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Valeria loved her dad, no less than her sisters did, but not as slavishly as them. Sure, she fawned over him at times, fighting with her younger sister Selena over who would have the privilege of removing the work boots from their father’s tired feet every evening. But it wasn’t like that. Valeria didn’t love her dad unconditionally, like Selena appeared to. Valeria could even get angry at her father — yeah, it’s true. There was the one morning Maria, the oldest, was practicing her backhand against the garage and let her tennis racket fly into the kitchen window, shattering it. Lucky for her their mother wasn’t in her favorite room and so María was able to blame it on the second oldest, Valeria. (María was the exception among the sisters, as she was always closest with their mother and always would be. They shared the same name, after all, whereas the other sisters had received their first names from their father and their middle names from their mother.) When their dad came home from his first job that afternoon, he yelled at Valeria for being so careless and then yelled at her for lying about the whole thing. She couldn’t believe he didn’t believe her when she told him she didn’t break the window. She cried for a bit, but then she got pissed off and decided to run away, which she did, for a few hours. Nowhere far — just to the park around the corner. She came back home before sunset to find her sisters playing dress-up while her mother cooked enchiladas and her father fixed the window. No one had even realized she’d run away, but she was too embarrassed and pissed off to tell them.
Cristina looked exactly like Valeria, and in fact few people could ever really tell them apart. What made discerning one from the other even harder was that they were never together, owing to their mutual animosity for one another. Cristina hated Valeria, who hated Cristina even more. Cristina was the goody two-shoes, always pegada a su mother’s hip, by will but also by law, her mother’s law, which had the sisters cleaning the dishes, sweeping and mopping the floors, helping with the cooking, and remaining on the property when not at school or church or somewhere out with, you guessed it, their mother. Cristina accepted her mother’s wishes without even a bad word muttered under her breath, something Valeria found increasingly difficult to pull off as she got bolder. Every Sunday their mother beamed from the front row as Cristina proudly, self-righteously, read the lectura during la misa. Valeria simply rolled her eyes and tried not to gag to death.
When Valeria got pregnant, Cristina thought she should keep the baby. Her mother told her two things: one, no daughter of hers was ever getting an abortion, and two, she wasn’t going to have any pregnant girls living under her roof. Their father convinced their mother to drop the second commandment, and though he considered himself as good a Christian as his church-lady wife, if not a real Catholic, he didn’t pressure his daughter one way or the other. “I just want you to be happy and safe, Valeria,” he told her as they sat alone on the bed in her parents’ room, where she’d been sent by her mother to receive at least a good tongue beating. In his eyes she could see her father wasn’t upset, just disappointed, which in her eyes was worse. He worried about the kind of life she would have as a teen mom. Valeria collapsed into a deep cry, and her father wrapped his solid carpenter’s arm around her. “Ya, ya, mi rajita de canela. Everything will be okay, okay?”
That night the sisters were sent to their room where they listened to their parents arguing over the pregnancy downstairs.
“What’s done is done, María. It’s no use attacking Valeria and making things worse.”
“Ay, sí! You’re always so lenient and forgiving with Cristina, your little rajita de canela. That’s why she’s pregnant!”
“These things happen, María. It happened to us.”
“You cannot compare us to what’s going on with Cristina! Es una malcriada — that’s what’s happening!”
“Maybe. But all we can do now is be there for Valeria and the baby. The rest is in God’s hands.”
Valeria kept the baby, and Cristina was never seen or heard from again. Their mother swears she died the day Valeria got pregnant, that Valeria killed her by being a whore, but Valeria and her dad know different. Valeria and Cristina couldn’t go on living together, not in any healthy way. One of them had to get rid of the other. Lord knows Cristina tried, but she was the weaker, more timid one, and so she got snuffed out.
Valeria’s mother still uses Cristina’s name, still looks sideways at Valeria, perhaps hoping her straight-laced little girl will reappear one day, the way Valeria did the night she pretended to run away. Even Selena and María keep confusing Valeria with the sister who vanished back in ‘04. Valeria plays along, only during visits, and only to keep the peace. Her father is the only one in the family who seems to know who she is, since he’s the only one who uses her name, the one he gave her at the hospital in Juárez.
Featured image: Spiro Bolos/Flickr