There was something liberating about our poverty. We knew exactly where we stood—what we had, what we didn’t, what we wanted but knew we couldn’t have. We knew that little could be taken from us; that death was a price we would readily pay. Of course I didn’t understand this last part. But I understood the rest.
The violence was necessary. It kept the place loud with voices. It made us bleed. And we knew we were human because we bled. Of course, the resentment was necessary, too. The hate. The terror. And this was normal. So when my sister, Jenny, was born we expected life to continue being what it was. There was something liberating about our misery: it couldn’t get any worse.
The cloud of pesticides that slept in our porch crawled into my mother’s womb and made a nest. There it lingered while Jenny was being shaped into her human form. When she was born in late December of 1989, she didn’t cry or scream. A few years later she matured into a healthy 3 year old; twenty years later, she’s still 3…or maybe 6.
This was different than poverty or terror. My mother asked God to explain this to her; she’s still asking. After all, this would be her burden. Doctors figured out early on that Jenny would not grow up. That she would not reason with us about the things she did or wanted or feared. But Doctors didn’t explain this right; they still haven’t clearly explained what it is that makes her who she is. This means that Jenny is alone in the world; that my mother is alone with Jenny; that to misery and terror we add solitude and insanity.
I don’t know what will happen to Jenny when my mother migrates to those unknown lands that Dante talks about. But it makes me sad. My mother is the only one who understands her burden—despite her resistance and her refusals.