In my Advanced Expository Writing course I was asked to write a short essay on my relationship with a family member, so this is what I wrote:
She has no actual birth date; all we know is that my grandma—Maria Luisa—was born sometime around 1945. During this time, people in Mexico were not obligated to have birth records or identifications of any kind. In fact, only adults or children with parental permission were able to obtain them. And when she asked for them at age ten, “You don’t need that” is what my great-grandmother said, inadvertently denying her her existence. When my great-grandfather—my grandmother’s safety blanket—passed away, she was thrown out of the house.
Because of this, grandma grew up tough, she married at 12 and was widowed at seventeen, then proceeded to raise two daughters—because her son died in infancy—on her own by working as a waitress or maid, or both simultaneously. Then when my mother came to America, she followed her here and began working in the fields, or in the canaries depending on the season. Her already callused hands became swollen and scarred, and with those hands she carried me and protected me from the world’s gaze until I was strong enough to face it on my own.
My grandmother is the strongest women I have ever met; I strive to emulate her strength even though I know she is not perfect. She was a difficult mother according to my mom and aunt, short tempered and with the tendency to give beatings first and ask questions later. She demanded perfection and accepted nothing short of it. Growing up, she would put a book on my head and heels on my feet and made me walk in a straight line, very much like a police officer would a driver under suspicion of being drunk. According to her, a proper lady needed to know the right way to sit, stand and walk. She’s also very superstitious—not that there’s anything wrong with superstition—and some of her home remedies I’d categorize as scary.
Of course, none of this matters to me. My grandmother, or Abuelita, was the rock that kept me anchored when my parents fought, when I was bullied at school, and when I thought I wasn’t wanted. At twelve, I wanted to die. Simple as that. I was tired of the fighting, anger, and ridicule that perverted my daily life. If I died no one would care, is what I thought. No one would notice because they were too busy with themselves. I was stupid of course, and my grandma let me know it the evening I told her this, in her little rented trailer near my elementary school—where my sister and I would go when my parents couldn’t pick us up. With those hands like beaten leather, she petted my hair and mumbled Spanish words of endearment, in her deep raspy voice reminiscent of those of the mariachi singers in her prized CD collection. As she hugged me tightly and wept silently, I couldn’t help but think that at some point in her life, she must have also wanted to die. But she didn’t wither, and I knew that neither could I.
This year though, Abuelita retired back to Mexico. While she runs her little textile shop, I am left floundering. At 22 I am away from home, attempting to gain a footing in this fast paced society. My exterior is that of a mature young adult, focused on school and work. But inwardly, I am a child reaching up for her safety blanket.