“Michael was such a sweet boy, and a charmer, too. Oh, he was handsome, even more handsome than his older brother. You can see from the photo over there.”
“Yes,” I said. “Very handsome. His eyes are blue, aren’t they?” I squinted at the photo from my perch on the sofa.
“A beautiful blue, just like yours,” Maria said slowly, giving me a look I didn’t know how to interpret. “Maybe it is Michael you remind me of, not my daughter after all. You have hair like his, too, dark, thick, and curly. Maybe that’s why I am telling you all this, a stranger in this house. I must have a need to talk about it. And you, you seem familiar somehow, though I am sure we have never met before, have we, Veronica?” There was a bit of suspicion in her question. She seemed to sense something about me.
I didn’t know how to answer that question. Possibly, we had met before, when she was 18 years younger, and I was a baby. I shook my head. “No, I don’t think so, Maria. But please, it is fine to tell me about these poor children you helped to raise. I don’t mind at all. You’ve been so kind to take me in. I’m happy to listen, even though this family sounds like the house of Atreus.”
“What is that? The house of Atreus?”
“Just something one of my teachers at community college says when students tell him a tale full of tragedy. ‘Sounds like you’re from of the House of Atreus,’ that’s what he says. They were an ancient Greek royal family that were cursed by the gods. Death and destruction followed them through generations. I’ve been meaning to read it, but I haven’t gotten around to it, yet. It’s what you say when a family has major bad luck, that much I know.”
“It is hard to imagine that there ever was a family with worse luck than the Smith family,” Maria replied.
“So, what happened to Michael?” I said softly, quaking a bit, in fear. Now that I’d found out this much about my father’s family, I didn’t know if I could take finding out what horror befell him. My paternal birth family was a mess.
“He fell in love with the wrong woman.” Maria started, but then she corrected herself. “Maybe she was the right woman, it’s hard to say. She was as beautiful as he was handsome. But she was Chicana,” she said using her generation’s word for Mexican-American, “and from the wrong side of the tracks. Rich boy, poor girl. Those kind of romances only work out in the movies, I’m afraid.”
“Did you meet this woman?” My voice was quavering. I was asking about my mama!
“Sure, she was here several times. Michael was away at college when he met her. He went to Stanford, one of the best schools in the nation.” Maria had pride in her voice as if he was her own flesh and blood. “Mr. Smith wanted him to study business, wanted him to take over the Smith company. But Michael was obsessed with computers. He studied computer programming at Stanford. I can tell you, Mr. Smith and Michael never fought over Michael’s grades. They were right at the top.”
“Michael liked music and spent his free time going to bars with live music and concerts. Unlike his siblings, he stuck to beer. He told us he never had more than two beers an evening. ‘I need every brain cell I got,’ he would say. I believe him. I never saw him drinking much, never saw him drunk, even in high school. He was such a good boy. Such a smart boy.”
“Carmen, that was her name, was a singer at one of these bars he went to. I’m not even sure what kind of music it was, but I think it had a Méxican flavor to it.” She pronounced it the Spanish way.
“‘Love at first sight, Maria.’ That’s what he told me. It seemed it was the same for her, at first. Later, it became clear that she was loca, muy loca. She drank, too, from time to time. Michael thought her drinking helped to quiet her demons, that’s what he said. He had a lot of sympathy for her during her rough times. But sometimes, she got paranoid, said he was out to get her. She would scream at him, once, even while they were in this house. Of course, Madam and Mr. Smith tried to talk Michael out of this relationship, she a poor Chicana, he a wealthy white boy. He was headed for a Stanford degree. While we never knew for sure, I don’t think she even graduated from high school. But we all admitted, when they were together, when she wasn’t in one of her crazy times, they were devoted to each other, maybe even obsessed with each other. They did love each other more than any two people I’ve ever seen.” Maria sighed.
“About two years after they met, she got pregnant. She wanted to have it out, but Michael wouldn’t hear of it. ‘It’s my daughter in there,’ he said to all of us. ‘She’ll look just like my beautiful Carmen.’ So, they got married instead.”
“What?” I said before thinking better of it. I had never known my parents were married.
“She never took his name. She said she had a stage name, and she didn’t want to change it. She said she wanted to honor her heritage. She said, who would sign up to change their name to Smith? ‘Boring,’ she said. So, she remained Carmen Sanchez.”
There it was, my mother’s name. My guts were churning. This was getting way too real.
“Michael was right. That baby was a girl, a beautiful girl, with dark curls and blue eyes, just like…” Maria paused and gave me a long look.
“I babysat for her a couple of times. Michael was over the moon. Happy to be a father. But then, it happened.”
“What, what happened?” There was fear in my voice, but I couldn’t help it. This was my story, my real story, about to be revealed.
“Carmen couldn’t …” Maria paused, then cocked her head.
Seconds later, a slim woman with silver hair appeared on top a stairway leading to the house’s lower level.
“Maria, just who are you talking to and what are you talking about?” She demanded.
My abuela, my grandmother, had come home.