Before we broke up, Juan shared a folder with me in Google Drive. It was called ‘Quotes’ and was an archive of all the things he found intriguing. He’d spent a year compiling quotes from artists, celebrities, and people he overheard on the street or on a bus or somewhere. A place you could go for ideas when it seemed like there weren’t going to be any more, ever. He knew perfectly well that it was a treasure, and he gave it to me. I was twenty-eight years old when Juan moved out, and I thought a lot about my family, maybe more than I did about him. Our empty kitchen brought back my dad’s clandestine crying, hidden partly under Enrique Macaya Márquez’s voice as the football match unfolded on Channel 11, my mom’s agitated attempts to argue in a whisper, destroying her vocal cords. I thought a lot every day about how sorry I felt for people who could live like that, with high blood pressure, screaming at each other, as if it were something I would eventually have to get used to. I thought about myself, about those first years of my life, shut in the closet in my grandmother’s room so no one could see me gradually constructing my personality.
After Juan left, I started going into the Quotes file on a daily basis. I think I sensed that this wellspring of images had to do with the shattering of something stable. Night after night I went into the infinite archive until I landed on an article from a Spanish paper that specialized in hard-to-believe facts. It was about the Argentavis magnificens, a giant relative of the buzzard. A six-million-year-old bird with black and blue feathers that was eight meters wide, same as a school bus. A creature that laid less than one egg per year, one of the lowest fertility rates in natural history. The article came with a picture for scale. A man was looking into the camera from beside the fossil of the Argentavis, which was spreading its wings behind him in an Argentine museum. Possibly the largest bird ever to fly the skies. It was amazing and it looked like the shadow of the man who was looking at the camera not really sure of what he was doing. He was alone and well dressed. He seemed to be trying to glean his future by looking ahead, with that thing, like some historical nightmare, perched monstrously behind his back.
So I called Juan. I broke our pact to give each other space, and I said thank you. That he’d made me think about the past. And that the past was family, and family was that bird.
They were both teenagers, both in makeshift pajamas – no patterned pants with bows for them. Instead, they wore T-shirts with rock bands on them and panties. I was there, too. Watching in silence. Distance and obsession. The same feeling I get when I watch high-risk sport competitions, so removed from my quiet urban daily life, yet there it is: the beauty of a ski jumper soaring, who could perfectly well shatter their jaw into a thousand pieces if they fell. I watch, and I admire, almost always from a distance.
It was very early in the morning, and I was very small. I’d just turned five. My sisters’ eyes were puffy from sleep and from the disruptions of their hormones. It all started when one told the other she wanted to read, and the other responded with early-morning grumpiness that she could care less, she wanted to listen to music. A long while of this back-and-forth that led nowhere, with me glimpsing now and then their growing bodies, girls who were sisters to each other and half-sisters to me. And me? I hated that idea of half so much, I hated not being something fully, that those girls in their underwear were my family, but at the same time, not. ‘I want to listen to music,’ Ana was saying, and Cecilia wasn’t saying anything back anymore, she was just biting her lips because there were no words for something so not fair. The having to share a room when they were practically adults, with their own complete ideas, posters of the Frente País Solidario – FREPASO – the first political party that had excited them as much as Indio Solari moving his neck around in the middle of a stage on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. ‘I want to listen to music,’ Ana was saying, and she picked me up and started moving around the room with me to the rhythm of an Argentine pop song while her sister Cecilia told her to cut it out, it wasn’t funny anymore, Mom was sleeping, and she was going to wake her up. Ana said she didn’t care, let her wake up, and let Troy burn. She kept saying that, ‘Let Troy Burn’, ‘Troy is ablaze’, and I like didn’t have the faintest idea of what ablaze meant.
The first blow came then, out of nowhere. I can still hear the sound Ana’s skin made because it was in my foreground. I could feel the movement of her springing back, like a breeze on my cheek. She put me down on the floor so she could bring her hands up to her face. I crawled onto the bed so I could see better. Same as ever: always wanting the best seats for the catastrophe. ‘I want to read,’ Cecilia said and lay down on the bed. In that instant my sisters were two animals about to work some shit out. Ana leaped on Cecilia and did something to her face, I don’t know exactly what, but she did it well, it was like a burst of inspiration. Then they were scratching each other and pulling each other’s long hair – both of them had the same hair: long, black, thick, no bangs. All their genes in a hairstyle. They kept saying the same thing, it was like there was no way to revise the script, one of them wanted one thing and the other wanted something else, and they were hurting each other. Watching them do that work was like watching a room fall into disorder. They forgot I was there. They kept screaming at each other for a few minutes until my dad came running in, wearing his own makeshift pajamas, which were also a T-shirt and underwear. All of them exceedingly exposed, clawing at each other in their underwear. The man who barged into the room without knocking and tried to separate the sisters was my father, but not theirs. He could still get angry, though, and snap into action, because this was his house, and that girl sitting on the bed was his daughter, and he was already on familiar terms with these teenagers. He grabbed Ana by the arms and trapped her in an embrace meant to immobilize her. Cecilia sat up on her bed and combed her fingers through her hair. Her face was as red as if all her blood had concentrated there. Ana kept yelling, now in the living room, while my dad kept telling her she was a fucking brat.
I stayed quiet. I was trying to figure out which one of them had won. Cecilia looked me in the eyes, suddenly remembering I was there. ‘These things happen when people love each other,’ she said – something like that. And that’s what I would have believed then. That loving each other is letting Troy go up in flames. That to love is to burn up and burn down.
My mom was asleep in their room. Oblivious to everything. Two hours later we were having breakfast in the kitchen. The teenagers were still in their underwear, and the grown-ups had assembled outfits. We were listening to a football match on the radio. He made comments about miscalled fouls and Rafael Maceratesi, the striker for Rosario Central. No one responded. Cecilia was dabbing a big scratch on her forehead with a cotton ball with alcohol on it. Ana was eating biscuits.
A year after that, my mom told my sisters she could no longer support them, so they found jobs as errand runners for an oil company in town. With their tiny salary they decided to rent an apartment to live in together. Ana and Cecilia were eighteen and nineteen years old, they were radical activists, and they had a group of friends who played witty, unique pranks. When my half-sisters went to live somewhere else, I was left alone with the adults and no other option than to start growing up.
From then on, I started losing my obsessions, and thus came the breaking down. Malfunctioning. The ski jumper’s broken jaw.