22 Years. . .One Lesson

So, here I am.  It is just shy of 5 a.m. and I have been awake for about two hours – simply one of those nights.  Oh, and it’s my 22nd birthday! For the past two hours I stared at my ceiling fan rotate lazily, walked around my humble casita seeing if there was anything I overlooked when I went on a cleaning frenzy yesterday afternoon, and stared at the dancing rain on my street.  All week I’ve been waiting for today to arrive because I will have the chance to see mi familia and spend time with my collegiate familia with no worries.  Yet, each time I glanced at my watch I couldn’t help but allow my mind to wander to mi abuela.  I try not to think about her because the amount of time I had with her was. . .unfair and simply put. . .I still hurt.  Already as I glide my hands over these keys. . .the tears have not only formed, but found a way to escape down my cheeks.

For the past few months, I have been struggling with the decision to share my final moments with her on this blog or just scribble them away in my journal.  I just made the decision. . .

I lost Abuela to breast cancer on August 23, 2010.  The last time I spoke to her was just six days earlier.

On August 16, I was working a Lakeland Flying Tigers baseball game.  That entire day my heart was heavy and I knew it was all because of her.  For each game, I had to put my own game face on – a huge smile and shining personality.  To be honest, I had done that before. . .probably more than people realized, but that night was different.  As I entered the stadium I couldn’t help, but let my mind drift back to home.  Mondays at Tigertown are one of our busiest nights, so for the first five innings I became too preoccupied to spend more than a few seconds thinking of the “real world.”  During the seventh inning, I received a phone call from Bella (my mom).  My first thought was that it was the worst I could expect because Bella had never called me during a game.  As I spoke to her on the phone the only words that I heard were, “Come home when you can.  She’s asked for you and this may be it.”

A few times that summer Bella had told me that Abuela had asked for me and they always answered back with, “She’ll be right back” with a story about me checking on Onyx (our family dog back home) or at the grocery story. . .when in reality I was an hour away living in my new apartment in the city where I attended college and worked.  As the baby of the family, Abuela and I never had a true grandmother/granddaughter relationship.  It was strained because we did not know how to approach each other.  I remember just a handful of conversations I had with her full of simple lessons, chisme of “So-and-so who lives over there who needs to get their life together.”  Yet, she was the strongest woman I ever met and she taught me more than any other person could ever teach me (aside from my own parents).

So, as I told my supervisor and co-workers about the phone call and was then told right back to go home and that it would all be okay at the stadium. . .I was growing frantic.  I wasn’t sure if I should go home that night or just wait until the morning.  After sitting in the stadium parking lot for a few minutes, I decided to go to my apartment, shower, eat, rest and drive home in the morning.  When I parked on my street in front of my place, I prayed.  I asked Him to just allow me one night to rest so I could go home with an inner peace.  Immediately, I felt His comfort.  I knew it was going to be okay.

The next morning I drove home and headed straight to her house.  As I entered the house it was the usual scene of a Mexican household during a time like that: My tia was standing over the stove preparing food for whoever happened to walk in through the door, Bella was next to my Abuela, my dad was in the corner of the living room with my uncle and the grandchildren were all in a separate room as to not disturb Abuela (even though we’re all well over 18).

The clock ticked away and there was a hushed talked about what was going on with her.  Finally after hours, she woke and asked for the usual.  Then, she asked for me.  Bella didn’t have to lie to her.  I took my place at her side and reached for her hand.  It was the first and last time I ever held her hand over the age of three.  To see and feel the woman’s touch who did her own lawn care until cancer took her hostage just. . .weakly grasp my hand burned me.  As she asked how I was I said I was doing just fine and work was good.  Then she gave me her last words:

Tienes que portarte bien. Necesitas hacer bien. Necesitas trabajar bien duro y buscar lo que te haga feliz. Y cuando es tiempo. . .Necesitas encontrar a alguien que te va cuidar so tú tienes que saber como cocinar y limpiar y cuidar la casa.  (You must behave.  You need to do good.  You need to work hard and find what makes you happy.  And, when it’s time. . .you need to find someone who will take care of you, so you then must know how to cook and keep a house in order.)

With that last line I couldn’t help, but let a laugh escape my lips.  I reassured her that I would behave and that I would keep trying to cook.  I still smile when I remember those last words.  She wasn’t telling me to be a good housewife because she thought that’s what I needed to aspire to become, but because that was what she knew and it was the most important piece of advice she could give me.  I’ve always said that I would love to be a well-educated trophy housewife because for me. . . a woman can handle a career and household with no problem, but to be blessed enough to dedicate one’s time to making sure that her family is well taken care of. . .is what I would consider a blessing (call me old-fashioned or say that I’m a disgrace to women who have fought our rights in the work place it is simply my belief). So, Abuela’s words for me were nothing short of perfect.

Those weren’t the last words with her.  The next day before I left back to my apartment (because I had to do special training for a program I was helping with at college) I had another conversation with her.

As everyone was eating in the kitchen, I decided to stay in the living room with her because I didn’t want her to wake up alone and Bella needed a break from the silence.  As I sleepily took in what Univision was showing, I heard her call for someone.  She woke up with a look of surprise in her eyes and when she saw me she gave a quick smile.  I leaned over and asked if she needed anything.  All she said was, “Como estan los ninos?  Todos estan bien? (How are the children?  Are they all okay?)” Still to this day I’m not sure who she thought I was or what children she was talking about, but I glanced over my shoulder and saw everyone at the table eating away and actually smiling and all I could answer back was, “Yes, abuelatodos estan bien.  OK?  Hiciste bien. . .no te preocupes. (Yes, grandma, they’re all okay.  OK?  You did well. . .don’t worry.” She looked back at me and smiled once more before going back to sleep.  When my mom saw that she was speaking to me she came right over ready to do whatever needed to be done. . .when I told her about Abuela’s words she was just as lost about it as I was.

That was the last time I spoke to Abuela.

The next time I would see her would be the day I arrived at the house to find her finally resting.

Now that I am 22, I can piece together small moments that were once meaningless into parts of my being that have shaped me to this day.  Now that I am 22, I can appreciate that while some grandchildren may have spent countless days with their grandparents and taken it for granted. . .I can take those handfuls of conversations and know more about where I have come from than them.  Now that I am 22, I can say that I have learned that I am who I am because of not only my amazing parents who have guided me with a firm, yet warm hand. . .but, I am also who I am because of Herminia Ramirez, mi abuela.