Her name is on the last page of a notebook I carried all around Trujillo the last time I was there. Three years ago now. I was gathering names and details and memory for Garifuna stories I am writing, and along the way I learned that Don Virgilio had a daughter who was in Atlanta, Georgia. New terrain. Family far away. Fewer Garifuna ties.
We should connect.
Her name is on the last page of my notebook and I returned to Atlanta and got lost in making sense of a foreign school system, navigating lonnnnng, sidewalk-free country roads and managing the weight of homeownership in the fallout of the busted housing bubble–I never called.
And this morning, even before Atlanta news stations could break the story, my mother was on the other line crying the news that she was shot and killed in Sandy Springs.
My sister and I grew up with my mother as a town crier of sorts. I’ll admit, at this point we are desensitized to the exaggerated wailing and try to hone in on the details. Very rarely do we know who she is talking about. It is always a vague connection separated in degrees and ending in our asking when the viewing will be. We already know that our mother is going. This time, as names were mentioned, I squinted to call up images: her dad watching television in his den in Honduras; her mom pouring cereal for my nephews while my mother chatted away and I remembered —I was supposed to call her. Her name is in the back of my notebook.
It called to mind a recent conversation with my Tía Lizzette. The cool aunt who is closer to your generation in age, so she serves as a bridge between the generation that came from Honduras to make American homes and the generation that grew up American with some or no recollection of Honduras. She noted that they are now building homes for their return and have assumed that we know enough to carry out traditions without them. She has been convincing them that they must be sure before they leave.
She mentioned death and illness in particular: the family protocols, the expectations. “How will you know what to do?”
And she is right.
I don’t know what to do. I am waiting for my mother to get out of church and call me.
And no, the irony is not lost on me. I have spent years offering an obligatory, “There, there,” whenever my mother called with news of loss and now I wait for her to tell me what we do at a moment like this to show the solidarity that is the way of our people. I also wonder what time Mami’s phone rang in Queens, the speed of her network faster than our social networks and way faster than Georgia news reporters who still have no idea who she was and what happened and said so.
The Garifuna community knows. And we will gather in her name.
My deepest condolences to the Martinez family.