Mute for Three Days

My grandmother says I was mute and wouldn’t let them remove my clothes for three days when I arrived, alone, to visit them in Nicaragua. I have no memory of my parents dropping me off at the airport in Texas, but the memory of leaving Managua after spending several months with my grandparents and aunts is fresh in my mind. I was being carried by my grandfather—my arms wrapped lovingly around his neck, my legs encircling his torso, as I drifted in and out of sleep.

Our bonding ended abruptly when he attempted to transfer me to a strange woman standing in front a plane. As they struggled to unlock my tiny fingers grasping his flesh, in between sobs and screams, “No me dejas, Papito! No me dejas!/Don’t leave me, little Papa! Don’t leave me!” they somehow pried us apart. His teary eyes and anguished look were further indication that something terribly wrong was happening. I must have been the final passenger to board because after she carried my frightened, three-year-old body up the cold, metal steps and strapped me into the big, empty seat, she quickly closed and bolted the door.

I had a strong bond with Papito who had a special way with children. Other than my husband, he is one of the few individuals who has truly seen and accepted me as myself. Most people love conditionally, with rules (overt and subtle) that must be followed to remain in good favor. Papito’s love was pure and simple: he loved the person I was and didn’t need me to behave differently. It didn’t hurt that at the end of his workdays, he’d deposit the coins from his pocket into my piggy bank. He once handed me a bill worth one hundred cordobas. Used to the value of American dollars, I quickly ran off, wide-eyed, with his gift before any of the laughing adults could make me return it.

The mood created by Papito’s formal military burial and the women in my family quietly sobbing as his body and casket were lowered into the ground felt confusing to a six-year-old, and I never fully processed his death. Now when I recall our teary-eyed runway parting I feel a deep longing. Is my longing for the man I knew as a child? Or is it a longing to know the person I imagine him to be? Perhaps my desire is to console the little girl who was carted back and forth between vastly different cultures on so many occasions. Then again, it could reflect my yearning to be known, seen and accepted—by myself and others.