FaceTime Goodbyes

Reckoning with my inability to speak Spanish.

My father, donned with a KN95 mask, tried balancing his phone so I could see my abuela over FaceTime and say our goodbyes. My dad flew into San Luís Potosí, Mexico to spend time with her, and I was stuck in New York. She has cancer and it has spread, my dad texted me the day before in broken English before switching to Spanish, She only probably only has days left. I had so many things I wanted to tell her — I’m sorry I didn’t put more effort into getting to know you more, I wish I could take your pain away, I want to give you a hug — but my words failed me. The only Spanish I could mutter was “Te quiero mucho” and that felt horribly insufficient.

My grandmother was always a distant figure to me, partially because my dad was the youngest of 11 (or was it 14?) and partially because she and my father had a falling out when he immigrated to the U.S. Naturally, my memories of her are sparse. I remember her showing me how to make a Nesquik drink when I was three. There was also that time when my mom made me wear a gold necklace with the Virgin Mary to a party to make my abuela smile. My last memory of her was before I went to college, when I towered over her — she couldn’t have been taller than 5’0. I’m sure she remembers more. 

But what do you tell a dying person you barely know because of your inability to speak another language? I was bullied out of speaking Spanish in preschool and ever since I’ve been playing catch-up, but not without failures. That FaceTime was one of them. I painfully stumbled over my words and she tried to fill the silence by telling me how much I’ve grown, an all time grandma thing to say. I know my abuela loves me, but I’m certain she knows nothing about me, and I know nothing about her. She has not passed away yet, but I don’t have much time.

COVID-19 has reckoned with how we say goodbye, and not just with those who are infected, but also those who are battling long-term illnesses. It’s made me realize how important it is to learn my native tongue, something that I have been languid about for the past four years (I was fluent when I graduated high school, not so much now), and how there are real consequences to keeping family at arm’s length during a time when social distancing is the norm. 

Tonight, I’ll be writing a letter to her. The Spanish may be sloppy — frankly, my handwriting, too — but it’s the only way she will know for certain how I feel. I just hope I’m not too late.


Here’s what I read this week: 

Here’s what I published: This week, I wrote about how Kendra Atleework’s Miracle Country is a new kind of memoir.

And here’s a fun recommendation for your weekend: Lust over Lirika Matoshi’s Strawberry Dress with me and/or tell me if you hate it. (Actually, my fun rec is to save the USPS by buying stamps and sending more snail mail.)

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