When I was young, just 25 or 26, a flimsy bit of a thing, fresh and new, her desk was next to mine. I could whisper over the insubstantial divider to her when I needed her and she was there. Her gray curly hair pulled up in concentration, she would look at me over the glasses perched just so on her nose, the glasses that hung round her neck and pressed against my heart when she hugged me, and she would laugh or sigh or just listen.
Her voice is like a warm soup to me, a hot steaming mug of tea with honey, exactly what is needed to soothe my broken optimism, my raw and new frustrations. She judges nothing, has heard it all and always always answers my frailty and mistakes with love. We walk our lunch hour away, circling the streets of power, lost in conversation that tumbles like a fast moving river over stones, in her fluent English, in her native Spanish, back and forth, like birdsong. I tell her things I uncover from my heart and she looks at me in amazement…”Que chevre” she says, slow and drawn out and deep inside for the first time I know I am. When we are together I know that I am precious, beloved. I call her my second mama. I drink wine at her home and cook with her, sing revolutionary songs and build circles of sisters.
I buy a house down the street and around the corner from hers. But before we have a chance to be neighbors she rents that house. Heads out on an amazing adventure in organizing that takes her and her husband all over the Western hemisphere. Organizing in South America, Central America, caring for her old ones, welcoming granddaughters. She sends a beautiful handwoven tablecloth for my wedding. She pops by one Christmas to hold my fat baby. But then in the crush of life, she fades away An occasional email, a phone conversation from far away, the everyday and in the moment takes hold of my attention. I let her go without even realizing it. I lose her.
I walk by her house on the way into town and I wonder where she is. “Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego” I sing under my breath as I smile in the direction of the threshold that once promised comfort and silliness. I smile as I think of her, her missions, her work, her goodness touching the far corners of the globe. I think of all the young women who will stitch themselves back together in the circle of her arms. I think they are lucky.
And then, suddenly, she is there. In her yard. After more than 10 years and three continents, moving boxes back home. And suddenly she is there walking through the door to come to dinner, kissing the fat babies who have grown into lean kids. Suddenly she is there, her warm smile as radiant as the Puerto Rican sun that birthed her. “OK girls…tell me…” she says and I wonder how we cover 10 years over dinner. But when you speak the language of a heart, just a few words are all that is necessary, stories can be told with knowing looks and a sentence, data transmits almost instantaenously and we are, in a heartbeat, caught up and giggle as though that long pause had never transpired, as though she had held my hand (and I hers) through the journeys of the last 12 years.
Her hands are like butterflies that flit about as we laugh and tell stories, thrilling me when the land for a moment on my hand, my shoulder, my face. She has come home. And so have I.