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Winter
2009

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Amar in the Conditional Tense
Sylvia Julie Martinez

Damn. How can I do it?  I can't. You just can't. You can't tell the beautifully silver-haired woman in front of you, with the soft brown eyes and prideful smile, the woman with the paleness of the Conquest on her skin, with the painstaking, properly accented English she always used so you could learn English first, so you could do anything in life, who taught you to read at age 3 when your mom had to go to work, and write, too, and even play the piano like the cultured women of her era did, that you are marrying a black man. You just can't.

You can't tell her that you didn't even think about the situation with your brain because love is not a cognitive thing, that its truest meaning cannot even be found in that thick, unabridged dictionary that she passed down to you when you graduated from Lowell, because the love you have is indefinable.  And you can't tell her that you didn't look for love like the Bible said a Christian woman shouldn't do, but that you let it find you, and it did, when you weren't looking.

You can tell her about the young Latino, though, the one who charmed his way into your heart, but not into your jeans, because she taught you better simply with the air of her dignity, so he unzipped some blond chick's jeans, and after he told you about the pregnancy, and that he still wanted to be with you because you were a woman of worth, that you left him, the way a strong woman leaves a man the first time he wrongs her big. But you can't tell her about the good Christian man whose character and intelligence would shock her to her core, but you could if his skin were Mayan brown instead of African brown.

You can't talk to her about all the people saying it doesn't bother them, the color of his skin, that they say it wouldn't matter if he were purple or green, which shows it really bothers them because they group him in a class of crazy colors for people. And you can't tell her about your neighbor who told you you would be ruined if you dated a black man, that no Latino man would ever go out with you again because of your mistake, but that his mulatto girlfriend was different.

You can't tell her that the reading passion she unleashed in you by introducing you to the world of books, simple Readers' Digests and encyclopedias at first, but then that evolved into a hunger for more and then you devoured the words of writers like Shakespeare and Austen, and Pablo Neruda, that this new passion in you is what made you embrace this man, and that you mean man in every sense of the word, as he treats you not even like a princess, but like the queen that she told you you are, which she taught you not with words, but with the way she looked at you, and the way she looked at herself.

You can't tell her that it did cross your mind that people would think you denied your race, but that you couldn't deny your soul, because your love was beyond anything carnal and in the end if you had to be on that last road on earth, that you know this man would build you fires and find you apples and protect you at all costs because that's what real men do.

You can't tell her that she is the most beautiful and talented woman you have ever known, so much that you will name your firstborn after her because you want her to live on past you, because all she will think of is the color of that child. That's all she will ever see. (Ironic as you look back now because her husband was darker than yours, and your children are lighter than most of hers.)

So you write her a letter, in your best Spanish even, and tell her all about your new love, and then you find out she said the letter hurt her deeply, you heard from your mom who heard from your aunt, and then you see her scornful eyes on you when she sees you, now courteous with you like she is with the white lady at the supermarket, hurt by your choice of husband (although you didn't choose, you want to tell her, but you will not unchoose what feels right). She does not realize that your acceptance of him does not mean rejection of her, or the rape of your indigenous ancestors, or the pain your grandfather endured hammering the US railroads to make a better life for his family which has trickled down to you, you'll always know.

And then you find out a few months before your wedding that she said she feels sorry for your future children growing up confused, but you feel sorry for her when you learn one day, a few months after your wedding that she chose not to attend (although you and your husband rented a hall with wheelchair capabilities just to accommodate her), that she will not live to meet them, the confident kids that they are, not the beautiful daughter named after her who touches piano keys with angelic talent, who read music before words (a story she would have loved to tell), and not the son whose complexion is almost as light as hers, whose loving nature is pure, like the love she used to show you.
           
So you wait until she is on her deathbed, eyes closed for the last time, but ears open, as you know the mind is the last thing to go, and you tell her, as you touch her hand, that you love her and that you are happy and in love, not the kind of love that makes you breathless, but the kind that breathes life into the depth of your very being, which you know she gets because she is a poet, and you tell her in perfect Spanish to make her proud, that you are a teacher and a writer now, like she was, and that you will always love her.

And in the corner of her dying eyes, you see a drop of her last life tell you she feels what you said and understands, and you know it is not her fault, that she is just a product of her time, and you are a product of yours.
           
And she comes to you in a dream, and tells you in the same painstaking English she used to speak to you in when you were a  kid to take care of your mother, her daughter.
           
And you do (you and your three beautiful sisters always do).
           
And you live on, and you live your life with the passion life and love should never be without.
           
Because this is who you are, and she told you you could be anything, so you decided to be yourself.