They are known as Las Hermanas Coraje, two sisters who share one wicked heart. They are a perfect storm, fueled by malice, lies and unmitigated rage. So pure is their misery, they will destroy everything in their wake, especially if it involves your being — gasp! — happy!
The younger sister lived in her spacious, made to order home in a land known for its arid, beige privacy. She took flight to this hamlet, putting as much distance as she could between her carefully composed life and her secret shame. She didn’t want anyone to know that she came from a world of immigrants parents, homeboy relatives and an iron maiden grandmother who spoke no English.
She wasn’t “nacida corriente.” She was the Girl with Olive Skin, almost Mediterranean, if you will. She had to have the right schools, the right friends, the right life she felt was her true birthright at any cost. Her family’s economic and social status be damned. She refused the middle class nightmare sustained by a coarse but charming father who ran a carpeting business, one he ran into the ground. She’d be damned if she ever let the evils of shag carpet ruin her destiny of blond wood floors and golf trips.
She would heed the lessons of a cold, embittered mother and rise above her station in life to marry a blue-eyed savior. She would fight to wear reversible down vests, ones that could repel any signs of a past she buried. She would never dare to love her husband or anyone else for that matter. How could she? That would require a heart. And she would never risk having a forgiving or open heart because that would make her vulnerable to the world. And vulnerable meant weak.
The older sister was a professional spinster, a tender heart since corrupted by the toxic build up of failed relationships, duplicitous men and dreams unrealized. She just wanted to be loved, to hold the attention of those in her presence, terrified of being forgotten.
She turned to the fantasy of acting because she needed an escape from an unfeeling mother who made her feel like she was less than of a woman, but more a misguided girl. She wanted to shine in the eyes of someone as her own derisive father would joke she was better off being a nun. It was her piety that gave her strength to create the greatest role of her life after running away from the confines of a crumbling family unit.
She would see the world through a camera lens, documenting world history by joining the military. But when she came home, she discovered that she still couldn’t stand center stage. She remained a bit player, despite her many accomplishments. She was still being overshadowed by most members of her family. How ironic that she would foster a career of bit parts that mirrored aspects of her real life.
She had become a punchline for late night television, walking on as a maid, a role her own mother took on after the family hit a financial skid. The older sister couldn’t overcome being part the background, toiling as a glorified extra on daytime soap operas, always hungry for a chance to be on the other side of a camera. She created the illusion of honing her craft. Yet, what she was really doing was stewing in the juices of bubbling discontent, waiting for the moment to unleash her most God-less self against a world that refused to acknowledge she existed.
Caught in between these desperate women was the older brother who strived to be a duplicate of the man whose name he carried. He existed as a text book case of arrested development. He may have inherited his father’s desire to tell a story, yet he did so with none of the macho swagger and charm that made Dad a legend within the family.
Despite his broad build, he swayed under the weight of his father’s legacy. He dreamed of a house by the sea, of an idealized singleton life and national media attention. Yet despite his being humbled by the racial politics of his career, he settled for an idealized, yet ultimately carbon copy of his parents’ life. The house by the sea was decidedly inland and he was marooned by his own inability to mature. Even cats called him a pussy. This was a man who chose being kept by his mother and sisters from evolving into manhood in the name of protecting the peace.. and his own sanity. They carried his balls in their sensible bags and he did nothing to get them back.
These are the major players. These are the central roles in a drama that unfolds with increasing venom and selfishness. Am I embellishing any of this? That’s for me to know. But I have no interest in protecting the innocent as they are anything but deserving of protection at this point. I have been struggling to find a way to unburden myself of how I feel about my family of late. Not my immediate family, my extended family. Tough times are being experienced by the people I care about. We have reached an age where we are losing people closest to us. Cancer. Alzheimer’s. Age. Mothers. Fathers. Brothers. Sisters. Uncles. Aunts. Cousins. Everyone I love. Life and death are happening to all of us and these assholes are actually fighting for screen time?
I’ve stopped and started this blog post so many times. I was just too angry to write and I never intended to turn this into a burn book. But, I hate having to reaffirm the reality that people genuinely suck. And nothing feels worse than having that validated by the people you call your “family.” Some of these people are just cartoon characters to me, variations of the wicked stepsisters or, more appropriately, the screeching viragos found in the Mexican telenovela.
If I close my eyes hard enough, I can see the humor of what we are living out these days. I see the wicked machinations of a Robin Wright in “House of Cards” or a Joan Collins in “Dynasty.” I have always praised such calculated deviousness as the best in high art or Nolan Miller-dressed camp. But when it is happening in real life to people you know, suddenly having a Lady Macbeth or a Soraya Montenegro in your midst is both sad, enraging and mystifying all at once.
In this week’s episodes, las hermanas y hermano Coraje wanted to make sure they aren’t lost in the swell of emotion as their aunt bravely fights cancer. One marriage is in trouble and they have taken to broadcasting their malice in the most extraordinary way. Hermano C, who during a brief visit to see his dying tia, makes sure to tell his grief-stricken tio that he’s disappointed she’s chosen the side of his soon-to-be estranged wife?
It isn’t that any of us is choosing sides. It is our reaction to his actually pulling focus away from the gravity of our aunt’s situation. What is appalling and what is so disappointing is: 1) the manner in which he’s chosen to handle his failing marriage, and, 2) the fact that he thinks this is the time to issue ultimatums on family loyalty. What. The. Fuck!
Meanwhile, las hermanas are in the background, stirring the pot like the witches that appear at the opening of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. They have sprung from a special hell to unload the same message of enforced distancing to their nieces, who are also their goddaughters. All I can do is shake my head over their recent phone calls, peppered with such overripe novela dialogue as, “I choose to have only positive energy around me now!” or “I’m cutting out the negative people in my life!” Again, how is it you can make such calls, which were supposedly made in the name of support, only to turn the entire conversation around to focus on you and your needs? All while your nieces’ mother is fighting for her life in the next room?!?
But the worst part of this? The B plot, where las hermanas Coraje maneuver and plot the destruction of their brother’s marriage. This is where my cousin in-law needs to take a page from the Katie Holmes Playbook. Lord knows La Prima Coraje has been trying to repair whatever damage has been caused by her union with the Ball Less Wonder. But with the sisters Grimm making sure every avenue is razed, La Prima Coraje is running out of reasons to stay. Don’t miss this episode recap, where the younger Hermana Coraje (with her frigid husband in tow) take Hermano C to a divorce lawyer without his wife’s knowledge! Oh, and you’ll thrill to the cameo appearance of the elder Hermana Coraje, who makes sure to phone in to this pow wow so she can contribute her thoughts via speaker! (And, wait until you see the scenes for next week, when las hermanas counsel their hermano to, yes, text his ex-girlfriends.
As one side of my family prepares itself for the loss of a parent, the other side of the same family is enduring the loss of their compassion and sanity. Somewhere in all of this, my immediate family is in the middle. Apparently they are dwelling on how everyone is choosing sides now, a state of affairs the saddens me to no end. Because it didn’t have to turn into this. From the conversations that I’ve had with my younger cousins, who are also my goddaughters, it appears we are part of the problem for being “negative people.”
I have run all of this information in my mind without pause. And I think I understand why Los Coraje feel the way they do. It isn’t the negative that they want to excise. It is the fact that we represent the truth about who they are, of their humble, complex origins. They are terrified that we will expose them. As if we would dare to pull the curtain on their Oz-like fantasy. Don’t they realize we don’t care about the positions they hold in this world? If they stopped to think about it, we are actually proud over how they took negative circumstances and turned them into positives. But they are hell bent in keeping up appearances, surrounding themselves with people who only feed their delusion. Syncophants, yes people, minions who do their bidding because that’s the way they’ve always lived their tragic, small, human lives.
I know we can be a very meddlesome unit. I don’t know how it is in your family, but mine can be a smidge overwhelming. Everyone has an opinion and it doesn’t matter the topic, either. From the outside, it can appear that we are rather antagonistic. Plenty of button pushing goes on this group, but there’s never any malicious intent. I like to think my parents created a tribe of too many chiefs and not enough indians, but that’s another story.
We are not always acting at fever pitch, screaming, “Sergio! Sueltame! Esta es mi hacienda!” or “Largase de aqui, babosa!” or “Vieja zorra! Te voy a dar una paliza que nunca vas a olvidar!” We have never resorted to pulling hair, slapping each other silly or plotting to destroy the Carrington family once and for all. Apparently, some of us do see the world in such terms. But my extended family has turned what should have been a defining moment into something that trivializes their humanity in the process. Here the sins of their parents have been internalized and manifested into something beyond cruel and narcissistic.
We will never know the truth behind any one family’s dysfunction. But I know enough of their complicated family history to postulate my own hypothesis. They are the perfect Orwellian family in that they have perfected their abilities to maintain a revisionist history. They have invested so much of their emotional energy in keeping up appearances, they really can’t discern between truth and lies anymore.
Is it my place to put all of this down in black and white? No, but I’m doing it anyway. I have always been the one to defend them, to not let the animosity boil over, to try and meet them halfway. But I can’t do it anymore. When you say the word “family” in the Latino context, it encompasses a large number of people. Several of my white friends have to remind themselves of that whenever I start a sentence, “My family is…” I still see them as my family, even with this line drawn across the sand.
They can declare that we are all just jealous and envious of their material lives. Yet, they can’t ignore the facts. My father helped them when their father needed assistance. My uncle took them in when they had nowhere else to go, offering shelter at great sacrifice to his own family. We were there when their father died without fail or judgment. We were there when their grandmother died, a woman who either ignored us or kept us at arm’s length when we were children. I delivered her eulogy, even though my own heart was conflicted. Why would we as jealous or envious people EVER take such steps to help them? Yet, the damage is done. All that self-editing has taken a personal angle. We are being erased, too.
I can list so much more, but I won’t. It doesn’t matter. They’d deny it anyway. I have already validated their perceptions of being negative at this point. We’ve lost them, probably for good this time. But I don’t want any of us to forget what made this entire family split in two, especially them. All we can do now is accept the terms of the dissolution, move on and stop these ridiculous confrontations. No one is going to win. There are no spoils to reap. We are going to lose something that is going to matter in the end. The question is who will be the ones strong enough to stand in the middle again because you know how life can be. Sooner or later, they will need us. And I am certain some, not all, will be there to lend them a hand.
We all need a moment to step and back see the big picture. We are losing one of our own in the most awful way as cancer doesn’t give a shit if the family is fighting. We were supposed to be better than this. Better than our parents. Better than the dominant culture that has warped our basic values and morals. Just better, period. Instead we have turned ourselves into something so shameful.
Being part of a strong family is such a gift. I couldn’t survive this world without my family, here and in Mexico. They are my reason to live. Because that is how I have been raised. My siblings and I may have our moments, but we’ve never plotted against each other. But let’s just say, we may need to do some rewrites, too.
In the meantime, I am going to ponder how these days will affect the next generations. That’s going to be interesting, how the children of the Corajes will grow up after witnessing their parents’ own sizzling narratives. I already have my bag of popcorn ready, because you know it’s going to be good.
“Los hijos de los hermanos coraje,” coming soon.
Written, produced and posted from Wayne Ave. Manor in South Pasadena, CA