I was only 12 years old, in fact I had just turned 12 a week before. I was in my bedroom hanging up posters I had received as gifts. I was really into unicorns, and although I can’t remember who bought me that poster, it was the most epic unicorn poster. I was also annoyed with my sister, because we all know how annoying little sisters are, especially if you have to share a room with them!!
In fact, that morning when you were sitting in the porch, and we were arguing over a necklace, you nodded your head to us and said, “Don’t fight with each other hitas, one day you won’t have each other.” I wonder if you knew. If you knew that was the last interaction we would have. You planned an evening at the lake, to go fishing. We wanted to join you- how we loved fishing with you in that majestic lake. You told us no. So in our disappointment we went our separate ways and then a few precious hours later, Grandma came home in a panic. She said you were in an ambulance on your way to the hospital.
Adults don’t like to tell children the truth- or at least the WHOLE truth. Adults think children will somehow get hurt if they are told the truth. They mean well, but children are not as dumb as they treat them. I understand that we want to keep our children safe, and how we desperately want them to stay innocent and pure. When our family got into the car and headed to the hospital I prayed. I can see, no smell the fear around us all. The adults didn’t want to tell us what was going on, only that you were in the hospital.
We beat the ambulance to the hospital. Your heart stopped while you were fishing, and the lake was 30 miles away- a solid 45 minute drive. So our dad took the car to find it and follow it to the hospital. We sat in the waiting area and tried to stay busy. There was an empty receptionist desk, and so my sister and I played pretend until our dad finally appeared. His countenance was grave and his eyes were sunken in. Grandma was sitting with her rosary praying. Mom was watching T.V. No news, only that they were working on him.
When the doctor finally came out, it seemed as if time itself had stopped. Somehow all those little annoyances that were so annoying became no longer such a big deal. Somehow everything I thought was so important, became less important. The only thing that mattered at that time was you. You had to be okay. You had to survive. You would somehow come through, the same way you did when you fought in World War II.
Instead, the doctor told us that you did not make it. The translator for Grandma told her that they did everything they could, and they just couldn’t get your heart to beat again. She dropped her head, clutched her rosary to her heart and cried. All I could do was hold my breath.
When I saw you laying on the hospital bed, it didn’t look like you. I told myself it wasn’t you. I told myself the doctors made a mistake. This was not my Pita. The very life that was inside you, now gone.
It was in the waiting room when dad gave us your coins in your pocket. The coins you collected while over seas. I took it, ran to the bathroom and cried in secret. I didn’t realize I had lost them until that morning. I had spent that night on your bed with my sister. I awoke with the sound of my Uncles and Aunts who arrived from out of town. It felt like a dream, no a nightmare of some sort.
I kept expecting you to walk into the kitchen and make yourself a cup of coffee and listen to the Spanish Radio. I kept expecting to see you sitting in the porch carving out furniture for your grandkids. Instead strangers kept showing up with donuts… so many donuts! Giving us their condolences, and I kept thinking I was going to wake up any time now.
Your heart may have stopped beating this day, 29 years ago, but your heart beats in me, and my sisters and all of the children who called you Pita!
Thank you for teaching our family how to fish, how to love, and most importantly, “don’t fight with each other children, one day you won’t have each other.”