January 4, 2008
A Memory of a Person
Sometimes Martha walks around chewing Juicyfruit gum and humming to herself as she folds laundry. I always wondered what she was thinking and whether she was thinking in Spanish or not. During my earlier years in which I spent many hours a day with her, I asked her few questions about herself.
I knew that she was from Honduras. And her ex-husband was Colombian. But her little girl, Valeria, is American. Valeria does not like to speak Spanish because all of her friends speak English.
Martha has known me longer than I’ve known her. I say that because I can’t remember meeting her but she remembers meeting me. I was a tiny eight-pound lump of flesh with spiky black hair. That soft black fur fell out eventually and grew in lighter and curlier a few months later. Martha knew what I liked to eat once I could chew. I liked everything except for mayonnaise and canned fish.
She can replicate my Mom’s hamburgers with parsley and onions embedded in the ground beef, and cooked in a pan with water and soy sauce. She knows that I went through a phase of accumulating tacky zebra-print throw pillows for my bed. And when I became a teenager, her birthday presents for me were always better than most because she knew exactly what I wore, and bought me similar versions of my most-used articles of clothing.
Martha has soft creamy skin with a few pockmarks. From the cheekenpocks when I was young. She smells like a perfume that she has used for over a decade, and when I walk in the house I know she is home if I can smell it. After she has cleaned my room, I know that when I turn on the radio, the station will be set to Salsa FM.
And then I learned Spanish. But I waited six years to use my Spanish with her.
On that day, we stood in my tiny kitchen. She rinsed some plates and I foraged through the refrigerator with culinary nostalgia after a year of food abroad. I carefully dismounted a container of leftover okra stew from the perfectly packed refrigerator, as sensitive to catastrophe as a game of Jenga. I heated it up, put it on a ceramic white plate, and consumed the aromatic dish with our satisfyingly dense forks.
It was then that I finally learned who had cared for me for almost nineteen years.