Mami, abuela to you, raised Tia Joann and I, as if we were headed to war, not life. Potential danger in every bend and enemies all around. Life not a journey, but an obstacle to survive. And for decades I lived thinking life to be one great burden to bare. Crushed by the weight. I sought to escape, and hid behind books. Wrapped myself tight in anger, certain if I stomped around like I held grenades in my pocket, the world would fear me, and I’d be left alone. Burnt by flames of my own anger time and time again, I ached to let go of the heat around me. Now, I search to understand and discover meaning. But. In the midst of life, I lose sight and forget, life is more wonder than pain.
Wednesday, I entered the apartment, greeted by: Prepárate, wait till you hear about my day. Your hands on your hips, your lips bright from chewing on them, a nervous habit inherited from me. I listened to the “she said I said drama” that had unfolded throughout your day. Angry you stomped and insisted that if anyone had anything to say to tell it to your face. The words I often said echoed back to me, but in your voice.
Later that night, I called to you from the threshold of my bedroom door. My voice traveled passed the hallway that separates our rooms. My words hung in the air: I would never want to be a teenager again.
I was twenty-five, really three weeks shy of twenty-six when I had you. Some say that is young, I often felt like I was growing up alongside you. I spoke to you often as if you were grown, since you were little. Encouraged you to never talk about anyone behind their back. I told you, if ever in the wrong you must own it. Instructed you to own your mistakes like a boss, necessary to come correct, I repeated myself over and over. And, if someone spoke about you, not to cower, to confront the person. Don’t lose your cool, but let them see you are a guerrera in the making. Not in war, but a warrior.
I resisted the urge to tell you what Mami told me, que un amigo es un peso en el bosillo. But, refused to shield you from the darker hues that make up the world. This is why I have warned you, never allow the world to see you as a punk. Because to do so, is to invite others to mistreat you. Weakness must be avoided at all cost. This is the one rule I have insisted on above all.
But, in my haste to arm you against the world. I forgot life requires balance. That the opposite of warrior is peacemaker. Peace starts within, and compassion leads you there. They say to start with self. Still, like when you were little I’m learning alongside you. Being a teenager is the anthesis of peaceful, everything that happens is its own electrical storm. I got you.
Last parent conference all your teachers mentioned what a happy and funny young lady you are. You did well, better than well. Proud. I let out a sigh. I recalled what your early teachers all echoed when they spoke about you: good-hearted, an old soul, an artist.
Yesterday, Friday, you were angry. Hurt. Still frustrated with the “she said I said” bullshit. And through your tears you told me that sometimes you get sad and angry. I stood in the hallway. The door of your bedroom ajar. I saw you. I did not tell you to be a guerrera. I let you be. My heart grew heavy as you listed your worries, grades, friends, boys, fitting in, and then you spoke from another list. The one you called out from between sobs, worried about abuela and abuelo, and how you never gotten over having a half-brother in Colombia, and worry you will never meet. I crossed over to your bedroom, sat on your bed, and listened.
I watched you get ready for your holiday band concert at school. You styled your hair, pulled a dress over your arms, and slipped into a pair of flats. Your eyes puffy from your tears, you turned to me and smiled, thanked me for being your Mama. In turn, I told you how strong you were. True guerreras know when to soften and to cry, a lesson I’m still learning.
And, at the concert, I watched you play your saxophone, lost in the notes. And, I realized I was wrong. There is something beautiful about being a teenager. It’s that moment before you leave one room and enter another. A transition between your child self and adult self, where you begin the journey to your true self. And everything seems possible. Well, there is nothing more beautiful than that.