Celebrating the New Year is always a weird time for me. I look back and think of what I’ve accomplished, what I failed to do, what I want to work on for next year. Normally I’m left feeling like I came up short and I enter the New Year promising to be more motivated. As this year came to an end though, I didn’t have time to reflect. I was too busy living in a sea of denial regarding my nina’s (Madrina/God Mother) bleak medical condition.
My nina, who also happened to be my aunt, was a giant influence in my life. Some of the first memories I can remember are spending time with her and my cousins in her old house watching a small black and white TV cuddling on the couch eating toast. In my culture your nina is more than just an aunt or someone with a special title, it’s someone that your parents have a connection with and who they would want to raise you if anything ever happened to them. It’s a pretty big deal. I was lucky enough to have a nina that was best friends with my Mom–two brown girls who stuck together when their sister in laws would ice them out. They were pregnant together, would escape my grandpa’s bad mood together and in at least one case they were in the room with the other when one of them was giving birth. My mom says that the bond she had with my nina was more than familiar or a normal friendship because they chose each other, as sisters. That bond they shared was handed down to their respective kids and even now as an adult I consider my cousins my siblings. We have that I-will-always-be-there-for-you-even-when-you-piss-me-off-and-are-a-complete-asshole-ok-I-love-you-bye, type of relationship.
These past few years my nina has been pretty sick and because 2016 was the year of ultimate bullshit, it took her with it on 12/29/2016. I try to be annoyingly optimistic and because of that before this year I refused to see my nina in the hospital or to accept she wasn’t going to be OK. In November when she got ill I refused to see her. “I’ll see her when she gets out,” I said to myself. Then my cousin who is like my sister said, “she might not get out you need to go see her, I’m sorry if I’m being harsh but you can’t be a bitch titty.” So I went, she was the smallest I’d ever seen her but as sassy as ever. She was smiling and bullshitting just like I remembered. But, it was the beginning of the end and she was fighting a losing battle. I will say that in true Brown Girl fashion she was admitted into hospice, then evicted because she wasn’t sick enough. Her release had all of the nurses talking about how she was breaking all the rules–true to form, nina.
When I realized that this was actually it I talked to my cousin and told her I want to talk to her, I want to ask her all of these questions, I want to compile all of her wisdom and put it somewhere safe. A piece of me wanted to have her forever, her words, her experiences, her lessons. I had so many things to ask her so many things I wanted to know that I needed to know before it was too late. But, if you know a Brown Family, you know that when someone is in the hospital then there are 15 of you in the hospital. So, there’s not a lot of private time to have a conversation. But, finally, on the day before her birthday–she was home at this time–I had some one on one time with her and I remember wanting to ask so many things. I wanted to record her voice, take pictures of her hands, of her hair, of her soul so I could carry it with me forever. But, in true nina fashion, she lead the conversation.
She told me a story about her oldest daughter, a story I never knew–this was a story tabbed under the “I’ll tell you when you’re older category.” I remember being in awe thinking of the life she had lived before I even came into existence. How courageous and tenacious she was, it was her ever present characteristic and even now during her last days, she was fighting cancer and telling me a story making me feel like I was 6 years old all over again. I was sitting, legs crossed as close to her bed as possible taking in every detail about…how when she was little and in Mexico…or, when she moved to Los Angeles and worked at the newspaper…how she met my dad before he met my mom… “Wait, what was I saying? I forgot…” I laughed, she laughed, this wasn’t a side-effect of cancer, she ALWAYS got so caught up in her own stories that she would lose her train of thought. I didn’t blame her, they were so detailed I could see Sinaloa too without ever having been there.
I didn’t get to ask her any questions. I didn’t have any prepared. But, we sat there and talked like we used to, a conversation long overdue. “Como esta tu nuevo trabajo? Te ves mas calmada” “Porque te fuiste de la otra oficinia” I told her why I left and she responded, “that man wanted you to kill yourself working for him, que vaya a chingar a su madre, tu tienes que vivir tu vida. That’s what I tell Sarita, you can’t kill yourself over a job, you guys have to live you’re still so young.” We finished chatting, I kissed her a little longer and hugged her a little tighter and then I left. I’ll ask her some more questions next time I thought. I’ll get the lessons, the wisdom, the message that I’m looking for, the thing I need to hang on to–I’ll get it next time.
A week later my nina was back in hospice and a few days later she took her last breath with her family, chosen and not, by her side.
I kept yelling at myself you should have asked her, why didn’t you ask her, why weren’t you more prepared to make the most out of your last few visits? In the following days and through the tears and thinking of the good times it hit me. My nina was never a, “do you see the moral of the story” type of person. She was the person who told you her stories and hoped that eventually you’d see how the message applied to you. My favorite thing she used to say was “no hay mal de que por bien no venga,” (Nothing bad happens without something good happening too). I always turned to this when shit would hit the fan for me. Look for the silver lining something good has to come from this.
So, I’m choosing to see the good in this and I’m choosing this as her last message to me, “TU TIENES QUE VIVIR TU VIDA.” I didn’t get to ask her everything, I didn’t get to feverishly take down every detail so I could ingrain every part of it in my memory forever but I got what I was looking for, her wisdom.
I end this year a little more broken, a little weaker and a little more sensitive, but in the words of my Brown Girl Angel, no hay mal de que por bien no venga. So I’m looking at the positive, “you have to live your life, mija,” oh yes nina, oh yes, I intend to.