“Any day now,” the doctor says. He is a good man, gentle and kind, and he always waits patiently for me to translate his comments to Mamacita. He lets us come very early, stay late. After observing my role with Mamacita and the hermanos, he had the extra bed made up so that I could stay and chase Mamacita’s nightmares away. When exactly does time trick you into assuming the role of parent for those who parented you so well, and does the abyss that such a switch creates in you ever quite close? Or is there always that gap, the horrific feeling of loss that nothing tempers, nothing tames? But I know he is wrong because I have not changed my course. I am still the unengaged hijita jamona, and, if it means that I may keep my Mamacita, perhaps we will die old maids together, she a widow and I a spinster.
This night the dreams are particularly vivid. The medicines lace her dreams with terrifying landscapes of ghosts and goblins and snakes, the very things that made me cry out. She would run to me with Tang in one hand and a story book in the other, skillfully making it all go away. Now, it is I who run to her. I gently stroke her hair and stare at this face that has molded me into a rainforest of intensity, a tidal wave of gringa and Latina, and I wish away her nightmares. I pull those rosary beads from her hand and cry for all the world to hear. It is the cancer that I want eliminated, the looming death and the impending destruction I want condemned. If it cannot be done, then take me, too, because she is my Mamacita. I am the flesh of her flesh. I cannot breathe without her.
Her nightmares fade, and, for the first time ever, she speaks in the midst of her dreams. I, alone in the overmedicated room, can only listen to the soft words that drip from my Mamacita’s lips. I am struck not just by what she is saying but by the fact that it is in English and perfect.
“If it were a state, I would go back. If it had the advantages of statehood, then I would go. Not because I am so American now. I would go because it is that kind of union: two strong forces bringing what they have to the table and pledging unity, promising to give the best each has to offer and then bringing out the other’s best; it is that kind of union that is most successful.”
In the morning, I tell the hermanos and mi novio of her dream. We marvel over the complexity of it. It was statehood that would have chased them home when the hermanos and I had tried to force them to retire there years before, and neither of them would hear any of it. The hermanos note that there will be another vote soon, and perhaps la isla would be just that– a state. I voice my doubts since the older generations are dead-set against that kind of change. They will continue to embrace their status as a commonwealth although it accomplishes nothing for the people outside of ill-perceived political and cultural security. The oldest hermano counters that then, perhaps, they should vote for independence because the status quo will get them nowhere. I agree this time, not so much about independence over statehood but about the importance of making a choice over embracing the status quo.
“The way I figure it,” I say aloud, “is what good does an entire country of people accomplish when they avoid change just from fear? While choosing a course is risky, the cost of that freedom– freedom from the stagnation of being a commonwealth– would be so well worth it.”
Breathless and passionate, I continue.
“If they governed their people and their policies and kept in mind their desires and dreams, then they could have the best of both worlds– their individuality and their new identity– regardless of whether they chose independence or statehood.”
The hermanos stare back, wondering if I have heard my own words. Mi novio looks away, embarrassed for me that I have just revealed the duality of my viewpoint and the hypocrisy of my argument. I cover my eyes and force myself to breathe, the hand of marriage reaching down for me and the perfection of Mamacita’s and Papito’s union hanging over my head. The room clears.
When I look up again, it is just me and Mamacita, and I am the commonwealth. I am the union of two pieces, neither wishing to rule the other. Yet we, my fine young man and I, are far from bringing out the absolute best in each other. Not from his lack of trying, as I have said before, and not even for my lack of wanting, as I have tried to imply, but because of my inability to face fear, to let things happen as they should.
I stare at Mamacita and curse myself for making her live through needles, radiation, chemotherapy, and C.A.T scans just to be sure that her hijita would be okay. It is no wonder that she insists that I need somebody to look after me, the nenita who cannot accept that, sometimes, life must go on without mandate or permission. The one who refuses to recognize that she cannot make everything turn out the way she wants, even when she tries her hardest by chasing away nightmares and forcing nurses to medicate. The hermanos return shortly, and Mamacita awakes for our frolicking. I laugh with those boys, feeling somewhat more free and less afraid. They tell stories that force me to blush in front of the fine young man whom Mamacita would have been proud to call her own.
When the hermanos leave, it is me, Mamacita, and mi novio left in that hospital room. She drifts off to sleep before I can inform her of my decision. As I look at him across the room, stroking Mamacita’s hair as if it were my own, I see Papito, and I recognize that I must go ahead and achieve our freedom, allow things to happen as they should. After all these years of struggling, loving, growing, overcoming, I must recognize he brings out the best in me, and my inability to face fear has kept me from bringing out the best in him. I go to him then, and I choose statehood.
That night her nightmares do not wake me. When the sun dances on my face the next morning, the hermanos are there with their wives.
“Mamacita has gone,” the eldest whispers.
I stare out the window and wonder how she might have known that she could go now.
One of the wives comes over to me then and forces a small box into my hand. Inside, I find a locket with a picture of Mamacita and Papito. The silver is colder than I could have imagined, and I fiddle with it to warm the metal.
“Read the back,” the eldest coaches. I turn the locket and stare down. There I find Mamacita’s words and my new reality.
Offer and accept the best.
* * *
Mamacita requested husbands for me for far too long. She lit candles and recited rosaries for la nenita Azteca. Emphatically, I challenged her requests, trading in diamonds for feminism, opting for perceived freedom over fear. This time, after years of holding out for unrealistic possibilities, I chose to ponder her argument. As I move out of that hospital room, I wonder if I am the more delicate and less spitfire hija that she requested. I wonder if I can also be the feminist esposa, this ideal of statehood that I expect of myself. Regardless, the Latina has found peace with her gringa, and, while I ponder crinoline and flowers, my Latina tells the gringa good night and catches up on the slumber that a life of duality can steal from you when you are busy battling your own imperialism.