Queridas Mom, Nana,
On the eve of Día de los Muertos, I imagine you in two wicker chairs, positioned outside a beachside house that overlooks the shores of Luquillo. You’re drinking coffee, decaf as always, made sickly sweet with caramel creamer. The soft breeze delivers a chill. You hug your bodies tighter in your shawls.
Without your earthy presence, I once thought the chains were broken. I was unmoored. I know where your bodies are, transformed from skin and bone, muscle and organs, to ash. So how is it that, without your physical form, your energy permeates the very air I breathe?
Nana, did you know that there was a time when Mom and I both lived in your womb? I was only an egg, but our bodies and spirits remain forever connected. You bore three children and witnessed each of their deaths. Your husband’s life as a Merchant Marine brought long absences, drinking, smoking, and gambling. One day, he did not return. The only closure you received was a knock on the door to deliver the news. Years later, your home was warm with the scent of arroz con gandules, pasteles, and tostones and loud with phone calls competing with your novelas. But there was an emptiness that I could never place. How did you keep the pit of grief from swallowing you whole?
Mom, when you were pregnant with me, my daughter was in your womb, too. Her name is Ayla. You never met her, and yet you are connected. In Ayla I see unbridled joy and unwavering confidence. I do not know that in myself. I did not know it in you. Did we lose the capacity to be so uninhibited, or was it never there at all?
Even when I was a child, I knew you were searching for something. You always said you wanted to become a lawyer, if you had more resources, more time, more money. You enrolled in night classes to become a paralegal instead. I found you in the office upstairs, typing frantically and reading and re-reading texts. You struggled and panicked through your classes. Your voice trembled with fear before every exam. A chorus of “I can’t do it” on repeat. Resolute and determined, you passed every course. And yet, you never left nursing. You said nursing was your calling. Nurses cared for you when you were a child, chronically ill and afraid. Hospitals, cold, clinical, and sterile, felt like home to you. You took an oath to bring that same comfort to others. Did it ever get to be too much – holding the hands of sick patients, emptying bedpans and moving bodies, hiding your own illnesses? Were you trying to find an end to your own pain?
I imagine a day when the shadow of grief recedes and makes way for the warmth of joy. One day I will join the ranks of the mujeres who walked this earth before me and alongside me and become a name in a notebook, a word on a tongue, an engraving on a tombstone. Histories woven with love and loss, trauma and caregiving, protection and shame. What if we hold in our hands the ability to transform our perceived curses into our gifts? What if, by telling our stories, we unlock the power and possibility to transcend, to step into our full essence?
On the eve of Día de Los Muertos, I am hundreds of miles away, soaking in the soft light of the moon. In every question I never asked you, I will find and write our stories. I will write the release we deserve. I raise my cafe latte, heavily caffeinated of course, and toast to you.
Con azucar y canela,