Losing Maria

The regrettable consequences of a family divided

My cousin Maria died two weeks ago. Actually, she'd been in a coma for about a week and her younger brother Steve and her mother Ana decided to pull the plug because the doctors told them she wouldn't be getting any better. Maria had already gone blind and had a kidney transplant months previous, and the coma, the blindness, and the transplant were the result of complications from diabetes--an illness that runs rampant in my family (all three of my mother's brothers, tio Pedro, tio Jose, and tio Alejandro died from it, and tios Pedro and Jose each had one of their legs amputated below the knee).

The last time I saw Maria I must have been about eighteen; I ran into her at Rainbow. We said "hi," "I'm fine, how are you," and told each other to "take care." Tragically, I don't know who this forty-eight-year-old woman was, who she became. I only remember her from a seven-year-old child's perspective: she was a laughing, feisty, smiley, plump, twenty-one-year-old wild child. A woman-girl who loved life, music, and men (she had two children out of marriage: a son, Tony, and a daughter, Jessica).

My mom, her three brothers, and her sister Ana moved to Minnesota in the 50s to flee the border town they grew up in, with hopes of providing a good life for their respective families (although tia Ana never married). Then in the early-70s, Grandma Ramona and Grandpa Miguel Garcia moved to Minnesota to be with their children and grandchildren (but only for about four years--the cold winters were too much for them). And at about this time, the Lopez family was the only one who was "moving up"; the majority of the Garcia's ended living and having the type of existence they were determined not to have in California. Consequently our families became involved in a falling-out of sorts, mostly due to my family's "uppitiness," that's what I feel we'd been accused of having. In a slight way I can't blame them for thinking that: Mom and Dad were resolved to get out of the 'hood, out of the low-income housing residence were we lived in St. Paul. They wanted to set an example for us. Mom's contention was more or less (not necessarily in her words): "Hey, if it means keeping my kids away from the rest of the family to ensure a good life, then that's what I'll do." The Garcias were content staying where they were and if it was good enough for them, then it should've been good enough for the Lopezes. We were of the same blood and they couldn't understand why we had to "act" like we weren't. From what I know, which isn't much, I believe the whole "dispute" evolved into a "he said, she said" disaster and the families decided it was "best" to keep away from each other because it was obvious none of the Garcias were "good enough" for associating with the Lopez clan.

Looking back at the situation as an adult, I believe it was a case of misunderstanding, misconstrue, and possibly a little bit of envy: both my parents went to college and got their Master's degrees; my mother's brothers and sister didn't finish high school and their kids barely finished high school themselves, getting into drugs, jail, and bad marriages (not to say that my family hasn't seen the likes of these occurrences, but our "snobbishness" absolved it all because we Lopez kids graduated from high school and went to college). And so, by default, we became part of this "vendetta." End of story. End of relationships with relatives. It wasn't fair and I believe my parents now regret it.

Maria was the oldest sister of five kids (Steve, Carmen, Tina, and Roberto are her four brothers and sisters) and they were the children of Pedro and Marta. According to tradition, the oldest son (Pedro) would "give" his oldest child (Maria) to his parents to raise; that's why I'd always see Maria at Grandma and Grandpa's. They all--along with tia Ana--lived in a paint-chipping blue-and-white duplex a block from Jefferson Elementary. I'd stop by at least twice a week--after school on my way home which was only a mile away--to say "hi" and eat some of Grandma's tortillas, smothering them with butter.

Maria and tia Ana were tight; they were inseparable. I'm sure it had to do with the fact that tia never married or had children. They were constantly hanging out in tia's room, reading romance/mystery magazines, eating those luckless chocolate "diet" candies, and laughing. Always laughing.

Maria had a massive collection of 45s and a cheap little record player that was constantly playing while she was kickin' it in tia's room. One day when I stopped by the house Maria and tia were out, so I made my way into tia's room and shuffled through some of those cheesy magazines as well as a stack of Maria's records. As I was pretending to make an oh-so important phone call on that light blue "princess" rotary phone--while shoving a bunch of those diet chocolates in my mouth--Maria walked in and heard "My Mistake" by Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye on the record player. I could hear her snapping her fingers. I quickly turned to see her shaking her ample ass, raising her pencil-thin eyebrows that were high above her frosted white eye shadow, and singing (she was a good singer). She sat next to me, hugged and kissed me, and I could smell and taste her Avon perfume on my lips. After she sang the refrain of the song she said, "Girl, you've got some good taste in music." Right then I felt like I was the coolest seven-year-old in the world.

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