I turn into the street, first house at the corner, I see the long house and the large pillar that holds the front porch. I pull into the curved driveway just passing the front door spilling onto the entryway. As I get out of the car, I see that the roses are dry. It’s winter. The first full week of the new year is past. I think of all the care he used to put into those roses as I pass them by and walk into the entryway towards the large front door. Ringing the bell, I wonder if my Tio is going to open the door. She rarely opens the door herself. I stand in front of the door, lifting my head to see its full height. The old house is warm and familiar. Ringing the bell again, eventually it opens and my cousin stands behind it. It looks like I’ve woken her up. I follow her as I walk into the front room where the frames of photos and portraits of weddings, babies, and children, all spanning decades, sit like markers of pride arranged on three walls. The tock of the grandfather clock ticking with the 2:00 hand welcomes me. I see newly arranged frames and glimpse in my mind the ones that are missing.
I follow my Abuela’s voice into her bedroom and I sit in front of her and the piles of baskets filled with knitting supplies that surround her. After some conversation, I eventually tell her that I want a scarf that wraps all the way around, attached in one ring. I describe this and as I do, she asks that I open a drawer in the dresser nearest to us. I pull open a drawer of bufandas and she asks me to pull out a white one, I see it immediately, “Enseñame como te lo pones,” I remember how George taught me and I divide the scarf into two parts, laying both parts on my neck with the loop to my left side, then taking the two ends on my right side and bringing them through the loop, then pulling and wrapping what is left around my neck. She says, “Asi,” in approval. “Lo quieres?” she asks. I tell her that I still have the white one she gave me and that it’s still soft. I don’t tell her that I’m looking for a camel colored one. My hands move around the drawer and I see a variety of colors. I pull bufandas out and try them. I see dark green, dark blue, light blue, I feel like I’m at a store, the same feeling of excitement I’ve had the past few weeks since after Christmas shopping started, except even more exciting because this time the shopping is free. Then I stop, at the bottom top right corner, I see it. “Póntelo,” she tells me. I take out a camel colored bufanda and I wrap it around my neck. It’s perfect. When she’s not looking, I snap quick selfies and send them to George. “¿Lo quieres? Llévatelo.” “Si, Abuela me gusta.” It’s mine! I carefully take off my new bufanda and hang it gently on the back of the chair I was sitting on across from my Abuela.
The drawer is still open with bufandas spread out and unfolded. As I begin to fold them and place them back in, I see a white bufanda with light blue and green stripes. I remove it and put this one on. I know that George would like this one, it’s got his colors and it’s comfortable. I hear a ding from my phone. It’s George with a message: “ It’s beautiful, your Abuela’s talented, you look cute.” I remove the bufanda and drape it on my arm next to a dark blue one and take a picture and send it to George asking if he likes any of these. He replies that he likes the striped one. “¿Abuela, yo tengo un amigo que le gusta estos colores, se lo puedo dar?” She tells me that she hasn’t worn that bufanda in two years and that the camel one that I like, she gave the matching hat away. I learn that the drawer of bufandas is actually her drawer of bufandas and not ones that she’s made to give away. I say to her that I can put them back, that I don’t want to take them away, but she says for me to take the camel one and take the striped one to my friend.
My friend is really my partner, my soon to be husband some day, the man that I love. I’ve considered how I would tell her, if I were ever to tell her. But what is more concerning is her reaction and what kind of medical response she would need afterwards. I consider too that these scarfs were not made for me and especially not made for him. My thoughts are broken by, “Tu Tio Beto y tu Tio Danny, ya no tenien madre,” The prick and sting of that comment settles in like a sharp needle through cloth. She tells me how they harmed her, how they wronged her, Tio Albert and Tio Danny, who she’s disowned. I sit there and listen impatiently, she says things that are harsh and biting, directed towards my two uncles. The harsh words that come out of her mouth belong to the same body that has stitched blankets and knitted scarfs for everyone, a baby blanket for a newborn cousin before birth, a vest to wear for church, beanies and slippers, all for dressing and warming the bodies of everyone in my family. As she speaks on, I think of these hands that have done all this work, I see the dolls surrounding the table in front of her chair, displayed in their homemade dresses, complete with matching slippers and bonnets. On the dresser, the baby Jesuses laying in their white silken gowns stitched in white thread, adorning them as their outstretched arms point towards the ceilings and walls as if real babies about to be picked up. All of this work from the hands that knit in front of me weaving and manipulating long needles, in such a way to create something beautiful that will provide warmth as the sound of the needles sometimes scratch against each other and her mouth, her mouth the same mouth that sang to me and taught me, has created an order to bring down pictures from the walls. I continue to wonder how this person can banish a third of her family as I sit there, her oldest grandchild, listening to her as I’ve just asked her for a scarf for my ‘amigo.’ How could the very hands that once caressed me and still make the sign of the cross before I leave, the strong arms that once kneaded dough and feed me, not extend to embrace all members of her family? Occasionally she abruptly stops knitting and grabs at her leg in pain, as pains strike through her legs, shooting up. We’ve gotten used to seeing her in pain after years of witnessing these moments.
I’ve kept a close eye on the clock and it’s now 4:00, the time I told her I would leave. I tell her it’s time for me to go. She groans as she slowly pushes herself up on her walker. She takes slow steps with her walker through the kitchen with me and I thank her for the scarfs and chiles she’s given me. She won’t walk me to the door because of the cold. I say goodbye and kiss her. I leave this house, walking past the dying roses that my Abuelo had given such care when he lived here. As soon as I sit in the car, I do one thing first, I put on the new bufanda, I wrap it around me. I feel it’s warmth, it’s softness, I drive away from this now mundane task of visiting, because I am the only person that sits in the middle space amongst the deep conflict that has divided my family. The conflict regarding where my Abuelo wants to live, with my Tio who takes care of him, and not with my Abuela and the different sides that support and don’t support his choice.
Just before I leave while my Abuela is in her room I take pictures of the frames that hold various pictures of my family and our history in another hallway holding pictures of my cousins, all of my Tio’s and Tia’s and pictures of my Abuelo and Abuela. My Abuela wearing an apron busy in the kitchen cooking and my Abuelo in the yard tending to the fruit trees and plants. All of that is gone is now. There are no more family gatherings with everyone, there is no more collective laughter and no more story telling, no more children playing in the yard. I pull out and away from the new cement driveway that leads to this house. The house itself is sad, gone is my journey to my childhood home, the house I grew up in, the house where I sat and gnawed on sugar cane in the backyard with my Abuela, the backyard filled with trees, cactus, and fruit that I could reach up at different seasons and pick and eat, where my Abuelo lived as he tended to the trees while my cousins and I would hide and play. Gone are the barbecues, Easters, and Fourth of July’s that were spent outside, all those memories, the memories and life stories of my family, floating away like a memory of old laughter from another room. I take one last look at the dying roses through the rear view mirror and touch my scarf. I think of all the labor that has gone into the scarf, with hands that have arthritis and legs that are in pain, as she sits in her chair with her oxygen in her nose. I did not ask her about why the family portraits and wedding pictures of my other aunts and uncles have been taken down. The hurt and harms are not displayed, just taken down, not mentioned just how she never once mentioned my Abuelo.
I think of the scarf I take for George. I know the gift of wearing something that was made just for me. I think of my first scarf that was given to me when I was very young, bright white and soft like the inside of a delicate pillow. Years later, my Abuela made me a light brown scarf, knitted in two layers. She wrapped them in a box one Christmas. When I opened it and first put it on, it was so thick and so warm that I told her I would one day wear it in New York City. For most of my life that scarf sat stored away in a box never worn except when George took me to New York for one of our Christmas’ together, I was so proud to be wearing her scarf and I told her so. I also told her I traveled with a friend.
I feel joy and pride in giving George a scarf made by my Abuela, but since it was not made for him I consider the difference in that. When something I wear has been made just for me, every stich has been stitched for me. I can see her sitting down working for hours on something for me to wear, to wear the product of hours and days with fingers at work, moving yarn and manipulating needles to task. What were the thoughts that went on in her head? What does she think about when she knits for me? What are her intentions? What stories of me does she think of? How does she select colors for me? When I wear something she’s made for me, I feel as if her goals, her intentions, the very purpose of her work is to create something to keep me warm, something to keep me, to hold me, something to wrap around me. The beauty of that can never be taken away from me, whether or not my picture hangs on the walls. George loves me, he thinks of me, his love is like invisible stiches that surround me and embrace me. From my Abuela I have physical examples of her love and her craft, made and gifted to me. My self is dressed in strong threads, stitched for me by love and time, and gifted by connection, all these embraces like a scarf that I feel from George where the ends don’t meet but wrap themselves around. As I drive and leave the desert, I consider the pride I feel of wearing a scarf made by my Abuela and the pain in the acknowledgement that I don’t’ think she will ever make a scarf just for him and the sadness of the cut strings and threads left on the floor near her feet of what was once my family’s owned stories, and dreams and moments.
Gilbert Salazar is a Restorative Justice practitioner and Applied Theater Artist, living in Los Angeles, striving to synthesize intersections of Restorative Justice and Theater to unmask, ‘maskculinity’ through, Gilbert Salazar Unmasked Education. His play, “Unmasking Hercules,” is scheduled for a workshop production later in the fall of 2016.