The cobalt-blue blanket with the red trimming and a thousand little fuzz balls that Mami made for my nephew, the one I stole from his closet because I wanted to feel close to her when I was home in California and she was dying in New Jersey, the one I gave my sister when I was declutering and then took back after Mami died, shelters me and my baby when we lay in bed listening to Stevie. I hum My Cherie Amour and Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday before her afternoon naps. We listen to the songs on my Spotify playlist before bed time.
The chenille fabric is no longer soft, it thins in the middle as if it has been shaved. The small hole in the corner seam of the red trim has gotten bigger. It still smells like Mami, and the house in Jersey that is no longer ours; It’s Fabuloso and sofrito and Tide and albondiga con moro de habichuela negra. It’s Ivory soap and Lancôme moisturizer and Elizabeth Arden youth restoring ceramide capsules. Skeptics would say it’s all in my mind, but my nose knows.
I lay on my side so I can watch Hudson thrash and toss before she settles down, her head laying on the crook my arm. Sometimes she falls asleep on top of me, other times her head rests on my shoulder. My upper body is knotted. I should see my chiropractor more often but I don’t have time. I want to spend as much of my waking hours and all of my sleeping time holding my baby.
Her eyes, Sinatra blue like her father’s, in the dark with only the hallway light coming in from under the door, look brown like Mami’s. Most nights I feel her gaze through my daughter’s eyes.
By the time Stevie sings the last notes of Yester Me, Hudson’s eyes flutter shut for the night. I bury my nose in her head trying to smell the last of the delicious baby smell that is slowly evaporating. I do the same with the blanket and pray that the smell never leaves.
I hid behind big, dark, Jackie O type sunglasses at Mami’s funeral. My eyes, no matter how hard I squeezed or how many memories I replayed, refused to cry. The days after she died was the first time I was able to sleep soundly without sleep aids. My eyes looked like an airbrushed advertisement for expensive eye cream.
What was wrong with me? Who doesn’t cry at their mother’s funeral? Why did I always have to be the weird one?
Not even the memory of the sunglasses purchase made me cry. Me and Mami, five years earlier at the Saks Fifth Avenue Outlet at the Bergen Mall, a distraction before one of her chemo treatments. I was broke and going through a nasty divorce from an unemployed, wannabe musician who was threatening to sue me for alimony. The designer sunglasses cost $95, money I did not have because all of my money went to maintain the Brentwood lifestyle my then husband sucked us into. I could barely afford the trip from Los Angeles to New Jersey, I did not have $95 in my bank account but Mami insisted. She put them on me like she used to with my prescription glasses when I was a little girl. She fixed my messy hair, turned me towards the mirror and smiled.
“Te vez come una millonaria.” She said, as I marveled at the ability of these sunglasses to make me look like a million bucks. I loved the power to hide my reality behind them. I insisted that I couldn’t afford them. She paid for them even though she was in no position to spend the money. Her health insurance had denied the claim for one of her PET scans and now owed the hospital about fifteen thousand dollars.
“Pagame cuando salgas de ese albatross” she said. I wished I had given Mami back the money after I got rid of the albatross but she never asked me for it and up until her funeral, I had forgotten.
I sat in the family pew, our section was in the front, against the wall, between the casket and the rows of guests. My husband held my hand. I looked the part of the grieving daughter as long as I did not take off the sunglasses.
I was not ready or willing to let go. I was busy not dealing, being in denial was easy. I continued my life in California pretending Mami was still alive in New Jersey. I did not delete her from my phone. Each time I called my husband or one of my siblings I would see her picture icon along with the rest of the family members on the favorite contact section. I did not erase her voice mails and would listen to them when I wanted to hear her voice. My delusion went so far that I would forget she was dead and call her cellphone a few times a week only to be shocked to reality when my nephew’s voice or voice mail answered because he took over her number.
I started IVF treatments five months after the funeral, I needed to be in a state of Zen and happiness but even if I blocked my mother’s death out of my mind, my body knew.
I finally got pregnant one year and four months after she died thanks to IVF number four. Unfortunately, it resulted in a miscarriage so bloody it made the elevator doors in the film version of The Shining look tame by comparison.
Two months after the miscarriage I went on vacation with my friend Teri. Actually, I invited myself on the trip she was planning with her sister and a family friend. I was desperate to escape. Matt had recently switched jobs, taking time off was not something he wanted to do. I treated myself to a first class ticket. After years of putting travel on hold because “What if Mami dies while I’m in the middle of nowhere” or “What if I get pregnant and don’t want to travel”, I was ready for a good time.
Teri’s sister took care of the planning, all I had to do was get there. There, was casita with a private swimming pool and a butler at the Fairmont Mayakoba in Playa del Carmen. I arrived the day after Teri and her sister, sunglasses in tow looking like a millonaria.
One night after dinner, relaxing in our private pool, Eugenia, Teri, their friend Susana and I were sipping wine, enjoying our privilege.
“You know, if this next round of IVF doesn’t work, I’m done. If I don’t get pregnant, Matt and I will be OK. We will travel, maybe buy a beach house in the Dominican Republic.” I said, resigning myself to our possible fate as a childless couple. I was no longer going to let infertility stop me from enjoying life.
“How do you expect to get pregnant when you haven’t grieved the loss of your mother?” Teri asked.
The aha moment didn’t have time to register because within seconds of her saying that, we heard a swishing, chattering sound that turned out to be a bat. It flew into our space making us scream like horror movie characters about to meet the boogeyman. Teri and I ducked into the pool while Susana accidentally swatted the bat making it squeal and flap its wings above us longer than it probably intended to.
Two days later, I flew back home by myself. I was listening to music, my playlist on shuffle.
Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday blasted through my headphones. The first time in years I had heard the song.
What happened to the world we knew
When we would dream and scheme
And while the time away
Yester-me, Yester-you, Yesterday
“How do you expect to get pregnant when you haven’t grieved the loss of your mother?” echoed over the lyrics.
Teri felt like an oracle delivering a message in the form of a question.
Where did you go that yesterglow
When we could feel
The wheel of life turn our way
Yester-me, Yester-you, Yesterday
“How do you expect to get pregnant when you haven’t grieved the loss of your mother?”
It was somewhere around the second verse of the song that images of me and Mami flashed like they do in the movies when a character is about to die. In a span of a few seconds, every memory played in fast motion. I started sobbing and gasping for air. I tried to be quiet, to control it. The flight attendant rushed over to me, asked if I was all right. All I could do was nod and breathe.
The images slowed down; Me as an infant on top of Mami’s stomach as she did sit ups. Me as a toddler sticking my index finger in the corner of her eye trying to fish out the eyeliner gunk. Me stretching Mami’s ear lobes trying to pull out her hoop earings. My childhood, adolescense and adult life with my mother played nostalgic like an old song.
I was grateful that the cabin was not crowded and the few passengers on board all had their noise cancelling headphones on. The flight attendant kept coming back to check up on me and bring me water during my four hour crying binge.
The fifth and final IVF was scheduled for September 18th, 2016. I spent last summer grieving, hiking, cooking, reading, writing, spending time with my husband and my nieces Onabella and Ayden who were three and one, I needed all the baby energy I could get. I got massages regularly, saw my chiropractor and acupuncturist weekly, tried to meditate and lastly, I booked four reiki sessions with a healer/poet/activist who taught me about the ancient Hawaiian practice of Ho’oponopono.
I Love You, I’m Sorry, Please Forgive Me, Thank You
“Ho’oponopono (ho-o-pono-pono) is an ancient Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness. Traditionally hoʻoponopono is practiced by healing priests or kahuna lapaʻau among family members of a person who is physically ill. Modern versions are performed within the family by a family elder, or by the individual alone”.
I used the prayer to make amends with my mother.
Mami, I love you so much
I’m sorry I was not a better daughter
I’m sorry I never paid you back for the sunglasses
Please forgive me for all the nights you spent desvelada, waiting for me to come home
Please forgive me for all the times I made you worry when I was married to the albatross
Thank You for always being there, siempre resolviendome whatever problemas I asked for your help with
Thank You for all the sacrificios you made for me
When I got a positive pregnancy test four days after the embryos were transferred, I knew I would have my THB (Take Home Baby). I entered the date of the transfer in a Due Date App. According to this app and later confirmed by my Obstetrician, my baby was due on Mami’s birthday. I know like I know that two plus two is four that my daughter is a gift from my mother.
I am still grieving, I think I will always grieve. I have accepted that she is dead, I am no longer in denial about that. Giving birth has added a new dimension to the longing I have for my mother. So many times I wish I could pick up the phone and call her.
Hudson and I lay in bed, covered in the blanket, we listen to Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney and Jose Luis Peralta. Every night I hope to dream with her, every once in a while I do.