Nana

The blue tie was a gift from Nana. Use it for church, she said. Not so much for the lord but for the young ladies. You know, that is why they go to church on Sundays too. When I was younger, I wanted to look good for Jesus. But my church devotion hit me suddenly at 14, when I realized the rosie cheek daughter of the librarian was always at the third row on the left side from the atrium. I could only see 35 degrees of her right side. In my dreams, I would see her turning her face, looking directly at me. I really liked that side of her. I wonder if she considered it her better side too.

It has been more than a decade since the last time I thought about God, Jesus and the apostles. We are not a good fit.

I found the tie with a black notebook in a small box with a “random stuff” label. This was a lived reminder of one of my failing attempts to write a diary. For years, the first day of the month, I would make myself write thoughts and worries, trying to find between the lines the meaning of the things I could not make sense of. As I flipped quickly through the pages, I saw that I could not keep my writing beyond five days straight. I tried but I never succeeded. Years went by and as I grew older, my pages became shorter as my words, until one Wednesday, 7 years ago this May, the page was left empty.

It is amazing how the small details of your life show who you are. It is hard to escape from oneself.

Most of the times, it is hard for me to finish what I start or to be on time. I live a life of great beginnings and okay endings. My life is not something parents would be proud of but they won’t call it a disappointment either. I am the product of a working family, in a small town in the middle of this country. Nobody expects much from each other anyways. And I am okay with that, sort of.

Immigrants. All of us. All around us. Fighting to keep fears inside and fulfill broken dreams across generations like a road that lead to the promised land of success. To be respected, acknowledged. Seen. The ongoing quest for being visible. Nana did not care much about that. She did not expect much from me either. She only loved me.

The last time I wore a suit was when my brother died. I had to wear one from my grandfather who was two sizes bigger than me. It was a plaid brown suit with abundance of pockets. It smelled as camphor and nicotine, just like him.

The night he died, mother asked me to drive home and pick up his last attire. Bring the red tie and the black suit and the white shirt he liked so much, she said. Of all the people in the world who could have done this, she chose me, sending me into exile. I guess I was not worth it of grieving with.

As I opened his closet, I placed all the items in a small suitcase. I spent an hour trying to decide if I should bring a belt or not. I sat in front of a closet full of jeans and jackets and shirts. We were the same size of almost everything but shoes. I was glad I never had to walk on his shoes. He had to fill the space left by the man we called father. Maybe Mother sent me here to spare me from the pain. The pain of seeing his body still. The pain of taking off his necklace and the graduation ring. The pain to see his body leave the room down the hall. She might have done that but instead, I was left with a bunch of made up memories I cannot escape from, in a room with many open doors.

I decided to bring a leather black belt. If it was me, I would rather have one on. Death should be a dignifying act; you really can’t tell what it is at the other end of it.

He died the 3rd of the month; it was still winter. I checked on the diary to see if there was something around those dates. Surprisingly, I found an entry two days later. My handwriting has changed. This one looks joyful and generous. There are only two lines, a question.

What does it mean to live a good life?

I let the question sink on me as an anchor falling slowly at the sea. It has been twelve years since then and I still have not found a decent answer. As I put the notebook down, I tried to tie a double Windsor. It looks flawless. These are the kind of talents I have in my life, a bunch of useless tools. The tie is short, but the knot is gorgeous. If I don’t take my jacket off, no one will notice.

I ended up loosen the knot. I am better than this I say to myself. As I lift my face, I feel the weight of time. And I must say, it has not been very gentle to me. My face is longer than I thought and the black circles under my eyes denote tiredness. Not tired from living or from working too hard. Just tired. I think it is the result of how hard it is to keep all the pieces of my life moving.

I opened the diary again and checked where I was this date, ten years ago. I found a long entry with a question highlighted in orange

What does it mean to live a meaningful life?

The change was subtle but its significance vast as the ocean.

All of a sudden, it hit me. It took me two years to find the right word to explore the territory I entered when my brother left. I realized, I have never talked about this with anyone. In all these years, I have developed an ability to be vulnerable in my own terms. Terms that others don’t understand, and I am not willing to explain. This is why, I don’t not come back home for the holidays. This is why, I stopped calling grandma. This is why I am single and unable to commit. This is why I stopped writing. I know this is all wrong. I know it. I can feel it. I can still feel. That is my real problem, I feel too much, I care too much and I do not know what to do with all of this, I fear that the moment I let my guard down, I will be left out naked and alone with my emotions.

That did not sound very manly, right? I need to tough it up a little.

Now, I am an adult but I am still wrestling with the same question. Year after year, the same question, disguised in layers of pride and fear and loneliness. I guess life is less about moving forward and more about an endless iteration of going in circles. Pass go, pay the utility company and avoid ending up in jail. Roll the dices again and move on.

The knock on the door brings me back to the room in the second floor of the house I grew up in. It still has the pastel wallpaper and a small picture frame at the night table with my brother and I, as children petting a horse. The place that one day was my universe now feels like a foreign memory.

- Let’s not be late today, please? Not today.

In her voice, I feel the pain of the moment and the nagging tone that only moms know how to use to get their kids to do something. After all these years, she still knows how to push my buttons, all at once.

I think about my brother and I think about grandma. I think about how he never got to find out what kind of men he was going to be. He never got the chance to see what was under all the insecurities and fears. What a privilege is to grow old. And I think about Nana and this blue tie and how she is gone. I can’t believe she is gone.

Her body is gone but Nana disappeared ten months ago. First, she lost her keys. Then her car. She could not remember the name of her cats or the street where she lived for decades. Then, her memories. She started to jump from one vacation in the south to a school memory to Mother’s birthday, like a CD player in a bumpy road playing songs from different tracks. One day, she forgot who she was and all the things that made her Nana.

I never called her again. I did not send her an Easter card. I did not come back home for her 80th birthday. No. I was not going to let anyone else to choose my memories again. Not again.

- We are not going to wait for you forever, yells mother again. I am not leaving this door until you come out.

I know this is my time to cry. I will have no other chances. I won’t do it in front of others, they might think the city has made me soft. Too soft. This is why they don’t like me that much. They can see how hard I try to stay put and they are waiting for me to brake. Not today. Not now. I won’t let them see my tears, I need to be calm and in control. My tears in my own terms.

What is the hurry? I say, grandma is not going anywhere.

I can feel the weight of my words falling on her shoulders. I can sense her pain. I can see her closing her eyes to take two deep breaths as she does when she is trying to calm herself down. I know how hurtful my words are. Kids know how to inflict harm to their parents with clinical precision.

I love mother. I do. But now I really need to cry.

As I grab the jacket and put the box away, I know that once I leave this room everything is going to change for good. The only thing that brings me back here is tragedy and tragedy seems to be fond of me, but I have lost the last link that tied me to this place. I wish I could be different. I wish I could say I am sorry. I am hurt. I need you mom. I miss you Nana. I miss you brother. But I can’t and I won’t. I was not made of that material.

This time, I will take the diary with me. Perhaps, I can write more than five days straight. Perhaps, I can think about what a meaningful life feels like. Actually, that sounds like a good idea, I should write that down. Perhaps there is a chance for me to change, to find a better way to be myself. Perhaps this time, I will try to start something that is worth finishing. Perhaps there is a way out of this mess. Perhaps I should try. I should. Nana would have liked that.

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Papá de Rafael. Traveler. Immerse in history. Finding my voice to write in Spanish.

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Sebastián Molano

Papá de Rafael. Traveler. Immerse in history. Finding my voice to write in Spanish.