In the home where I lived for a year, we lay the electric lines against the concrete walls in government housing ourselves. I joke about it now with Nancita when I can reach her in the long distance letters that take weeks to reach the Amazon, as though we live in different centuries. And I can’t talk to this woman who is my adopted sister, mother, and best friend, because in her century it’s hotter and the rain is pouring through the sunshine, the distance too soggy and long to bridge with words. It’s a far-reaching joke today, but when we were trying to figure out how to get the wires to stay, the question of tape was a very immediate problem.
Excuse me very much, but who forgets to use electrical tape when they are dealing with literal wires? The crackle every night would wake me, and we had to get them checked twice to be sure the job was done right, albeit with Scotch Tape in some of the wrong places.
You don’t have to be an engineer to imagine what was going wrong when I was taping wires to the concrete walls and navigating the corrugated iron ceiling with my bare hands while Nancita held the wooden door open and picked at the lock she had installed when I moved in (moved in and away from an arbitrarily assigned host family and into her house like the wrecking ball that I am, with what little I had to offer from my fellowship stipend, and a reliance on the trust we had built in the short span of a month). She taught me a thing or two about the right way to use soap when you wash clothes in the river, how to shake cockroaches out of my scrubs and throw them back on, how to make tea from roots you pull right out of the ground, and how to avoid the ones that will kill you slowly if you try to eat them. But she also relied on me, in a partnership that is evolved motherhood, sisterhood, and daughterhood, to make light happen with electricity against the walls and to make water run through the lines we laid down in the backyard after digging it up for what felt like endless weeks of overturning fresh dirt.
She didn’t say, “I love you,” but she did say, “Live with me.” She didn’t say, “I’ll care for you,” but she did march silently into my room and aggressively nail a sliding lock into the rickety wooden doorframe with a determination that made it impossible to say how easy it would be to just break the door. She didn’t say, “I want you to thrive here,” but she laid the last bit of yucca on the table when there was nothing in the house to eat and nowhere for any of us to go but home, and she never said, “There is no dinner.” She didn’t say, “Who you are matters to me, and wherever you’re coming from, it doesn’t define your future.” But she did say, “Come into the bed with me.” She didn’t say, “I will feel with you,” but she did cry and cry for the things I couldn’t cry for. She didn’t promise to heal me, but she did hold me until I could cry again.
And I didn’t say what I meant, either. The complex world is not so simply articulable. I didn’t say thank you every day that I should have, but the wires still lay against the wall in the palpable darkness, against the emptiness in the room that was mine, and the crackle and spark is the smallest flickering inch of an expansive fathom of gratitude, the smallest inch I hope she still sees, across the centuries of space between us.
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