Age: 15, Grade: 10
School Name: Dwight School, New York, NY
Educator: Elizabeth Billard
Category: Personal Essay & Memoir
Let me tell you a story.
Even from afar I could see Abuelo’s bones appearing before his skin. He had a smile on his face, but his eyes were the real revealers of his emotions; sparkling with an underlying gloss of sadness as he walked towards me. I saw Abuela hobbling beside him as she walked. The space between us seemed to take a thousand years to close. I could even tell from each sluggardly step she took that the furrowing of her brow became more strained, and the clenching of her face seemed like a ceaseless burden of tension. A stranger would only assume the cause of these unpleasant facial expressions was a direct result of anger, but I knew that they were due to meer pain. When they both arrived and sat down beside me, I finally was able to tear my eyes away from them. I then realized the beauty of the day that I was clearly not taking advantage of. There was a contrasting luminescent glow of the deck, every blooming flower, butterfly, and miniature statuette around the garden. The pool rippled in small but noticeable waves, and the reflection of the pool steps was so clear that I could see the glisten of the porch light hit the water. The red of the poppies, purple of the morning glories, and yellows of the dandelions seemed to dance as a gentle wind passed over them, wafting a manageable but inevitably unavoidable smell of chlorine into the air. My abuelos seemed to have noticed the tranquility of it all as well and made sure to bathe in the sun; happily allowing the scorching heat, and comfort of the rays seep into their bodies and permeate their souls.
• • •
Anyways, what I wanted to write to you about was the conversation I had. Abuelo decided to tell me a story that afternoon about the hawk and the frog. He described the party of the century held once a year by the animals in a sky paradise. All the animals went to the party. The insects scurried and flitted, the birds stopped mid migration, and the rest of the animals started jumping and flying to join the party. The frog was left on the ground feeling alone and sad since he did not know how to fly. A hawk flying passed the swamp noticed the frog sulking and flew down to join him. He felt bad for the frog so he made him a deal. The hawk said “I will let you grab my tail feathers as I fly myself to the party under one condition. Keep your big mouth closed, and do not open it for anyone or else you will fall and die.” The frog happily agreed to the hawk’s terms and grabbed onto his tail feather with his big mouth. The frog kept his mouth shut the whole way over, and as the hawk flew closer and closer to the party the sound of music, clinking of glasses, and the smell of sweet fruit cake was starting to become irresistible. When the hawk finally reached the clearing where the party was being held, the frog saw that the rest of the animals were dancing and singing. He could not take it anymore and excitedly blurted “pa gooooozzza!!!”(yayaaya) releasing the hawks tail feathers and falling to the ground. The hawk laughed giddily, he knew the frog with a big mouth would not be able to keep it shut.
I always loved that story. I laughed every time I thought of it. Every afternoon there was a different story involving animals. When Abuelo told the story I could see the Spanish coming out of his mouth, dancing on the deck, and appearing as the animals he was describing. The stories streamed out of him like a Pinata spitting out candy.
I was also always astonished by how Abuelo could tell such wonderful stories, while in real life his country was falling apart and being left in shambles. Abuelo’s ability to capture the raw whimsical essence of Venezuela, the ability to see the small flickering light in a pool of darkness never ceased to amaze me. I knew that his own country was dying, but he was dying right along with it. It was as if he had used the last remaining portion of his magic to tell that story and the rest of his magic was gone, just like Venezuela’s magic was gone. This new emptiness inside of Abuelo was shown through his apparent bones, skin, and malnutrition. I did not take the last remaining bits of magic from the story for myself but distributed them equally. I gave a portion to my Abuela who needed it urgently for her well being, and I gave the rest of it to my mother who I think is suffering from something far worse than anyone can imagine.
My mother’s magic is being drawn away by guilt. The guilt of living in a politically stable country. The guilt of having accessibility to supermarkets, and being able to rely on finding aisles of food at every hour of the day. Guilt of having electricity and water or any other natural given necessities of life at all. The guilt is corrosive, tearing away the magic she contains, turning it into sadness and anger.
But mom, the thing is, you can not carry around that guilt, you need to know that the life of your country is not your hands, and you can not change the poison running through its veins. But there is something you can do no matter how small it may seem.
Listen to Abuelo’s wonderful stories just as I have. Let his joy and idyllic nature seep inside you and persuade the magic that I know consumes you trickle out from its secret hiding place deep within.
I know you can do it.