I miss you.
I miss you so much sometimes it makes me cry. I knew you for only 11 years, and what I wouldn’t give for just one more day. Losing you was my introduction to loss, and I haven’t gotten over it; I don’t think I ever will.
I wish you could be here with me now, to see me as an adult, to give me the wistful advice you doled out for my childish problems that seem so simple, so solvable to me now. But even then, when my biggest problem was a splinter or a bully at school, you talked me through the solution.
I think about what you went through as a single Black mother raising children in the Bronx in the 60’s and 70’s, and raising grandchildren in the 80’s and 90’s. How strong you were, Adelaide. How noble, how giving, how caring.
My memories of you are fading, and I don’t know what to do. I share pictures of you with cousins and aunts and uncles every year around this time, on your birthday. We share stories and memories and talk about how much joy you brought into our lives; we try our hardest to hold onto those feelings because we are forever burdened to live without you and we need something to help us through until that forever.
I wish I could remember your voice. I want to find old tapes of you, just to see if the hazy memories I have of your laughter are true.
You taught me to love unequivocally, Nama, and I am trying. I try everyday.
I remember accidentally setting your stove on fire, and how quickly you put it out; you didn’t even scold me for leaving the dish towel by the burner while trying to make some ramen noodles for lunch. You took my second player controller away when I died too many times in Super Mario Bros. You taught me to try my hardest, and that I will not always win. You showed me how to play roulette on the cool Las Vegas game on your Super Nintendo. You watched The Twilight Zone and The Cube and Godzilla other scary stuff at night and I didn’t understand how you could be so tough. You watched YuGiOh and Pokemon and Teletubbies and Fairly Odd Parents and Rugrats with us. You always made me get a glass of water for you (and I always stole a sip.) You tricked me into thinking I could actually unhinge my bottom jaw and jut it out far like you did with your false teeth, and you laughed when I practiced in the mirror for hours and hours and hours and hours. You let me sleep in your bed and try on your wigs. You let me and my cousins build forts in the living room out of every single pillow and blanket we could get our hands on. You got mad at us when we climbed up the walls like the weirdos we were. You kissed our cuts and made them better.
You made everything better.
Your house was our sanctuary. Every birthday, every holiday, every weekend, every day that ended in Y was spent at Nama’s house. On 9/11 when no one could find each other and phones weren’t working and we were all scared out of our minds, we all automatically knew where to go.
One afternoon, you walked with me down the two flights of stairs to come with me to the corner store, bypassing the elevator even though you couldn’t walk well because I was scared of elevators and refused to go, and you didn’t want me in the stairwell by myself. This memory wracks me with guilt because I can so clearly see your face and how you struggled down the stairs, but you did it for me, so I wouldn’t be unsafe or alone. And when I think about it and I get hysterical and cry and have to call my mom to calm me down, I think about what a perfect and simple example of your selflessness it was.
You did so much for me, and I am so sorry that I can never repay you.
My cousins have your name tattooed on them, permanently etched into themselves like the love you’ve forever given us. We all have necklaces with your face on them, so we can always keep you close to our hearts. Every birthday and every celebratory occasion, we tell each other that you would be proud of us. It’s the ultimate compliment to the family you created, Nama; knowing that we’ve done something worthy of your pride. There is no higher praise.
I hope you are proud of me, Nama. It’s been 13 years, and I am far from a perfect person, but I hope I am becoming the person you thought I’d be.
I wonder who you thought I’d be, if you had any ideas on the kind of person I’d be.
I feel like my life is cracked into two halves: one with you and one without. I was forced to grow up very soon after you died because my compass in life was gone so suddenly. I feel lost so often, Nama, and it sometimes feels impossible to know what to do.
I want to celebrate you. I want to remember all the good times I had with you. You gave me so much, and I am so thankful.
Happy birthday, Nama.