Whenever my grandmother used to take me to the grocery store,
she always made me do all the talking.
I was like her very own private translator,
and, as I liked to imagine it,
I was decoding a secret message that only few could understand.
Of course, it’s only now that I know Spanish is a language spoken
by over 437 million people, making that ‘few’ seem more like… a lot.
But when you’re ten years old, staying with your grandma
who lives in the-middle-of-nowhere, Maryland
with a neighbor who didn’t even know Puerto Rico was a real place,
albeit, ever heard of it before,
Spanish can quickly become its own little rarity.
And although I could understand it enough to keep up
with the novelas playing on Univision,
Spanish was a language I had trouble with letting roll off my tongue.
At times, it was like a brand new museum exhibit
that my wide-eyed first grade peers would prod me to put on display,
a magic trick I could show off at parties, like I said before - a rarity.
And still, it was also a silent frustration, a stuttering embarrassment -
stumbling over my pronunciations and feeling
ashamed over occasionally having trouble with rolling my Rs,
or spitting out the right words for what I wanted to say.
I will be honest, I did not get along so well
with my grandmother.
She was tough, stubborn, and never liked to admit
when she was wrong (which are traits my mom says I resemble her in).
But within our disputes, as I struggled to put together
my sentences in a language I had such little contact with,
she waited patiently for me to finish,
never judging, always empathetic to the difficulty
in wanting to say how you feel
but feeling powerless while expressing it.
After a while, as my grandmother got older,
(her body seeming to go against itself with age,
leaving her stuck in hospital bed after hospital bed) -
she started calling us on the phone, near tears,
fed up with trying to tell the doctor what was wrong with her -
forced into rehearsing a fragile English that she worked so hard to assemble.
She was fed up with being treated like she was stupid,
fed up with the doctor disregarding her because of her accent,
disregarding her as if this sixty-four year old woman was a child.
Does he not know what she has seen in sixty-four years?
He will never comprehend her; a woman so worn down from her experiences,
a woman who lost her brother, her mother;
who ran away from home at fifteen because of the abuse,
whose name meant Light but is now Marge because it just fell too heavy on the shoulders.
A woman who treated her own life as a call for help,
who went through being a security guard, and then a fashion designer,
and a police officer, and even a foster parent for stray dogs;
Who became so hardened through the years
that she wears her skin like a shell;
Her soul - now a hermit in hiding.
He will never comprehend
that despite how my grandmother and I never got along,
she has taught things that no medical degree of his could cover.
How the dirt around breeds life,
How my womanhood should be worn
as a badge of honor, how flowers can grow in even
the smallest cracks of the sidewalk.
My grandmother, my abuela,
taught me how to speak without feeling ashamed of what I have to say,
or being afraid of letting myself say it.
But he will never comprehend that.
Instead, she is reduced to a child,
not confident in asking for her own medicine,
unable to express her pain.
And I wish I was there,
in the same way I was there for her at the grocery store,
to look him in the eye and tell him
that she is a product of self-preservation, self-determination.
To say to him,
“She is not a child, she is light”
“She is light.”
“She is light.”