Days Of Wealth, Eves Of Nothing
Maribel, pronounced Mary-Bell instead of the traditional Ma-ri-be-l, that is what she called herself. Short black wavy hair, almost curly, but not – just enough to get wildly tangled after being touched by even a single drop of rain. Dark brown eyes – a window to her many ancestors, some she claimed, others she preferred not to acknowledge. Long and lanky, pale and freckled skin, small breasts, a waist the size zero, dressed and wet she did not weigh more than 98 pounds at most. When Maribel spoke her voice was high and pitchy. Not annoying. Not child-like. Feeble and lady like. Delicate and sensitive, Maribel would often burst into tears for no apparent reason, especially if she felt she was being attacked, confused, mistreated, or if any other of her emotions were being evoked in any way.
A woman of class. A lady. That’s what her friends at the country club called her. When she was honored by them for her years of planning soirees she wore a white bead-encrusted gown, tight at the top, flowing at the bottom. Her hair slicked back accented only by a simple gold necklace and two diamond earrings. After years spent wanting to be accepted, Maribel Roberson-Huerta felt this night was her official induction into high society. Her days of living in the projects of Houston were now a thing of the past.
Mami called every Sunday to check in on Maribel, but usually these conversations were very short if they took place at all. Most of the time daughter would look at the phone, tell herself she would call mami back later, and continue with her business. Talking to the old lady validated her rags to riches story and that was something Maribel desperately wanted to forget. Instead she’d recount made up stories about a privileged childhood in a manicured home in Texas. Most of the other designer-clad women in her circle did not even know she was Hispanic – they just assumed she had some Latino heritage in her pedigree. Perhaps Spaniard blood because being from Spain was more European than anything else, and what could be more exotic than that Maribel thought. When mami offered to visit her in Alabama since it had been more than 10 years since they had seen each other in person, Maribel made up many excuses:
“Oh mami, David is taking me on vacation this summer.”
“That would be great, but I am so busy right now that it wouldn’t be fair to you.”
“I want to see you too, but maybe some other time. Or maybe we can make it home for Christmas this year…yes, I think we will definitely be able to come.”
They never did make it for Christmas, New Year’s, Mothers Day, Cinco de Mayo, or any other holiday for that matter. Mami eventually understood and consoled herself with simply hearing her daughter’s voice over the phone.
When the old lady was diagnosed with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar she implored Maribel to come home once again. She could feel her body getting weaker and something told mami she wouldn’t be around for much longer.
“Mija, we don’t know how much time we have on this earth, and we are both getting older. I don’t want to die without seeing you again. Por favor ven a verme.”
“Hay mami, you are so dramatic. Nothing is going to happen to you. You are way too young for that, and I already told you we will come down as soon as we get a chance. Now if there is nothing else you have to say, I have work to do.”
For a moment her conscious made Maribel stop. Was she being too harsh? Had it been too long since she had seen mami? Was she being so insistent for a reason? Was mami really that sick? No. Then she went back to the hard work of selecting a new countertop for the kitchen she was remodeling.
A few weeks later when her brother Nando called, on a Tuesday of all days, Maribel knew something had happened. His voice shivered, his words unclear, all she could make out was that mami had passed away. Everything inside her plunged to the ground, her light frame landed on an antique Victorian loveseat she had bought on her last trip to Europe, tears escaped her eyes in a way they never had, and a loud screech was all that could be heard throughout her massive home.
Nothing else was said between the siblings. On her return to Texas she found an even smaller home than she remembered. Plastered in mami’s bedroom were pictures of all her children and grand children. Next to the hand-sewn curtains on the window, a simple chest held up dozens of pictures of Maribel mami kept close to her bed. They were all at least 10 years old, and as she held the one of her and the old lady sitting on the same bed, smiling, looking happier than she’d felt in a long time, she couldn’t help but drop herself on the bed in a flood of tears. Her sadness grew deeper and stronger when Nando told her mami had left the small house and all of her belongings to her.
“In case she ever needs somewhere to stay, or some money to get herself on her feet,” she had told Nando before writing her will.