In honor of Día de los Muertos, I’ve written a special tribute to honor those in my life who have passed on.
Aunt Lucy: When I think of you, I think of hot summers in L.A., melting popsicles and sticky fingers, playing your piano off-key for hours, and both my sister and I anxious over breakfast while we waited for that sleeping beauty daughter of yours to wake up. (“Maybe another hour, mijas.”) Growing older, I realized the things that had made you gracious (besides your sophisticated collection of high heels my sister and I envied over); there was always coffee in your home, a sweet to nibble on, and conversation that penetrated a layer deeper than the surface—there was a genuine care of our lives. You were elegant, classy, a strong current always at the core of your essence. I keep a picture of you on my vanity; so when I’m powdering my nose and glossing my lips, I’m reminded of how much I love a woman’s glamour.
David: Smile now, cry later—that’s what was tatted on your chest, with the masks that peek-a-booed out to your neck. Mama always said don’t hang out with no thugs, but for some reason I never had a curfew when I was with you. Your natural charm and the polite, yet un-phony way you greeted my mom got me out of the house. Then, it was joints and 40s galore (good ol’ King Cobra and seedy dime sacks). We sat on the porch steps of your hood, talking, indulging, waiting for life around us to happen. But while monotonous suburbia track-homes towered up around me, I grew restless, itching to escape. You came to say goodbye on my last day, to wish me luck in San Francisco. You were a new man. Your eyes shone as you spoke of your newborn; how you’d held him on top of you and drifted asleep as your hearts beat chest-to-chest. “There’s no feeling like it in the world, Sarah,” you confided. And there were tears in your eyes. A couple months later, my sister and I were sitting on the porch of a bar under an orange tree. I’d just gotten the news from back home about the red light you’d run, and the oncoming car… We guzzled through pints of beer as oranges fell down all around us; it was as if someone were shaking the tree by its roots.
Grandma Celia: We weren’t that close because copious years had already washed over you, like waves over a shell in the sand, until one day the current was strong enough to simply sweep you away. But for the one special day in my childhood that you babysat me, I was your only nieta. In your tiny nest of a home, I shadowed you through the natural rhythms of your routine: novelas in the background, a leisurely stroll over to Safeway (you whistling the entire time), tortillas with queso fresco, “Otra tortilla mijita?” I wanted to know you so badly. How had my own mother looked to you the way I’d always looked to her? What was it in our parallel blood that made us Corral? Did you have that same restlessness that ached inside me too? You were an entity of mystery to me. I yearned for something in you that I could not explain. We sat calmly on the sofa together; you watching your novelas, me watching you.
Nick: At first you were just the new guy that everyone at the pizza parlor gravitated towards. But even after many months, the novelty of you never wore off; you were charming and fit into our tight-knit staff of family beautifully. There were jokes on the assembly line and beat-boxing over side-work. At closing time, all of us slipped quarters in the jukebox and video games, ate leftover pizza and raided the beer-taps, with you always at the center of our attentions. Then one day, an alarm of emergency spewed through us; after you’d gone on break, our delivery driver found your orange jacket on the side of the road before the paramedics in a horrific three-car crash. Days later, we all stood on the side of the street where it’d happened. The traffic of cars was so deceivingly innocent in the morning. I looked behind us, struck by the irony of a fully flourished field of weeds. Four teenagers had lost their lives on one street: you, my friend’s brother, your other friend, and a teenage girl in an oncoming car who was learning to drive for the first time. We stood there, shattered, as cars continued to speed by and weeds continued to grow.
Gustavo: I still choke at the sight of the cherry tree blossoms every spring; earth is revealing her new year of promise to us, and you’re not here to see it. I’d never lived your life, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t understand it. There were many talks about those other years…sometimes you’d cry and sometimes I’d cry with you. On a quest to heal, there were walks in the woods, drives through the city, carne asada at family parties, cookies because my mom always stocked up on your visits, and your favorite: all-day home-cooked meals. There would be beer while you cooked and wine with dinner. Our aromatic laughter seasoned the food as much as chiles and oregano. And now…and now what? Now there is an empty seat at family get-togethers. Now our tamales are missing an essential ingredient. Now I can only love your memory, and love you through your wife and daughter, both of whom I adore. And that love, primo, is unconditional too.
Also, a special bendición to my suegro, who I never had the honor of knowing. Salvador, I’ve loved so much of what remains of you, it’s as if we’ve been familia all along.
© Sarah C. Jiménez, All Rights Reserved 2011