Phony Boys and a Moment of Truth [essay] by Adriana Paramo

I joined the communist party in my early teens. At thirteen, I was a hard-core communist and as any respected leftwing radical would, I carried around three books: The Communist Manifesto, Das Kapital and my all time favorite, Chairman Mao-Tse-Tung’s The Little Red Book, which I never read but was the prettiest shiny little red book my eyes had ever seen. Das Kapital was for heavyweight Communists, or so I was told. That must have been why my comrades, three lanky geeks aged fourteen, fifteen and sixteen, who sported round, rimless glasses, smoked cigarettes behind their mothers’ backs and had foreheads bursting with acne, had given it to me; no doubt I was the smartest girl they had ever met. They taught me everything a revolutionary needed to know; things about class struggle and the relationships between the bourgeois and the proletarians, between the proletarians and the Communists. It was very, very complicated. This was the ‘70s and Colombia was burning with social turmoil, violent guerrilla attacks and discontent. But my three comrades and I knew exactly how to fix our country. We, and our fresh, off the wall, avant garde, “rad” ideas were exactly what Colombia needed. We could run that screwed-up country among the four of us, like a Colombian junta. So we made a pact: we would leave our homes on Christmas day and would join the leftist armed forces. We would fight hard up in the mountains and our families would love us for it. We wrote farewell letters, we showed them to each other, polished them, added exclamation marks here and there, inserted tidbits of empty rhetoric we deemed exceedingly clever, and took them home with us. I imagined how cute I’d look with an army beret tilted to the side, dressed in full camo, sunglasses, and army boots. Like Ché Guevara but girly. Chic Guevara! If I had to lay my life down for my country, I would like to die looking like a goddamned princess warrior; fierce but sexy.

Unfortunately for my country, Christmas in my family meant me and my sisters cooking tamales all day long under Mom’s directions and I was not allowed to go out. And as it turned out neither could my highly intellectual comrades. They also had to stay home doing chores. The following day, they had new soccer balls, games and bicycles, and had forgotten about our pact. We never joined the guerillas and who knows; maybe that’s why Colombia still is so screwed up. But, God, I would have looked good.

 ***

When I was fifteen, I fell madly in love with a boy named Diego. He was hot, dangerously hot, oozing testosterone, bravado, and walked with that bad boy’s swagger that got me making up sentences with the words Adriana/Pop/Diego/Cherry. He had a greasy blond mane, dreamy eyes prone to slow winks, and he used to sing with a Rod Stewart’s voice, all raspy and dissonant and sexy. The first time I heard him sing, all I could do was look at his pouty lips, how he moistened them with his tongue, in a way that wasn’t supposed to be sexy but was, to me, and how when he strummed his beat-up guitar, I knew that guitar was right against his crotch, booming with each riff, vibrating against his Levis.

Oh, man, I wanted to be a beat-up guitar.

Luckily, Diego also found me incredibly attractive, so I decided to play hard to get, to wait and see which way he’d court me, how hard he’d try to win me over, how many chocolate bars, stuffed animals and roses I would squeeze out of him before I let him move past first base. That year, he announced that he was working on a couple of songs for me. His compositions, he said. Shit that will revolutionize the music industry, man, stuff that has never been done before. That would be my Valentine’s present, he said.

The year before, his rich dad had taken his whole family to England on vacation, which apparently was enough to make Diego fluent in English. I didn’t speak a word of English, but Diego got into the habit of saying little crazy things like: hey mami howarejou, hola mamita kees me in the mouse…which nearly made me lose my cool. You see, nobody had ever tried to seduce me in English. The words began to rearrange themselves in my mind: Diego/Pop/Adriana/Cherry.

Two days before Valentine’s, bursting with creativity, he decided to give me an early present. A little taste of the song he was composing for me: Okay, he said strumming his guitar, are you ready? And I said Yes all breathless and dry-mouthed. He got close to me and whispered in my ear: I’m not finished yet, but it’s going to sound something like this…and he started to sing: Hello, hello, hello, is there anybody in there? Just nod if you can hear me, is there anyone at home? I had no idea what the words meant and when he translated them for me, I thought it was the stupidest song ever written. Definitely, not the love song I had hoped for. To make matters worse, he told me the title of his composition: Comfortably Numb. I tried not to laugh. I mean, the song alone was bad; that title was just idiotic. I didn’t tell him what I thought about the song; it would’ve broken his heart. I was sure. Instead, I broke up with him.

 ***

Fast forward six years. I was in undergraduate school in Colombia. Life got serious. I got married. The Christmas of 1987 found me holding a newborn baby girl in my arms. That evening, as we gathered around my mother’s Christmas tree, when the memories of the pain and the blood and the hospital fluorescent lights and that lonely but thunderous passage into motherhood were still fresh in my head, it dawned on me that I no longer was the little silly girl playing communist or temptress. I was a young mother trying to make sense of this incomprehensible miniature woman all bundled up in a Winnie The Pooh blanket. Trying to calculate the amount of love it would take to raise this at once familiar and strange being, how to sail through life this human cargo put in my charge, so beautiful and terrifying.

The following Christmas, I was a single mother. At some point during the day, while I fed my daughter, I watched my mom, a single mother of six, whistling happily as she rearranged the presents under the tree. I knew I was going to be okay.

 ***

I haven’t lived in Colombia in twenty years and time has erased most of my Christmases back at home. But earlier this year I turned the TV on to watch the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games and I saw Mike Oldfield, the English musician, on stage. Then, I remembered another Christmas. Before I left Colombia, I dated a British musician, a real musician with recording equipment, synthesizers, audio interfaces, the works. He was a devout fan of Mike Oldfield, an artist widely popular in the UK but unknown in Colombia and whose music I had never heard before. When he told me that he was composing a song for me, I thought, oh, no, here we go again, and I told him about Diego, a.k.a Roger Waters. We laughed, of course, at my innocence, Diego’s plagiarism, my ignorance of British music. All buried deep in the distant past of my teen years.

On Christmas day, my musician handed me the present, a little rectangular box containing a cassette, and on it, was my song: “She Takes The Rain,” a beautiful ballad about a woman from a far country with the power of making it all better, even taking the rain away. Mercifully, our relationship—burdened from the start with insurmountable cultural differences, didn’t last. All that remained was the song, the only good thing I got out of our relationship.

The cassette has traveled with me across continents, crossed oceans, deserts, mountains, and has always been somewhere in the house: at the bottom of a drawer, in a manila envelope, inside a box full of old letters and Polaroids. As I watched Mike Oldfield at the opening ceremony, I wondered what had ever happened to the musician and the song, he was convinced, he’d one day record. I went to Google and typed: She Takes The Rain, and the first site that popped up was metrolyrics.com, which contained every word of the song. My song. I thought, The sonofabitch made it, He recorded it after all. And I got all excited and went straight to YouTube to watch the video I hoped had a Halle Berry-look alike playing me, the woman from a far country. I found it, only the name of the song was “Far Country,” a song released by Mike Oldfield in 1989.

 ***

My daughter is now twenty-five. The same age I was when the phony musician gave me the phony cassette with the phony song. This summer, I would like to take her to a secret spot in the woods, a place only we know; maybe somewhere in Alaska, where once as a little girl, she tried to memorize the one hundred words for snow, and tell her about Pink Floyd, Mike Oldfield and the other lies that fed my youth. But I won’t. I won’t because last month, a few hours before she got married, while we were at home getting our hair and nails done, “Comfortably Numb” came on her iPod. We had listened to the song together hundreds of times, I knew she liked Pink Floyd, but as she fixed her hair she mumbled absentmindedly “When I was a Child I had a fever…Now I’ve got that feeling once again. I can’t explain,” and hearing her voice turned my heart into a pulp of frantic beats. I put my face next to hers and saw our reflection in the mirror. She looked my age and I looked just the way I had when I was twenty-five. Or maybe not.

Maybe I was just a sentimental middle-aged mother about to walk her only child down the aisle. Maybe it was just the light hitting my face, her face, our faces at an angle. Maybe she’ll never look like me and I never looked like her and I will forever be confused by this wondrous moment of fleeting perfection, this moment which already is the purest most real present I’ve ever had.

 

 

Image of 1930s Switchboard Operator

[Refer: “Phony Boys and a Moment of Truth” was inspired by a poem by Carol Ann Duffy titled “Translating the British.” Paramo says, “Funny thing is, as I read the poem, all I could think of was Oldfield…the British singer: ]

Image by John Hubbard

Adriana Paramo is a cultural anthropologist, writer and women’s rights advocate. Her book Looking for Esperanza won the 2011 Social Justice and Equity Award in Creative Nonfiction (Benu Press), the Best Women’s Issues Book at the 2013 International Latino Book Awards, and the silver medal at the 2012 BOYA (Book of the Year) Awards. She is also the author of My Mother’s Funeral, a work of creative nonfiction set in Colombia (October 2013 Cavankerry Press). Her work has been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize and her essays have been included in the Notable section of Best American Essays of 2012 and 2013. Her work has been recently published or is forthcoming in the CNF Southern Sin Anthology, The Sun Magazine, Minerva Rising, Redivider, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Los Angeles Review, American Athenaeum, Consequence Magazine, Fourteen Hills, Carolina Quarterly Review, Magnolia Journal, So To Speak, and South Loop Review, among others. Currently she writes from Qatar, a place she is desperately trying to call home. Read more at http://www.paramoadriana.com/.

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