CN: domestic violence, child abuse, death
I’ve been thinking a lot about one of my aunts. I’ll refer to her as Tia through this post. She was one of my grandma’s older sisters. We used to visit her once in a while when I was little. I remember she was always very soft spoken. She was also very short, about 4′ 9″, so I didn’t find her intimating like I did other adults. Although, my grandma was just a few inches taller, she scared me because she was tough and she was the disciplinarian in our house.
There was always a sadness about my Tia that I now recognize as my own.
Anyway, we’d go see her and her husband; my “uncle”. We’ll call him Pablo. He was this big guy, and the inside joke between Mami, grandma and I was that he was ugly and apparently my grandfather did not like him. That was the sense I got from the other adults. They didn’t like Pablo. I didn’t like him. Where as Tia was shy and timid, Pablo was loud and brash. Tia was a tiny wisp of a person and Pablo was big; about 6 feet and 200 pounds. About the only thing bigger was his mouth. I don’t remember exact conversations with him but he was that one uncle everyone has that no one likes to see.
I always regarded Tia as a nice woman. I had a lot of tias growing up, and while I didn’t see her much I did enjoy it when I did. She was nice to me. She always gave me juice and she seemed interested in what I told her. I didn’t get that from other adults.
Once I became taller than her, around my 8th birthday, everybody would joke about how much bigger I was than Tia. I was a bit self-conscious about my height. Mami, grandma and all of the other women in my family were short. Along I come and I’m this palm tree. Tia never made me feel bad it, unlike my grandmother’s other sister.
Once I left Puerto Rico when I was 14, I didn’t see Tia again for another two years. When we went back for my grandpa’s funeral, I saw Tia and went to say hello. By this time I was a whole foot taller than her. Pablo had died about a month before. I gave her my condolences and she said “ay, nena. Está bien.” She seemed relieved and I didn’t understand it. I asked my mom and she explained that Pablo was “malo“.
I knew she meant that Pablo had been abusive. At that time I didn’t understand domestic violence. I knew she had dealt with it because that what was she was supposed to do.
I didn’t see Tia again until I returned to Puerto Rico with my baby daughter TJ, three years later.
By this time, my Tia was living with my grandma. Tia was bed-ridden and her memory was going. But she remembered me. “Ah, yes. You’re my sister’s granddaughter. La nena grande”, (the big girl).
She would try to play with TJ. She was still her usual quiet self. She had two children. Of course, her son rarely visited her. Her daughter would come over every day but she’s a nurse. She couldn’t afford to put Tia in a home and my grandma would never allow that.
I would sit in the room with her watching television. I’d leave the room and leave the TV on. She’d call me to ask to turn it off. I’d tell her I had left it on so she’d have some form of companionship. She would insist. So, I would turn it off. The whole day would pass and Tia was content spending it in silence. I asked grandma about it. She finally told me everything.
Pablo was abusive to Tia and the children. Pablo hated noise and demanded the children be silent. He didn’t let Tia watch television. She’d only listen to the radio, set to the station playing “Canciones del Ayer”. These were old Spanish language ballads.
By now, I had been through my own abusive relationship. I finally understood my Tia. Then I realized that the sadness I sensed in her, was familiar to me because I felt it. I remember my Tia’s sad eyes and recognize them as my own. I felt closer to Tia after that.
Our vacation was over and we said our good-byes. She wasn’t sure what was going on, but she wished me a safe trip. “Dios te cuide, nena”
Tia died a few weeks after.
I remember my Tia and wonder what kind of woman she could have been had she never met Pablo. I remember the soft-spoken woman who didn’t say much but when she did she never had an ill word to say to anyone. I remember the woman who would call me “nena” and always had something kind to say to me. I remember her and I wished I had known her better. I realize now that she was strong. She endured and survived Pablo. She protected her children.
I remember you, Tia. I wish the world had been kinder to you. I hope I leave this world a kinder place for people like us. I wish I had known you better, but I’m glad I met you.