That night, the G.I. soldier and his friend, a U.S. sailor, beat my father, Narciso, in a dimly lit room with a baseball bat.
It’s taken me years to write this story. I think it’s done. I submitted it to several journals the other night, and I’m hoping. But I feel like it’s the best story I’ve written yet (out of the three I worked tirelessly on at Mills). Every beat and breath and sentence moves that unspeakable thing within, and even if all I come out of grad school is only these three measly stories, I will be happy. The metaphoric blood and sweat that went into these stories have made each sentence, each shift, each paragraph break a struggle. My thesis advisor accused me of writing memoir (in a sweet, loving way), and that sentiment made me smile.
I am writing what haunts me.
My father, my real father, was never beaten by a U.S. sailor with a baseball bat. But this last story I wrote hinges on the stories that we base our lives on. It questions what is reality, what is truth, and if it even matters if these stories are true. I was inspired by Roberto Bolaño, even if I can never write like him. When I workshopped the story at Key West Literary Seminar, I was thankful: in a sea filled with white faces, mostly old white faces, they got it. They got what the story was trying to achieve in its infancy: that the story of how your family came to be, whether it’s a migration to America on desperate means or how your parents met, fell in love, and broke apart, breeds into the mental, emotive, and traumatic spaces of who you are.
What’s ironic is when I finished this story, I looked up my real mother’s name, Mercidita (the way I’ve been spelling it all my life), on my birth certificate, and I had got it wrong. It isn’t spelled Mercidita. To me, her name was always Mercy. Her nickname. It’s actually spelled Mercedita; ‘merce’ comes from the Latin word merce, merced, or ‘reward.’ In Christian Latin, it means ‘pity, favor, heavenly reward.’
It’s why I named the story, “Mercidita,” after my mother, even if the story is really about the father, Narciso. It’s about mercy. About understanding why a mother would leave, why a father deserves pity, why a daughter is seeking her past.
After a lot of thought, I decided to keep the misspelled name. That’s the beauty of fiction. You can do whatever the hell you want.
But it’s the misspelling that opened that space within.
When I looked at my birth certificate a few nights ago, all the emotions came flooding back. The pain of a mother leaving when I was two. The pain of her shifting identity. That self-hatred of brownness. Of a young mother. Of how she wrote her name, “Mercedita G. Barlin,” in hopes to appear and feel ‘white.’ She took her half-sister’s white husband’s name. Of how she signed it: “Mercedita G. Sipin.” In the next moment, in a fleeting one, she took my father’s name. Was it out of love? Out of guilt? Out of knowing that she would inevitably leave me? I impressed my emotions onto that old document that signified my birth and future.
This moment opened the flood gates. It allowed me to begin the next story in my collection. Another heavy story, pregnant with memory.
I have to take it one sentence at a time. It takes me years to complete a short story. Lots of thinking, mapping on paper, writing it in my head, growing into the person I ought to be. I take risks when I write. I reveal myself. I reveal my fictitious family. But I reveal my pain, our pain. I write through the confusion, the misplaced memories. The sadness and happiness. The good times and the bad.
It’s my way of trying. Of continuing on. Of living. Of owning my life.
It’s my process. Even my own writing process is my own. Sometimes I write in spurts. Sometimes I write without stopping for a bathroom break. I could go for hours, 8, 9, or 10. Sometimes I write one word a day. Sometimes I write for 15 minutes. Sometimes I read. Sometimes I wait. Sometimes I distract myself. Sometimes I need time without writing. Sometimes I need time with only writing. It depends. I am a young writer still finding her path, but I’m almost there. And I know once I’m there, I will change. I will start all over again. But the process is what keeps me going, and the things that have solidified my self and identity will keep the writing my own.
As I end my final year at Mills, I am happy I came. I was able to find the love for my own process. I was able to fall back in love with the sentence: waking up to its mood, its tonality, its positioning, its placement of objects, subjects, verbs, its simpleness, its musicality, its symbolic strength, its briefness, its chorus, its weight.
Today, I am back to writing. I am back to shutting my door to the world, to sitting alone in my room, in letting the words spill out, in erasing the words that don’t fit, in hoping the moment of inspiration comes. And if it doesn’t, I write anyways. I write until I can’t anymore. Slowly, words will fill the page and become sentences. Slowly, I will shape them, map them, erase them, and start again.
Slowly, a story will come. A story of weight and honesty. Of mercy. Out of necessity and pain and mercy.