When I was in high school, I didn’t have a vision for myself, in fact I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life . . . that is until I found out I was pregnant. I wanted to give her the world, and to do so, I had to learn how to navigate this world. She gave me a sense of power and a will to do better for myself that I had never felt before. All I could think was that I wanted to make her proud of having me as a mother, so with every choice I made, I looked in her eyes to make sure it was something I was doing for her, and not just for myself. My number one priority was to be the kind of mother that Carmen could trust, feel safe with, and be inspired by. I had suffered a great deal of abandonment in my life, and I wanted Carmen to know that I would never walk away no matter how difficult our lives; I learned this lesson because my grandmother never walked away from me (us).
As soon as I discovered I was pregnant, though I had probably read a handful of books in my lifetime, I delved into reading and learning all I could about the child I was carrying inside of me. I enrolled in Lamaze classes and my grandmother became my pregnancy partner. I followed all the nutritional recommendations. I felt her grow inside of me nurturing my dreams for her, dreams I had never had for myself.
My French teacher had been discussing with me the opportunities for me to travel to France during the summer and completely immerse myself in the culture. She said I already had great command of the language and spending the summer abroad would refine my skills. She was devastated when I told her I was pregnant. I could see it in her eyes. She had been dreaming for me.
I gave birth to my daughter a month before my high school graduation. I went to school two days after I gave birth to her; more than ever, I wanted to finish school. I was determined to graduate with my peers. I wanted to breastfeed – eager to be an exceptional mom. At the time I lived in San Ysidro and commuted on the trolley and bus to Morse High School, the only aspect of my life that was constant. My grandmother, whom I had lived with all my life, understood deeply the importance of my education and the development of my motherhood. Having endured very difficult life experiences and fourteen years as a farm worker for agribusiness, she made it her life mission to provide a more dignified life for her family. Everyday for a month-and-a-half, my grandmother made the 2-½ hour trek from San Ysidro to Morse High School, carrying my newborn daughter in her sixty-six year old arms, to arrive at the beginning of lunch period, so I could give my daughter her second breast feeding of the day. Off to fifth and sixth period I’d go, while my grandmother waited, in a small office with my daughter, for the end of the school day. After school all three of us would embark on our journey back home to begin our voyage the next day, like three Durgas (A Hindu Goddess and word that means invincible in Sanskrit). I breastfed Carmen for the next 18 months, and it was the most beautiful and spiritual experience of my life.
That summer I enrolled at San Diego City College. I went on to graduate from San Diego State University with a B.A. in English. And though these milestones would only be the beginning of a journey of healing and self-discovery, they were the foundation of who I would evolve to be. Every thing I have become, I owe to my daughter and my grandmother.
So you see, letting go of Carmen felt like letting go a part of me; the part of me that owed its life to her. Everything I had become, I became because of her, and when she left, I feared I would lose it all – I would lose myself. My mom calls her “agua fresca” because nothing can survive without fresh water. She is so alive and her energy is incredibly inspiring, so I had to learn how to feel alive without her. The one thing I was certain about was, I would not guilt her into staying, for from the time she became part of my life, I promised her the world.
“Still Standing,” posted under Poetry, was inspired by Carmen’s departure and all that I hope and dream for her.