I find myself cursing my grandmother for the body that she gave me, the
one that I didn’t even know I had. When she was pregnant with my mother
in 1959, a brown recluse spider bit her, and my grandfather paid for her
to go to the hospital in San Joaquin. He didn’t have enough money to
treat his own spider bite. Instead, he waited for her in stark lights,
the dusk mood too much for him, now and always. There is still Yolanda.
In 1958, my mother had an older sister named Yolanda, who was delivered
stillborn. My grandmother had to wait a week for the doctor to return to
town to make the delivery. I wonder what Yolanda’s body would have been
built like. Her death threw off the birth order of my grandmother’s
daughters. Yolanda is the firstborn daughter, not my mother, and she is
a reminder of all the ailments that our bodies have, us three women, who
were left alive to break away. I am afraid of Yolanda’s body. I see her
body in mine. Child-like. Dying. I see our bones chipped into bird
figures, displayed on machines, but then I remember that those machines
didn’t exist for her. There are still us. Lungs murmured and bruised, my
body rages outside of hospital gowns. Yolanda’s dress is a sack with a
string that pulls closed at the bottom. Yolanda is brown and large eyed,
curly hair close to her head, blue-faced brown, like me, Yolanda.
My grandmother hosted her mother-in-law’s 90th birthday party in 1990.
She stayed up for weeks preparing the house, cleaning the closets and
linen for overnight guests coming in from LA, dusting the hinges of her
cowboy style accordion doors. The day of the party was a scattering of
our family across the lawn, my distant cousins spitting beer at trees
and rocks, mothers fishing their almost drowned children out of wading
pools. My grandmother had a stroke that evening. I always wonder if she
thought of her daughter, Yolanda, just before she began to repeat words
over and over again in her kitchen. My grandmother had a little wrought
iron gate in her back yard that creaked every time someone passed
through it. I felt pain once when my mother walked through that gate in
the afternoon sunlight, wearing a red dress with silver buttons. My
dress hit my knees, and hers fell to hers. I could see our reflections
joining together in the deliberations of glass. These were our bodies,
turning over ourselves, cherry flat cola in my mouth, my mother growing
her body inside me.
When my grandmother died, I watched my oldest girl cousin hold her hands
and push her hair from her face. I couldn’t touch my sick grandmother,
so I stayed in the waiting room, falling in and out of sleep on chairs,
hearing my boy cousins rummage a tiny refrigerator filled up with
gelatin cups and water bottles. My grandmother pale and gray hued. My
mother tapping her sandaled feet in the hallway.
My grandmother had a brick house with stained glass windows and a saloon
with Toulouse-Lautrec wallpaper. On New Year’s Eve, 1987, I played on
the bar stools with my cousins when I was four years old and fell back
and broke my arm. I spent the holiday at Valley Children’s Hospital,
making patterns on the imaginary pins I felt inside me. I sewed a dress
that night, and I have been wearing it ever since then.
My mother started teaching kindergarten when she was twenty-two years
old, a year before I was born. She always had health insurance, and
she’d give up any part of her body that ailed her. When her periods
started coming every 20 days, she said, here’s my uterus, take it. My
mother has always liked the taste of hospital food.
My mother lost a baby in the spring of 1992, and she arranged for her
friend to babysit me, a white woman who ran a daycare from her house.
The woman’s teenage daughter took me to the back yard, where there was a
tiny tin dollhouse with a low roof. She made me a tea party, and we
drank punch from cheap plastic cups, a lace apron at her hips.
My own hips were so small boys made fun of me at school. They are thick
now, but they still feel cursed by those boys. My mother and my
grandmother had their hysterectomies when they were my age now. Losing
blood made us swoon and dance. I had never lost a baby like my mother
and grandmother because I never got pregnant after my first child, and I
had a tubal ligation when I was twenty-nine. My mother cried the day I
had it done, and I could not pretend to understand why. I was out in an
hour, and my mother took me to eat lunch at a cantina afterward. I felt
whole inside and watched the lights gleam off a chandelier made of
tequila bottles and thought of Yolanda dancing and swooning inside them.
On Saturdays, my son and I watch recorded episodes of The Bold and the
Beautiful while eating lunch in the living room. I know his body will
never be the thing that mine has become. There is a cold pomade in his
hair, and I resent him for not having the things that I have, and I love
my son for not having this body. When he has petered away, I lay on my
couch as flat as I can, nerve pain at my wrists like bracelets, counting
all the children I will never have, but there is always Yolanda.
Some people say I look like the women in my dad’s family, and I see it
too. I look like my father’s mother. The outside of me is not the
indicator of my ailments. In my pain, I belong to my mother, and I am
Yolanda’s. My father knows this, and he tells me to get cream from a
botánica in downtown Fresno. I buy dollar teas in shiny clear packets
hanging on the wall like jewels. I buy a rainbow-colored Santa Muerte
Statue small enough to fit in the palm of my hand, and my son buys hex
candles that he promises he won’t use on anyone. He just likes the
colors. I want my own son to hex my own body and make the bones into
pearls, new nerve stems growing back to me.
I look like my father’s grandmother, too. She lived to be one hundred
At the doctor’s office, everyone is dressed up for Halloween morning. A
brown boy nurse in a Batman costume happily takes my vitals. I tell the
doctor that I have been eating ice cubes, and I pay an extra $9 to have
my blood taken, so she can check my iron levels. While I wait, I kick my
feet against the crisp white paper wrapped around the examination table.
Batman returns nervously and says that he’s going to retake it, and if
it is much too low, I will have to go to the emergency room, and I laugh
and ask him if he’s serious.
My mother wants me to go to the same doctor who cut her open and took
her uterus out. She tells me that she was a nerdy white girl with
bleached blonde hair. She looks up the woman and shows me what she looks
like now. I have to wait until winter to cut out that inside of me. The
winter in my town is a dry, cold, and foggy one. I count the children I
have never had and wait for winter to come.
I am always in my body’s pain. There are X-rays with lung clouds and
cotton ball alcohol drops. I rise every morning at five o’clock and hear
the shower run. My nerves turned out. I lash out at the ones I love the
most. The neighbors can listen to me at night. In the afternoon, my head
aches by the time I walk to the corner, passing my favorite armadillo
house, making my way to whiskey around the corner.
Every time I hear Yolanda’s name, I think of the color yellow, pale like
a new bruise, yellow like a scared cowboy in a movie. I can feel her
mouth open and close when I spit in my bathroom sink. There is dust in
her matchbox lungs and her fingers flailing like the Pentecostal paper
from my Sunday school days. Yolanda is buried over in San Joaquin, away
from her mother, away from me, away from her sister. My grandmother is
buried in Belmont Avenue’s cemetery in Fresno, her headstone five feet
tall, nearly the same height as my mother. My mother’s name is already
etched on the stone to save money. All the plots have been claimed
there, so I will need to find my own.