I heard that some of my friends have been struggling with the last piece I posted here. That makes sense. People were not really sure “what to do” with what I shared. I know that my families of origen and choice want to offer me their consolation and support. And I said I didn’t want to talk about it. That I didn’t want to be hugged. And I didn’t. I was fucking pissed when I wrote all that. I’m still angry. AND, that was a moment. It has come and it has passed. I am somewhere different now. Where that is, I’m not really sure. But I’m ready to talk about it… a little.
I have a somewhat strange practice that I do at the beginning of each year. A while back, a friend of mine told me about las Cabañuelas: in some Oaxacan communities people believe that one can learn something about the upcoming year by paying a bit more attention to what happens in the first twelve days of January. Each day corresponds to an upcoming month. I like the idea of seeding intentions or understanding better what one could expect of the year, simply by being more aware during its first days. And so, since 2015 I have been writing monthly intentions for the year between the first and twelfth of January.
But since Rafa’s death, time is different – I no longer live it as a mere instrument to mark the passing of specific events. Though I’d like to still believe that time is divisible, limited, linear… I no longer believe it’s that simple. I now experience linear time as a trick. When I turned to the month of December in my calendar this year, I read the intention there, shook my head and laughed cynically. It said: “Enjoy the moments of feeling good and wellbeing. It is a time to celebrate a wonderful, magical year.”
Below that, in pencil, I wrote myself a note in response: “Fuck you, former self.”
I saw Coco. I went to see it the day after Christmas with Yeyo and the rest of my family. I was two months pregnant. I actually really liked it. I cried at the end, thinking about how we would soon be a bigger family with a new baby. I also heard a lot of grumbling in Oaxaca this year about the commercialization and Disney-ification of el Día de los Muertos as a result of this and other films. As November approached, there was a tangible shift in the energy of the city. Every hotel was fully booked and flights were impossible to find. The place was going to be a full capacity and that made me nervous.
Don’t get me wrong: I love everything about this holiday. I love the colors: purples, oranges, yellows, fuchsias, black. I love the costumes and parades and the building of altars. I love the solemnity and the celebration all tied up in one paradoxical package. It’s the pretty much the only holiday I celebrate all year. But with all the hype in the U.S.A. about Day of the Dead in recent years, Oaxaca has become somewhat of a mecca for foreigners during these days. And this time around, well, I have a very different relationship with death than I did before.
Since I wrote that first post about Ruby, I’ve been thinking about how to continue. I contemplated sharing the riveting story of “How I Found Out I was Pregnant.” I’ll get to that, eventually. But I realized that the chronological, ‘just the facts, ma’am’ version of Rafael’s story would not only be boring it would also be extraordinarily safe. Because sharing the blow-by-blow of events is not hard for me. Feeling my feelings and exposing my open, broken heart, on the other hand, is terrifying, uncharted territory.
The day after I gave birth to Rafa’s little body, we went out to lunch for my mom’s birthday (I insisted we do it). We ran into some friends who had heard what happened. They said only one word: fuerza. Strength, as in: have strength. But it is not strength that I need. Strength I got. Strength got me through pregnancy without a hitch, working and travelling until the end of my seventh month. Strength is what helped me survive labor and delivery of a stillborn baby. What I need most now is softness, surrender, vulnerability. This is what Rafael’s conception, growth and death is inviting from me. Vulnerability comes from the Latin vulnus, meaning “wound.” Or as one poet* put it: “the place where you’re open to the world whether you want to be or not.”
Before we get to Rafa and his story, I need to tell you about Ruby Beltrán Dunford. Unlike our son, Ruby did not come to exist on this material plane, she was not conceived or nurtured or born. Ruby was the baby girl that Yeyo and I dreamt of for some nine years before the nurse practitioners and OBGYNs and clinicians told me that I could never have children. She was the baby that never was.
In the early fall of 2007 I decided that I was ready to have a baby (to raise on my own). I thought Yeyo would make a great dad (you know: smart genes, good looks, sensitive soul and loads of generosity and kindness). But he wasn’t the sperm doner-ing type, I guess. He said, “I’ll have a kid with you, but only if you’re my partner and we try to build a life together.” And I said… “Well, why not?” We decided I would move to Mexico the following year and I headed out from Boston on a freezing cold morning in January with three suitcases and never returned to live in the gabacho.*