What do you see here? This was a remarkable happening, caught on camera at the end of a hike last summer. I still feel a Kaleidoscope of emotions when I look at this scene of beauty and sorrow. I feel conflicting things: a beautiful flower, a beautiful spider, duplicity, fear, death, dinner, survival.
I am not so simple as to think that any word I share here will change this world; result of limitless causes. Still, I imagine that a change of perspective results in a change of intention. My intention has no more power than of a puff of breath into the gale, yet it remains one of the causes. I long to read words that bring me greater clarity, greater depth, and hope. I long to share such words. That is all.
Here is a story that surprised me when it arrived. No magic really, other than that magic which causes us to change.
The Gaucho’s Grandson
Falling upon my eye, I took in each thing in turn, as if they were simply flashes on a movie screen, and had nothing to do with me; the grain of the table wood, a smooth hard river stone, the gleaming bronze foot of the Quan Yin statue on the counter. The mind is a funny thing. At times it lays the world before you like the cards in a deck, in other times it plays the game without consulting you at all.
I cannot say that I had been angry to start with, that was all behind me, years behind me. My cousin and I sat together in my Aunts house and listened to the respirator keep time. The table separated us, with its beautiful eye-catching oak grain, and that was good. I am sure it was that, that held me safely in my chair so long, as the deadly stillness wandered through me.
My Aunt Rosa had asked to be moved to the guest room so she could watch the garden. By that, she meant watch the birds flit, branches sway, and the sun move slowly over her plants. She and I had sat together in that summer garden over the last three months as illness slowly took her strength. We had laughed and sipped tea and told stories that each of us had heard before, and a few that neither of us had ever shared. Now the garden was reaching its end; grasses turning from green to tan, roses dropping their petals a few at a time with no one to deadhead them.
Sitting there in the hot shade, she had told me of how my uncle had brought her home a puppy from his travels. I knew that story; I had known that puppy as a grown dog, when I was small. Then she told me how my uncle had left her for another woman, a neighbor, a friend even. That part of the story was new. He took only his clothes and his truck and left her with a child of two years and a nearly empty bank account. When he came back, six months later, he had the puppy. Her neighbor she never saw. Aunt Rosa loved that dog. I was surprised that she told me, but I guessed that the process of dying makes some secrets not such a big deal any more.
I never really knew Uncle Jim. He died in a construction accident when I was twelve and my cousin Tomas was eight. We lived in another state: my parents and my two older sisters. Sometimes Aunt Rosa and Tomas would drive out all the way to meet us for camping in the summer, just a week or two, but Uncle Jim always stayed at home to work. I don’t remember much about Tomas then. He was a little boy and sort of shy. Sitting across from him, I thought maybe he had been sort of sneaky, but it is hard to know the truth.
When I was in High School, I spent a summer with them. Aunt Rosa owned a café by then, and she let me wait on customers from behind the soda fountain the year I turned 16. She thought I was too young to wait table. Somehow the counter was meant to keep me safe from rough men? I didn’t know. I was saving for a car and was thrilled to be away from home, nearly on my own, for the first time. I felt so grown up.
One day I saw Tomas come in, tall and thin for his age, just 12, he slid behind the counter and opened the till. He didn’t look up at me as he took out the stack of 5’s. I don’t know why, but I didn’t say anything either. Aunt Rosa saw him as she came out from the kitchen and made him put it back. She scolded him very quietly and he hung his head. Then, she took some money back out of the till and gave it to him, just gave it to him. I can see the whole thing now; the sun coming through gingham curtains, a few people who were having late lunch sitting in the booths, a dead fly on the window sill that I would have to take care of after closing. Aunt Rosa wore a flower dress and white apron; a dark curl of hair was falling loose from its pin as she bent to talk to Tomas. Strange, how images can seem so bright at times.
It wasn’t just that, though, which made me think he was sort of spoiled. She never made him do even little things, like clear the table or take out the trash; things I had done all my life. It was like she was afraid he would not feel her love if she ever asked him for anything. She was a lot stricter with me. She taught me how to work with the same hard driven work ethic that had made her a success at everything she did. I took those skills to college too. It made a difference, I feel sure of it. I don’t know why she didn’t give those things to Tomas. Did she think he would leave her, if she asked too much? I haven’t got a clue, but I remember being kind of pissed at him. I thought “What a dork, he doesn’t even know what he’s got!” We’re both in our 40’s now. I stopped thinking about him a long time ago.
Tomas arrived last night in his big rig. He drives cross-country out of the San Francisco Bay Area, but seldom stops here. Aunt Rosa had not seen him in two years. She told him she was sick, but asked for nothing. He gave her just that. I called him last week after the hospice nurse told me it was time to let people know. Tomas seemed edgy. Aunt Rosa smiled like sunshine had lit her from within, when she saw him. Tomas, whose friends had slipped a weeks tips out of my purse while he stood in the kitchen and smiled and told me about how they had been swimming in the river all day. Tomas, who got picked up with his buddies for underage drinking and lighting an old barn on fire that same night.
Now we sat across the table from one another, Tomas and I in the late afternoon sun. I watched him with an eerie detachment and now and then I would picture him going through her dresser again and a dark fog would pass through me, blown by a rush of hot red rage. I had never felt anger like that before. It almost felt beautiful. Such a strange thought, but true. The rush would lift me and I would no longer feel the heavy sorrow that had become the flavor of everyday, waiting for the end, for Aunt Rosa’s end. I felt strange and powerful and unable to think. Another gust and I slipped out the screen door to the pile of black river rocks; ornamental rocks that made a false streambed in the garden. One of them was in my hand though I never felt myself bend or grasp it. I looked back at Tomas but could only see black. Then it passed and I went back in, feeling a little sick. I took the stone with me though. I set it on the table and Tomas looked at it unwavering and grim.
I don’t know if Tomas could feel my anger. He never let on. I am not sure what he thought at all. Even now I find it hard to believe he was Aunt Rosa’s child. Aunt Rosa who befriended a Buddhist monk on her trip home to Guatemala ten years ago. That was a funny story. He told her that Buddhist monks had come to Guatemala long before Europeans arrived; that there were written records of it in Tibet. She was so impressed with him; I didn’t want to tell her that he was crazy. They really liked each other and I thought more of him later, when she showed me the letters he had written. Letters so respectful and philosophical, I wondered what they had said to each other on that journey. I think he understood who she was. One day a package came from Tibet with that beautiful bronze statue of Quan Yin that sits on the counter; the goddess of compassion. Yes, he actually did get who she was.
I surprised Tomas while he was going through Aunt Rosa’s dresser after dinner. I was quiet, so quiet these last few weeks, that it had become a habit. I didn’t set out to catch anyone. I was just standing in the hall in that blank silence that was becoming familiar to me. I noticed that he was in her room and woke up. When I went in, he was pulling out the cardboard box where Auntie stored Papa’s silver. Our grandfather would ride in local parades, proudly decked in silver spurs and belt buckle, silver trim on his saddle and harness. He was an old style gaucho with a big hat and skin burned hard by the sun. I slammed the drawer back with such fury. It was a wonder I hadn’t caught his fingers in it too. Tomas looked at me hard and then just walked away. We were rock and ice. I saw no reason to put up with him, none at all.
In the morning I could tell that Rosa was weaker. My sweet aunt, so full of love, was fading away from me. Tomas didn’t speak to me. He sat on the porch where she could not see him from her window. He sat with his feet up and an open beer balanced on the rail. He didn’t touch it, only the flies did. When she asked for him, I went and told him. He came in and sat with her for about an hour, then he came out and sat across the table from me in silence.
I didn’t pick up the rock again. The light reflecting from Quan Yin’s bronze foot was glaring in the corner of my eye. I turned to her and saw the glints from surfaces touched by so many hands and so many years. She had been in some temple long before my aunt met her; given flowers and incense and reverently touched and polished by hands that begged for her help, for her mercy. I had thought about the places she was touched, those that shown the brightest; her foot reaching out to come to those in need and the vessel at her side which contains the elixir of life. Aunt Rosa told me all about her. Aunt Rosa!
Something changed then. I can hardly describe it. One moment black outrage owned me and then in the next, absolutely nothing was important anymore; nothing but the fact I had loved that dear woman, the fact I had known her at all. I went and got Papa’s silver and put it on the table between us.
“Why do you want it?” I asked.
“It’s mine!” his face contorted with the words.
“It belongs to Rosa.” I answered softly.
“Papa…Papa always wanted me to ride with him, but I thought it was stupid. I was an idiot.” His eyes looked bright and he looked away from me. I can’t explain it; my heart swelled. My heart broke, it broke right open. The tears that refused to fall all these weeks, fell like rain. I didn’t even know it had happened. They were just suddenly on the table before me, sitting in little splashes on the oak grain. I drew my sleeve across my eyes and looked at the wetness.
“It’s already yours. She left it all to you, and the house.”
He looked up at me, surprised. “She should have left the house to you.”
I lifted a shoulder; “I don’t want it, if she isn’t here it’s empty.”
He looked at me then, probably for the first time ever. “You’re right there.”
We sat in silence for a little while longer, and then I said, “Let’s go back in.”
Tomas continued to look at me for a moment, and then he barely nodded, straightened his shoulders and stood, waiting to follow me home.