The summer of 2021 brought me home again. After more than a decade, I would move back into the only constant childhood home I knew. I hadn’t lived with my grandparents since high school; it’d been longer still since I’d lived with my mother. Now, at twenty-eight I traveled over 2,000 miles to move in with my grandparents, my mother, and a great uncle, a house full of family, where I would be living for a couple months.
My mother and grandmother have historically not gotten along when living together. It’s like the closer their physical proximity, the more strained their relationship. But now the strain is more than just between the two of them. In my adult years, my relationship with my mother has been tested and tense at times. And while my grandmother and I will always have a special connection, our own relationship has gone through its own bumps in recent years with my decision to step away from the religion she raised me in.
But we were all connected to each other no matter how much we sometimes tried to get away, forever linked by blood and spirit and something more powerful and innate than love itself. As I’ve reflected on our individuality, our togetherness, I began to see us as a distinctive and uniquely sacred kind of trinity. We play on each other’s energies and somehow seem to make each other whole. I was eager to be in their company throughout the summer and I cherished the time we would have together.
Returning to Colorado meant being away from my husband for about two months. He would stay in Massachusetts. I would continue to work remotely, but from Denver. This time back home was for me to help my family, but also for me to have some time to be refreshed and rejuvenated; it was a gift. My soul is more at ease in Denver than in New England.
I belong to the land and to my people, my community, my family. The American Southwest is my heritage; my Ancestors are Indigenous, Spanish, and Mexican. I was raised on the historical lands of the Cheyenne, Ute, and Arapahoe Peoples with the blood of Picuris Pueblo and Mayan Peoples running through my veins, intermingling with that of the Spanish. The colonized and the colonizer, the displaced and the settler, a complicated inheritance.
I am a Colorado girl, from the land, from the people who invested in me. My soul feels at peace in Colorado; it’s where I belong. There, where the dry summer heat beats on my dark hair and cracks the soil. In the neighborhood where I grew up, we hear Mexican music playing and engines revving and people outside. I smell my grandma’s cooking, often with green chiles. People smile and greet you in passing on the street, in the grocery store. The mountains tower to the west, always a point of reference so you are never lost. Family and the mountains anchor me in space and time. And there is somehow always enough: enough food to go around, enough money to feed another mouth or help out another family member in need, enough time for work and family.
When I am away, it’s like I’m slowly starving my soul. My very being longs for return.
At the airport in Boston, I found out that my mom was seeing her ex – well no-longer-ex – once again. I was on the phone with my grandma and mom while sitting at my gate waiting to board. “Okay, my group is boarding. See you in a few hours. Love you!” “Love you too!” And then a few minutes later, a text from my mom: “Just wanted to give you a heads up that I’m with A— again. He had surgery so he’s staying here at Grandma’s so I can help take care of him.” So I had the time of the flight to prepare.
My mom has sometimes not made the best decisions in relationships, which has been hard to watch. She’s circled back to exes several times over and has chosen men who have not valued or respected her half as much as she deserves. She’s ended up with men who seem to have little ambition or interests, broken men who try to mend themselves with too much alcohol and who are not interested in self- reflection or self-work. Alcoholism, physical violence, threats, and other dangerous situations have been a recurring pattern. Machismo no doubt plays a strong role in all this.
My grandma, on the other hand, has had a long and happy marriage. In 2019, she and my grandpo celebrated 50 years of marriage. That was at the beginning of his decline with dementia, when he still recognized everyone and had an easy enough time finding words. Just over two years later, words escape him often, as do many names. But he knows we are people who love him and whom he loves.
One day as we were driving down Wadsworth right after a stop at the credit union, car wash, and for green chile bagels, my grandma told me that she prays that God will keep her well enough to take care of him. “He’s always taken care of us, all of us,” she said, “never complaining. Now it’s my turn to take care of him.” It’s true, he had always taken care of us. My grandma is the oldest of eight siblings, and some of her siblings lived with them right after they were married. They provided for them and finished raising them. They had three of their own children. And then they took in my brother and I; Daniel was only eight years old when we moved in with them to stay. Along the way, their house was always open to cousins and aunts and uncles and friends of the family, whoever needed a place to stay. They never had a lot, but they would make room and find a way. My grandpo was the main financial provider for all those people and made sure we would be okay. But really, they both took care of all of us as a team effort, him providing more financially, and her always the most caring and loving and supportive person, pouring herself out for the family. And here she is, always the caregiver, doing everything for him even while she is facing her own health challenges. She wouldn’t have it any other way.
Part of the reason I’d gone out to Denver was to help my grandma shoulder everything she was carrying. She was still working her cleaning job at the church while trying her best to be the full-time caregiver for my grandpo. During my time in Denver, I stepped into my role as granddaughter and daughter and felt like I abandoned my post as wife. I think I’ve always tried to be all things for all people, accommodating, meeting needs. I take on too much. I have trouble saying no. I’ve been aware of this pattern in my professional life, but only recently has it come to my attention in my personal life.
How is one to manage being a good granddaughter, good daughter, good wife, good sister, good niece, good friend? What happens when those roles conflict? What if being a good daughter is listening to your mother’s critique of the religion your grandmother holds dearly? What if being a good granddaughter involves spending months away from your husband?
And what about the other roles? What about being a good employee, good student, good teacher? This only introduces the potential for more conflicting interests.
The struggle to be good enough, to live up to everyone’s expectations, to not let anyone down, yes, it’s something I personally deal with. But I think this is also a larger cultural struggle for us as Latinas (maybe even as women of color?). We are socialized to be selfless, to be thinking about how to serve others, to be good at giving. And there is a guilt associated with not giving enough, not doing enough, not being enough.
My husband came out to Colorado for my last few weeks there as the summer came to a close. He is from the Denver area as well, and we share a love for our home. When he arrived at the end of July, we took a couple days away from my family to spend time together up in the mountains visiting some of our favorite little towns.
It was different being reunited after spending a couple months surrounded by family in the home I’d grown up in. But spending time with Michael again was a moment of coming back home to myself. For various reasons – I’d left the religion my grandmother raised me in, my mother and I had had some struggles around her relationship choices and some turmoil in our relationship related to episodes around her mental health, my worldview and values had changed pretty dramatically in the last ten years, I’d become part of an academic community that was completely foreign to my family, the list goes on – I was in some ways a totally different person than the girl who had lived in that house a decade prior. But Michael has been by my side throughout those transformations and knows the “real me” probably better than anyone. There was a level of familiarity and understanding with no pretense or need for explanation, which I had never before noticed or appreciated.
Towards the end of our time in Colorado, Michael asked me about how I was feeling. We had already talked a lot about everything that had transpired. The summer had been great. I managed to work full- time, continue leading a volunteer-run nonprofit, help my grandma with her cleaning job at the church, be there for some family things, just hang out and spend time with family, see some friends. The apprehensions I had about any tensions or potential conflicts between my mom and grandma proved to be unfounded, as they seemed to have figured out a good way to live together in a mutually beneficial set-up without pushing each other’s buttons too much. My mom’s ex was once again her ex, and there was some minor drama around that. My grandma had discovered that my brother had gotten a tattoo, and there was a bit more than minor drama around that. My brother had also traveled out to visit from where he was stationed in South Carolina for the last two weeks of summer, and we’d had a lot of time together. He was an adult now (although a baby adult), and I was enjoying this new season in our relationship. I’d had a lot of time with family and truly enjoyed soaking in my beautiful home state.
I’m sure Michael was expecting me to be torn up about leaving. I’m not a very outwardly emotional person, but I’ve cried when leaving Colorado on multiple occasions. And I was sad. This time was harder than most to leave, given the amount of time I’d spent back with family so that day-to-day life in this setting had its own habits and rituals. It was also hard to think about leaving given my grandpo’s declining health. I was heartbroken to have to leave. But when I opened my mouth, I heard myself say, “I’m so exhausted.”
Later he told me that it wasn’t until that moment that he realized how much I’d been carrying and balancing: this was the emotional and mental effort that went into my summer, that went into being a good granddaughter, a good daughter, a good sister, good niece, etc., often at the expense of just being me.
Despite everything going well and relatively smooth, a number of things had compounded throughout the summer to an enormous weight. My very personal journey through leaving my religion and exploring my beliefs, values, and spirituality was troubled by the fact that I’d returned to the very church building where I was raised and where manipulative and abusive leadership had hurt me and my loved ones in order to help clean the offices of those same people. My relationship with my grandmother, with whom I’ve always had a special and deeply loving connection, felt a bit tested by the fact that I’ve gone through so much religious deconstruction and worked through so much religious trauma over the last year or so – although I’ve hardly spoken to her about these things at all. My relationship with my mother has been shaky throughout my adult years and remained challenging as I navigated how best to approach her on any given day amidst her own significant mental health challenges. Ultimately, I had become consumed with being a good granddaughter and daughter, which impacted how I moved through the world in day-to-day moments big and small and caused a loss of self, as I was acutely aware of the things I could not share, or risk causing waves.
In mid-August, Michael and I arrived back in the Boston area, where we’ve lived for the last four years. Once when I was talking to my mom this summer, I was referring to something back in the Boston area – the specifics escape me, it might have been a restaurant or a particular store or other location – and I said that this place was, “back home.” She stopped me, “Back home? You mean over there. This is home.”
But this is home too. It will probably never be home in the same way. We have no family here. The people here are colder, more distant, to themselves. There is an abundance of trees and hardly anywhere to experience the wide-open skies, except for maybe the coast, which is an entirely new landscape for a Coloradan. There are no mountains, and the roads are not a grid, so I almost always feel lost and turned around.
But I am here for a purpose; I chose this place for myself and to invest in my future. I came here for a degree, and I have found what sometimes feels like an endless number of side-hustles/“opportunities” along the way. I have not yet crossed the finish line with a diploma in hand, but I’m steps closer all the time.
And yet, returning to the Boston area was not only a return to another geography. This return has marked a larger, more significant transformation. Coming back at the end of this summer was less of a departure from home and more of a return to myself, a return to my self-home.
What does it mean to make myself a home? What does it mean to come home to myself when the home I’ve always known is 2,000 miles away? My soul, my very essence feels at peace in Colorado in a way it never has here. And yet, I now turn my attention to cultivating a peace, a home, within myself. I turn my attention to calling all the parts of myself in: daughter, granddaughter, sister, wife, student, teacher. I turn my attention to holding those parts in love and understanding.
I belong to the land and to my people, my community, my family. But I also belong to myself. And it is far past time that I return home, home to the power of my full authentic self.