Thursday, June 5, 2014

Work in Progress: The Scars of the Body

If scars tell the stories of our lives, my grandma’s body, fair skin loosened by age, held a map of lines disclosing the life my Ita lived. These are their stories. I’ve pieced them together and filled in the rest.

In a fight before I was born, she ended up with a scar at the peak of her forehead, where a widow’s peak would have been. The fight, I imagine from the stories I’ve been told, takes place in the living room. She yells about where he’s been, how much he’s been drinking. He, Gil, tries to walk away from her and she swings. 

He ducks, “Mamita, todo esta bien,” he says, but he still wraps his arms around her and holds her to him like he will never let go, and in a way he never did.

She struggles trying to pry her arms away from her side. She grunts and yells, "Dejamé carbon,” but he keeps his arms where they are. He knows if he lets go her left hand will come out swinging and instead throws his head forward.


The sound of two stubborn heads echoes through the house and silences the argument for a moment. It stings his head, but Gil doesn’t let go. A small bead of blood runs down the center of her forehead. “Ya mamita, ya,” he says his voice low hoping it will stop the rush coming towards him.

At age 42 Ita had a burning sensation on her breast.  She touched the skin quick, swatting as if a bug had bitten her, but instead her fingers found a small lump. After talking with my mom, visiting the doctor, and having a biopsy the diagnosis was confirmed: cancer. Her right breast was removed soon after, and she was left with a bright pink diagonal scar against pale white skin. For a long time she was depressed.  She wasn’t quick to make a joke or make up words to songs. Instead she grieved the loss of her womanhood and vanity at the same time.

As a child, I watched her adjust the silky skin of the soft prosthesis in the pocket sewn in her bra. I saw the now pale scar on her skin. It was normal that Ita didn’t have a breast. I didn’t question it, but I do remember the look on her face as she smoothed her tops eyes focused on her chest, her waist as she turned smoothed, turned, and smoothed again before we ever left the house.

At age 37 Ita had a hysterectomy.  The scar along her abdomen was faded, and I hardly remember it. She never spoke about it. My mom told me she’d had to have it done because she was have endless periods. I imagine her changing bloodies pads day after day wondering what was happening to her body. I wonder if after everything she saw the hysterectomy as a punishment also.

She had small white scars left from large metal needles inserted after she hemorrhaged from an ectopic pregnancy. This was her last pregnancy. My mom remembers they lived on 811 N. El Paso when this happened. She, my uncle Robert, and Tony sat in the hospital waiting room after the doctor told them, “We’ve done all we can. The rest is in God’s hands. She’s a fighter, but the next 72hrs are critical.” He walked away as my mom sat next to my uncle and looked from the retreating doctor to Tony trying to understand just what that meant.

The removal of her gallbladder at age 39 marked the beginning of the many stomach issues my Ita had. It was a mean jagged scar across the right side of stomach. It made me wonder how big a gallbladder was and why it had been so dysfunctional it demanded to be removed. My sister, Angie, who looks the most like my Ita, now has problems with her gallbladder. Hers gets angry on a frequent basis also.

Later, my Ita had her small intestine removed because of frequent issues with colitis. She was banned from eating anything spicy. This was a source of sadness not just her but for me. Ita had trained me in the ways of making spicy chilé and now we would no longer share our spicy bond. I watched as she’d tostar the chilé and tomates then peel the blistered skin from them. I helped at this point careful not touch my eyes. Sometimes my small fingers burned like when my hand fell asleep and the ants woke it up.

Last, she’d squish them all together with a glass she saved from Doña Maria mole. I watched eyes round and ready with a tostada to taste test the finished product as the chilé mushed together and suctioned in and out of the glass. When she was done she’d wash away the small red and black pieces clinging to her hands.  

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