Saturday, November 27, 2010
Renata's Diary: She Writes Her History Growing Up With Antonie!
April 5, 1883
I will do now what my dear Teresa insists: write the story of my early years with Antonie.
To begin, I’m seeing my cousin through the grimy window of the stagecoach which brought me west to California so many years ago. I had been sleeping, mouth open, chin resting against the glass, but as soon as the driver shouted out to stop the horses, my eyes flew wide open. I couldn’t see much at all, so I rolled the window down, and a cloud of red dust billowed up. I began coughing, and had to wipe my eyes. When I stopped, I realized that through the dust and haze there was a tall, lean boy standing below me. He had the most earnest brown eyes I had ever seen, as if they had been toasted in the sun for an eternity. His wavy hair lay in black rivers on his shoulders, too, which amazed me only because his hair so closely resembled my own both in length and color. (Mine was a slight bit more curly.)
The boy, who looked to be about fifteen, gazed up at me and I returned the stare, and instantly something passed there, as if an ancient link was being rekindled. So many times I have contemplated this connection between me and Antonie, and I believe that there is only one satisfying explanation: that we knew each other in another time and place, under different names and circumstances and faces. Somewhere in the past, our souls were linked and we were kin of some sort to each other—long before our first meeting in 1872.
I wore a black veil that day I arrived on the stagecoach, because my mother had passed away just three months before. I let the veil down over my face, and stood up and grabbed my small traveling case. The driver opened the door, and still more dust rose up, so that I descended through a bluster of red powder. When it cleared, my cousin was standing beside his father, who was a big blocky fellow, with a thick handlebar mustache riding above his lip. Oddly, my uncle was not nearly as tall as his son.
“Finally, you are here my dear little girl.” My uncle came forward and reaching out to me, he took my shoulders and pulled me powerfully to his chest. We stood there and he held me, refused to let go, and I could smell his soap, and his cherry tobacco. I could also hear him sobbing. My uncle, Roberto Guillermo Quiero, or Rio for short, had reason to be heartbroken: in the space of one year, he had lost not only his own wife, Mariana, but his younger sister as well. His younger sister being Regina, my mother.
That afternoon, I met Señora Ramos for the first time. After Uncle Rio’s wife died, Senora’s influence in the household grew steadily more important. I remember her so well from our first meeting. I was sitting between Antonie and Uncle Rio in the wagon bumping along the hacienda road, for what felt like an eternity. All I could see was the very tops of trees. Road dust forced me to cover my mouth so that I wouldn’t keep choking.
And then, suddenly, the wagon turned, and tipped downward, and then the magnificent house came into view. There in the clearing between the two ancient live oak trees out front of the hacienda stood Senora. Ah but she was so much younger, and thinner, in those days. She helped me down from the wagon, and all the while, she wouldn’t stop smiling at me. “Tienes hambre m’ija?” were the first three words she spoke. And of course, I was famished after my journeying, I had spent weeks in travel, not having proper meals and often not eating at all. She led me into the kitchen and warmed some corn tortillas, and spread them with beans and rice. And I sat with her at the table in the kitchen, and she spoke to me in Spanish, and when I finished the meal, I was so happy because we were already friends.
In the weeks that followed –I had arrived in the middle of the summer—I wasn’t in school, and so I often found myself alone. Antonie studied me constantly. He would stare at me during meals until I started to squirm in my chair. And then there were those times he would appear in the doorway of my bedroom, and stand there until I looked up. His dark eyes were lively and fiery. But the eyes were brilliant gems caught in a dead and stony face. When I tried to speak to him, he just stared at me with his troubled expression, as if he might start to cry. Apparently, he had spoken to no one since his mother had died the year before.
Uncle Rio knew that I had musical talent (I had spent several years studying piano in Madrid). And so he gladly provided me my first guitar. I would sit in my room, pressing my small fingers to the strings, trying to make music out of the chords that he had sketched out on paper for me. It was a tedious endeavor, though. Weeks went by –most of July—and I didn’t think I would ever get the hang of the stringed instrument.
At dinner one night, Uncle Rio asked me how my guitar was coming.
“I’m afraid it’s not coming at all,” I said. “I am ready to give it up.” Secretly, I hoped to convince my wealthy uncle that he should buy me a piano. But I didn’t know how to ask for such an indulgence.
“Be patient my dear. Wait a while before you let go of the guitar.”
A few days later, I was in my bedroom, practicing my chords. Trying to switch between C and A minor. Back and forth I went, strumming each chord. And knowing how clumsy I was. How discordant I must sound. Suddenly I heard something. Or more correctly, I felt some warmth settle around me. When I looked up, Antonie was only inches away. He was so close that I could see the thick black brooms that were his sad eyelashes.
I blinked. He had his guitar. His eyes searched mine. Without a word, he sat down beside me on the bed. He bent over the guitar as if he was bowing before the priest at Sunday mass. As soon as his fingers hit the strings, they flew. Rivers of magical sound poured out of his perfectly curved hands. Streams of music more beautiful, more heart wrenching and soulful, than anything I had ever heard before rose up. He stopped playing, and I touched the strings. And then he smiled at me for the very first time. His smoldering eyes softened and I knew, it didn’t matter that I had no piano. I was already smitten, totally in love, with Antonie’s guitar.