a magician’s love

March 20, 2011

When I was born my abuela wrote a poem for me, announcing the birth of her thirty-third grandchild.  In it, she wrote how her “garden was growing,” that she had flowers in New York, Puerto Rico and with my arrival in Dominican Republic, “a violet was born.”

Juana was my mother’s mother.  By the time I “met” her she was sixty-five-years-old.  But I had a connection with her since the moment I was born.  I am my abuela’s thirty-third grandchild.  I can also tell you with certainty, that I was her favorite.

On my mother’s side of the family, we were forty-six cousins total.  Only twelve of our cousins grew up in Puerto Rico.  The rest of us grew up within a five-mile radius of each other in New York City.

But grandma had her heart set on the little girl she named “tripita.”  That’s right I was my grandmother’s little intestines.  And I think that name was perfect –prophetic almost, since I believe grandma knew I was going to deal with a lot of shit. She also called me “mis otros ojos” and to be her second set of eyes was not only a privilege, it was my honor.

I lived with my grandmother for some time and when I wasn’t living with her, I was being picked up by her at school and I would spend time with her until my mother would pick me up from work.  After school I would sit in front of my grandmothers 12 inch black and white TV and watch cartoons for a couple of hours.  She would say from the kitchen, as she placed a plate on the table, “esto fue lo que trajo el barco” (this is what the ship brought in); a saying that taught me that we should be thankful for whatever we were able to eat that day.

We would eat dinner and afterwards she would ask me to put coconut oil and comb, her long silver and white hair.  I would do this for thirty minutes every day. And we talked about so many things.  My eight-year-old curious mind asked her about everything: from bible inquiries (which she knew so much about) to the dow jones (which she’d always say was for white folks who had money and could afford to put it somewhere, but we need not worry about it because we would never have that much spare change).

She loved music.  Almost everyone in our family either plays an instrument, sings or both.  We always say it was a direct genetic hand-down from my abuela. She wrote Christian songs.  Then she’d have me sing it, and she’d record me on a cassette recorder she had.  And we’d go over it so that I could listen to the parts where I needed to adjust my pitch or soften a note.  She always kept me busy and entertained.

My happiest memory is that for that time I spent with her every day, I felt like I was my grandmother’s favorite part of the day and she was always the favorite part of mine.  And I loved it.

If my grandmother had a doctor’s appointment, I was always scheduled to miss school that day.  I was my grandmother’s other set of eyes.  I had to be present if she needed me.  I was also her interpreter.  So every time the doctor’s needed to inform her about her glaucoma, arthritis, diabetes or high blood pressure, I was the translator.

Every time we would have to go to one of her appointments, I would get my absolute favorite treat:  a Coconut Yoo-Hoo and a Sabrett hot dog with those sweet onions from the New York City hot dog cart.

I also was her reader.  She would have me read the bible to her every day.  And she’d ask questions about what I understood from what I had read.  Something I always appreciated because it allowed me to read in Spanish and not forget my native language.

When I slept over abuela’s house, I would sleep in a cot in the living room.  And from three rooms away… grandma’s snore would keep me up.  But I wasn’t bothered by it because it let me know that she was there.

And I felt safe.  I always did… so long as the scent coconut was in the air.

I grew closer to her with each passing day.  She was always present.  Her life was a gift to all of us who knew her and her love was so sweet.  I always found it amazing that she made this traditional Puerto Rican dessert out of sour milk “dulce de leche cortada.” But it made perfect sense; my abuela could make sweetness out of anything bitter.  That was her magic.

But even magicians can’t figure out death.

We saw death too often growing up (family friends, cousins, uncles, aunts and our grandmother).  It always seemed like we were going to a funeral.  But abuela’s death was more than just the death of her physical body.  It became the “death” of our close knit family as we would know it.

I was pitching for my high school co-ed softball team in a park in the Bronx.  I saw my cousin’s ex-boyfriend walking towards the game and wondered why he was there.  When I came off the field to say hello to him, he very bluntly said, “Your grandmother passed away.”

The world stopped.

At that very moment, everything seemed to be in slow motion.  And flashes of coconut oil, tape recorded sessions, the sound of her voice telling me to come eat, two quarters in my right coat pocket and doctor’s appointments jogged my memory.

Everything I knew became unknown.  Everything that was stable became unstable; and for the first time in my life… I could no longer smell coconut.

My coach told me I could leave and I told him I couldn’t.  I wanted to pitch.  I wanted to finish the game.  There was no reason to leave.  Grandma was already dead.  Getting to her quicker would only speed up the inevitable truth.  So I finished the game.  Packed up my glove and cleats and headed to my aunt’s house.

Everybody was at my aunt’s house; the same aunt where we celebrated so many holidays together.  Except this time there was no laughter, no stories to share, no games to play… just a sadness that took over our spirits and left us wondering, what would be of us without grandma?

On May 3rd, 1993, just ten days short of my 15th birthday, Juana Rivera Bristol would leave our world and the planning for her funeral began.

Grandma had buried three of her eleven children and eight were left to deal with the pain of losing an amazing mother and preparing for her funeral.  Every day after that was busy and long.  Our parents were up early and in to bed late (I always wondered if they even slept during that entire time).  Most of the family is of the Pentecostal religion, the rest are Catholic.  In New York City, the wake was in my uncle’s church for two days.  Everybody knew my grandmother.  People came from all walks of life to pay respects to the woman who taught me how to live humbly and happily, even in the midst of chaos.

One by one, hundreds of people walked up to the casket.  I have always thought that when people look into the casket and they see the body, every thought must run through their head about that person; all the good and bad memorize must resurface.  As my aunts, uncles and my mother went up, I wondered about their thoughts.  I wondered about their childhoods, the headaches and the frustration they gave grandma and the happy times; the milestones and the setbacks; the laughter and the tears.

I watched the grandkids go up.  Grandma was fortunate enough to meet and know all of her 46 grandkids; from the oldest to the youngest they looked in.  We took turns standing at guard, two family members on each side of the coffin for thirty minutes.  We stood there and watched as many soaked in tears tried to cope with her departure.

And then… I walked over to grandma. I looked in.  I had looked in to quite a few coffins prior to this one.  But this was the one that left me numb.  It wasn’t grandma.  It didn’t look like her, there was no coconut in the air and I wasn’t crying.  I just looked in.  I just looked in and immediately thought, “Grandma was the soul of this family; she was the reason we were always together.”

It was in that moment that I immediately realized that our family, as it was, would never be again.

That night we slept over at my uncle’s church.  A little after midnight, my aunt’s closed the casket.  I don’t think any of the adults slept that night.  I was sleeping by 3am.  That morning at 6am, everybody was awake, coffee was brewing and I said, “Grandma, that’s the first time I sleep with you and you don’t snore.”  The family laughed.  We always seem to find a little humor even sad situations.

That day was longer than the day before.  Service after service; prayer after prayer; a long line of individuals visiting and every hour seemed an eternity.  That evening they would close the casket and I would never see grandma again.  All her children boarded a plane to Puerto Rico, with grandma’s casket on board.  She always dreamed of returning back to her island and living in a little house the rest of her days.  That never happened.  But her children wanted her body to rest where she wanted to live.  And so it was.

In Puerto Rico, they had another two-day wake.  And hundreds more came to pay their respects.  But everyone who was at the burial said nothing was sadder than the moment the casket was lowered.  They say my aunts, uncles and my mother wept like children, except this time their mother could not dry their tears.

After they came back to New York City nothing was ever the same.  Little by little the family moved away.  We went from a 5-mile radius to hundreds of miles away.  People moved to Ohio, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.  And then… we didn’t keep in touch anymore.

The holidays still go on at my aunt’s house, but the hallways are empty and the rooms are quiet.  The thirty-four best friends that were, had been forced to separate; and we were left with memories that would remain with us forever and serve as solace for the rough days ahead.

Grandma’s death was the end of a time of innocence.  It was a coming of age unlike any other; it was a coming of reality –a reality that taught us that life is fragile and in the end all we have is the magic of love in our memories and laughter.

~Sarahí Yajaira, 2011 ©

peaceful pain

March 10, 2011

the innocence of Love
is hurt. beaten
by faults and mistakes.

i tried
offering what i don’t have.
creating pain
to already bruised hearts.

still, i am
at peace with self
for honoring truth.

~Sarahí Yajaira, 2011 ©

writing exercise 1

March 9, 2011

If I were to die today, I’d miss your smile.  That sweet way you look at me every time… as if it was the first time we’d seen each other in a while.

I’d miss the way you say my name; the tenderness in your voice.

If I were to die today, I’d miss your morning phone call. And the afternoon phone calls… come to think of it, the night time phone calls also.

I’d miss the way you call me by that nickname I always say I hate but secretly, I love.

If I were to die today, I’d miss your hugs. And those naps we take when I am visiting with you and I lay my head on your chest to rest. I’d miss the way the smell of your skin transports me to sweet days filled with ice cream in the sun.

I’d miss the way you kiss me… your mustache tickling my face.

If I were to die today, I’d miss the way you never call and I always harass you for it. I’d miss your short messages that remind me that I am your favorite.  I’d miss how when we get together we reminisce about “back in the day.”

I’d miss watching baseball games with you.

If I were to die today, I’d miss our get-togethers.  I’d miss the way we pick up right where we left off as if not one day had passed between visits. I’d miss how hard we laugh… how we always end up crying ‘cause it hurts so good.

I’d miss your laughter.

If I were to die today, I’d miss curling up with you at night.  I’d miss how happy you always are to see me; whether I’d been gone for three months or three minutes.

I’d miss how you smell in the warmth of the morning.

If I were to die today, I’d miss being home with you.  I’d miss how we can sit in the company of each other in complete silence and still understand what we need to without saying a word.

I’d miss your hugs and the way you always encourage me.

If I were to die today, I’d miss playing dress-up with you; how we always find a way to make something funny out of whatever article of clothing is around us. I’d miss your sense of humor the most; how we can always find a way to make each other laugh no matter how stressful a situation.

I’d miss your cooking.

If I were to die today, I’d miss the way you hold me in the water; how you always make me feel as if I am flying. I’d miss the midnight snacks you make when I crave something.

I’d miss your love…

If I were to die today… I’d miss being loved.

~Sarahí Yajaira, 2011 ©

return to Self

March 9, 2011

“loneliness is being with someone and without your Self.”

we spend our lives trying to pair up; searching for that person who compliments or complete us… the ying to our yang, the song to our dance.  we encourage it at an early age. asking kids if they have a “girlfriend” or a “boyfriend” yet.  as if it is our mission in life to find that person from the moment we can put words together.  we then pressure these kids, now young adults, to “get engaged,” or “get married” as if there was a time limit and we needed to check things off before the due date. we create distance from Self.

truth is in doing this, we nurture out what is natural to most: our first relationship.

our first relationship must be our strongest before we can venture out to find this “soulmate.” the first and most important relationship we should have is with our Self.

when was the last time you took yourself out to dinner? to the movies? when did you last sit with your Self and ask “what is your favorite bottle of wine?” when was the last time you dedicated a song on the radio to your Self? or the last time you stared directly into the eyes of your Self and said, “i am in love with you?”

we are constantly told to give our Self freely, to not be selfish, to sacrifice our Self.  it is in this action that we disconnect from our Self; a detachment of sorts.

when we are taught to find our match as soon as possible, to give our all in every relationship, while forgetting to take time for us; we deplete our source.  the search for that partner becomes routine and we hurt our Self and others in the process.

we owe it to our Self to give us time. heal. mend. strengthen. replenish. to learn.

time…

we cannot expect to be better partners to others if we have yet to be better for our Self. it is in the relationship we have with our Self that we begin to understand our relationship with others. when we return to Self, to that concept of all that we are without attachments, we begin to have clarity of Self.

it is in that clarity that we have more light about our Self.  and in that light, that we are no longer without Self.

~Sarahí Yajaira, 2011 ©

madam speaker

March 2, 2011

they want to legislate my body.
call a caucus in the chamber of my ovaries
and cast a vote on the floor of my uterus.

deficits, created by a war
i didn’t wage
got them snipping line items
ready to cut the umbilical cord
of my health.

tryin’ to take us back
to the days when comstock laws
made tragedies of life.

unwritten stories
tell horrifying alternatives
to laws that bled out…
death.

it took atrocities
to consider women’s health.
but penile malfunction generated
an upward movement
right after that little blue pill
got your cock back, pulling triggers,
and shooting seeds onto a fertile soil
you now want to control again.

……

a constant fight.

griswold v. connecticut
roe v. wade
the gag rule
title x

they’ve been at war
with women’s bodies
since they came out of it.

been sucking
on these breasts since…
now you wanna’ refuse to provide
a test that’ll make sure
the milk that comes outta’ them
doesn’t go sour with cancer.

your actions and inactions
threaten lives already on the margins.
there is no room to compromise.

you ignorant sons of bastards… you cannot draft a bill on my body.

i am the speaker of my house.

~Sarahí Yajaira, © 2011