An ode to my Abuela…

Today my family is celebrating 20 years…I don’t even know if the word “celebrating” is the correct word here.
But it does sound a lot better than “mourning”, she wouldn’t want that. She was too happy of a person and wouldn’t want anyone mourning for 20 years, even if it was for her.

Sibling rivalry, functionally-dysfunctional

Who is this her I speak of?
It’s the woman who is responsible for creating the tribe I’m from, the woman who is responsible for creating this extremely functional-dysfunctional family.

My Abuela giving you the “Don’t Mess with me” look

The mujer con un par de ovarios más grandes y bien puestos que los huevos de Pancho Villa.
La mera-mera…Mi queridísima Abuela.

Yes, 20 years ago today we lost this woman. I remember it as if it just happened yesterday, as a matter of fact I’m currently living in the same house that was full of tears, pain, and disbelief that late night 20 years ago.

I was working at Sav-On (now CVS), my Abuela had been sick for some time. We knew it wasn’t good. But I still had hope, I don’t know if anyone else did, but I did.

You see, she after having a hysterectomy, fell. All because she didn’t want to ask for help, even though she had people to help her. She broke her hip, she required surgery, but because she had really bad Osteoporosis and had just had surgery the doctor (my uncle) advised against it.

She was told to rest, she stayed in bed, she lost her independence but gained a bout of depression. She couldn’t go to her favorite spot by the door, to speak to her favorite people. They were all her favorite people, she was the Abuela to all the kids who walked daily to the local parish school: “¡Buenos Días Abuela! ¡Adiós Abuela!” “¡Buenas Abuela!” even the neighbors “¡Buenos Días Niña Virginia” To which she would answer “¡Buenos Días hijo!”, “¡Que les vaya bien!” or the typical Abuela creed “¡Que Dios me los Bendiga!” Which she said with a smile.

Abuela and my Tio.

Her smile, it was a beautiful smile, it was missing some teeth, but damn I can honestly say that made it even more beautiful. You just knew it was full of love, joy, and God. Her smile and kindness would make you feel Blessed, her anger would make you feel Hell on Earth. Especially if you messed with her family, her children and grandchildren were off limits. This was the rule, everyone knew it. We were her cubs and she was the strong and fiery Lioness keeping danger at bay.

All the loteria vendedores, men and women, would stop at the house. Come in for a cerveza or a gaseosa, she would trade tickets, buy new ones, or if she had dreamed it, seen it, or even if a dog had left three pieces of shit in front of our front door, she would request that number. Yup, three pieces of shit, meant she had to play the number three. She knew the ins and outs, she use to sell loteria when my mother and uncles were small. She stopped when she was left with three grandchildren to look after as her daughter tried her luck in the US.
She would ask the vendedora de tortillas to see her tortillas, before agreeing to buy any. “Muy blancas, no son de maíz puro, son de maseca.” Which meant we had to run to the tortilla to get the tortillas de maíz molido for lunch.

These were her daily dealings before the fall, the damn fall. Cancer didn’t get her, but this fall would break not only her bones but her spirit. It also broke my heart and for a while my faith.

I just couldn’t believe that a fall, a fucken fall would take her from me. She survived breast cancer years back, but the cancer was back, in her Uterus. The surgery was a success, the Cancer was gone. Then she falls.

I had left to work that afternoon, I worked part-time, I attended ELAC during the day. Things were not great, but I had faith.

My shift was over, it was 11:30 pm. I walked out, saw my Uncle’s husband picking me up instead of my mom, I knew it wasn’t good.

My Abue and my Uncle Eddie, he became an official Salvi when he got with my Tio

I got in, “Why are you here? What’s up?” He looked at me, his eyes were red, he knew her, he loved her, he was losing her too. “It’s not looking good mija. Your mom and tio are on the phone with your sister, it’s not looking good.” My sister Rox was the only one left in El Salvador at the time with my Abuela.

I have a knot in my throat, I can’t swallow. I can’t speak, I can’t cry. No, that means I’m giving up. I can’t cry. We drive in silence.

My tio, my Abuela, and my sister Rox.

We pull in, mom and tio are in tio’s room. The house feels dark, I don’t remember if it really was dark. But it felt dark, even today as I think back, it feels dark. My tio is on the phone, he screams, drops the phone, my mom rushes to pick it up, she’s crying, the tears are flowing, then I hear “Ya, se nos fue. Ya tomo su último aliento.” She took, her last breath in my sister’s arms. The woman that had once held her, now needed her to hold her as she took her last breath.

I don’t know what else was said, I rushed to my room. Threw myself on my bed and just wept, I had never cried like that before. It hurt. Deep down. It hurt. It hurt in places I didn’t know existed. I was 18 years old and this was the worst pain I had ever felt in my life.

My mother had to call the rest of the family and grandchildren in the US. My tio was a mess, I had never seen him this way. I don’t remember anything else that night.

She never got rid of those glasses, even after we got her new ones.

I woke up, my eyes were swollen. I don’t remember falling asleep. I still had on my uniform and make-up. For a quick minute I wished it wasn’t true. I walked out to the hallway, the air was heavy, it was morning, but it still felt dark.

My mom was already up, I honestly don’t know if she ever went to bed. She was booking her flight, I wanted to go, but I didn’t have money to go. I couldn’t go. Emotionally and financially I couldn’t go.

I didn’t go to class that day.
I lay in bed, my heart hurt, I had been back in the US for less than two years. I kept asking myself if things would have been different if I would have stayed. Would I have prevented her fall? Would I have been able to catch her?

Fuck it still hurts. The tears are still there, the tears still come, it’s been 20 years and the pain is so fresh.

My Sister Rox, my Abue, my Uncle Robert and his son Robertio

I laid in bed. I think at one point they checked in on me or I on them. I don’t remember that part.
I remember lying in bed, looking at the CVS bag I had put in front of me. I didn’t want to open it. It hurt to think what was inside.

I should have stayed. I deserve to hurt. I opened the bag, it was a Mother’s Day Card. I was going to send it early because the mail takes long to get to El Salvador. It was going to be her Mother’s Day and birthday card. Her birthday is 9 days after el 10 de Mayo. Her birthday is 10 days after mine.

Everyone in this house was broken, I was forced to go to class after missing one day. “Amor Eterno” was the key unlocking all the hurt and tears whenever it was heard. Not just that day, that month, that year, but for years to come. To this day, I think of her when I hear that song. Sometimes I cry, sometimes I smile. I’m sure she loves the attention.

I was a walking zombie, I cried every night. Then she came.
She held me, me hizo piojitos, I wanted to see her, she didn’t let me. I could feel her, I could smell her, it was her. She wanted me to know she was okay. That same week, my mother and Tio got their visits too.

Let me tell you, she continues to visit. She has visited me in the darkest of moments, letting me know I was going to be okay. Haciendome piojitos, not letting me see her, but just feel and smell her.

A few months ago, she visited my dreams, I was starting to fall into a rabbit hole. But she dug me out.

Now let me tell you, things were not always this way between us. When I was little, I was scared of her. I had never met anyone so old. She was missing teeth, her knees were deformed (she had bad ortho-arthritis that did this to her poor knees), and she cussed a lot.

Abuela with my Sister Sandra

I was five when I met her for the first time, the country was at war. My mother was undocumented, y pues yo muy American Made. I had to stay behind, when my mother and brother crossed. The country was too dangerous for young boys, the war was forcing them to choose sides by kidnapping or killing them. I wrote my mother letters, complaining about my grandmother’s cussing.

I was spoiled though, she bought my favorite gaseosa de Uva. She sold sodas, beer, ice, and later on American cigarettes. I was in kinder, she would send one of the local boys to give me money to buy an additional snack during recess.

A few months later, I left. I visited again, in the late 80’s. She was the same, I didn’t mind it as much anymore. The country was still at war.

My Abuela in her favorite spot, right by the door. This was after my Quince Tea party, she wanted to see my presents

Then in the early 1990’s, I’m getting picked up at the airport to stay. How long? we don’t know, maybe a year. But I couldn’t stay in LA, shit got real, real quick. We will leave this story for another day.

I missed my mother, but I ended up loving my life there, until I didn’t.
I stayed for almost 4 years, I had plans to live there, make my life there. I even got my dual-citizenship, I was going to vote. I needed my cedula to do so.
I arrived month shy of 14 and left 2 months after turning 17. Yea definitely stayed longer than a year.

I didn’t leave because of her, but I should have stayed because of her.
Would it have made a difference? I don’t know.

What I do know is this, that viejita saved me.
She helped me figure out who I was, she helped me figure out my identity. I was able to finally say, “I belong in this family” for many years I didn’t know who the fuck I was, wanted to be, or why I was who I was. I felt like a stranger amongst my own family. I didn’t belong. Then my Abuela guided me through it.

She didn’t grab me by the hand and say “Ven mito, por aquí” no, she just loved and was. She existed. She was exactly what I needed.

I’m her nieta, I’m like her.
I love hard as she did. I’m unconditional as she was. I’m ruthless with those that fuck with my people. I’m extremely protective of the people I love just as she was, and fearless while protecting them as she was.

I’m her nieta, I’m like her.
I don’t look like her, she was chelita con ojos de color. I’m dark skinned and my eyes are the beautiful color of dirt. Pero me parezco a ella.

She said it, she said it to my mother. My mother thought she was off, she also thought she was talking about the physical. As I’ve gotten older and became a mother, my mother has said it to me a few times, “…sos igual a mi mamá. La viejita tenía razón.” She has said it to others when describing me.

I’m her nieta, I’m like her.
I feel it in my bones, in my soul, I feel her strength, her love, her faith. She was a woman of faith, I follow in those traditions, with my own new-age twist. But nonetheless, praying to her Cristo Negro, the same Cristo Negro who had to share her devotion with the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Both are an essential part of my spiritual altar, as is she.

When I had my son, the first thing I thought about was her. How she would have just loved him. She would have spoiled him rotten, as she did with all her grandchildren, she got to meet two of her great-great grandchildren. I don’t think they remember her.

It’s okay, though. I know her, she doesn’t care if they remember her, she will still watch over them.

As she does with my son. As she does with me.

Now we celebrate 20 years since she left us.
I still have that Mother’s Day Card. I can’t get rid of it. But I also don’t want to see it.

We miss her and think of her daily.
I even use her to guilt my mother at times, “Uy, mi abuela no era asi.” To which my mother quickly snaps back with “Ya, se. Ella era de otra madera.” Then quickly glances at her picture. I have no idea what she’s telling her.

I’m her nieta, I’m like her.
As I get older it’s becoming more evident. I’m more emotional like she was. We would tease her because she would cry for everything and anything. But now I get it, that’s a side effect felt by those that love hard. She was passionate. She was just. She was selfless. She tried to help others as much as she could.

I’m her nieta, I’m like her.
We are the same sign. Our birthdays are 10 days apart. I still celebrate it by the way, in a small way. But I celebrate her that day. We have the same name, mine is just spelled different and is my middle name instead of my first name.

However, my first name was because of her. My first name is the name of her great-great grandmother. Another kick-ass woman according to both my Abuela and mother. She wanted one of my mother’s daughters to be called Mónica, my mother and the Universe thought it should be me.

She was wild, free and simply breathtaking. She was my Abuela

I’m her nieta, I’m like her.
I love sandia, like she did. I love pupusas, like she did. I love mango twist, like she did. I love café con pan, like she did. I especially miss our café con pan a las cinco de la tarde, like we used to have all the time. That was our time. That’s when I learned so much about her, our family, our traditions, while learning about myself too.

I’m her nieta, I’m like her.
I cuss, just like she did. I get it now. It feels so good, it gets your point across. It transmits your passion, your anger, and yea even your happiness: “No, pero es que, que puta alegría me dio verte” or “Jajajaja, este cerote”, your frustration “PUTA!”

I’m her nieta, I’m like her.
Through me, her legacy will continue.
Through me, my son will know her.
Through my son, her love will continue.
Through my son, her legacy will come to life.

4 thoughts on “An ode to my Abuela…

  1. Sandra A

    Mi Abuela fue la fuerza que movie a nuestra familia y la llevaremos siempre en nuestro corazones porque ella es parte de nosotros

    Like

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