July 10, 2010
That day we walked outside the hospital a ways. It was hot and we were hot, and our car was overheated. We stopped at a gas station near the hospital where Claudia was and left the car there to be checked by the mechanic. My sister was in the hospital. In a few days she would be gone.
We walked around a few blocks with our little dog, trying to find shade for her and for us. We found a grassy area and a small, suburban pond. There, by a chain link fence, the sidewalk ended. We stopped, stood in the shade. June and I talked, but inside I was sitting with Claudia in the hospital. The morphine had her going in and out of consciousness. I remember floating myself during that last week, those last ten days of June, 2009 and the first days of July, in a place where I felt events passing by me in a blunted shape. I mean that I didn’t feel sadness the way I feel it now, sharp, and slicing my throat as I write. During those days of her dying, the heat was hot, quiet. the shade was the same as the sunny places, perhaps sound was the same whether loud or soft and, maybe what I’m trying to say is that having her and not having her was still almost the same. I didn’t know what it was not to have a sister anymore.
That day, while we waited for the car, we talked softly and walked back along the suburban road near the hospital to a convenience store at the end of a strip mall to buy some bottled water. The store carried products from Latin America, cookies, phone cards, newspapers, and the proprietor was a pleasant women from a country that was probably on the same continent as the country where I came from. We bought a bottle of sparkling water with the brand name of Peñaflor– the name was stamped in pretty red letters on a cap that needed a bottle opener. It was cold and pleasant to drink it, as it was pleasant to exchange words with the young woman. I smiled and spoke as usual, we spoke pleasantly to the woman, and perhaps I heard the two of us speaking through the sadness that was coming on and that is why I remember it now, the way we spoke. The puzzling nature of living while tragedy gathers as clouds do, not being able to do anything about it, even if you rise high above your existence at that moment and try to feel and comprehend what it is one is supposed to feel when death comes. That’s what I remember. Because it’s been a year now since I lost my sister and still I can’t say those words without crying. They must be words to be said many times over the years until the pain is not as sharp and, who knows, I will be able to see further away to a time when we were younger, when we ere just arriving in the U.S. and I still had a sister.
I am cleaning my desk drawers this evening. That is where I have found the bottle cap with the words Peñaflor con gas written in pretty red letters. If I look at the bottle cap through magnifying lenses I can read that it is a product of Mexico, agua de manantial, it reads along the edges, which means it was spring water from Mexico we drank that day. The afternoon was still quite warm and the sun still high when we returned to the car. With the windows rolled down we drove back to the hospital and I went up to the fourth floor to see my sister again while June stayed in a shady area of the parking lot a while longer. We would go back to the motel soon, eat some things we bought at the market and watch a movie on TV. In the morning, I would go back to visit my sister for another day.
When I found the cap in the drawer tonight I didn’t know whether I should keep it or not. I still can’t look at photos of her. But I’m glad June and I took that walk. I lead the way, I think. I speak to people, I ask for spring water, I save bottle caps and save them for years just as one day I decide to clean our place and throw things out. I don’t think that June remembers those days very well– she doesn’t keep memories like that, but if I show her the cap she will listen to me tell her where it came from, and I wonder now, if keeping a little thing like this isn’t what we’re made of after all. And I will.