We are standing on Mamina’s doorstep where the late morning sun gleams through the summer leaves and onto her front porch, revealing her frailty—the way her wrinkles droop from her cheeks, her once gray-green eyes, have become a glossy gray. Her ears, larger than ever, hear less and less. Wrapped in a once-patterned robe that reaches the floor, a woollen hat perpetually on her head, bent over and grasping her cane with one hand. My grandmother Rosa, who helped raise me, has reached her ninth decade, but I want her to wait for me.
I let everyone else say their goodbyes first. My husband hugs and kisses her, and she wishes him a good trip back to New York, where we live. My son, who is ten, and less used to kissing, does it quickly, but she holds on to his thin, boyish arm with her free hand. The second their eyes meet, he smiles shyly at her, then moves away. My daughter, at eight, still unfazed by Mamina's aging body, hugs her tightly. While I watch them, I think this will be my last chance to say it.
I shouldn't cry, I shouldn't, I tell myself. I shouldn't leave Mamina crying. But it's no use, in her arms, I am her granddaughter: the little girl who needed her steak cut into bite size portions, her mandarins peeled, her hand held to cross the street when she picked me up from school.
The words come out in spite of myself: childish, selfish. "Wait for me, Mamina." As we embrace, and I bury my face into hers, embarrassed at my impossible request, it is I who now leans on her.
"Don't worry, mi amor." She says. "I'll be here."
The first time I left Mamina to move away from Uruguay because of my father's job, I was eleven years old, and although I already walked to school by myself every morning, she insisted on picking me up, and we'd walk the seven blocks back to my house in animated chats. "When you return," Mamina once thought out loud, "everything will be different."
"No, Mamina. Nothing will change. "
"You don’t know what you’re saying," she warned. "You are little, mi corazón. When you return, it will be different."
"No, it won’t," I said, offended she thought I couldn't see beyond my years. "When I return, I'll be 16. You’ll pick me up from high school. I'll even hold your hand and I won't be embarrassed."
Mamina laughed, but the corners of her eyes showed a loss that I couldn’t understand.
When I returned at sixteen, and before I left again, it took her days to say it. She sat leaning forward at the edge of her chair, ever ready to stand and sweep, or wash, or cook. She rubbed her overworked, dry, aging hands together, as if one was comforting the other. We had talked on the phone countless times since, but she had waited until I came home to say it.
"I miss him so much."
It burst out of her like the sparks that cracked in the fireplace, the flames warming her skin behind the flood of tears that followed. When I held her tight, and told her I missed my grandfather too, four years of delayed mourning enveloped us. Things happen when we are away, and when we return, we are left to pick up the pieces of our absence in ways we never imagined.
My fear is a dormant volcano, which on occasion sends up smoke. "Mamina is not well," my mother will tell me over the phone, or "Mamina called the doctor yesterday and they gave her something to soothe the pain.” Or I might spend five minutes yelling into the phone, "It's me, Mamina! Your Granddaughter!" And I will hear, "Who? Who?" And I'll try and try again to no avail and think she can't hear me anymore, she can't see me anymore. What have I asked her to do? Lengthen her dark, quiet, lonely days?
But then I'll call one day, and she will hear, and she will say, "It's my granddaughter!" in her old cheerful voice, and she'll report that it's a good day, "nothing hurts today. My flowers are in bloom." And I'll say, "Two more months, Mamina. I'm almost there." And she'll say, "I'm waiting for you."
Adriana Añon is a Uruguayan teacher and writer who continues to move around the world and occasionally returns home. Her personal essays seek to reveal something universal about our humanity. Her work has appeared in Teachers and Writers Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Step Outside Your Comfort Zone, The Globe and Mail, Eaten Magazine, and others. She is currently working on a novel about her grandmother Rosa’s life—Mamina’s life—and wondering how it’s possible so many years after her death, to feel her so close. She suspects it has to do with love.
Comments will be approved before showing up. We don't allow comments that are disrespectful or personally attack our blog writers.