Tortured by his past, a Salvadoran man contemplates a solitary future in this dark memoir.
Arteaga’s memoir begins with a startling admission: He possesses a “brain condition” that affords him an impeccable memory of life events from as far back as when he was not even 3 years old. To him, this is hardly a blessing; he considers himself accursed with the horrific, lasting memories of his youth spent living with an uncle who was unceremoniously executed by rebels in turbulent 1980s-era El Salvador. That forced young Arteaga and his single mother to flee, eventually to his aunt’s home in the mountains, then to an abusive boyfriend’s house while his mother worked in the coffee bean and sugar fields. Arteaga admits to early rebellious behavior and thievery in Catholic school and beyond, but his immigration to Los Angeles in 1987—what should have been a positive life-changing moment—only worsened his penchant throughout high school for stealing, truancy, sex and lying, a talent he attributes to his mother’s behavior. A move to Garden City, Kan., found Arteaga working at a variety of blue-collar jobs while a desire for a relationship led him to Internet chat rooms and emails with prospective girlfriends. But, again, he met with frustration and disillusionment, even after the birth of his daughter from a longer-term relationship. The disappointments multiplied as did his increased reclusiveness; even his cat got run over. All that remain are the 15 tattoos he’s received commemorating “people in my life that have hurt me,” he writes, “Emotionally, physically, and just simply people that I need to forget.” The fact that there’s nary a sunny sky to be found in Arteaga’s short, grim confessional isn’t the only problem with this well-meaning work. The raw, unedited text is distressingly littered with awkward phrasings, misspelled words (e.g., Arteaga writes “incest” when describing “incense”) and a plethora of homophones, right up to the memoir’s last word.
Written from the heart of a troubled soul, this dreary, depressing memoir needs more polish.