This story was produced through Herstory Writers Workshop.
It was September 11, 2002. I was sitting in class and someone spoke on the loud speaker and said, “Let’s have a moment of silence for the troops in Afghanistan and the innocent people that died during this unfortunate tragedy.” It suddenly hit me. I said, “Oh wow! It’s been a year since the attack of the twin towers and five months since I left Ecuador.”
During the silence, my mind became filled with thoughts and wonders. The morning of September 11, a year earlier, I woke up, had breakfast, and walked to school. It was another normal school day for me. At noon, classes were over and I headed home. When I arrived home, my grandmother, Maclovia, whom I called Mami, had the TV blasting and she was sitting right in front of it, which was unusual, and her facial expressions were of panic and worry. I couldn’t understand what was going on. I looked at the TV and saw smoke, people running desperately, and people flying off buildings. It suddenly hit me when I saw headlines saying, “Manhattan, New York.” In my mind I said, “That’s where my mom lives.” I felt gloomy because the beautiful skyscrapers that I had only seen on a wall clock that my mom had sent my grandma were torn down and no longer decorated the city.
My aunt Yoli, who lives in Spain, called and asked if we have heard from my mom, because she has been trying to get a hold of her, and the lines were completely dead. I felt as if I was in a suspenseful movie, not knowing what was going to happen next—very tense. I don’t remember the rest of that day.
The next day I attended school, but couldn’t concentrate because my emotions were on a roller coaster. Anxiety was killing me. I don’t think I ate lunch at school that day. My friends wanted to play. I wanted to be happy for them, but inside my head my thoughts were speaking louder than ever: What if she died, I will never get to see her again? I love my grandmother and consider her my mother, but she’s not my biological mother. My grandmother said that Diana is my mom and I have to be with her, but if something happened to her I will never get to see my mother again.
As I walked home from school, all I could think of was my mother.
We lived in a small town; everyone knew each other. My family was well known and respected. I think everyone in my family was respected because of my grandfather. He was a typical macho man and everyone knew that if you got involved with an Alvarez, hell was going to break loose. No one knew him as the loving man, as most of his children and I did. He didn’t consider me his granddaughter, he considered me his daughter—he used to spoil me as much as he could. He didn’t spoil me with money or with expensive things. Instead, he brought me every type of fruit he could from la parcela. I used to get fresh oranges, sugarcane, mangos, tangerines, and every local fruit. When el panadero, the bread man, rode his bike by, I would yell, “Papi! El panadero.” He would come out and get me bread, and as much bread as I wanted. El lechero used to drive by and grandma would run out with an olla to fill with milk.
Image courtesy of twiga269 ? FreeTIBET via Flickr.
When I arrived home from school on September 11, 2001, my grandma told me that my mom had finally communicated with her and that she said she was fine.
“I’m sure she’ll be fine,” I replied with no emotion.
I waved goodbye, and as I waved I said, “Allá va mi Dianita,” as my grandfather held me in his arms. I never called her mom. Everyone was surprised at my reaction. As the plane took off, I had spoken without a single drop of sorrow. Instead, I was happy.
I was only 5-years-old when my mother left in 1997. For many kids, the world would have ended, but for me it just started. As mature as I was, according to my family, I didn’t understand the magnitude of this goodbye. As we waited in the airport for my mom’s flight, everyone had a face of sadness, but I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t know that years were going to go by before I saw my mother again.
Image courtesy of junklight via Flickr.
Now I felt someone tap my shoulder. It was one of my best friends in elementary school, Mabel, telling me that class had resumed and to snap out of my daydreaming. It was nice to walk back and forth between home and school with Mabel because it felt like things hadn’t changed, even though I was now in the US. It was only scary in the winter when it was 7am and it was still dark out. The roads were always filled with lots of cars. In the spring, the cars had their windows down and people would jam to their favorite genre of music.
When I arrived home, I kissed and hugged my mom. Buenas tardes, I said. She always asked me if I was hungry. Sometimes I would reply yes because the smell of food was delicious and other times no because I wasn’t really hungry and because I wasn’t in the mood for what my mother had cooked. She would sit at the table with me, while I ate. While I ate I would contemplate her face and ask myself “is that really my mother?”
I remembered the day that she and I were reunited, five months before. I was looking around the airport as my stepfather pointed toward a big crowd of people by an exit sign.
When I was getting on the plane, I had tried to remember what she looked like. I remembered that she always wore a t-shirt tucked inside her high-waist jeans with a black belt that had a silver buckle with Vans or black-laced sandals. Her hair was always in a ponytail with bangs teased to the side. I guess that was the look back then. Most of the time she had red lipstick on her lips, which went perfectly with her pale skin and her dark hair. Even though I knew my stepfather from before, the idea of sharing the same roof with him was something that my small brain couldn’t process. He showed me love and I called him “Papi,” but sharing my mother’s love with him and three other kids seemed impossible.
“I don’t even know her all that well. All I remember is her always being mad at me for losing my hair scrunchies. She used to yell at me and always said that the hair scrunchies were expensive and that I should be more responsible with my stuff. I wonder if she was still the same annoyed person, if she would yell at me every time I lost a scrunchy. Or maybe she has changed and she won’t yell at me for losing my scrunchies. I’m going to be pushed aside because I’m not an American child; she has three American kids and I would just be worthless to her. I don’t even know why she wants me with her; she left me after all. Hopefully all of the advice my grandma gave her would do her some good. She won’t be as mean to me. I don’t want to go to the United States, I want to stay with grandma; after all she’s my mother and has been there more than my biological mother. She knows what I like and dislike. I wonder if this woman even remembers me; if she has any childhood memories to tell me.”
I slept the whole flight. The only time I got up was when I was woken up by my stepfather to get a drink or when the flight attendants went around with dinner. We landed in Newark International Airport at 11pm. I looked amongst the big crowd that was waiting hesitantly for their loved ones. I kept searching and saw my uncle Edgar who I recognized quickly because he hadn’t changed much since I saw him last.
My mother came rushing to hug me. She gave me the tightest hug I’ve ever received in my life. She kissed me and said, “Mamita, que guapa y grande que estás.” Of course I was bigger, she hasn’t seen me in several years. I hugged her back and we both shed a couple of tears. She looked happy; she kept hugging and kissing me as we drove home. I was happy to finally be with her, my mother, but at the same time I couldn’t stop thinking about my grandparents, but most of all about my grandmother. I kept telling myself that I did this for her because she told me that the only way she would go visit Spain was if I left to the United States to be with my mom. I was excited, I guess. I was in a new country, I had flown in an airplane, and it was a big deal for me. “Gracias, Mami, estaba rica la comida,” I complimented her cooking as I finished my last bite of food. I washed my dish and headed to room.
In the room I asked her to tell me things I used to do when I was little. She started by telling me that I used to cry every time she disappeared and I would yell, “mi Dianita, mi Dianita.” And kept going on and on…
This can’t be true! I don’t remember me crying for her. She’s a liar, my mother probably died September 11 when the twin towers were attacked by terrorist. My stepfather just brought a woman and told her to make up stories about my childhood so that no one would find out about her death; she’s an imposter. She doesn’t even look like my mom. Why should I call her my mother when she’s probably not even related to me?
She made me laugh by things she said. She said, “Tú decías mi casita de caña.” Huh? I was perplexed. How could the imposter know this? How could she know what I used to call the house where her, my dad and I lived? All of the sudden the imposter was no longer an imposter. It was my mom, mi Dianita. Everyone in my family always used to make fun of me for the way I called our house, a sugar cane house. Oh boy, I sure did have an imagination!
I hugged her and kissed her and said, “TE QUIERO MAMI.”
Jazmin Criollo is a junior at SUNY Old Westbury. She was raised in East Hampton and born in Ecuador.
Feature image, “That Fateful Day,” courtesy of Cayusa via Flickr.