promise me

nellyrosafernandez

A conversation with my mom about growing up in Chile (from a while ago):

“Don’t promise me you’ll be there. Just do it. You know how many times we asked America to help us? We read they would. We saw pictures that they would. No one helped us.

I worked at a telephone company, you know the old plugs in? You plug this one to that one and it connects you? Your father would wait for me each evening to walk me home because there’d been some not-so-good stories about a couple of other girls. One I hadn’t seen in a while; the other, Carmen, well, it had been days since her attack. She wouldn’t take our calls or visits.

Anyway, on those walks home, your dad and I would dream of another kind of tomorrow. America was meant to be our tomorrow. These dreams were active and three-dimensional, Liza! Like yours. Big. I could see them in broad daylight.

When we’d get to my front gate, your dad would say, “I’ll make your dreams come true, I promise.” Arg. There goes that “promise” word again. I had to shut the dark out in my head to believe in a bigger life for me, you know. You get it, Liza, you face that darkness in your head everyday.

One night, Anita, called my home asking if Sergio Ivan, your dad, was there. I said no, of course not. I come from a traditional family, you know. Your dad wasn’t allowed to stay past sunset. You think your dad’s strict.

It was strange for her to call, like she knew the answer but was looking for a kind of profound reassurance he was OK before the volcano of panic would erupt. Your dad was finishing some last minute stuff with the farm and he got picked up by la policia.
Estupido! When men got picked up, many would never come home.

Your dad’s dad had connections. He knew someone who knew someone and then your dad became lucky. It was just luck, Liza. That’s it.

After that, things changed in my mom’s eyes. A shift. A big one. My mom didn’t come out with definites very often unless there’s been some marinating. Some processing of thought behind the thought, you know? Like me. Not like you, Liza. You’re like your dad. You gotta be more like me.

Anyway, she pulls me aside one night and says, “To live your dreams, you have to be alive. Get out of here. Take those dreams and fly, Nellita. I don’t want to outlive my children. That is not the natural way of things. Promise me right now.”

Arg. Promise

You know, focus like a bull’s eye? It’s scary to see mom do that. I can remember only 3 times when that bull’s eye came out in her. She’s powerful, tu Abuelita. You have to stand up straight and take attention, you know.

I said I promised. Arg, that word.”