"Music of the Hills" by Edie Tavel

I have never, not in my life, refused an empanada. Yet, as the smell of baking crust and meat is overwhelming each room in the house, it makes me scowl. Why does Mama cook them every night when Abuela’s used to be so much better? Abuela. I sigh. I can still recall her voice, like warm honey.

I remember her smile. Her wrinkles created gentle valleys in her cheeks, and her gaze felt warm, like the sun was gazing at you. I remember sitting in her lap, and she would tell me stories. Like she was releasing every memory she kept inside her. I would easily fit in the nest of her plump body. She described her father’s ceviche, how it made my stomach rumble. She told me about the children of her childhood village, and the painters on the streets of Quito.

Wednesday, October 3. 1 year ago.

“Monica, I love you.” Abuela choked, gasping for breath. Her words were soft, but they hit me like bricks in the stomach. I remember Abuela closing her eyes. I remember her smile.

That was the day I watched Abuela drift away like blossoms in the wind. I saw her give up, because she thought it was her time.

I wipe away a tear. The memory still shakes me. Others think it’s childish. I’m growing up, 14 already, and I still cry about a memory. They tell me to get over it. But she was the closest thing I ever had to happiness. Tears roll down my cheeks, a solemn memory of the love I used to hold so close.

I gaze out the window; it’s overcast. Leaves are slowly descending to the ground. The same as when Abuela left.

I bury my face into the pillow. Abuela said that crying was healthy; it helps you understand your pain. But I have too much pain to let go of it through tears. So I let the memories roll down my cheeks. Should I be ashamed?

Footsteps come upstairs and stand outside my room.

“Monica!” It’s Mama. She sounds irritated. “What are you doing?”

She enters my room. I roll over on my bed so she doesn’t see my tears, but she knows I’m crying. It’s something she can never let go of.

“Monica, you know you can’t dwell on Abuela’s death forever.”

“Mama,” I whisper helplessly. Her face tenses.

“That happened a year ago! You must get over it!” She raises her voice.

“I can’t Mama! I miss her!” The tears are running more freely now. Why doesn’t she understand!

“Listen to me Monica. You have to get over this. The sun still rises and sets everyday, but you’re still stuck in a sunset 365 days ago.”

I open my mouth to speak, but nothing comes out.

“Mama…”

“Monica I told you to listen! You’ve been weeping for a year. I can’t take you anymore! Get over it!”

Get over it. Her words echo in my mind. Get over it. The frustration builds.

“NO!” I scream. She jumps. “You don’t understand Mama!”

“Monica, listen to me.”

“Listen to me for once! I’m tired of being beaten to the ground over something we both grieve for. You don’t understand!” I find myself releasing all the pain I’ve felt for the last year.

I’m drowning in a whirlpool; thoughts, memories, anger. Water at boiling point, my body is shaking, red, fuming. I want to scream at the top of my lungs, to become an ocean and flood the world, I want to tear up the mountains with my fists, and I want Mama to understand.

Mama stares at me, tears roll down her cheeks.

“Mija… But I miss her too…”

I stand up; my tears cascading like a waterfall. I swallow, and stomp out the door.

The chilled air hits me with force. The sky seems mournful. In fact, everything is as consolable as I am. I begin to run, away from this wretched household.

I run up the street, my chest wheezing. Cars honk their horns, screeching. Through and around crowds, twisting, turning, I run. 20 minutes of wild escape, and I find myself at the summit of a high ridge. Quito is spread out beneath me, in the belly of a valley. I overlook all the worries below.

It’s been years since I was here, alone, letting the wind soak into my skin. I used to come here with Abuela. But after she left…

I sink into the tall grass, strangled by the wind. My body collapses, and I find myself staring at the same sky that Abuela loved. Maybe she can see me right now.

For once, I forget about Mama, and what she thinks. This is my life.

Among Ecuador’s vast mountains and green farmland, I am but one single speck. Who knew something so small could hold so much pain. I’m one single speck amidst the mountains and oceans. I hold too much for one little girl. But from experience I’ve learned that it’s impossible to let go of anything.

The wind sings and I can’t possibly feel angry.

Monica, mi Amor, I imagine Abuela whispering; I see you’re crying, again. Stop. Reflect. Remember what I always told you?

“Yes,” I smile.

Move on from the dead. I hear her continue. And rather, pity the living. This hardship is doing your Mama difficulty. I’m still here with you Amor. How could I ever leave? To be strong is to let go, that’s what you need to do. I love you Monica, truly, I still do.

I sit up, searching for the soft face behind those words. But I’m still alone. Yet, alone is the wrong word. I am comforted by the presence of Abuela, even in my memory.

“I love you too, Abuela.” I whisper to the wind. And somewhere, maybe in paradise, I can feel Abuela smiling back at me, the same warm soul, probably singing me a lullaby, or frying me some empanadas.

© Edie Tavel, Denver School of the Arts, Denver, Colorado


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