The White Butterfly
Editor’s Note: This is the third of five essays celebrating Abuela’s during Mother’s Day week 2011 on the Tiki Tiki. To read the other essays, visit the intro essay.
I was lucky: I got to take the afternoon city bus home from high school. Since both my parents worked and my mom’s job was closer to my sister’s grade school, they decided that I would take the public bus home from school every day.
The bus stop was smack dab right in front of my private, Catholic high school, so all my affluent classmates could see us “bus riders” waiting for our slow transportation home.
At around 2:45 every afternoon, the bus came by and picked up the waiting ragtag group. The ride was usually a fun one, filled with lots of teen-age chatter and gossiping. As the bus dropped off each of my bus mates, I hoped the smelly homeless man or the crazy lady with the big hat wouldn’t take the empty seat next to me. Otherwise, it would mean holding my breath or pretending to read one of my homework assignments for the rest of the ride to my stop.
I would reach up to ring the bus bell, letting the driver know my stop was coming, and the big smoggy monster of a bus would pass in front of my house and lurch its way to the bus stop that was only a half-block from my front doorstep.
As soon as the bus passed my house, I would always see the small figure of my grandmother, my Boya — as all her grandchildren called her instead of the traditional, Abuela –, already standing at the steps leading from our front yard to the sidewalk.
My grandmother had lived with us since I was about 7-years-old, which had been great until I started feeling smothered and annoyed by what I had previously treasured as my beloved grandmother’s attention and coddling.
When I would see her already waiting for me on the steps, I would automatically roll my eyes, frustrated that my 70-something-year-old Mexican grandmother still treated me – a mature 15-year old young woman — like a little kid who needed to be watched like a hawk. Ridiculous, I thought.
After giving her a hug and a kiss, I would tell her, in Spanish, “Boya, you don’t have to wait out here for me, you know. It’s only half a block. Nothing is going to happen to me. I can take care of myself.”
She would shake her head and say, “You never know. There are lots of crazy people out there. Somebody might kidnap you.”
I was always in awe at how paranoid she was. At my young age, I never imagined how someone could be that distrustful of everything. I just rolled my eyes (making sure she didn’t see it for fear of getting the chancla thrown at me) and followed her into the house, hoping she had made one of my favorite dishes for dinner.
Some days, the bus would pass by, and I wouldn’t see her in the front yard. I would get excited thinking that maybe she had got caught up watching her favorite telenovela and lost track of time, or maybe she had finally realized I was not a kid anymore and had given up babysitting me. As I jumped off the bus onto the sidewalk, I would happily start my short path home.
Before I could even take one step, there she would be, like clockwork, standing down the block, her small body somehow looking bigger on the sidewalk in front of my house – the sergeant standing guard. All I could do was give one of my big, annoyed teen-age sighs, roll my eyes and shake my head as I slowly made my way down that “dangerous” half a block.
Over the next seven years, my grandmother stood watch as my sister and I grew up and graduated from high school, then moved out of the house to go to college. She even saw me graduate from college — the first woman in our family to do so.
One month after my college graduation, my beautiful, tough, amazing Boya lost her short battle against pancreatic cancer. Seeing her succumb to such a horrible illness was both heartbreaking and overwhelming.
As my family tried to heal the tremendous hole that her death left in all of us, I began thinking back to my bus trips home from school and her constant vigil over me.
Every time I visited my parents on the weekends, I would think of my Boya as I drove up to their house, always expecting to see her come down the steps to welcome me home. Of course, my guardian was no longer there, and I could only dream of those days of walking half a block to her smile, her hugs or even to her lectures.
One day, my cousin Wendy, and I were leaving a restaurant, and I suddenly heard her say “Hi, Boya.” When I gave her a puzzled look, Wendy pointed to the white butterfly that was fluttering around us. “That’s Boya,” Wendy said. “Haven’t you ever noticed that the white butterfly is always around, especially when you’re thinking about her?”
I had not. Yet after that day, I began seeing the white butterfly almost on a daily basis. No matter where I was – at work, at home, out shopping or running errands – the white butterfly was always nearby and would always make me stop and smile. I was comforted knowing that my Boya had never left me – I just had not recognized her presence.
Even today, more than 15 years after her death, the white butterfly still follows me where I wander. I see her everywhere I go, fluttering near me, watching over me as I continue my journey, making sure I always reach home safe and sound.
Jennifer lives in a multi-hyphenated world. She is a Mexican-Peruvian-American marketing executive living in Los Angeles who has worked in the entertainment industry for over 15 years. Juggling it all is a challenge but she is thankful every day for the support of her loving husband, her beautiful daughter Julia, and her amazing parents and sister.