A long overdue thank you to my mother
At 3am, while I was idling my insomnia by reading and watching videos online, I came across this video:
I teared up when I realized: I don’t remember ever thanking my mother. I’ve resented her. I ran away from her. I blamed her. But I never thanked her. Never thanked her for showing me how to be an independent woman, how to raise my daughter, how to take care of myself, how to go out and not just make it the world, but thrive in it, how to fight for what I believe and not take shit, how to run shit and do shit and be the shit. All that I learned from my mama and I’ve never thanked her.
This experiment had people thank someone they appreciate. One man who looked about to be in his mid-twenties, said he didn’t know his mother’s number and that made me sad because I don’t know mom’s number either…but then I remembered that I still remember our phone number from childhood: 718-366-5539, before the era of cellphones, before I ran away to make my way out in the world (something I never could have done without the lessons my mama gave me), and I remember that maybe that’s what matters—that I remember who I was then and what we had and what we shared and though mom couldn’t protect me from everything, especially not her pain, she loved me with everything she had.
I’ve never thanked my mother for saving my life so many times. For keeping me even after she tried to avoid me with birth control pills—when she found out she was pregnant, she didn’t listen to the doctors who said she should abort me because I’d probably be born with all sorts of health issues because she took the pill for four months before finding out I was growing inside her. I’ve never thanked her for her carreras to the hospital when I was months old and dehydrated after a day at the beach though she was so careful to keep me in the shade, to give me water and do everything she could but still, nothing worked. I didn’t get better. She took me to doctor after doctor, looking for a diagnosis and none could be given. I’ve never thanked mami for taking me to that doctor a doña recommended. The doctor who sent her to St. John’s University Hospital because it was that hospital to which he was affiliated. I’ve never thanked mom for working all those hours to support us, her three children, me, my brother and my sister. For going home to check on her kids to then rush to the hospital to see me. For entering the NICU that day and finding me sprawled on an infant gurney, a bundle of tubes and patches and IVs and wires, it looked like I hadn’t been touched tenderly all day. And the doctors told her I wasn’t going to make it. For getting on her knees that day and praying and telling God, “Dios mio, si mi hija va sufrir, llévatela.” For opening herself up to hearing that angel who pushed her so today she tells me, “a mi se me metió algo,” and she started ripping the wires and nodes off of me. For not giving a fuck that the doctors and nurses thought she was going crazy. And signing that form excusing them of liability. For knowing that if I stood there, I would have died, so she took me to what was then known as the American Center where an enzyme specialist was visiting from Boston and together, using his prescriptions and following the strict diet he put me on, mommy brought me back to life. For traveling across the city, to El Barrio and beyond, looking for aguacate when it was out of season, and staying up nights, scraping her knuckles as she ground the yucca, so it could settle overnight and she could give me the milky substance that remained. Thank you mama for never giving up on me, you gave me life more than once.
I’ve never thanked my mother for making me walk when I was just three and four years old the two miles to Maria Hernandez Park, because mom didn’t want to raise a sickly child, and when I survived after the doctors told her I wouldn’t, she knew she had to be extra strong with me…so I wouldn’t use my illness as an excuse. I never have mami.
Thank you mama for making me stay up that night before I had a test on the times tables when I was in third grade and I just couldn’t get it. You didn’t let me go to sleep until I memorized the entire thing, so I had to wake you up in the middle of the night and recite them to you, kneeling at the edge of your bed. And you smacked me upside the head when I couldn’t get 8 x 8 so the other day, when my daughter got stuck on that one, all I could do was laugh because I will never forget that the answer is “64, carajo, 64, bruta!” you yelled all those years ago. And I remember that through your hard love, you taught me to be tender with my nena.
Thank you for letting me go to Turkey when I was 13 with that dance group because it was during that trip that I realized that I wanted to see the world and I knew that I had to see it alone. Thank you for letting me go to boarding school even if you knew it was to get away from you. Thank you for showing up to surprise me like you did a few times that first year. Thank you for believing me enough to know that I could do it, I could make it on my own.
Thank you for flipping out on me when I got with the drug dealer my senior year in boarding school and staying with him throughout my four years at Columbia. I may not have listened then and that awful relationship may have lasted longer than it should have, pero con ese hombre yo me hize mujer, mami. I know I did it por rebeldía, it was my one way to get back at you, and maybe that’s why it lasted so long, but with that man I learned when enough is enough, and though I’ve had missteps since that relationship (ay, so many, mami), that one I didn’t repeat and there’s something to say for that. Yes, it was the worst relationship ever but with him I learned so much about myself and my ability to survive, so thank you for being the person who I did things in resistance to. I learned such valuable lessons in my rebellion.
Thank you for saying, when I told you I quit my job to teach and write, “Bueno, if there’s anything I know about you, when you say you’re gonna do something, you always do it.” And when you met Meryl you said, “Vanessa was always big, even when she was little she was big.” I carry that with me, always. You’ve always believed in me, you just have your own way of showing it.
Thank you for taking care of my brother these past years. For not leaving him even after he stole from you and nodded out in front of you, not even after you found him with a needle sticking out of his arm in your bathroom. Thank you for flipping out on him and kicking him out but following him home, like you told me you did when we were on the cruise in August. You followed him, cried as you watched him nod out on the train, he was so high he didn’t see you watching him, he didn’t hear you sobbing. You followed him from Bushwick all the way to his apartment building in Chelsea, and you didn’t turn around until you saw him walk into the building. Thank you for taking care of him, for not giving up on him, for loving him. Thank you for not aborting him when you found out you were pregnant from that desgraciado who took way your inocencia, tu niñez. Thank you for having that baby, my brother, who loved his hermanitas and took care of us, who had more faith in me than I ever had in myself and was the first one in the family to tell me, “I’m proud of you, sis.” The man who made sure to tell me all the time so I knew it was true, and no matter what he did or how fucked up he was, I always knew he loved me.
And thank you, madre, for forgiving me for not being there. For reuniting with me at Carlos’s bedside, for working with me and trying to understand. For taking that ride with me to JC Penny to get you a juicer, for giving me, in the most anti-climatic way possible, permission to write your story. For sharing so much of you over these past few months. For giving me so many stories and filling in the blanks and answering all my questions. For introducing me to your co-workers the other day, who said, “Oh, you’re the writer” and when I looked at you, you were beaming so I knew that no matter if you’ve never said it, you are proud of me.
I learned defiance from you. I learned to be fierce from you. I can navigate this world, take these risks that I do, I can love and give and believe, because of you, mami. You showed me what it is to be a true feminist. You taught me that I can do it on my own, that I am a fighter and a dreamer and I can be all that and more. Thank you for your love. Thank you for looking past your sufrimiento to love me and raise me as you did. I’m sorry for not seeing you before, but I see you now, mami. I see you and I love you. Always.