This is an excerpt from the novel Días de tu vida by Bárbara Jacobs, translated by David Unger. © Ediciones ERA S.A. de C.V, Días de tu vida, Bárbara Jacobs, 2021. All rights reserved.
Read the foreword to the issue 28 Literature section here.
while some arms release you, others receive you. that was the title of the novel i wanted to write. that i started to write. that i ran out of time to write. i let time go by and now it’s too late. the day juan saw the test results he said. zinser. oncologist. if you don’t stick to the treatment, you’ll live just a few months. if you stick to it, you’ll live twice that. i stuck to it. i stuck to it. i lasted barely a year. family i’m leaving behind. i’m dying. what’ll you do without me. hah! i had lots of friends. many girlfriends. lots of lovers. lots of loves lost. i knew lots of people. i had a husband. now luis calls me often. from cabo. again last night. crying he repeats that he loves me a lot. he asks me asks me in tears. why we got divorced. what happened to us. why did we separate. he asked me. he asked me when peter died. dear peter. what happened to us. what happened to us. i love you so much. he says over and over. more than when we first met. more than ever. so many days together. years ago. in an old ivory box. i stored wedding memories there. i leave you the white box. think what you like. i don’t have time to explain anything. to regret anything. i’ve seen it all. i lived it all. i miss peter. i’m going to follow him. go right behind him. the arms waiting for me are his. my new passport is with his. expired. mine has more validity than my own life. hah. i hid them among my sweaters. mixed in together. silly one he said to me. of condolences. i hope god forgives peter. i answered. hah. it hurts to leave karim behind. my little andrea. a lot. a whole lot. andrrrea. she said when she was an infant and people asked her name. andrrrea. three r’s. three times my love. they’ll manage without me. i know i know i know. i didn’t make it to seventy. i came to an early end. the arms releasing me are the arms of life. it had enough. it had enough of my promises to stop smoking. i also saved the letter that years ago many years ago i wrote to mister e. aunt basma and aunt mercy witnessed it. 1967. really i wanted to stop smoking. i couldn’t. mister e could. yes. serious and smiling he said in english that my lungs would be clean after five years of not smoking. now they are as if they never had been full of gray smoke. contaminated. what are five years gone. now they are everything. hah. they’re more than everything. hah. i don’t have any time left. i can’t wait for five years to go by. don’t smoke. was the last thing nonna said to me. she ordered me. before. i never called her mamá. when karim learned to speak he called her nonna. in italian she was his nonna. i called my own nonna mami. ille. that’s what karim called her. mamaille. my nonna from over there amina. mamá amina. that was her name. amina. mamamini. and my grandfather from here papá. i never met the one over there. he was yusuf. yahoub. i don’t have a single picture of him. nonna gave me to mami and papá when i was an infant. to ille and papá. she gave me to her mamá and papá. she made a gift out of me. to her parents. they were my grandparents. maternal. the ones here. she chased me out of the little house. i ended up in the big house. it was after nonna punished me. she tied me to a tree. hah. i uprooted the tree. hah. using my back. i carried it. it was a recently planted orange tree. lemansky planted it. i escaped running. hah. dragging the roots through the grass. hah. she couldn’t handle me anymore. nonna. i defeated her. ay. nonna. she sent me to her parent’s house. a few feet from her own house. that’s where i ended up. from the little to the big house. hah. then i didn’t really miss her. i missed mister e. a lot. i saw them every day. my house was big. their house was little. my sibs’ house. my sibs. lorenz. ger. emil. didn’t like either house. i moved the furniture around. as if i were a decorator. saturdays. i was strong. they let me do it. they asked me to do it. hah. it amused me to see the changes. i made. i liked them. my two houses. the big and the little one. attached to both. rooted to both. they were my roots. i didn’t uproot them. my roots. i rooted myself. a lot. traveled a lot. always came back. nothing. no one ever pulled me out of here. always felt responsible. for the houses. of my sibs. all four. loved them. lorenz. ger. emil. i’m still the eldest. hah. now my sister. now they will say i am still the eldest. could never leave these houses. it hurts it hurts a lot to leave my sibs. the four of them. if i didn’t like the houses where would i go live. me alone. didn’t want to go and live. alone. to no other place. that’s why i redecorated them. i liked my family. surrounded by a stone wall. our homes. our lawns. surrounded. by one stone wall. everyone’s lawn. grandparents. parents. brothers and sisters. aunts and uncles. cousins. pets. fountains. trees. fruit. stone paths. volcanic. you know something about me. reporter. friend. you don’t know much. you don’t know all of it. listen to me. understand me. come under my spell. hah. hah. i’m reliving it all. uncle ramiz loved me from the second i was born. he remembered the day i peed on his shoulders. hah. the day i cut my leg. on the knife to clean mud off boots. that he left. at the door of the big house. his parents’ house. and mine. hah. shaped like an elephant. made of iron. ramiz picked me up from the ground. carried me. in his arms. to the hospital. quickly. wounded. the mothers of charity hospital. just around the corner. got a shot. against gangrene. he remembered this adventure his whole life. my adventures. i miss him. he smoked a pipe. ramiz. a sculptor. when it’s my time. he’ll come from the sky. to get me. it’ll be him. i know i know i know. white clouds. gray clouds. cottony. foamy. travelers. changing. this was ramiz’s sweater. striped. look at it. with threadbare elbows. the sleeves fraying. he bundles me up. he hugs me. once he lost an eye. i took care of him. his wife was gone. i had no husband. hah. his three kids lived with his mama aunt tani. my blond-haired cousins. she was also a blond. under the gray hair. hah. i kept on seeing tani. always. and them too. until recently. i went to san antonio to visit my aunt and cousin. they moved there. emigrated. my aunt tani. call her tanidarkhaired. in emails. hah. i love her. went with uncle georges and his children. when they were young. my cousins. to eat pizza. in restaurants. black hair. my cousins. he was bald. my uncle. smoked. he also smoked. we’d go by foot. to petit cluny. on avenida de la paz. we’d walk uphill. his wife. we’d leave her alone. that’s how he liked it. wrapped up. in the spiderweb she wove. all around. at the beginning. years and years ago. i liked her. years and years ago. then i stopped liking her. never again. she became a black widow. before he died. hah. i collected tarantulas. never black widows. poisonous. i loved terrorizing queri. she hated them. she hates them. for years she avoided the ñ of araña. because of my spiders. to terrorize her. queri. dearie. queri. that’s what i call her. what she calls me. queri. then i got rid of the collection. when georges’s wife became the black widow. uncle georges. my uncle georges. a victim. called him chas. uncle georges. kid tapete. colleague and countryman of kure. kure was my first adult boyfriend. hah. i was underage. hah. he gave me a guitar. kure. i learned to play the guitar. hah. mister e asked him to leave. to come back. when i was of age. hah. he didn’t come back. hah. i never played the guitar again. hah. uncle chas was kure’s friend. same age. our families were intertwined. long way back. long ago. long before they were born. hah. barquet landy. kuri slim. they both sold rugs. kure persian. chas not. kid mexican rugs. soon uncle georges got sick. got sicker. his lungs. egmont paid for my trip. to the states. i went to get medicine. for chas. he had me go to the airport. early. with his private secretary. carmen barro. the next day carmen picked me up. in a company car. hah. the medicine didn’t save uncle georges. chas. kid rug. died. the youngest son of mami and papá. my maternal grandparents. i worked for egmont. he loved me. i loved him. he was my boss. edmundo. flores. egmont. he loved me like tito’s sister-in-law which i am. that i was. tito was his friend. tito. monte. monte. monterroso. from childhood. almost. they never. fought. never. they loved each other. always. i was in charge of selling their books. what egmont did. from his ministry. hah. ministry. it was the conayct. tito was my boss. immediate boss. queri’s husband. i emptied warehouses. sold all the books. hah. coco worked with egmont. and with tito. as well. coco. zacarías. my countrywoman. my friend. one day egmont saw us. both of us. wrestling wrestling. with a man and a woman. at the ministry entrance. he ordered his head. of security. to help us. all at once. without asking what the argument was about. help them chief. egmont’s chief went with us to the police station. with the couple. criminals. crooks. we had sold them a rug. persian. they had paid for it. with a bad check. no funds. we sued them. while we waited. the judge’s decision. coco and the crook discovered. they were related. hah. yesterday she came to say goodbye. coco. without telling me. she asked for a picture. of me. as a youngster. one on the dresser. full of photographs. framed. my children. andrea. my sibs. my parents. grandparents. uncles. cousins. friends. aunt basma. in different frames. all sizes. shapes. origins. i promised she would inherit them. would leave them to her. to her. also the round box. with césar’s voter id. césar lara. my friend. my neighbor. i made sure all my friends. and neighbors. became friends. among themselves. i invited all of them. to my parties. in this house. the first house. that i got back. see when. hah. my children were born here. lu left from here. their father. luis. lu. i gave parties. in the big house. also. many. it became nonna and mister e’s house later. the grandparents dead. i took care of mister e. there. till he died. in my arms. he died. mister e. we carried him up from the ground. the gardener and i. and put him on the bed. from the ground. enedino and i. also took care of nonna. in that house. there. till she died. nonna died. in my arms. also. i’d stayed in nonna and mister e’s bedroom, this one here. in this bed which created my four sibs. years earlier me. in oklahoma. me. tito and queri i gave them strength. in their parties. i remember all their friends. acquaintances. many. different. i just remembered tono. masoliver rodenas. juan antonio. his sense of humor. his laughter. the craziness he didn’t even try to control. wild. hah. i toast you tono. masoliver. say goodbye. you’ll go on. you. tito and egmont already gone. tito died in queri’s arms. i was with them. i went with tito. to the end. i miss him. at the foot of his hospital bed. abc. observatory. till the end. middle of the night. winter. so many people have died. my people. peter. papá. ille. uncle wahib. uncle chas. uncle ramiz. aunt mercy. aunty basma. nonna. mister e. nonna. nonna. mister e. uncle karim first of all. he went. he was sixteen. had peritonitis. he drew. wanted to be an artist. an architect. with his friend artigas. francisco. artigas wept when karim died. in the operating room. schoolmates. the friendship went on. with the family. because of uncle ramiz. all through life. artigas never was at peace. to ille. no one ever consoled him. mami. ille. mami. mamille outlived death. three of her five children. her eldest. the gift child. karim. uncle georges. his benjamin. uncle wahib, the day after papá died. dib. father. grandfather. the patriarch. the family circle. the barquet circle. uncle ramiz outlived his mom. nonna outlived her. outlived uncle ramiz. was the only daughter. of five. of the patriarch and his wife. my mom. grandmother. grandfather. my papá. i couldn’t bear peter’s death. how did mami bear karim’s. how did she bear it. how she bore it. i didn’t know uncle karim. here i hung his self-portrait. in my house. other paintings of his. in a trunk. in the drawer of mami’s credenza. she put away memories. of karim. under lock and key. white outfits of a newly born. belgian lace. blue ribbons. colored pencils. wooden rules. they then moved. to the big house. nonna and mister e. when mami died. in the basement trunk she kept it all. books. nonna. and notebooks. notes. drawing. of her eldest brother. dead. years ago. years ago. then. she couldn’t stop trembling. when i told her. ramiz has died. ramiz died. in puerto vallarta. died. far away. he had moved there. years ago. emigrated. when his children married. when they broke into his house. many times. the family house. when his mother died. my mother. when ramiz died. nonna hardly spoke. she no longer cried. no longer smiled. no longer laughed. she was old. very old. paralyzed. semi. in a wheelchair. she outlived them all. her parents. her siblings. her husband. her grandson peter. my peter. three nephews. jo. alex. mu. mu was also a daughter in law. nonna shuddered. when i told her. that mu had just died. incredible. mu. here. in one of the other houses. of the family compound. the closest to the big house. one month earlier. than queri. mu was born. the three of us. grew up together. together we went. the three of us. to elementary school. together we had adventures. so many. the first encyclopedic dictionary that i was going to write. about artists. i mentioned it to alba. she told me there was one already. meanwhile tito and vicente talked. about books. in the corner of the living room. hah. tito. augusto. monte. monte. monterroso. finally, i wrote another dictionary. about emigrants. then alba died. a month later tito. died. then the widower and the widow got together. vicente and queri. vicente became family. rojo. vicente. rojo. my second brother-in-law. i leave them here. together. queri and vicente. goodbye vicente. my second brother-in-law. tito was a great writer. vicente is a great painter. tito made me his executor. a friend of his. got angry. when he found out. hah. an argentine. hah. don’t want to mention his name. i’ll keep it secret. till the grave. hah. even. i found so many important people. in the dictionary. that was never finished. i also have a file on garcía márquez. he and i were godparents. by tito’s first grandchild. garcía márquez and me. hah. the godparents of the dictionary i did publish. where carlos the first and culture. cultural secretary. i also leave carlos the first behind. i leave his foundation. without finishing. i leave. my second dictionary. goodbye carlos. carlos the first. godparent. of my dictionaries. that i finished and published about lebanese and other levantines. it is. famous ones. emigrants to mexico. in the 20th century. the one i leave. without finishing. about emigrants. from all over the world. to mexico. 20th century. famous. artists. actors. athletes. writers. politicians. technicians. scientists. historians. humanists. professionals. hopefully. hopefully. my boss carlos. will finish it. martinez assad. carlos the second. i leave it. to him. i told him about it. then césar died. lara. the great effort interrupted. i colored his hair. i cut his hair. he cut mine. depilation. manicure. pedicure. makeup. great effort. finished. he to me. i to him. hah. we called him yvonne when he was the waiter at my parties. he hung my apron over his neck. from an important. bank. employee. he was. the cradle song. i sang. to an important. client. of his. japanese. they invited me to dinner. the two of them. the japanese guy cried. his eyes. he dried them. cried a lot. césar also. césar lara. lalala. i sang to them as children. my children. lulling them to sleep. didn’t cry. asleep, they stayed. smiling. an anthropologist. taught me. a japanese woman. in lake janitzio. in michoacán. luis was with me. we were single. my cousin mu chaperoned us. together. religion. forever. we left it. the three of us. with queri. after communion. at the mass. no more confession. no more confession. it was what we were expecting. those who take communion. stopped praying. hah. kneeling devoutly. hands joined. eyes closed. the handle with a feather tip. long. i brushed her cheek. a blessed one. surprised. by her prayer. i interrupted. she shouted. got upset. she was my neighbor. from across the street. entering. fray rafael checa. 55-53. from the family compound. it was luchita. the librarian. the spinster. queri and mu peed in their underwear. on the bench. hah. not stopping. laughing. laughing. running. out of the church. we went. saint sebastian. made of stone. small. from the 16th century. around the corner from the family compound. our houses. hah. around the corner. we ran out. the three of us. two with wet undies. hah. not confessing. not praying. not genuflecting. not reverential. not submitting. finally. we dared to do it. hah. never went back. the friendship with margarito. continued. the gardener. of the chapel. he was. of saint sebastian’s. he also. had to ring. ring the bell. ring rung ring. hah. then. many years later. margarito burned herbs in the garden. of the big house. when luis and i got married. so it wouldn’t rain. during the luncheon. in the garden of the big house. and years. back. years back. one day i warned him. the gardener. another gardener. blessed librarian’s gardener. to be careful. pruning the ivy of the old house. of his old boss. climbing up the rickety ladder. wooden. he fell. killed himself. i foresaw it. hah. the ambulance came for him. the red cross took him away. dead. then. years later. the morning after. the death. of his father. uncle wahib dead. the morning after our grandfather died. uncle wahib died. uncle wahib in the same room of the funeral home. that papá had had. uncle wahib. father of mu. and chu. and jo. the cousins my age. and queri’s. also was marieta’s father. mariana. the youngest. born in cuba. the one who found him. dead. the following morning. after grandfather died. years back uncle wahib visited me. here. wanted to convince me not to get divorced. said i understand you. but understand me. i don’t get along with your aunt. nor with your cousins. but i can’t just abandon them. what’ll they do without my support. my grandparents, my parents, luis all supported me. soon i started working. to support my two sons. then mu died. years later. a year and a half ago. barely turned 75. before she gave me the key to her house. the entrance by where the river flows. #62. aunt mercy. her mother. had gone to mariana’s house. to die. younger sister of mu. of chu. of jo. marieta. i took care of nonna. in the big house. along the carmen entrance. #78. from the window. i could see mu. from the kitchen. i greeted mu. from above. at the window. of the empty. bedroom. of her father. empty now. forever. empty. uncle wahib. uncle wahib. also smoked. mu. also smoked. drank whiskey. like me. we accompanied each other. ana came from nepal and took care of her. her daughter. to take care of her. just in time. so that clara her grandchild could be born. her granddaughter. juan pulled the tube out of mu. from the chemo. he took mu by the arm to the operating room. quickly. mu carried clara in her arms. the newly born. the first arms to carry her. were mu’s. without the chemo tube. she carried clara. her granddaughter. her daughter’s first child. the only thing mu wanted. in life. was to have a child. from her daughter. years earlier she had told me. once. the son and daughter of her son made her happy. clara made her cry. from happiness. from sadness. from happiness. she rocked her. shaking. i don’t know where her daughter buried her. she didn’t tell me. mu’s son loved peter a lot. a lot. santiago. peter loved him. a lot. second cousins. the same age. one day. on the highway one of them. fell over a cliff. bicycling. they rode. one of them. went down to save him. the other one climbed down. one saved the other. after me. mu got divorced. sociologist. from the uia university. then. important. feminist. from el colegio de mexico. i cried. when mu. died. how i cried. queri. took me. by the hand. crying. how she cried. jorge cried a lot. mu’s partner. neighbor. from our group. from chimalistac. del olmo tappen. together they planned. the renovation. of the house. of jorge divorced. they were about to move. full of hope. a terrace. on the second floor was built. with a view of the ridge. of the river banks. they could see trees. bushes. the earth. the path. a neighbor pruned. the common garden. my friend. with a cane. down the cobblestone streets. strolled. her caregiver beside her. not under contract. hah. happy. short. wearing a white robe. with chu. i began to smoke. years ago. chu. brother of mu. in the basement. of the big house. of the grandparents we shared. we coughed. hah. we laughed. hah. the smoke curled out of the grates. the laughter. the coughing. chu also divorced. soon. her brother jorge resembled. his father. uncle wahib. we called jorge jo. the eldest of the grandchildren. seventeen. from dib. from wahibe. barquet. assemani. my maternal grandparents. jo’s paternal. looked just like his father. didn’t get along with his wife. like wahib he also didn’t divorce. they were similar like that. son. father. they were also different. son. father. jo. wahib. jo got along. with his children. they really missed him. when he died. they wept. wept. omar. nushmi. nora. karim’s age. peter’s age. close friends. second cousins. then. years later. years back. he fell over the cliff. jo. the highway collapsed. with his friends. jo went over. that time. for the last time. mountain racers. they were. enthusiasts. they went down. from the popocatépetl. first. then they returned. to the city. jo drove. the highway. it collapsed. under the wheels. drawer. he was. photographer. sufi. he abandoned. architecture. he left it back. i miss him. the eldest cousin. i’m the eldest female cousin. i miss alex. uncle ramiz’s youngest. alone in cancún. he died. of the seventeen. to die. he was the second. missing three fingers. alex. from his hand. the left one. amputated. fifteen left. from the bar. where he was. the city. the country. in which he was. long distance. chu called me. for my birthday. every year. he toasted me. i toasted him. two days later. born the same year. 1945. 24. 26. november. same month. mu and he drifted apart. that hurt me. it hurt me. i felt the cousin in charge. after jo. i’m the eldest cousins. of our group. near the river. magdalena. intubated. across a kid’s plank. we crossed it. over and over. i wanted. wanted mu and chu. to make peace. or chu and mu. before i had to leave them. mu died first. distant from chu. fourteen of us left. those still alive. thirteen left. without me. united. apart. no one left. inside the compound. all of them. have left. or emigrated. or moved. or died. many. all. almost. when our family’s wall broke. it hurt me. behind the bricklayers. who dug trenches. to break the wall. i went. behind them. rebuilding it. with our own soil. with shovel. lady. don’t let. them ruin this garden. vlady told me. down the street he walked. the disaster saw. the collapse. the shared enclosing wall. the compound. of the family. now exposed. broken. the family dead. or dispersed. i broke with a bat. then the car windshield. hah. of the first stranger. that invaded our compound. hah. our territory broken. enclosed. now smashed. in bits. the invader. went to the san angel. neighborhood committee. complained. against me. i went to respond. lawyer javier gaxiola. went with me. of my brother ger. classmate. didn’t put me in jail. hah. paid. the victim. didn’t pay. anything. then. among the trunks. of bamboo. fenced in a chimpanzee. dried up. on the grate of his house. i regret the chimpanzee’s bad luck. what a fate. wears suspenders. the invader. old-fashioned shoes. striped shirts. a professor. calling card. lawyer. it says. national university. has. big ears. not human. alien. to the human race. different. the top half. pointed. our alien. to the human race. a stranger. christian. claude. our first boyfriends. i miss them. kids. claude was queri’s. christian mine. then. the two got married. then. they divorced. the two of them. one day. on the highway. returning together. in a hurry in a hurry. a car. emerged. in a hurry. in a hurry. a detour. emerged. right into them. violently. christian died. belgian. his dad. stoppen. the daughter stoppen. jannine. lives in chihuahua. with her family. jacques. the older brother. also died. jacques. had a cowlick. danced rock ’n’ roll. hah. leather jacket. he wore. hah. was young. from the fifties. was. stoppen family. across the street. the son. the brother. the youngest. was. the first to die. died a teenager. very big. was his head. had water. inside. so they said. then. claude. came home. to the family house. alone. to his mother. conchita. spanish refugee. with her sisters. linen sheets. nonna’s. she embroidered. years ago. years ago. neither. of them. imagined. that soon they would be neighbors. the two of them. hah. hard to imagine. white clothes. embroidered. part of the mother’s dowery. it was. when she married. mister e. interwoven. embroidered. the initials. of both of them. recently married. neither nonna. nor the embroiderers. spanish refugees. saw each other again. for years. for years. till conchita. moved to fray rafael checa street. across the entrance of 55-53. our private compound. family. enclosure. with her belgian husband. five children. across the street all. died. mari. the family cook. also died. one day earlier. crossing. the street. a bouquet of flowers. white ones. she gave me. to the market. conchita would walk. there and back. a little wheeled market cart. dragged. there. empty. filled up in the market. brimming over. from the sidewalk. see dying. the whole family. her fate. except for jannine. the only daughter. the eldest. traveled. jannine. from chihuahua. jannine traveled. to mexico city. to be present. each time. for the funerals. each of them. each time. we saw each other. from long before. another neighbor was. pepita. for josefina. pepa. pepita asked me. to renovate. the limestone insides at scharrer. hers. she bought it. from the scharrers. closest neighbors. demolished. the wall between them. between two houses. pepita. making the lawn bigger. two houses. two lawns. jaime. the eldest son. jaime shouted. at mauricio. at me. at mauricio. the youngest son. then. years later. another one was born. can’t remember his name. saw us smoking. hah. jaime. screamed at us. hah. mauricio. jaime. didn’t speak informally. to their mother. formally. to their mother. they spoke. hah. pepita. wife of jaime jorba. then she died. choked on birdshot. of vitamins. then. years later. before. years before. established. her brother established bimbo bread. bimbo. bimbo. servitje. lorenzo. during christmas. sent bread. baskets of it. to nonna. cakes. to aunt mercy. neighbors they were. pepita. nonna. mercy. were friends. before. in montreal. studied together. before. years back. the three. au couvant de’outremont. then. years later. nonna sent us there. queri. first. then me. established the mill. pepita’s mother-in-law. servtije. the pastry shop. i don’t know why. i just remembered pancho. large brush painter. pancho paredes. we called him. hah. big moustache. pancho villa style. he cared for the house. of carlos the third. herrera. at the foot of the pyramids of teotihuacán. carlos the third. herrera. i would take. my friends. tourists. climbed the sun pyramid. the moon pyramid. came down. while i visited. pancho. in new york. carlos the third. was there. historian. afs he coordinated. organization of world. exchange. of students. in new york. headquarters. i was. the director. in mexico. for a bit. i sent peter. to denmark. peter the great. was his nickname. at first. then. the great dane. in herning. for a year. he lived. peter. the great dane. also. an orphan. bequé. to japan. she was my friend. mari cruz. the director. of the orphanage. got scholarships. from the kellogg foundation. during 1992. i think. travelers. my two children were born. like luis. like me. i loved the four of us staying. near toronto. in burlington. the happiest period of my life. it was. barely arrived. became bilingual. completely. the two of them. karim. peter. completely bilingual. barely arriving. at two years. of age. the simpsons. on tv. saw. heard. every afternoon. on weekends. the neighbors. would come over. to eat. invited by them. cucumbers. hah. with lemon. come eat cukes. hah. invited by them. cukes. cukes. with lemon. to meet me. i grabbed them by the hands. hah. to become friends. they wanted to. my children. beautiful rionda family. the beautiful rionda family. queri called us back. to weave. i went back. to my loom. went back. in burlington. two tapestries, i finished. then. the head of. the mexico city branch. called luis. in burlington. i wove. was happy. the four of us. were happy. the beautiful rionda family was happy. i wove again. on my loom. one more time. again. i wove. luis come back. tony ordered. i sank. into my first depression. never had sunk. before. now i did. there were precedents. in the family. were. had been. were. the last thirty years. of life. great maternal uncle bajish. lived confined. in a sanitorium. in cholula. puebla. uncle bajish. interned. luis worked. for a canadian. company. office furniture. in burlington. a month before. returning. to mexico. one early morning. luis took. the children. duck hunting. john. geist. john. geist. had eaten. with us. john. geist. john geist. landlady’s son. stayed. in the house. to hunt ducks. luis didn’t take him. keep her company. luis asked of him. in a depression. i sank. deep depression. deep. sensation. deep. in the middle of the night. after midnight. running out of time. i repeated. breath. i couldn’t. without wanting it. john advanced his watch. without me noticing. then he told me. the clock marked. two a.m. after midnight. time didn’t run out. john insisted. i wasn’t sure. wasn’t sure. time. time is running out. i insisted. john put an overcoat on me. took me to the hospital. john. university hospital. mcmaster. a few days. i rested. there. locked up. months. looked in. two. three. day after day. my hair. turned white. the nurse noticed. it’s because you think so much. she said. hah. you think much too much. hah. hah. i went back. home. hair white. the neighbors. asked. where have you been. we didn’t see you. they asked themselves. for weeks. and weeks. we missed you. weeks. and weeks. i answered. was in toronto. my thesis. i finished. in anthropology. got a ph.d. at the university. mcmaster university. before. years before. the ibero. iberoamericana university. where i had studied. fine arts. and anthropology. in the uia. in churubusco. later. i was happy in burlington. near toronto. i didn’t want. to go back. to mexico city. feeling depressed. i fell into first depression. born traveler. to travel go on. i wanted to be like ille. papá. were emigrants from lebanon. when young. they took me. to lebanon. they were from there. went back to lebanon. every two years. grandparents. maternal. mine. mami. papá. to the bled. their land. every two years. went back. stayed. with relatives. in beirut. with tante alice. spent the summer. in tripoli. invited me. to recover. from my frustration. kure. hah. with his guitar. didn’t need to recover. hah. i went because i was a born traveler. thrilled. spoke to me in arabic. mami. ille. wahibe. mamaille. i learned. more. spoke to me in french. also. french i knew. from elementary school. á l’institut mireille de je ne sais pas quoi. mexico’s asunción institute. from new york to lebanon. on the queen elizabeth. the three of us. traveled. i was like papá’s daughter. mama’s. in the list of passengers. mademoiselle barquet. they printed. daughter of dib. of wahibe. not granddaughter. daughter. in tripoli. one day. playing tennis. with a cousin from there. papá. called me. to his room. i went up. brought my cigarettes. down. on the night table. they were. double room. huge. living room. doors. windows. closets. furniture. furniture. rugs. chairs. balcony. magnificent room. the manager. came with me. opened the door. behind me. he locked the door. after i came in. really locked it. he left. my papá sequestered me. oh yeah. i threatened him. locked up. hah. oh yeah? he didn’t speak english. learned spanish in zacatecas when he emigrated. in 1902. a kid. when he arrived. born in 1892. must’ve understood. i protested. by the tone. oh yeah. papá. ana bhebak ktir. prisoner. you made me. kidnapped. hah. i started smoking. prisoner. papá’s cigarettes. hah. one after the other. all of them. what i could get. meanwhile. i went. to the window. the mediterranean. people on the beach. private. they drank wine. sun. drank. all of them. sun. while. i smoked. gazed at the tennis. courts. without me. the swimming pool. the sea. the sea. years ago. years ago. at first. papá didn’t accept his. mamá’s. his daughter’s wedding. and my dad. mister e. second cousins. they were. mister e. emil. new yorker. his past. far off. who papá was expecting. the husband of his daughter. my mother and my dad. second cousins were the parents of mister e. my pa. mister e’s emigrated dirt poor. from lebanon to new york. didn’t get rich. in new york. rich. he didn’t. become papá. emigrate. from lebanon. to mexico rich. in mexico. papá became rich. he made a fortune. he was from tripoli. to make his fortune. in mexico. wahibe. came. from beirut. mami. from papá bey. then. a young man in moscow. mister e. lived there. a year. journalist. 1934. then. went to war. the spanish civil war. the international brigade. the lincoln brigade. was a member. papá. didn’t want to hear. anything. about the wedding. of his only daughter. the wedding. with mister e. till the very end. almost. a few days before. barely. a few days before. gave orders. one after the other. he took care of it. saw about the details. all of them make it right. all the details. perfectionist. supervised it. to be sure. making sure all his friends. were invited. one after the other. he arranged. for the wedding in the parroquia. de la sagrada familia. colonia roma. north. puebla 144. for the luncheon. at ciro’s on the twelfth floor. top floor of the reforma hotel. that it would a success. he made sure. on reforma avenue. corner of paris avenue. tobacco factory. tobacco neighborhood. tobacco. tobacco factory. before. two years earlier. a bit before. ille had brought them together. to the convent. went to get. nonna. to montreal. by the hand. to new york. she took her to meet emil. second son. of her second cousin. from hasroun. amina briteh. mister e. ille adored. mister e. mami he called her. like me. before. dying. mami stopped liking. mister e. stopped liking. mister e. how could it be. how could it be. it hurt me. nonna and mister e. married. for 55 years. luis and i. twelve. that’s all. it hurt me. then. a sunday. with margara. we found. a group of musicians. from oaxaca. brought them. to the big house. big house. with drum. trumpet. tuba. clarinet. saxophone. trombone. more percussion. instruments. tubatrumpettuba. hah. saxophone. at lunchtime. malpica. margara malpica. the big house. already belonged to nonna and mister e. big house. around the round. table. eating. with my sister. my brother-in-law. tito. my sib emil. my sister-in-law. mery. two of my nephews. anuar. also yusef. daughter. son-in-law. son. mother. daughter-in-law. grandchildren. nonna’s. mister e. eating. heads down. eating. the music. surprising them. from behind. with the fork in their mouths. became recomposed. when. behind the oaxacans. they saw margara and me. saw the musicians. us. oaxacan. alley way. laughed. my family smiled. grinned. mister e. smiled. broadly. he was already. a bit deaf. broadly. everyone. broadly. smiling. happily. that i. that i. thought of this. music. presented it. in the imposed. silence of the family. inside. and out. more than ever. during those days. peter. had just died. had just died. recently. i. i too. was controlled. by his absence. ate away. at me. consumed me. the silence. on the outside. on the inside. to smile. also to me. the drummer got me. for the first time. in days. to smile. smile. with the music. outside. i smiled. smiled. smiled during eighteen years. on the outside. on the inside. i haven’t stopped crying. on the inside. eighteen years. half a century. she took it. mami. three children. saw them die. jo. dead. her oldest grandchild dead. she bore it. he bore it. didn’t smile. hardly. ille. mamille. mami. born. premature. peter. died premature. hurrying. always. to be born. to die. always in a rush. in his own way. he emigrated. emigrant. he was. the tradition. of our forefathers. he followed. like karim. like my siblings. like my boy cousins. girl cousins. all of them. emigrated. all. almost all. seventeen. dead. or emigrants. of the chimalistac family. it is. the tradition. those who haven’t emigrated. will emigrate. we’re a family. of emigrants. that’s it. queri and i haven’t emigrated. we. two. stayed here. alone. we. two. sequestered stayed. only. we two. hah. seventh month. peter was. at ten months. i was born. rushing to be born. was peter. to be born. i didn’t want to. hah. at my own speed. now. i’m also an emigrant. having a hard time. living. emigrate. hah. emigrated late. badly. emigrate. first. all of them. left me. one way or another. now my arms. leave the others. for some reason. i wrote. the encyclopedic dictionary of emigrants. i published it. ahead of time. i speak for myself. i emigrated in the book.
Art credit: Paul Cristina. We Were Never Told the Truth About the Dying of the Sun (2017), charcoal, oil, acrylic on paper mounted to canvas. Courtesy of the artist.