These are my sisters words. Our maternal grandparents were always extremely loving and perfect grandparents to me but they never seemed to love my brother and sister. When my sister was 8 years old my brother revealed to us all something my sister had confided to him months before. He never thought of the severity of the secret he was letting out. Unbeknownst to anyone, my mother’s father had molested my little sister for months.
When the truth came out, we were living in El Paso. The abuse had happened during a three month stay in Juarez with them a few months prior to that. When my sister finally told us everything my grandmother accused my sister of being a liar. “Que mentiras!!!!!” Throughout the years afterwards, she seemed determined to tarnish my sisters image, spreading inconceivably disturbing lies about her, ironically all involving sex.
“She’s fucking her mothers boyfriend.” My sister was 13. “I witnessed her at the community swimming pool having sex with a boy.” Age 13. “She didn’t stay home from church to work on her science project. She stayed home to fuck her mother’s boyfriend. I know this because she was acting suspicious when we got home.” Age 15. These lies, plus more, spread like a wildfire. Relatives of ours, distant relatives, knew these things about my sister before they even met her.
On February 5, 2017, my grandmother died. This is a letter my sister wrote directed to my grandmother. She gave it no title. I titled it for her as ‘I forgive you’.
Written By Sonia
It’s been 6 days since I saw the life leave your body in that hospital.
I got the call from my mom on Sunday morning, around 7:50 AM. She was sobbing, and could barely tell me, “The doctors just told me there’s nothing they can do.” I left the kids with their aunt and, after debating whether I should walk or drive (I’m ALWAYS scared to go to Mexico) I put in the address to the GPS and prayed it would take me to the hospital you were in.
I always silently pray to every divine entity I’ve heard of while I’m driving the streets of Juarez, with my Washington license plates, my lack of persuasive wit, and my general fear of absolutely everything. I was grateful to make it to the hospital, trust some random guy who guided my car into a decrepit garage and told me, “Págueme cuando salga.”
I walked into the hospital, found my two tias Toña and Gobe. They looked calm. They weren’t even crying. They had already accepted the whole thing. They sent up for my mom to come down, because I guess there could only be three people with the patient upstairs. My Tia Daly came down and brought with her my mom, who was a mess. My three tias said “Choy, deja a tú mama aquí para que se calme y ve tú.” I internally screamed “God, no I can’t go up there alone!” I didn’t know my primo Alex, Tia Silvia, and Tio Pancho were already up there.
My mom refused to stay downstairs, and so up we went. When I walked into the room, which housed at least 6 other people separated by curtains, I thought “Are all these people dying, too? Why isn’t she in her own room??”
When I saw you, you had an oxygen mask on. I felt it wasn’t enough. “Shouldn’t she have more stuff attached to her?” I thought.
You were breathing almost exasperatedly, in short, quick breaths. My tia said, “Háblale, hija. Si te oye.” I thought, “I’ll tell her I’ll forgive her. That looking at her now, I feel no anger, no hate, no resentment. Only sadness to see her like this, so weak and fading.”
Your breaths were equally paced, about 2 seconds apart, yet they were desperate, as if each rushed, fast breath was trying desperately to catch all the air it could. I looked at your hands and touched them. I noticed they were blue, your fingernails looking almost black. I wished I had brought nail polish. I thought, “I think everyone would like that, if I painted her nails.”
I didn’t know how little time was left.. Instead of telling you I forgave you, I decided to give you the message sent by Lily, whom I will always believe was your favorite granddaughter.
When I received that call that morning, the first person I called was her. I told her what my mom had told me, that this was the end, and she said “I know you don’t want to go, but please go see her, and kiss her for me. Tell her I love her so much.” I hadn’t told her I didn’t plan to go. I do know why she assumed it, and I heard the same thing from my mom after all this happened. “I didn’t think you’d want to go when I called you, but I was so crushed, I had to call SOMEBODY.”
In the hospital room, I leaned close, and stroked your head. Your forehead was clammy, but warm, and I said “Mamatila, Lily le manda mucho besos. Dice que la quiere muchísimo.” And I pulled away from your ear and kissed your forehead about 6 times. The next few minutes were people switching places from your side, crying, whispering things to you. I noticed your breaths start spacing apart.
Alex said “Ya va parando de respirar!” and put his hands on his face. I called to all my tios, whom were out in the hall, and told them what was happening. At some point, about 3 times, we’d think you were done… then you’d breathe one of those quick, sharp breaths again. But they weren’t as sharp. They weren’t as strong. They were barely there. My mom would scream “She’s not breathing anymore!” Then you’d breathe.
Finally, you let out your last breath.
Everyone surrounded you, but I stood to the back. My Tia Gobe was right by your head, speaking loudly told you. “Go. Don’t stop. Don’t stay here for us. Keep going mamacita. Siga y no se detenga.” I was just shocked. I was just SHOCKED. I think I would cry, then stop. Slowly everyone else started arriving. My Tio Lencho. “Porque no me espero, jefecita? Cuando me fui le dije que me espere, que regresaría en la tarde pa echarnos un dueto de Chelo Silva…”
Crying. More crying.
I decided to stay the night in Juarez that night when I heard that the funeral home would prepare you that day. We needed to pick out a dress. I thought of the one you had worn to my Tio Lencho and Tia Daly’s 25th wedding anniversary a year and a half ago. We found it, but it had some stains. I washed the stains with a little soap and bleach. I hung the dress out to dry outside.
I drove with my mom to Walmart to buy clothes and bath stuff to change. I hadn’t brought anything. I hadn’t known you’d die no more than 15 minutes after I got there.
At 9:00 pm, they brought your body home. The viewing was there. I heard from all my tios “She didn’t want to be velada at a funeral home. She was sure there would be rats there, with the sole intent of eating her feet.” Typical you.
I took a sleeping pill so I could fall asleep. I have trouble sleeping as it is, and knew there was no way that night was gonna be any different. If anything, I’d be up all night. I need to sleep, because I planned on leaving early in the morning, crossing the border, and taking the kids to school/daycare. Malakai would be missing school Tuesday, so I figured he should attend Monday, albeit late.
Although my medication did knock me out, I woke up at 3:49 AM. My Tio Samuel, my mom, and my Tia Gobe were up. “Haciendo guardia.” (There were a lot of traditions I did not know existed before this.) I sat there with my tios and mom. I swept the floor. Helped tidy up. Then, I would periodically get up and look at you. You looked peaceful. But it was so hard to look at you.
Everytime I got up to see you I would think “I gotta tell her something. Something that comes from ME.” But all I could think of was things like “I’m not mad at you. I hope you’re at peace, because I have nothing but that for you right now. And I forgive you…..” ‘I forgive you.’ I couldn’t bring myself to say that to you. Part of me felt guilt at having nothing loving or nice to say to you. No loving words to say. No nice moments we shared as grandmother and granddaughter.
Part of me felt it would be arrogant. “I forgive you.” Who the fuck did I think I was? “I forgive you.” For what?
But was it really that serious? I hate how I demean myself and my feelings. All I did was just watch everyone else. They would cry. Come to your coffin. Play you songs. Talk to you. When I came back from El Paso and brought the kids back with me, I told bubba “Do you wanna go up to the coffin and see her?” He said yes. And we just looked at you.
That second night, Monday night, I slept more. With the help of another pill, of course. I slept about 5 hours. It was now Tuesday. The day of the burial. As the hours neared for them to come get your body and take it to the church, everyone started freaking out. We would no longer see you anymore. That was it. You would be getting your mass, then you would be getting buried. I started sobbing then. That was it. That was really it.
We drove on the bumpy dirt roads, hazard lights on. I couldn’t take it. I cried a lot.
The church service is over. Time to bury you. At the entrance of the cemetery, we stopped. They opened your coffin one last time. Everyone said goodbye. This was it.
They carried you over to your spot. Started shoveling dirt on you. Dirt and rocks. Huge rocks. They thumped against the coffin. I hated it. I hated the sound. I hated how quickly they seemed to be doing it. I hated to see the white of the coffin disappear. I hated it…
We drove back to what used to be your little house. The house were you were just at. In a coffin. But the room was now empty. The candles that had sat at the corners of your coffin remained. Unlit.
A neighbor brought food. Everyone ate. I went to lay down with Layla. Hoped to just sleep. But couldn’t. Everyone was talking, laughing. Not obnoxiously or anything. Just conversing. I couldn’t do it. I grabbed my kids and my stuff. I hugged my tios and tias godbye. I hugged my mom. She told me she wanted to leave too. I drove across the border and came straight to bed. I refused to move.
I called my grandma and my dad. I cried. Finally REALLY cried. Sobbed. Layla and bubba wanted dinner. I couldn’t move.
I called my sister in law. She helped me so much. Fed the kids. Fed me. The next few days, I went to class, went to run errands. thinking of you every day.
I want to tell people what just happened. I ask myself more than once a day, “Why was I there? Why did I watch her die?”
You never loved me. I’m not saying this in a reproaching way. I just know you never loved me. For years as a child I felt your coldness, and when I was very little, I just thought you were grouchy. Then, I felt cruelty. Then just malice. No other intent from you.
Through my teenage years, I dealt with the feelings by mocking you. Laughing at you. Getting my friends in on the joke. Making up horrible nicknames for you. Then I grew up. Moved away. I never had to be near you again. I didn’t even think of you.
Then, I moved back here and inevitably had to be near you. I tried to avoid you or seeing you and when that didn’t work, I set myself a little set of rules. “I’ll go around her,” I told myself, “I’ll even bring my kids around her. But I’ll watch her every move. The minute I sense a drop of scorn or even so much as a look, I’m fucking stopping it then and there.”
Then I actually saw you. You were not the person I remembered. Your hair was all white, scarce. You didn’t really walk. You didn’t really do anything. I felt bad. I felt guilty for preparing myself to fight you. I instead, helped my mom (during the few times I was around you) to care for you. To feed you. To push you in your wheelchair. I carried you on and off the truck.
I asked myself “Am I a doormat? Why am I being so kind? Am I doing it to make myself feel better?” I told myself I wanted to be the better person. I knew had you been healthier, you would probably still treat me badly. But I thought, “What if that was me, and I was old and weak, and someone I wronged came back, grown now, and seeing me laying there weak and tired, decided to throw everything I’ve ever done wrong at me?” I didn’t wanna be that person. So I treated you kindly.
Yet, for some reason, I still felt guilty about that. I think it’s because in doing so, I was shorting on myself. I was saying “It’s ok, what she did to me. It’s ok. It MUST be ok, because here I am, asking her if she needs anything… tending to her…” Yet, I would’ve felt guilty had I sat there at your coffin and told your lifeless body how I felt.
I hope you know I am not angry. I am not resentful. I am simply sad. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe because you lived for 86 years and 31 of those you had a granddaughter whom, as far as she can remember never felt protected or loved by you, and now it’s too late. Maybe because I see how crushed and heartbroken my mom is, after losing her mother. Maybe it’s cause your youngest son, mi Tio Dany, and your beloved granddaughter Lily couldn’t be here to see you at all, and I got to be here to see you. I was there when you died.
Why? Why me?
I hope that there is such a place where you find peace after you die. And I hope from every ounce within me, that you are at that place. I hope you know how I feel. It might not be the ideal way you want someone to feel about you. But it isn’t a feeling of hate or anger. Just peace. All I wish is peace for your soul. And I’m sorry that we missed out on it. All of it.
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