The First Time
I was quietly sitting on the ivory, Victorian Louis IV seat, carefully writing my name, Maria Cristina Gutierrez. I wrote slowly through every sharp angle and gentle curve the way my first grade teacher had taught me to when she gave me a gold star and put my paper on the Star Students board by her desk. Then I grabbed a new piece of paper, and to make him proud of being my father, I wrote Maria Cristina Alcantara, though I wasn’t his daughter in the eyes of the law. When my mother gave birth to me, because she wasn’t married, they marked an X over the section of my birth certificate that required my father’s information. So according to Mexico, I was conceived through asexual reproduction.
My father lived in Mexico City, and I was spending part of my summer with him. There were so many beautiful things in his house. Glass curio cabinets full of crystal and porcelain and silver. There were always two women cleaning and rearranging those beautiful things, and his mother always explained how expensive and rare each figurine, plate, and ornament was. I felt so ordinary amongst it all.
I held my breath on every curve and pressed with determination on each angle. Mira Papá mi nombre! I proudly held the paper up like a trophy. He carefully examined it, and then as if I was an invisible figurine, he turned to my mom and questioned why my penmanship was so horrible. The letters of my name blurred into scribbles slumped heavy with bleak ink. I gently crumpled the paper, walked past the curio cabinets, and let the paper roll off my hand into the trash can like a withered oak leaf.
The Second Time
I didn’t know what it meant to receive my first communion, but I was excited about the event because it would be the first time I was going to have my very own party. There would be many guests, and I would be the reason for the celebration. There would be mole, tinga, and barbacoa. And a beautiful cake shaped like a bible made of peaches and cream inscribed with red gel, Feliz Primera Comunión Cristi.
I could hear the conversations, like exploding confetti, over the phone and the details of the event as my father and abuela Esperanza invited family and friends. I imagined myself in a princess satin gown with a beaded tulle skirt and bows like puffy clouds. Twirling like the graceful ballerina in abuela Esperanza’s jewelry box. I had accompanied my abuela to several department stores, and tried on dresses that made me feel delicate and sparkly like her Swarovski crystal dolls. Once I saw her grab the tag on one of the dresses and contemplate it the way someone contemplates a chipped nail.
The night before my first communion, my father told me that I would wear my cousin’s dress. He explained that I would only be wearing the dress for a couple of hours so it made no sense to buy a new one. Somewhere inside I still hoped, believed, that I would wear my Cinderella gown. I was sitting on a pew facing the sermon podium where the priest was showing how Jesus took bread and gave it as a symbol of his body. I could only gaze down at the mud and bile stains on my dress praying that no one else would notice. When I looked up, the priest was looking at me. I saw him glance down at my dress, and then look at me the way a child might look at a wounded dove. As if too painful to watch, he moved on to focus on the other children sitting next me. When we arrived home, everyone hugged and kissed me. But they could no longer convince me that I was special.
The Last Time
I knew he’d be too disappointed in me, so I reserved the right to not tell him I had given birth to Carmen. When I heard his voice on the phone, I felt a numbing, anesthetizing sensation envelope my body. Did he know? Should I tell him? How would I tell him? Was I ready to receive his scornfulness? Hola pa…is all I could blurt out before hearing his voice like frigid howling wind. So how many kids do you have now? Are the only other words he finds in his heart. His question was loaded with so much judgment toward my mom, toward me; I was the oldest of five children (his only child), and she had spent most of her life working from odd job to odd job to support us. I wanted to tell him that I was enrolled in my second semester of college, that I was breastfeeding Carmen and reading to her ever yday, that I had been hired as a research assistant, but everything sounded like a meager attempt to excuse my worthlessness. The silence pierced my ears and his rejection pierced my heart. I hung up. I never spoke to him again.