What’s the most surreal experience you’ve ever had?
It happened on Easter Sunday.
I had a dream.
I knew it was a dream, because Lola, as I called my grandmother, looked decades younger than I remembered her. She looked so vibrant and alive – which she was at the time – but not just alive, like old folks-alive, but really alive – young-alive.
I’d last seen her almost five years earlier, and our exchanges those last few times weren’t exactly happy. I’d recently had a baby out of wedlock, que horor to an old-world patrician matriarch like her whose reputation was the most important thing to her.
After all, her father was a great patriarch who helped shape the city we lived in and even had roads and streets named after himself and every member of his family. We lived on a street named for my grandmother, for crying out loud. Her husband, my grandfather, had been a councilman, a mayor and a judge. Major cred for someone who lived with a massive sense of honor.
But then to have a granddaughter who bore a child out of wedlock with the son of a comadre of such high standing – and worse, to have the child denied publicly as his – was just too much for Lola to bear.
One of our last exchanges had to do with the mixed-family new year’s eve party I had been invited to, and along with my little munchkin one-month old baby, we were waiting for the cousins to come by and drive us there. It would be the first time I’d present my little son to everyone. It was the grand introduction, something I had waited for since my little baby was born in another city because I had to be hidden away.
I remember how excited I was to finally present him to everyone, to ensure he wasn’t going to be hidden away, like some discarded toy.
Suddenly Lola came into the house and ordered me to stay home. “You’re not going to the party. I’m not going to let you. You’re an embarrassment to me and my reputation.” Not exactly those words, but you get the gist. It went more like “I’m ashamed of you.”
And good grand daughter that I was, I stayed home as my baby slumbered and the fireworks exploded all around the house while everyone I knew – family and relatives – went to the party. Well, not all of them. My brothers stayed behind as a sign of solidarity though there was nothing they could say or do to dissuade my grandmother from her way of thinking. Bless her heart, even my mother returned home early after finding out that I’d been ordered not to show up.
But the damage had been done. I learned then about shame. Now shame isn’t anything new – we all know it at one time or another. But this one was different. It was powerful. it had become real.
A month later, I was on a plane alone, headed to the United States where the family hoped I’d live long and prosper – or rather, meet some man and marry him, then come back, get your son because you’re damaged goods to every man in this city anyway, so might as well find someone who has no clue about how damaged you really are. I left a two-and-a-half month old baby boy who wouldn’t see me again till he would turn eighteen years old and by then, I was just a stranger to him, only a voice on the phone who sent him money.
But let’s get back to the dream, shall we?
So in this dream, Lola comes to me and she’s all radiant and happy and smiling. And I’m wondering, what the hell did I deserve to get this damn dream?
She was speaking but I wasn’t hearing her.
Instead, I felt her. And she was eerily happy. Which was really weird, if you knew my grandmother.
I don’t remember much of what we talked about in that circular gazebo of sorts where everything around us was just brilliant and sparkling and … floral white – like someone had put a filter on the camera and filmed it that way. I swear, butterflies were probably flitting about, and birds chirping for all I know, and angels singing in a chorus somewhere.
But I remember waking up and saying to myself out loud, “Lola is dead.”
And she was.
She’d died a few hours earlier.