By Leila Baez / Matthew staff || Edited by Giulia Leo
She would have been a doctor, but I do not know what kind. Perhaps she would have been a therapist, she worked a lot with minds. She told everyone she met that they could do anything if they truly wanted and worked for it. If her family fell, she carried them on her back. She was never perfect, but she never let anyone believe she was. She was perfectly imperfect. She was my grandmother.
The first of the Herrera family to fully experience and live in the city. She sang at the Captains’ Club in the canal zone. That is how she became an Amberths. She had her eldest, then her second eldest, second youngest, then her youngest. She raised her four girls to be strong and tender, smart and kind. She taught lessons only experience and calloused hands could teach. In a world that made women feel lesser than, she made sure to let her daughters know that a time would come where they would stand on pillars equal with their fellow men. She let them know that they were the hope of the family. She was Esperanza.
Many people believed she was a witch, but she was a White Spirit. She practiced santeria, but she still believed in penance. To her, there were things above and beyond her and her people. Chango, God, Jesus. Obatala, Oshun, Shango, Yemaya, Yemowo. She believed in higher powers. There were angels. There were spirits above as below. She knew that human beings were not the only evolved force of nature. She knew humans were quite possibly one of the least evolved. Using lessons from her indigenous roots that remained firm and secure in their planting, she experienced the earth, the air, the sea, and the flames in ways that no one else could. She understood that what was put out into the world is what would be brought back, so she made sure to always put out pure intentions. She was Whita.
Grandmother, Esperanza, Whita, a woman of many titles more than these. She became one with the clouds she loved so much in 2006. While many who knew her mourned, many more knew she was happy to be free. There in the clouds is where she has been for most of my life. I am 22, while this year marks her sixteenth. I try to imagine what she must have been like for my cousins who are all older than me. They got to experience her unconditional love and protective embrace as I scramble to remember her voice and look at pictures to remember her face. I cannot remember too many moments, so instead I count on dreams.
I wonder if she would be proud of me. I am the second woman in my family to graduate from university. I abandoned enforced Christianity and am finding my path along the stones and in the trees. I do not remember the warm smiles or gentle hugs they say she gave when I was a baby, but I know how those warm smiles must have looked whenever I catch a glimpse of the sunrise after my early morning classes, or watch the sunsets after I finish the last round of edits on an assignment. I know how those gentle hugs must have felt anytime I step outside and feel that gentle breeze envelop me and nudge me to turn and spin and embrace the world around me.
She is the doctor and her eldest daughter is the nurse. Their office is the earth. I am their most loyal patient. Their methods are beyond this world, that much I understand. In the midst of colds or cramps, it is by their advice that I know to reach for Vicks. I know that my heart will not always be broken, but it will take time to mend. I know that it is perfectly fine for them if I like women more than men. I know that getting Titi Lia’s pink lei and lighting a candle or two, then closing my eyes and listening is all I have to do. Sweet flowery scents for Titi Lia while Whita likes the incense or scents of the woods. I wrap the lei around the candles’ bases and sit crisscross on the floor.
I find her in diagnosis when I feel tears rolling down my cheeks and finally release breaths I never knew I was holding. She understands pain and the weight of expectations that make it impossible to figure out where I am going or how I am actually doing. She passed from what people call “emotional diabetes”. While she did everything right, the world around her was uneasy. She spent her life worrying for everyone but herself and, in the end, was the one in need. She does not want that for me and finds ways to let me know it is okay to do differently. She guides me to what many others may not like, but what makes an individual out of me.
While everyone in the family wanted me to be a doctor, to make my grandfather proud, she showed me the pen, the pencil, and the paper. She told me to let it all out. So I followed her advice and wrote down all my thoughts. I made the changes that I saw fit and eventually developed plots. Now I write all day, whether it is a new story or some dreaded essay. I love what I do, even if the rest of the family may doubt my dreams will come true. I was taught to not care what they believe, I learned to grow that backbone early. It is always the smart ones and strong ones that those with little to offer try to drag down. Instead, she told me to take everything with a grain or two of salt, take a deep breath, and write one or two antagonists as my stories’ villains.
She may be someone I will not get to see for a very long time, here’s hoping. But I hope that, one day, I will look her in the eyes and thank her for every beautiful moment. I want her to know I will be just fine, even if most days of the week feel like a tightrope line. I hope she knows she can rest easy, and enjoy her new ethereal life. She has earned her seat at the table of every feast the heavens can provide. Until I earn my place by her side, I continue her legacy here. I work like a dog and chase every bone until I get to a point when my points are made clear.
Women are beautiful, magical, and powerful. They are a force everyone should revere. It is through them that the world continues to turn. It is through them the world is able to persevere. Women like Esperanza Herrera, my grandmother that I hold so dear. Those are the ones that we should dedicate our deeds to, the one I dedicate my future to. I hope to heal the wounds of some with written out wisdom and whimsy having someone like Whita provides.