One thing I enjoy about this piece is how tight the bond between narrator and sister are, though sparely conveyed. Do you have siblings of your own? If so, how do you think those relationships have informed your writing here?
I do have a younger sister. She’s definitely an “energetic gremlin,” more so when she was younger.
I held a lot of resentment toward her back then, when she was the wild child, and I was the responsible one. She evened out eventually and I’m really proud of the responsible, wise, balanced (and still totally fun) person that she’s grown into. But I think that writing this story was my way to visit the could-have-been, and that maybe I’m a bit late, but I understand why she was the way she was, even admire it now, and that I still love her.
Cultural plurality (Maria has “kept her Spanish”; her brother has not) and notions of legitimate/illegitimate happiness play a large role in the story. Do you see these things as related?
That part of the story is something from my own life. I’m half Peruvian. I think I grew up very cognizant of the difference between what American culture was and what other cultures were (a warning to multicultural parents: your kids are more perceptive than you think they are), and I think that at a very early age I wanted to define myself first and foremost as a normal American. And so I stopped speaking Spanish, I would call myself “white” not “hispanic,” and I just, well, assimilated really cleanly. I majored in English in college.
The narrator in “Eulogy” has rejected his heritage because he sees it as cliché and illegitimate in a lot of ways, and we get some hints that there’s a similar focus on being responsible and legitimate in other aspects of his life. But when Maria dies she acts as a mirror. She’s embraced her illegitimate heritage. And she’s embraced some other paths that the narrator sees as illegitimate also, drug addiction or something close to it being the more obvious one. But at least she’s, you know, trying to be happy. I think when someone dies, you feel more empathy for them than when they were still around. Maybe it’s trying to make up for not being close enough to them when they were alive. It’s that moment of empathy that lets the narrator step back from trying to view Maria and the things she does as legitimate or illegitimate, and just see her as his sister, and try to understand Maria and why she’s the way she is. And I think that that also helps him understand why he’s the way he is.
Finally, with a head-nod toward Maria: When your time comes, how do you want to leave this world?
I think I’ve told my girlfriend (running at 6 years now) a few times that I want to grow old with her, like a hundred years old, and then we can die at the exact same moment in a plane crash. It’s so cheesy.
So maybe I want that, but I also don’t want it. Death and coping with it and moving on is as important in defining who we are as people as anything else. I’m not a very spiritual person, but I’ve heard my religious and spiritual friends and loved ones say that you can’t try to make God do your will, but you have to accept his. Even if I don’t totally buy into it, I always thought that that was really profound. I think you have to be, in some way, genuinely thankful for or at least accepting of your past and future suffering because that’s part of what makes you able to feel empathy and, really, able to be a person.
So I’ll just evade the question and say that whatever way I eventually go, it’ll be just fine. I’ve got no hope or expectation in that department.