I knew she had taught Mom the line she’d said to me so many times:
El diablo no sabe por diablo sino por Viejo.
The devil doesn’t know things because he’s the devil but because he’s an old man.
She spoke like a poet, like a seer. I wanted her to tell me how wrong I was, how awful I was. I wanted her to tell me how to fix all the parts of me that seemed to have no resolution. I wanted her to explain how I could long for so many different kinds of lives and not be torn apart. I wondered if she knew this feeling – not of jealousy, but of loss.
“Every decision in life has a cost,” she said. “For everything you choose to do, you choose not to do another thing. Even if this life makes you happy and even if you never thought of another life, somehow it haunts you.
“You don’t like the idea of hands that smell like fish because you lived in that world. You knew that world. It reminded you that women in this world are expected to do the work that is considered low. You felt shame because you saw yourself – your own vulnerability – in her. You wanted to be loved in a man’s world without any of the humiliation that comes with that. You must love yourself to love the woman you came out of, and the woman who came out of her, to see that we are sacred little balls of shit.
“You could feel loyalty toward a woman you didn’t know because you didn’t know her secrets. You didn’t see what she had endured to become like that. You didn’t know how much shit she’d eaten. You didn’t know what she looked like when she was sick or desperate or wished she was dead.
“It’s a child’s wish to look up at her mother and see an angel. Every child deserves that, but few get it. You didn’t get it.
“The anger – and whatever else you feel – is part of what it means to be close to someone. The darkness of the feeling mirrors the intensity of your connection. I can tell you that you and her were not so different. She dreamed of a life like yours. She just chose something else, and the confusion you feel is the ripple of the life unchosen. You have to accept the inevitability of gutting the fish we eat, the pain we feel whether love is requited or not, whether we have children or not, whether we marry or not, whether we are madly in love with the person we marry or not, whether we die young or die old. You know one life and not the other, but they both hold the same truth. The idea that you could escape it, the idea that you can, is all that holds you back.”
And then she was gone.