By Camila Lopez-Passapera
My grandmother is dying, and we all dance around it. She lies parallel to the bed. Her eyelids weigh down her stone expression, pupils focused on a single spot on the wall to keep her from getting any dizzier. My grandfather’s been telling stories about their journey from Cuba, but all we get are one-word replies like ajá, or si, and if we’re lucky, an asi fue. After seconds of silence, my uncle speaks, avoiding her sight as if she wasn’t getting the life drained out of her by the second.
“Ven las noticias? This whole virus, it’s ridiculous” he laughs. No one replies.
I expect him to keep going about how the pandemic is a fairy tale, the kind he’ll tell to his kids to keep them from going out when they want to. A fairy tale, like racism. Like whatever it is that would keep me from telling anyone if I fell in love with a girl. For a moment, I wonder if Cinderella ever got told she was only a story, when she dared demand to be treated fairly.
I hear his voice for a second time.
“And now with the protests. Dios mio. Isn’t this just like Puerto Rico?”
The voice of privilege.
My brother bites his cheek as he leans against the window. His fiancée pinches his arm slightly, because we promised not to argue about politics today. No matter how personal, how infuriating. Something about keeping the peace. I think about George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Tamir Rice. Philando Castile. Their families. Friends. Communities. They don’t have the luxury of avoiding the subject.
My mother sits on the edge of the bed and holds her mother’s hand, gripping it tightly, as if it could dematerialize at any moment. The truth is, none of us know what death looks like except for her. The 30-year old who found her Mima’s corpse in her old house, who called and cried next to a cold, hard body until someone came to tell her she’d been gone for at least a day. For a long time, I think she’s been convinced that it’s impossible to get anything other than a fatal ending—early, or on time, or fifteen minutes later, somehow always ends up being too late. I watch her eyes widening every time my grandmother exhales. I can tell she feels a panic attack coming on. I can tell, because we are the same. I inherited everything from my mother— her nose, her hair, even the birthmark on the back of my leg.
In times like these, when I hold my tongue, I’m afraid of the possibility that I’ve inherited her silence.
Camila Lopez-Passapera is an aspiring writer who was born and raised in Puerto Rico and is a student of Psychology in Bel Air, Maryland. She writes poetry and fiction, and has been published in Terror House Magazine, The Drabble, Down in the Dirt Magazine, and Ethel Zine. Her Instagram is @camila.avi.