Ralph Herrera


My grandfather’s home is a  three-car garage 2400 square ft blue sanctuary. Purchased in 1984 for $187,000, the dusty chandelier in the foyer is Southern California classy. I remember seeing a picture of my 1st birthday party which was held in its living room: a cake shaped like a Yule log, three maraschino cherry topping – a chocolate frosted chocolate cake. In the faded photos that are usually forgotten inside of the cabinet located along the second floor hallway between the cabinet for last season’s clothes and the cabinet for extra towels we are eating in front of the first big screen television. We celebrate me at the foot of the television. Peanut shells are strewn across the cement in the backyard.

He gathers them from local bars: saves them for the crows. I assume the gardener throws them away sometimes but usually there are thousands of shells choking the grass at any given time; if you leave your shoes on inside the house, he gets apoplectic. Take off your goddamn shoes kid! Shit man, we just had the carpets cleaned. Okay, be cool. He’s a mix of angry salesman and Mexican jazz aficionado. Be cool man.

I am more fascinated by my grandfather than by any other human being I have ever met. He is unconscionably spiteful, unparalleled in generosity, undeniably alcoholic, unmistakably hilarious, and unstoppably hardworking. I have hated him more than anyone in my life, and have loved him more than anyone in my life at varying points. He has a big screen television in his bedroom. His bedroom is off limits to anyone without his expressed permission to enter. He and my grandmother have had separate rooms for as long as I can remember. They have been married for over 50 years. I have seen them kiss only a handful of times.

After he broke his neck he spent two weeks in the hospital. On the first day out, he asked me and my brother in his room: we were to disrobe him and put on his pajamas. He couldn’t do it himself anymore. I was tasked with removing the pants. I was the only one willing to pull off the underwear. He made jokes the whole time; my brother was in heaven. His task came next. Put some fresh underwear on kid, and shut up. Your brother likes it. His penis was much smaller than I expected.

There is one impressive angel statue in his room: it is the oldest in the house which has over 250 angel statues. It is heavy: I’d guess 20 pounds and made of soft stone. Fifteen years ago I broke it. Do not remember how but I still remember watching it fall off the table and cracking in half at the middle. Everyone was very calm. Super glue. All of it. This was my first contact with the substance. We used two tubes and it worked wonderfully: the stone is porous enough inside for it to work wonders. But the crack is still visible. He likes it. Most of the furniture in his room a dark wood.

A large portrait of my family leans against the bottom of his chest of drawers. It is of my grandparents and their two children: both girls. Taken in the late 70s. Everyone has big hair. The TV in his room is always on. He forgets to turn it off when he leaves for work. He saves stacks and stacks of tapes he’s taken of military specials on the history channel. His room is the master bedroom. It is the size of my first apartment, but with a much nicer bathroom and two full length closets with meticulously organized clothes. Many ties in rows, progressing in color: Black to Ash to Forest green to beige. No peacocking. Military grade greens and grays only. All is an ode to the Second World War. He is a fan of the United States Military. There is a heavy jacket in the closet. The heavy jacket is never worn.

It was purchased when he went to Nepal to visit Mt. Everest. He got food poisoning at the base of the mountain. He laughs when he says his Sherpa gave him two sleeping bags. One to replace the other when it would inevitably become soiled. The jacket got him through the nights: he never liked the cold.

In 2003, I am eighteen. I head to my grandparents’ home to do some laundry. My grandfather is fighting with my mother about something. She is nervous and twitching her hands. He calls her a stupid whore, and I lose it. I tell him if he says another goddamned word I will punch him right in the mouth. He laughs. He laughs and tells me to shut the fuck up and get out of his goddamned house. My mom tells me to leave. I am ashamed because I do leave, I do leave and she stays there with his anger. I go and get the only tattoo I will ever receive. My grandfather forgets about the fight the next day, says my tattoo is stupid. He is losing his hair so quickly. Rogaine chestnut brown streaks across the forest green marble countertop. The watery consistency of blood, the smell of oil and burnt tires. His head, all wires and scalp. The first manic-depressive diagnosed in the Herrera family. The depression is hidden in his bedroom: tapes and tapes of documentaries/shades drawn/dirty duvet/yellowing stacks of magazines/heavy wooden drawer of pills/receipts kept from each early afternoon drink session/don’t come in/quietly crying/that angel is so heavy/don’t touch anything/hair gel stained toilet seat/drain clogged with what’s left/old batteries rattle in the drawer/never wears that jacket/no pictures of his father/no pictures of his past/superglued together. The mania is still talked about in hushed whispers: Lynn pushed down the stairs/the affair/broken neck/thousands of dollars of presents/new car for every kid/Disneyland hotel/money/money/money/I love you/I love you/I  love you

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© Raul Rafael Alvarez