Me, Mike and Manny circa 1966

Monday, July 1, 2013


for Elsa

I went to visit the vieja who lives to the left of my house.  She is a small and quiet widow who is best friends with the abuela sisters to my right—you know the ones who are so passionate and Cuban that when they fight I feel like I am in the room with them, though we are a house and a garden and two walls a part—but the vieja next door, refined and elegant, lives alone.  Unless she is standing right in front of you, you won't be able to tell what kind of day she's having.  But face to face, her eyes do not lie nor does the path of her beautiful wrinkles. You can tell how she's doing just by standing with her.   So when I heard her blood pressure had risen so high the ambulance had to come and get her the other night, I went to her.  I brought her a mango from my tree.

My Spanish is as good as my Tagalog.  That means I understand pretty much everything and I speak a spattering of Spanish.  I can hold a polite conversation, but when it gets malalim—deep—I do that. I mix my languages up and sometimes Tagalog comes out when I mean for it to be Spanish or vice versa.  Anyway, the languages do share some words—though we may use them differently and spell them differently.  Some words do taste the same.
       I sat with her at the kitchen table and she told me everything.  She started out slowly but as her story's plot thickened, the words sped up fast. I squinted so I could follow the movement in her face—the way the eyebrows kept pinching together and the eyes kept tearing up.  Once she began talking, all the words blurred together.  I had to lean forward like I was running a race, just to hear her better. I held onto my seat.  If I could only interrupt her, I thought, and say, Mas despacio por favor.  But once she got going, how could I stop her?   I just let the words wash over me.  I felt them.
       And I got it.  Since coming to this country she has suffered bouts of depression.  Never in Cuba, only in this country.  She wouldn't even say it -- the United States of America.  Solomente en este pais, pero nunca en Cuba.  I got that these days she feels nervous.  She's been thinking about how everyone she loves has died—su mama y papa, su esposo y  hermana.  Seven years ago, the husband and her sister died months apart.  Even though she has the abuela sisters—who take her everywhere—even though she has her daughter somewhere in Boston -- she is nervous these days.  Many things crowd her head, stumble and trip over each other.  The noise of all those things keep her up.
       We sat for a long time.  She kept picking up that little mango and smelling it, handing it over to me.  Yes, sweet, I thought.  Que rico, she'd say.  And I had that same feeling I get when I sit with the lolas, listening to their stories, hearing them repeat themselves (such a blessing because if I didn't catch it the first time, I would the second or third or fourth time).
       So beautiful, this vieja.  I told her she needed a novio.  That made her laugh.  She squeezed my arm and asked me if had grown a little fat.  She called me Gordita.  That made me sad.  Yes, I answered, of course.  My family was here, I told her.  I had to eat with them.
       As I ready myself to go back into Lolas' House, to finish that work, I am reminded of how easy it is to love when your heart is open.  You don' t need the right words.  You don't need the same language, as long as you are willing to sit with one another and listen.


  1. M. your posts go right to the important stuff of life. Thank you, thank you for sharing with us.