The family crowded the waiting area at the hospital. I sat silently, unsure of what to make of everything. Guilt riddled my bones as my mind was racing. A phone call once a week was all she wanted. Distance and life got in the way. That should have never happened.
Everyone around me was exchanging their favorite memory. I fidgeted with my elephant charm while picking up bits and pieces of their conversations. My curiosity got the best of me.
“Mora?” I unexpectedly interrupted.
“Mora is the name she went by in the Dominican Republic. When she got to New York, people started calling her Nora.” One of my aunts explained.
The somber chatter faded as I carefully walked to the doorway of her room. She was peacefully resting. Mora. That name stayed glued to the back of my mind. It felt as though I were seeing her for the first time. I saw Mora in a different light. There, I envisioned my grandmother and her life with me.
Summer of 1991
An uninvited odor crept through the window and stealthily danced around. That day it caught her by surprise, and sadly, it was a smell too familiar. Seconds later, she was startled by an aggressive knock.
“Nora! Hay Fuego! Saliense!” The neighbor shouted.
Without skipping a beat, Nora scooped her months old granddaughter, into her arms. She held her firmly while others nearby were staggering down the stairs toward the exit.
Across the street, she digested the scene. Orange flames tore through the top floor of her building, hurling clouds of black smoke towards the sky. The spread was inevitable. The fire was hot, hostile, and it showed no mercy.
Nora exhaled, relieved everyone left unharmed. Her granddaughter buried her face into her neck. She placed her palm on the back of her head to shield her from the scene. The adrenaline coursing through her veins didn’t allow her to focus on anything other than getting to safety. Nora did just that. She marched for blocks cradling her chunky grandbaby until she reached the nearest relatives house.
Nora’s granddaughter buzzed her apartment to no avail, leaving her no choice but to look for her elsewhere. She made her way around the side of the building. Peeking through the window, she found Nora playing bingo with her friends.
Nora’s face beamed with excitement when she looked up. Her granddaughter waved and motioned toward the door. In the middle of her game, Nora got up and shuffled her way towards the entrance.
“Hi Grandma, Bendicion!” her granddaughter said, surprising her.
“Dios te Bendiga Mija! Es mi nieta!” Nora declared.
Everyone there greeted Nora’s granddaughter as if they’ve known her their entire life.
“She talks about you and all of her grandkids.” One older woman would explain.
“I knew you when you were just a baby.” Another would say.
A long period of time had gone by since they last saw each other. Together they boosted with love. Nora, a bingo champion, left the game unfinished. She left everyone hanging with her departure without notice as she grabbed her nieta’s hand and walked out of the community hall.
The ride in the elevator was short. Nora was walking much slower than her granddaughter remembered. She will be reaching 90 soon, she thought to herself. Together they entered her apartment. Everything was just as it was before I left New York. This included the elephant décor that anyone walking through the door couldn’t help but notice.
“Por que tu no me llamaste?” Nora interrogated.
“I’m sorry, Grandma. I will call you more.” Her granddaughter said as she pursed her lips, knowing she would have a hard time meeting this expectation.
“Uh, huh, okay,” Nora responded with one eyebrow raised slowly, pacing herself to her spot on the couch.
After catching up, they decided to watch TV. Nora’s granddaughter rested her head on her shoulder. Together they took a short nap.
The silence in the room was deafening. All I could hear was my heart thumping uncontrollably in my chest while cautiously approaching. Grandma laid in the hospital bed, seemingly content.
“Bendicion Grandma, it’s me, Jasmin.” I grasped her hand.
Her eyes narrowed while she smiled in a state of medically induced bliss. My nerves prompted me to glance at my aunt for guidance.
“Tell her.” My aunt nodded.
“Grandma, I’m pregnant.” I said, gently placing her hand on my baby bump, “Estoy embarazada.”
“Uh, huh, okay. Que?!” Her eyes opened, “Estas embarazada?!”, she asked as happiness began to pour out of her.
Grandma Nora was overjoyed. Her happiness filled everyone, and her love brightened the room. The knot in the back of my throat was telling me to let it out, but for this beautiful moment, I knew better.
“Te voy a dar un puño porque ya tienes dos.”
Her laugh was contagious. No matter the situation, Grandma was sure to pack her sense of humor. I realized that it was her way of showing love and concern. I smiled and nodded my head to reassure her that I would be okay. However, what I didn’t know, that would be the last words she spoke to me.
Late February 2019
“This was everyone’s home.” My older sister said.
I smiled at her before my eyes could water. I was flooded with emotions that I tried hard to suppress. Memories were made here. Life happened here. Life was growing inside me, a baby she would never have the chance to meet. Separately, we toured her apartment one last time.
I picked up an elephant trinket. A mother elephant and its baby snuggled by her side. The elephant is a symbol of unobtrusive strength, and it is just one of the qualities my grandmother exemplified. In every direction, an elephant trinket would remind you of just that. The sala was where she would stir up her pot of wisdom. Her advice always came at the right moment (even though she knew the chances I would probably do the opposite). I placed my hand on my baby bump and sat on her spot on the couch. Her imprint was everywhere.
Mora, the woman I knew, at times struggled but never settled. She taught me the importance of knowing self-worth and never giving up.
Mora, the woman I knew, was stronger than I could have ever comprehended, and braver than most people I’ve ever known.
Mora, the woman who held a love for her family that was so great. Whose heart was complete when she saw all of her children in one room, “Esto me da alegria,” she said. Her love knew nothing of conditions.
Nora, the woman I miss. The woman I wish I could have with me just a little longer to tell her how much I love her. How much she still inspires me to this day.
Grandma Nora, gracias por todo que has hecho por mi. From taking me out of a burning building to always welcoming me with love and open arms even when my efforts to maintain contact were weak and inexcusable.
I prepared myself to leave for the last time. I Love You, Grandma, Bendicion.
I felt her love wrap around me. Grandma’s voice was loud and clear.
“Dios te Bendiga. Llamame!”