Not Just a Promise But an Oath

I was about 17 years old when my mom tried to kill herself. She took poison for rats, arsenic. I don’t remember when she started drinking to please my father– the monster she had married. My three brothers, my sister and I were young, I do know that. 

My father owned a mechanic business, and he usually invited workers and friends to come home to drink with him. His guests would then leave and he would fall asleep, sitting on a chair, laying on the floor, or whatever the alcohol made him do before he began losing consciousness. My mom would carry him to bed, and when we children became older and stronger we would help put him to bed also.  Sometimes he would end up passed out on the steps at the front door of our house and I would bring him inside because I was embarrassed of people seeing him that way. I was older by then and a teacher. It was awful when some of my students walked by and saw him passed out drunk.

My mom was  opposite from my father. She had so much rage boiling inside of her, and alcohol would bring out the repressed pain she held inside. Years of sexual, emotional, and psychological abuse, gaslighting! Drinking brought out the worst inside of her. She went through all kinds of abuses, living inside her own “little hell concentration camp” with her husband, and us too. She didn’t drink just to please her husband, but because she knew that no matter how much she worked, there would not be a cent of money to feed her five children. She was always working to make money, but my father made her believe she was a nobody, and she wouldn’t ever be able to live without him. 

I have learned much of this since I came to Chicago and started years of therapy.

The truth is, my mom was the main provider in the house. She worked washing the neighbors’ clothes and sewing them.  She would make crafts to sell, and she would fix everything around our house. When I say everything, I do mean everything: the plumbing, painting. She patched walls and fixed electrical wiring. That’s how my sister and I learned to be, what in this country is called, “handy.”  

I remember the night mom took the arsenic. When they found her, my father and brother were running here and there “like chickens who had laid an egg” trying to decide whether to take her to the hospital or not. My father was the type who would never take you to the hospital unless you showed signs that you were dying. Well, here was my mother, dying.

My sister and I were standing close to her. At one point she grabbed me closely. I don’t know if my sister was listening, but my mom looked at me angrily and said: “Cuida a tu hermana, si no, de donde este, Martha Alicia, te juro que voy a volver y te voy a arrastrar de las patas.” I was surprised, numb, speechless and unable to breath. I held in my heart what my mom had not just promised me, but also swore she would do to me if I didn’t took care of my sister.

In that moment, it was as if only my mom and I were left in some dark scene. I can’t remember what she was laying on, exactly. It must have been the big sofa we had in the hall near the front door. She  had on a light colored t-shirt. I am trying to remember more but I can’t visualize it. I can only imagine I felt like my mom and I were lost in space, in another dimension, just the two of us in a horrible, dark, seemingly never ending moment. 

She would come and get me if I didn’t take care of my sister, she said. Seventeen years old and I was given that responsibility should my mom die that day. At that moment, she was thinking only of my sister. It was another reminder to me that my sister was and always would be her favorite. My mom survived. But years later, on March 24, 2016, she did die. 

After she recovered from her suicide attempt, she stayed with my father because the sick catholic priests around her kept telling her, “marriage is forever”, and she was a faithful believer to the core – “hasta el tuetano.” I wanted to help her, but I couldn’t because she had so many wrong beliefs enrooted in her soul. Me? I was and I still am, a rule breaker. I would have had to kidnap my mom in order for her to leave the world she was used to. 

When she passed away,  I remembered the words she told me, “take care of your sister or…”. I held them inside of me.

This year, as I have done in past years, I went to the Mexican Independence Celebration in Millennium Park. I was so emotional. Like many people who attended, in one or another way we have put ourselves in this exile in America that hurts profoundly. We screamed our lungs out “Viva México!”. Vivan los Heroes de la Independencia!” And maybe there was another “VIVA!” for ourselves. This Viva was for the people who keep fighting to have a better life.

The story of our lives in the U.S. has been one of work, work, work, and if you get sick, God forbid, keep working, and maybe you will forget about your pain.    

Viva México! had a different impact on my life when I shouted it this time though. The next morning after the celebration, I was still emotional. I had been sending money to Mexico – to my sister, from here in the United States.   ”What am I doing?”, I started to think. I cannot send her anymore money. I compared both of our financial situations and I must admit she was doing better than I was. My mom left an inheritance for her. Half of my parent’s business was hers. My sister had a husband, and my brothers and father to support her financially. She became the owner of the house I had bought in Mexico. Why in the world was I still carrying the weight of feeling responsible for her?

That morning I talked, yes, I did, with my dead mom. I told her  that I needed her to release me from the responsibilities she put on my when she nearly died from her arsenic suicide. I plead for her to release me from a chain that does not belong to me anymore. I told her, “Please, let me know that you are fine with my decision to not send money anymore.”  I cried again. 

I was not scared of her oath to come and pull me from my feet, but I had felt and still feeling guilty because I was not with mom when she was so sick.

The next morning when I woke up, I noticed something in my hands, some kind of rusty orange paint died to my skin. I couldn’t find anything that could have caused these spots to appear. Then I noticed my mom. Her smile was engraved on my left hand, near the thumb. She was smiling, the gift of her peace. 

I couldn’t make sense of it. I took a shower, left for work, and when I was on the train I looked at my hands again. Soap and water didn’t erase my mom’s image from my skin. I took a picture of my thumb, in fact, I took several pictures. I printed all of them and made a collage that I have framed on my bedroom wall as a reminder that my mom is okay with me, that she gets me now.

 My mom went to Heaven and she didn’t do what she swore she was going to do, and now I know, she won’t ever do it. She will never come back to pull me from my feet. She comes though to let me know that she loves me, and that the place where she lives now is a place of forgiveness, a place where the only thing she asks from us is to have joy, peace, love.  We are on a different level of our relationship. 

During the last years of her life, we were two women who did become spiritually closer. She talked about Heaven frequently and she knew that that was a conversation she could have with me. She often wanted to cry. It was something that made my family uncomfortable, when we cried together. She died from pancreatic cancer. We didn’t talk much about her disease, but we did talk a lot about God. We became spirits for each other. 

 I wish I had flown to be with her for the last years of her life.  I wish and regret so many things. Strangely, I have the sense that she has forgiven me for not doing so. My mom and I are closer friends now than ever while she is in Heaven. All is well.