Mami was my first introduction to memes, filled to the very top with refranes. She said they were plentiful in Colombia: for every palmera there was a refran. She left for New York close to fifty-five years ago, alone and without English to brush her tongue. Refranes were the first things that she packed and unpacked. And like talismans, they would protect her from scary Estados Unidos. Whatever the reason, her refranes were the wallpaper of my childhood.
Last spring, I was faced with an uncertain situation caused by life’s circumstances and my own doing. I was more in need of her sayings than ever. She offered what she had doled out to me as a child, teenager, young adult, and now almost forty: her refranes.
“Mami,” I cried on the phone as I drove to work. “I know that I’m part of the reason I got into this mess.” It was true. Once again, my lack of control over my emotions had gotten me in trouble. Anger had slipped itself around my neck and threatened to choke me of my last breath. Consumed by fear under that anger, and hurt at the very bottom, I lashed out. And now I was in trouble for my anger.
“Ten fe,” Mami’s voice came over the bluetooth of my car, calm and steady. In that early morning rush hour I was soothed by her words like a hand on the small of my back. There to guide and hold.
But as quick as her words comforted me, they frightened me. “How can I have faith if I can’t trust myself, Mami?” I said with one hand on the steering wheel and the other pressed down on my chest. As if my mere hand could contain all my emotions. That was my problem, always has been. Emotions for me were those math theorems I could not figure out. I’ve spent most of my existence seated with two emotions: anger and its opposite numbness. Both extreme and bent on keeping people far and apart. They were my allies.
“Dios da la llaga y da la medicina, Connie. Pon todo en las manos de Dios.” Mami’s voice penetrated through the car. My eyes on the road, I wondered if her words seeped out to the world.
“Ya llegue al trabajo,” I said. My school was within sight.
Mami’s words rolled through all the curved, pinwheel turns of my mind, and deep into those dead end alleys. That day I found myself in front of the bathroom mirror several times. I looked at my reflection and pleaded with myself to have faith. That if God gave the wound, He was benevolent enough to give the medicine. Her words pressed harder with every repetition. I felt them bruise into the groove of my brain.
Two weeks later I learned my angry outburst didn’t carry any serious repercussions like I feared. But I already had the faith it wouldn’t.