From Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul

The Healing

Cada mal tiene su cura.

Latino Proverb

It happened hundreds of miles away on my grandmother’s porch. I went there to recuperate from the surgery that had taken away my uterus, ovaries and so many years of monthly battles with my body that I thought of it more as an adversary than part of my being. I had read all about the depression and mood swings and reduced libido that would follow, but no one mentioned the emotional barrenness that had descended upon me and left me helpless. I did what I had always done when I felt lost: I went home to be healed by the sun and the sea and my grandmother’s hands.

There was the plane and then there were her arms taking me in and letting me rest my head and heavy heart. The first day, she threw away the pills and prescriptions in my bag. She called her friend Yeya from across the road, and Cecilia from over the rise and Aurelia from the botánica. They consulted with each other, and together they decided on my new remedios. Every day abuela went into her garden and collected herbs. Then it began—the endless baths in lengua de perro to reduce the swelling and calm the nerves, gallons of genjibre tea to calm the vomiting, higuera to fight infection and flor de virgen to lift the sadness.

But the most important part of my recovery had nothing to do with herbs. The most important remedio, it turned out, was community. “I don’t care what the doctorcitos said. That girl living alone up there in the cold . . . no wonder she got sick. She needs warmth on the inside and on the outside.” And all the ladies agreed.

A cot was set out for me on the porch, and every day, as my grandmother went about her chores, her white-haired friends hobbled up the hill and across the road. After they had washed the breakfast dishes, they would twist their hair into buns, put on their gold earrings and come to sit with me. They brought secret ointments warmed by the sun and applied the balm all over my body. As I lay there too tired and pained to care, I surrendered myself to their hands—wrinkled hands that missed holding babies and soothing toddlers. They brought me their love in the folds of those wrinkles and kneaded it into my body. And while their hands worked, they gave me the gift of their stories that lived under their nails, between their fingers, in their hair. They told me of their lives and the lives of others— everyone in the town. They shared their dreams with me and their disappointments. They celebrated their joys and whispered their failures.

I looked at them with their limp aprons and their cracked feet in oversized men’s slippers. I watched their mouths and listened to the words floating out through ill-fitting dentures or swollen gums. The days grew into weeks, and still I listened. They filled my days and my emptiness with their teeming lives. My grandmother told them I was writing down their stories, and they smiled behind cupped hands and brought me more, trusting that I would be gentle with their tales. They brought them in their pockets, their teacups, their photo albums, their treasure boxes. They brought them in lockets and broken picture frames and yellowed newspapers. They must have rummaged in the bottom of their drawers, under the beds, between the old dresses, in the back of the wardrobes. They brought me huge, leather-bound Bibles and yellowed christening gowns and pressed flowers. They brought me the pieces of their lives and bade me make them a quilt of words. When the world was moving too fast for them, they asked me to stop time.

It took a community to heal me, a community of old women bringing me the many stages of their lives. And now that those ladies are long gone, all that is left of their world is their stories. They told me stories I had never heard and stories each of them knew by heart. As they spoke, they suddenly turned into a group of young girls playing in the creek, young women sending their men to war, mothers-of-the-bride letting go of their no-longer-little girls, old women sitting before their husbands’ coffins wondering what life held in store in the empty days ahead. Their stories made me realize that my life, just like theirs, would be lived in stages, and that this was only one of them. Their stories were gifts from their hearts, remedios that helped me recognize my own humanity in theirs, gave me strength, and restored my mind and heart.

The strength and hope I heard in the stories of these ancianitas inspired me to be a writer, so that I could share their lives and their wisdom with others, long after they were gone. I am forever grateful.

Dahlma Llanos Figueroa

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