Like a lullaby, my father’s mother tells her story, stroking my hair as if I were still a child, though I am already twelve years old. It is twilight, and my older sister, in charge for the evening while my father is away, overwhelmed by my panic, has called her to calm me down. Though she lives across the street from us, this is the first time my grandmother has been into my bedroom.
Our family doesn’t talk. Our lives overlap with the family business, the farm my grandparents own, where my father works, where my uncles and aunts and cousins work, where my sister and I work. We work side by side, familiar strangers. Even in the privacy of our house, we don’t talk about what is happening, partly because we don’t know what it is.
I lie on my bed, my head on my grandmother’s lap. Her voice is rhythmic and slow. I drift in and out of sleep, out of and into her story:
She was the baby of her family.
They lived in eastern New Mexico, almost in Texas.
In Texas, her father worked on someone else’s farm. In New Mexico, he share-cropped.
Her brothers ran away one by one when they hit their teens. Her father chased them off.
My grandmother’s name was Josephine and they always called her Jo, just like we do.
They lived so far away from other people. She rode her horse for miles and still she saw no one.
She rode her horse into the fields to be alone. She got off her horse, and she sang. No one but the horse could hear her, and he didn’t mind.
The land was flat, not like our farm.
She took my dad to see the farm, when he was my age, but the farm was gone. They walked the path where the road had been. They didn’t find the house, only rattlesnakes.
The sky above my room is growing dark. Each time I open my eyes, I see less.
My grandmother’s hands are dark, brown. I don’t recognize her gestures tonight. I see her nearly daily, and we have rarely even hugged. I’ve seen her muddy hands burying the roots of tomato plants. I’ve watched her toss dinner scraps to the chickens in her yard. I’ve seen her pulling steaming jars of beans from the pressure cooker. It is a soft jolt to feel her touch on my head, on my skin. I hadn’t even noticed that I didn’t know her.
from The Book of Revelation
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