty of the church. $1 is the suggested donation for an electric candle. For a dollar my sister and I light fifteen.
It is gorgeous, the illusion of fire.
They sit down to pray, a rare event but sincere. I walk around the back, where little alcoves house the iconography.
I remember from long ago Mass the smell of incense or candles, the red-electric of it,
the Virgin-blue of it.
I hated church until I was allowed to quit, then when I was older I hated it more.
The stained glass windows are saturated in color, with round figures, cartoonish.
Beneath the altar there is a Jesus baby doll wearing a crown and lit by white lights strung along the bassinet.
His arms are supplicant, not a laid aside toy, but a set piece, a dollar store baby doll.
I dip my hand in the holy water then wipe it on my coat.
In a Tibetan shop across the street from the church Marie de Enrique wanted something pretty.
She buys a soft cloth blue box to keep Enrique on her shelf.
My sister and I buy mittens, to encourage the idea of winter.
A warm December is wrong, the breeze not insistent. Our coats were open
even at the mouth of the river, where we went to leave Enrique.
Qui Que was 51. Qui Que had a hard life. If it is his own fault for dying, it was never
After the coup d’etat, when Enrique was in the prison camp at 16, they sat him and another
Qui Que at a table.
A confusion of identity: the older Qui Que was shot in the head a foot away from him.
Lucky then, to be the wrong Qui Que.
On the night the military entered the apartment they were looking for Qui Que’s father, a leftist playwright, who had already fled to Spain.
The soldiers put a bag over Qui Que’s head, taking his children as game.
His sister was in the camp with him, but she was 20 and stronger. She grew beyond trauma. She lived in Argentina as an adult,
until she died of breast cancer in 2007. Alicia was the only sibling without
a drinking problem.
The mind and body can heal. She forgave Argentina, but blamed her father for putting her there.
The luckier Qui Que escaped death twice. Deported back to Argentina, he moved into the old apartment, with the stain on the wall from the firebomb.
He had not been back since the night they were kidnapped.
There was no record of him after the dirty war and when they erected a monument to the desaparecidos of the town, his full four names were on it.
He made phone calls but they never got around to effacing the name.
The second time was in America. In the early 90s he tested positive for HIV: a false positive, not uncommon in the cautious face of epidemic.
He resigned himself to fate, and drank heavily, stopped taking care of himself.
After years with no symptoms he realized he must not have it. Escaped death twice.
But the weight of that sentence, the positive – it might have all gone differently, we say now.
The monument was a gesture missing the mark. A living man’s name carved into the public gravestone.
It might remind him of his good luck, that he survived when 30,000 others did not. But he looked at the stone and thought of the inevitable.
He survived the episode but would not survive his life.
The body was burned and dissembled. There is no stone. A portion of Enrique
already spooned into the blue box, the rest pours into the Hudson.
In a rush it empties, coughing a pile of him onto the edge of the pier, behind the railing beyond our reach.
Marie de Enrique looks younger than the rest of them. She is happy and she believes in everything; God, spirits, palm-readers, reincarnation.
On the pier she touches the white pebbles of bone, and says urgently
“You’re back, you’re back, you came back” –
triumph of the material return to New York.
She had not touched him in eight years. Now he will sit on her bookshelf in a smooth Tibetan blue box.
My father got on a plane when Lucas called, said he was losing consciousness.
If Enrique would last one day more, he would see him alive.
From Mexico, he landed in Newark to make the next flight. A few hours to spare, he came home to wait.
I was making him a ham sandwich when he got the phone call.
Enrique loved to sing, and drink, and sometimes there were drugs.
If he was self-destructive it was only accidental.
He would croon to the cat, I’m sorry baby, your mother rejects you.
The cat’s mother was crazy and they took her babies away from her immediately. This cat, Oscar, was crazy too.
We drink Johnnie Walker and my father splashes a swallow into the Hudson.
She churns fully, darkly. There must be fish we can’t imagine it because of the proximity to the city. You stop thinking of pigeons as alive.
Enrique’s body will meet the fragments of things once-alive down there.
He will conglomerate to the sand or dirt bed.
If grass is the uncut hair of graves, then what of the ashes?
Why do some choose earth and others fire? Choosing melt the flesh, are you afraid of claustrophobia , being broken down by time?
In fire you are violated only once.