“Ana? Do you mind if I ask you some questions?”

Part of my life here has been informally interviewing women in the community about health and their family. I kept leaving the house to go wander and find someone else to spend an hour questioning and I realized I hadn’t asked my own host mom.

I started as she spooned sancocho (a hearty stew of víveres and meat) and white rice into a bowl for me to eat. I said we’d finish after we ate and later, as we sat out on the porch enjoying the relative coolness of the overcast afternoon, I picked up my notebooks and pen and started again.

“How many pregnancies have you had?”

“Four,” she responded.

I nodded, noting it. And then I hesitated. Four? I ran through the names in my head: Magali. Ada. Hinton. I counted and recounted. Three.

“Four?” I repeated, unsure. I couldn’t think of anything to say. I didn’t know how to ask.

“Ada, Hinton, Magali. And one who died.”

“What happened?”

“It was his stomach. He couldn’t eat.” She wasn’t looking at me anymore, but out, down the darkening street as the sky was preparing to rain.

I imagined a baby sickeningly skinny. Holding it and feeling bones. Seeing ribs. Had she even gotten to take him home? Leave the hospital?

“How old was he?”

“Sixteen.”

Oh, but he had lived for sixteen years. Of course she’d taken him home from the hospital. She’d loved him and fought with him and cooked for him and laughed at him. He’d lived long enough to love her back. He had been as fully human as I am. He’d lived long enough to have given her an unending supply of memories that she can wander into, sighing contentedly. And yet these memories, smooth and worn from use, are hot, pricking reminders of what she’s lost. They haunt her still.

The skeletal baby disappeared and I imagined a lanky boy lying curled up on the living room couch. Eyes clenched shut in pain. Or were the eyes dull, far away, numbed, not hurting anymore. I imagined Ana’s fear as she realized he was sick and the feverish panic when the possibility that he might not get better flickered through her for the first time. And then knowing washing over like a wave of nausea. How do you reconcile yourself to that? I thought of her fervent praying and wondered for the first time if she’d always been religious. Did she lose her faith and come back to it, clinging even tighter to it than before – desperately? Or did she find God in those sleepless nights trying to  keep a sick boy alive.

“Ana. I’m so sorry.” She nodded, distantly. It was an acknowledgement that I had spoken, but she was far away. The silence was growing too long and I was panicking – don’t make her fill this silence. Don’t put that on her on top of everything!

“What was his name?”

It was the right question: “Julio Enrique,” she said proudly.

“What a beautiful name,” I said.

“Yes.” She nodded again, looked at me, a hesitant smile. She was back from wherever she’d gone.

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