A Debtor’s Scar

December 6, 2023

 The tile on the front doorstep still ached. It was cracked down the middle, and a glimpse of cement still peeked through the broken marble. 

The first time I saw it, I must’ve been around five. I was running to the front gate to look at the dogs walking by when I knelt to fix my shoelace and saw its signature scar. I stared for a second and a lifetime all at once. I was intrigued by the way it undulated and the way it resembled the scar on my leg. My fingers traced its surface, and I wondered if it too felt the same pain I did when I got mine. 

My grandmother loved looking at me through the front window. She swore it was her secret, but I knew she was there. When she saw my tiny hands reaching for my eyes and tears streaming down my face, she hurried to my side.  

¿Que paso, Mijita?” She asked in a tender, worried voice. 

“The doorstep has a scar like mine,” I whispered in between sobs. 

She said it was normal, a product of time—the years of visitors and family members that come and go by. I confessed that I didn’t like it. It meant it once felt a burning, sizzling sensation over its open wound, and I couldn’t bear the thought of that. 

“The doorstep has welcomed many memories and family moments. Lots of good,” she justified

I told her it wasn’t fair. 

She offered, “The best things in life often leave our most notable scars.” 

I buried myself in her chest. The smell of her amber perfume embraced my fragile body , and her lips met the top of my head. She held me tight and began to sing: 

Señor, ayúdala, Dios mío

Porque a ella yo la quiero 

con todo mi corazón.

Señor, te pido que la ayudes

Es muy niña y en su alma 

no tiene que haber dolor.

Serenity caressed my cheeks as my grandmother’s velvet voice echoed in my ears. She always sang “¿Que Tiene La Niña?” when I cried.  I pulled away to meet her gaze, and her smile radiated more warmth than the sun and the stars could all at once.

No quisiera nunca

Verte triste, niña,

Nunca verte triste

Amor de mi vida.

 

__________

 

 The sound of the doorknob turning drew me back to the present. The doorstep’s memorable scar still burdened my heart with dread, only this time my grandmother’s voice was no longer by my side to ease the pain.

No puedo,” I mouthed apologetically.

 My mother shot me an urging look. 

“Please,” she pleaded.  

She was nearly as reluctant as I was to visit our childhood home, but my tia begged us to stop by to pick up whatever we wanted from my grandmother’s belongings. I simply nodded and followed. 

Even before crossing the bridge to Matamoros, my breaths grappled to find a quick escape from my chest. They only came faster as rose-scented candles and leftover coffee greeted us at the door. It all looked and smelled the same, even if she wasn’t the one living there anymore.

“Check her room first. Ahorita te alcanzo,” my mother insisted. She knew it was the place I least wanted to visit, but I didn’t want to argue. I focused on the pictures from family weddings, baptisms, and carnes asadas still lining most of the living room walls (except the wall filled with crosses of different shades and sizes).  

“As long as I don’t overthink it, I’ll be fine. ” I repeated to myself. My feet knew the way.

But the closer I got and the closer I scanned my grandmother’s green walls, the more I began to overthink it, and the more everything was far from fine. I stood before the entrance, and a cold shock paralyzed my neck. My throat grew knots. The last time I was there, I was nine, almost ten. And yet, all I remembered was that morning, the morning of July 9th. 

 

We were living with my grandmother. My mother worked in the States, just over the border. She wanted to save up some money for a house and start a new life there. But that meant we had to live with my grandmother until we had enough. So every morning, after my mom left for work, I would go to my grandmother’s room, and I’d sleep with her until 7:00 a.m. No more, no less (even in the summer). Sleeping past seven meant you were lazy (at least that’s what she said), so I usually obeyed. However, that morning I was tired, and I didn’t care if I was lazy just for a day, so I stayed in my own bed. 

At around 8 or 9, I left my room and went to hers, expecting to find her folding freshly dried laundry on her immaculately made bed. Instead, I found a hooded figure straddled over her body. His scythe was deep in her chest, and he searched for any sign of life to strip away. He took every morsel of her soul, took it with him, and left. 

I ran up to her bed and shook her, wishing she’d soon be awake. 

Despiértate, despiértate, despiertate ,” I cried. 

But I knew she wouldn’t wake up. Not for me or anyone. 

 

__________

 

I quickly dismissed the memory. I was to do what I was asked to do and leave. But I opened the second drawer on her nightstand, and it all became fussy and messy again. The stack of rosaries concealed a pink floral box. Inside was a leather-bound notebook, its pages kissed by time. As I lifted the cover, the writing on the first page caught my eye. 

Mi Linda Muñequita: 

              Anhelo de mi corazón, hoy que es tu cumpleaños, te dejo mis recetas con mucho cariño y amor. Cociname algo cuando aprendas a cocinar.

            Tu abuela,                                             

Josefina                                                 

My bottom lip crawled underneath the top. The anchor in my stomach no longer held me together; my insides began to flood. I could see all those nights I swore tears would never stream from my eyes, and the night’s anger wrapped itself around my ribs and polluted my lungs. They rose to the surface and leaked out of my body.  She would’ve been alive that year on my birthday to give me the recipe book, but she wasn’t, and it was all because of me. If I would’ve noticed something was wrong, if I would’ve gone to her room, I could’ve stopped everything. But instead, I slept through it all. 

I threw the book on the bed and dashed through the front door. My mother was standing outside, puffing the cigarette in her hands.

“Where are you going?” She shouted. 

Ahorita vengo,” I spat.

I headed left, speeding through la Abasolo and barely noticing the congested traffic or whether I was headed north or south— I was guided by instinct and my never-ending fight or flight. Only when I reached Calle Sexta, past the vendor shops and stores near the theatre, did I take a moment to catch my breath. There had never been a time in my early life where I didn’t remember walking down those very streets to visit the Cathedral for daily mass. It’s where my grandmother taught me how to pray, where she got to wind down; it’s where she said she found love through the eyes of God. It was more of a home to her than her own house ever was. I reached for my phone and  looked at the time. If I walked fast enough, I’d make it just a little overtime for the 12 o’clock mass. I opened my messages and texted my mom:

“Will be home after 12:00 p.m. mass. ”

I rushed by the other pedestrians, and I turned my phone off, walking toward the cathedral’s towering wooden doors. Even the ringing bells above could not silence the pounding of my heart. 

As I gingerly opened them, the choir was singing, and all stood for the initial procession. I scurried to find my grandmother’s pew, and I sat in her favorite spot. She hated being late, but I told myself it was okay. It was my first time in mass since I was a young child. 

I’d lost all ties with religion after her death. I never particularly hated God, but his presence brought the memory of her name. He tossed and turned it in my chest, and I could not for the life of me bring it to rest. My fingers followed the sign of the cross, and the lectors’ voice baptized me in a silence so profound that every thought I’d avoided lingered by my side. I recalled the way we would hold hands during mass and her furrowed brow as she listened and took note of every message of every passage being shared. I extended my hand, and I pictured her intertwining hers with mine. Earth was brought up to heaven, and her gentle touch radiated light. Her bounty of joy was poured into my heart. The choir began to sing, and I could still hear her saying singing was the strongest form of prayer. I wondered if her voice was now part of a symphony of angels.

In my mind, our greatest foe was the bad, but good has the most strings attached. Time makes us feel like we’ve been granted an endless loan and like we’re entitled to infinitely borrow from its bank. We spend and spend, relying on tomorrow or another day. But debtors collect interest that makes them pay a higher price. The doorstep paid its price once the years of visitors cracked its smooth surface. And I paid mine for my grandmother’s scar.

 

__________

 

The smell of mole drew me to the kitchen. My mother stood before the stove with my cookbook in her hands. She turned and we both locked eyes.

“ I saw this on your grandmother’s bed and I thought some mole would be nice. I—I hope you don’t mind,” she babbled. 

Mole was my grandmother’s favorite dish.

“No, it’s fine. Mole sounds nice.”

So as my mother continued to cook, she approached my grandmother’s old record player finding her way to a Leo Dan vinyl. Whenever she cooked, cleaned, or did anything around the house, my grandmother always played Leo Dan. He was her favorite.

“May I have this dance?” My mother asked mockingly. 

Her mother would often do that. She took my hand and placed her left one on my waist, swaying me side to side, and I was a five-year-old child again. I giggled and suddenly time and smiles had never left. She twirled me and drew my head against her shoulder. We both began to sing my grandmother’s song:

Pídeme la luna, y te la bajaré,

Pídeme una estrella, hasta allá me iré,

Más nunca me digas, “no te quiero más”

Porque esas palabras me hacen mucho mal.

Pídeme la vida y te demostraré

Cuanto yo te quise, y cuanto te amaré

Tú fuiste y has sido para mí el amor

Regalo más lindo que me ha dado Dios.

 

 

Renata Perez is a Mexican American multimedia creative with a passion for sparking conversations and empowering others to use their voice. As Digital Media Coordinator for Subscriptions for Authors by Ream, they have created content that helps authors connect with their audience and develop strategies for growing their platforms. Renata is also a student copywriter for the Boston University Marketing & Communications Department and has explored various formats of storytelling, such as advertising, rebranding, copywriting, photography, editorial writing, and short documentary-style projects—increasing audience engagement by up to twenty percent of audience engagement. In addition to her work in marketing, Renata is also an editorial intern and creative writer contributing to the Hey! Young Writer Organization. They are currently pursuing a B.A. in English literature with a minor in advertising at Boston University, and her ultimate goal is to capture stories that bring representation to those seeking to be heard.

 

Featured image by Anjali Mehta.

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