Me cago en la… would whisper Salvador Maté through his teeth — ruined from chain-smoking. Every time he spoke, he brought his hand to his mouth, self-conscious of his teeth and breath, and mumbled under it. He always mumbled ‘me cago en la’ at our mediocrity in Mathematics — the subject he taught us.
Somewhere we learned that the insult was complete with la madre. I shit on the mother.
When he attacked me, it didn’t bother me because my mom never came to my parent-teacher meetings, so I didn’t have to worry about her getting pooped on.
Being insulted was far better than what happened to my arithmetically-challenged classmates, who typically were unexpectedly thrown chalk pieces at their head or the chalk eraser in the case of lost-cause students.
If you were in recess with chalk in your hair, then you were going to struggle in school, and very likely, life.
Maté was one of three Spanish teachers we had. Somehow they all taught Math and came from Andalucía. How three Andalusians end up in Barranquilla teaching math at an all-boy Augustinian school beats me.
From my exhaustive search (two minutes) in all bibliographic sources (Google), the proper word ending Mate’s sentence was ‘leche’. I shit on the milk instead of the mother like we thought, which could be equally disturbing as brown is a high contrast color to white.
When you use the mother as the subject to shit on, the proper grammatical formation is ‘me cago en tu madre’. The syntax is made clear by saying whose mother you are taking a dump on so as not to create confusion.
I believe the Spanish create the best music, and they use the same lyrical prowess to compose scathing insults.
Only they would bring all that is pure and divine about the mother archetype and top it with everything that is grotesque and brown about poop as if they were putting romesco sauce on patatas bravas.
Maybe those early years surrounded by Spanish teachers made me love Iberic culture.
That and maybe knowing I have a small percentage of Basque in me even though I’m not super into fish like any respectable Basque diet is.
In 1995, right before Holy Week, one of my mom’s clients didn’t have cash, so he paid her with oh-so-many pounds of fish instead. Then she served my sister and me fish dishes for breakfast, morning snacks, lunch, afternoon snacks, and dinner for a week. I have had a love/hate relationship with fish since then.
I wonder if this was my mom’s intention all along since she doesn’t want me appreciating anything from my dad’s side of the family.
Through that love of Spanish culture, I learned about the caganer.
The caganer is a small figurine famous in nativity scenes in Catalanuya — a shepherd with his pants down taking a poop near Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus.
The Shepard was probably close enough for the son of God to smell it and decide in that very moment, “I will sacrifice myself to save that man’s soul because his intestines are forever damned.”
In my exhaustive research (okay, fine, it was one minute), I learned from all these sources (okay fine, Wikipedia) about the origins of the caganer and I was disappointed by what Catalan cultural commentators think of it.
They talked about how the caganer was fertilizing the land of the following year’s crops; they spoke of the artificial increase of divinity of the scene by putting it next to something horrible. I didn’t find a view resembling what I thought it meant.
To me, nothing embodies the spirit of the word scatological like the caganer does. I love the irreverence of the caganer. That’s why all those explanations reek worse than the caganer’s dropping.
The nativity scene is supposed to show us the only path to salvation. The caganer is just there, behind the scene, with his pants around his knees, just relieving himself. That tableau is the perfect representation of the conflict between everything that is supposed to be holy and everything that is human.
It is the vacillation of my belief in God.
When people tell me that God exists and that there’s only one way to find it or that he lives under one roof and that everybody that is not under it will be burnt in hell, then I chafe at those expectations. And I want to shout from the top of my lungs that God is dead, which is the same thing Nietzsche said and it feels so good to say because, unlike Nietzsche, I don’t have syphilis.
But when I’m left alone, and nobody is ringing at my door telling me God believes in me, and I’m able to be myself, my scatological self, my ideological self, my anatomical self, my desired self.
Then something strange happens.
I have these moments.
Like when my wife tells me she will birth our children at home. And my neurotic, meddlesome, and hypochondriac family throw every horror birth story they have ever heard at her.
I look at them, and I think it is likely I will kill them. History is filled with family-on-family violence for lesser things like kingdoms, gold, or land. Imagine what I can do in the name of love.
Then I look at my wife, and she is just laughing it off. But not like someone in the South of the US would. Where they tell you ‘that’s nice’ but they don’t mean it. Because they know you have freedom of speech, but they believe in the second amendment, and they have the guns to prove it.
She is genuinely laughing it off, and I ask her why she is not upset, and she tells me that that is their story and not hers. And, like a badass, she follows through and has our children at home.
Or the moment I saw my first daughter and fell in love with her.
Or when I thought it wasn’t possible to love someone as much as I love my first daughter, then I saw my second daughter for the first time, and I thought my heart was going to explode from so much love, and contrary to what I believe, it didn’t.
But in the process of expanding, my heart displaced water, and the only place for that water to go was through my eyes.
Okay, fine, I was crying.
And how all that tension disappeared when my two-year-old reached over to my newborn who had been in this world for one minute and gently held her hand and softly shook it before saying, “hi. Nice to meet you.”
In those moments, I’m not so sure God doesn’t exist. I feel that if he or she or they exist, then I can only find them in the places ideologues and dictators will never tell us they are in.
So the caganer is not only there to relieve himself but also to remind us that we are humans, with human needs, and we can aspire to be more than what we are without forgetting who we truly are. And that we can find the divine in that which is human and mundane.
But what do I know?
I don’t even dare to insult someone by telling them I will take a dump on their milk — let alone their mother.