She knew how to be sad. She knew how to let it sweep her up, swallow her whole and she was all the better for having been consumed. My grandmother also knew this.
I remember once I was talking to her on the phone. She was congratulating me for the home my boyfriend had just bought. “I didn’t buy it,” I said.
“All the better!” she said, that sneering soft-power obviousness in her voice. I like when she used that tone. It made me feel like she finally admitted she wanted something.
She knew how to be a woman. She knew the game, saw the game, played the game, got her piece of the pie, didn’t fight it, had the humility and foresight to swallow it down, made the calculations, figured she couldn’t beat it. That’s where her power came from: her willingness to be of this world.
Her heart broke and what was left was soft pink flesh that made her feel too weak not to rely on someone else.
My heart broke and what was left was stone, proof that I didn’t need anyone.
“No, I mean it’s not mine,” I said.
“Uh huh,” she says, like there’s something delicious in her mouth. In her mind, this fact made me worthy of congratulations. In my mind this fact indicated that the house did not belong to me in any way and that I had no intention of pretending. “You better be careful, Virginia.” She always left cryptic things like that dangling in the air, an indication of her unwillingness to openly discuss sex or spinsterhood, convinced that saying the words out loud would tempt fate. Both were equally taboo. I knew this time she was talking about spinsterhood.
She passed the phone to my mom. “What’s so ironic,” I told my mom, “is that it was growing up watching her cry every day and threaten to run away and panic every time dad came home that made me feel like having kids and a husband was a death sentence. She was so sad all the time.”
All of a sudden my grandma’s voice screams “THAT’S NORMAL.” It turns out the phone was on speaker. Three generations of women on the line: a widow, a manic depressive and a soon-to-be spinster with no heart.
To my grandmother, it was an expression of femininity to be openly sad. Suffering was the measure of your womanhood. We all knew that Eve lured Adam into original sin and her punishment was painful childbirth – the kind that makes you wail, the kind that reminds you that you’ve irredeemably fallen.
I look at Frida, and I decide that I want to want to be able to feel as intensely as she does. That’s so me: always wanting to want things.
It’s getting dark now. The sun is setting. I ask her if I can take her out for a paleta, maybe some mango with chili. She agrees, and we go into the mercado near the Casa Azul. We eat piloncillo and pepitas. We look at the pinatas of Donald Trump and My Little Pony. I buy my grandma a little toy llama made of wood, and my mom a big fan (she’s always sweating nowadays). I buy Frida a coconut paleta and I buy myself an horchata one. I dip it in a little cup of coffee and then slurp it up before it melts. A little like an horchata latte, like they have in that little café in Highland Park in LA. A little like an affogato. She wants to try it and I hand the tiny enamel cup – blue and speckled white, just like the old style that every Mexican gramma has – and the paleta to her. She smiles and gets horchata slush on her mustache.
I walk her back home. She kisses me, and before she closes the door she says: “Practice being sad. You might love it.”