by Juliana Delgado Lopera
Official Version: Ya te desarrollaste, ya eres toda una mujer. You’re a woman.
Unofficial Version: At the dining table: Lip-gloss, mascara, Marlboro, green turtleneck, (small) gold hoop earrings, secret babies, secret body parts.
At the dining table: I drag Mami to the bathroom by her sweater. Qué pasó? She says, bothered. We’re at my grandmother’s apartment, inside the guest’s bathroom that reeks of Fabuloso. Outside is a cacophony of women’s voices, my tías lighting Marlboro after Marlboro, complaining about the ineptitude of their husbands. Half of the walls are pink because two years before, my grandmother forced my grandfather to paint half the walls and cover the other half with Victorian flowers wallpaper. I remember that day clearly; the bathroom smelled of fresh paint and, after I peed, I found my first pubic hair.
Two years later, I found myself in the same bathroom wearing different underwear and having different fears. I shut the door and tell Mami, Do not freak out. She freaks outs, opens the door, and yells, Miyo! Venga! My tía arrives holding a cigarette. There’s barely any space for the three of us here and the Fabuloso smell is burning my eyes so badly tears are streaming down my cheeks. Nothing can be done in this house alone.
You need to make a phone call? Dominique sits next to you nodding.
You need to take a shit? Mónica holds your hand.
You need to straighten those unruly curls? Bra-less Miyo will guide you.
You need to cry? Do it chain-smoking next to us in the kitchen.
Demanding privacy— I thought years later— meant being an outsider, rebellious. We’re all women here; we’re all family here.
Juli, nena, are you gonna use the toilet or what?
Not anymore, I say.
My tía Miyo quickly unbuttons her jeans, pulls down her thong, and pees. She asks me to hold her cigarette. Tía Miyo can sit on a toilet forever. We all know that. She always pees with the door open, chiming in on whatever conversation was happening all the way from the “throne.”
In the mirror: Mami’s jet-black hair just blow-dried, eyes dull gazing below at my tía. Pale fingers caressing her neck over and over. She really wanted to be a mathematician or a nun. There are photographs around my grandmother’s house, like this one next to the bathroom mirror, where Mami is 17-years-old in full habit: white robe and her two black eyes piercing the photograph, as if she knew. I always asked her, a monja? That’s ridiculous. You didn’t really want to be a monja, what about us? But she did, she was committed to the loving of God and Jesus as her savior and only husband.
On the mirror: part of my head in a halo of smoke reclining on the door watching the cigarette burn itself to the core.
For a few minutes we only hear the pee trickling and it’s comforting.
I’m waiting for my rite of passage to happen, for something to open up in me, for my mother to recognize. I tell myself: I’m a big girl now, this is not big deal. Not a big deal and why did I drag my mother and why did she drag my tía?
Mayi, tía Miyo says, you know he has a kid now? One year later and the hijueputa has a child.
But Miyo, por Dios, Mami says.
For a second she remembers I’m there and her palm lands gently on my head.
Tía Miyo cannot bear children. For as long as I can remember all my tías call it, “el problemita de Miyo.” It’s her small problem. Being a half-of-a-woman, half-of-a-wife.
Por Dios? Yes, por Dios. All men want is children, children, and more children, Miyo responds, flushing the toilet. I can’t, I just can’t do it again, you know? Would you do it again, Mayi?
I pray on a change of subject, that we don’t go into Miyo’s lost children, that Mami doesn’t remember her own dead babies; I pray that we focus. Can we focus? What I really want is to pull my pants down and get it over with, say, Here it is. Say, Soy toda una mujer. Say—
Juliana wanted to tell us something, Mami remembers. What is it, nena?
I knew better than to call my mother for this. Another tía knocks on the door, Cuál es la demora? We’re all starving, coño.
This niña dragged us all the way here, what’s the matter nena? Ah?
The door opens and my Tía Dominique enters. She smokes Marlboro Lights. Miyo smokes Marlboro reds. Mami doesn’t smoke.
Álvaro just had a kid, Miyo says to Dominique.
Ay, Miyo… but those things are inevitable. Is that why you are all in here?
Then Mami blurts out to me, You may have other brothers and sisters in el Tolima. I think about small children in my dad’s hometown arriving in caskets at our door— then I feel the wetness between my legs again, the new brown substance pooling in the middle of my underwear and I hit my tía’s cigarette, walk slowly out of the bathroom.
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Juliana Delgado Lopera: Colombian writer/oral historian residing in San Francisco, raised in Bogotá, her stories have been performed at Action Fiction! and have appeared in Forum, Revista Canto, La Revista, Transfer Magazine and the SF Weekly. She’s the former fiction editor for Fourteen Hills and runs a Queer! Spanglish! zine called Plastic Panties with her partner.