This is a piece of fiction I've been working on for almost a year. It comes and goes but never really leaves. In an effort to write more and get the story out, I've decided to start linking up with My So Called Chaos and Music Mondays. That way I will have a goal of writing every week, and then you all can critique it every week since I don't have money for a proper editor as of now. I have some ideas on how I want it to go, but writing always takes me to different places. I hope you like it and as always, be honest. I'd love any and all feed back.
Ah, look at all the lonely people…
-”Eleanor Rigby”, The Beatles
John Lennon died on my second birthday. For most people this wouldn’t be a big deal. For most people, the death of a music legend, would just be something cool about the day they were born. For me, John Lennon has never been just some guy who died on my birthday. You can’t be born to my parents and think that John Lennon was just a guy who made music. I’ve been listening to The Beatles since conception. My mother never sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, instead she sang Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane. My father sent me birthday cards that were little more than the lyrics to Hey Jude and Yellow Submarine, until the year he actually sent me a model of a yellow submarine. You don’t just grow up, celebrating your birthday on December 8th, and think that John Lennon is just some guy. Especially if you name is Eleanor Lennon Estrada.
I don’t remember anything about my second birthday. My mother has never really liked to talk about it. My assumption is that it has more to do with my father’s absence and less to do with Lennon’s untimely death. I have one photo, and one story told to me by a very drunk Tia Carmen when I was nine. Carmen said that on the night of my second birthday, my mother was very distraught. Always holding high hopes that my father would surprise us all with his presence. Carmen said that my mother was late getting to Abuelita Esperanza’s house, and by the time she arrived with my birthday cake, we had finished dinner hours before. My mother had spend the day and part of the evening working at her important office job at the local hospital. My father, according to Carmen, was “on the road”, a term I had learned early on in my life really meant “no where to be found”. My mother brought the cake and the tears and by seven forty five, I was crying too. Tia Carmen says that she begged my mother to leave me with Abuelita and go to Herman’s bar around the corner to watch the end of the football game. Monday night football was a big draw in the tiny farming town apparently. My mother resisted saying that I needed my sleep and she needed a nice long bath. So Carmen walked us out, and while we drove home, Carmen sat at Herman’s with a whiskey sour as the news broke that Lennon was dead.
According to Tia Carmen, this was why my mother has cried every year on my birthday. Why she listens to Eleanor Rigby on the stereo while she drinking her morning coffee every December 8th. And while the tears fall silently down her cheeks that she still thinks of my father’s call that night, and how maybe, just maybe things could have been different.
Ahh… Look at all the lonely people…
On my fifteenth birthday, I sat down next to my mother on the couch with Eleanor Rigby playing in the background. I didn’t look at her, but just grabbed her hand in mine. Then, in a voice just loud enough to hear her, I asked her, tell me about that night. Tell me about the night he died. It was like I was asking about a relative, and though I wasn’t, somehow I was. Mom squeezed my hand, and said, “Your dad missed that too”.
Mom told me that the phone was ringing off the hook as she opened the apartment door. She knew who it was on the line. Benny, my father. Even though she had left messages for him for weeks, she knew he was going to miss my birthday. Like the year before when he sent a wagon, from the Sears catalog three weeks after my first birthday party with the words, “Sorry, I was on the road”, written in the card. This late night phone call was no surprise.
“She’s asleep Benny. You missed it”
“Mary Elizabeth. Lizzie. Liz. Turn on Monday Night Football”, Esteban “Benny” Estrada choked out through one too many Coors originals. “Just turn on the game”.
“Benny, what in the world..”
“Lizzie. He’s dead. Lennon. Is. Dead”.
I’ve never really known if my father knew it was my birthday. I don’t think he realized it right away. He was just calling my mother to break the terrible and awful news that something in their lives had died. A part of their childhood, their teenage years, perhaps even their love. In the years following, Benny’s calls were always short, and sometimes sweet. I never really knew if it was me that made him so sad, or Lennon. Still, he called, sometimes at three minutes to midnight, but he called.
The only picture from my second birthday, the evidence that it actually happened, I’m sitting in my mother’s lap. There is a cake, which for years I thought had a sad clown, but upon further investigation have found is actually a really ugly Santa Claus. It took years and my cousin Mando’s magnifying glass in fourth grade to figure that out. My mother still has on her trench coat that she wore every winter until I was thirteen and it literally fell apart. She looks very classy and business like in it, despite the hair that is escaping from her once pristine bun. I’m crying, my mouth open wide, saliva dripping from my chin. I’m wearing red overalls and a white turtle neck, my hair in pig tails. My mother is smiling so big, that the only conclusion I could draw was that she was trying to overcompensate for her crying child and absent fiance. It’s a smile that would repeat itself in many a picture for the rest of my life.
Now as an adult, my mother calls me on the morning of my birthday, her nose a little stuffed. Emotion clouding her voice. I know without asking that she has listened to Eleanor Rigby with her coffee. I also know that she has probably shed many of those tears for my father, who she will always love.
Ah, look at all the lonely people….
Sometimes I wish I had a different name.
It’s hard to grow up as Eleanor Lennon Estrada and not hate your name sometimes. My mother says that Benny begged her to name me Lennon whether I was a boy or a girl. She may have, except he was on the road when I was born. Photographing The Clark Hammond Experience. Today the “experience” is just a memory, but Pete Clark is a legend of rock and roll, and my father was his first photographer. How he landed that job I will never know, but my mom says it has something to do with “the right place at the right time”. Unfortunately that turned out to be the wrong time for my mother, since someone had to be responsible. My mother left her life in San Francisco, returned home to a sleepy little farming town in California and had me. She will tell you that she had a good life too, that I was all she ever needed, but I think that’s only true because I was Benny’s daughter, and he was the absolute love of her life.
Mary Elizabeth Shaw met Esteban “Benny” Estrada when she was sixteen at the bowling alley. She wasn’t supposed to be there, not on that side of town. Her father was a farmer, with acres of lettuce, among other things, and Benny was a Mexican, who spent his summers working in those fields. Benny was also the younger brother of my mother’s best friend Carmen Estrada. So when Carmen invited Mary Elizabeth to tag along to her cousin Frank’s fourteenth birthday, my mother accepted. She liked Carmen, and Carmen liked The Beatles, which I think made them instant best friends. My mother had no idea she would meet a boy like Benny. So sure of himself and his camera, that he had gotten for Christmas that year. Benny wasn’t like the boys Mary Elizabeth knew. The ones who played football and baseball and drove their father’s cars to Roy’s hamburger stand. Benny dressed in jeans and striped t-shirts like the surfer boys she saw on TV, She said he walked around like he was in on a private joke. Like he knew the punch line of life. And when he shook her hand, her stomach fell.
The following Monday, she found an envelope with a picture enclosed. She wasn’t looking at the camera, but for the first time in Mary Elizabeth’s life she thought she looked pretty. She felt she could be a person who took a good picture. On the back Benny had written “Lizzie Bean - 1969”. My mother would keep those photos in her white vinyl jewelry box for the rest of her life.
Mary Elizabeth and Benny graduated from high school in 1970. As planned, my mom moved to San Francisco to go to Secretarial College. Benny stayed behind to work in the fields for his dad, who was a foreman at one of the farms, and start community college. She called Benny every night at six from the pay phone outside the apartment she shared with three other girls at the school. No matter what Benny was doing he made sure to be home for her call. When she called in December to tell him she’d be home in three days for Christmas, he told her he had a surprise for her. Benny had been accepted at the community college in San Francisco, his first semester tuition paid by his parents, and would Mary Elizabeth Shaw do him the honor of becoming his wife. It was the happiest Mary Elizabeth had ever been.
At home for Christmas, Liz and Benny decided that it would be smarted to live together in the city. Mom called her mentor at the secretarial college and she put her in touch with her brother who was a landlord. They sealed the deal over the phone with Benny’s dad, Armando offering a sizable deposit by December 28th that was over two months rent. Everything seemed to be going smoothly until Liz went home to tell her folks. It was 1971 and Grandpa Shaw was a traditionalist. No daughter of his was going to be shacking up with some Mexican as he put it. He also let mom know that he couldn’t abide by no Mexican son in law, and if she moved to San Francisco, she didn’t have a home to come back to. Grandma Shaw cried with a broken heart, but didn’t offer a word otherwise to her husband. Mom packed up what she could in some old warehouse boxes and packed her little car. She didn’t even offer a goodbye because she didn’t want her voice to crack.
Benny’s parents Armando and Esperanza were overjoyed. Mary Elizabeth had been a part of their family since Carmen had invited her to cousin Frank’s fourteenth birthday party. Mary Elizabeth had spent countless nights sleeping over and enjoying Esperanza’s famous enchiladas. Armando and Esperanza offered to pay for the wedding before the love birds left for the big city, but Mary Elizabeth and Benny wanted to wait. Let us get settled they said, let us finish school they argued.
They did both, and neither.
My mother graduated from the Secretarial College and landed a very solid and good paying job at City Hall. She worked for someone who worked for the Mayor or something like that. My father got tired of going to school and left his job to work at a hotel bar. That’s where he met Pete Clark and David Hammond. Soon Lizzie Bean and Benny were going out every night, listening to every gig Clark and Hammond played until they were discovered with a house band at the Fillmore. Soon The Clark Hammond Experience needed a photo for a Rolling Stone debut article, and it was Benny Estrada’s photo that was printed next to the article. From there Benny went on the road, and by 1977, he lived on tour buses and in hotels in foreign lands, while my mother lived in their walk up and worked overtime to make sure the rent was paid. On one of Benny’s stops in San Francisco in 1977, my mother became pregnant. When she told Benny, he promised her that he’d be back after The Clark Hammond Experience played their Midwest tour. Mom moved back to Salinas after Benny called from Flint to say he missed her, but that the tour was going to be extended.
Much to her embarrassment, she found herself with no job and no place to live when she arrived home. She stopped at Carmen’s new apartment to tell her the news about Benny and the baby. Carmen said she could stay there on the couch until she figured it out, but that didn’t last once Esperanza found out. Esperanza said that Elizabeth needed a proper bed, and the baby a crib. Esperanza opened her home and rearranged the room Carmen had just vacated. Carmen helped her move in and Armando brought home a crib he had bought at Sears. Overwhelmed my mother spent her first three days in the Estrada home in her bed, crying and pining for Benny. Benny spent those days in Chicago with an underage groupie and cocaine.
Mary Elizabeth found a new job and a new life in Salinas. A stellar recommendation from the Mayor’s office helped her get a job in the administration building at the hospital. Along with the job she was able to find an apartment, much to Esperanza’s dismay, and by her third trimester she was living a brand new life. Eventually Benny tracked her down. He begged her to come home, although he was living in the hotel he formerly worked. He offered to come to her, but she always said no. It was easier this way. It was better this way. In her heart she knew Benny was in no shape to be a father.
In the early morning hours of December 8th, 1978, Mary Elizabeth awoke to find her water broken. She called Carmen, and Carmen drove her to the hospital in her green Volkswagen beetle. Carmen held my mother’s hand, fed her ice chips, and cried with her when the pain was too much to bare. Mary Elizabeth accepted no pain medication, as her punishment for loving Benny Estrada the way she did. Instead she sang every Beatles song she knew from memory starting with I wanna hold your hand. She would start and stop with each contraction. Somewhere around noon, she had started singing her favorite, “Eleanor Rigby”, and in between pushes and screaming she would silently whisper, “Ah, look at all the lonely people, where do they all come from”. I was born after the second chorus, and given the name Eleanor Lennon Estrada.
Which makes it impossible for me to escape my name and the soundtrack of my life.
|My So Called Chaos|