Characters You Imagine, People You Never Meet

Glendaliz Camacho

Publisher’s note: In the Small Press Picks review of our anthology The Female Complaint, one of the stories singled out for praise was Glendaliz Camacho’s “Noelia and Amparo,” which “turns the traditional wife-mistress/unfaithful husband tale on its head.” Here Glendaliz describes her “unearned homesickness” for a mythologized Dominican Republic, and how it inspired the story.

The Dominican Republic is a mythologized place for me.

In thirty-six years, I’ve been there once for a few weeks as a tourist, but it’s a place that cannot escape my imagination. Since I grew up in the most famously Dominican neighborhood outside the country, it revealed enough of itself to engender love and wonder. It’s the noncustodial parent I idealize, but having grown up as American as MTV and breakfast cereal, I find that its inner workings will always be unknowable to me. I suppose I set so many of my stories in the Dominican Republic to cure myself of this curious case of unearned homesickness.

In the same vein, I imagined characters in “Noelia and Amparo” in order to know people I would never meet—in particular, my great-grandmother. I had only heard snippets of things about her over the years. My father grew up in her house with many of his cousins. At night, when they called out goodnight to their grandmother from their beds, they faked other voices until they exploded into giggles and she realized that, Wait a minute, there cannot be that many grandkids here.

One Sunday, my father mentioned a detail that lodged itself in my brain. My great-grandmother and the wife of the man whose mistress she was, sent food to one another. As neighbors or friends might. Food is such a huge communicator in a culture—of love, nurturing, celebration—and an indicator of class, history, and geography. What could these women have expressed to one another? Was this after my great-grandmother split from her lover and a solidarity formed between the women? Or was this during her time with him, and a tactic of some passive-aggressive war?

When I asked my father, he shrugged and said, “Hasta allí no llegué.” So “Noelia and Amparo” is my attempt to llegar, to arrive at one destination after imagining one journey into why people cross the divides that they do.

Glendaliz Camacho is a New York City writer. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and a 2015 Write A House finalist. Her work appears in the anthologies The Female Complaint and All About Skin: Short Fiction by Women of Color (University of Wisconsin Press), as well as The Butter and other journals. Glendaliz is currently working on a short story collection, a fantasy novel, an essay collection, and a musical.