Saturday morning, I woke up to my alarm buzzing. I opened my eyes and immediately felt like something was off. The sun was coming in through my window, but it wasn’t warm. It was cold. And it wasn’t shining. It was just there; as if it was just fulfilling its job and wasn’t enjoying it.
Misty wasn’t on top of my bed either. She was cuddled in hers. She wasn’t waving her tail or jumping around my bed. I jumped out of bed and kneeled next to her.
“What’s the matter, Misty?” I asked her concerned. She didn’t move, she just looked at me with tired eyes.
“Are you sick?” I put my hand on her head, but she moved it away, like telling me to not worry and let her stay there to sleep. I didn’t want to leave her; nonetheless, I did as I was told. I kissed her forehead and went to grab my jogging clothes. I got my curly hair into a ponytail and brushed my teeth.
I hadn’t seen Luke all week. I was hoping he would show up for our usual Saturday runs. I tried calling him throughout the week, but he never responded any of my calls or texts. He hadn’t been to school either. I thought of going to his house, but maybe he just wanted to be left alone. He will call you when he’s ready, I told myself. Something about that was off too.
The house felt cold and gloomy. No noise to be heard. I went to Martin’s room to give him his usual morning peck, but he wasn’t in bed. He might have gone to the grocery store, I thought. He likes to make our breakfasts diverse and healthy, so this wasn’t something out of the ordinary.
Before leaving his room, I noticed Bullet cuddled up in his green bed. He looked just as melancholic as Misty.
“What’s up boy?” I asked from the door. He just got up from his bed and walked towards me. I kneeled to caress his head, but he didn’t stop walking. He walked to my room and laid down next to Misty. She put her head on his back and they stayed like that; looking at me with big puppy eyes.
I hurried back to my room and looked for my phone. Martin usually leaves me a text message when he goes to the store. I hoped that when I turned on the screen I could find his message, but I was just disappointed. None. Zero. My first instinct was to call him. Maybe he forgot to tell me, I told myself; but I just wanted to think something different from what the butterflies filling my belly were suggesting.
Maybe his phone is in silent, I thought. He isn’t at his best in the morning. More thoughts like these rushed through my head to help me calm down. I heard the phone dialing, while slightly biting the tip of my nail. I waited a moment for him to answer. My heart stopped when I heard his ringtone just a few steps away. I followed the noise and it led me back to his room. His phone was there, laying on the nightstand. I took a closer look around his room, searching for something missing; something to let me know he wasn’t home and he had just left his phone. But, everything was in its place. Nothing was missing, just him.
“Martin?!” I called anxiously. “Are you home?!” there was no response. I could feel the heat rising through my body. My palms were sweaty, as well as the back of my neck. I could feel my whole body shaking and my heart rate increasing. I was heading to my room again to grab a jacket. If he wasn’t home, I was going to look for him, but I was stopped by the sound of voices downstairs. Voices I couldn’t recognize. Man voices. I felt like I could breathe once again. It was probably Martin and Luke, or dad. I couldn’t recognize the voices because I am up here, that’s it, I reassured myself.
I walked towards the stairs, going down cautiously. I couldn’t get my legs to move faster. Something inside of me kept telling me to turn around. Something was telling me these voices weren’t what I wanted them to be. That little voice in my head yelled at me to get back to bed and bury myself with the covers, but my legs had a mind of their own.
When I was about to take the last step, the sound of an “I’m sorry,” made me stop abruptly. Sorry for what? I thought. What is going on?! For the first time since walking down the stairs, I raised my gaze from the floor. Two young men were at the door in front of Martin. The one to the right was taller and apparently, he was doing the talking. The one on the other side had a serious face and was a bit smaller. Both had a military uniform.
Martin was just standing there, immobile and silent. Suddenly, he fell to his knees and burst out crying. Watching him fall, made me finally regain control of my legs and run to him.
“Martin!” I screamed, anguish in my voice. I got to him and put a hand on his shoulder. My gaze fell on him, reflecting confusion. I then turned to look at the two men at the door. “What is going on?” I asked with a harsh, demanding tone. They looked at each other. It was obvious they didn’t want to repeat whatever they had told my brother.
“I’m sorry miss, but I’m afraid the news we have with us,” the tall man made a short pause to take a deep breath before continuing, “isn't very pleasant.” There was a moment of silence. Before the man could finish what he was saying, I felt a hand in mine. Martin’s hand. He was looking up at me. His bold, verdant eyes, were now red and tears escaped them. He was pulling me down.
When I was on my knees, he took both my hands in one of his and said between sobs, “Emi, it's mom. She is… is,” but he couldn’t finish his sentence. He didn’t have to because it finally hit me. The two men in uniform, the coolness of the atmosphere, Martin. I froze. It can’t be real! This must all be a nightmare! But it wasn’t. I could feel the tears running out of my eyes and Martin’s arms bringing me in for a hug. No, no, no, was all I could think of. No, no, no.
In Martin’s free hand was something cold and not so big. I broke our hug and took his hand. It was a medal. Medal of Honor - Cnel. Mariana Jácome, it read in the back and at the front, a star with the word Courage on top.
“She died in combat,” I heard the short man say. “She saved both our lives.”
I looked back at Martin and hugged him tighter than before. Without saying another word, the two men walked back to their car. We stayed like that for what felt like hours. My mind couldn't accept what we were just told.
Mom was dead and she was never coming back.
Moments later, we sat on the couch in the living room. Nothing was the same. The couch didn’t feel soft and the family pictures weren’t ours anymore. The walls, the floor, the furniture; everything around us felt grey. The roses lying on the dining table looked withered and right in the middle of everything, I could see mom, dancing to her favorite song.
My cheeks were still wet from the river of tears. We were silent, but my mind was screaming with questions. All the voices in my head were having a different conversation. I couldn’t stay quiet anymore. I had to know how it happened.
“How?” was all I managed to get out. It was so soft. I was worried Martin couldn’t hear me. But he did.
Martin took a deep breath before responding. “It was a week ago. She and her team were moving some medical equipment to the other side of their location. Nothing they hadn’t done thousands of times,” I could feel the anger in his voice rising. We were asking the same question, why her? His hand was in a fist. I took it with both of mine. I gave him a small, weak smile, that made him relax a bit. He took another deep breath before continuing, “she was in the truck with the equipment with several others. Suddenly, they were bombarded,” his voice broke at the end of the sentence.
I squeezed my eyes shut, not letting go of his hand. “These people,” he started again, “they don’t care where they throw their bombs. They just shoot everybody and don’t care who gets hurt.” I pulled him closer to me and he let his head fall to my shoulder. “She didn’t write to us because they were busy. They had surgery every minute and their equipment had been stolen. They couldn't risk getting noticed by communicating with outsiders.” His voice broke and he closed his eyes; tears getting out of them, harder than before. I brought him closer to me and squeezed my eyes harder.
“We have to tell dad,” I whispered. He didn’t say anything, instead, he nodded in agreement. I wanted to grab the phone. I wanted to call dad. But I felt weak. I couldn’t bring myself to do it, and neither could Martin.
“He said he would be here in 5 minutes,” Martin said. He just had gotten off the phone with dad. I nodded.
I was sitting at the kitchen counter and Martin was across from me. We didn’t know what to tell each other. Nothing in this world could make us feel better about what happened. My tears were dry on my cheeks, but my eyes were still red. Martin supported his weight on the counter and looked at me. I let my eyes meet his. I noticed they weren’t green anymore, neither were they red. They were this light shade of brown that reflected how miserable he felt. He was looking at me like I was some porcelain doll about to break. He looked prepared to pick up the pieces.
“Do you want to eat something?” he asked with a soft tone, breaking our silence.
“I don’t think I can,” I answered, my eyes lowering into his hands. I didn’t want to eat or run; not even watch a movie, read a book or go to bed. I wanted the only thing that I couldn’t have. I wanted mom. I wanted to think of all the fights and disagreements we had. Of all the times she wouldn’t let me go to a party or all the times she wouldn’t let me buy the clothes I wanted. I wanted to torture myself for not insisting more with my letters to her. I wanted to be mad at myself for something. It was the best distraction I could find to take my mind off the real issue. But I couldn’t. Instead, I thought of all the good moments.
“Do you remember the other day, when you told me to go to the hospital for old times sake?” I asked with a low tone, raising my gaze from his hands and making them meet his eyes once again.
“Yeah,” he chuckled slightly. “Why?”
“You know why I didn’t want to go?”
“Because it was something you did with her.”
“Yeah. Do you want to know what we did there?” He nodded. “We gave presents. We got little boxes and filled them with candy and a tiny bear keychain. We did this for all the people that were sad; all of those patients that thought they were dying soon. Mom said life lost its purpose if we just gave up and stop being happy.” I let out a small smile. “It was our secret. Not even the patients knew who lived the gifts. She made me promise I wouldn’t tell neither you or dad,” we both chuckled.
“I always thought you did volunteering hours at the hospital,” he said, I guess thinking back to the times mom and I escaped of the house. I smiled, proud of all that happiness we had spread.
We stayed silent for a moment, reflecting on our special moments with mom when Martin decided to break it, “do you remember the first time she had to go?” I nodded. It was about 7 years ago when I was 10. The first 2 years of us being in the US, was for her to get all the necessary papers and that stuff military doctors have to do before they go into the campaign. “That morning, she went into my room. I was cuddled in bed, crying. She sat at the edge of the bed, making me sit up. With her hands, she wiped the tears off my face and gave me a weak smile. Don’t cry baby, she said. I need you to do me a favor. She then kissed my eyes and my forehead and took my hands in hers. I need you to take care of your sister. Be strong for her and don’t ever let her feel alone. Be her protector.” I could feel the tears building in my eyes again. We interlocked our fingers. Without even thinking about it, my eyes fell on our wrists, where our tattoo stand. “I wish I did a good job,” he said lastly, letting his gaze fall on our wrists as well.
I took one of my hands out of our grip and cupped his face. “You sure did Protector,” I let out another weak smile, making him chuckle and his tears fall off the edge of his eyes.
Moments later, dad got home. He wasn’t looking tired like he normally does. He doesn’t even have his portfolio or his jacket with him. He looked broken, in shock, scared. His eyes weren’t red. Normally, dad’s eyes are a medium shade of brown, but, in that moment, they looked black. He looks out of breath and about to fall apart. I run up to dad and tied my arms around him, making him finally let out the tears he had been holding back.
Martin walked up to us to hold us both in his arms. Dad didn’t make any questions or comments, he didn’t start telling his memories either. He was silent, I guess processing all the shock. We didn’t tell him how it happened, it didn’t seem like the right thing to do now.
We guided dad to the couch and made him sit down. It was obvious he was feeling too weak to stand up. I sat at one side and Martin sat at the other. He froze when his gaze fell on something shining on the table. The medal. He started to cry harder than before. His cheeks and nose turned a bright shade of pink.
After some minutes of silence, he finally spoke. “I remember the first time I met your mother,” he started, “we were at the airport. I was there to pick up my father. He was coming back from a business trip. I don’t know what caught my attention. I don’t know if it was the smell of coffee or bread. Whatever it was, it made me turn around to look at the coffee shop across from me and there she was. The most beautiful woman I had ever seen,” his voice broke. Without looking at us, he took our hands, gave them a light squeeze and rest them on each leg. Martin and I got closer to him. “I don’t know what hit me guys, but, I just knew she was the one. She was the woman I wanted to pass the rest of my days with. I just knew it,” he broke up in tears. After a short pause, he took a deep breath and continued. “The day of our wedding, when we were giving our vows, I told her I would give her the life she deserved, no matter what it took. I guess… I guess I won't be able to do that anymore.”
Wednesday, November 29, 2017. A day I will never forget. The day I will bury my mother. All the family had come to support us. No one could believe it.
Standing in my room, in front of the mirror, with my black dress on, I took in how I looked. My eyes looked petite, the bags beneath them were pronounced, my lips were fragmented and I looked like a ghost. How I looked, was nothing compared to how I felt. I was tired of holding my body on my feet, I was tired of everyone asking if I was fine, I was tired of being nice to people that don't know me. I wanted to scream at the world to stop spinning and to life to stop moving like nothing happened.
As I stood there in front of the mirror, I wanted my mom to appear magically, take my broken self in her hands and tell me everything will be alright. I wanted her to kiss my forehead one last time. I wanted to smell her J’adore Dior perfume one more time and tell her it was time to buy a new fragrance. I want to hear her singing something from Alejandro Fernández while she cooks dinner, only one more time. Just one more time.
“Is time to go,” Martin said softly, looking at me in the mirror. I turned around, so I would be facing him. He looked… just like me. Broken and tired. I nodded, took my purse from the bed, and stood next to him. He forced a small smile on his lips and put his arm around me.
We went downstairs, where my dad was already waiting sitting on the couch. “We are ready dad,” Martin announced.
“No, we’re not,” dad replied getting up and walking out the door.
Everyone was already at the graveyard. The family I hadn’t seen in a long time was there with and for us. Aunt Jenny was in crying in uncle Oscar’s arms, the youngest of the three. Grandma Stella was hugging both of them. Dad’s older brother, uncle Leo, was with his wife and my cousins. Some old friends of my parents were also there and surrounding the coffin, my mother’s companions. They were going to present the flag and raise the swords, as a symbol of respect and honor. Among them were the two gentlemen that went to the house last Saturday, standing across from each other.
In the distance was a cannon, that later on was going to fire three times. Nothing was going to get out of it, just the sound. All of this to offer tribute to those who died in battle.
“We are here today to remember the life of Mariana Jacome, beloved mother, wife, sister, daughter, and friend,” the priest started saying.
During the ceremony, the priest talked about not being sad because she was gone, but happy because she had lived a beautiful life with people that loved her. He said something about she not really being gone, that she will always live in our memory. Something about her always being there for us when we needed her. I didn’t want to hear that. It may sound stubborn and annoying, but I just wanted to hear this was all a big fat nightmare that soon was going to end.
“Guillermo, would you like to say some words?” the priest asked my dad when he was done speaking.
Dad raised his gaze from the ground to reveal his red eyes full of tears. “What can I possibly say?” he shrugged. “What can I possibly say that will bring my wife back?!” he yelled. His body got tense and he had a defensive expression. All that he had been hiding these past days, finally came out. It was like a volcano awakening from its nap.
The priest looked sorry. My grandma, aunt, and uncle started to cry harder than before and I could feel my own tears building up at the corner of my eyes. No one dares to move or to calm him down. It was better if we just let him get everything he was feeling out.
“Emilia, Martin, do you want to say some words?” the priest asked softly to us.
I looked at Martin. He didn’t want to talk. I kissed his cheek. “I’ll do it,” I murmured. I took a step closer to the coffin, took a deep breath and turned to look at everybody.
“Hi, everyone,” I started, “it’s good to see you all. Uum,” I cleared my throat and squeezed my eyes. “I’m not very good at giving speeches. I’m sorry,” most chuckle. “I don’t want to say how she was because it would only bring more pain. I guess when the time is right, I will talk about her, about how I saw her, but today is not that day.” I took another deep breath. “Before she left this last time, we fought, or better said, I started to argue with her. I was, frantic, at the fact that she had to leave again.” I started to remember that day. It was cloudy and the breeze roared with intensity. “I told her that she was being selfish. That what she had signed up for was a suicide. She tried to calm me down by saying she would be back because we were here. She tried to convince me he would be back before Christmas, but somehow, I couldn’t believe her. Something inside of me told me what she assured, wasn’t real. I told her this and short after, we both started crying,” my voice broke, but I managed to maintain the tears back. “We sat down in my bed in silence. After a moment, she hugged me, kissed my forehead and murmured, Emi, nunca me vas a perder. I will always come back to you because I love you. You are my little girl. I hugged her back and whispered I love you, mom. I’m glad I got to say it one last time, otherwise, I would live with remorse the rest of my life.” And finally, the tears came out, just like a waterfall.
I turned to look at the coffin. “Te extraño mami. Estoy orgullosa de ti.” I ran until I felt the embrace of my brother’s arms wrapping around me.