Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Black and Blue

Train and Ashley Monroe remind us in their latest single, “Bruises,” that all of us go through shitty stuff at times. This is a somewhat platitudinous observation but there is no sense in getting irritated with the failure of anything related to Train to penetrate beyond the surface of the human condition. That would be like getting irked with water for getting you wet. Train’s collaboration with Monroe does, however, illustrate something that is indeed universal: we all get our hearts broken or as the song puts it, “everybody loses.” And those heartbreaks, bruising though they are, ultimately don’t change us in fundamental ways. We get hurt, time passes, then eventually our heartaches become stories. In the song’s words, “these bruises make for better conversation.” But life also confronts us with experiences that do alter us, deform us. These experiences don’t make for good conversation. We don’t talk about them easily and when we’re the audience to these accounts we find it difficult to think of a response that is adequate to what we heard.

I was in El Salvador drinking beer with my brother in his living room when he asked me what it was like for me after we were separated and I moved to the U.S. with our mom. By way of answer, I tried to tell him about how I hated going to school and so from the time I was 12 I would often ride the bus out to the Santa Monica pier instead. Riding through west Los Angeles, away from the immigrant communities in which we lived, I would look out the window to a foreign and distant world. It was all surfaces and disconnected images. Giant billboards selling things I had never seen. Buildings in dramatic shapes, white people going in and out of them. Everything taller, cleaner. The roads wider, their surfaces smooth and black. The poverty more dramatic when contrasted by the obvious wealth. But more than anything else it was the white people. They terrified me. I could never imagine getting off the bus and mingling with them. They concretized my loneliness and isolation. I rode the bus for over an hour, until the last stop. I got off, crossed the street, crossed the park, crossed the bridge, and walked up to the pier. I read on the benches, ate a slice of cheap pizza, and read some more. After a few hours, I would ride the bus back home. But I couldn’t convey to my brother how lonely I felt and how that bus ride was my way of filling up the time of my loneliness. I didn’t think he understood. Then he told me his bus story.

He told me that while I was still a baby when our mom first left for the U.S., he was old enough to remember when Mama Fina, our grandma, took us all to the bus station to put our mom on the bus to Guatemala, the first leg of her trip. When our mom got on the bus he burst into tears and while crying uncontrollably he tried to tear out of Mama Fina’s arms and get on mom’s bus. He remembered that it was a Pullman bus, not one of the local buses. He told me that for years afterward every time he saw a Pullman he would start crying and he would ask any adult nearby if that was our mom coming home.  

After that there was nothing left to say, so we drank in silence, each of us alone with our stories.