“Not till we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.” Thoreau
As I massaged the lavender shampoo on my rebellious hair that summer afternoon, I suddenly felt as if I was being rinsed with my family’s tears from all those months. Outside those four walls, my young cousins’ laughter resonated amidst the familiar wooden floors and pungent smells escaping from my mother’s enchiladas. I felt the silent, burning sensation of grief being transferred from the shower head into the pores of my skin. I touched each drop of water on my pale hands with a solemn heart as if I was wiping singular tears from every familiar face present at her funeral. I was able to see again. Perhaps my mysterious allergies in England had all been physical manifestations of my unconscious blindness to all of this. My sporadic allergic reactions in the past months had caused my eyelids to swell to unfathomable proportions and had culminated in temporary darkness and anxiety amidst NHS clinics in Manchester and Toronto. Perhaps they had all been merely signs of unconscious oblivion. For the first time in months, I began to decipher images of hospitals, hugs, goodbyes, pleads, prayers and unfinished phrases. Every drop of water awakened each pore of my body and I began to absorb every single tear shed in honor of Clarita. Although my grandmother’s life had come to its finale five months ago, it was not until I stepped foot in my mother’s shower that I realized my grandmother would never return.
Nomad and refugee. On the surface, I had been a nomad- one who voluntarily displaces oneself in mind and body to distant lands in search of an unfathomable quest. A nomad wanders the earth and chooses to remain in the territory as long as those needs are met and continues without hesitation. A nomad accepts the art of serendipity, exploration and unpredictability. On the surface, I had been a nomad, willingly displacing myself from the comfort and warmth of sunny Houston to Mancunian streets in search of new adventures. I had willingly renounced my 14 year residence in Houston, my upwards step in the corporate ladder, the proximity to my family and to my best friends, my past stories, my cafes, my old streets. I thought I had been a nomad all these past months in Europe, tasting delectable antipastos in Venice, climbing hills in Wales, descending steps in Montmartre and capturing sunsets in Glasgow. I had been traveling non-stop during the weekends and bank holidays, losing myself in new ways of seeing and new ways of living. Perhaps I had even been searching for new ways of breathing. However, it was not until I returned to Houston after all those months that I realized the sheer truth: I had been both refugee of grief and a nomadic child.
Unlike a nomad, a refugee does not willingly displace oneself out of whim. The term refugee is normally associated with one who escapes political systems, religious persecution, or economic strife. In my mind, the term refugee is also extended to one who escapes memories or the abysmal infinity of emotion. Without knowing, I had been a refugee of grief, unable to cope with the majestic heaviness of death and its echoes. On the one hand, I had been a nomad, a strong independent 30 year-old woman in control of her destiny and an endless adventurer wandering unrecognizable streets. And yet we are all endless wanderers, floating like fragile glass spheres from coasts of certainty across tempestuous waves in search of new light. Perhaps we sometimes seek new lands to detect the inner glow of our fragile vessels amidst new caverns and new skies. The role of refugee and nomad is continuously exchanged and confused during our lives, amidst new smells, new languages and old memories, becoming symbiotic representations of our identities in an uncertain universe. Perhaps I am just another link in this endless chain of immigrants, continuing the legacy left behind by my ancestors. From German lakes to Uruguayan coasts and from Mexican seas to the American Dream and beyond, I now realize that my family has been a collective group of silent poets and lost children with different tribulations and identical goals. We are all scattered refugee-nomads silently perusing the world, escaping torrents of grief and endlessly throwing anchors in green oases of promised dreams and blissful tranquility.
My return to Houston after 6 months of absence had still retained its aura of welcome and absolute love despite the tragedy. It is a truly bizarre phenomenon to return to one’s former home and feel a sense of alienation amidst the familiar sounds, gestures and places. Although I returned to my parents’ apartment in the same old street with the same embraces and I love you’s, and I rested my tired head on my old wooden bed, I could barely decipher the unifying words exchanged between my aunt and my sister in the days prior to my grandmother’s death. As my aunt Minerva finished preparing the guacamole that my grandmother so lovingly prepared for her family during her years, she lightly sprinkled a few bits of cilantro and onion on top.
“This is how she likes it. We still include her in the present tense,” she said.
I had become estranged to the collective process of loss, renewal and healing. The structure of family is often held together like an old Japanese temple, with flanking beams of melancholy and joy held together by flanking pillars of memory and renewal. An abundant construction made of the collective unconscious and shared experience. I had missed the last few months of melancholy that had left a visible scar on the pillars of my family. I could barely contain the heavy presence of guilt on my shoulder. While my mother had been struggling to pick up my fragile grandmother from her bed in Mexico City, I had been finding my way through the streets of Manchester. When my grandmother’s burial was filled with thousands of roses and crosses and family members, I was quietly deciphering old Hebrew prayers in an old Prestwich synagogue and mourning in silence. When my grandmother relinquished her last living breaths in that hospital in Mexico City, my inexplicable insomnia and nausea in Stockport came to an end. When my young sister announced the tragic news to my mother on the phone, my lonely footsteps in the Peak District that afternoon were unknowingly tracing my grandmother’s lost soul amidst the majestic sleeping volcanoes of Mexico City. Perhaps true connections are never broken despite distance and time.
If my mother’s family had its own universe, then my grandmother was the sun. She had been the epicenter, the laughter, the strength, the pain, the legacy. She was the mother encarnate, the most pure representation of femininity and elegance; the quintessential Mexican beauty who had indeed sacrificed her life in the name of her family. She had been the embodiment of strength and vulnerability fused at its best. She had been through the death of her first husband, the estrangement of her second husband, poverty, an abusive childhood, six pregnancies and countless nights of uncertainty. She had assumed the role of a wife and mother from the early age of 16. At 16, I had barely learned the art of flirting amidst the multitude of drawings that permeated my room. At 30, she had contained her life to one single culture, one single country, one single family. At 30, I have yet to create my own family and to decipher my role in this massive kaleidoscopic mosaic of cultures and colors.