I took this picture in late January, while I was on vacation in my hometown of Barranquilla. For some reason, I like it a lot. It’s not a particularly great picture– a kind of crudely framed over-the-shoulder shot of my brother Jonathan looking down at my grandmother Alicia, who is talking to my Dad while a nurse stands by. I find looking at it strangely soothing. It calms me down. Takes me away from whatever bullshit drama / work complication / life overload I may be dealing with at the moment and it transplants me right back to those idle afternoons of my childhood, running around my grandmother’s house. Even though the shot itself looks kind of dark and ominous, I find it oddly comforting. It’s a reminder of the little slice of peace & quiet I get to return to every year, far away from increasingly hectic Buenos Aires.
I spent a lot of time in that house growing up. In a lot of ways, it was the center of our family, as all my uncles and aunts and cousins from my father’s side would congregate in grandma’s house every Sunday. It’s also the place where we spend all our Christmases, and most of our New Year’s Eves. Later in life, when my immediate family relocated temporarily to the outskirts of the city, I’d crash at my grandmother’s house after nights out on the town. Spent many a drunken evening stumbling around in the darkness of one of the guest bedrooms, then waking up with a splitting headache and going downstairs to greet my grandma and grandpa.
Though my grandfather was a force to be reckoned with in his younger days, my grandmother is clearly the head of the family now. Has been for a while. She is effectively the glue that holds the family together, operating on two very distinct “modes”: a stern, ever-frowning matriarch with a dangerously sharpened wit that will cut you down to size in an instant, or a warm, loving, genuinely grandmothery, comforting presence. It was hard to tell which one you were going to be dealing with on any given day.
My grandma is not doing very well. She’s been having all sorts of health problems for the better part of a year– heart, lungs, you know, the important parts. Things got really bad last year and we all prepared for the worst, but her health took a positive turn and she had a victorious recovery, further cementing the idea in my head that she was an indestructible force of nature. This last week, however, she suffered a major downturn and has been in “critical but stable” condition. Which is, to my understanding, the least preferable of all conditions involving the worst “stable”. It’s definitely not as good as “stable and just super.”
I’m scared shitless of what will happen. My family– amorphous and dilapidated as it’s become from being spread all across the globe– would lose its core. My grandfather, the loveliest old guy you’ll ever meet, will be left alone. Everything will be different, including those battery-charging yearly trips. The entire dynamic would shift. And I remind myself, it’s the natural order. These things happen. This is the direction in which life naturally moves. And yet it feels like a kick in the face.
I’m currently standing by, waiting to hear any news on her progress that will determine whether I take an emergency plane to Barranquilla and say my final goodbyes. It’s not a happy place to be, though I am at least comforted by the perspective it lends me. While I drown in work and all kinds of personal dramas & struggles & defeats, there is absolutely no hesitation in me dropping it all and rushing to Colombia. It feels a little like letting go, like yielding, like giving way to everything. A “fuck it all” that isn’t quite a rousing battle cry but an exasperated sigh, a subdued shrug.